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´╗┐Title: More Hunting Wasps
Author: Fabre, Jean-Henri, 1823-1915
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "More Hunting Wasps" ***

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By J. Henri Fabre

Translated By Alexander Teixeira De Mattos, F. Z. S.


The fourteen chapters contained in this volume complete the list of
essays in the "Souvenirs entomologiques" devoted to Wasps. The remainder
will be found in the two earlier volumes of this collected edition
entitled "The Hunting Wasps" and the "Mason-wasps" respectively.

Chapter 2 has appeared before in my version of "The Life and Love of
the Insect," an illustrated volume of extracts translated by myself and
published by Messrs. Adam and Charles Black (in America by the Macmillan
Co.), and Chapter 10 in a similar miscellany translated by Mr. Bernard
Miall published by Messrs. T. Fisher Unwin Ltd. (in America by the
Century Co.) under the title of "Social Life in the Insect World." These
two chapters are included in the present book by arrangement with the
original firms.

I wish to place on record my thanks to Mr. Miall for the valuable
assistance which he has given me in preparing this translation.


Ventnor, I. W., 6 December, 1920.



















(This essay should be read in conjunction with that on the Black-bellied
Tarantula. Cf. "The Life of the Spider," by J. Henri Fabre, translated
by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos: chapter 1.--Translator's Note.)

The Ammophila's caterpillar (Cf. "The Hunting Wasps," by J. Henri Fabre,
translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos: chapters 13 and 18 to 20;
and Chapter 11 of the present volume.--Translator's Note.), the Bembex
(Cf. idem: chapter 14.--Translator's Note.), Gad-fly, the Cerceris (Cf.
idem: chapters 1 to 3.--Translator's Note.), Buprestis (A Beetle
usually remarkable for her brilliant colouring. Cf. idem: chapter
1.--Translator's Note.) and Weevil, the Sphex (Cf. idem: chapter 4 to
10.--Translator's Note.), Locust, Cricket and Ephippiger (Cf. "The Life
of the Grasshopper," by J. Henri Fabre, translated by Alexander
Teixeira de Mattos: chapters 13 and 14.--Translator's Note.): all
these inoffensive peaceable victims are like the silly Sheep of our
slaughter-houses; they allow themselves to be operated upon by the
paralyser, submitting stupidly, without offering much resistance. The
mandibles gape, the legs kick and protest, the body wriggles and twists;
and that is all. They have no weapons capable of contending with the
assassin's dagger. I should like to see the huntress grappling with
an imposing adversary, one as crafty as herself, an expert layer of
ambushes and, like her, bearing a poisoned dirk. I should like to see
the bandit armed with her stiletto confronted by another bandit equally
familiar with the use of that weapon. Is such a duel possible? Yes, it
is quite possible and even quite common. On the one hand we have the
Pompili, the protagonists who are always victorious; on the other hand
we have the Spiders, the protagonists who are always overthrown.

Who that has diverted himself, however little, with the study of insects
does not know the Pompili? Against old walls, at the foot of the banks
beside unfrequented footpaths, in the stubble after the harvest, in the
tangles of dry grass, wherever the Spider spreads her nets, who has not
seen them busily at work, now running hither and thither, at random,
their wings raised and quivering above their backs, now moving from
place to place in flights long or short? They are hunting for a quarry
which might easily turn the tables and itself prey upon the trapper
lying in wait for it.

The Pompili feed their larvae solely on Spiders; and the Spiders feed on
any insect, commensurate with their size, that is caught in their nets.
While the first possess a sting, the second have two poisoned fangs.
Often their strength is equally matched; indeed the advantage is
not seldom on the Spider's side. The Wasp has her ruses of war, her
cunningly premeditated strokes: the Spider has her wiles and her set
traps; the first has the advantage of great rapidity of movement, while
the second is able to rely upon her perfidious web; the one has a sting
which contrives to penetrate the exact point to cause paralysis, the
other has fangs which bite the back of the neck and deal sudden death.
We find the paralyser on the one hand and the slaughterer on the other.
Which of the two will become the other's prey?

If we consider only the relative strength of the adversaries, the power
of their weapons, the virulence of their poisons and their different
modes of action, the scale would very often be weighted in favour of the
Spider. Since the Pompilus always emerges victorious from this contest,
which appears to be full of peril for her, she must have a special
method, of which I would fain learn the secret.

In our part of the country, the most powerful and courageous
Spider-huntress is the Ringed Pompilus (Calicurgus annulatus, FAB.),
clad in black and yellow. She stands high on her legs; and her wings
have black tips, the rest being yellow, as though exposed to smoke, like
a bloater. Her size is about that of the Hornet (Vespa crabro). She is
rare. I see three or four of her in the course of the year; and I never
fail to halt in the presence of the proud insect, rapidly striding
through the dust of the fields when the dog-days arrive. Its audacious
air, its uncouth gait, its war-like bearing long made me suspect that
to obtain its prey it had to make some impossible, terrible, unspeakable
capture. And my guess was correct. By dint of waiting and watching
I beheld that victim; I saw it in the huntress' mandibles. It is the
Black-bellied Tarantula, the terrible Spider who slays a Carpenter-bee
or a Bumble-bee outright with one stroke of her weapon; the Spider who
kills a Sparrow or a Mole; the formidable creature whose bite would
perhaps not be without danger to ourselves. Yes, this is the bill of
fare which the proud Pompilus provides for her larva.

This spectacle, one of the most striking with which the Hunting Wasps
have ever provided me, has as yet been offered to my eyes but once; and
that was close beside my rural home, in the famous laboratory of the
harmas. (The enclosed piece of waste land on which the author studied
his insects in their native state. Cf. "The Life of the Fly," by
J. Henri Fabre, translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos: chapter
1.--Translator's Note.) I can still see the intrepid poacher dragging by
the leg, at the foot of a wall, the monstrous prize which she had just
secured, doubtless at no great distance. At the base of the wall was a
hole, an accidental chink between some of the stones. The Wasp inspected
the cavern, not for the first time: she had already reconnoitred it
and the premises had satisfied her. The prey, deprived of the power of
movement, was waiting somewhere, I know not where; and the huntress had
gone back to fetch it and store it away. It was at this moment that
I met her. The Pompilus gave a last glance at the cave, removed a few
small fragments of loose mortar; and with that her preparations were
completed. The Lycosa (The Spider in question is known indifferently
as the Black-bellied Tarantula and the Narbonne Lycosa.--Translator's
Note.) was introduced, dragged along, belly upwards, by one leg. I
did not interfere. Presently the Wasp reappeared on the surface and
carelessly pushed in front of the hole the bits of mortar which she had
just extracted from it. Then she flew away. It was all over. The egg was
laid; the insect had finished for better or for worse; and I was able to
proceed with my examination of the burrow and its contents.

The Pompilus has done no digging. It is really an accidental hole with
spacious winding passages, the result of the mason's negligence and not
of the Wasp's industry. The closing of the cavity is quite as rough and
summary. A few crumbs of mortar, heaped up before the doorway, form a
barricade rather than a door. A mighty hunter makes a poor architect.
The Tarantula's murderess does not know how to dig a cell for her larva;
she does not know how to fill up the entrance by sweeping dust into it.
The first hole encountered at the foot of a wall contents her, provided
that it be roomy enough; a little heap of rubbish will do for a door.
Nothing could be more expeditious.

I withdraw the game from the hole. The egg is stuck to the Spider, near
the beginning of the belly. A clumsy movement on my part makes it fall
off at the moment of extraction. It is all over: the thing will not
hatch; I shall not be able to observe the development of the larva. The
Tarantula lies motionless, flexible as in life, with not a trace of a
wound. In short, we have here life without movement. From time to time
the tips of the tarsi quiver a little; and that is all. Accustomed of
old to these deceptive corpses, I can see in my mind's eye what has
happened: the Spider has been stung in the region of the thorax, no
doubt once only, in view of the concentration of her nervous system. I
place the victim in a box in which it retains all the pliancy and all
the freshness of life from the 2nd of August to the 20th of September,
that is to say, for seven weeks. These miracles are familiar to us (Cf.
"The Hunting Wasps": passim.--Translator's Note.); there is no need to
linger over them here.

The most important matter has escaped me. What I wanted, what I still
want to see is the Pompilus engaged in mortal combat with the Lycosa.
What a duel, in which the cunning of the one has to overcome the
terrible weapons of the other! Does the Wasp enter the burrow to
surprise the Tarantula at the bottom of her lair? Such temerity would
be fatal to her. Where the big Bumble-bee dies an instant death, the
audacious visitor would perish the moment she entered. Is not the other
there, facing her, ready to snap at the back of her head, inflicting
a wound which would result in sudden death? No, the Pompilus does not
enter the Spider's parlour, that is obvious. Does she surprise the
Spider outside her fortress? But the Lycosa is a stay-at-home animal; I
do not see her straying abroad during the summer. Later, in the autumn,
when the Pompili have disappeared, She wanders about; turning gipsy, she
takes the open air with her numerous family, which she carries on her
back. Apart from these maternal strolls, she does not appear to me to
leave her castle; and the Pompilus, I should think, has no great
chance of meeting her outside. The problem, we perceive, is becoming
complicated: the huntress cannot make her way into the burrow, where
she would risk sudden death; and the Spider's sedentary habits make an
encounter outside the burrow improbable. Here is a riddle which would
be interesting to decipher. Let us endeavour to do so by observing other
Spider-hunters; analogy will enable us to draw a conclusion.

I have often watched Pompili of every species on their
hunting-expeditions, but I have never surprised them entering the
Spider's lodging when the latter was at home. Whether this lodging be a
funnel plunging its neck into a hole in some wall, an awning stretched
amid the stubble, a tent modelled upon the Arab's, a sheath formed of a
few leaves bound together, or a net with a guard-room attached, whenever
the owner is indoors the suspicious Pompilus holds aloof. When the
dwelling is vacant, it is another matter: the Wasp moves with arrogant
ease over those webs, springes and cables in which so many other insects
would remain ensnared. The silken threads do not seem to have any hold
upon her. What is she doing, exploring those empty webs? She is watching
to see what is happening on the adjacent webs where the Spider is
ambushed. The Pompilus therefore feels an insuperable reluctance to make
straight for the Spider when the latter is at home in the midst of
her snares. And she is right, a hundred times over. If the Tarantula
understands the practice of the dagger-thrust in the neck, which is
immediately fatal, the other cannot be unacquainted with it. Woe then to
the imprudent Wasp who presents herself upon the threshold of a Spider
of approximately equal strength!

Of the various instances which I have collected of this cautious reserve
on the Spider-huntress' part I will confine myself to the following,
which will be sufficient to prove my point. By joining, with silken
strands, the three folioles which form the leaf of Virgil's cytisus, a
Spider has built herself a green arbour, a horizontal sheath, open at
either end. A questing Pompilus comes upon the scene, finds the game to
her liking and pops in her head at the entrance of the cell. The Spider
immediately retreats to the other end. The huntress goes round the
Spider's dwelling and reappears at the other door. Again the Spider
retreats, returning to the first entrance. The Wasp also returns to it,
but always by the outside. Scarcely has she done so, when the Spider
rushes for the opposite opening; and so on for fully a quarter of an
hour, both of them coming and going from one end of the cylinder to the
other, the Spider inside and the Pompilus outside.

The quarry was a valuable one, it seems, since the Wasp persisted for a
long time in her attempts, which were invariably defeated; however, the
huntress had to abandon them, baffled by this perpetual running to and
fro. The Pompilus made off; and the Spider, once more on the watch,
patiently awaited the heedless Midges. What should the Wasp have done
to capture this much-coveted game? She should have entered the verdant
cylinder, the Spider's dwelling, and pursued the Spider direct, in her
own house, instead of remaining outside, going from one door to the
other. With such swiftness and dexterity as hers, it seemed to me
impossible that the stroke should fail: the quarry moved clumsily, a
little sideways, like a Crab. I judged it to be an easy matter; the
Pompilus thought it highly dangerous. To-day I am of her opinion: if
she had entered the leafy tube, the mistress of the house would have
operated on her neck and the huntress would have become the quarry.

Years passed and the paralyser of the Spiders still refused to reveal
her secret; I was badly served by circumstances, could find no leisure,
was absorbed in unrelenting preoccupations. At length, during my last
year at Orange, the light dawned upon me. My garden was enclosed by an
old wall, blackened and ruined by time, where, in the chinks between the
stones, lived a population of Spiders, represented more particularly by
Segestria perfidia. This is the common Black Spider, or Cellar Spider.
She is deep black all over, excepting the mandibles, which are a
splendid metallic green. Her two poisoned daggers look like a product of
the metal-worker's art, like the finest bronze. In any mass of abandoned
masonry there is not a quiet corner, not a hole the size of one's
finger, in which the Segestria does not set up house. Her web is a
widely flaring funnel, whose open end, at most a span across, lies
spread upon the surface of the wall, where it is held in place by
radiating threads. This conical surface is continued by a tube which
runs into a hole in the wall. At the end is the dining-room to which the
Spider retires to devour at her ease her captured prey.

With her two hind-legs stuck into the tube to obtain a purchase and the
six others spread around the orifice, the better to perceive on every
side the quiver which gives the signal of a capture, the Segestria
waits motionless, at the entrance of her funnel, for an insect to become
entangled in the snare. Large Flies, Drone-flies, dizzily grazing some
thread of the snare with their wings, are her usual victims. At the
first flutter of the netted Fly, the Spider runs or even leaps forward,
but she is now secured by a cord which escapes from the spinnerets and
which has its end fastened to the silken tube. This prevents her from
falling as she darts along a vertical surface. Bitten at the back of the
head, the Drone-fly is dead in a moment; and the Segestria carries him
into her lair.

