Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon eBook

J. Emerson Tennent
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 590 pages of information about Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon.

Yours most respectfully,


Sir J. Emerson Tennent, &c. &c.



Owing to the favourable combination of heat, moisture, and vegetation, the myriads of insects in Ceylon form one of the characteristic features of the island.  In the solitude of the forests there is a perpetual music from their soothing and melodious hum, which frequently swells to a startling sound as the cicada trills his sonorous drum on the sunny bark of some tall tree.  At morning the dew hangs in diamond drops on the threads and gossamer which the spiders suspend across every pathway; and above the pool dragon-flies, of more than metallic lustre, flash in the early sunbeams.  The earth teems with countless ants, which emerge from beneath its surface, or make their devious highways to ascend to their nests in the trees.  Lustrous beetles, with their golden elytra, bask on the leaves, whilst minuter species dash through the air in circles, which the ear can follow by the booming of their tiny wings.  Butterflies of large size and gorgeous colouring, flutter over the endless expanse of flowers, and at times the extraordinary sight presents itself of flights of these delicate creatures, generally of a white or pale yellow hue, apparently miles in breadth, and of such prodigious extension as to occupy hours, and even days, uninterruptedly in their passage—­whence coming no one knows; whither going no one can tell.[1] As day declines, the moths issue from their retreats, the crickets add their shrill voices to swell the din; and when darkness descends, the eye is charmed with the millions of emerald lamps lighted up by the fire-flies amidst the surrounding gloom.

[Footnote 1:  The butterflies I have seen in these wonderful migrations in Ceylon were mostly Callidryas Hilariae, C. Alcmeone, and C.  Pyranthe, with straggling individuals of the genus Euplaea, E. Coras, and E.  Prothoe.  Their passage took place in April and May, generally in a north-easterly direction.  The natives have a superstitious belief that their flight is ultimately directed to Adam’s Peak, and that their pilgrimage ends on reaching the sacred mountain.  A friend of mine travelling from Kandy to Kornegalle, drove for nine miles through a cloud of white butterflies, which were passing across the road by which he went.]

As yet no attempt has been made to describe the insects of Ceylon systematically, much less to enumerate the prodigous number of species that abound in every locality.  Occasional observers have, from time to time, contributed notices of particular families to the Scientific Associations of Europe, but their papers remain undigested, and the time has not yet arrived for the preparation of an Entomology of the island.

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Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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