Natural History / Or, Uncle Philip’s Conversations with the Children about Tools and Trades among Inferior Animals

Natural History / Or, Uncle Philip’s Conversations with the Children about Tools and Trades among Inferior Animals

Francis L. Hawks
Francis L. Hawks

Author: Hawks, Francis L. (Francis Lister), 1798-1866
Natural history — Juvenile literature
Animals — Juvenile literature
Insects — Juvenile literature
Natural History
Or, Uncle Philip’s Conversations with the Children about Tools and Trades among Inferior Animals
The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.


J.&J. Harper. New-York.


with Young Persons.















Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1835,
By Harper & Brothers,
In the Clerk’s Office of the Southern District of New-York.


We must tell our little readers something about this number of their Library. It was sent to us by a very kind old uncle of ours, who, when we were young, was so much from home, visiting various places in the world, that we do not remember seeing him very often at that period. At last, the old man, finding that he could not bear fatigue as he had done when young, determined to come home; and we had heard so much about him that we were quite anxious to see him. He came to our house one evening, and appeared rather odd to us; but he was so good-natured, and told us so many curious things, that we soon forgot his odd appearance.
The old gentleman brought home with him a very large number of books, and a great many strange things which he had gathered in his travels, such as stones, and dried insects, and leaves, and flowers, and stuffed birds, and animals. He did not stay with us long, but went to the village where he was born, and built a small house to which he carried all his books and curiosities, and said that he should spend the rest of his days there.
We sometimes pay him a visit. The last time we were there, we found him talking to several children around him. In the beginning of the book there is a picture of the old gentleman. After you have looked at it, you may read the letter which he sent us, and learn how he came to write this book.
Your friends,
The Publishers.


My dear Nephews,
I was very much pleased to receive the numbers of your Library for Boys and Girls which you sent to me. You know I am now an old man, and have travelled a great deal, and seen a great many strange things in the course of my life. I am too old to travel any more, and so I am quietly living in the cottage I built by the side of that pleasant and shady little stream where I played when I was a boy. I read my books, and especially that best of all of them, my Bible; and so am patiently waiting till my Heavenly Father shall call me to take my last journey; when I hope, for the sake of the blessed Saviour, to go to Him. Sometimes I walk out into the village, and meet the children and have a long talk with them. They all know me; and very often, some of them will come to my house, and ask me to tell them about things which I have seen in my travels or read of in books: and so I spend many happy hours with the little creatures; for you know how much I love children. When I had read the books you sent to me, I lent them to the children, who were delighted; and I thought that if I should sometimes write down what we here talked about, it might please the little boys and girls for whom you print your books, and perhaps they might learn something from our conversations which would be useful: and so I determined to send them to you, from time to time, to print, if you pleased.
If you think fit to print what I send, just tell your little readers who I am; an aged and quiet old man, who is very fond of little boys and girls, and wishes them to be wise and good here, and happy hereafter, and that I am your
Uncle Philip.
Newtown, Feb. 1833.
P.S. If you print what I send now, please to print the Preface to Parents, which I also send; in order that they may, by reading it, see what sort of a book Uncle Philip has been making for their dear children, and may be satisfied that it will not harm them to read it.


The author of the following book avails himself of the opportunity afforded by its publication, to address a word to those who sustain the delightful and responsible relation of parents.
To such of that class as may honour by a perusal this humble attempt to interest and instruct their offspring, the author need not say that the subject of his book possesses for himself peculiar attractions: it will readily be perceived that he has found a charm in the pursuits of the naturalist. The votary of a favourite science would anticipate too much, should he expect every one to partake of the enthusiasm which is apt to stimulate him; it is wisely and kindly ordered that we shall not all be enthusiasts in the same direction. The author, however, still ventures to hope, that in his subject there is enough to attract, though it may fail to fascinate. He hopes, too, that it will be found not attractive merely, but profitable also to his young countrymen. There are many reasons on which to found such a hope. If to entertain reverence for our Maker, to admire and adore his wisdom and goodness in the illustrations of nature, thankfully to acknowledge and duly to improve the superiority which mind confers, be exercises in which a wise parent would desire to train a child,—the study of natural science is admirably adapted to the attainment of these objects. Again, if it be desirable to encourage habits of patient observation, accuracy of investigation, and soundness of thought; let the volume of nature be opened before the youthful mind. If to learn things be better than to learn words, it is important to place things before the growing intellects of the young. Let it not be supposed that to present matters of science intelligibly to the minds of children is a hopeless task. It requires not learning or maturity of understanding to perceive a fact; it needs only the ordinary senses which God has bestowed alike upon children and their parents. Natural science is emphatically the science of facts; built upon any other foundation it becomes conjecture merely: and he knows but little of the mind of a child who is not aware of the facility with which a fact is impressed upon it. The secret of instructing the young will be found to consist more in the mode of communication than in the nature of the subject.

