Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon
J. Emerson Tennent
Part 9 out of 12
But the assaults of the ants are not confined to dead animals alone,
they attack equally such small insects as they can overcome, or find
disabled by accidents or wounds; and it is not unusual to see some
hundreds of them surrounding a maimed beetle, or a bruised cockroach,
and hurrying it along in spite of its struggles. I have, on more than
one occasion, seen a contest between, them and one of the viscous
ophidians, _Caecilia, glutinosa_, a reptile resembling an enormous
earthworm, common in the Kandyan hills, of an inch in diameter, and
nearly two feet in length. On these occasions it would seem as if the
whole community had been summoned and turned out for such a prodigious
effort; they surround their victim literally in tens of thousands,
inflicting wounds on all parts, and forcing it along towards their nest
in spite of resistance. In one instance to which I was a witness, the
conflict lasted for the latter part of a day, but towards evening the
Coecilia was completely exhausted, and in the morning it had totally
disappeared, having been carried away either whole or piecemeal by its
[Footnote 1: See _ante_, p. 317.]
The species I here allude to is a very small ant, which the Singhalese
call by the generic name of _Koombiya_. There is a species still more
minute, and evidently distinct, which frequents the caraffes and toilet
vessels. A third, probably the _Formica nidificans_ of Jerdan, is black,
of the same size as that last mentioned, and, from its colour, called
the _Kalu koombiga_ by the natives. In the houses its propensities and
habits are the same as those of the others; but I have observed that it
frequents the trees more profusely, forming small paper cells for its
young, like miniature wasps' nests, in which it deposits its eggs,
suspending them from a twig.
The most formidable of all is the great red ant or Dimiya. It is
particularly abundant in gardens, and on fruit trees; it constructs its
dwellings by glueing the leaves of such species as are suitable from
their shape and pliancy into hollow balls, and these it lines with a
kind of transparent paper, like that manufactured by the wasp. I have
watched them at the interesting operation of forming these dwellings;--a
line of ants standing on the edge of one leaf bring another into contact
with it, and hold both together with their mandibles till their
companions within attach them firmly by means of their adhesive paper,
the assistants outside moving along as the work proceeds. If it be
necessary to draw closer a leaf too distant to be laid hold of by the
immediate workers, they form a chain by depending one from the other
till the object is reached, when it is at length brought into contact,
and made fast by cement.
[Footnote 1: _Formica smaragdina,_ Fab.]
Like all their race, these ants are in perpetual motion, forming lines
on the ground along which they pass, in continual procession to and from
the trees on which they reside. They are the most irritable of the whole
order in Ceylon, biting with such intense ferocity as to render it
difficult for the unclad natives to collect the fruit from the mango
trees, which the red ants especially frequent. They drop from the
branches upon travellers in the jungle, attacking them with venom and
fury, and inflicting intolerable pain both upon animals and man. On
examining the structure of the head through a microscope, I found that
the mandibles, instead of merely meeting in contact, are so hooked as to
cross each other at the points, whilst the inner line is sharply
serrated throughout its entire length; thus occasioning the intense pain
of their bite, as compared with that of the ordinary ant.
To check the ravages of the coffee bug (_Lecanium coffeae_, Walker),
which for some years past has devastated some of the plantations in
Ceylon, the experiment was made of introducing the red ants, who feed
greedily on the Coccus. But the remedy threatened to be attended with
some inconvenience, for the Malabar Coolies, with bare and oiled skins,
were so frequently and fiercely assaulted by the ants as to endanger
their stay on the estates.
[Footnote 1: For an account of this pest, see p. 437.]
The ants which burrow in the ground in Ceylon are generally, but not
invariably, black, and some of them are of considerable size. One
species, about the third of an inch in length, is abundant in the hills,
and especially about the roots of trees, where they pile up the earth in
circular heaps round the entrance to their nests, and in doing this I
have observed a singular illustration of their instinct. To carry up
each particle of sand by itself would be an endless waste of labour, and
to carry two or more loose ones securely would be to them embarrassing,
if not impossible. To overcome the difficulty they glue together with
their saliva so much earth or sand as is sufficient for a burden, and
each ant may be seen hurrying up from below with his load, carrying it
to the top of the circular heap outside, and throwing it over, the mass
being so strongly attached as to roll to the bottom without breaking
The ants I have been here describing are inoffensive, differing in this
particular from the Dimiya and another of similar size and ferocity,
which is called by the Singhalese _Kaddiya_. They have a legend
illustrative of their alarm for the bites of the latter, to the effect
that the cobra de capello invested the Kaddiya with her own venom in
admiration of the singular courage displayed by these little
[Footnote 1: KNOX'S _Historical Relation of Ceylon_, pt. i. ch. vi. p.
LEPIDOPTERA. _Butterflies_.--In the interior of the island butterflies
are comparatively rare, and, contrary to the ordinary belief, they are
seldom to be seen in the sunshine. They frequent the neighbourhood of
the jungle, and especially the vicinity of the rivers and waterfalls,
living mainly in the shade of the moist foliage, and returning to it in
haste after the shortest flights, as if their slender bodies were
speedily dried up and exhausted by exposure to the intense heat.
