Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/344

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

OUR DEBT TO INSECTS.
By GRANT ALLEN.

IT has often occurred to me as a curious fact, when I have been watching the bees and butterflies in an English meadow of a summer morning, that no one should ever yet have adequately realized (so far as I know) the full amount of human indebtedness to those bright and joyous little winged creatures. I do not mean our practical indebtedness to insects for honey and bees'-wax, silk and satin, cochineal and lacquer, or a hundred other such-like useful products: these, indeed, are many and valuable in their own way, though far less so than the tribute we draw from most of the other great classes of animal life. But there is one debt we owe them so out of all proportion to their size and relative importance in the world that it is strange it should so seldom meet with due recognition. Odd as it may sound to say so, I believe we owe almost entirely to insects the whole presence of color in nature, otherwise than green; without them our world would be wanting in more than half the beautiful objects which give it its greatest æsthetic charm in the appreciative eyes of cultivated humanity. Of course, if insects had never been, the great external features of the world would still remain essentially the same. The earth-sculpture that gives rise to mountains and valleys, downs and plains, glens and gorges, is wholly unconnected with these minute living agents; but all the smaller beauties of detail which add so much zest to our enjoyment of life and nature would be almost wholly absent, I believe, but for the long-continued aesthetic selection of the insect tribes for innumerable generations. We have all heard over and over again that the petals of flowers have been developed mainly by the action of bees and butterflies; and as a botanical truth this principle is now pretty generally accepted; but it may be worth while to reconsider the matter once more from the picturesque and artistic point of view by definitely asking ourselves, How much of beauty in the outer world do we owe to the perceptions and especially to the color-sense of the various insects?

If we could suddenly transplant ourselves from the gardens and groves of the nineteenth century into the midst of a carboniferous jungle on the delta of some forgotten Amazon or some primeval Nile, we should find ourselves surrounded by strange and somewhat monotonous scenery, very different from that of the varied and beautiful world in which we ourselves now live. The huge foliage of gigantic tree-ferns and titanic club-mosses would wave over our heads, while a green carpet of petty trailing creepers would spread luxuriantly over the damp soil beneath our feet. Great swampy flats would stretch around us on every side; and, instead of the rocky or undulat-