As to the style of this work a word may be said; not, of course, for the purpose of disarming criticism (for truly the writer has never supposed his trifle worth the critic’s labour or notice), but simply to remark, that the object has been to write for the minds of children; if the book be intelligible to them, the utmost ambition of Uncle Philip will be attained. Truth and plainness were all he sought. The first he believes he has attained; and to determine his success in attempting the last, he turns from the parents, and looks for the decision of the question to the suffrages of the children. He would rather hear the expression of satisfaction from the lips of one intelligent little reader, than receive the words of approbation from many who are elders; the first is testimony derived from experience, the last is but opinion. Children always know better than any one else does what books they understand.
In conclusion, the author owes it to himself to say to the parents of his young countrymen, and to the patrons of the “Boy’s and Girl’s Library,” that what he has written will be found on the side of religion and morals. So far as these important points are concerned, the writer is not ashamed to avow himself a Christian; nor yet does he mean to make it the subject of boasting. In his simple view, Christianity is a very quiet and gentle thing, which eschews strife, and promotes practical goodness; and truly can he say, that he has indulged in some of his happiest and, as he trusts, his holiest musings when, in the solitary pursuit of his favourite science,—to use the language of good old Izaak Walton, that simple-hearted lover of God, and all his works,—”he has looked upon the wonders of nature with admiration, or found some harmless insect to content him, and pass away a little time, without offence to God, or injury to man.”


About a Fly that can work with a Saw and a Rasp, like the Carpenter 13
About Grasshoppers and Bees that bore Holes with a Gimlet 19
About Animals that are Tailors 27
About the first Paper in the World made by Wasps 41
A Story about Tom Smith, and of Bees with Brushes and Baskets, and of a Bird with a Chisel, and a Gnat with a Lancet 53
About Animals that can do Mason’s Work 66
About Animals that throw Dirt with a Spade; and about an Animal with a Hook; and about one that is a Wire-drawer 80
About a Door, with a Hinge and Spring to it, made by a Spider; and the Difference between God’s Work and Man’s 94
A Story about a Philosopher and his Kite; and about Ants that have Awls, and build Cities, and Stairs, and Bridges, and many other Things 104
More about the white Ants 120
About some other Ants that are very good Masons, and build Walls and Ceilings; and a Story about a very sensible Ant which seemed to think a little 129
About Ants that go to War, and fight Battles; and about some that are Thieves, and have Slaves 138
A Voyage; and an Animal that makes itself into a Ship; and of Insect that builds a Boat, and floats about in a Canoe; and of another that pumps Water, and wears a Mask; and of a Spider that builds a Raft, and floats upon it 151
About an Insect with Tweezers, and another with Pincers; and how a Fly’s Foot is made, so as to stick to the Wall 167
How Hats are made; and about Animals that can make Felt like the Hatter 181
About Birds that are Weavers, and the Politician Bird; a Story about some Philosophers; and what may be learned from these Conversations 202