Among the largest and most gaudy of the Ceylon Lepidoptera is the great
black and yellow butterfly (_Ornithoptera darsius_, Gray); the upper
wings of which measure six inches across, and are of deep velvet black,
the lower ornamented by large particles of satiny yellow, through which
the sunlight passes. Few insects can compare with it in beauty, as it
hovers over the flowers of the heliotrope, which furnish the favourite
food of the perfect fly, although the caterpillar feeds on the
aristolochia and the _betel leaf_, and suspends its chrysalis from its
Next in size as to expanse of wing, though often exceeding it in
breadth, is the black and blue _Papilio Polymnestor_, which darts
rapidly through the air, alighting on the ruddy flowers of the hibiscus,
or the dark green foliage of the citrus, on which it deposits its eggs.
The larvae of this species are green with white bands, and have a hump on
the fourth or fifth segment. From this hump the caterpillar, on being
irritated, protrudes a singular horn of an orange colour, bifurcate at
the extremity, and covered with a pungent mucilaginous secretion. This
is evidently intended as a weapon of defence against the attack of the
ichneumon flies, that deposit their eggs in its soft body, for when the
grub is pricked, either by the ovipositor of the ichneumon, or by any
other sharp instrument, the horn is at once protruded, and struck upon
the offending object with unerring aim.
Amongst the more common of the larger butterflies is the _P. Hector_,
with gorgeous crimson spots set in the black velvet of the inferior
wings; these, when fresh, are shot with a purple blush, equalling in
splendour the azure of the European "_Emperor._"
_The Spectre Butterfly._--Another butterfly, but belonging to a widely
different group, is the "sylph" (_Hestia Jasonia_), called by the
Europeans by the various names of _Floater, Spectre_, and _Silver-paper
fly_, as indicative of its graceful flight. It is found only in the deep
shade of the damp forest, usually frequenting the vicinity of pools of
water and cascades, about which it sails heedless of the spray, the
moisture of which may even be beneficial in preserving the elasticity of
its thin and delicate wings, that bend and undulate in the act of
The _Lycanidae_, a particularly attractive group, abound near the
enclosures of cultivated grounds, and amongst the low shrubs edging the
patenas, flitting from flower to flower, inspecting each in turn, as if
attracted by their beauty, in the full blaze of sun-light; and shunning
exposure less sedulously than the other diurnals. Some of the more
robust kinds are magnificent in the bright light, from the splendour
of their metallic blues and glowing purples, but they yield in elegance
of form and variety to their tinier and more delicately-coloured
[Footnote 1: _Lycaena polyommatus, &c._]
[Footnote 2: _Amblypodia pseudocentaurus, &c._]
Short as is the eastern twilight, it has its own peculiar forms, and the
naturalist marks with interest the small, but strong, _Hesperidae_,
hurrying, by abrupt and jerking flights, to the scented blossoms of the
champac or the sweet night-blowing moon-flower; and, when darkness
gathers around, we can hear, though hardly distinguish amid the gloom,
the humming of the powerful wings of innumerable hawk moths, which hover
with their long proboscides inserted into the starry petals of the
[Footnote 1: _Pamphila hesperia, &c._]
Conspicuous amidst these nocturnal moths is the richly-coloured
_Acherontia Satanas_, one of the Singhalese representatives of our
Death's-head moth, which utters a sharp and stridulous cry when seized.
This sound has been conjectured to be produced by the friction of its
thorax against the abdomen;--Reaumur believed it to be caused by the
rubbing of the palpi against the tongue. I have never been able to
observe either motion, and Mr. E.L. Layard is of opinion that the sound
is emitted from two apertures concealed by tufts of wiry bristles thrown
out from each side of the inferior portion of the thorax.
[Footnote 1: There is another variety of the same moth in Ceylon which
closely resembles it in its markings, but in which I have never detected
the uttering of this curious cry. It is smaller than the _A. Satanas_,
and, like it, often enters dwellings at night, attracted by the lights;
but I have not found its larvae, although that of the other species is
common on several widely different plants.]
_Moths._--Among the strictly nocturnal _Lepidoptera_ are some gigantic
species. Of these the cinnamon-eating _Atlas_, often attains the
dimensions of nearly a foot in the stretch of its superior wings. It is
very common in the gardens about Colombo, and its size, and the
transparent talc-like spots in its wings, cannot fail to strike even the
most careless saunterer. But little inferior to it in size is the famed
Tusseh silk moth, which feeds on the country almond (_Terminalia
catappa_) and the palma Christi or Castor-oil plant; it is easily
distinguishable from the Atlas, which has a triangular wing, whilst its
is falcated, and the transparent spots are covered with a curious
thread-like division drawn across them.
[Footnote 1: _Antheraea mylitta,_ Drury.]
Towards the northern portions of the island this valuable species
entirely displaces the other, owing to the fact that the almond and
_palma Christi_ abound there. The latter plant springs up spontaneously
on every manure-heap or neglected spot of ground; and might be
cultivated, as in India, with great advantage, the leaf to be used as
food for the caterpillar, the stalk as fodder for cattle, and the seed
for the expression of castor-oil. The Dutch took advantage of this
facility, and gave every encouragement to the cultivation of silk at
Jaffna, but it never attained such a development as to become an
article of commercial importance. Ceylon now cultivates no silkworms
whatever, notwithstanding this abundance of the favourite food of one
species; and the rich silken robes sometimes worn by the Buddhist
priesthood are imported from China and the continent of India.
