The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 677/Notes and Queries
NOTES AND QUERIES.
Trapping Shrews and Voles.—One is usually led to suppose that the Pigmy Shrew, Sorex minutus, is a scarce species in the South of England. It may consequently be of interest to put on record the capture by myself of a couple of specimens at Combe Martin, in North Devonshire, last September. I have also on previous occasions taken it at Southerndown, in Glamorganshire, in August, and in Leigh Woods, Somersetshire, in mid-winter. It is of course not to be supposed that the species is comparable in frequency of occurrence with the larger species, Sorex araneus. Perhaps on an average indeed only ten per cent. of the Shrews captured by myself have been Pigmies. But it by no means follows that a species of mammal is scarce because it is hard to trap or rarely seen. Take, for example, the case of our two small Voles, Microtus agrestis and M. glareolus. A few years back it was the custom to publish the capture of every specimen of the latter, and record it as "new to the county." Yet nothing, I take it, is more certain than that the species is, and always has been—at least since historic times—abundant everywhere throughout Great Britain. I myself have caught it night after night in numbers in the counties of Glamorgan, Gloucester, Somerset, Devon, and Dorset. It even outdoes Mus sylvaticus in obtrusiveness. But with the Field Vole it is far otherwise. I have trapped it, it is true, but only at rare intervals, and, so to speak, by chance; that is to say, the specimens were found in the traps, either snapped by the hind quarters or lying in some other position, showing equally clearly that their capture was due to pure bad luck, like an accidental dart into the trap, and not to any eagerness after the bait. In fact, at a rough estimate I should compute that in the case of these two species the percentage of agrestis captured had not been higher than five; yet this is not attributable to any scarcity on the part of agrestis, nor to trapping in unfavourable localities. Traps have been set in their runs in the green fields, and even close to the nest containing young, but without success. Nevertheless the species is probably abundant everywhere in meadows and hay-fields, not to mention hedges and banks, where I have myself seen it. The same may be the case with the Pigmy Shrew. It may be as abundant as S. araneus, but harder to trap. The small amount of experience I have had of the species lends some support to this supposition, for in at least two cases I clearly recollect that the specimens were caught in the way mentioned above as characteristic of A. agrestis; that is to say, with their heads nowhere near the bait. In conclusion, it may be added that in my opinion the difference with respect to being trapped observable between agrestis and glareolus is partly, at all events, explicable in connection with an habitual difference of diet between the two species. At the time when I had the best opportunities of trapping agrestis, I was not aware that bait like bread, cheese, boiled potato, and the like, which seem to be so attractive to glareolus, have no charm for the other species. This fact I have subsequently learnt by keeping the two in captivity; glareolus is omnivorous, agrestis much more of a vegetarian, going mad with delight over a piece of lettuce; but he is also, miserabile dictu, like his cousin amphibius, by no means impartial to members of his own species.—R.I. Pocock (British Museum, Nat. Hist.).
Osprey in Dorset.—A very fine specimen of the Osprey, Pandion haliaëtus, was recently shot in the Fleet Waters, Dorset, by Mr. Russell, of Charlestown, an old sportsman bordering on seventy years of age. Mr. S.H. Wallis, of Weymouth, having heard that a rare bird had been obtained, proceeded to Charlestown, and at once recognized this very rare species on the British list. Mr. Wallis, who is a thorough naturalist, regrets the unfortunate death of such a rare visitor to English waters, and has added it to his collection. The bird has been entrusted to Mr. Watson, taxidermist, of Dorchester, for careful preservation.—(H.E. Dresser, Orpington, Kent.)
Sparrowhawk nesting in Thorn-tree.— Is it not unusual for a Sparrowhawk to build a nest in a thorn-tree when suitable oak-trees are plentiful? My experience, which is fairly large, proves this to be the contrary. I found such in Cornbury Park, Oxon, on June 23rd last, containing six young. I might add that the nest was a completely made new structure, and was not situated in a fork, but among the smaller boughs near the top. At no great distance away, in a very similar position, was an old Squirrel's drey, the inside of which contained a Great Titmouse's nest, with two young and four addled eggs.—R.U. Calvert (Ascott-sub-Wychwood, Oxford).
Local Name of the Sheldrake.—I should be interested to know if the Sheldrake, Tadorna vulpanser, is known as the St. George's Duck on all parts of the English coast which this bird frequents. Some friends shot a pair of these handsome Ducks about a year ago on the south coast of Wales, and told me that these birds were known there by the above name. I do not remember having seen the term in any book on ornithology, and fancy it must be used only in a few counties on the west coast. Some years ago I first heard the name used by a fishmonger when he offered me a Sheldrake for sale.—C.B. Horsbrugh (Richmond Hill, Bath).
