Insects

“ 227 April 5 1692 "I have observed all Diurnal Butterflies to have Antennas clavatas & excepting two species to sit alis erectis: and that they are but few in respect of the nocturnal ones or Phalaenae, I having observed of those not above 30 kinds, but of these two hundred.

“ 232 Dec 28 1692 "The box of Insects... were so well fixt that... not one of them stirred by ye shaking and jolting of the wagon, but came as entire as they were sent out... Upon opening of the box I was mightily taken, I might say enravished, with the beauty of the spectacle, such a multitude of rare creatures, so curiously conserved... By the view of [Mr Bobert’s] collection I am satisfied that there are but few of the Diurnal Papilio’s in other parts of England which are not to be found heerabout (I know not what variety the mounatinous parts may afford) for in this box I find but only one Species unknown to me: but of the nocturnal or Phalaenae many. I perceive he hath not descended to ye small Phalaenae, which are exceeding numeous and may exercise him hereafter.

“ 208 July 7 1690 "Reviewing my notes concerning Insects... I find it a thing of infinite difficulty to draw up any tolerable Epitome of ye History of such as are found with us: They being almost innumerable. The two great heads or Summa genera that I would divide them into are 1. Quae nullam subeunt mutationem 2. Quae metamorphosin aliquam patiuntur. The second genus I may divide either as they appear at their first hatching from ye egge, & so they will be either Polypoda, Erucae; or Hexapoda; or Apoda, Eulae. Of the first sort come Butterflies, of the second Beetles; of the third Flies of all sorts, Bees &c. Or, as they appear after they have undergone their last change, & so they may be subdivided into koleoptera, Beetles &c., or anelutra, which are either alis farinaceis, Papiliones, or alis membranaceis pellucidis, & those either tetraptera, Bees, wasps, Hornets &c. or diptera, Flies, Gnats &c. I am yet doubtful about the proccess of Locustae forficulae and Cimices sylv. which though winged insects, yet I suspect undergoe no metamorphosis.

“ The number of Erucae alone in this island is incredible, some plants having 3 or 4 sorts feeding upon them; and if we should make ye Papiliones a distinct genus from them, as all that write the History of Insects have done, we should double the number of species of that sort of Insect. The Beetle-tribe I hold to be no lesse numerous than they; & the Flyes perchance more. So that I know not but that the especies of Insects may be equall to or exceed those of Plants.

“ 53 As for the motion of spiders through the air, hanging on the end of their threads; though their progress be wholly attributed to the wind wafting of them, yet they seem to have a power to steer or direct their course upwards, downwards & it may be laterally, as they please. For I have seen them mount up almost perpendicularly in the air to that height that I quite lost sight of them, others suddenly sink in their motion, and others proceed almost parallel to the horizon. A spider hanging in the air by a threadf he draws after him will, besides that he hangs on, shoot out another before him to a great length: so that it seems he has sundry holes out of which he can shoot threads. Spiders thus hanging, seem to have a power at their pleasure to snap in sunder the thread they hang by, & sail away with the other."

Ray, Middleton July 3 1671

In a letter to Martin Lister, Ray’s skill in observation is apparent:

On the 22nd June 1673 I saw a Wasp, one of the largest of this tribe - I do not now recollect the species - dragging a green caterpillar three times larger than itself ... Before my very eyes it carried it almost the full length of a measuring rod, that is some fifteen and a half feet; and then deposited it at the mouth of a burrow which it had previously dug for itself.

Then it removed a ball of earth with which it had sealed up the entrance; went down itself into the hole; after a brief stay there came up again; and seizing the caterpillar which it had left near the opening carried it down with it into the burrow. Soon, leaving it behind there, it returned alone; gathered pellets of earth and rolled them one by one into the burrow; and at intervals scratching with its fore feet, as rabbits and dogs do, flung dust backwards into the hole.

It kept repeating the same operation with dust and pellets alternately until the burrow was completely covered up; sometimes it descended in order, as it seemed to me, to press down and solidify the soil; once and again it flew of to a fir tree nearby perhaps to look for resin to stick the soil together and consolidate the work. When the opening was filled and levelled with the surface of the ground so that the approach to it was no longer visible, it picked up two pine-needles Iying near and laid them by the burrow’s mouth, to mark, as is probable, the exact spot. Who would not wonder in amazement at this? Who could ascribe work of this kind to a mere machine?

The last comment refers to the views of Descartes, attacked vigorously by Ray in his book ‘The Wisdom of God’ in 1691.

After Ray's death Samuel Dale wrote:

“ Had his life been protracted but another Summer, he would in all likelihood have finished his History of Insects, for which he had been preparing materials divers years; this work being far advanced, doth not deserve to be committed to the Moths, but to be carried on by some learned and ingenious person in that study. ”


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