THE PINE - CHAFER





The orthodox denomination of this insect is _Melolontha fullo_, Lin. It

does not answer, I am very well aware, to be difficult in matters of

nomenclature; make a noise of some sort, affix a Latin termination, and

you will have, as far as euphony goes, the equivalent of many of the

tickets pasted in the entomologist's specimen boxes. The cacophony would

be excusable if the barbarous term signified nothing but the creature

signified; but as a rule this name possesses, hidden in its Greek or

other roots, a certain meaning in which the novice hopes to find

instruction.



The hope is a delusion. The learned term refers to subtleties difficult

to comprehend, and of very indifferent importance. Too often it leads

the student astray, giving him glimpses that have nothing whatever in

common with the truth as we know it from observation. Very often the

errors implied by such names are flagrant; sometimes the allusions are

ridiculous, grotesque, or merely imbecile. So long as they have a decent

sound, how infinitely preferable are locutions in which etymology finds

nothing to dissect! Of such would be the word _fullo_, were it not that

it already has a meaning which immediately occurs to the mind. This

Latin expression means a _fuller_; a person who kneads and presses cloth

under a stream of water, making it flexible and ridding it of the

asperities of weaving. What connection has the subject of this chapter

with the fuller of cloth? I may puzzle my head in vain: no acceptable

reply will occur to me.



The term _fullo_ as applied to an insect is found in Pliny. In one

chapter the great naturalist treats of remedies against jaundice,

fevers, and dropsy. A little of everything enters into this antique

pharmacy: the longest tooth of a black dog; the nose of a mouse wrapped

in a pink cloth; the right eye of a green lizard torn from the living

animal and placed in a bag of kid-skin; the heart of a serpent, cut out

with the left hand; the four articulations of the tail of a scorpion,

including the dart, wrapped tightly in a black cloth, so that for three

days the sick man can see neither the remedy nor him that applies it;

and a number of other extravagances. We may well close the book, alarmed

at the slough of the imbecility whence the art of healing has come down

to us.



In the midst of these imbecilities, the preludes of medicine, we find a

mention of the "fuller." _Tertium qui vocatur fullo, albis guttis,

dissectum utrique lacerto adalligant_, says the text. To treat fevers

divide the fuller beetle in two parts and apply half under the right arm

and half under the left.



Now what did the ancient naturalist mean by the term "fuller beetle"? We

do not precisely know. The qualification _albis guttis_, white spots,

would fit the Pine-chafer well enough, but it is not sufficient to

make us certain. Pliny himself does not seem to have been very certain

of the identity of the remedy. In his time men's eyes had not yet

learned to see the insect world. Insects were too small; they were well

enough for amusing children, who would tie them to the end of a long

thread and make them walk in circles, but they were not worthy of

occupying the attention of a self-respecting man.



Pliny apparently derived the word from the country-folk, always poor

observers and inclined to extravagant denominations. The scholar

accepted the rural locution, the work perhaps of the imagination of

childhood, and applied it at hazard without informing himself more

particularly. The word came down to us embalmed with age; our modern

naturalists have accepted it, and thus one of our handsomest insects has

become the "fuller." The majesty of antiquity has consecrated the

strange appellation.



In spite of all my respect for the antique, I cannot myself accept the

term "fuller," because under the circumstances it is absurd. Common

sense should be considered before the aberrations of nomenclature. Why

not call our subject the Pine-chafer, in reference to the beloved tree,

the paradise of the insect during the two or three weeks of its aerial

life? Nothing could be simpler, or more appropriate, to give the better

reason last.



We have to wander for ages in the night of absurdity before we reach the

radiant light of the truth. All our sciences witness to this fact; even

the science of numbers. Try to add a column of Roman figures; you will

abandon the task, stupefied by the confusion of symbols; and will

recognise what a revolution was made in arithmetic by the discovery of

the zero. Like the egg of Columbus, it was a very little thing, but it

had to be thought of.



While hoping that the future will sink the unfortunate "fuller" in

oblivion, we will use the term "pine chafer" between ourselves. Under

that name no one can possibly mistake the insect in question, which

frequents the pine-tree only.



It has a handsome and dignified appearance, rivalling that of _Oryctes

nasicornis_. Its costume, if it has not the metallic splendour dear to

the Scarabaei, the Buprestes and the rose-beetles, is at least unusually

elegant. A black or chestnut background is thickly sown with

capriciously shaped spots of white velvet; a fashion both modest and

handsome.



