Fifth Meeting: 8th October, 1890.
C. Hulke, F.C.S., President, in the chair.
New Member.—W. Barton.
Papers.—1. “Further Coccid Notes; with Descriptions of New Species from New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji,” by W. M. Maskell, F.R.M.S., Corr. Mem. Roy. Soc. of South Australia. (Transactions, p. 1.)
Mr. Maskell said that as this was a technical paper he would not read it in full. He might explain that it was in continuation of similar papers read last year and in former years on work he had been engaged in for the last fourteen years. It described about twenty new species five from Australia, one from Fiji, and the rest from New Zealand. Plates figuring these accompanied the paper. The paper also contained remarks on formerly-described species in this and other parts of the world. He also exhibited about a hundred and fifty different species of insects, including those he had already described, together with others from various localities. He regretted much that entomologists generally did not think it worth their while to study this particular family, the Coccidæ. He believed that he himself was the only person in New Zealand who had published anything about it. Outside New Zealand there were not more than eight or ten who gave attention to scale-insects. This was a bad thing, and he felt it much, as he had here no one to discuss the subject with, or to correct him if he fell into any errors. Two gentlemen at Reefton collected for and assisted him greatly, but they did not write on the subject, and relied entirely on him for determinations. There was no one to keep him straight, so to say. But chiefly he regretted that entomologists would not depart from the general groove of butterflies, moths, and beetles. We knew pretty well all that can be known of these; at least, their study had been so close that the varieties seemed nowadays only trivial. In the Coccidæ there was infinite variety, and work of the greatest interest—a variety of life-history, habits, and customs that seemed greater than that afforded by any other branch of entomology. He gave instances of peculiarities in these insects—wonderful vitality in some cases, and about the boring habits of one particular insect after it had thrown off legs, mouth, &c.—all tending to prove that these little despised creatures were more interesting for study than all the butterflies.
Mr. Hudson said that he wished to say a few words on the subject of general entomology. While fully appreciating the great value and interest attaching to the study of the Coccidæ, he felt confident that any other family of insects closely investigated would yield equally interesting results. After showing the limited extent of the Coccidæ compared with the remainder of the great class Insecta, he pointed out the vast variety existing in the habits of various other families and orders, commencing with the Lepidoptera. He said that some fed on the leaves of plants, some on roots, some burrowed in the stems of trees, making trap-doors to protect themselves from enemies. Others, again, constructed cases which they dragged about with them; while others, among the minute species, tunnelled between the layers of leaves, lived in the kernels of fruits, nuts, seeds, &c. Their mode of passing the winter was equally varied. Some-hibernated, laying their eggs on the sprouting plants in the spring, others spent the same period in the ground or in cocoons as pupæ, others hibernated as larvæ, while others, again, passed the inclement months in the egg state. Turning to the Coleoptera, or beetles, equal variety in habits was found to exist. Many species burrowed through trees in the larva state, others were carnivorous, forming pitfalls in the earth to capture their prey. As a striking instance of diversity of habit the genus Sitaris was mentioned. This beetle laid an enormous number of eggs near the entrance to the nests of various species of solitary bees. These eggs hatched out as minute active insects with six legs. Numbers of them perished, but a few managed to jump on to the bees as they visited their nests. Here the larva remained until the bee was in her own cell, where she deposited an egg which floated on the top of the honey that the bee had industriously stored up for her offspring. As soon as the Sitaris larva got a chance it left the bee and jumped on to the egg, which it then devoured. Casting its skin it now appeared as an ordinary beetle-grub, feeding on the honey until it was all consumed, when it was transformed into a pupa, from which the beetle finally issued. The remarkable habits of social insects were also alluded to, and the numbers of the other orders of insects compared with the Hemiptera, of which the Coccidæ were but a small family. He did not wish to detain the Society further, but hoped that he had said enough to show that the whole insect-world was teeming with interest and variety.
Mr. Travers: The great value of Mr. Maskell's work has been the determining of insects that have been of so much damage to our fruit and other trees, and the pointing-out of remedies to be applied to prevent damage. The fruit-growers of New Zealand are under great obligations to Mr. Maskell; so that, although Mr. Maskell's labours are principally of value from a scientific point of view, yet for economic purposes they have been of the greatest benefit. Had it not been for his great labours many of these pests would have escaped observation, and have gone on doing the greatest mischief. The beetle and other insects are also great pests to trees, and are easily introduced from other countries, so that any one who devotes his attention to the observation of the life-history of such objects is deserving of credit.
Mr. Tregear said that, although Mr. Maskell's researches had no doubt a great economic value, he felt sure that it was more for a love of science that Mr. Maskell devoted so much time and attention to this work.
Mr. Maskell, in reply, said he did not wish it to be understood that he thought the study of other forms of insect-life had no interest. He considered, however, that there was very little new to be gathered in other branches of entomology. The subject of butterflies and beetles had been pretty well worked out, while there was still so much to learn from the study of the Coccidæ. What he was doing now was purely for science—he was rather sick of the economic side of the question. His reasons were partly personal, no doubt, as he found great numbers of persons
ready to ask advice as to the means of treating their trees and improving their property, but nobody seemed to recollect that their adviser might have economic necessities of his own, or to think it necessary to offer the least remuneration for the advice. But, principally, he found that, whatever counsels might be given, the chief object of many persons seemed to be to introduce at once confusion and uncertainty. For example, in the case of Phylloxera, which is now well established in New Zealand, in view of the wretched obstructiveness of the colonists he had considered it his duty to strongly recommend to the Government and to Parliament the total destruction of all vines in the infected districts. At once the newspapers threw, as it were, a wet blanket over the proposal by terming it “drastic”—a word which frightened everybody. Members of Parliament, with a general election in view, declined to study the real interests of their constituents in comparison with their votes, and so nothing was done; and Phylloxera is now spreading at its own sweet will through the North Island. In fact, the “economic” side of the matter was enough to sicken anybody, and he had in the present paper left it entirely aside.
The President said that Mr. Maskell's remarks on this subject were most interesting, given, as they had been to-night, in a popular manner, and quite within the capacity of all to understand and apply. He considered that Mr. Maskell's work had not only a great scientific value, but had been most beneficial to agriculture generally.
2. “On the Habits and Life-history of the New Zealand Glowworm,” by G. V. Hudson, F.E.S. (Transactions, p. 43.)
Mr. Travers said that these worms were first mentioned by Hochstetter, but he did not think that they had been described.
Mr. Maskell: Has the light been microscopically examined? Could it possibly be phosphorescent Infusoria? It might not be at the will of the insect that the light went out, as described by Mr. Hudson. He was sorry that Mr. Hudson did not describe the insect himself, instead of sending it to some one else to do. He thought Mr. Hudson was quite able to describe his own insects.
Mr. Poynton was of opinion that the extinction of the light was quite a voluntary action on the part of the worm. He had seen numbers on the West Coast, and was quite satisfied of this.
Mr. Hudson, in reply, said that he was confident that the extinction of the light of the glowworm was a voluntary act on the part of the larva, and, as such, could not possibly be due to parasitic Infusoria. It was also almost incredible that an aggregation of animalculæ could give such a brilliant light. He felt sure that the organ he had described produced the light at the will of the insect, but its use he was entirely unable to explain.