W. S. (William Stephen) Coleman.

British Butterflies: Figures and Descriptions of Every Native Species online

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By the Rev. J. G. WOOD.

By the Rev. J. G. WOOD.


the Rev. J. C. ATKINSON.



* * * * *



A desire to extend the knowledge of, and by so doing to extend the love
for, those sunny creatures called Butterflies, has prompted the author to
undertake this little work, which, though making no pretence to a
technically scientific character, will, it is hoped, be found sufficiently
complete and accurate to supply all information needful to the young
entomologist as to the names, appearance, habits, localities, &c. of _all
our British Butterflies_, together with a general history of butterfly
life - the mode of capture, preservation, and arrangement in cabinets - the
apparatus required, &c. At the same time it is so inexpensive as to be
accessible to every schoolboy.

The subject is one which has formed the delight and study of the author
from early boyhood, and butterfly-hunting still preserves its fascinations,
redoubling the pleasure of the country ramble in summer. {vi}

Should this volume be the means of inciting some to seek this source of
healthful enjoyment, and to join in the peaceful study which may be so
easily pursued by all dwellers in the country, it will have succeeded in
its purpose.

The whole of the illustrative portraits of the _butterflies_ have been
drawn from nature by the author, and with one exception from specimens in
his own collection. At least one figure of each species (of the natural
size) is given; but in very many instances, where the sexes differ
considerably from each other, both are figured, and the under sides are
also frequently added.

The greater number of the _caterpillars_ and _chrysalides_, however, being
rarely met with, the figures on the first plate are nearly all borrowed
from the splendid and accurate works of Continental authors - chiefly from
Hübner and Duponchel.

With great pleasure, the author here acknowledges his obligations, for many
biographical facts relating to butterflies, to those highly useful
periodicals, the _Zoologist_ and the _Entomologist's Weekly Intelligencer_,
the former devoted to general natural history, the latter especially to
entomology, and whose pages register a {vii} mass of interesting and
original communications from correspondents who, living in wide-spread
localities, and possessing varied opportunities of observation, have
gradually brought together, under able editorship, a store of facts that
could never have come within the _personal_ experience of any one man,
however industrious and observant.

The capture during the past year of a new and interesting butterfly for the
first time in this country, is recorded in this volume, in which the insect
is also figured and described.

BAYSWATER, _April 1860_.

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Occasionally a missive arrives from some benevolent friend, announcing the
capture of a "splendid butterfly," which, imprisoned under a tumbler,
awaits one's acceptance as an addition to the cabinet. However, on going to
claim the proffered prize, the expected "_butterfly_" turns out to be some
bright-coloured _moth_ (a Tiger moth being the favourite victim of the
misnomer), and one's entomological propriety suffers a shock; not so much
feeling the loss of the specimen, as concern for the benighted state of an
otherwise intelligent friend's mind with regard to insect nomenclature. {2}

It is clearly therefore _not_ so superfluous as it might at first otherwise
seem, to commence the subject by defining even such a familiar object as a
_butterfly_, and more especially distinguishing it with certainty from a
_moth_, the only other creature with which it can well be confounded.

The usual notion of a butterfly is of a gay fluttering thing, whose broad
painted wings are covered with a mealy stuff that comes off with handling.
This is all very well for a general idea, but the characters that form it
are common to some other insects besides butterflies. Moths and hawk-moths
have mealy wings, and are often gaily coloured too; whilst, on the other
hand, some butterflies are as dusky and plain as possible. Thus the
crimson-winged Tiger, and Cinnabar _moths_ get the name of _butterflies_,
and the Meadow brown _butterfly_ is as sure to be called a _moth_. So, as
neither colouring nor mealy wings furnish us with the required definition,
we must find some concise combination of characters that _will_ answer the
purpose. _Butterflies, then, are insects with mealy wings, and whose horns
(called "antennæ") have a clubbed or thickened tip, giving them more or
less resemblance to a drum-stick._ So the difference in the shape of the
_antennæ_ is the _chief_ outward mark of distinction between butterflies
and moths, the latter having _antennæ_ of various shapes, threadlike or
featherlike, but _never clubbed at the tip_.