Thanks to this method and these hunting-appliances--an ambush at the
bottom of a silken whirlpool, radiating snares, a life-line which holds
her from behind and allows her to take a sudden rush without risking
a fall--the Segestria is able to catch game less inoffensive than the
Drone-fly. A Common Wasp, they tell me, does not daunt her. Though I
have not tested this, I readily believe it, for I well know the Spider's

This boldness is reinforced by the activity of the venom. It is enough
to have seen the Segestria capture some large Fly to be convinced of the
overwhelming effect of her fangs upon the insects bitten in the
neck. The death of the Drone-fly, entangled in the silken funnel,
is reproduced by the sudden death of the Bumble-bee on entering the
Tarantula's burrow. We know the effect of the poison on man, thanks
to Antoine Duges' investigations. (Antoine Louis Duges (1797-1838), a
French physician and physiologist, author of a "Traite de
physiologie comparee de l'homme et des animaux" and other scientific
works.--Translator's Note.) Let us listen to the brave experimenter:

"The treacherous Segestria, or Great Cellar Spider, reputed poisonous
in our part of the country, was chosen for the principal subject of our
experiments. She was three-quarters of an inch long, measured from the
mandibles to the spinnerets. Taking her in my fingers from behind, by
the legs, which were folded and gathered together (this is the way to
catch hold of live Spiders, if you would avoid their bite and master
them without mutilating them), I placed her on various objects and on
my clothes, without her manifesting the least desire to do any harm; but
hardly was she laid on the bare skin of my fore-arm when she seized a
fold of the epidermis in her powerful mandibles, which are of a metallic
green, and drove her fangs deep into it. For a few moments she remained
hanging, although left free; then she released herself, fell and fled,
leaving two tiny wounds, a sixth of an inch apart, red, but hardly
bleeding, with a slight extravasation round the edge and resembling the
wounds produced by a large pin.

"At the moment of the bite, the sensation was sharp enough to deserve
the name of pain; and this continued for five or six minutes more, but
not so forcibly. I might compare it with the sensation produced by the
stinging-nettle. A whitish tumefaction almost immediately surrounded the
two pricks; and the circumference, within a radius of about an inch, was
coloured an erysipelas red, accompanied by a very slight swelling. In an
hour and a half, it had all disappeared, except the mark of the pricks,
which persisted for several days, as any other small wound would
have done. This was in September, in rather cool weather. Perhaps the
symptoms would have displayed somewhat greater severity at a warmer

Without being serious, the effect of the Segestria's poison is plainly
marked. A sting causing sharp pain and swelling, with the redness of
erysipelas, is no trifling matter. While Duges' experiment reassures us
in so far as we ourselves are concerned, it is none the less the fact
that the Cellar Spider's poison is a terrible thing for insects, whether
because of the small size of the victim, or because it acts with special
efficacy upon an organization which differs widely from our own. One
Pompilus, though greatly inferior to the Segestria in size and
strength, nevertheless makes war upon the Black Spider and succeeds in
overpowering this formidable quarry. This is Pompilus apicalis, VAN DER
LIND, who is hardly larger than the Hive-bee, but very much slenderer.
She is of a uniform black; her wings are a cloudy brown, with
transparent tips. Let us follow her in her expeditions to the old wall
inhabited by the Segestria: we will track her for whole afternoons
during the July heats; and we will arm ourselves with patience, for the
perilous capture of the game must take the Wasp a long time.

The Spider-huntress explores the wall minutely; she runs, leaps and
flies; she comes and goes, flitting to and fro. The antennae quiver; the
wings, raised above the back, continually beat one against the other.
Ah, here she is, close to a Segestria's funnel! The Spider, who has
hitherto remained invisible, instantly appears at the entrance to
the tube; she spreads her six fore-legs outside, ready to receive the
huntress. Far from fleeing before the terrible apparition, she watches
the watcher, fully prepared to prey upon her enemy. Before this intrepid
demeanour the Pompilus draws back. She examines the coveted game, walks
round it for a moment, then goes away without attempting anything. When
she has gone, the Segestria retires indoors, backwards. For the second
time the Wasp passes near an inhabited funnel. The Spider on the lookout
at once shows herself on the threshold of her dwelling, half out of her
tube, ready for defence and perhaps also for attack. The Pompilus moves
away and the Segestria reenters her tube. A fresh alarm: the Pompilus
returns; another threatening demonstration on the part of the Spider.
Her neighbour, a little later, does better than this: while the huntress
is prowling about in the neighbourhood of the funnel, she suddenly leaps
out of the tube, with the lifeline which will save her from falling,
should she miss her footing, attached to her spinnerets; she rushes
forward and hurls herself in front of the Pompilus, at a distance
of some eight inches from her burrow. The Wasp, as though terrified,
immediately decamps; and the Segestria no less suddenly retreats

Here, we must admit, is a strange quarry: it does not hide, but is eager
to show itself; it does not run away, but flings itself in front of the
hunter. If our observations were to cease here, could we say which of
the two is the hunter and which the hunted? Should we not feel sorry for
the imprudent Pompilus? Let a thread of the trap entangle her leg; and
it is all up with her. The other will be there, stabbing her in the
throat. What then is the method which she employs against the Segestria,
always on the alert, ready for defence, audacious to the point of
aggression? Shall I surprise the reader if I tell him that this problem
filled me with the most eager interest, that it held me for weeks in
contemplation before that cheerless wall? Nevertheless, my tale will be
a short one.

On several occasions I see the Pompilus suddenly fling herself on one of
the Spider's legs, seize it with her mandibles and endeavour to draw the
animal from its tube. It is a sudden rush, a surprise attack, too
quick to permit the Spider to parry it. Fortunately, the latter's two
hind-legs are firmly hooked to the dwelling; and the Segestria escapes
with a jerk, for the other, having delivered her shock attack, hastens
to release her hold; if she persisted, the affair might end badly for
her. Having failed in this assault, the Wasp repeats the procedure
at other funnels; she will even return to the first when the alarm is
somewhat assuaged. Still hopping and fluttering, she prowls around the
mouth, whence the Segestria watches her, with her legs outspread. She
waits for the propitious moment; she leaps forward, seizes a leg, tugs
at it and springs out of reach. More often than not, the Spider holds
fast; sometimes she is dragged out of the tube, to a distance of a few
inches, but immediately returns, no doubt with the aid of her unbroken

The Pompilus' intention is plain: she wants to eject the Spider from her
fortress and fling her some distance away. So much perseverance leads to
success. This time all goes well: with a vigorous and well-timed tug
the Wasp has pulled the Segestria out and at once lets her drop to
the ground. Bewildered by her fall and even more demoralized by being
wrested from her ambush, the Spider is no longer the bold adversary that
she was. She draws her legs together and cowers into a depression in
the soil. The huntress is there on the instant to operate on the evicted
animal. I have barely time to draw near to watch the tragedy when the
victim is paralysed by a thrust of the sting in the thorax.

Here at last, in all its Machiavellian cunning, is the shrewd method
of the Pompilus. She would be risking her life if she attacked the
Segestria in her home; the Wasp is so convinced of it that she takes
good care not to commit this imprudence; but she knows also that, once
dislodged from her dwelling, the Spider is as timid, as cowardly as she
was bold at the centre of her funnel. The whole point of her tactics,
therefore, lies in dislodging the creature. This done, the rest is

The Tarantula-huntress must behave in the same manner. Enlightened
by her kinswoman, Pompilus apicalis, my mind pictures her wandering
stealthily around the Lycosa's rampart. The Lycosa hurries up from
the bottom of her burrow, believing that a victim is approaching; she
ascends her vertical tube, spreading her fore-legs outside, ready to
leap. But it is the Ringed Pompilus who leaps, seizes a leg, tugs and
hurls the Lycosa from her burrow. The Spider is henceforth a craven
victim, who will let herself be stabbed without dreaming of employing
her venomous fangs. Here craft triumphs over strength; and this craft is
not inferior to mine, when, wishing to capture the Tarantula, I make her
bite a spike of grass which I dip into the burrow, lead her gently
to the surface and then with a sudden jerk throw her outside. For the
entomologist as for the Pompilus, the essential thing is to make the
Spider leave her stronghold. After this there is no difficulty in
catching her, thanks to the utter bewilderment of the evicted animal.

Two contrasting points impress me in the facts which I have just set
forth: the shrewdness of the Pompilus and the folly of the Spider. I
will admit that the Wasp may gradually have acquired, as being highly
beneficial to her posterity, the instinct by which she first of all so
judiciously drags the victim from its refuge, in order there to paralyse
it without incurring danger, provided that you will explain why the
Segestria, possessing an intellect no less gifted than that of the
Pompilus, does not yet know how to counteract the trick of which she
has so long been the victim. What would the Black Spider need to do to
escape her exterminator? Practically nothing: it would be enough for her
to withdraw into her tube, instead of coming up to post herself at the
entrance, like a sentry, whenever the enemy is in the neighbourhood. It
is very brave of her, I agree, but also very risky. The Pompilus will
pounce upon one of the legs spread outside the burrow for defence
and attack; and the besieged Spider will perish, betrayed by her own
boldness. This posture is excellent when waiting for prey. But the Wasp
is not a quarry; she is an enemy and one of the most dreaded of enemies.
The Spider knows this. At the sight of the Wasp, instead of placing
herself fearlessly but foolishly on her threshold, why does she not
retreat into her fortress, where the other would not attack her? The
accumulated experience of generations should have taught her this
elementary tactical device, which is of the greatest value to the
prosperity of her race. If the Pompilus has perfected her method of
attack, why has not the Segestria perfected her method of defence? Is it
possible that centuries upon centuries should have modified the one
to its advantage without succeeding in modifying the other? Here I am
utterly at a loss. And I say to myself, in all simplicity: since the
Pompili must have Spiders, the former have possessed their patient
cunning and the other their foolish audacity from all time. This may
be puerile, if you like to think it so, and not in keeping with the
transcendental aims of our fashionable theorists; the argument contains
neither the subjective nor the objective point of view, neither
adaptation nor differentiation, neither atavism nor evolutionism. Very
well, but at least I understand it.

Let us return to the habits of Pompilus apicalis. Without expecting
results of any particular interest, for in captivity the respective
talents of the huntress and the quarry seem to slumber, I place
together, in a wide jar, a Wasp and a Segestria. The Spider and her
enemy mutually avoid each other, both being equally timid. A judicious
shake or two brings them into contact. The Segestria, from time to time,
catches hold of the Pompilus, who gathers herself up as best she can,
without attempting to use her sting; the Spider rolls the insect between
her legs and even between her mandibles, but appears to dislike doing
it. Once I see her lie on her back and hold the Pompilus above her,
as far away as possible, while turning her over in her fore-legs
and munching at her with her mandibles. The Wasp, whether by her own
adroitness or owing to the Spider's dread of her, promptly escapes
from the terrible fangs, moves to a short distance and does not seem to
trouble unduly about the buffeting which she has received. She quietly
polishes her wings and curls her antennae by pulling them while standing
on them with her fore-tarsi. The attack of the Segestria, stimulated by
my shakes, is repeated ten times over; and the Pompilus always escapes
from the venomous fangs unscathed, as though she were invulnerable.

Is she really invulnerable? By no means, as we shall soon have proved to
us; if she retires safe and sound, it is because the Spider does not use
her fangs. What we see is a sort of truce, a tacit convention forbidding
deadly strokes, or rather the demoralization due to captivity; and the
two adversaries are no longer in a sufficiently warlike mood to make
play with their daggers. The tranquillity of the Pompilus, who keeps on
jauntily curling her antennae in face of the Segestria, reassures me
as to my prisoner's fate; for greater security, however, I throw her a
scrap of paper, in the folds of which she will find a refuge during
the night. She instals herself there, out of the Spider's reach. Next
morning I find her dead. During the night the Segestria, whose habits
are nocturnal, has recovered her daring and stabbed her enemy. I had
my suspicions that the parts played might be reversed! The butcher of
yesterday is the victim of to-day.

I replace the Pompilus by a Hive-bee. The interview is not protracted.
Two hours later, the Bee is dead, bitten by the Spider. A Drone-fly
suffers the same fate. The Segestria, however, does not touch either of
the two corpses, any more than she touched the corpse of the Pompilus.
In these murders the captive seems to have no other object than to rid
herself of a turbulent neighbour. When appetite awakes, perhaps the
victims will be turned to account. They were not; and the fault was
mine. I placed in the jar a Bumble-bee of average size. A day later the
Spider was dead; the rude sharer of her captivity had done the deed.

Let us say no more of these unequal duels in the glass prison and
complete the story of the Pompilus whom we left at the foot of the wall
with the paralysed Segestria. She abandons her prey on the ground and
returns to the wall. She visits the Spider's funnels one by one, walking
on them as freely as on the stones; she inspects the silken tubes,
dipping her antennae into them, sounding and exploring them; she enters
without the least hesitation. Whence does she now derive the temerity
thus to enter the Segestria's haunts? But a little while ago, she
was displaying extreme caution; at this moment, she seems heedless
of danger. The fact is that there is no danger really. The Wasp is
inspecting uninhabited houses. When she dives down a silken tunnel, she
very well knows that there is no one in, for, had the Segestria been
there, she would by this time have appeared on the threshold. The fact
that the householder does not show herself at the first vibration of the
neighbouring threads is a certain proof that the tube is vacant; and the
Pompilus enters in full security. I would recommend future observers not
to take the present investigations for hunting-tactics. I have already
remarked and I repeat: the Pompilus never enters the silken ambush while
the Spider is there.

Among the funnels inspected one appears to suit her better than
the others; she returns to it frequently in the course of her
investigations, which last for nearly an hour. From time to time she
hastens back to the Spider lying on the ground; she examines her, tugs
at her, drags her a little closer to the wall, then leaves her the
better to reconnoitre the tunnel which is the object of her preference.
Lastly she returns to the Segestria and takes her by the tip of the
abdomen. The quarry is so heavy that she has great difficulty in moving
it along the level ground. Two inches divide it from the wall. She gets
to the wall, not without effort; nevertheless, once the wall is reached,
the job is quickly done. We learn that Antaeus, the son of Mother Earth,
in his struggle with Hercules, received new strength as often as his
feet touched the ground; the Pompilus, the daughter of the wall, seems
to increase her powers tenfold once she has set foot on the masonry.

