The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

48. Inconspicuous, unostentatious, but hardly insignificant

"Insects do not play so conspicuous and ostentatious a part in Europe as in some of the warmer regions of the globe ; it is only in special localities or exceptional seasons that their destructive or irritating influence becomes formidable to man. There are not many towns like Fasano, where the inhabitants have in summer to leave their usual residences to the occupancy of flies ; and if the European horticulturist has a hard battle to fight with caterpillars, earwigs, and wasps, he generally succeeds in gaining a fair crop after all.

[...]The three insects of the greatest economic importance are the silk-moth, the bee, and the cantharis. The silk-worm, since its introduction in the 6th century, has become an important object of cultivation in Italy, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain, and Portugal, and has even proved remunerative in Prussia, Bavaria, and central Russia ; and recently a new species from Japan, which feeds on the oak and not on the mulberry, has been successfully reared in the Baltic provinces. Bee-keeping is an extensive industry in Italy, France, Switzerland, Russia, and Sweden ; and in Greece, the tax on bees furnishes £1600 to the revenue. The cantharis is a native, not only of Spain, as its popular name of Spanish fly imports, but also of France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and South Russia, and even occurs in the south of England."

I hope that the above extract from the extensive EUROPE article, by H. A. Webster, in volume 8, can be of practical use to regular readers of this blog. You will now be able to remark, should the occasion justify, that the town of Fasano is given over to the occupation of flies in summer. If conversation is lagging, or idleness threatens mischief, ask your companions, charges, or fellow passengers on the omnibus, whether they can name the three most profitable insects in Europe. They are sure to struggle to think of the Spanish fly, and should they name the bee, you can concur with the observation that it has on occasion furnished a significant contribution to the Greek exchequer.

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