[In Dr. Bowdler Sharpe's 'Handbook of the Birds of Great Britain' will be found an observation by Mr. W.E. de Winton, "that in South Wales the local names for this species are 'Perrénet' and 'St. George's Duck."'— Ed.]
Fork-tailed Petrel in East Suffolk.—A specimen of this bird was picked up on the ground alive, but quite exhausted, not far from the pier at Lowestoft, on Oct. 4th, and received by me in the flesh a few days later. It was in very good condition.—Julian G. Tuck (Tostock Rectory, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk).
Nesting of the Great Northern and Black-throated Divers in Shetland.—At the request of Mr. O.V. Aplin (ante p. 425), I give below the extract from my note-book recording the finding of the eggs of Colymbus glacialis. I was under the impression that this species had been proved to have bred in the British Islands. The resident who gave me the locality said he had found them there some years ago, and had then taken their eggs. I have written to him to supply, if possible, the date, and also particulars of the finding of the Black-throated Diver breeding, but for obvious reasons I do not care, nor have I permission, to publish his name. The note, made on the spot, is as follows:—"June 2nd. Started for walk over the hills towards Clouster. After going about seven miles I came across a fair-sized loch, seemingly miles from any habitation, and on glassing it I saw a Diver swimming near the shore. Creeping cautiously nearer, I came to about seventy yards from the place, when up got a couple of Great Northern Divers. Their heavy and laboured flight reminded me greatly of that of the Shag. I had my glass on them, so at once distinguished them before finding the eggs. They were placed on the summit of a slight grassy slope, and were about six feet from the water, the grass being merely flattened for their reception. The intervening track, mentioned as usually being found, was wanting in this case; but no doubt this may be accounted for by the eggs being only slightly incubated. I lay in wait for an hour, but the birds showed no signs of returning; and next day I had to leave the neighbourhood." The dimensions of the eggs are 3·80 x 2·15 and 3·55 x 2·15.—Bernard A.E. Buttress (Hendon, Middlesex).
P.S.—The following is the reply which I have received from the resident in Shetland. It will be noticed he bears out my statement (made in my list of birds observed) that the Common Tern is there:—"Oct. 10th, 1897. Great Northern Diver's eggs I took several times previous to 1880. After 1883 I was absent three years, and on my return I found sad havoc played with mostly all the Divers. Since that time I have only twice taken the nest of the Great Northern Diver, 1891 and 1893; each time one nest only. The gentleman to whom I showed the Blackthroat breeding, and who gave me Saunders's 'Manual,' was Fred Howe Windham, Esq., whose address I do not at present know. His last address three years ago was The Castle, Castlerea, Roscommon. Terns, Common and Arctic, have left; also the majority of sea-birds. Excepting Golden Plover, few winter visitors have yet arrived."—Bernard A.E. Buttress.
Noddy Tern in Cheshire.—The other day, when looking through a collection of stuffed birds, I saw and obtained a specimen which has since been identified as the Noddy Tern, Sterna stolida, Linn.; it is in immature plumage, the grey on the crown being just visible. It was shot on the Dee marshes in winter about six years ago. As I believe this Tern has been only twice recorded in Europe, I think this specimen worth mention.—F. Congreve (Burton Hall, Neston, Chester).
P.S.—I obtained the Noddy from a small private collection belonging to Mr. Lawton, an ex-tenant of my father's. He killed and stuffed it himself. It is at present in our collection at Burton Hall, but it has been identified by the taxidermist of the Liverpool Museum, and by Dr. Herbert Dobie, of Chester.—F.L. Congreve.