For here is the Wasp hoisting her prey backwards, her enormous prey,
which dangles beneath her. She climbs now a vertical plane, now a slope,
according to the uneven surface of the stones. She crosses gaps where
she has to go belly uppermost, while the quarry swings to and fro in the
air. Nothing stops her; she keeps on climbing, to a height of six feet
or more, without selecting her path, without seeing her goal, since she
goes backwards. A lodge appears no doubt reconnoitred beforehand and
reached, despite the difficulties of an ascent which did not allow her
to see it. The Pompilus lays her prey on it. The silken tube which she
inspected so lovingly is only some eight inches distant. She goes to it,
examines it rapidly and returns to the Spider, whom she at length lowers
down the tube.

Shortly afterwards I see her come out again. She searches here and
there on the wall for a few scraps of mortar, two or three fairly large
pieces, which she carries to the tube, to close it up. The task is done.
She flies away.

Next day I inspect this strange burrow. The Spider is at the bottom of
the silken tube, isolated on every side, as though in a hammock. The
Wasp's egg is glued not to the ventral surface of the victim but to the
back, about the middle, near the beginning of the abdomen. It is white,
cylindrical and about a twelfth of an inch long. The few bits of mortar
which I saw carried have but very roughly blocked the silken chamber at
the end. Thus Pompilus apicalis lays her quarry and her eggs not in a
burrow of her own making, but in the Spider's actual house. Perhaps the
silken tube belongs to this very victim, which in that event provides
both board and lodging. What a shelter for the larva of this Pompilus:
the warm retreat and downy hammock of the Segestria!

Here then, already, we have two Spider-huntresses, the Ringed Pompilus
and P. apicalis, who, unversed in the miner's craft, establish their
offspring inexpensively in accidental chinks in the walls, or even in
the lair of the Spider on whom the larva feeds. In these cells, acquired
without exertion, they build only an attempt at a wall with a few
fragments of mortar. But we must beware of generalizing about this
expeditious method of establishment. Other Pompili are true diggers,
valiantly sinking a burrow in the soil, to a depth of a couple of
inches. These include the Eight-spotted Pompilus (P. octopunctatus,
PANZ.), with her black-and-yellow livery and her amber wings, a little
darker at the tips. For her game she chooses the Epeirae (E. fasciata,
E. sericea) (For the Garden-spiders known as the Banded Epeira and
the Silky Epeira cf. "The Life of the Spider": chapters 11, 13, 14 et
passim.--Translator's Note.), those fat Spiders, magnificently adorned,
who lie in wait at the centre of their large, vertical webs. I am not
sufficiently acquainted with her habits to describe them; above all, I
know nothing of her hunting-tactics. But her dwelling is familiar to
me: it is a burrow, which I have seen her begin, complete and close
according to the customary method of the Digger-wasps.


Were strength to take precedence over the other zoological attributes,
the Scoliae would hold a predominant place in the front rank of the
Wasps. Some of them may be compared in size with the little bird from
the north, the Golden-crested Wren, who comes to us at the time of the
first autumn mists and visits the rotten buds. The largest and most
imposing of our sting-bearers, the Carpenter-bee, the Bumble-bee, the
Hornet, cut a poor figure beside certain of the Scoliae. Of this group
of giants my district possesses the Garden Scolia (S. hortorum, VAN DER
LIND), who is over an inch and a half in length and measures four inches
from tip to tip of her outspread wings, and the Hemorrhoidal Scolia (S.
haemorrhoidalis, VAN DER LIND), who rivals the Garden Scolia in point of
size and is distinguished more particularly by the bundle of red hairs
bristling at the tip of the abdomen.

A black livery, with broad yellow patches; leathery wings,
amber-coloured, like the skin of an onion, and watered with purple
reflections; thick, knotted legs, covered with sharp hairs; a massive
frame; a powerful head, encased in a hard cranium; a stiff, clumsy gait;
a low, short, silent flight: this gives you a concise description of the
female, who is strongly equipped for her arduous task. The male, being a
mere philanderer, sports a more elegant pair of horns, is more daintily
clad and has a more graceful figure, without altogether losing the
quality of robustness which is his consort's leading characteristic.

It is not without a certain alarm that the insect-collector finds
himself for the first time confronted by the Garden Scolia. How is he to
capture the imposing creature, how to avoid its sting? If its effect
is in proportion to the Wasp's size, the sting of the Scolia must be
something terrible. The Hornet, though she unsheath her weapon but
once, causes the most exquisite pain. What would it be like if one were
stabbed by this colossus? The prospect of a swelling as big as a man's
fist and as painful as the touch of a red-hot iron passes through our
mind at the moment when we are bringing down the net. And we refrain,
we beat a retreat, we are greatly relieved not to have aroused the
dangerous creature's attention.

Yes, I confess to having run away from my first Scoliae, anxious though
I was to enrich my budding collection with this magnificent insect.
There were painful recollections of the Common Wasp and the Hornet
connected with this excess of prudence. I say excess, for to-day,
instructed by long experience, I have quite recovered from my former
fears; and, when I see a Scolia resting on a thistle-head, I do not
scruple to take her in my fingers, without any precaution whatever,
however large she may be and however menacing her aspect. My courage is
not all that it seems to be; I am quite ready to tell the Wasp-hunting
novice this. The Scoliae are notably peaceable. Their sting is an
implement of labour far more than a weapon of war; they use it to
paralyse the prey destined for their offspring; and only in the last
extremity do they employ it in self-defence. Moreover, the lack of
agility in their movements nearly always enables us to avoid their
sting; and, even if we be stung, the pain is almost insignificant.
This absence of any acute smarting as a result of the poison is almost
constant in the Hunting Wasps, whose weapon is a surgical lancet and
devised for the most delicate physiological operations.

Among the other Scoliae of my district I will mention the Two-banded
Scolia (S. bifasciata, VAN DER LIND), whom I see every year, in
September, working at the heaps of leaf-mould which are placed for
her benefit in a corner of my paddock; and the Interrupted Scolia (S.
interrupta, LATR.), the inhabitant of the sandy soil at the foot of the
neighbouring hills. Much smaller than the two preceding insects, but
also much commoner, a necessary condition of continuous observation,
they will provide me with the principal data for this study of the

I open my old note book; and I see myself once more, on the 6th of
August, 1857, in the Bois des Issards, that famous copse near Avignon
which I have celebrated in my essay on the Bembex-wasps. (Cf. "The
Hunting Wasps": chapter 14.--Translator's Note.) Once again, my head
crammed with entomological projects, I am at the beginning of my
holidays which, for two months, will allow me to indulge in the insect's

A fig for Mariotte's flask and Toricelli's tube! (Edme Mariotte
(1620-1684), a French chemist who discovered, independently of Robert
Boyle the Irishman (1627-1691), the law generally known as Boyle's law,
which states that the product of the volume and the temperature of a gas
is constant at constant temperature. His flask is an apparatus contrived
to illustrate atmospheric pressure and ensure a constant flow of
liquid.--Translator's Note.) (Evangelista Toricelli (1608-1647), a
disciple of Galileo and professor of philosophy and mathematics at
Florence. His "tube" is our mercury barometer. He was the first to
obtain a vacuum by means of mercury; and he also improved the microscope
and the telescope.--Translator's Note.) This is the thrice-blest period
when I cease to be a schoolmaster and become a schoolboy, the schoolboy
in love with animals. Like a madder-cutter off for his day's work, I
set out carrying over my shoulder a solid digging-implement, the local
luchet, and on my back my game-bag with boxes, bottles, trowel, glass
tubes, tweezers, lenses and other impedimenta. A large umbrella saves me
from sunstroke. It is the most scorching hour of the hottest day in the
year. Exhausted by the heat, the Cicadae are silent. The bronze-eyed
Gad-flies seek a refuge from the pitiless sun under the roof of my
silken shelter; other large Flies, the sobre-hued Pangoniae, dash
themselves recklessly against my face.

The spot at which I have installed myself is a sandy clearing which I
had recognized the year before as a site beloved of the Scoliae. Here
and there are scattered thickets of holm-oak, whose dense undergrowth
shelters a bed of dead leaves and a thin layer of mould. My memory has
served me well. Here, sure enough, as the heat grows a little less,
appear, coming I know not from whence, some Two-banded Scoliae. The
number increases; and it is not long before I see very nearly a dozen of
them about me, close enough for observation. By their smaller size and
more buoyant flight, they are easily known for males. Almost grazing
the ground, they fly softly, going to and fro, passing and repassing in
every direction. From time to time one of them alights on the ground,
feels the sand with his antennae and seems to be enquiring into what
is happening in the depths of the soil; then he resumes his flight,
alternately coming and going.

What are they waiting for? What are they seeking in these evolutions
of theirs, which are repeated a hundred times over? Food? No, for close
beside them stand several eryngo-stems, whose sturdy clusters are the
Wasps' usual resource at this season of parched vegetation; and not one
of them settles upon the flowers, not one of them seems to care about
their sugary exudations. Their attention is engrossed elsewhere. It
is the ground, it is the stretch of sand which they are so assiduously
exploring; what they are waiting for is the arrival of some female, who
bursting the cocoon, may appear from one moment to the next, issuing all
dusty from the ground. She will not be given time to brush herself or to
wash her eyes: three or four more of them will be there at once, eager
to dispute her possession. I am too familiar with the amorous contests
of the Hymenopteron clan to allow myself to be mistaken. It is the rule
for the males, who are the earlier of the two, to keep a close guard
around the natal spot and watch for the emergence of the females, whom
they pester with their pursuit the moment they reach the light of day.
This is the motive of the interminable ballet of my Scoliae. Let us have
patience: perhaps we shall witness the nuptials.

The hours go by; the Pangoniae and the Gad-flies desert my umbrella; the
Scoliae grow weary and gradually disappear. It is finished. I shall see
nothing more to-day. I repeat my laborious expedition to the Bois des
Issards over and over again; and each time I see the males as assiduous
as ever in skimming over the ground. My perseverance deserved to
succeed. It did, though the success was very incomplete. Let me describe
it, such as it was; the future will fill up the gaps.

A female issues from the soil before my eyes. She flies away, followed
by several males. With the luchet I dig at the point of emergence; and,
as the excavation progresses, I sift between my fingers the rubbish of
sand mixed with mould. In the sweat of my brow, as I may justly say, I
must have removed nearly a cubic yard of material, when at last I make
a find. This is a recently ruptured cocoon, to the side of which adheres
an empty skin, the last remnant of the game on which the larva fed that
wrought the said cocoon. Considering the good condition of its silken
fabric, this cocoon may have belonged to the Scolia who has just quitted
her underground dwelling before my eyes. As for the skin accompanying
it, this has been so much spoilt by the moisture of the soil and by the
grassy roots that I cannot determine its origin exactly. The cranium,
however, which is better-preserved, the mandibles and certain details of
the general configuration lead me to suspect the larva of a Lamellicorn.

It is getting late. This is enough for to-day. I am worn out, but amply
repaid for my exertions by a broken cocoon and the puzzling skin of a
wretched grub. Young people who make a hobby of natural history, would
you like to discover whether the sacred fire flows in your veins?
Imagine yourselves returning from such an expedition. You are carrying
on your shoulder the peasant's heavy spade; your loins are stiff with
the laborious digging which you have just finished in a crouching
position; the heat of an August afternoon has set your brain simmering;
your eyelids are tired by the itch of an inflammation resulting from the
overpowering light in which you have been working; you have a devouring
thirst; and before you lies the dusty prospect of the miles that
divide you from your well-earned rest. Yet something stings within
you; forgetful of your present woes you are absolutely glad of your
excursion. Why? Because you have in your possession a shred of rotten
skin. If this is so, my young friends, you may go ahead, for you will
do something, though I warn you that this does not mean, by a long way,
that you will get on in the world.

I examined this shred of skin with all the care that it deserved. My
first suspicions were confirmed: a Lamellicorn, a Scarabaeid in the
larval state, is the first food of the Wasp whose cocoon I have just
unearthed. But which of the Scarabaeidae? And does this cocoon, my
precious booty, really belong to the Scoliae? The problem is beginning
to take shape. To attempt its solution we must go back to the Bois des

I did go back and so often that my patience ended by being exhausted
before the problem of the Scoliae had received a satisfactory solution.
The difficulties are great indeed, under the conditions. Where am I
to dig in the indefinite stretch of sandy soil to light upon a spot
frequented by the Scoliae? The luchet is driven into the ground at
random; and almost invariably I find none of what I am seeking. To be
sure, the males, flying level with the ground, give me a hint, at the
outset, with their certainty of instinct, as to the spots where the
females ought to be; but their hints are very vague, because they go so
far in every direction. If I wished to examine the soil which a single
male explores in his flight, with its constantly changing course, I
should have to turn over, to the depth of perhaps a yard, at least four
poles of earth. This is too much for my strength and the time at my
disposal. Then, as the season advances, the males disappear, whereupon I
am suddenly deprived of their hints. To know more or less where I should
thrust my luchet, I have only one resource left, which is to watch for
the females emerging from the ground or else entering it. With a great
expenditure of time and patience I have at last had this windfall, very
rarely, I admit.

The Scoliae do not dig a burrow which can be compared with that of the
other Hunting Wasps; they have no fixed residence, with an unimpeded
gallery opening on the outer world and giving access to the cells, the
abodes of the larvae. They have no entrance- and exit-doors, no corridor
built in advance. If they have to make their way underground, any point
not hitherto turned over serves their purpose, provided that it be
not too hard for their digging-tools, which, for that matter, are
very powerful; if they have to come out, the point of exit is no less
indifferent. The Scolia does not bore the soil through which she passes:
she excavates and ploughs it with her legs and forehead; and the stuff
shifted remains where it lies, behind her, forthwith blocking the
passage which she has followed. When she is about to emerge into the
outer world, her advent is heralded by the fresh soil which heaps itself
into a mound as though heaved up by the snout of some tiny Mole. The
insect sallies forth; and the mound collapses, completely filling up the
exit-hole. If the Wasp is entering the ground, the digging-operations,
undertaken at an arbitrary point, quickly yield a cavity in which the
Scolia disappears, separated from the surface by the whole track of
shifted material.