The male bears at the end of his short antennae a kind of plume

consisting of seven large superimposed plates or leaves, which, opening

and closing like the sticks of a fan, betray the emotions that possess

him. At first sight it seems that this magnificent foliage must form a

sense-organ of great perfection, capable of perceiving subtle odours, or

almost inaudible vibrations of the air, or other phenomena to which our

senses fail to respond; but the female warns us that we must not place

too much reliance on such ideas; for although her maternal duties demand

a degree of impressionability at least as great as that of the male, yet

the plumes of her antennae are extremely meagre, containing only six

narrow leaves.



What then is the use of the enormous fan-like structure of the male

antennae? The seven-leaved apparatus is for the Pine-chafer what his long

vibrating horns are to the Cerambyx and the panoply of the head to the

Onthophagus and the forked antlers of the mandibles to the Stag-beetle.

Each decks himself after his manner in these nuptial extravagances.



This handsome chafer appears towards the summer solstice, almost

simultaneously with the first Cigales. The punctuality of its appearance

gives it a place in the entomological calendar, which is no less

punctual than that of the seasons. When the longest days come, those

days which seem endless and gild the harvests, it never fails to hasten

to its tree. The fires of St. John, reminiscences of the festivals of

the Sun, which the children light in the village streets, are not more

punctual in their date.



At this season, in the hours of twilight, the Pine-chafer comes every

evening if the weather is fine, to visit the pine-trees in the garden. I

follow its evolutions with my eyes. With a silent flight, not without

spirit, the males especially wheel and wheel about, extending their

great antennary plumes; they go to and fro, to and fro, a procession of

flying shadows upon the pale blue of the sky in which the last light of

day is dying. They settle, take flight again, and once more resume their

busy rounds. What are they doing up there during the fortnight of their

festival?



The answer is evident: they are courting their mates, and they continue

to render their homage until the fall of night. In the morning both

males and females commonly occupy the lower branches. They lie there

isolated, motionless, indifferent to passing events. They do not avoid

the hand about to seize them. Most of them are hanging by their hind

legs and nibbling the pine-needles; they seem to be gently drowsing with

the needles at their mouths. When twilight returns they resume their

frolics.



To watch these frolics in the tops of the trees is hardly possible; let

us try to observe them in captivity. Four pairs are collected in the

morning and placed, with some twigs off the pine-tree, in a spacious;

cage. The sight is hardly worth my attention; deprived of the

possibility of flight, the insects cannot behave as in the open. At most

I see a male from time to time approaching his beloved; he spreads out

the leaves of his antennae, and agitates them so that they shiver

slightly; he is perhaps informing himself if he is welcome. Thereupon he

puts on his finest airs and exhibits his attainments. It is a useless

display; the female is motionless, as though insensible to these

demonstrations. Captivity has sorrows that are hard to overcome. This

was all that I was able to see. Mating, it appears, must take place

during the later hours of the night, so that I missed the propitious

moment.



One detail in particular interested me. The Pine-chafer emits a musical

note. The female is as gifted as the male. Does the lover make use of

his faculty as a means of seduction and appeal? Does the female answer

the chirp of her _innamorata_ by a similar chirp? That this may be so

under normal conditions, amidst the foliage of the pines, is extremely

probable; but I can make no assertion, as I have never heard anything of

the kind either among the pines or in my laboratory.



The sound is produced by the extremity of the abdomen, which gently

rises and falls, rubbing, as it does so, with its last few segments, the

hinder edge of the wing-covers, which are held firm and motionless.

There is no special equipment on the rubbing surface nor on the surface

rubbed. The magnifying-glass looks in vain for the fine striations

usually found in the musical instruments of the insect world. All is

smooth on either hand. How then is the sound engendered?



Rub the end of the moistened finger on a strip of glass, or a

window-pane, and you will obtain a very audible sound, somewhat

analogous to that emitted by the chafer. Better still, use a scrap of

indiarubber to rub the glass with, and you will reproduce with some

fidelity the sound in question. If the proper rhythm is observed the

imitation is so successful that one might well be deceived by it.



In the musical apparatus of the Pine-chafer the pad of the finger-tip

and the scrap of indiarubber are represented by the soft abdomen of the

insect, and the glass is represented by the blade of the wing-cover,

which forms a thin, rigid plate, easily set in vibration. The

sound-mechanism of the Pine-chafer is thus of the very simplest

description.





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