Eggs of the Roseate Tern.—With regard to Mr. Potter's remarks on the above (p. 467), my experience, and that of several of my friends, is that we, at any rate, are not able to diagnose with certainty the eggs of these birds from those of the Common and Arctic Terns without further data to go upon. I do not say that Mr. Potter is wrong in his assertions, as it is very unwise to dogmatize on these matters; but I merely state my experience. Everyone who has visited a large breeding haunt of the Arctic or Common Tern knows what an infinite variety the eggs present in form, size, ground colouring, and markings; and with regard to the usual test given in books for eggs of the Roseate Tern, I have seen a pair of Arctic Tern's eggs far more elongated than any Roseate Tern's I have yet examined. I have not examined the shells of any of the three species microscopically. I believe it was Dr. Johnson who remarked that "a wager is the butt-end of a fool's argument," and I should be very sorry to back myself to pick out of a basket containing the eggs of all three species three eggs of the Roseate Tern in three consecutive draws, at the rate of a sovereign an egg; for, from what I have seen, eggs of all three species could be chosen so alike that it would defy the best oologist living to discriminate between them. I may mention that an ornithological friend of mine once backed himself to pick out not only the egg of Brünnich's Guillemot, but also that of the Ringed Guillemot, from a basket containing eggs of the common bird. Needless to say he was found wanting. Mr. Potter mentions the late Canon Atkinson. I am glad to say that the author of 'Forty Years in a Moorland Parish' is still hale and hearty, and I had the pleasure of a long talk with him not many weeks ago at his home in Danby in Cleveland.—Oxley Grabham (Chestnut House, Heworth, York).
Nesting of the Great Plover.—While crossing a nesting ground of the Great Plover in Lincolnshire, on June 7th last, I chanced to run against a nest containing four eggs, two rather larger and longer than the other two, thus having the appearance of belonging to two hens. The eggs were quite warm, and on my approaching the nest a Great Plover rose about eighty yards beyond it.—R.U. Calvert (Ascott-sub-Wychwood, Oxford).
Black-winged Stilt in Somerset.—I have recently received a present of a specimen of the Black-winged Stilt, shot at Sedgmoor in July, 1896, a distance of four miles from here. The gentleman from whom I obtained it, and who had it in the flesh—Mr. C. Hooper, taxidermist, of Wells—thought it was some species of Snipe. The legs are about ten inches in length. This is, I believe, the first mention of the bird from Somerset, and the second from the West of England, one having been reported from Anglesea by Montagu. I shall be happy to send it for any naturalist's inspection. — Stanley Lewis (39, High Street, Wells, Somerset).
Roosting of the Swift.—Apropos of Mr. Gyngell's letter in last month's 'Zoologist' (p. 468), a friend of mine, when standing outside the house one evening at about eight o'clock, saw a Swift fly up and settle flat against the wall just under the eave. He watched it for some time, but it never moved. These birds evidently roost in this position, for which the forward-pointing hallux and toes of all the same length are well fitted. The Swifts did not leave the Norfolk coast till about Sept. 5th, but from the end of August till then were flying about along the cliffs in considerable numbers.—Bernard Riviere (82, Finchley Road, N.W.).
Wonderful Egg-producing Powers of the Wryneck.—A friend of mine discovered the haunt of a pair of these birds, Iynx torquilla, in a plantation at Farnborough, in Kent; he had noticed them going and coming from an old decayed plum-stub about 5 ft. 6 in. or so in height. Not being able to see far down the hollow limb, he broke a strip away, which fortunately snapped off at the very bottom of the hole, a distance of fully two feet. When first found, on May 23rd, 1897, there were seven eggs lying on the bare wood, which he took, afterwards replacing the strip in position. Two more eggs were laid by the 25th inst., and were left in situ quo, but had disappeared somehow the next morning. The bird deposited another on the 26th inst., to which were added two eggs of the House Sparrow, to make up for those that were missing; all the three, however, lay broken at the foot of the tree on the following morning. She then seemed to settle down to regular business, and continued laying every day without intermission, each egg being removed as soon as laid, the total number up to July 17th reaching sixty-two, less the three that were broken or missing, leaving fifty-nine eggs in my possession from the one bird, which I fancy must establish a record. Concurrently with this another bird was laying in an adjacent plantation, but in a more erratic fashion, the eggs in this case being removed in batches of four and five. On two occasions she stopped laying for a day or two, and then continued depositing again; total number of eggs forty-three. Yarrell mentions an instance on the authority of a Mr. Salmon, who states he took no less than twenty-two eggs from a Wryneck that had laid on a Redstart's nest of the preceding year. Not being easy of access from above, the nest was bodily removed by means of a very convenient hole at the bottom no less than five times before it was finally abandoned. Again, in 'Lloyd's Natural History' we find another case recorded by a Mr. Norgate of a Wryneck laying forty-two eggs for two years in succession (1872–73); as Mr. Seebohm remarks in 1874, "her reproductive powers were apparently exhausted, as only one egg was laid, and in 1875 the place was deserted." No doubt there may be many other parallel instances, and I should be glad to know if anyone has heard of the larger number, viz. sixty-two, having been either equalled or surpassed. It seems such an extraordinary number that it is certainly worthy of being placed on record.—H. Alderson (Hilda Vale Road, Farnborough).
