Monday, October 01, 2007

Headless butterfly update

Long time Vectorites will recall a post on the downfall of the Guinness Book of World Records and the improbable rise (or at least persistence) of headless butterflies. That was the first in a promised series of posts on oddities unearthed from the Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. Subsequent entries in the series have so far not materialized, mainly because I kept loaning the book out to amaze my friends, and I only recently got it back.

But never mind that.

Turns out that ole Father Cambouet was a latecomer to the study of headless butterflies. A. Stephen Wilson beat him to it by almost half a century, with a paper in the July 17, 1879, issue of Nature (p. 267). Thanks to Google Book Search, I am posting that paper here in it's entirety.

Headless Butterfly Laying Eggs

ABOUT three o'clock on the nth inst. I picked up a butterfly, probably belonging to the genus Vanessa. It was a female, the head of which had recently been plucked off by a bird [or, perhaps, by Altarboy Cambouet? --Ed.], and was lying near the body. Thinking it was dead, I carried it home to examine the wing scales. On clipping off a bit of wing about four hours afterwards, the legs moved, and in a short time an egg was laid. In about two minutes another egg was kid. Others followed, till five-and-twenty had been expelled. Tremors of the legs and wings accompanied each deposit. The laying ceased, and the headless mother seemed dead. Next morning, on touching her, the motions of the legs and wings were repeated, and in a short time the laying was resumed. On close examination a heaving of the wings and rings of the abdomen could be observed, with about the frequency of human breathing. At the end of twenty-nine and a half hours from the time of finding, the laying ceased; seventy-eight eggs were laid by the butterfly with her head off.

A. STEPHEN WILSON
North Kinmundy, Aberdeen, July 14.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Sordes said...

In an old book I found the description of a very strange experiment. Two bugs were used, one in a normal stage, and one which was shortly before shedding its skin. Both get decapitated and the torsos glued together. As a result of the hormons both headless bugs did shed their skin.

1:19 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I like Nature's humble origins, from "whoa, check this weird shit out" to... um, the stuff they publish today.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Dr. Vector said...

You mean like 42-cm duck penises?

5:35 PM  

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