Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/358

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

insects. So among the flies: most of the omnivorous families are dull and ugly; but several of the flower-haunting tribes are adorned with brilliant colors, and live upon honey. In fact, an immense majority of the brightest insects are honey-suckers, and seem to have derived their taste for beautiful hues from the nature of the objects among which they seek their food.

There is one striking and obvious exception, however, which has doubtless already suggested itself to the minds of readers. I mean the bees. These are the most flower-loving of all insects, and yet they are comparatively plain in their coloration. We must remember, however, that the peculiar nature of the commonwealth among the social bees prevents the free action of the selective preference by which we account for the brilliancy of all other flower-haunting species. The queen or mother bee is a prisoner for life; her Majesty's domestic arrangements are all made for her by the state; she does not herself seek honey among flowers, and those bees which do so have no power of transmitting their tastes to descendants, as they live and die mere household drudges. On the other hand, the solitary bees are in many cases exquisitely colored, as we might expect from their power of free choice; and one flower-haunting family of the same order, the Chrysidæ, are aptly compared to the humming-birds in the richness of their coloring.

One more peculiarity of great interest must also be noted. It appears that many insects have two sets of colors, seemingly for different purposes; the one set protective from the attacks of enemies, the other set attractive to their own mates. Thus several butterflies have the lower side of their wings colored like the leaves or bark on which they rest, while the upper sides are rich with crimson, orange, and gold, which gleam in the bright sunlight as they flit about among their fellows. Butterflies, of course, fold their wings with the under side outward. On the other hand, moths, which fold their wings in the opposite manner, often have their upper surfaces imitative or protective, while the lower sides are bright and beautiful. One Malayan butterfly, the Kallima paralecta, has wings of purple and orange above, but it exactly mimics dead foliage when its vans are folded; and, as it always rests among dry leaves, it can hardly be distinguished from them, as it is even apparently spotted with small fungi. In these and many other cases one can not help believing that, while imitative coloring has been acquired for protective purposes, the bright hues of the concealed portion must be similarly useful to the insect as a personal decoration.

It would seem, then, that we owe half the loveliest objects in our modern world to the insect color-sense. It is the bee and the butterfly which have given us the gorgeous orchids and massive creepers of the tropics, the gentians and rhododendrons of the Alps, the camellias and heathers of our conservatories, the may and primroses of our