Popular Fallacy concerning the Cuckoo.—Perhaps the following rhyme may be of interest to Mr. Davenport (if not already known to him) and others, as it may possibly explain the origin of the popular fallacy concerning the Cuckoo sucking the eggs of other birds. The rhyme is said to be well known in the midlands:—
"The Cuckoo is a merry bird,
She sings as she flies;
She brings us good tidings,
And tells us no lies.
She sucks little bird's eggs
To make her voice clear,
That she may sing Cuckoo
Three months in the year."
—C.B. Horsbrugh (Richmond Hill, Bath).
Do Cuckoos suck Eggs?—I much regret I have no proof whatever to offer Mr. Davenport that the Hawfinch's eggs mentioned in 'Zoologist,' p. 426, were sucked by Cuckoos; neither have I any proof that they were sucked by Jackdaws. But the fact still remains that not only were the eggs sucked in the above-mentioned nest, but the contents of thirty-two other nests of the same species, with those of some scores of other nests I saw, had met with a similar fate. Cuckoos in this locality have been exceptionally plentiful during the past season, and with one exception (on an island in the Outer Hebrides during the spring of 1895), I have never known them to be so numerous.—R.U. Calvert (Langley House, Ascott-sub-Wychwood, Oxford).
Hypolais polyglotta in Sussex.—As reported by Mr. Howard Saunders in the current issue of 'The Ibis,' the second of the Warblers mentioned by Mr. Ticehurst (supra, p. 333) has turned out, as the latter surmised, to be of this species. The specimen has been examined by Mr. Saunders and others, amongst them by the present writer, and is now in the possession of Mr. Boyd Alexander. The species has already been declared to be a member of our avifauna by Mr. Murray A. Mathew ('Birds of Pembrokeshire,' pp. 9, 10), but in this instance doubt may perhaps be reasonably entertained of the correct identification of the species.—W. Ruskin Butterfield (St. Leonards-on-Sea).
Willow Wren singing in Autumn.—On looking over my note-books for 1891–93, in which years I noticed more particularly the dates on which our different birds were singing, I find that the Willow Wren figures therein as a comparatively common autumn singer. Thus in 1891 the dates are June 15th, Aug. 14th–22nd; in 1892, Aug. 1st–17th; in 1893, June 16th, 20th, July 1st, 6th, 25th, Aug. 7th, 9th, 24th, Sept. 8th. These notes refer mainly to Midlothian.—Robert Godfrey (46, Cumberland Street, Edinburgh).
Mealy Redpoll off Coast of Kerry.—Between 1889 and 1893 I received seven specimens of the Mealy Redpoll from the Tearaght Rock, a small but precipitous islet out in the Atlantic, nine miles west of Kerry. These Redpolls are very large, and I have always regarded them as Greenland Redpolls, Linota hornemanni, Holb. In this I hope to be confirmed by Mr. Howard Saunders, to whom two stuffed specimens have just been forwarded. Five were obtained in September, one in October, and one in November.—Richard M. Barrington (Fassaroe, Bray, Co. Wicklow).
Note on Pied and Grey Wagtail in the Itchen Valley.—I wish to correct a statement I made on p. 462 in the October issue of 'The Zoologist' with relation to these birds. I there stated that by the end of April Pied Wagtails, with their congeners, had deserted the watermeads near the town (Winchester) on the southern side, save for some of the first species, preparatory to spending the breeding season further down the river. Of course, as a rule, the Grey Wagtail leaves England altogether at the end of March, although I may mention that I have several well-authenticated records of its breeding in the Itchen Valley; and last May I myself saw the bird some four miles from the town. At the end of April, indeed, Pied Wagtails do extend their range a good deal to the south for the breeding season, and in autumn and winter congregate into small parties of seven and eight, which are especially regular in the near water-meads just south of the town, in company with parties of the Grey Wagtail. I also stated that both species returned to these water-meads about the middle of November. This is not accurate; the usual date is about the beginning of October, though last year I did not observe any Grey Wagtails near the town until December. The parts of the Itchen most frequented by both species in winter are decidedly the rich and fertile water-meads immediately south of the town for a distance of about five miles. This district is a favourite one for resident birds in winter, as Reed Buntings, Starlings, Rooks, Gulls, Jackdaws, Dabchicks, &c. — G.W. Smith (Ivy Bank, Beckenham).