Having thus settled how a butterfly is to be recognized at sight, let us
see what butterfly _life_ is: how the creature lives, and has lived, in the
stages preceding its present airy form.

[Illustration: I.]


In like manner with other insects, all butterflies commence their existence
enclosed in minute _eggs_; and these eggs, as if shadowing forth the beauty
yet undeveloped whose germ they contain, are themselves such curiously
beautiful objects, that they must not be passed over without admiring
notice. It seems, indeed, as if nature determined that the ornamental
character of the butterfly should commence with its earliest stage; form,
and not colour, being employed in its decoration, sculpture being here made
the forerunner of painting.

Some of these forms are roughly shown on Plate II. (figs. 1-7), but highly
magnified; for as these eggs are really very tiny structures, such as would
fall easily through a pin-hole, the aid of a microscope is of course
necessary to render visible the delicate sculpture that adorns their
surface. The egg (fig. 1, Plate II.) of the common Garden white butterfly
(_Pieris Brassicæ_) is among the most graceful and interesting of these
forms, and also the most easily obtained. It reminds us of some antique
vessel, ribbed and fluted with consummate elegance and regularity.

Others - such as those of the Large Heath butterfly (fig. 3), and the Queen
of Spain Fritillary (fig. 2), simulate curious wicker-work baskets. The
Peacock butterfly has an egg like a polygonal jar (fig. 4), while that of
its near ally, the large Tortoise-shell (fig. 5), is simply pear-shaped,
with the surface unsculptured and smooth {4} (fig. 5). The eggs of the
Meadow Brown (fig. 6), and the Wood Argus (fig. 7), are globular - the
former with lines on its surface like the meridian lines on a geographical
globe, and a pretty scalloping at the top that gives a flower-like
appearance to that portion; the latter has the whole surface honey-combed
with a network of hexagonal cells. Such are a few of the devices that
ornament the earliest cradle of the butterfly; but probably those of every
species would well repay their examination to any one who possesses a

Prompted by a most remarkable instinct, and one that could not have
originated in any experience of personal advantage, the female butterfly,
when seeking a depository for her eggs, selects with unerring certainty the
very plant which, of all others, is best fitted for the support of her
offspring, who, when hatched, find themselves surrounded with an abundant
store of their proper food.

Many a young botanist would be puzzled at first sight to tell a sloe-bush
from a buckthorn-bush. Not so, however, with our Brimstone butterfly:
passing by all the juicy hedge-plants, which look quite as suitable, one
would think, she, with botanical acumen, fixes upon the buckthorn; either
the common one, or, if that is not at hand, upon another species of
rhamnus - the berry-bearing alder - which, though a very different looking
plant, is of the same genus, and shares the same properties. She evidently
works out the natural system of botany, and might have been a pupil of
Jussieu, had she not been tutored by a far higher AUTHORITY.

[Illustration: II.]


This display of instinct would seem far less wonderful did the mother
butterfly herself feed on the plant she commits her eggs to. In that case,
her choice might have appeared as the result of personal experience of some
peculiar benefit or pleasure derived from the plant, and then this
sentiment might have become hereditary; just as, for example, the acquired
taste for game is hereditary with sporting dogs. Whereas the fact is, that
a butterfly only occasionally, and as a matter of accident rather than
rule, derives her own nectareous food from the flowers of the plant, whose
leaves nourish her caterpillar progeny. So that this, as well as numberless
other phenomena of instinct, remains a mystery to be admired, but not
explained by any ordinary rule of cause and effect.