[Footnote 1: The Portuguese had made the attempt previous to the arrival
of the Dutch, and a strip of land on the banks of the Kalany river near
Colombo, still bears the name of Orta Seda, the silk garden. The attempt
of the Dutch to introduce the true silkworm, the _Bombyx mori_, took
place under the governorship; of Ryklof Van Goens, who, on handing over
the administration to his successor in A.D. 1663, thus apprises him of
the initiation of the experiment:--"At Jaffna Palace a trial has been
undertaken to feed silkworms, and to ascertain whether silk may be
reared at that station. I have planted a quantity of mulberry trees,
which grow well there, and they ought to be planted in other
directions."--VALENTYN, chap. xiii. The growth of the mulberry trees is
noticed the year after in a report to the governor-general of India, but
the subject afterwards ceased to be attended to.]
In addition to the Atlas moth and the Mylitta, there are many other
_Bombycidae_; in Ceylon; and, though the silk of some of them, were it
susceptible of being unwound from the cocoon, would not bear a
comparison with that of the _Bombyx mori_, or even of the Tusseh moth,
it might still prove to be valuable when carded and spun. If the
European residents in the colony would rear the larvae of these
Lepidoptera, and make drawings of their various changes, they would
render a possible service to commerce, and a certain one to
_Stinging Caterpillars_.--The Dutch carried to their Eastern settlements
two of their home propensities, which distinguish and embellish the
towns of the Low Countries; they indulged in the excavation of canals,
and they planted long lines of trees to diffuse shade over the sultry
passages in their Indian fortresses. For the latter purpose they
employed the Suriya (_Hibiscus populneus_), whose broad umbrageous
leaves and delicate yellow flowers impart a delicious coolness, and give
to the streets of Galle and Colombo the fresh and enlivening aspect of
walks in a garden.
In the towns, however, the suriya trees are productive of one serious
inconvenience. They are the resort of a hairy greenish caterpillar,
longitudinally striped, great numbers of which frequent them, and at a
certain stage of growth descend by a silken thread to the ground and
hurry away, probably in search of a suitable spot in which to pass
through their metamorphoses. Should they happen to alight, as they often
do, upon some lounger below, and find their way to his unprotected skin,
they inflict, if molested, a sting as pungent, but far more lasting,
than that of a nettle or a star-fish.
[Footnote 1: The species of moth with which it is identified has not yet
been determined, but it most probably belongs to a section of
Boisduval's genus _Bombyx_ allied to _Cnethocampa_, Stephens.]
Attention being thus directed to the quarter whence an assailant has
lowered himself down, the caterpillars above will be found in clusters,
sometimes amounting to hundreds, clinging to the branches and the bark,
with a few straggling over the leaves or suspended from them by lines.
These pests are so annoying to children as well as destructive to the
foliage, that it is often necessary to singe them off the trees by a
flambeau fixed on the extremity of a pole; and as they fall to the
ground they are eagerly devoured by the crows and domestic fowls.
[Footnote 1: Another caterpillar which feeds on the jasmine flowering
Carissa, stings with such fury that I have known a gentleman to shed
tears while the pain was at its height. It is short and broad, of a pale
green, with fleshy spines on the upper surface, each of which seems to
be charged with the venom that occasions this acute suffering. The moth
which this caterpillar produces, _Neaera lepida_, Cramer; _Limacodes
graciosa_, Westw., has dark brown wings, the primary traversed by a
broad green band. It is common in the western side of Ceylon. The larvae
of the genus _Adolia_ are also hairy, and sting with virulence.]
_The Wood-carrying Moth_.--There is another family of insects, the
singular habits of which will not fail to attract the traveller in the
cultivated tracts of Ceylon--these are moths of the genus
_Oiketicus_, of which the females are devoid of wings, and some
possess no articulated feet. Their larvae construct for themselves cases,
which they suspend to a branch frequently of the pomegranate,
surrounding them with the stems of leaves, and thorns or pieces of twigs
bound together by threads, till the whole presents the appearance of a
bundle of rods about an inch and a half long; and, from the resemblance
of this to a Roman fasces, one African species has obtained the name of
"Lictor." The German entomologists denominated the group _Sacktraeger_,
the Singhalese call them _Dara-kattea_ or "billets of firewood," and
regard the inmates as human beings, who, as a punishment for stealing
wood in some former state of existence, have been condemned to undergo a
metempsychosis under the form of these insects.
[Footnote 1: _Eumeta_, Wlk.]
[Footnote 2: The singular instincts of a species of Thecla, _Dipsas
Isocrates_, Fab., in connection with the fruit of the pomegranate, were
fully described by Mr. Westwood, in a paper read before the
Entomological Society of London in 1835.]
[Illustration: THE WOOD-CARRYING MOTH.]
The male, at the close of the pupal rest, escapes from one end of this
singular covering, but the female makes it her dwelling for life; moving
about with it at pleasure, and entrenching herself within it, when
alarmed, by drawing together the purse-like aperture at the open end. Of
these remarkable creatures there are five ascertained species in Ceylon:
_Psyche Doubledaii_, Westw.; _Metisa plana_; Walker; _Eumeta Cramerii_,
Westw.; _E. Templetonii_, Westw.; and _Cryptothelea consorta_, Temp.
All the other tribes of minute _Lepitoptera_ have abundant
representatives in Ceylon; some of them most attractive from the great
beauty of their markings and colouring. The curious little split-winged
moth (_Pterophorus_) is frequently seen in the cinnamon gardens and in
the vicinity of the fort, hid from the noon-day heat among the cool
grass shaded by the coco-nut topes. Three species have been captured,
all characterised by the same singular feature of having the wings
fan-like, separated nearly their entire length into detached sections,
resembling feathers in the pinions of a bird expanded for flight.