Strange Nesting Habits—Nuthatch and Starling.—Mr. W.G. Clarke's article last month (p. 449) reminds me of the following case of two birds building in close proximity to one another. I had noticed a pair of Nuthatches going in and out of a hole in a huge oak some time in the beginning of last May, so one day I brought a chisel and hammer, and set to work to reach the nest. At the first few strokes of the hammer a Starling flew out with a scream of alarm. I thought this was rather curious, but went on enlarging the hole, until I could get my hand in. All this time the two Nuthatches had been in a great state of agitation, uttering their "twit, twit-tit" of alarm. On inserting my hand I found that just beyond the entrance of the hole there was a cup-shaped hollow containing a Starling's egg. Beyond this there was a turning to the left, at right angles to the entrance. Round this corner the Nuthatches' nest must have been, but I could not get my hand there. Almost directly I had left the tree one of the Nuthatches entered the hole. In this case the Nuthatches must have hopped over the sitting Starling every time they went to their nest.—Bernard Riviere (82, Finchley Road, N.W.).
The Question of Popular Ornithological Fallacies.—I am glad that Mr. Davenport has defended the Cuckoos (p. 473). Not only is it rash to conclude, because sucked eggs are found, that Cuckoos are the culprits, but such statements bring a beautiful and interesting bird into unnecessary disgrace, and into danger of sharing the fate of the scores of harmless Kestrels which are annually destroyed. Yet it seems hardly fair to class the belief that Cuckoos suck eggs with such absurd fancies as that Nightjars suck the milk of goats, or that Cuckoos become hawks in winter. Hitherto I have supposed that this belief arose from the Cuckoo having at times been seen with its own egg in its mouth preparatory to depositing it in a nest. But this year I have heard two stories, based upon careful observation, which I must confess have rather shaken my faith in the Cuckoo, and which I will relate, and then leave your readers to form their own deductions. (1) Near Haddon Hall is a signal-box. One day this year the signalman saw a Cuckoo alight on the bank of the cutting near his box. As it did not rise again at once, but appeared to be busily engaged on the bank, he left his box, and went to the spot to satisfy himself as to the nature of the bird's doings. As he approached, the Cuckoo flew up, and just where it had been he found a Wagtail's nest with one egg in it, but on the bank outside the nest were the broken shells of other eggs. (2) A gamekeeper was crossing a moor (about six miles north-east of this place) when a Cuckoo rose from the ground a few yards in front of him. He at once went to the spot from which it rose, and there found a Grouse's egg partly sucked. I have seen the egg, and certainly the slit (for it was not a round hole pierced in the egg) was such as a Cuckoo's bill might be expected to make.
Some of the fallacies mentioned by Mr. Davenport result from ignorance and nothing else, but others arise from inexperience only. It is hardly surprising that to a casual passer-by the Landrail should appear to ventriloquise. The same may be said of the burring of the Nightjar. Mistakes are sometimes made because an observer takes for granted facts are universally and invariably true when they have been proved by his own personal experience. But is it not equally foolish for an ornithologist to suppose that a phenomenon has never occurred merely because it has not come under his own notice? Take the case of the Swift on the ground. Mr. Davenport considers it a popular fallacy resulting from ignorance to suppose that a Swift cannot arise again from the ground. Mr. Howard Saunders, in his 'Manual,' merely states that, "contrary to the popular belief, the birds are able to raise themselves from the ground." But he does not imply that they are always able to do so. No doubt they very often are able thus to raise themselves. Nevertheless, my own experience would have led me to the contrary conclusion, for I have never seen a Swift rise from the ground, though from time to time I have picked them up and thrown them into the air, and then they have flown away.
I should be glad to know whether experienced field naturalists in general consider it a "preposterous notion" to suppose that a Lapwing may attempt to draw the attention of man or dog from her nest. Ten years ago last May I came suddenly upon a sitting Lapwing. She rose hurriedly from her nest, and tumbled along the ground, as if she could neither fly nor run. Am I to suppose that she had temporarily lost her power of flight owing to cramp through sitting long in one position, or that her behaviour was merely an expression of anxiety, or did she indeed wish to distract my attention from the whereabouts of her nest? What, may I ask, causes Ducks to leave their young, and to flap along the water in front of an intruder?—W. Storrs Fox (St. Anselm's, Bakewell, Derbyshire).