Having thus efficiently provided, as far as board and lodging are
concerned, for the welfare of the future brood, the mother seems to
consider them settled for life, takes no further care of them, nor even
awaits the opening of the sculptured caskets that contain their tiny
life-germs; but, trusting them to the sun's warmth for their hatching, and
then to their own hungry little instincts to teach them good use of the
food placed within their reach, she sees them no more.

But though abandoning her offspring to fate in this manner, it must not be
imagined that the butterfly mother takes her pattern of maternity from
certain {6} human mothers, and in a round of "butterfly's balls," and such
like dissipations, forgets the sacred claims of the nursery. No, she has
far other and better excuses for absenting herself from her family; one of
which is, that she usually dies before the latter are hatched; and if that
is not enough, that the young can get on quite as well without her; for
probably she could not teach them much about caterpillar economics, unless,
indeed, she remembered her own infantile habits of lang syne, so totally
different from those of her perfected butterfly life.

The space of time passed in the egg state varies much according to the
temperature - from a few days when laid in genial summer weather, to several
months in the case of those laid in the autumn, and which remain quiescent
during the winter, to hatch out in the spring.

The eggs of butterflies, in common with those of insects in general, are
capable of resisting not only vicissitudes, but extremes of temperature
that would be surely destructive of life in most other forms. The severest
cold of an English winter will not kill the tender butterfly eggs, whose
small internal spark of vitality is enough to keep them from freezing under
a much greater degree of cold than they are ever subjected to in a state of
nature. For example, they have been placed in an artificial freezing
mixture, which brought down the thermometer to 22° below zero - a deadly
chill - and yet they survived with apparent {7} impunity, and afterwards
lived to hatch duly. Then as to their heat-resisting powers, some tropical
insects habitually lay their eggs in sandy, sun-scorched places, where the
hand cannot endure to remain a few moments; the heat rising daily to
somewhere about 190° of the thermometer - and we know what a roasting one
gets at 90° or so. Yet they thrive through all this.

For a short time previous to hatching, the form and colour of the
caterpillar is faintly discoverable through the semi-transparent egg-shell.
The juvenile CATERPILLAR, or LARVA, gnaws his way through the shell into
the world, and makes his appearance in the shape of a slender worm,
exceedingly minute of course, and bearing few of the distinctive marks of
his species, either as to shape or colouring. On finding himself at
liberty, in the midst of plentiful good cheer, he at once falls vigorously
to work at the great business of his life - _eating_; often making his first
meal - oddly enough - off the egg-shell, lately his cradle. This singular
relish, or digestive pill, swallowed, he addresses himself to the food that
is to form the staple fare during the whole of his caterpillar
existence - viz. the leaves of his food-plant, which at the same time is his
home-plant too.

At this stage his growth is marvellously rapid, and few creatures can equal
him in the capacity for doubling his weight - not even the starved
lodging-house "slavey," when she gets to her new place, with _carte
blanche_ allowance and the key of the pantry; for, in the course {8} of
twenty-four hours, he will have consumed more than twice his own weight of
food: and with such persevering avidity does he ply his pleasant task,
that, as it is stated, a caterpillar in the course of one month has
increased nearly ten thousand times his original weight on leaving the egg;
and, to furnish this increase of substance, has consumed the prodigious
quantity of forty thousand times his weight of food - truly, a ruinous rate
of living, only that green leaves are so cheap.

But the life of a caterpillar, after all, is not merely the smooth
continual feast he would doubtless prefer it to be; it is interrupted,
several times in its course, by the necessity nature has imposed upon him
of now and then changing his coat - to him a very troublesome, if not a
painful affair.

For some time previous to this phenomenon, even eating is nearly or quite
suspended, - the caterpillar becomes sluggish and shy, creeping away into
some more secluded spot, and there remaining till his time of trouble is
over. Various twitchings and contortions of the body now testify to the
_mal-aise_ of the creature in his old coat, which, though formed of a
material capable of a moderate amount of stretching, soon becomes outgrown,
and most uncomfortably tight-fitting, with such a quick-growing person
inside it: so off it must come, but it being unprovided with buttons,
there's the rub. However, with a great deal of fidgeting and
shoulder-shrugging, he manages to tear his coat down the back, and lastly,
by patient efforts, shuffles off the old rag; {9} when, lo! underneath is a
lustrous new garment, somewhat similar, but not exactly a copy of the last,
for our beau has his peculiar dress for each epoch of his life, - the most
splendid being often reserved for the last.

