About the animals born in wood and conceived in diverse ways, and of the shipworm.

Translated by Paola Castañeda ’22

There are animals that, because of the rain, are born in the ground and others in the wood. Horseflies are also born this way in places where there is a lot of humidity and, as Pliny says,[1] worms are even born inside of men and in dead meat. But why would I want to confirm with Pliny or any other ancient author the things that we see every day and are known to all men? So let’s return to the animals that are born in the wood, which are no small pestilence in these parts. We call these shipworms, especially those that breed in the ships, on the hulls at the bottom and on the strakes and where the ships touch the water; they work and eat the wood in ways that, without seeing their labor, it cannot be believed or imagined—I will speak about this as an eyewitness and as of a thing that is very common here. Some say that the ships get these worms from the water, others believe that they breed in the wood itself; I tend to believe it is the latter, and that the humidity of the water, the disposition of the timber and the potency of the sun are the materials with which in time these animals form themselves naturally in these parts, because besides the ships, the same can be seen on wooden barrels and the vessels that hold water or wine. The point is that, in whichever way this worm is conceived, it is as small and thin as a silk thread; after gnawing they become as thick as a finger, and they leave the boards of the ships like a beehive or like a sponge, all eaten up and in such a way that the ships flood after going out to sea, and many times people and sailors have been lost. And it is a very relevant thing and we see it happen more often than we would want. The tarlo, which is the worm they call woodworm in Castile, belongs to the same species or type of animal, as it turns wood into dust and chews through it and destroys it (a thing often seen and known about). And in the same way, because this land is very humid, the wood is quickly ruined in this city of Santo Domingo and on these other islands populated by Christians, after it has been used in buildings; here a house is older (in terms of its wood) in thirty years than it is in Spain in a hundred. This can be seen in these houses of ours, which are all modern and built not long ago, and whose wood is in the condition I have described, while in Castile they would be in better condition given the pine they use over there, even if they were built a hundred and fifty years ago. The prothonotary Peter Martyr says, in the chronicle or report he wrote about matters in the Indies (without having seen them), which he titled Orbe Novo, that there are certain trees in these parts that due to their bitterness are not eaten by the shipworms. This would be very advantageous if it were true, but I have been in that land that he speaks of and there are no such trees, neither is it known in these parts of any wood or tree that is exempt or can be said to be free of shipworm; shipworm is so abundant and so harmful to ships and buildings, that if such timber did exist it would be very well known and would be used often, and the fact of its existence would not fade from memory so soon, nor would it be little used—but I believe it is a fable and untrue. And whoever told him could not make it true, at least not until the end of the days of said author, or even until the present time, since it has been three years since he was called to God. May He have him in His glory, for I truly believe he wished to write the truth, if he had been truthfully informed; but since he spoke of what he had not seen, I am not surprised that his chronicles contain many mistakes.

[1] Pliny, Book XI, Chapter 33. [GFO]