HOMOPTERA. _Cicada._--Of the _Homoptera_, the one which will most
frequently arrest attention is the cicada, which, resting high up on the
bark of a tree, makes the forest re-echo with a long-sustained noise so
curiously resembling that of a cutler's wheel that the creature
producing it has acquired the highly-appropriate name of the
[Illustration: CICADA--"THE KNIFE GRINDER."]
In the jungle which adjoined the grounds attached to my official
residence at Kandy, the shrubs were frequented by an insect covered
profusely with a snow-white powder, arranged in delicate filaments that
curl like a head of dressed celery. These it moves without dispersing
the powder: but when dead they fall rapidly to dust. I regret that I did
not preserve specimens, but I have reason to think that they are the
larvae of the _Flata limbata_, or of some other closely allied
species, though I have not seen in Ceylon any of the wax produced by
[Footnote 1: Amongst the specimens of this order which I brought from
Ceylon, two proved to be new and undescribed, and have been named by Mr.
A. WHITE _Elidiptera Emersoniana_ and _Poeciloptera Tennentina_.]
HEMIPTERA. _Bugs_.--On the shrubs in his compound the newly-arrived
traveller will be attracted by an insect of a pale green hue and
delicately-thin configuration, which, resting from its recent flight,
composes its scanty wings, and moves languidly along the leaf. But
experience will teach him to limit his examination to a respectful view
of its attitudes; it is one of a numerous family of bugs, (some of them
most attractive in their colouring,) which are inoffensive if
unmolested, but if touched or irritated, exhale an odour that, once
endured, is never afterwards forgotten.
[Footnote 1: Such as _Cantuo ocellatus, Leptoscelis Marginalis, Callidea
Stockerius_, &c. &c. Of the aquatic species, the gigantic _Belostoma
Indicum_ cannot escape notice, attaining a size of nearly three inches.]
APHANIPTERA. _Fleas_.--Fleas are equally numerous, and may be seen in
myriads in the dust of the streets or skipping in the sunbeams which
fall on the clay floors of the cottages. The dogs, to escape them,
select for their sleeping places spots where a wood fire has been
previously kindled; and here prone on the white ashes, their stomachs
close to the earth, and their hind legs extended behind, they repose in
comparative coolness, and bid defiance to their persecutors.
[Illustration: POECILOPTERA TENNENTINA.]
[Illustration: ELIDIPTERA EMERSONIANA.]
DIPTERA. _Mosquitoes_.--But of all the insect pests that beset an
unseasoned European the most provoking by far is the truculent
mosquito. Next to the torture which it inflicts, its most annoying
peculiarities are the booming hum of its approach, its cunning, its
audacity, and the perseverance with which it renews its attacks however
frequently repulsed. These characteristics are so remarkable as fully to
justify the conjecture that the mosquito, and not the ordinary fly,
constituted the plague inflicted upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
[Footnote 1: _Culex laniger?_ Wied. In Kandy Mr. Thwaites finds _C.
fuscanns, C. circumcolans,_ &c., and one with a most formidable hooked
proboscis, to which he has assigned the appropriate name _C. Regius_.]
[Footnote 2: The precise species of insect by means of which the
Almighty signalised the plague of flies, remains uncertain, as the
Hebrew term _arob_ or _oror_ which has been rendered in one place.
"Divers sorts of flies," Ps. cv. 31; and in another, "swarms of flies,"
Exod. viii. 21, &c., means merely "an assemblage." a "mixture" or a
"swarm," and the expletive. "_of flies_" is an interpolation of the
translators. This, however, serves to show that the fly implied was one
easily recognisable by its habit of _swarming_; and the further fact
that it _bites_, or rather stings, is elicited from the expression of
the Psalmist, Ps. lxxviii. 45, that the insects by which the Egyptians
were tormented "devoured them," so that here are two peculiarities
inapplicable to the domestic fly, but strongly characteristic of gnats
Bruce thought that the fly of the fourth plague was the "zimb" of
Abyssinia which he so graphically describes: and WESTWOOD, in an
ingenious passage in his _Entomologist's Text-book._ p. 17, combats the
strange idea of one of the bishops, that it was a cockroach! and argues
in favour of the mosquito. This view he sustains by a reference to the
habits of the creature, the swarms in which it invades a locality, and
the audacity with which it enters the houses; and he accounts for the
exemption of "the land of Goshen in which the Israelites dwelt," by the
fact of its being sandy pasture above the level of the river; whilst the
mosquitoes were produced freely in the rest of Egypt, the soil of which
was submerged by the rising of the Nile.
In all the passages in the Old Testament in which flies are alluded to,
otherwise than in connection with the Egyptian infliction, the word used
in the Hebrew is _zevor_, which the Septuagint renders by the ordinary
generic term for flies in general, [Greek: muia], "_musca_" (Eccles. x.
1, Isaiah vii. 10); but in every instance in which mention is made of
the miracle of Moses, the Septuagint says that the fly produced was the
[Greek: kunomyia], the "dog-fly." What insect was meant by this name it
is not now easy to determine, but AELIAN intimates that the dogfly both
inflicts a wound and emits a booming sound, in both of which particulars
it accords with the mosquito (lib. iv, 51); and PHILO-JUDAEUS, in his
_Vita Mosis_, lib. i. ch. xxiii., descanting on the plague of flies, and
using the term of the Septuagint, [Greek: kunomyia], describes it as
combining the characteristic of "the most impudent of all animals, the
fly and the dog, exhibiting the courage and the cunning of both, and
fastening on its victim with the noise and rapidity of an
arrow"--[Greek: meta roizou kathaper belos]. This seems to identify the
dog-fly of the Septuagint with the description of the Psalmist, Ps.
lxxviii. 45, and to vindicate the conjecture that the tormenting
mosquito, and not the house-fly, was commissioned by the Lord to humble
the obstinacy of the Egyptian tyrant.]