I can easily trace her passage through the thickness of the soil by
certain long, winding cylinders, formed of loose materials in the
midst of compact and stable earth. These cylinders are numerous;
they sometimes run to a depth of twenty inches; they extend in all
directions, fairly often crossing one another. Not one of them ever
exhibits so much as a suspicion of an open gallery. They are obviously
not permanent ways of communication with the outer world, but
hunting-trails which the insect has followed once, without going back
to them. What was the Wasp seeking when she riddled the soil with these
tunnels which are now full of running sands? No doubt the food for
her family, the larva of which I possess the empty skin, now an
unrecognizable shred.

I begin to see a little light: the Scoliae are underground workers. I
already expected as much, having before now captured Scoliae soiled with
little earthy encrustations on the joints of the legs. The Wasp, who is
so careful to keep clean, taking advantage of the least leisure to brush
and polish herself, could never display such blemishes unless she were a
devoted earth-worker. I used to suspect their trade, now I know it. They
live underground, where they burrow in search of Lamellicorn-grubs,
just as the Mole burrows in search of the White Worm. (The larva of the
Cockchafer. This grub takes three years or more to arrive at maturity
underground.--Translator's Note.) It is even possible that, after
receiving the embraces of the males, they but very rarely return to the
surface, absorbed as they are by their maternal duties; and this,
no doubt, is why my patience becomes exhausted in watching for their
entrance and their emergence.

It is in the subsoil that they establish themselves and travel to and
fro; with the help of their powerful mandibles, their hard cranium,
their strong, prickly legs, they easily make themselves paths in
the loose earth. They are living ploughshares. By the end of August,
therefore, the female population is for the most part underground,
busily occupied in egg-laying and provisioning. Everything seems to tell
me that I should watch in vain for the appearance of a few females in
the broad daylight; I must resign myself to excavating at random.

The result was hardly commensurate with the labour which I expended on
digging. I found a few cocoons, nearly all broken, like the one which I
already possessed, and, like it, bearing on their side the tattered skin
of a larva of the same Scarabaeid. Two of these cocoons which are still
intact contained a dead adult Wasp. This was actually the Two-banded
Scolia, a precious discovery which changed my suspicions into a

I also unearthed some cocoons, slightly different in appearance,
containing an adult inmate, likewise dead, in whom I recognized the
Interrupted Scolia. The remnants of the provisions again consisted of
the empty skin of a larva, also a Lamellicorn, but not the same as the
one hunted by the first Scolia. And this was all. Now here, now there,
I shifted a few cubic yards of soil, without managing to find fresh
provisions with the egg or the young larva. And yet it was the right
season, the egg-laying season, for the males, numerous at the outset,
had grown rarer day by day until they disappeared entirely. My lack of
success was due to the uncertainty of my excavations, in which I had
nothing to guide me over the indefinite area covered.

If I could at least identify the Scarabaeidae whose larvae form the
prey of the two Scoliae, the problem would be half solved. Let us try.
I collect all that the luchet has turned up: larvae, nymphs and adult
Beetles. My booty comprises two species of Lamellicorns: Anoxia villosa
and Euchlora Julii, both of whom I find in the perfect state, usually
dead, but sometimes alive. I obtain a few of their nymphs, a great piece
of luck, for the larval skin which accompanies them will serve me as a
standard of comparison. I come upon plenty of larvae, of all ages.
When I compare them with the cast garment abandoned by the nymphs, I
recognize some as belonging to the Anoxia and the rest to the Euchlora.

With these data, I perceive with absolute certainty that the empty skin
adhering to the cocoon of the Interrupted Scolia belongs to the Anoxia.
As for the Euchlora, she is not involved in the problem: the larva
hunted by the Two-banded Scolia does not belong to her any more than it
belongs to the Anoxia. Then with which Scarabaeid does the empty skin
which is still unknown to me correspond? The Lamellicorn whom I am
seeking must exist in the ground which I have been exploring, because
the Two-banded Scolia has established herself there. Later--oh, very
long afterwards!--I recognized where my search was at fault. In order
not to find a network of roots beneath my luchet and to render the work
of excavation lighter, I was digging the bare places, at some distance
from the thickets of holm-oak; and it was just in those thickets, which
are rich in vegetable mould, that I should have sought. There, near the
old stumps, in the soil consisting of dead leaves and rotting wood, I
should certainly have come upon the larva so greatly desired, as will be
proved by what I have still to say.

Here ends what my earlier investigations taught me. There is reason to
believe that the Bois des Issards would never have furnished me with the
precise data, in the form in which I wanted them. The remoteness of the
spot, the fatigue of the expeditions, which the heat rendered intensely
exhausting, the impossibility of knowing which points to attack would
undoubtedly have discouraged me before the problem had advanced a step
farther. Studies such as these call for home leisure and application,
for residence in a country village. You are then familiar with every
spot in your own grounds and the surrounding country and you can go to
work with certainty.

Twenty-three years have passed; and here I am at Serignan, where I
have become a peasant, working by turns on my writing-pad and my
cabbage-patch. On the 14th of August, 1880, Favier (An ex-soldier who
acted as the author's gardener and factotum.--Translator's Note.)
clears away a heap of mould consisting of vegetable refuse and of leaves
stacked in a corner against the wall of the paddock. This clearance is
considered necessary because Bull, when the lovers' moon arrives, uses
this hillock to climb to the top of the wall and thence to repair to the
canine wedding the news of which is brought to him by the effluvia borne
upon the air. His pilgrimage fulfilled, he returns, with a discomfited
look and a slit ear, but always ready, once he has had his feed, to
repeat the escapade. To put an end to this licentious behaviour, which
has cost him so many gaping wounds, we decided to remove the heap of
soil which serves him as a ladder of escape.

Favier calls me while in the midst of his labours with the spade and

"Here's a find, sir, a great find! Come and look."

I hasten to the spot. The find is a magnificent one indeed and of a
nature to fill me with delight, awakening all my old recollections of
the Bois des Issards. Any number of females of the Two-banded Scolia,
disturbed at their work, are emerging here and there from the depth of
the soil. The cocoons also are plentiful, each lying next to the skin
of the victim on which the larva has fed. They are all open but still
fresh: they date from the present generation; the Scoliae whom I unearth
have quitted them not long since. I learnt later, in fact, that the
hatching took place in the course of July.

In the same heap of mould is a swarming colony of Scarabaeidae in the
form of larvae, nymphs and adult insects. It includes the largest of
our Beetles, the common Rhinoceros Beetle, or Oryctes nasicornis. I find
some who have been recently liberated, whose wing-cases, of a glossy
brown, now see the sunlight for the first time; I find others enclosed
in their earthen shell, almost as big as a Turkey's egg. More frequent
is her powerful larva, with its heavy paunch, bent into a hook. I note
the presence of a second bearer of the nasal horn, Oryctes Silenus,
who is much smaller than her kinswoman, and of Pentodon punctatus, a
Scarabaeid who ravages my lettuces.

But the predominant population consists of Cetoniae, or Rosechafers,
most of them enclosed in their egg-shaped shells, with earthen walls
encrusted with dung. There are three different species: C. aurata, C.
morio and C. floricola. Most of them belong to the first species. Their
larvae, which are easily recognized by their singular talent for walking
on their backs with their legs in the air, are numbered by the hundred.
Every age is represented, from the new born grub to the podgy larva on
the point of building its shell.

This time the problem of the victuals is solved. When I compare the
larval slough sticking to the Scolia's cocoons with the Cetonia-larvae
or, better, with the skin cast by these larvae, under cover of the
cocoon, at the moment of the nymphal transformation, I establish an
absolute identity. The Two-banded Scolia rations each of her eggs with
a Cetonia-grub. Behold the riddle which my irksome searches in the Bois
des Issards had not enabled me to solve. To-day, at my threshold, the
difficult problem becomes child's play. I can investigate the question
easily to the fullest possible extent; I need not put myself out at all;
at any hour of the day, at any period that seems favourable, I have
the requisite elements before my eyes. Ah, dear village, so poor, so
countrified, how happily inspired was I when I came to ask of you
a hermit's retreat, where I could live in the company of my beloved
insects and, in so doing, set down not too unworthily a few chapters of
their wonderful history!

According to the Italian observer Passerini, the Garden Scolia feeds
her family on the larvae of Oryctes nasicornis, in the heaps of old
tan-waste removed from the hot-houses. I do not despair of seeing
this colossal Wasp coming to establish herself one day in my heaps of
leaf-mould, in which the same Scarabaeid is swarming. Her rarity in
my part of the country is probably the only cause that has hitherto
prevented the realization of my wishes.

I have just shown that the Two-banded Scolia feeds in infancy on
Cetonia-larvae and particularly on those of C. aurata, C. morio and C.
floricola. These three species dwell together in the rubbish-heap just
explored; their larvae differ so little that I should have to examine
them minutely to distinguish the one from the other; and even then I
should not be certain of succeeding. It seems probable that the Scolia
does not choose between them, that she uses all three indiscriminately.
Perhaps she even assails other larvae, inhabitants, like the foregoing,
of heaps of rotting vegetable-matter. I therefore set down the Cetonia
genus generally as forming the prey of the Two-banded Scolia.

Lastly, round about Avignon, the Interrupted Scolia used to prey upon
the larva of the Shaggy Anoxia (A. villosa). At Serignan, which is
surrounded by the same kind of sandy soil, without other vegetation than
a few sparse seed-bearing grasses, I find her rationing her young with
the Morning Anoxia (A. matutinalis). Oryctes, Cetoniae and Anoxiae
in the larval state: here then is the prey of the three Scoliae whose
habits we know. The three Beetles are Lamellicorns, Scarabaeidae. We
shall have occasion later to consider the reason of this very striking

For the moment, the business in hand is to move the heap of leaf-mould
to some other place, with the wheelbarrow. This is Favier's work, while
I myself collect the disturbed population in glass jars, in order to put
them back into the new rubbish-heap with all the consideration which
my plans owe to them. The laying-time has not yet set in, for I find
no eggs, no young Scolia-larvae. September apparently will be the
propitious month. But there are bound to be many injured in the course
of this upheaval; some of the Scoliae have flown away who will perhaps
have a certain difficulty in finding the new site; I have disarranged
everything in the overturned heap. To allow tranquility to be restored
and habit to resume its rounds, to give the population time to increase
and replace the fugitives and the injured, it would be best, I think, to
leave the heap alone this year and not to resume my investigations until
the next. After the thorough confusion due to the removal, I should
jeopardize success by being too precipitate. Let us wait one year more.
I decide accordingly, curb my impatience and resign myself. We will
simply confine ourselves to enlarging the heap, when the leaves begin to
fall, by accumulating the refuse that strews the paddock, so that we may
have a richer field of operations.

In the following August, my visits to the mound of leaf-mould become a
daily habit. By two o'clock in the afternoon, when the sun has cleared
the adjacent pine-trees and is shining on the heap, numbers of male
Scoliae arrive from the neighbouring fields, where they have been
slaking their thirst on the eryngo-heads. Incessantly coming and going
with an indolent flight, they circle round the heap. If some female
rise from the soil, those who have seen her dart forward. A not very
turbulent affray decides which of the suitors shall be the possessor;
and the couple fly away over the wall. This is a repetition of what I
used to see in the Bois des Issards. By the time that August is over.
The males have ceased to show themselves. The mothers do not appear
either: they are busy underground, establishing their families.

On the 2nd of September, I decide upon a search with my son Emile,
who handles the fork and the shovel, while I examine the clods dug up.
Victory! A magnificent result, finer than any that my fondest ambition
would have dared to contemplate! Here is a vast array of Cetonia-larvae,
all flaccid, motionless, lying on their backs, with a Scolia's egg
sticking to the centre of their abdomen; here are young Scolia-larvae
dipping their heads into the entrails of their victims; here are others
farther advanced, munching their last mouthfuls of a prey which is
drained dry and reduced to a skin; here are some laying the foundation
of their cocoons with a reddish silk, which looks as if it had been dyed
in Bullock's blood; here are some whose cocoons are finished. There is
plenty of everything, from the egg to the larva whose period of activity
is over. I mark the 2nd of September as a red-letter day; it has given
me the final key to a riddle which has kept me in suspense for nearly
half a century.

I place my spoils religiously in shallow, wide-mouthed glass jars
containing a layer of finely sifted mould. In this soft bed, which is
identical in character with the natal surroundings, I make some faint
impressions with my fingers, so many cavities, each of which receives
one of my subjects, one only. A pane of glass covers the mouth of the
receptacle. In this way I prevent a too rapid evaporation and keep my
nurselings under my eyes without fear of disturbing them. Now that all
this is in order, let us proceed to record events.

The Cetonia-larvae which I find with a Scolia's egg upon their ventral
surface are distributed in the mould at random, without special
cavities, without any sign of some sort of structure. They are smothered
in the mould, just as are the larvae which have not been injured by the
Wasp. As my excavations in the Bois des Issards told me, the Scolia does
not prepare a lodging for her family; she knows nothing of the art of
cell-building. Her offspring occupies a fortuitous abode, on which the
mother expends no architectural pains. Whereas the other Hunting Wasps
prepare a dwelling to which the provisions are carried, sometimes from
a distance, the Scolia confines herself to digging her bed of leaf-mould
until she comes upon a Cetonia-larva. When she finds a quarry, she stabs
it on the spot, in order to immobilize it; and, again on the spot, she
lays an egg on the ventral surface of the paralysed creature. That is
all. The mother goes in quest of another prey without troubling further
about the egg which has just been laid. There is no effort of carting
or building. At the very spot where the Cetonia-grub is caught and
paralysed, the Scolia-larva hatches, grows and weaves its cocoon. The
establishment of the family is thus reduced to the simplest possible


The Scolia's egg is in no way exceptional in shape. It is white,
cylindrical, straight and about four millimetres long by one millimetre
thick. (About.156 x.039 inch.--Translator's Note.) It is fixed, by its
fore-end, upon the median line of the victim's abdomen, well to the rear
of the legs, near the beginning of the brown patch formed by the mass of
food under the skin.

