Animal Parasites and Messmates

Abstract

THIS work forms the twentieth volume of the International Scientific Series. We believe there was some doubt on the part of the publishers as to the propriety of bringing out a popular treatise on so uninviting a subject. To have omitted all account of this important series of creatures considered in relation to the welfare of man would, however, have been a serious blunder. It is high time that popular prejudices should be ignored, especially when the welfare of the people themselves is involved in the question at issue. Fully alive to the prejudices referred to, a writer in Notes and Queries (who was probably anxious to make the subject palatable) says of this little book: “There is as much amusement to be derived from Prof. Van Beneden's pages as there is instruction.” We cannot take this optimist view of the matter; on the contrary, we fail to find anything amusing in the book, although, as might be expected from the author's known position as a man of science, there is much to be learnt from an attentive study of the text. Prof. Van Beneden's strength lies in a clear exposition of the phenomena of commensalism. We owe to his remarkable zoological acumen the correct interpretation of those singular phases of parasitic life which he has so happily classed under the rôle of Messmates and Mutualists, respectively. On this head he has strung together such a multitude of facts that his work cannot fail to be useful to working naturalists. Whether the general reader will find anything “amusing” in these pages is very doubtful. He may, indeed, if his mind be still dominated by the teachings of a certain school, find comfort in the assurance which M. Van Beneden affords that the welfare of all the most repulsive forms of insect life is most carefully looked after. What a comfort it must be for the poor Cayenne convict when tortured by insect parasites to know that the ever-helping “Hand” superintends the “preservation” of the larvæ of Lucilia hominivora with the same care that it does “the young brood of the most brilliant bird.” Surely the Mexican soldier who “had his glottis destroyed, and the sides and the roof of his mouth rendered ragged and torn, as if a cutting punch had been driven into those organs,” could hardly be brought to realise the need-be for such a process of development on the score of benevolence towards this frightful parasite ! The case of Lucilia is by no means exceptional, since there are scores of parasites, both external and internal, that are capable of inflicting the most terrible sufferings alike upon man and beast. Push our author's Bridgwater-treatise-like views to their logical outcome, and it necessarily follows that every pang endured by countless suffering hosts was expressly designed in order that man might appreciate the benevolence of the “Creator.” Such a conception is too horrible to be entertained by reasonable creatures; nevertheless, it is in perfect harmony with certain other grossly anthropomorphic conceptions of Deity that are too commonly taught amongst us.

Animal Parasites and Messmates.

By P. J. Van Beneden, Professor at the University of Louvain. &c. (London: Henry S. King and Co., 1876.)

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