Here starts the Fifteenth Book of the first part of the Natural and General History of the Indies, Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea; which deals with insects.


Translated by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert

Animals in the insect family or girded insects such as cicadas, ants, wasps, and those like them—which, in the opinion of some, as Pliny says,[1] do not breed or have blood—will be the subject of this Fifteenth Book. He calls them insects, because they are divided or girded at the neck, or at the thorax, or in other places or spots on their joints; and it is a thing to marvel at greatly how something so small could have reason or agency and how complex and unfathomable is their perfection; and he wonders where nature could place such senses in a mosquito, in the ones called zanzal (the kind that sings), or in the ones that are even smaller? Where did nature place their sight? Their taste? Their sense of smell? From where in those small bodies could their terrible sound come? With what subtlety did it place their wings and make those long legs and its empty belly eager for human blood, or with what art did it sharpen its stinger, which, although so subtle it can hardly be seen, is capable of piercing the skin and has a channel to suck blood. What teeth (of which the dust gives testimony) has nature given the woodworm, since it wished it to feed on hard woods? We marvel at the shoulders of elephants, on which they bear towers, or at the necks of bulls, or at the tiger’s rapine, or the lion’s mane; and nonetheless nature has endowed the small creatures as well as the large ones. And thus, at the beginning of Book XI, Pliny begs those who read his work that since many of these animals are despised, let them not despise the things he has to say about them; because in the contemplation of nature there are no superfluous things.

Indeed, everything he stated was considered and noted as befits such a distinguished and wise man; since when it comes to the works of nature our eyes see and our hands touch such marvelous things that one thing alone is sufficient to hold the mind of man in great awe. Because it reminds us of how powerful is the Master that grants such power to nature, so it can do its work through His dispensation; and that He alone is Omnipotent, from whom everything stems, and that it is God who gives life and essence to all things born and who infuses and bestows all those properties and works that Pliny attributes to nature; there is nothing to marvel at in what He does or men can see when we recall His infinite omnipotence; nor should we linger in such admiration without giving Him infinite thanks for all his works, and for the manifest mercy He bestows with the gift of understanding so we can recognize His work and consider its implications, that with the observation and descriptions of these creatures by such expert and authentic authors our hearts can be lifted to love He who created them and through their sharing them with us we can serve Him all the better. But let no Christian (unlike Pliny and the Gentiles) adscribe the grace of these wonders to nature; but to the Master of nature, whom it pleases to grant me grace to compose what I have written in this and the following books of this Natural and General History of the Indies as long as I say and write with true intention and skill what I have seen and understood of these matters. Because in truth, my principal wish and intent in filling this volume with true lines is to serve God and my King, and not to fill it with fables such as those I have seen written from Spain about matters of the Indies; because without deviating my pen from the truth there will be no lack of things to write that will make men marvel. And thus, in writing a true story, I will briefly describe the insects and girded animals there are on this island, those similar to the ones in our Spain, and those I have not seen there, and those belonging here, and of the properties of those that have come to my notice. What I can write in this first part may be little, but these topics will grow in the second and third parts, which deal with the Mainland, because of the abundance to be found there.

[1] Pliny, Book XI. [GFO]