Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/59

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
55
FOSSIL INSECTS
FOSSIL INSECTS AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CLASS INSECTA[1]
By ANTON HANDLIRSCH
ADJUNCT CURATOR, ROYAL IMPERIAL NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, VIENNA, AUSTRIA

To the majority of mankind, who supposedly are inclined to look on the bright side of life, the sound of the word 'insects' ever recalls the picture of a wide-awake boy with a green net and possibly with a botanical box of the same hue, but more vivid in color, chasing along after the variegated butterflies and beetles. He seldom overtakes them, but positively assures us that he already has a 'nearly complete collection of insects of fifty or more species.' With this same word' insects 'many a pessimist, however, will bring to mind only the small troublesome pests of his home, perhaps even of his own worthy person, or certain minute organisms to which he indirectly ascribes the cause of the more and more frequently recurring adulteration of his wine. In each instance, the matter will be quickly despatched either with a good-natured smile or with a gentle imprecation, and only rarely does Homo sapiens attempt to make clear to himself what the word' insects ' really signifies.

That insects constitute a subdivision of the Arthropoda, to which group spiders, crabs and myriapods also belong, and that they are distinguished by the possession of only six legs and four or two wings, have with other details doubtless been acquired at school, where, too, knowledge was surely gained of many forms because of their usefulness (bees and silkworms) or because of their injurious character (moths, bark-scarabs and plant-lice).

Of the immense part that insects play in the household of nature and especially in science, however, of their truly wonderful diversity in bodily structure, of their organization, habits of living and development, as well as of the number of species, the greatest ignorance still prevails everywhere.

In proof of this not too flattering assertion, therefore, we will at once proceed to give a statistical summary, strictly in round numbers, of the insects now existing and scientifically recorded and named.

About 3,000 species of grasshoppers and crickets (Locustidæ and Gryllidæ) are known, whose music fills the woods and meadows of both

  1. Translated from the German by Lucy Peck Bush, Peabody Museum, Yale University. (Mitt. d. Sect. f. Naturk. d. Osterreich. Tour.-Klub, April, 1905, pp. 25-30.)