The Stridulation of Orthoptera.—I have read with much interest Mr. Aplin's note in 'The Zoologist' for September (p. 432) and, at least as far as Orthoptera are concerned, I can fully corroborate his account of the ventriloquial powers of these insects. Of the three groups of the stridulating Orthoptera, the first is the section called Acridiodea, which produces a buzzing sound by the friction of the posterior femora, which are finely serrated inside (vide Darwin, 'Descent of Man,' 2nd ed. p. 286, fig. 14), against the elytra. As the arrangement of the veins of that part of the elytra affected varies with the species, so does the intensity of the sound. It is a useful accomplishment, and to be able to determine the insect by its stridulation without seeing the performer is not very difficult.
In the Locustodea the sound is produced very differently, namely, by the friction of the basal part of the left elytron over the same part of the right, these parts being modified for the purpose. The stridulation thus produced is very shrill and hard to locate. I have often stalked down our large Locusta viridissima, L., and have usually found it on a bed of nettles or thistles, in the middle of a corn-field, or in stubble, invariably much farther away than I at first expected. The sound appears to come from almost beneath one's feet, but on walking straight towards it, seems to recede into the distance, until it suddenly strikes the ear, very harshly and shrilly at close quarters. As soon as the would-be capturer approaches, the sound ceases, and the insect remains invisible. The assimilation of the green colour of the insect and the green surroundings which it always chooses as a band-stand is so close, that it is almost impossible to detect the creature until it recommences to chirp, when the rapid movement of the elytra betrays its whereabouts. The stridulation of this species is loud and prolonged, but in several of its relatives is short and sharp, and all the more difficult to locate, as the observer does not obtain a fair chance to listen attentively. Such is the case with Platycleis grisea, Fabr., common on the chalky cliffs of our south coast. Thamnotrizon cinereus, L., may be often heard uttering a short sharp "tss, tss" in brambles and thickets before a shower of rain, or on a fine evening in the late summer and autumn; and it often chirps late into the night. The "Canadian Band," as the natives of the Dominion call the incessant chirping of insects after nightfall, is not heard in Britain, but in most countries, especially in the tropics, the sound is very loud, persistent and annoying. The chirp of the Cricket is well known, ana also possesses ventriloquial properties to a certain extent.
This power of stridulation, in the Saltatorial Orthoptera, is confined to the males, except in one curious family, the Ephippigeridæ, confined to the south of Europe and the north of Africa, in which the female is also capable of producing a sound when irritated or frightened. I have never heard any insect of this family perform, but should think that they are able to chirp very loudly. The elytra are abbreviated until they are quite rudimentary and useless for anything but musical purposes; the posterior part of the pronotum is raised, and seems to act as a sounding-board, as Darwin noticed (op. cit. p. 284). It was this form of the pronotum that suggested to Serville the name Ephippigera, from its resemblance to a saddle. One interesting effect of this power of stridulation among the Orthoptera is that it puts, or seems to put, a check upon a strong tendency to abortion of the organs of flight. The wings themselves are not affected, and in a large proportion of species are quite rudimentary. The elytra of the females are often much smaller than in the males, as their services are not required for musical purposes. But in the males, even if the wings are abortive and the elytra useless for flight, the basal part at least of the latter usually remains, sometimes very highly modified, for the purpose of performing stridulation. The comparative development of the organs of flight in the Orthoptera is such an inconstant character, that no species is based upon their abortion or perfect development. There are a large number of species in which the wings are abbreviated normally, and perfectly developed by aberration (perhaps atavism), and vice versâ. In our commonest Grasshopper, Stenobothrus parallelus, Zett., the wings are rudimentary, and in the females the elytra also; but in the males the latter are perfectly developed for stridulation; yet there is a rare variety in which the wings are perfectly developed. I possess a very curious and rare variety of the tiny Cricket, Tridactylus variegatus, Latr., with the wings perfectly developed and caudate, the typical form having entirely abbreviated organs of flight.—Malcolm Burr (Bellagio, East Grinstead).
Stridulation of Cicadidæ in Mashunuland.—You will observe that in accordance with your request I have paid special attention to the Cicadas, and very interesting insects I have found them to be. Personally I was much surprised and pleased to find so many different species in so limited an area, say eight square miles; but I am not sufficiently acquainted with them to know whether this is an unusually large number.
Perhaps the few succeeding notes, such as they are, may be of use and interest to you. I reached this locality in the end of July, when there were apparently no Cicadas about. The little blackish species, Tibicen nigricans, Stål, was the first to appear, which it did during the second week in August, remaining till the end of September. Its call is quite distinct from all the other species, and not nearly so loud. It consists merely of a short chirp, hanging slightly on one note, and ending with a quick rise, the sound being incessantly repeated. The next species, Platypleura rutherfordi, Dist., began calling in the middle of September. I made no particular note of its cry, except that it was much louder than that of the former, and continuous. It was apparently confined to the smoother trunks of the "mosasa" tree. It continued calling until Oct. 15th, when I shifted camp four miles away. At this spot it did not occur, owing, I presume, to the fact that the "mosasa" tree is not found there, being replaced by a very nearly allied species, called by the Kafirs "mfuti." However, when I went back on the 22nd I could not find any of them. At my new camp, on Oct. 17th, I caught three species.