I watch the hatching. The grub, still wearing upon its hinder parts the
delicate pellicle which it has just shed, is fixed to the spot to which
the egg itself adhered by its cephalic extremity. A striking spectacle,
that of the feeble creature, only this moment hatched, boring, for
its first mouthful, into the paunch of its enormous prey, which
lies stretched upon its back. The nascent tooth takes a day over the
difficult task. Next morning the skin has yielded; and I find the
new-born larva with its head plunged into a small, round, bleeding

In size the grub is the same as the egg, whose dimensions I have
just given. Now the Cetonia-larva, to meet the Scolia's requirements,
averages thirty millimetres in length by nine in thickness (1.17 x.35
inch.--Translator's Note.), whence follows that its bulk is six or seven
hundred times as great as that of the newly-hatched grub of the
Scolia. Here certainly is a quarry which, were it active and capable of
wriggling and biting, would expose the nurseling to terrible attacks.
The danger has been averted by the mother's stiletto; and the fragile
grub attacks the monster's paunch with as little hesitation as though it
were sucking the breast.

Day by day the young Scolia's head penetrates farther into the Cetonia's
belly. To pass through the narrow orifice made in the skin, the
fore-part of the body contracts and lengthens out, as though drawn
through a die-plate. The larva thus assumes a rather strange form. Its
hinder half, which is constantly outside the victim's belly, has the
shape and fulness usual in the larvae of the Digger-wasps, whereas the
front half, which, once it has dived under the skin of the exploited
victim, does not come out again until the time arrives for spinning the
cocoon, tapers off suddenly into a snake-like neck. This front part is
moulded, so to speak, by the narrow entrance-hole made in the skin and
henceforth retains its slender formation. As a matter of fact, a
similar configuration recurs, in varying degrees, in the larvae of the
Digger-wasps whose ration consists of a bulky quarry which takes a
long time to consume. These include the Languedocian Sphex, with her
Ephippiger, and the Hairy Ammophila, with her Grey Worm. There is none
of this sudden constriction, dividing the creature into two disparate
halves, when the victuals consist of numerous and comparatively small
items. The larva then retains its usual shape, being obliged to pass, at
brief intervals, from one joint in its larder to the next.

From the first bite of the mandibles, until the whole head of game is
consumed, the Scolia-larva is never seen to withdraw its head and its
long neck from inside the creature which it is devouring. I suspect the
reason of this persistence in attacking a single point; I even seem
to perceive the need for a special art in the manner of eating. The
Cetonia-larva is a square meal in itself, one large dish, which has to
retain a suitable freshness until the end. The young Scolia, therefore,
must attack with discretion, at the unvarying point chosen by the mother
on the ventral surface, for the entrance-hole is at the exact point
where the egg was fixed. As the nurseling's neck lengthens and dives
deeper, the victim's entrails are nibbled gradually and methodically:
first, the least essential; next, those whose removal leaves yet a
remnant of life; lastly, those whose loss inevitably entails death,
followed very soon by putrefaction.

At the first bites we see the victim's blood oozing through the wound.
It is a highly-elaborated fluid, easy of digestion, and forms a sort of
milk-diet for the new-born grub. The little ogre's teat is the bleeding
paunch of the Cetonia-larva. The latter will not die of the wound,
at least not for some time. The next thing to be tackled is the fatty
substance which wraps the internal organs in its delicate folds. This
again is a loss which the Cetonia can suffer without dying then and
there. Now comes the turn of the muscular layer which lines the skin;
now, that of the essential organs; now, that of the nerve-centres and
the trachean network, whereupon the last gleam of light is extinguished
and the Cetonia reduced to a mere bag, empty but intact, save for the
entrance-hole made in the middle of the belly. From now onwards, these
remains may rot if they will: the Scolia, by its methodical fashion of
consuming its victuals, has succeeded in keeping them fresh to the very
last; and now you may see it, replete, shining with health, withdraw its
long neck from the bag of skin and prepare to weave the cocoon in which
its development will be completed.

It is possible that I may not be quite accurate as to the precise order
in which the organs are consumed, for it is not easy to perceive what
happens inside the exploited larva's body. The ruling feature in this
scientific method of eating, which proceeds from the parts less to the
parts more necessary to preserve a remnant of life, is none the less
obvious. If direct observation did not already to some degree confirm
it, a mere examination of the half-eaten larva would do so in the most
positive fashion.

The Cetonia-larva is at first a plump grub. Drained by the Scolia's
tooth, it gradually becomes limp and wrinkled. In a few days' time it
resembles a shrivelled bit of bacon-fat and then a bag whose two
sides have fallen in. Yet this bit of bacon and this bag have the same
characteristic look of fresh meat as had the grub before it was bitten
into. Despite the persistent nibbling of the Scolia, life continues,
holding at bay the inroads of putrefaction until the mandibles have
given their last bites. Does not this remnant of tenacious vitality in
itself show that the organs of primary importance are the last to be
attacked? Does it not prove that there is a progressive dismemberment
passing from the less essential to the indispensable?

Would you like to see what becomes of a Cetonia-larva when the organism
is wounded in its vital centres at the very beginning? The experiment
is an easy one; and I made a point of trying it. A sewing-needle, first
softened and flattened into a blade, then retempered and sharpened,
gives me a most delicate scalpel. With this instrument I make a fine
incision, through which I remove the mass of nerves whose remarkable
structure we shall soon have occasion to study. The thing is done: the
wound, which does not look serious, has left the creature a corpse, a
real corpse. I lay my victim on a bed of moist earth, in a jar with a
glass lid; in fact, I establish it in the same conditions as those of
the larvae on which the Scoliae feed. By the next day, without changing
shape, it has turned a repulsive brown; presently it dissolves into
noisome putrescence. On the same bed of earth, under the same glass
cover, in the same moist, warm atmosphere, the larvae three-quarters
eaten by the Scoliae retain, on the contrary, the appearance of healthy

If a single stroke of my dagger, fashioned from the point of a needle,
results in immediate death and early putrefaction; if the repeated bites
of the Scolia gut the creature's body and reduce it almost to a skin
without completely killing it, the striking contrast between these two
results must be due to the relative importance of the organs injured. I
destroy the nerve-centres and inevitably kill my larva, which is putrid
by the following day; the Scolia attacks the reserves of fat, the blood,
the muscles and does not kill its victim, which will provide it with
wholesome food until the end. But it is clear that, if the Scolia were
to set to work as I did, there would be nothing left, after the first
few bites, but an actual corpse, discharging fluids which would be fatal
to it within twenty-four hours. The mother, it is true, in order to
assure the immobility of her prey, has injected the poison of her sting
into the nerve-centres. Her operation cannot be compared with mine in
any respect. She practises the method of the skilful physiologist who
induces anaesthesia; I go to work like the butcher who chops, cuts and
disembowels. The sting leaves the nerve-centres intact. Deprived
of sensibility by the poison, they have lost the power of provoking
muscular contractions; but who can say that, numbed as they are, they
no longer serve to maintain a faint vitality? The flame is extinguished,
but there is still a glowing speck upon the wick. I, a rough blunderer,
do more than blow out the lamp: I throw away the wick and all is over.
The grub would do the same if it bit straight into the mass of nerves.

Everything confirms the fact: the Scolia and the other Hunting Wasps
whose provisions consist of bulky heads of game are gifted with a
special art of eating, an exquisitely delicate art which saves a remnant
of life in the prey devoured, until it is all consumed. When the prey is
a small one, this precaution is superfluous. Consider, for instance, the
Bembex-grubs in the midst of their heap of Flies. The prey seized upon
is broached on the back, the belly, the head, the thorax, indifferently.
The larva munches a given spot, which it leaves to munch a second,
passing to a third and a fourth, at the bidding of its changing whims.
It seems to taste and select, by repeated trials, the mouthfuls most to
its liking. Thus bitton at several points, covered with wounds, the Fly
is soon a shapeless mass which would putrefy very quickly if the meagre
dish were not devoured at a single meal. Allow the Scolia-grub the same
unlicensed gluttony: it would perish beside its corpulent victim,
which should have kept fresh for a fortnight, but which almost from the
beginning would be no more than a filthy putrescence.

This art of careful eating does not seem easy to practise: at least, the
larva, if ever so little diverted from its usual courses, is no longer
able to apply its talent as a capable trencherman. This will be proved
by experiment. I must begin by observing that, when I spoke of my larva
which turned putrid within twenty-four hours, I adopted an extreme case
for the sake of greater clearness. The Scolia, taking its first bite,
does not and cannot go to such lengths. Nevertheless it behooves us to
enquire whether, in the consumption of the victuals, the initial point
of attack is a matter of indifference and whether the rummaging through
the entrails of the victim entails a determined order, without which
success is uncertain or even impossible. To these delicate questions no
one, I think, can reply. Where science is silent, perhaps the grub will
speak. We will try.

I move from its position a Scolia-grub which has attained a quarter or a
third of its full growth. The long neck plunged into the victim's belly
is rather difficult to extract, because of the need of molesting the
creature as little as possible. I succeed, by means of a little patience
and repeated strokes with the tip of a paint-brush. I now turn the
Cetonia-larva over, back uppermost, at the bottom of the little hollow
made by pressing my finger in the layer of mould. Lastly, I place the
Scolia on its victim's back. Here is my grub under the same conditions
as just now, with this difference, that the back and not the belly of
its victim is presented to its mandibles.

I watch it for a whole afternoon. It writhes about; it moves its little
head now in this direction, now in that, frequently laying it on the
Cetonia, but without fixing it anywhere. The day draws to a close; and
still it has accomplished nothing. There are restless movements, nothing
more. Hunger, I tell myself, will eventually induce it to bite. I am
wrong. Next morning I find it more anxious than the day before and still
groping about, without resolving to fix its mandibles anywhere. I
leave it alone for half a day longer without obtaining any result. Yet
twenty-four hours of abstinence must have awakened a good appetite,
above all in a creature which, if left undisturbed, would not have
ceased eating.

Excessive hunger cannot induce it to nibble at an unlawful spot. Is this
due to feebleness of the teeth? By no means: the Cetonia's skin is no
tougher on the back than on the belly; moreover, the grub is capable of
perforating the skin when it leaves the egg; a fortiori, it must be more
capable of doing so now that it has attained a sturdy growth. Thus we
see no lack of ability, but an obstinate refusal to nibble at a point
which ought to be respected. Who knows? On this side perhaps the grub's
dorsal vessel would be wounded, its heart, an organ indispensable to
life. The fact remains that my attempts to make the grub tackle its
victim from the back have failed. Does this mean that it entertains the
least suspicion of the danger which it might incur were it to produce
putrefaction by awkwardly carving its victuals from the back? It would
be absurd to give such an idea a moment's consideration. Its refusal is
dictated by a preordained decree which it is bound to obey.

My Scolia-grubs would die of starvation if I left them on their victim's
back. I therefore restore matters as they were, with the Cetonia-larva
belly uppermost and the young Scolia on top. I might utilise the
subjects of my previous experiments; but, as I have to take precautions
against the disturbance which may have been caused by the test already
undergone, I prefer to operate on new patients, a luxury in which the
richness of my menagerie allows me to indulge. I move the Scolia from
its position, extract its head from the entrails of the Cetonia-larva
and leave it to its own resources on its victim's belly. Betraying every
symptom of uneasiness, the grub gropes, hesitates, casts about and does
not insert its mandibles anywhere, though it is now the ventral surface
which it is exploring. It would not display greater hesitation if placed
on the back of the larva. I repeat, who knows? On this side it might
perhaps injure the nervous plexus, which is even more essential than the
dorsal vessel. The inexperienced grub must not drive in its mandibles at
random; its future is jeopardized if it gives a single ill-judged bite.
If it gnaws at the spot where I myself operated with my needle wrought
into a scalpel, its victuals will very soon turn putrid. Once more,
then, we witness an absolute refusal to perforate the skin of the victim
elsewhere than at the very point where the egg was fixed.

The mother selects this point, which is undoubtedly that most favourable
to the future prosperity of the larva, though I am not able clearly to
discern the reasons for her choice; she fixes the egg to it; and the
place where the opening is to be made is henceforth determined. It is
here that the grub must bite: only here, never elsewhere. Its invincible
refusal to tackle the Cetonia in any other part, even though it should
die of starvation, shews us how rigorous is the rule of conduct with
which its instinct is inspired.

As it gropes about, the grub laid on the victim's ventral surface sooner
or later rediscovers the gaping wound from which I have removed it. If
this takes too long for my patience, I can myself guide its head to the
place with the point of a paint-brush. The grub then recognizes the hole
of its own making, slips its neck into it and little by little dives
into the Cetonia's belly, so that the original state of affairs appears
to be exactly restored. And yet its successful rearing is henceforth
highly problematical. It is possible that the larva will prosper,
complete its development and spin its cocoon; it is also possible--and
the case is not unusual--that the Cetonia-larva will soon turn brown
and putrid. We then see the Scolia itself turn brown, distended as it
is with putrescent foodstuffs, and then cease all movement, without
attempting to withdraw from the sanies. It dies on the spot, poisoned by
its excessively high game.

What can be the meaning of this sudden corruption of the victuals,
followed by the death of the Scolia, when everything appeared to have
returned to its normal condition? I see only one explanation.
Disturbed in its activities and diverted from its usual courses by
my interference, the grub, when replaced on the wound from which I
extracted it, was unable to rediscover the lode at which it was working
a few minutes earlier; it thrust its way at random into the victim's
entrails; and a few untimely bites extinguished the last sparks of
vitality. Its confusion rendered it clumsy; and the mistake cost it its
life. It dies poisoned by the rich food which, if consumed according to
the rules, should have made it grow plump and lusty.

I was anxious to observe the deadly effects of a disturbed meal in
another fashion. This time the victim itself shall disorder the grub's
activities. The Cetonia-larva, as served up to the young Scolia by its
mother, is profoundly paralysed. Its inertia is complete and so striking
that it constitutes one of the leading features of this narrative. But
we will not anticipate. For the moment, the thing is to substitute for
this inert larva a similar larva, but one not paralysed, one very much
alive. To ensure that it shall not double up and crush the grub, I
confine myself to reducing it to helplessness, leaving it otherwise just
as I extracted it from its burrow. I must also be careful of its legs
and mandibles, the least touch of which would rip open the nurseling.
With a few turns of the finest wire I fix it to a little slab of cork,
with its belly in the air. Next, to provide the grub with a ready-made
hole, knowing that it will refuse to make one for itself, I contrive a
slight incision in the skin, at the point where the Scolia lays her egg.
I now place the grub upon the larva, with its head touching the bleeding
wound, and lay the whole on a bed of mould in a transparent beaker
protected by a pane of glass.

