Ingenious experiment

Frank T. Buckland, Fish hatching, Londres, Tinsley Brothers, 1863, p. 244-246.


“My efforts to promote the practical application of observed facts of natural history during the delivery of my lecture on ‘Rish Hatchin,’ at the Royal Institution, have been so handsomely and flatteringly mentioned in your columns, that I cannot refrain from giving more details about one of the specimens I placed upon the table to illustrate my subject, and this because it was the handi-work of a lady, or, rather, it was the idea of a lady carried out by representatives of a humble class of insects.
“Everybody knows the humble caddis worm, that neglected but really interesting creature which is found so plentifully in ponds and stagnant ditches. If you will examine one of them you will find that the creature has surrounded his body and built for himself a movable house – like the gipsy’s moving caravan – of sticks, stones, water-shells – in fact, any material he could get hold of; just as we ourselves at Brighton build houses and walls of flints, or in London dig up the London clay ( as it is called by geologists), and, having baked it into bricks, build our houses of the materials nearest at hand. If we want further illustrations, look, reader, at the substance with which your own house is built. If you are at Bath, you will find it is built of Bath stone; if at Oxford, or oolite; if in Cornwall, of granite, and so on. Just in the same way the caddis, living in a ditch, builds his house of the materials of which the bottom of the ditch is formed.
“Now, an ingenious-minded, observant, and clever-gingered young lady, Miss Smee – daughter of Alfred Smee, Esq., whose practical and clever researches in science are so well known- reasoned that if the caddis were taken out of the house which he had formed from the materials he found at the bottom of the Wandle, and given materials wherewith to build a new house, he would rather use these, whatever they might happen to be, than have no house at all. She therefore set to work, and put the caddis to work also; for, having despoiled him of his house, she gave him other materials which he might use or leave alone as he chose. The consequence of her most interesting experiments was that she has been enabled to show a glass case, neatly fitted up, containing specimens of the most curious caddis-houses that have ever been seen by the naturalist. In this collection we find the caddis-houses made of the following most un-caddis-like materials, viz., bits of glass, both white and coloured, of coral, of amethyst, onyx, cairngorm, gold, silver, brass, and numerous other materials, which the ingenuity of Miss Smee had devised, forming altogether a remarkable example of how human intelligence can cause the instinct of minor creatures to work for man, according to its own design. The caddis refused to use bits of coal, brick, or slate; also tin, lead, or copper. Miss Smee observed that the greatest number of houses that a caddis would build was five, and that every house they formed was more and more fragile. They cement the bits of material they are obliged to use together in a most ingenious way, by means of a secretion from the mouth, and it is curious to see them adapting to bits into the places which they best fit, just as we see a labourer building a wall of rough chalk flint. During their hard labours the caddis worms were fed with raw meat, house-flies, &c.
“It is curious to observe that, if the caddis lives in a rapid stream, he builds himself a heavy house, as though aware that, if he did not do so, he and his house together would be swept away by the stream. But in a stagnant stream, his house is light, for he does not want the weight to keep himself down; so that there may be said to be laziness in the caddis family as well as in our noble selves.
“Miss Smee’s preparations have been exhibited at the Zoological Society, and a paper read upon the subject by the eminent naturalist, Dr. John Edward Gray, of the British Museum, who was pleased to pay a high compliment to Miss Smee’s ingenuity in devising the cleverness in carrying out her experiments.


“May 2, 1862”