Uncle Philip tells the Children about a Fly that can work with a Saw and a Rasp, like the Carpenter.
Well, boys, this is a beautiful day. The sun is shining brightly, and the birds are singing, and the insects are flying about, and the grass is green, and every thing appears pleasant, and you feel happy too, and have come, I suppose, to see old Uncle Philip.”
“Yes, Uncle Philip, we are tired of playing now, and so we have come to ask you to talk with us, and tell us about some of the curious things you know.”
“Well, boys, I will tell you about some very strange things. I will talk to you about animals that know how to work with tools like a man.”
“Work with tools, Uncle Philip! That is strange; but we know it is so, if you say so; because you will not tell us any stories but true ones. But where do they get the tools?”
“Ah, boys, ‘the hand that made them is divine!’ They get them where we get all that is useful and good,—from God. The Bible says that He ‘is wise in heart, and wonderful in working;’ and he has made many a poor little insect, and given it tools to work with for its comfort, as good and perfect as any that man can make. Yes, these poor little creatures had tools long before man had. God cares for the insects, boys, as well as for us.”
“But, Uncle Philip, what sort of tools do you mean? Tell us about them.”
“Very well, I will; do you think of some kind of tools that men use: think of the carpenter and his tools, and let us see if we cannot find some of them among the insects.”
“Why, the carpenter has a saw. Is there any saw among these little fellows?”
“Yes indeed, there is; and a capital saw it is. Now listen, and I will tell you all about it. There is a kind of fly called the saw-fly; it has four wings, and commonly its body is yellow, and its head is black; but the most curious part of it is the saw. The young ones feed upon the leaves of rose-bushes, and gooseberries, and raspberries, and currants, and several other kinds of bushes; and the old ones always lay their eggs on the branches of these bushes, so that the young ones may have something to eat as soon as they come out. It uses its saw to make a place in the branch to put its egg in.”
“Uncle Philip, what is the saw made of?”
“It is made of something like horn, and is fixed very nicely in a case; it resembles what the cabinet-makers call a tenon-saw more than it does the carpenter’s common saw. The tenon-saw is made of a thin plate of steel, and has a stiff brass back, to keep it from bending. The brass back has a groove in it, and the saw is put in that groove, and then it is fastened to it. But the fly’s saw is fixed in another way: there is a back to it too, but that back is not fastened to the saw. The groove is in the saw, and there is a ridge all along the back-piece, which just fits in the groove, and so the saw slides backwards and forwards, and the ridge always keeps it in its place. Besides all this, boys, the fly is better off than the cabinet-maker, for he uses only one saw at a time; but our little workman has two exactly alike, and they are so fixed that the creature first pushes out one, and when it is drawing that back, pushes out the other; so that it is all the time cutting, and does double work. I think the fly’s saw is the best, too, for another reason. The saws of the carpenter and cabinet-maker have their teeth bent; first, one a little on one side, and then the next to it a little on the other side, and so on to the end of the saw; so that when sawing, the cut may be wide enough for the blade to move easily. Now the fly’s saw has the teeth a little bent, or twisted, too; but it has something else: on the outside of every tooth there are a great many very small teeth, so that the outside of every one is just like a rasp, or file.”
“But, Uncle Philip, it must take them a great while to saw a very little cut; they are so small.”
“Yes, it does; but they persevere. It takes them more than an hour and a half to make one groove, and sometimes they will go on and make as many as six without stopping. That shows, boys, what perseverance will do.”
“And when it is done sawing, Uncle Philip, where does it keep its saws?”
“Oh, I told you they fitted in a case; but when the fly is done sawing, it uses the saws to put the egg in the place cut for it, and then it draws the saws almost entirely into the case, and drops upon the egg a sort of frothy stuff like a drop of soap-lather.”
“What is that for?”
“I suppose it is to glue the egg fast, or else to keep the juices in the bush from hurting it.”
“Well, this is a curious fly, Uncle Philip.”
“It is strange, boys, because you never heard of it before; but it is a cunning fly, as well as a curious one.”
“What does it do, Uncle Philip?”
“Why, when it is frightened, it will fold up its case and saws under its body, and draw up its legs, and pretend to be dead; and then it will not move, even if you stick a pin through it.”
“Can you tell us any thing more about this fly?”

“Nothing very strange, boys; but we have found out two tools, I think, a saw and a rasp, and that is enough for one poor little fly to give us. Here, boys, are pictures of these saws; I have made them a great deal larger than they are in the fly, so that you can see them plainly.”

Saw of the Saw-fly, with Rasps shown in the Cross-lines.

Portion of the Saw-fly’s comb-toothed Rasp, and Saw.


Uncle Philip tells the Children about Grasshoppers and Bees, that bore Holes with a Gimlet.
Well, Uncle Philip, here we are again, to hear more about the tools that animals work with; we have seen in the bark of trees, and old wooden posts, little holes as round as a gimlet could make, and we have been thinking whether any of these little creatures have augers and gimlets, as well as saws. Do you know of any of them that can bore holes?”
“Oh yes, boys; I know of more than one that can bore as smooth and round a hole as any carpenter you ever saw. There are some of the grasshoppers that have an excellent gimlet. The contrivance has five pieces in it; two of the pieces make a case to keep the augers in, two more are the augers or borers, and the other is a piece between the two borers on which they slide; this piece has a ridge on each side of it, and the augers have a groove which exactly fits the ridge. Besides this, each auger ends in a knob, and that knob has teeth all around it. Here is a picture of it.”

Ovipositors, with files, of the Grasshopper, magnified.

“But, Uncle Philip, what is the piece with the ridge for?”
“Ah, boys, that piece shows the wisdom and the goodness of God. ‘His tender mercies are over all his works:’ he has placed that piece there to keep the borers stiff, so that they cannot get out of joint, or be broken, when the little workman is boring.”

“Well, this is very curious.”
“Yes; but there are some of these insect workmen more curious still. Did you ever see a spy-glass? You know it is a round, hollow piece of wood, with brass tubes in it, which are made smaller and smaller, so as to slide into one another, when the glass is not used. Now there is a sort of gadfly (she is a little creature, too) which has exactly such a contrivance to keep her gimlet in. It is in four pieces, and the smallest piece ends in five sharp points, three of which are longer than the other two: she twists these five sharp points into one piece, and as some are longer and some shorter, when they are all put together, they make a sharp edge running all around, and are almost exactly like an auger or gimlet. When she wants to

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Natural History / Or, Uncle Philip’s Conversations with the Children about Tools and Trades among Inferior Animals
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