Unable to move, to wriggle, to scratch with its legs or snap with
its mandibles, the Cetonia-larva, a new Prometheus bound, offers
its defenceless flanks to the little Vulture destined to devour its
entrails. Without too much hesitation, the young Scolia settles down
to the wound made by my scalpel, which to the grub represents the wound
whence I have just removed it. It thrusts its neck into the belly of
its prey; and for a couple of days all seems to go well. Then, lo and
behold, the Cetonia turns putrid and the Scolia dies, poisoned by the
ptomaines of the decomposing game! As before, I see it turn brown and
die on the spot, still half inside the toxic corpse.

The fatal issue of my experiment is easily explained. The Cetonia-larva
is alive in every sense. True, I have, by means of bonds, suppressed its
outward movements, in order to provide the nurseling with a quiet meal,
devoid of danger; but it was not in my power to subdue its internal
movements, the quivering of the viscera and muscles irritated by its
forced immobility and by the Scolia's bites. The victim is in possession
of its full power of sensation; and it expresses the pain experienced
as best it may, by contractions. Embarrassed by these tremors, these
twitches of suffering flesh, incommoded at every mouthful, the grub
chews away at random and kills the larva almost as soon as it has
started on it. In a victim paralysed by the regulation sting, the
conditions would be very different. There are no external movements,
nor any internal movements either, when the mandibles bite, because the
victim is insensible. The grub, undisturbed in any way, is then able,
with an unfaltering tooth, to pursue its scientific method of eating.

These marvellous results interested me too much not to inspire me with
fresh devices when I pursued my investigations. Earlier enquiries had
taught me that the larvae of the Digger-wasps are fairly indifferent to
the nature of the game, though the mother always supplies them with the
same diet. I had succeeded in rearing them on a great variety of prey,
without paying regard to their normal fare. I shall return to this
subject later, when I hope to demonstrate its great philosophical
significance. Let us profit by these data and try to discover what
happens when we give the Scolia food which is not properly its own.

I select from my heap of garden-mould, that inexhaustible mine, two
larvae of the Rhinoceros Beetle, Oryctes nasicornis, about one-third
full-grown, so that their size may not be out of proportion to the
Scolia's. It is in fact almost identical with the size of the Cetonia.
I paralyse one of them by giving an injection of ammonia in the
nerve-centres. I make a fine incision in its belly and I place the
Scolia on the opening. The dish pleases my charge; and it would
be strange indeed if this were not so, considering that another
Scolia-grub, the larva of the Garden Scolia, feeds on the Oryctes.
The dish suits it, for before long it has burrowed half-way into
the succulent paunch. This time all goes well. Will the rearing be
successful? Not a bit of it! On the third day, the Oryctes decomposes
and the Scolia dies. Which shall we hold responsible for the failure,
myself or the grub? Myself who, perhaps too unskilfully, administered
the injection of ammonia, or the grub which, a novice at dissecting a
prey differing from its own, did not know how to practise its craft upon
a changed victim and began to bite before the proper time?

In my uncertainty, I try again. This time I shall not interfere, so that
my clumsiness cannot be to blame. As I described when speaking of the
Cetonia-larva, the Oryctes-larva now lies bound, quite alive, on a strip
of cork. As usual, I make a small opening in the belly, to entice the
grub by means of a bleeding wound and facilitate its access. I obtain
the same negative result. In a little while, the Oryctes is a noisome
mass on which the nurseling lies poisoned. The failure was foreseen: to
the difficulties presented by a prey unknown to my charge was added the
commotion caused by the wriggling of an unparalysed animal.

We will try once more, this time with a victim paralysed not by me, an
unskilled operator, but by an adept whose ability ranks so high that it
is beyond discussion. Chance favours me to perfection: yesterday, in a
warm sheltered corner, at the foot of a sandy bank, I discovered three
cells of the Languedocian Sphex, each with its Ephippiger and the
recently laid egg. This is the game I want, a corpulent prey, of a
size suited to the Scolia and, what is more, in splendid condition,
artistically paralysed according to rule by a master among masters.

As usual, I install my three Ephippigers in a glass jar, on a bed of
mould; I remove the egg of the Sphex and on each victim, after slightly
incising the skin of the belly, I place a young Scolia-grub. For three
or four days my charges feed upon this game, so novel to them, without
any sign of repugnance or hesitation. By the fluctuations of the
digestive canal I perceive that the work of nutrition is proceeding
as it should; things are happening just as if the dish were a
Cetonia-larva. The change of diet, complete though it is, has in no way
affected the appetite of the Scolia-grubs. But this prosperous condition
does not last long. About the fourth day, a little sooner in one case,
a little later in another, the three Ephippigers become putrid and the
Scoliae die at the same time.

This result is eloquent. Had I left the egg of the Sphex to hatch, the
larva coming out of it would have fed upon the Ephippiger; and for the
hundredth time I should have witnessed an incomprehensible spectacle,
that of an animal which, devoured piecemeal for nearly a fortnight,
grows thin and empty, shrivels up and yet retains to the very end the
freshness peculiar to living flesh. Substitute for this Sphex-larva a
Scolia-larva of almost the same size; let the dish be the same though
the guest is different; and healthy live flesh is promptly replaced
by pestilent rotten flesh. That which under the mandibles of the Sphex
would for a long while have remained wholesome food promptly becomes a
poisonous liquescence under the mandibles of the Scolia.

It is impossible to explain the preservation of the victuals until
finally consumed by supposing that the venom injected by the Wasp when
she delivers her paralysing stings possesses antiseptic properties.
The three Ephippigers were operated on by the Sphex. Able to keep fresh
under the mandibles of the Sphex-larvae, why did they promptly go bad
under the mandibles of the Scolia-larvae? Any idea of an antiseptic must
needs be rejected: a liquid preservative which would act in the first
case could not fail to act in the second, as its virtues would not
depend on the teeth of the consumer.

Those of you who are versed in the knowledge attaching to this problem,
investigate, I beg you, search, sift, see if you can discover the reason
why the victuals keep fresh when consumed by a Sphex, whereas they
promptly become putrid when consumed by a Scolia. For me, I see only one
reason; and I very much doubt whether any one can suggest another.

Both larvae practise a special art of eating, which is determined by the
nature of the game. The Sphex, when sitting down to an Ephippiger, the
food that has fallen to its lot, knows thoroughly how to consume it and
how to preserve, to the very end, the glimmer of life which keeps it
fresh; but, if it has to browse upon a Cetonia-grub, whose different
structure would confuse its talents as a dissector, it would soon have
nothing before it but a heap of putrescence. The Scolia, in its turn,
is familiar with the method of eating the Cetonia-grub, its invariable
portion; but it does not understand the art of eating the Ephippiger,
though the dish is to its taste. Unable to dissect this unknown species
of game, its mandibles slash away at random, killing the creature
outright as soon as they take their first bites of the deeper tissues of
the victim. That is the whole secret.

One more word, on which I shall enlarge in another chapter. I observe
that the Scoliae to which I give Ephippigers paralysed by the Sphex
keep in excellent condition, despite the change of diet, so long as
the provisions retain their freshness. They languish when the game goes
high; and they die when putridity supervenes. Their death, therefore,
is due not to an unaccustomed diet, but to poisoning by one or other
of those terrible toxins which are engendered by animal corruption
and which chemistry calls by the name of ptomaines. Therefore,
notwithstanding the fatal outcome of my three attempts, I remain
persuaded that the unfamiliar method of rearing would have been
perfectly successful had the Ephippigers not gone bad, that is, if the
Scoliae had known how to eat them according to the rules.

What a delicate and dangerous thing is the art of eating in these
carnivorous larvae supplied with a single victim, which they have to
spend a fortnight in consuming, on the express condition of not killing
it until the very end! Could our physiological science, of which, with
good reason, we are so proud, describe, without blundering, the method
to be followed in the successive mouthfuls? How has a miserable grub
learnt what our knowledge cannot tell us? By habit, the Darwinians will
reply, who see in instinct an acquired habit.

Before deciding this serious matter, I will ask you to reflect that the
first Wasp, of whatever kind, that thought of feeding her progeny on
a Cetonia-grub or on any other large piece of game demanding long
preservation could necessarily have left no descendants unless the art
of consuming food without causing putrescence had been practised, with
all its scrupulous caution, from the first generation onwards. Having as
yet learnt nothing by habit or by atavistic transmission, since it was
making a first beginning, the nurseling would bite into its provender at
random. It would be starving, it would have no respect for its prey.
It would carve its joint at random; and we have just seen the fatal
consequence of an ill-directed bite. It would perish--I have just proved
this in the most positive manner--it would perish, poisoned by its
victim, already dead and putrid.

To prosper, it would have, although a novice, to know what was permitted
and what forbidden in ransacking the creature's entrails; nor would
it be enough for the larva to be approximately in possession of this
difficult secret: it would be indispensable that it should possess the
secret completely, for a single bite, if delivered before the right
moment, would inevitably involve its own demise. The Scoliae of my
experiments are not novices, far from it: they are the descendants of
carvers that have practised their art since Scoliae first came into
the world; nevertheless they all perish from the decomposition of the
rations supplied, when I try to feed them on Ephippigers paralysed by
the Sphex. Very expert in the method of attacking the Cetonia, they do
not know how to set about the business of discreetly consuming a species
of game new to them. All that escapes them is a few details, for the
trade of an ogre fed on live flesh is familiar to them in its general
features; and these unheeded details are enough to turn their food into
poison. What, then, happened in the beginning, when the larva bit
for the first time into a luscious victim? The inexperienced creature
perished; of that there is not a shadow of doubt, unless we admit an
absurdity and imagine the larva of antiquity feeding upon those terrible
ptomaines which so swiftly kill its descendants to-day.

Nothing will ever make me admit and no unprejudiced mind can admit
that what was once food has become a horrible poison. What the larva of
antiquity ate was live flesh and not putrescence. Nor can it be admitted
that the chances of fortune can have led at the first trial to success
in a system of nourishment so full of pit-falls: fortuitous results are
preposterous amid so many complications. Either the feeding is strictly
methodical at the beginning, in conformity with the organic exigencies
of the prey devoured, and the Wasp established her race; or else it was
hesitating, without determined rules, and the Wasp left no successor. In
the first case we behold innate instinct; in the second acquired habit.

A strange acquisition, truly! An acquisition presumed to be made by
an impossible creature; an acquisition supposed to develop in no less
impossible successors! Though the snow-ball, slowly rolling, at
last becomes an enormous sphere, it is still necessary that the
starting-point shall not have been NIL. The big ball implies the little
ball, as small as you please. Now, in harking back to the origin of
these acquired habits, if I interrogate the possibilities I obtain zero
as the only answer. If the animal does not know its trade thoroughly,
if it has to acquire something, all the more if it has to acquire
everything, it perishes: that is inevitable; without the little
snow-ball the big snow-ball cannot be rolled. If it has nothing to
acquire, if it knows all that it needs to know, it flourishes and
leaves descendants behind it. But then it possesses innate instinct, the
instinct which learns nothing and forgets nothing, the instinct which is
steadfast throughout time.

The building up of theories has never appealed to me: I suspect them one
and all. To argue nebulously upon dubious premises likes me no better. I
observe, I experiment and I let the facts speak for themselves. We have
just heard these facts. Let each now decide for himself whether instinct
is an innate faculty or an acquired habit.


The Scolia's feeding-period lasts, on the average, for a dozen days or
so. By then the victuals are no more than a crumpled bag, a skin emptied
of the last scrap of nutriment. A little earlier, the russet-yellow tint
announces the extinction of the last spark of life in the creature that
is being devoured. The empty skin is pushed back to make space; the
dining-room, a shapeless cavity with crumbling walls, is tidied up a
little; and the Scolia-grub sets to work on its cocoon without further

The first courses form a general scaffolding, which finds a support
here and there on the earthen walls, and consist of a rough, blood-red
fabric. When the larva is merely laid, as required by my investigations,
in a hollow made with the finger-tip in the bed of mould, it is not able
to spin its cocoon, for want of a ceiling to which to fasten the upper
threads of its network. To weave its cocoon, every spinning larva
is compelled to isolate itself in a hammock slung in an open-work
enclosure, which enables it to distribute its thread uniformly in all
directions. If there be no ceiling, the upper part of the cocoon cannot
be fashioned, because the worker lacks the necessary points of support.
Under these conditions my Scolia-grubs contrive at most to upholster
their little pit with a thick down of reddish silk. Discouraged by
futile endeavours, some of them die. It is as if they had been killed by
the silk which they omit to disgorge because they are unable to make the
right use of it. This, if we were not watchful, would be a very frequent
cause of failure in our attempts at artificial rearing. But, once the
danger has been perceived, the remedy is simple. I make a ceiling over
the cavity by laying a short strip of paper above it. If I want to see
how matters are progressing, I bend the strip into a semicircle, into
a half-cylinder with open ends. Those who wish to play the breeder for
themselves will be able to profit by these little practical details.

In twenty-four hours the cocoon is finished; at least, it no longer
allows us to see the grub, which is doubtless making the walls of its
dwelling still thicker. At first the cocoon is a vivid red; later it
changes to a light chestnut-brown. Its form is that of an ellipsoid,
with a major axis 26 millimetres in length, while the minor axis
measures 11 millimetres. (1.014 x.429 inch.--Translator's Note.) These
dimensions, which incidentally are inclined to vary slightly, are those
of the female cocoons. In the other sex they are smaller and may measure
as little as 17 millimetres in length by 7 millimetres in width. (.663
x.273 inch.--Translator's Note.)