The species, Pœcilopsaltria marshalli, Dist., occurs only on "mopani" trees, frequenting the smaller branches, to which its colouring is very well adapted. Indeed, I have found it to be one of the most difficult to detect, which doubtless accounts for the fact that it is the most easily approached, and sits very close. Indeed, I have often struck the branch on which one has been sitting, sharply with my net, without disturbing it. Its cry is the most monotonous of any species I know, being one continuous unbroken churr. I noticed a Cicada calling among "mopanis" in the end of September, which was probably this species. It disappeared in the middle of this month.
Pœcilopsaltria bombifrons, Karsch, is not confined to any one tree, but frequents the small, smooth branches of many trees and shrubs. Its cry has a considerable range, starting on a somewhat low note and gradually rising to a high pitch, then falling again, and so on. I once came across a very large concourse of this species, there being quite sixty on a small bush, and making a terrible noise. At the first sweep I took two males and five females, and of the twenty I caught only six were males. By the way, I have noticed several facts which would lead me to suppose that Cicadas were polygamous, and I should be much interested to know whether your experience would bear this out.
Pœcilopsaltria horizontalis, Karsch. This handsome species is by far the most scarce, and, moreover, I found it difficult to catch, owing to its habit of sitting high up on the small branches of the "machabel" tree, to which it seems confined. Like the preceding species, the cry starts low, and gradually rises to a very shrill and piercing note, much louder than that of any other species. Although I only captured it first on Oct. 17th, it must have been out some time before, as it disappeared about the end of the same month. I forgot to mention that, unlike P. bombifrons, the high note in its call is sustained for some time, alternating in regular cadences with the lower notes.
Platypleura centralis, Dist., differs from the preceding species in that it frequents the main trunk of its special tree (the "mfuti"), and this I suppose accounts for its markedly longer rostrum. The colouring is beautifully adaptive, and the black central line tends to the deception, from its resemblance to the cracks in the scaly bark. Like Platypleura rutherfordi, this insect continues calling after sundown, almost till dark; and I have also been awakened by it a good half-hour before sunrise. I have taken five examples at light. Is it possible that Cicadas fly much at night? When taking their numbers into account, it is very seldom indeed that I have ever seen any on the wing in the daytime, except when disturbed. This species, and also Pœcilopsaltria bombifrons, seem very subject to attack from a very large Asilus fly, which catches them on the wing. I have seen a good many too caught at rest by small Lizards. The cry is fairly high pitched, but not shrill or piercing; it is fairly steady, but broken occasionally for a few seconds by a lower churring note.
Pœcilopsaltria leopardina, Dist. I captured my first specimen on Nov. 2nd, but am inclined to think it was about the latter half of October, and that I overlooked it as being P. horizontalis. The cry is very similar, and has the same piercing shrillness, but it is not so loud, and the preliminary lower notes are characterized by a curious throbbing sound. At present it is quite the most ubiquitous kind, frequenting many different kinds of trees, but I have only seen it in any numbers on the "machabel." Have taken three at light.
Monomatapa insignis, Dist. I first noticed this species on the 15th, sitting on the thin stems of a bush, which occurred in a long strip between two patches of "mopani." There were a lot of them, and they were very conspicuous on the leafless stems; but now they have emigrated to the "mopanis." They did not begin calling till the 18th, and are hardly yet in full song. The cry is loud, but the chirp is not short or sharp, and there is an additional note at the end of it.—Guy A.K. Marshall.
[The above interesting notes are contained in a letter dated Nov. 21st, 1895, which I received from Mr. Marshall, with a collection of Cicadidæ made at Gadzima, on the Middle Umfuli River, Mashunuland. The collection I have since worked out (Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. Ser. 6, vol. xix. p. 125, 1897), and the present discussion affords a good opportunity for publishing these original field observations.—Ed.].
