About the wasps, hornets, flies, horseflies and other such animals.

Translated by Paola Castañeda ’22

With very good reason one of the first things that should be mentioned in this book XV will be bees, for they are such beneficial and notable animals in the world, and the fruit of their labor, such as honey and wax, are so useful and necessary things and so worthy of estimation. But there are no bees on this island of Hispaniola, and I have not seen them or heard of there being any. There are many on the Mainland and of many types and varieties, both in the animal itself and in the shape of the bee, as well as in the flavor and color of the honey and the difference in their wax. When I write about those parts I will tell what I have seen of them, which has been a lot.

Now I will discuss the wasps to be found on this island, many of which are poisonous and cause a lot of pain when they sting. There are many in the trees of the fields and forests, and they are like the ones of Castile and somewhat larger. Some have a dark tawny color on the tips of their yellow wings; these make their nests on the trees, but they do not produce wax or make honey, instead they are dry like those in Spain and wherever else there are wasps. According to Pliny,[1] those they call hornets breed or make their cells underground; there are many of these on this island, and the bite of those that sting hurts or burns much worse than that of other wasps.

There are many flies, and of the ones from Spain, of which there used to be only very few or almost none, now there are many of them, though not as many as in Spain; but these are worse tempered and stubborn and they sting harder. There are also smaller ones that aren’t around all the time, like the ones I mentioned first. There are other flies that are in the trees and fields; some are green and small and others of so many types and varieties that one could go on writing about them forever. Among the others there are some green and colorful flies, the size of bees, that breed in the ground and dig holes in it with their forelegs and as they dig they throw the dirt out of the hole or cavity with their hind legs. There are many of these in this city of Santo Domingo by the pens and patios of the houses; since the soil is sand-like they can easily dig as I have described. These flies kill small green cicadas and other similar animals, and they carry them, flying them to their caves, and after they have brought some cicada or beetle into their caves they leave for more, and they do not rest in this task. It seems that they build this supply in anticipation of the future, because these flies are not around all year but rather come out when there is very little rain and the soil starts to get moist, and the sun is so hot and the humidity makes it feel more like it is burning.

There are so many types of bumblebees and beetles in so many varieties of colors and sizes that much could be written about the subject, but to my knowledge there is nothing to be gained from wasting words on it. There are the black and tawny ones; others that are bluish; others still of many different mixtures of colors together and of many forms; some come at night attracted by candlelight, like the moth in Castile, of which there are other infinite forms, from some as small as the ones I have said that can get into the eyes, like mosquitos, to some as big as an open hand. Some of them are of the most brilliant and highest shade of blue that can be seen; others are all yellow, and others are mixed with a great variety of colors and intricate patterns. Sometimes, when the rain comes, in an instant, when there are no men around, the air is full of moths, and these become worms that harm the crops. Some years they are all white, and others are white and black, and other years they have other varieties and colors. There are many bumble bees, like ones we have in Spain by the groves and river banks, that are as long as half a finger and thin with thick heads and two pairs of wings. In Spain these are always present as I have mentioned, but not in great quantities. And those are rare here as well, but they also often appear by the water in shocking and unexpected numbers, like the moths I have mentioned. There are a lot of mosquitos, and so many in some seasons that they become an annoyance, some times more than others, especially when the wind is still. In some parts of the countryside there are so many that they cannot tolerated; the worst of all are these miniscule ones called xixenes, and it is true that some get into the stockings and sting a lot. There are fleas, but very few, and not all the time; for the most part these are much smaller than those in Castile, but they sting a lot more and are much worse.

On that account I wrote in Toledo, in the year 1525, I talked about the small and bothersome animals that breed on the heads and bodies of men. And when coming to these parts men rarely have them, maybe just one or two; this rarely happens because once we cross from the Azores toward these parts, the ones that the men carried from Spain or bred from there slowly die off. Here they do not breed, only on kids that were born here, children of Christians; but the Indians do have them, and they have many on their bodies and heads. I also said that while returning to Europe, upon arriving at the same place in the islands of the Azores they would appear again, as if they had been waiting for us; there would be many of them, and after much effort the men would be exhausted by the constant cleaning and changing of shirts, until they would return to their earlier state, depending on the diligence or complacency with which they worked to get rid of them. And when I wrote that, I had experienced it myself and had seen what I have said in other people, the four times I had crossed the Ocean Sea. I told the truth then about what I saw; but already I have made this journey eight times, because afterward I came to these Indies and then returned to Spain and then came back to this city of Santo Domingo, and then I returned to Spain; in these last and second to last journeys it was different and there were so many that we were not free of them for the entire trip, so many that they caused a lot of trouble and frustration. I don’t know what the reason is, or if this plague has dared to join in the crossing, or if it is caused by the seasons; because I saw, as I said previously, that fly swatters were not necessary at meal times, and now they are necessary all year round. And just as these have multiplied, so too have these other animals; it is not believed that any animal covered in hair is exempt from this malady, except donkeys and sheep. It has happened in the world that so many have bred on the heads of men that men like Sila, the dictator, and Alcmaeon, the Greek poet, died of this pestilence. This plague harms even the birds, as Pliny has written about extensively in his Natural History.

There are a lot of ticks on this island of Hispaniola, especially on the cattle in the fields and the oxen that haul the carts, but very few on the dogs. Of the little ones found in the fields of the Mainland, they say that there are none on these islands; and it is not a small advantage for men, because in the time of the conquest of Castilla del Oro they talked about how they had to take the ticks off the soldiers, as will be said when it is discussed in the second part or volume of this General History of the Indies.

There are spiders of many different sorts on this island, some of them poisonous, and others very big and sizeable, like the ring that can be made between the thumb and the finger next to it, the one we call index finger. I am talking only about the body, not including the space that the legs take up. There are others, not very small ones, that seem as though they have human faces in some way; although when looked at more closely it is something very different to what it first appears to be, with many rays all around, like a painted sun. There are many other spiders in the fields, big and small and very different from one another; they also make their webs in different ways, with some weaving webs that look like the most delicate and truest green silk.

Some years there are locusts on these islands and on the Mainland, which both the Indians and the Christians consider an evil and something that brings great trouble. They destroy the cornfields and crops, and some years, when they come, the numbers are extremely large; but it is ordinary to see at least some of these animals. And the same for jumping crickets, which are harmful because they gnaw and pierce clothing and garments when they breed in the houses. There are many other of the type that chirp, some bigger than others, both in size and in their sounds and voices.

There are some green grasshoppers with very long and skinny legs that the kids in Spain call çervaticas. These grasshoppers are also eaten by the Indians and are considered a great delicacy, especially on the Mainland where they don’t spare any living thing the pleasure of the palate, as will be said in its place, in the second part of this General History of the Indies.

[1] Pliny, Book XI, Chapter 21. [GFO]