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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 270 pages of information about Social Life in the Insect World.

CHAPTER XI

THE ITALIAN CRICKET

My house shelters no specimens of the domestic Cricket, the guest of bakeries and rustic hearths.  But although in my village the chinks under the hearthstones are mute, the nights of summer are musical with a singer little known in the North.  The sunny hours of spring have their singer, the Field-Cricket of which I have written; while in the summer, during the stillness of the night, we hear the note of the Italian Cricket, the OEcanthus pellucens, Scop.  One diurnal and one nocturnal, between them they share the kindly half of the year.  When the Field-Cricket ceases to sing it is not long before the other begins its serenade.

The Italian Cricket has not the black costume and heavy shape characteristic of the family.  It is, on the contrary, a slender, weakly creature; its colour very pale, indeed almost white, as is natural in view of its nocturnal habits.  In handling it one is afraid of crushing it between the fingers.  It lives an aerial existence; on shrubs and bushes of all kinds, on tall herbage and grasses, and rarely descends to the earth.  Its song, the pleasant voice of the calm, hot evenings from July to October, commences at sunset and continues for the greater part of the night.

This song is familiar to all Provencals; for the least patch of thicket or tuft of grasses has its group of instrumentalists.  It resounds even in the granaries, into which the insect strays, attracted thither by the fodder.  But no one, so mysterious are the manners of the pallid Cricket, knows exactly what is the source of the serenade, which is often, though quite erroneously, attributed to the common field-cricket, which at this period is silent and as yet quite young.

The song consists of a Gri-i-i, Gri-i-i, a slow, gentle note, rendered more expressive by a slight tremor.  Hearing it, one divines the extreme tenuity and the amplitude of the vibrating membranes.  If the insect is not in any way disturbed as it sits in the low foliage, the note does not vary, but at the least noise the performer becomes a ventriloquist.  First of all you hear it there, close by, in front of you, and the next moment you hear it over there, twenty yards away; the double note decreased in volume by the distance.

You go forward.  Nothing is there.  The sound proceeds again from its original point.  But no—­it is not there; it is to the left now—­unless it is to the right—­or behind....  Complete confusion!  It is impossible to detect, by means of the ear, the direction from which the chirp really comes.  Much patience and many precautions will be required before you can capture the insect by the light of the lantern.  A few specimens caught under these conditions and placed in a cage have taught me the little I know concerning the musician who so perfectly deceives our ears.

The wing-covers are both formed of a dry, broad membrane, diaphanous and as fine as the white skin on the outside of an onion, which is capable of vibrating over its whole area.  Their shape is that of the segment of a circle, cut away at the upper end.  This segment is bent at a right angle along a strong longitudinal nervure, and descends on the outer side in a flap which encloses the insect’s flank when in the attitude of repose.

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