The two ends of the ellipsoid have the same form, so much so that it is
only thanks to an individual peculiarity, independent of the shape, that
we can tell the cephalic from the anal extremity. The cephalic pole is
flexible and yields to the pressure of my tweezers; the anal pole is
hard and unyielding. The wrapper is double, as in the cocoons of
the Sphex. (Cf. "The Hunting Wasps": chapters 4 to 10 et
passim.--Translator's Note.) The outer envelope, consisting of pure
silk, is thin, flexible and offers little resistance. It is closely
superimposed upon the inner envelope and is easily separated from it
everywhere, except at the anal end, where it adheres to the second
envelope. The adhesion of the two wrappers at one end and the
non-adhesion at the other are the cause of the differences which the
tweezers reveal when pinching the two ends of the cocoon.

The inner envelope is firm, elastic, rigid and, to a certain point,
brittle. I do not hesitate to look upon it as consisting of a silken
tissue which the larva, towards the end of its task, has steeped
thoroughly in a sort of varnish prepared not by the silk-glands but by
the stomach. The cocoons of the Sphex have already shown us a similar
varnish. This product of the chylific ventricle is chestnut-brown. It is
this which, saturating the thickness of the tissue, effaces the bright
red of the beginning and replaces it by a brown tint. It is this again
which, disgorged more profusely at the lower end of the cocoon, glues
the two wrappers together at that point.

The perfect insect is hatched at the beginning of July. The emergence
takes place without any violent effraction, without any ragged rents. A
clean, circular fissure appears at some distance from the top; and the
cephalic end is detached all of a piece, as a loose lid might be. It is
as though the recluse had only to raise a cover by butting it with her
head, so exact is the line of division, at least as regards the inner
envelope, the stronger and more important of the two. As for the outer
wrapper, its lack of resistance enables it to yield without difficulty
when the other gives way.

I cannot quite make out by what knack the Wasp contrives to detach the
cap of the inner shell with such accuracy. Is it the art practised by
the tailor when cutting his stuff, with mandibles taking the place of
scissors? I hardly venture to admit as much: the tissue is so tough and
the circle of division so precise. The mandibles are not sharp enough to
cut without leaving a ragged edge; and then what geometrical certainty
they would need for an operation so perfect that it might well have been
performed with the compasses!

I suspect therefore that the Scolia first fashions the outer sac in
accordance with the usual method, that is, by distributing the silk
uniformly, without any special preparation of one part of the wall more
than of another, and that it afterwards changes its method of weaving in
order to attend to the main work, the inner shell. In this it
apparently imitates the Bembex (Cf. "The Hunting Wasps": chapters 14 to
16.--Translator's Note.), which weaves a sort of eel-trap, whose ample
mesh allows it to gather grains of sand outside and encrust them one
by one in the silky network, and completes the performance with a cap
fitting the entrance to the trap. This provides a circular line of least
resistance, along which the casket breaks open afterwards. If the Scolia
really works in the same manner, everything is explained: the eel-trap,
while still open, enables it to soak with varnish both the inside and
the outside of the inner shell, which has to acquire the consistency
of parchment; lastly, the cap which completes and closes the structure
leaves for the future a circular line capable of splitting easily and

This is enough on the subject of the Scolia-grub. Let us go back to
its provender, of whose remarkable structure we as yet know nothing. In
order that it may be consumed with the delicate anatomical discretion
imposed by the necessity of having fresh food to the last, the
Cetonia-grub must be plunged into a state of absolute immobility: any
twitchings on its part--as the experiments which I have undertaken go
to prove--would discourage our nibbling larva and impede the work of
carving, which has to be effected with so much circumspection. It is not
enough for the victim to be unable to move from place to place beneath
the soil: in addition to this, the contractible power in its sturdy
muscular organism must be suppressed.

In its normal state, this larva, at the very least disturbance, curls
itself up, almost as the Hedgehog does; and the two halves of the
ventral surface are laid one against the other. You are quite surprised
at the strength which the creature displays in keeping itself thus
contracted. If you try to unroll it, your fingers encounter a resistance
far greater than the size of the animal would have caused you to
suspect. To overcome the resistance of this sort of spring coiled upon
itself, you have to force it, so much so that you are afraid, if you
persist, of seeing the indomitable spiral suddenly burst and shoot forth
its entrails.

A similar muscular energy is found in the larvae of the Oryctes (Also
known as the Rhinoceros Beetle.--Translator's Note.), the Anoxia (A
Beetle akin to the Cockchafer.--Translator's Note.), the Cockchafer.
Weighed down by a heavy belly and living underground, where they feed
either on leaf-mould or on roots, these larvae all possess the vigorous
constitution needed to drag their corpulence through a resisting medium.
All of them also roll themselves into a hook which is not straightened
without an effort.

Now what would become of the egg and the new-born grub of the Scoliae,
fixed under the belly, at the centre of the Cetonia's spiral, or inside
the hook of the Oryctes or the Anoxia? They would be crushed between the
jaws of the living vice. It is essential that the arc should slacken and
the hook unbend, without the least possibility of their returning to
a state of tension. Indeed, the well-being of the Scoliae demands
something more: those powerful bodies must not retain even the power to
quiver, lest they derange a method of feeding which has to be conducted
with the greatest caution.

The Cetonia-grub to which the Two-banded Scolia's egg is fastened
fulfils the required conditions admirably. It is lying on its back, in
the midst of the mould, with its belly fully extended. Long accustomed
though I be to this spectacle of victims paralysed by the sting of
the Hunting Wasp, I cannot suppress my astonishment at the profound
immobility of the prey before my eyes. In the other victims with
flexible skins, Caterpillars, Crickets, Mantes, Ephippigers, I perceived
at least some pulsations of the abdomen, a few feeble contortions under
the stimulus of a needle. There is nothing of the sort here, nothing but
absolute inertia, except in the head, where I see, from time to time,
the mouth-parts open and close, the palpi give a tremor, the short
antennae sway to and fro. A prick with the point of a needle causes no
contraction, no matter what the spot pricked. Though I stab it through
and through, the creature does not stir, be it ever so little. A corpse
is not more inert. Never, since my remotest investigations, have I
witnessed so profound a paralysis. I have seen many wonders due to the
surgical talent of the Wasp; but to-day's marvel surpasses them all.

I am doubly surprised when I consider the unfavourable conditions under
which the Scolia operates. The other paralysers work in the open air, in
the full light of day. There is nothing to hinder them. They enjoy
full liberty of action in seizing the prey, holding it in position and
sacrificing it; they are able to see the victim and to parry its means
of defence, to avoid its spears, its pincers. The spot or spots to be
attained are within their reach; they drive the dagger in without let or

What difficulties, on the other hand, await the Scolia! She hunts
underground, in the blackest darkness. Her movements are laboured and
uncertain, owing to the mould, which is continually giving way all
round her; she cannot keep her eyes on the terrible mandibles, which
are capable of cutting her body in two with a single bite. Moreover,
the Cetonia-grub, perceiving that the enemy is approaching, assumes
its defensive posture, rolls itself up and makes a shield for its only
vulnerable part, the ventral surface, with its convex back. No,
it cannot be an easy operation to subdue the powerful larva in its
underground retreat and to stab with the precision which immediate
paralysis requires.

We wish that we might witness the struggle between the two adversaries
and see at first hand what happens, but we cannot hope to succeed.
It all takes place in the mysterious darkness of the soil; in broad
daylight, the attack would not be delivered, for the victim must remain
where it is and then and there receive the egg, which is unable to
thrive and develop except under the warm cover of vegetable mould. If
direct observation is impracticable, we can at least foresee the main
outlines of the drama by allowing ourselves to be guided by the warlike
manoeuvres of other burrowers.

I picture things thus: digging and rummaging through the heap of mould,
guided perhaps by that singular sensibility of the antennae which
enables the Hairy Ammophila to discover the Grey Worm (The caterpillar
of the Turnip Moth. Cf. "The Hunting Wasps": chapters 18 to
20.--Translator's Note.) underground, the Scolia ends by finding a
Cetonia-larva, a good plump one, in the pink of condition, having
reached its full growth, just what the grub which is to feed on it
requires. Forthwith, the assaulted victim, contracting desperately,
rolls itself into a ball. The other seizes it by the skin of the neck.
To unroll it is impossible to the insect, for I myself have some trouble
in doing so. One single point is accessible to the sting: the under part
of the head, or rather of the first segments, which are placed outside
the coil, so that the grub's hard cranium makes a rampart for the hinder
extremity, which is less well defended. Here the Wasp's sting enters and
here only can it enter, within a narrowly circumscribed area. One stab
only of the lancet is given at this point, one only because there is no
room for more; and this is enough: the larva is absolutely paralysed.

The nervous functions are abolished instantly; the muscular contractions
cease; and the animal uncoils like a broken spring. Henceforth
motionless, it lies on its back, its ventral surface fully exposed from
end to end. On the median line of this surface, towards the rear, near
the brown patch due to the alimentary broth contained in the intestine,
the Scolia lays her egg and without more ado, leaves everything lying on
the actual spot where the murder was committed, in order to go in search
of another victim.

This is how the deed must be done: the results prove it emphatically.
But then the Cetonia-grub must possess a very exceptional structure in
its nervous organization. The larva's violent contraction leaves but a
single point of attack open to the sting, the under part of the neck,
which is doubtless uncovered when the victim tries to defend itself
with its mandibles; and yet a stab in this one point produces the most
thorough paralysis that I have ever seen. It is the general rule that
larvae possess a centre of innervation for each segment. This is so
in particular with the Grey Worm, the sacrificial victim of the Hairy
Ammophila. The Wasp is acquainted with this anatomical secret: she stabs
the caterpillar again and again, from end to end, segment by segment,
ganglion by ganglion. With such an organization the Cetonia-grub,
unconquerably coiled upon itself would defy the paralyser's surgical

If the first ganglion were wounded, the others would remain uninjured;
and the powerful body, actuated by these last, would lose none of its
powers of contraction. Woe then to the egg, to the young grub held fast
in its embrace! And how insurmountable would be the difficulties if the
Scolia, working in the profound darkness amid the crumbling soil and
confronted by a terrible pair of mandibles, had to stab each segment
in turn with her sting, with the certainty of method displayed by the
Ammophila! The delicate operation is possible in the open air, where
nothing stands in the way, in broad daylight, where the sight guides the
scalpel, and with a patient which can always be released if it becomes
dangerous. But in the dark, underground, amidst the ruins of a ceiling
which crumbles in consequence of the conflict and at close quarters with
an opponent greatly her superior in strength, how is the Scolia to guide
her sting with the accuracy that is essential if the stabs are to be

So profound a paralysis; the difficulty of vivisection underground;
the desperate coiling of the victim: all these things tell me that the
Cetonia-grub, as regards its nervous system, must possess a structure
peculiar to itself. The whole of the ganglia must be concentrated in a
limited area in the first segments, almost under the neck. I see this
as clearly as though it had been revealed to me by a post-mortem

Never was anatomical forecast more fully confirmed by direct
examination. After forty-eight hours in benzine, which dissolves the fat
and renders the nervous system more plainly visible, the Cetonia-grub is
subjected to dissection. Those of my readers who are familiar with these
investigations will understand my delight. What a clever school is the
Scolia's! It is just as I thought! Admirable! The thoracic and abdominal
ganglia are gathered into a single nervous mass, situated within the
quadrilateral bounded by the four hinder legs, which legs are very near
the head. It is a tiny, dull-white cylinder, about three millimetres
long by half a millimetre wide. (.117 x.019 inch.--Translator's Note.)
This is the organ which the Scolia's sting must attack in order to
secure the paralysis of the whole body, excepting the head, which is
provided with special ganglia. From it run numbers of filaments which
actuate the feet and the powerful muscular layer which is the creature's
essential motor organ. When examined merely through the pocket-lens,
this cylinder appears to be slightly furrowed transversely, a proof of
its complex structure. Under the microscope, it is seen to be formed by
the close juxtaposition, the welding, end to end, of the ganglia, which
can be distinguished one from the other by a slight intermediate groove.
The bulkiest are the first, the fourth and the tenth, or last; these are
all very nearly of equal size. The rest are barely half or even a third
as large as those mentioned.

The Interrupted Scolia experiences the same hunting and surgical
difficulties when she attacks, in the crumbling, sandy soil, the
larvae of the Shaggy Anoxia or of the Morning Anoxia, according to the
district; and these difficulties, if they are to be overcome, demand in
the victim a concentrated nervous system, like the Cetonia's. Such is my
logical conviction before making my examination; such also is the result
of direct observation. When subjected to the scalpel, the larva of the
Morning Anoxia shows me its centres of innervation for the thorax and
the abdomen, gathered into a short cylinder, which, placed very far
forward, almost immediately after the head, does not run back beyond the
level of the second pair of legs. The vulnerable point is thus easily
accessible to the sting, despite the creature's posture of defence, in
which it contracts and coils up. In this cylinder I recognize eleven
ganglia, one more than in the Cetonia. The first three, or thoracic,
ganglia are plainly distinguishable from one another, although they are
set very close together; the rest are all in contact. The largest are
the three thoracic ganglia and the eleventh.

After ascertaining these facts, I remembered Swammerdam's investigations
into the grub of the Monoceros, our Oryctes nasicornis. (Jan Swammerdam
(1637-1680), the Dutch naturalist and anatomist.--Translator's Note.) I
chanced to possess an abridgement of the "Biblia naturae," the masterly
work of the father of insect anatomy. I consulted the venerable volume.
It informed me that the learned Dutchman had been struck, long before
I was, by an anatomical peculiarity similar to that which the larvae
of the Cetoniae and Anoxiae had shown me in their nerve-centres. Having
observed in the Silk-worm a nervous system formed of ganglia distinct
one from the other, he was quite surprised to find that, in the grub
of the Oryctes, the same system was concentrated into a short chain of
ganglia in juxtaposition. His was the surprise of the anatomist who,
studying the organ qua organ, sees for the first time an unusual
conformation. Mine was of a different nature: I was amazed to see the
precision with which the paralysis of the victim sacrificed by the
Scolia, a paralysis so profound in spite of the difficulties of an
underground operation, had guided my forecast as to structure when,
anticipating the dissection, I declared in favour of an exceptional
concentration of the nervous system. Physiology perceived what anatomy
had not yet revealed, at all events to my eyes, for since then,
on dipping into my books, I have learnt that these anatomical
peculiarities, which were then so new to me, are now within the domain
of current science. We know that, in the Scarabaeidae, both the larva
and the perfect insect are endowed with a concentrated nervous system.