Even in the midst of endurance from their onslaughts one cannot but be
amused by the ingenuity of their movements; as if aware of the risk
incident to an open assault, a favourite mode of attack is, when
concealed by a table, to assail the ankles through the meshes of the
stocking, or the knees which are ineffectually protected by a fold of
Russian duck. When you are reading, a mosquito will rarely settle on
that portion of your hand which is within range of your eyes, but
cunningly stealing by the underside of the book fastens on the wrist or
little finger, and noiselessly inserts his proboscis there. I have
tested the classical expedient recorded by Herodotus, who states that
the fishermen inhabiting the fens of Egypt, cover their beds with their
nets, knowing that the mosquitoes, although they bite through linen
robes, will not venture through a net. But, notwithstanding the
opinion of Spence, that nets with meshes an inch square will
effectually exclude them, I have been satisfied by painful experience
that (if the theory be not altogether fallacious) at least the modern
mosquitoes of Ceylon are uninfluenced by the same considerations which
restrained those of the Nile under the successors of Cambyses.
[Footnote 1: HERODOTUS, _Euterpe._ xcv.]
[Footnote 2: KIRBY and SPENCE'S _Entomology_, letter iv.]
_The Coffee-Bug_.--Allusion has been made in a previous passage to the
coccus known in Ceylon as the "Coffee-Bug" (_Lecanium Caffeae_, Wlk.),
which of late years has made such destructive ravages in the plantations
in the Mountain Zone. The first thing that attracts attention on
looking at a coffee tree infested by it, is the number of brownish
wart-like bodies that stud the young shoots and occasionally the margins
on the underside of the leaves. Each of these warts or scales is a
transformed female, containing a large number of eggs which are hatched
[Footnote 1: The following notice of the "coffee-bug," and of the
singularly destructive effects produced by it on the plants, has been
prepared chiefly from a memoir presented to the Ceylon Government by the
late Dr. Gardner, in which he traces the history of the insect from its
first appearance in the coffee districts, until it had established
itself more or less permanently in all the estates in full cultivation
throughout the island.]
[Footnote 2: See the annexed drawing, Fig. 1.]
When the young ones come out from their nest, they run about over the
plant like diminutive wood-lice, and at this period there is no apparent
distinction between male and female. Shortly after being hatched the
males seek the underside of the leaves, while the females prefer the
young shoots as a place of abode. If the under surface of a leaf be
examined, it will be found to be studded, particularly on its basil
half, with minute yellowish-white specks of an oblong form. These are
the larvae of the males undergoing transformation into pupae, beneath
their own skins; some of these specks are always in a more advanced
state than the others, the full-grown ones being whitish and scarcely a
line long. Some of this size are translucent, the insect having escaped;
the darker ones still retain it within, of an oblong form, with the
rudiment of a wing on each side attached to the lower part of the thorax
and closely applied to the sides; the legs are six in number, the four
hind ones being directed backwards, the anterior forwards (a peculiarity
not common in other insects); the two antennae are also inclined
backwards, and from the tail protrude three short bristles, the middle
one thinner and longer than the rest.
[Footnote 1: Figs. 2, and 3 and 5 in the engraving, where these and all
the other figures are considerably enlarged.]
When the transformation is complete, the mature insect makes its way
from beneath the pellucid case, all its organs having then attained
their full size: the head is sub-globular, with two rather prominent
black eyes, and two antennae, each with eleven joints, hairy throughout,
and a tuft of rather longer hairs at the apices; the legs are also
covered with hairs, the wings are horizontal, of an obovate oblong
shape, membranous, and extending a little farther than the bristles of
the tail. They have only two nerves, neither of which reaches so far as
the tips; one of them runs close to the costal margin, and is much
thicker than the other, which branches off from its base and skirts
along the inner margin; behind the wings is attached a pair of minute
halteres of peculiar form. The possession of wings would appear to be
the cause why the full-grown male is more rarely seen on the coffee
bushes than the female.
[Footnote 1: Fig. 4. Mr. WESTWOOD, who observed the operation in one
species, states that they escape backwards, the wings being extended
flatly over the head.]
The female, like the male, attaches herself to the surface of the plant,
the place selected being usually the young shoots; but she is also to be
met with on the margins of the undersides of the leaves (on the upper
surface neither the male nor female ever attach themselves); but, unlike
the male, which derives no nourishment from the juices of the tree (the
mouth being obsolete in the perfect state), she punctures the cuticle
with a proboscis (a very short three-jointed _promuscis_), springing as
it were from the breast, but capable of being greatly porrected, and
inserted in the cuticle of the plant, and through this she abstracts her
nutriment. In the early pupa state the female is easily distinguishable
from the male, by being more elliptical and much more convex. As she
increases in size her skin distends and she becomes smooth and dry; the
rings of the body become effaced; and losing entirely the form of an
insect, she presents, for some time, a yellowish pustular shape, but
ultimately assumes a roundish conical form, of a dark brown colour.
