National Geographic : 1914 Jul
A BOOK OF MONSTERS THE pictures of monsters are por traits of creatures which are as much the real inhabitants of the world as we are, and have all the rights of ownership that we have; but, because their own struggle for existence so often crosses ours, many of them are our ene mies. Indeed, man's own real struggle for the supremacy of the world is his struggle to control these tiny monsters. The plague of the Middle Ages, which spread like some mysterious supernat ural curse over Europe and carried off millions of people, the yellow fever that has haunted the coasts of South Amer ica, the malaria which has strewn the tropics of the world with millions of graves, have been caused by the activi ties of two monsters so universally pres ent in our homes as to have become al most domesticated creatures-the flea and the mosquito. During these last two decades these have come under our con trol, and the flies which leave a colony of germs at every footstep will not much longer be tolerated; indeed, every crea ture that bites and sucks our blood or that crawls over our food and dishes has been placed under suspicion. Man struggles against these tiny mon sters not only for his life and health, but for his food as well. Almost every cul tivated plant has its enemy, and some of them have many. The bugs alone, which stick their beaks into all sorts of plants to suck their juices, would starve man out in one or two brief seasons if they in turn were not held in check by enemies of their own. The chinch-bug alone has demonstrated its power to devastate the wheat fields. The bark-beetles that girdle square miles of forest trees, the moths that destroy their foliage, the creatures that burrow into the fruit and fruit trees, the gall-forming flies that form galls on the roots of the grape-vines, able to de stroy the revenues of a whole country, the beetle which strips the potato of its leaves, the one which infects with its dirty jaws the melon vines of the South and turns the melon patches brown these are a few of the vast array of our enemies It would require a book much larger than this one just to enumerate those well known. It should make every American proud to know that it is the American economic entomologist who has, more than any other, pushed his way into this field and shown mankind how to fight these mon sters which destroy his food, his animals, and himself. But all these fascinating little creatures are not our enemies. We must not forget that man has domesticated certain of the insects, and that gigantic industries de pend upon them for their existence. The honey-bee furnished mankind with sweets during the generations preceding the discovery of the sugar-cane, and the silk-worm furnishes still the most costly raiment with which we clothe ourselves. The friends we have in the insect world are those which destroy the pests of our cultivated crops, like the Austra lian lady-bird beetle, which has been sent from one country to the other to keep in check the fluted scale which is so injuri ous to the orange orchards, and the para sites of the gipsy-moth, which in Europe helps to keep under control this plague of our forest trees, must certainly be counted as our friends.* Also they are our friends if, like the spiders, they kill such monsters as suck our blood or make our lives unsafe, or, like the great hordes of wasps and hor nets, wage unending warfare against the flies, but which, because they attack us personally if we come too near their nests, we kill on sight. Strangely enough, it is often these same stinging insects which help us by fertilizing the blossoms of our fruit trees. Indeed, many plants are so dependent on these little creatures that they have lost the power of self fertilizing, and thousands of species of trees and plants would become extinct in a generation without their friendly aid. The ancestors of some of the creatures pictured in "The Book of Monsters" were buried in the transparent amber of the Baltic many thousands of years ago, and the fossil remains of others date back a million years or more; but while man has been developing his surround ings from the primitive ones of savagery * See article by Dr. L . O. Howard, entitled "Explorers of a New Kind," printed on pages 38-67 of this Magazine.