Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/514

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
496
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
NATURE AS DRAMA AND ENGINERY.

By GEORGE ILES.

PROF. EDWARD B. POULTON, of Oxford, in closing his course of lectures at Columbia College, last February, described the cordial reception extended him on his arrival in New York. Taking a stroll through Central Park, he had walked but a few paces when a gray squirrel ran from a tree to his feet in the friendliest way possible. "The perfect trustfulness of the little creature," said Prof. Poulton, "told me at once the most important fact of its life — that here in the midst of a teeming population it was certain of kind treatment. I inferred that a community kind to animals must be interested in them, must be fond of studying them in the very best place, their field of life." Nor was the naturalist disappointed; he found his New York audiences enthusiastic, and his lecture room, crowded to the door, contained less than half those who sought admission. Just as his observation of the .squirrel in the act of soliciting luncheon told him what could never be disclosed in an inspection of the rodent, however skillfully stuffed in a museum or dissected in a laboratory, so, as the readers of his Colors of Animals well know. Prof. Poulton has discovered much of profound interest in natural history by keeping to the unfenced field so fruitfully scanned by the eye of Charles Darwin. Somewhat as in the case of his great master, his work owes its reward and derives its charm from its inclusive breadth of outlook. Specimens of hornet clear-wing moths might be collected for years, dissected under the microscope with the utmost care, and classified with the nicest precision, without casting a single ray of light on the prime questions, What forces have molded the form and habits of this insect, and why are its hues and markings as we find them? Let the moth, however, be observed in its field of life, and the agencies which have made it what it is come clearly into view. Among the insects which share its woods and meadows will be noticed a wasp; while this wasp neither preys upon the moth nor in any perceptible degree competes with it, the two insects sustain to each other a most vital relation. In its sting the wasp has so formidable and thoroughly advertised a weapon that by closely resembling the wasp the moth, though stingless, is able to live on its neighbor's reputation and escape attack from the birds and insects which otherwise would prey upon it. And so far is the mimicry carried that when the moth is caught in the hand it curves its body with an attitude so wasplike as seriously to strain the nerves of its captor. How came about so elaborate a piece of masquerade? At first, the explanation is, there was a faint gen-