[Footnote 1: Figs. 6 and 7. There are many other species of the Coccus
tribe in Ceylon, some (Pseudococcus?) never appearing as a scale, the
female wrapping herself up in a white cottony exudation; many species
nearly allied to the true Coccus infest common plants about gardens,
such as the Nerium Oleander, Plumeria Acuminata, and others with milky
juices; another subgenus (Ceroplastes?), the female of which produces a
protecting waxy material, infests the Gendurassa Vulgaris, the Furrcaea
Gigantea, the Jak Tree, Mango, and other common trees.]
Until she has nearly reached her full size, she still possesses the
power of locomotion, and her six legs are easily distinguishable in the
under surface of her corpulent body; but at no period of her existence
has she wings. It is about the time of her obtaining full size that
impregnation takes place; after which the scale becomes somewhat more
conical, assumes a darker colour, and at length is permanently fixed to
the surface of the plant, by means of a cottony substance interposed
between it and the vegetable cuticle to which it adheres. The scale,
when full grown, exactly resembles in miniature the hat of a Cornish
miner, there being a narrow rim at the base, which gives increased
surface of attachment. It is about 1/8 inch in diameter, by about 1/12
deep, and it appears perfectly smooth to the naked eye; but it is in
reality studded over with a multitude of very minute warts, giving it a
dotted appearance. Except the margin, which is ciliated, it is entirely
destitute of hairs. The number of eggs contained in one of the scales is
enormous, amounting in a single one to 691. The eggs are of an oblong
shape, of a pale flesh colour, and perfectly smooth. In some of the
scales, the eggs when laid on the field of the microscope resemble those
masses of life sometimes seen in decayed cheese. A few small
yellowish maggots are sometimes found with them, and these are the
larvae of insects, the eggs of which have been deposited in the female
while the scale was soft. They escape when mature by cutting a small
round hole in the dorsum of the scale.
[Footnote 1: REAUMUR has described the singular manner in which this
occurs. _Mem._ tom. iv.]
[Footnote 2: Fig. 8.]
[Footnote 3: Fig. 9.]
[Footnote 4: Figs. 10, 11.]
[Footnote 5: Of the parasitic Chalcididiae, many genera of which are well
known to deposit their eggs in the soft Coccus, viz.: Encystus,
Coccophagus, Pteromalus, Mesosela, Agonioneurus; besides Aphidius, a
minutely sized genus of Ichneumonidae. Most, if not all, of these genera
[Illustration: THE COFFEE BUG. Lecanium Coffeae.]
It is not till after this pest has been on an estate for two or three
years that it shows itself to an alarming extent. During the first year
a few only of the ripe scales are seen scattered over the bushes,
generally on the younger shoots; but that year's crop does not suffer
much, and the appearance of the tree is little altered.
The second year, however, brings a change for the worse; if the young
shoots and the underside of the leaves he now examined, the scales will
be found to have become much more numerous, and with them appear a
multitude of white specks, which are the young scales in a more or less
forward state. The clusters of berries now assume a black sooty look,
and a great number of them fall off before coming to maturity; the
general health of the tree also begins to fail, and it acquires a
blighted appearance. A loss of crop is this year sustained, but to no
The third year brings about a more serious change, the whole plant
acquires a black hue, appearing as if soot had been thrown over it in
great quantities; this is caused by the growth of a parasitic fungus
over the shoots and the upper surface of the leaves, forming a fibrous
coating, somewhat resembling velvet or felt. This never makes its
appearance till the insect has been a considerable time on the bush, and
probably owes its existence there to an unhealthy condition of the
juices of the leaf, consequent on the irritation produced by the coccus,
since it never visits the upper surface of the leaf until the latter has
fully established itself on the lower. At this period the young shoots
have an exceedingly disgusting look from the dense mass of yellow
pustular bodies forming on them, the leaves get shrivelled, and the
infected trees become conspicuous in the row. The black ants are
assiduous in their visits to them. Two-thirds of the crop is lost, and
on many trees not a single berry forms.
[Footnote 1: _Racodium?_ Species of this genus are not confined to the
coffee plant alone in Ceylon, but follow the "bugs" in their attacks on
other bushes. It appears like a dense interlaced mesh of fibres, each
made up of a single series of minute oblong vesicles applied end to
This _Lecanium_, or a very closely allied species, has been observed in
the Botanic Garden at Peradenia, on the _Citrus acida, Psidium
pomiferum, Myrtus Zeylanica, Rosa Indica, Careya arborea, Vitex
Negundo_, and other plants. The coffee coccus has generally been first
observed in moist, hollow places sheltered from the wind; and thence it
has spread itself even over the driest and most exposed parts of the
island. On some estates, after attaining a maximum, it has generally
declined, but has shown a liability to reappear, especially in low
sheltered situations, and it is believed to prevail most extensively in
wet seasons. While in its earlier stages, it is easily transmitted from
one estate to another, on the clothes of human beings, and in various
other ways, which will readily suggest themselves. Dr. Gardner, after a
careful consideration and minute examination of estates, arrived at the
conclusion, that all remedies suggested up to that time had utterly
failed, and that none at once cheap and effectual was likely to be
discovered. He seems also to have been of opinion that the insect was
not under human control; and that even if it should disappear, it would
only be when it should have worn itself out as other blighte have been
known to do in some mysterious way. Whether this may prove to be the
case or not, is still very uncertain, but every thing observed by Dr.
Gardner tends to indicate the permanency of the pest.
* * * * *
_List of Ceylon Insects._
For the following list of the insects of the island, and the remarks
prefixed to it, I am indebted to Mr. F. Walker, by whom it has been
prepared after a careful inspection of the collections made by Dr.
Templeton, Mr. E.L. Layard, and others: as well as of those in the
British Museum and in the Museum of the East India Company.
