The Catterpillar is prickle Haired

These fragments come from a book on insects from the mid-17th Century. Not content with the works of other people, the author conducts a series of experiments to confirm his knowledge of ‘creeping things’.

The Catterpillar is prickle Haired; it hath its birth from an Egg, which the Butterfly haveing eyes in its Wings, like those in Peacocks feathers, doth lye upon Netles.

A Cattarpiller I took up the 14 day of May, 1635. And I fed it with the Leaves of Netles, untill the 11. of June, of the same Year. Then it composed it selfe for change, with its head hanging downwards. It remaind in this forme 19 dayes. When a most elegant Butterfly came forth.

At the first coming forth of the Butterfly, its wings were like wet Paper; Off of which fell certain watery dropps: But that, which did seem to me worthy Observation, they became in halfe an houre dry, expanded, and fit for flight.

The Butterfly feeds on sweet things, as Sugar, and the Honey of flowers: Also it is mainly delighted in rotten fruits, for which they fight among them selves.  In winter time they hide them selves within the Chimnies of poor Cottages, from whence I have forc’t them with a good blazing fire.  Also they are found lying hid in hollow Trees.

It is well Observed by our Author that this Catterpillar, hath its beginning from the Egg of such a Butterfly; and so probably have all Catterpillars whatsoever their beginning from the Eggs of their respective Butterflys. The Butterfly is the Mother Insect in perfection, and the Catterpillar, its Aurelia, or Chrysalis are but certain Disguises for a time, wherewith one and thesame Animal is by nature invested for divers ends. viz, that of the Catterpillar to eat such and such food; This of the Aurelia to perfect its limbs.

Although our Fingers suffer and are stung by Nettels, yet the Catterpillar delightes to feed on them: Neither doth it make ready for the change, or obstaine from food, whilst this Plant flourishes.

It began to change the 23. of June, and the 9th. of July came forth the Butterfly marked with beautifull colours. These Butterflyes are to be found all Winter in Stables, where Beasts stand.  These Catterpillars are exceeding Voratious.

I shall here Observe, that catterpillers feed of course from such as the substance of the leaves of Plants; whereas the Butterflyes feed of the Honey of Flowers, and liquid meats. This is contrary to what is naturall in sangvincons and more perfect Animals; who in the Embryo feed of a Prepared Chyle, but after birth have a yet more courser food to nourish them: And yet more course as they grow older, and to maturity. The nourishment of the Catterpillar are the leaves of the Elme.  When the time of the change groes near, they betake themselves to Houses, and fix their hinder parts to a wall, hanging down with their heads, that they may more easily come forth of their shell or Chrysalis, when the time of change is compleated.

Before the Catterpillar changes its shape for that of a Chrysalis, and puts off its old skin, it seems to be very much troubled, turneth, shaking, and tossing its body every way, and trembling as if it had an Ague. At length rising, and falling often with his body it conducts its body into a circle, upon which it swells so, that the skin cracks all the length, and so by little and little it falls off, a new skin growing underneath. And at that time they rest a while.

This is very notable in Catterpillars, that where the back of the Catterpillar was, there are the belly and feet of that Animal it’s changed into; and the contrary, where the belly and feet of the Catterpillar were, there now the back of that Animal is, which was produced by the change of the Catterpillar. And this change is produced in a very short time; so that it may distinctly be seen and observed: For as soon as the old skin is layed aside, this Transfiguration manifestly appeares.

Concerning the Catterpillars fixing his Body to a Wall, it is to be Noted, that this is done by a single thred cross the midle, thus, (for I have more then once actually seen it in doing) This is done, before it appeares in the disguise of an angular Chrysolis. The Catterpillar doubles its head backwards, and touching the place, where it would suspend it selfe, it fixes a thred on both sides its body, drawing it a crosse, and then reducing its head and laying it selfe in a pendulous posture, it tosses it selfe and cracks the skin of the Catterpillar, which flying off, it appeares a Chrysolis, hanging as is described.

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One comment

  • June 29, 2010 - 4:40 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful fragment.

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