Stridulation of Cicadidæ.—Both in Central Africa (Nyasaland) and the West Indies I have taken Cicadas at light. In the Transvaal I have also taken them at rest on tree-trunks, but I do not think they were taken in consequence of their "song" having thus localized them. It is always easy to spot what tree they are on, but I noticed they chose the tops of small trees which were out of reach and sight, as there they got the most sun. It is the warmth they need, and they do not generally shrill unless the sun is out. I have netted them in bright sunshine, as they flew off the trees on my approach. At Zomba I caught a large species by actually localizing its noise, but that was the only instance of the kind that I remember.—Percy Rendall (Devonshire Club, S.W.).
Stridulation and Habits of Cicadidæ.—By the above notes it will be seen that both Mr. Guy Marshall and Dr. Percy Rendall took Cicadidæ "at light." This was my own experience in the Malay Peninsula; and yet, strange to say, in South Africa, though I visited the electric lamps of Pretoria for three years, and made a large collection of Heterocera and other insects therefrom, I never saw nor took a single specimen of the family under such conditions.
In addition to the two species, Platypleura centralis and P. rutherfordi, which Mr. Marshall found calling "after sundown almost to dark," my experience was the same with the small and scarce species, Platypleura haglundi, Stål. This rare Cicadad I heard in the Waterberg district of the Transvaal just before sundown, and without any difficulty located the tree from whence the stridulating music proceeded, when by a close scrutiny in the fading light I took a set of specimens from off the twigs and branches, to the colour of which they assimilate in colouration. I cannot conceive that my ears or eyes were superior to those of any insectivorous bird. That birds do thus capture Cicadas is vouched for by Mr. A.H. Swinton, who paid considerable attention to the family in Italy. "About the commencement of July there appeared, as if by magic, certain greyish insectivorous birds with a harsh and guttural note, among the sunny vines and woody knolls where the Cicadæ had established their coteries; and these, sitting on the low brambles, sometimes two together, knavishly whistled a tune until an unwary chanticleer was inveigled to respond, and so betray his hiding. The obnoxious intruders then flew at him, and brought him to the ground in their beak and claws, screaking most piteously, 'Whee! whee!'" ('Insect Variety,' p. 21). And that I am not alone in my experience of being assisted in the capture of Cicadidæ by discovering their position through their tell-tale stridulation is apparent by a narrative of the late Mr. Jenner Weir, who, exhibiting a specimen of Cicadetta montana at a meeting of the Entomological Society of London, is reported to have said, 'he was attracted to the spot where the insect was concealed by hearing it stridulate" (Proc. Ent. Soc. July 4th, 1877). At a subsequent meeting (Aug. 1st, 1877), Mr. Weir stated that Mr. J. Gulliver had also taken the species, and that that collector was also "guided by the sound so made in effecting the capture."—Ed.
Strange Pairing of Butterflies.—Whilst shooting on the western borders of the Bog of Allen, in Kildare, Ireland, during the latter part of the month of August in this present year, I noticed a male Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly and a female Large Meadow Brown, interbreeding. Is this a circumstance of any rarity? I almost think it must be, for in the course of a long country experience nothing of the sort has come under my notice.—A. Marmaduke Langdale (Thorneycroft, Compton, Petersfield).
[The two butterflies being not even generically allied, but belonging to different subfamilies, this strange union, of which we have received definite particulars, would certainly be infertile in result.—Ed.]
PRESERVATION OF ZOOLOGICAL SPECIMENS.
Dermestes lardarius eating Specimens of Moths.—In reply to Mr. Dallas's query about getting rid of Dermestes in insects (p. 433), the large moths are all the better for having their insides removed at the first, and. treated with a weak solution of corrosive sublimate, or at least of benzoline. With old specimens, benzoline applied very lightly is most useful, but occasionally the mischief has extended to the wings, and the scales float off, leaving a black mass. In the case of heads, a solution of corrosive sublimate of such a strength as not to leave a white deposit on dark hair should be liberally applied, and when dry the hair should be brushed and combed, and wiped over with benzoline. Even when there are no Dermestes, it is a capital plan to saturate all heads once or twice a year with benzoline. For skins, &c, that are put away powdered naphthaline is excellent.—Oxley Grabham (Chestnut House, Heworth, York).
- Two specimens taken off the coast of Wexford, one still preserved in Dublin Museum.—Ed.
- See 'The Zoologist,' 1894, pp. 264, 306, 307, 308, 338, 340.
- Vide ante, p. 504.—Ed.
- Polygamy is quite probable, though in the Transvaal I had reason to believe that one species paired during the breeding season ('Naturalist in the Transvaal,' p. 67).—Ed.
- =Ioba horizontalis (Karsch., 1890), Wikisource-ed.