[Footnote 1: The entire of the new species contained in this list have
been described in a series of papers by Mr. WALKER in successive numbers
of the _Annals of Natural History_ (1858-61): those, from Dr.
TEMPLETON'S collection of which descriptions have been taken, have been
at his desire transferred to the British Museum for future reference and
"A short notice of the aspect of the island will afford the best means
of accounting, in some degree, for its entomological Fauna: first, as it
is an island, and has a mountainous central region, the tropical
character of its productions, as in most other cases, rather diminishes,
and somewhat approaches that of higher latitudes.
"The coast-region of Ceylon, and fully one-third of its northern part,
have a much drier atmosphere than that of the rest of its surface; and
their climate and vegetation are nearly similar to those of the
Carnatic, with which this island may have been connected at no very
remote period. But if, on the contrary, the land in Ceylon is
gradually rising, the difference of its Fauna from that of Central
Hindustan is less remarkable. The peninsula of the Dekkan might then be
conjectured to have been nearly or wholly separated from the central
part of Hindustan, and confined to the range of mountains along the
eastern coast; the insect-fauna of which is as yet almost unknown, but
will probably be found to have more resemblance to that of Ceylon than
to the insects of northern and western India--just as the insect-fauna
of Malaya appears more to resemble the similar productions of
Australasia than those of the more northern continent.
[Footnote 1: On the subject of this conjecture see _ante_, p. 60.]
"Mr. Layard's collection was partly formed in the dry northern province
of Ceylon; and among them more Hindustan insects are to be observed than
among those collected by Dr. Templeton, and found wholly in the district
between Colombo and Kandy. According to this view the faunas of the
Nilgherry Mountains, of Central Ceylon, of the peninsula of Malacca, and
of Australasia would be found to form one group;--while those of
Northern Ceylon, of the western Dekkan, and of the level parts of
Central Hindustan would form another of more recent origin. The
insect-fauna of the Carnatic is also probably similar to that of the
lowlands of Ceylon; but it is still unexplored. The regions of Hindustan
in which species have been chiefly collected, such as Bengal, Silbet,
and the Punjaub, are at the distance of from 1300 to 1600 miles from
Ceylon, and therefore the insects of the latter are fully as different
from those of the above regions as they are from those of Australasia,
to which Ceylon is as near in point of distance, and agrees more with
regard to latitude.
"Dr. Hagen has remarked that he believes the fauna of the mountains of
Ceylon to be quite different from that of the plains and of the shores.
The south and west districts have a very moist climate, and as their
vegetation is like that of Malabar, their insect-fauna will probably
also resemble that of the latter region.
"The insects mentioned in the following list are thus distributed:--
"The recorded species of _Cicindelidae_ inhabit the plains or the coast
country of Ceylon, and several of them are also found in Hindustan.
"Many of the species of _Carabidae_ and of _Staphylinidae_, especially
those collected by Mr. Thwaites, near Kandy, and by M. Nietner at
Colombo, have much resemblance to the insects of these two families in
North Europe; in the _Scydmaenid, Ptiliadae, Phalacridae, Nitidulidae,
Colydiadae_, and _Lathridiadae_ the northern form is still more striking,
and strongly contrasts with the tropical forms of the gigantic _Copridae,
Buprestidae, and Cerambycidae_, and with the _Elateridae, Lampyridae,
Tenebrionidae, Helopidae, Meloidae, Curculionidae, Prionidae, Cerambycidae,
Lamiidae_, and _Endomychidae_.
"The _Copridae, Dynastidae, Melolonthidae, Cetoniadae_, and _Passalidae_ are
well represented on the plains and on the coast, and the species are
mostly of a tropical character.
"The _Hydrophilidae_ have a more northern aspect, as is generally the
case with aquatic species.
"The order _Strepsiptera_ is here considered as belonging to the
_Mordellidae_, and is represented by the genus _Myrmecolax_, which is
peculiar, as yet, to Ceylon.
"In the _Curculionidae_ the single species of _Apion_ will recall to mind
the great abundance of that genus in North Europe.
"The _Prionidae_ and the two following families have been investigated by
Mr. Pascoe, and the _Hispidae_, with the five following families, by Mr.
Baly; these two gentlemen are well acquainted with the above tribes of
beetles, and kindly supplied me with the names of the Ceylon species.
"These insects in Ceylon have mostly a tropical aspect. The _Physapoda_,
which will probably be soon incorporated with them, are likely to be
numerous, though only one species has as yet been noticed.
"The list here given is chiefly taken from the catalogue published by
Dr. Hagen, and containing descriptions of the species named by him or by
M. Nietner. They were found in the most elevated parts of the island,
near Rangbodde, and Dr. Hagen informs me that not less than 500 species
have been noticed in Ceylon, but that they are not yet recorded, with
the exception of the species here enumerated. It has been remarked that
the _Trichoptera_ and other aquatic _Neuroptera_ are less local than the
land species, owing to the more equable temperature of the habitation of
their larvae, and on account of their being often conveyed along the
whole length of rivers. The species of _Psocus_ in the list are far more
numerous than those yet observed in any other country, with the
exception of Europe.
"In this order the _Formicidae_ and the _Poneridae_ are very numerous, as
they are in other damp and woody tropical countries. Seventy species of
ants have been observed, but as yet few of them have been named. The
various other families of aculeate _Hymenoptera_ are doubtless more
abundant than the species recorded indicate, and it may be safely
reckoned that the parasitic _Hymenoptera_ in Ceylon far exceed one
thousand species in number, though they are yet only known by means of
about two dozen kinds collected at Kandy by Mr. Thwaites.