This change of dress ("_moulting_," it is sometimes called) is repeated
thrice at least in the creature's life, but more generally five or six
times. Not only does the outer husk come off at these times, but, wonderful
to relate! the lining membrane of all the digestive passages, and of the
larger breathing tubes, is cast off and renewed also.

After each moult, the caterpillar makes up for his loss of time by eating
more voraciously even than before, in many instances breaking his fast by
making a meal of his "old clo'" - an odd taste, first evinced, as we have
seen, in earliest infancy, when he swallowed his cradle.

On Plate I. are shown the chief varieties of form taken by the caterpillars
of our British butterflies, and a glance at these will give, better than
verbal descriptions, a general idea of their characteristics.

Their most usual shape is elongated and almost cylindrical, or slightly
tapering at one or both ends. Of these, some are smooth, or only studded
with short down or hairs; such are the caterpillars of the Swallow-tail
butterfly (fig. 1), of the Brimstone (fig. 2), Clouded Yellows, and Garden,
and other white butterflies. Others, of the same _general_ form, are beset
with long branched spines, making perfect _chevaux-de-frise_; such {10} are
those of the Peacock, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, and the Silvery

The caterpillars of another large section have the body considerably
thicker in the middle (rolling-pin shaped), and the tail part two-forked,
or _bifurcate_. This form belongs to the numerous family that includes the
Meadow-brown (fig. 3), the Ringlets, and many others.

The _bizarre_ personage, at fig. 4, turns to the graceful White Admiral

The Purple Emperor begins his royal career in the curious form shown at
fig. 5 - a shape unique among British butterflies, as beseems that of their
sovereign; and he carries a coronet on his brow already.

All those beautiful little butterflies called the Hair-streaks (fig. 9),
the Blues (fig. 10), and the Coppers, have very short and fat caterpillars,
that remind one forcibly of wood-lice - a shape shared also by that small
butterfly with a big name, the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary (fig. 8), an
insect very distinct from the Fritillaries above mentioned with thorny

The _legs of a caterpillar are usually sixteen in number_, and composed of
two distinct kinds, viz. of _six true legs_, answering to those of the
perfect insect, and placed on the foremost segments of the body; and of
_ten_ others, called "_prolegs_;" temporary legs, used principally for
strengthening the creature's hold upon leaf or branch.

Like the rest of its body, the caterpillar's head widely {11} differs in
structure from that of the perfect insect, being furnished with a pair of
jaws, horny and strong, befitting the heavy work they have to get through,
and shaped like pincers, opening and shutting from side to side, instead of
working up and down after the manner of the jaws in vertebrate animals.
This arrangement offers great convenience to the creature, feeding, as it
is wont to do, on the thin edge of a leaf. It is a curious sight to watch a
caterpillar thus engaged. Adhering by his close-clinging prolegs, and
guiding the edge of the leaf between his forelegs, he stretches out his
head as far as he can reach, and commences a series of rapid bites, at each
nibble bringing the head nearer the legs, till they almost meet; then
stretching out again the same regular set of mouthfuls is abstracted, and
so on, repeating the process till a large semi-circular indentation is
formed, reaching perhaps to the midrib of the leaf; then shifting his
position to a new vantage ground, the marauder recommences operations,
another sweep is taken out, then another, and soon the leaf is left a mere

But a change, far more important than mere skin-shifting, follows close
upon the animal's caterpillar-maturity, complete as soon as it ceases to

The form and habits of a worm are to be exchanged for the glories and
pleasures of winged life; but this can only be done at the price of passing
through an intermediate state; one neither of eating, nor of flying, but
motionless, helpless and death-like. {12}

This is called the CHRYSALIS _or_ PUPA _state_.

