Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 9.djvu/597

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
571
MYRIAPODS.

young ones; but it seems doubtful if he himself ever attacks fresh or living vegetables; he seems to be one of Nature's many vidangeurs, and, because he is found minding his business and eating up rottenness, he is accused of producing it. As well might we say that our sewer-men produce typhus and cholera. But he has even been charged with having caused the potato-disease! because he was found laboring to remove the affected tubers. Beware, ye brave surgeons who fight with zymotic demons and risk your own lives to lift up stricken humanity, lest ye be arraigned for producing all the long catalogue of human ills that figure in our sanitary statistics!

Our captive has no eyes; he has, however, an "ocellus," a mere pigment-speck behind the base of each of his fifteen-jointed antennæ, and he has the smallest possible threadlet of an optic nerve. I suspect he cannot see, in the ordinary sense, but can distinguish between the light with which he has nothing to do, and the darkness in which he feels his way about with his antennæ when doing his duty like a humble vegetarian jackal, or adjutant.

The Myriapods have been placed at different times in different classes of the animal kingdom. In one famous system we find them under the head of Crustacea; another, in remote times, ranged them with the Hemiptera and Orthoptera as "insects which only undergo a partial metamorphosis." They have slight affinities with both, and even with the Annelids; like the latter, they grow in length by the successive addition of new segments between the penultimate and anal. The lower subdivision, the Chilognatha, by the situation of their reproductive orifices, seem to betray Crustacean relationships; but we remember that, in the first phase of their development, they displayed three pairs of legs only, like the typical hexapod insect. They appear to stand out the strong, well-marked, first link of that long chain which bridges over the mighty gulf which rolls between the creeping worm and the flying insect. The Myriapod is the lowest articulate animal, the Annelid the highest annulose—i. e., according to the old scheme of classification, the latter term has recently been used with a widely-extended signification. Ten years ago the subdivision Chilopoda consisted of four families, including ninety-four genera; and the lower subdivision, Chilognatha, of four families, containing seventy-five genera; a tremendous total of variations of a type; but since then they have been shuffled and cut, and lumped and split, like the German states, till nobody knows which is which.

"An articulation complete in all its mechanical appliances is not produced in the animal kingdom below the Myriapod. A joint is the symbol of organic superiority; it is not an arbitrary symbol; it is a unit in an assemblage of signs which proclaim a newer and higher combination in the arrangements which constitute 'life.' At this limit in the animal series the fluids and the solids of the organism undergo a signal exaltation of standard. The system of the chylaqueous fluid