"The fauna of Ceylon is much better known in this order than in any
other of the insect tribes, but as yet the _Lepidoptera_ alone in their
class afford materials for a comparison of the productions of Ceylon
with those of Hindustan and of Australasia; nine hundred and thirty-two
species have been collected by Dr. Templeton and by Mr. Layard in the
central, western, and northern parts of the island. All the families,
from the _Papilionidae_ to the _Tineidae_, abound, and numerous species
and several genera appear, as yet, to be peculiar to the island. As
Ceylon is situate at the entrance to the eastern regions, the list in
this volume will suitably precede the descriptive catalogues of the
heterocerous _Lepidoptera_ of Hindustan, Java, Borneo, and of other
parts of Australasia, which are being prepared for publication. In some
of the heterocerous families several species are common to Ceylon and to
Australasia, and in various cases the faunas of Ceylon and of
Australasia seem to be more similar than those of Ceylon and of
Hindustan. The long intercourse between those two regions may have been
the means of conveying some species from one to the other. Among the
_Pyralites, Hymenia recurvalis_ inhabits also the West Indies, South
America, West Africa, Hindustan, China, Australasia, Australia, and New
Zealand; and its food-plant is probably some vegetable which is
cultivated in all those regions; so also _Desmia afflictalis_ is found
in Sierra Leone, Abyssinia, Ceylon, and China.
"About fifty species were observed by Dr. Templeton, but most of those
here recorded were collected by Mr. Thwaites at Kandy, and have a great
likeness to North European species. The mosquitoes are very annoying on
account of their numbers, as might be expected from the moisture and
heat of the climate. _Culex laniger_ is the coast species, and the other
kinds here mentioned are from Kandy. Humboldt observed that in some
parts of South America each stream had its peculiar mosquitoes, and it
yet remains to be seen whether the gnats in Ceylon are also thus
restricted in their habitation. The genera _Sciara, Cecidomyia_, and
_Simulium_, which abound so exceedingly in temperate countries, have
each one representative species in the collection made by Mr. Thwaites.
Thus an almost new field remains for the Entomologist in the study of
the yet unknown Singhalese Diptera, which must be very numerous.
"The species of this order in the list are too few and too similar to
those of Hindustan to need any particular mention. _Lecanium coffeae_ may
be noticed, on account of its infesting the coffee plant, as its name
indicates, and the ravages of other species of the genus will be
remembered, from the fact that one of them, in other regions, has put a
stop to the cultivation of the orange as an article of commerce.
"In conclusion, it may be observed that the species of insects in Ceylon
may be estimated as exceeding 10,000 in number, of which about 2000 are
enumerated in this volume.
"Four or five species of spiders, of which the specimens cannot be
satisfactorily described; one _Ixodes_ and one _Chelifer_ have been
forwarded to England from Ceylon by Mr. Thwaites."
* * * * *
NOTE.--The asterisk prefixed denotes the species discovered in Ceylon
since Sir J.E. Tennent's departure from the Island in 1849.
Order COLEOPTERA, _Linn._
Fam. CICINDELIDAE, _Steph._
Fam. CARABIDAE, _Leach._
Fam. PAUSSIDAE, _Westw_.
Fam. DYTISCIDAE, _Macl_.
Fam. GYRINIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. STAPHILINIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. PSELAPHIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. SCYDMAENIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. PTILIADAE, _Wo_.
Fam. PHALACRIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. NITUDULIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. COLYDIADAE, _Woll_.
Fam. TROGOSITIDAE, _Kirby_.
Fam. CUCUJIDAE, _Steph_.
Fam. LATHRIDIANAE, _Wall_.
Fam. DERMESTIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. BYRRHIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. HISTERIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. APHODIADAE, _Macl._
Fam. TROGIDAE, _Macl._
Fam. COPRIDAE, _Leach._
Fam. DYNASTIDAE, _Macl._
Fam. GECTRUPIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. MELOLONTHIDAE, _Macl_.
Plectris, _Lep. & Serv_.
Ancylon cha. _Dej_.
rufopic a. _Westw_.
Fam. CETONIADAE, _Kirby_.
Fam. TRICHIADAE, _Leach_.
Fam. LUCANIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. PASSALIDAE, _Macl_.
Fam. SPHAERIDIADAE, _Leach_.
Fam. HYDROPHILIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. BUPRESTIDIE, _Steph._
Fam. ELATERIDAE, _Leach._
Fam. LAMPYRIDAE, _Leach._
Fam. TELEPHORIDAE, _Leach._
Fam. CEBRIONIDAE, _Steph._
Fam. MERLYRIDAE, _Leach._
Fam. CLERIDAE, _Kirby._
Fam. PTINIDAE, _Leach._
Fam. DIAPERIDAE, _Leach._
Fam. TENEBRIONIDAE, _Leach._
Fam. OPATRIDAE, _Shuck._
Fam. HELOPIDAE, _Steph._
Camaria, _Lep. & Serv._
Fam. MELOIDAE, _Woll._
Atratocerus, _Pal., Bv._
Fam. OEDEMERIDAE, _Steph._
Fam. MORDELLIDAE, _Steph_.
Fam. ANTHICIDAE, _Wlk_.
Fam. CISSIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. TOMICIDAE, _Shuck_.
Fam. CURCULIONIDAE, _Leach_.
sulcirostris, _De Haan_.
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