_Pupa_ is a Latin word, signifying a creature swathed, or tied up; and is
applied to this stage of all insects, because all, or some, of their parts
are then bound up, as if swathed.

The term _Chrysalis_ is applicable to butterflies only, and, strictly, only
to a few of these - _Chrysalis_[1] being derived from the Greek [Greek:
chrusos] (_chrysos_), _gold_ - in allusion to the splendid gilding of the
surface in certain species, such as the _Vanessas_, Fritillaries, and some

In the older works on entomology we frequently meet with the term _Aurelia_
applied to this state, and having the same meaning as chrysalis, but
derived from the Latin word _Aurum_, gold.

Here the reader is again referred to Plate I. for a series of the principal
forms assumed by the chrysalides of our native butterflies, and as these
for the most part represent the next stage of the caterpillars previously
figured, an opportunity is afforded of tracing the insect's form through
its three great changes; the whole of the butterflies in their perfect
state being given in their proper places in the body of the work.

[Illustration: III.]

{13} The complicated and curious processes by which various caterpillars
assume the chrysalis form, and suspend themselves securely in their proper
attitudes, have been most accurately and laboriously chronicled by the
French naturalist, Réaumur; but his memoirs on the subject, which have been
frequently quoted into the larger entomological works, are too long for
insertion here in full, and any considerable abbreviation would fail to
convey a clear idea of the process, on account of the intricacy of the
operations described. So I can only here allude to the difficult problems
that the creature has to solve, referring the reader to the above-mentioned
works for a detailed description of the manner of doing so; or, better
still, I would recommend the country resident to witness all this with his
own eyes. By keeping a number of the caterpillars of our common
butterflies, feeding them up, and attentively watching them when
full-grown, he will now and then detect one in the transformation act, and
have an opportunity of wondering at the curious manoeuvres of the animal,
as it triumphs over seeming impossibilities.

By reference to the figures of chrysalides on Plate I. it will be seen that
there are two distinct modes of suspension employed among them; one, by the
tail only, the head hanging down freely in the air: - in the other, the tail
is attached to the supporting object; but the head, instead of swinging
loosely, is kept in an upright position by being looped round the waist
with a silken girdle.

To appreciate the difficulty of gaining either of the above positions, we
must bear in mind that, before doing so, the caterpillar has to throw off
its own skin, carrying with it the whole of its legs, and the jaws {14}
too - leaving itself a mere limbless, and apparently helpless mass - its only
prehensile organs being a few minute, almost imperceptible hooks on the end
of the tail; and the required position of attachment and security is
accomplished by a series of movements so dexterous and sleight-of-hand
like, as to cause infinite astonishment to the looker-on, and, as Réaumur
justly observes, "It is impossible not to wonder, that an insect, which
executes them but once in its life, should execute them so well. We must
necessarily conclude that it has been instructed by a GREAT MASTER; for He
who has rendered it necessary for the insect to undergo this change, has
likewise given it all the requisite means for accomplishing it in safety."

If we examine a chrysalis we are able to make out, through the thin
envelope, all the external organs of the body stowed away in the most
orderly and compact manner. The antennæ are very conspicuous, folded down
alongside of the legs; and precisely in the centre will be seen the tongue,
unrolled and forming a straight line between the legs. The unexpanded wings
are visible on each side - very small, but with all their veinings
distinctly seen; and the breathing holes, called spiracles, are placed in a
row on each side of the body.

The duration of the chrysalis stage, like that of the egg, is extremely
variable, and dependent on difference of temperature. As an instance of

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Online LibraryW. S. (William Stephen) ColemanBritish Butterflies: Figures and Descriptions of Every Native Species → online text (page 1 of 11)