The Garden Scolia attacks Oryctes nasicornis; the Two-banded Scolia
the Cetonia; the Interrupted Scolia the Anoxia. All three operate below
ground, under the most unfavourable conditions; and all three have for
their victim a larva of one of the Scarabaeidae, which, thanks to the
exceptional arrangement of its nerve-centres, lends itself, alone of all
larvae, to the Wasp's successful enterprises. In the presence of
this underground game, so greatly varied in size and shape and yet
so judiciously selected to facilitate paralysis, I do not hesitate to
generalize and I accept, as the ration of the other Scoliae, larvae of
Lamellicorns whose species will be determined by future observation.
Perhaps one of them will be found to give chase to the terrible enemy of
my crops, the voracious White Worm, the grub of the Cockchafer; perhaps
the Hemorrhoidal Scolia, rivalling in size the Garden Scolia and like
her, no doubt, requiring a copious diet, will be entered in the insects'
"Who's Who" as the destroyer of the Pine-chafer, that magnificent
Beetle, flecked with white upon a black or brown ground, who of an
evening, during the summer solstice, browses on the foliage of the
fir-trees. Though unable to speak with certainty or precision, I am
inclined to look upon these devourers of Scarabaeus-grubs as valiant
agricultural auxiliaries.

The Cetonia-larva has figured hitherto only in its quality of a
paralysed victim. We will now consider it in its normal state. With its
convex back and its almost flat ventral surface, the creature is like a
semi-cylinder in shape, fuller in the hinder portion. On the back, each
of the segments, except the last, or anal, segment, puckers into three
thick pads, bristling with stiff, tawny hairs. The anal segment, much
wider than the rest, is rounded at the end and coloured a deep brown by
the contents of the intestine, which show through the translucent skin;
it bristles with hairs like the other segments, but is level, without
pads. On the ventral surface, the segments have no creases; and the
hairs, though abundant, are rather less so than on the back. The legs,
which are quite well-formed, are short and feeble in comparison with
the animal's size. The head has a strong, horny cap for a cranium. The
mandibles are powerful, with bevelled tips and three or four teeth on
the edge of the bevel.

Its mode of locomotion marks it as an idiosyncratic, exceptional,
fantastic creature, having no fellow, that I know of, in the insect
world. Though endowed with legs--a trifle short, it is true, but after
all as good as those of a host of other larvae--it never uses them for
walking. It progresses on its back, always on its back, never otherwise.
By means of wriggling movements and the purchase afforded by the dorsal
bristles, it makes its way belly upwards, with its legs kicking the
empty air. The spectator to whom these topsy-turvy gymnastics are a
novelty thinks at first that the creature must have had a fright of some
sort and that it is struggling as best it can in the face of danger.
He puts it back on its belly; he lays it on its side. Nothing is of any
use; it obstinately turns over and resumes its dorsal progress. That is
its manner of travelling over a flat surface; it has no other.

This reversal of the usual mode of walking is so peculiar to the
Cetonia-larva that it is enough in itself to reveal the grub's identity
to the least expert eyes. Dig into the vegetable mould formed by the
decayed wood in the hollow trunks of old willow-trees, search at the
foot of rotten stumps or in heaps of compost; and, if you come upon a
plumpish grub moving along on its back, there is no room for doubt: your
discovery is a Cetonia-larva.

This topsy-turvy progress is fairly swift and is not less in speed to
that of an equally fat grub travelling on its legs. It would even be
greater on a polished surface, where walking on foot is hampered by
incessant slips, whereas the numerous hairs of the dorsal pads find
the necessary support by multiplying the points of contact. On polished
wood, on a sheet of paper and even on a strip of glass, I see my grubs
moving from point to point with the same ease as on a surface of garden
mould. In the space of one minute, on the wood of my table, they cover a
distance of eight inches. The pace is no swifter on a horizontal bed of
sifted mould. A strip of glass reduces the distance covered by one
half. The slippery surface only half paralyses this strange method of

We will now place side by side with the Cetonia-grub the larva of the
Morning Anoxia, the prey of the Interrupted Scolia. It is very like the
larva of the Common Cockchafer. It is a fat, pot-bellied grub, with a
thick, red cap on its head and armed with strong, black mandibles, which
are powerful implements for digging and cutting through roots. The legs
are sturdy and end in a hooked nail. The creature has a long, heavy,
brown paunch. When placed on the table, it lies on its side; it
struggles without being able to advance or even to remain on its belly
or back. In its usual posture it is curled up into a narrow hook. I have
never seen it straighten itself completely; the bulky abdomen prevents
it. When placed on a surface of moist sand, the ventripotent creature is
no better able to shift its position: curved into a fish-hook, it lies
on its side.

To dig into the earth and bury itself, it uses the fore-edge of its
head, a sort of weeding-hoe with the two mandibles for points. The
legs take part in this work, but far less effectually. In this way it
contrives to dig itself a shallow pit. Then, bracing itself against the
wall of the pit, with the aid of wriggling movements which are favoured
by the short, stiff hairs bristling all over its body, the grub changes
its position and plunges into the sand, but still with difficulty.

Apart from a few details, which are of no importance here, we may repeat
this sketch of the Anoxia-grub and we shall have, if the size be at
least quadrupled, a picture of the larva of Oryctes nasicornis, the
monstrous prey of the Garden Scolia. Its general appearance is the same:
there is the same exaggeration of the belly; the same hook-like curve;
the same incapacity for standing on its legs. And as much may be said
of the larva of Scarabaeus pentodon, a fellow-boarder of the Oryctes and
the Cetonia.


Now that all the facts have been set forth, it is time to collate them.
We already know that the Beetle-hunters, the Cerceres (Cf. "The Hunting
Wasps": chapters 1 to 3.--Translator's Note.), prey exclusively on the
Weevils and the Buprestes, that is, on the families whose nervous system
presents a degree of concentration which may be compared with that of
the Scolia's victims. Those predatory insects, working in the open
air, are exempt from the difficulties which their emulators, working
underground, have to overcome. Their movements are free and are directed
by the sense of sight; but their surgery is confronted in another
respect with a most arduous problem.

The victim, a Beetle, is covered at all points with a suit of armour
which the sting is unable to penetrate. The joints alone will allow the
poisoned lancet to pass. Those of the legs do not in any way comply with
the conditions imposed: the result of stinging them would be merely a
partial disorder which far from subduing the insect, would render it
more dangerous by irritating it yet further. A sting in the joint of the
neck is not admissible: it would injure the cervical ganglia and lead
to death, followed by putrefaction. There remains only the joint between
the corselet and the abdomen.

The sting, in entering here, has to abolish all movement with a single
stab, for any movement would imperil the rearing of the larva. The
success of the paralysis, therefore, demands that the motor ganglia,
at least the three thoracic ganglia, shall be packed in close contact
opposite this point. This determines the selection of Weevils and
Buprestes, both of which are so strongly armoured.

But where the prey has only a soft skin, incapable of stopping the
sting, the concentrated nervous system is no longer necessary, for
the operator, versed in the anatomical secrets of her victim, knows to
perfection where the centres of innervation lie; and she wounds them
one after another, if need be from the first to the last. Thus do the
Ammophilae go to work when dealing with their caterpillars and the
Sphex-wasps when dealing with their Locusts, Ephippigers and Crickets.

With the Scoliae we come once again to a soft prey, with a skin
penetrable by the sting no matter where it be attacked. Will the tactics
of the caterpillar-hunters, who stab and stab again, be repeated here?
No, for the difficulty of movement under ground prohibits so complicated
an operation. Only the tactics of the paralysers of armour-clad insects
are practicable now, for, since there is but one thrust of the dagger,
the feat of surgery is reduced to its simplest terms, a necessary
consequence of the difficulties of an underground operation. The
Scoliae, then, whose destiny it is to hunt and paralyse under the soil
the victuals for their family, require a prey made highly vulnerable
by the close assemblage of the nerve-centres, as are the Weevils and
Buprestes of the Cerceres; and this is why it has fallen to their lot to
share among them the larvae of the Scarabaeidae.

Before they obtained their allotted portion, so closely restricted and
so judiciously selected; before they discovered the precise and almost
mathematical point at which the sting must enter to produce a sudden
and a lasting immobility; before they learnt how to consume, without
incurring the risk of putrefaction, so corpulent a prey: in brief,
before they combined these three conditions of success, what did the
Scoliae do?

The Darwinian school will reply that they were hesitating, essaying,
experimenting. A long series of blind gropings eventually hit upon the
most favourable combination, a combination henceforth to be perpetuated
by hereditary transmission. The skilful co-ordination between the end
and the means was originally the result of an accident.

Chance! A convenient refuge! I shrug my shoulders when I hear it invoked
to explain the genesis of an instinct so complex as that of the Scoliae.
In the beginning, you say, the creature gropes and feels its way; there
is nothing settled about its preferences. To feed its carnivorous larvae
it levies tribute on every species of game which is not too much for
the huntress' power or the nurseling's appetite; its descendants try
now this, now that, now something else, at random, until the accumulated
centuries lead to the selection which best suits the race. Then habit
grows fixed and becomes instinct.

Very well. Let us agree that the Scolia of antiquity sought a different
prey from that adopted by the modern huntress. If the family throve upon
a diet now discontinued, we fail to see that the descendants had any
reason to change it: animals have not the gastronomic fancies of an
epicure whom satiety makes difficult to please. Because the race did
well upon this fare, it became habitual; and instinct became differently
fixed from what it is to-day. If, on the other hand, the original food
was unsuitable, the existence of the family was jeopardized; and any
attempt at future improvement became impossible, because an unhappily
inspired mother would leave no heirs.

To escape falling into this twofold trap, the theorists will reply that
the Scoliae are descended from a precursor, an indeterminate creature,
of changeable habits and changing form, modifying itself in accordance
with its environment and with the regional and climatic conditions and
branching out into races each of which has become a species with the
attributes which distinguish it to-day. The precursor is the deus
ex machina of evolution. When the difficulty becomes altogether
too importunate, quick, a precursor, to fill up the gaps, quick, an
imaginary creature, the nebulous plaything of the mind! This is seeking
to lighten the darkness with a still deeper obscurity; to illumine the
day by piling cloud upon cloud. Precursors are easier to find than sound
arguments. Nevertheless, let us put the precursor of the Scoliae to the

What did she do? Being capable of everything, she did a bit of
everything. Among its descendants were innovators who developed a taste
for tunnelling in sand and vegetable mould. There they encountered the
larvae of the Cetonia, the Oryctes, the Anoxia, succulent morsels on
which to rear their families. By degrees the indeterminate Wasp adopted
the sturdy proportions demanded by underground labour. By degrees she
learnt to stab her plump neighbours in scientific fashion; by degrees
she acquired the difficult art of consuming her prey without killing it;
at length, by degrees, aided by the richness of her diet, she became the
powerful Scolia with whom we are familiar. Having reached this point,
the species assumes a permanent form, as does its instinct.

Here we have a multiplicity of stages, all of the slowest, all of the
most incredible nature, whereas the Wasp cannot found a race except on
the express condition of complete success from the first attempt. We
will not insist further upon the insurmountable objection; we will admit
that, amid so many unfavourable chances, a few favoured individuals
survive, becoming more and more numerous from one generation to the
next, in proportion as the dangerous art of rearing the young is
perfected. Slight variations in one and the same direction form a
definite whole; and at long last the ancient precursor has become the
Scolia of our own times.

By the aid of a vague phraseology which juggles with the secret of
the centuries and the unknown things of life, it is easy to build up a
theory in which our mental sloth delights, after being discouraged by
difficult researches whose final result is doubt rather than positive
statement. But if, so far from being satisfied with hazy generalities
and adopting as current coin the terms consecrated by fashion, we have
the perseverance to explore the truth as far as lies in our power, the
aspect of things will undergo a great change and we shall discover that
they are far less simple than our overprecipitate views declared them
to be. Generalization is certainly a most valuable instrument: science
indeed exists only by virtue of it. Let us none the less beware
of generalizations which are not based upon very firm and manifold

When these foundations are lacking, the child is the great generalizer.
For him, the feathered world consists merely of birds; the race of
reptiles merely of snakes, the only difference being that some are big
and some are little. Knowing nothing, he generalizes in the highest
degree; he simplifies, in his inability to perceive the complex. Later
he will learn that the Sparrow is not the Bullfinch, that the Linnet is
not the Greenfinch; he will particularize and to a greater degree each
day, as his faculty of observation becomes more fully trained. In the
beginning he saw nothing but resemblances; he now sees differences, but
still not plainly enough to avoid incongruous comparisons.

In his adult years he will almost to a certainty commit zoological
blunders similar to those which my gardener retails to me. Favier, an
old soldier, has never opened a book, for the best of reasons. He barely
knows how to cipher: arithmetic rather than reading is forced upon us by
the brutalities of life. Having followed the flag over three-quarters of
the globe, he has an open mind and a memory crammed with reminiscences,
which does not prevent him, when we chat about animals, from making the
most crazy assertions. For him the Bat is a Rat that has grown wings;
the Cuckoo is a Sparrow-hawk retired from business; the Slug is a Snail
who has lost his shell with the advance of years; the Nightjar (Known
also as the Goatsucker, because of the mistaken belief that
the bird sucks the milk of Goats, and, in America, as the
Whippoorwill.--Translator's Note.), the Chaoucho-grapaou, as he calls
her, is an elderly Toad, who, becoming enamoured of milk-food, has grown
feathers, so that she may enter the byres and milk the Goats. It is
impossible to drive these fantastic ideas out of his head. Favier
himself, as will be seen, is an evolutionist after his own fashion,
an evolutionist of a very daring type. In accounting for the origin of
animals nothing gives him pause. He has a reply to everything: "this"
comes from "that." If you ask him why, he answers:

"Look at the resemblance!"

Shall we reproach him with these insanities, when we hear another,
misled by the Monkey's build, acclaim the Pithecanthropus as man's
precursor? Shall we reject the metamorphosis of the Chaoucho-grapaou,
when people tell us in all seriousness that, in the present stage of
scientific knowledge, it is absolutely proved that man is descended from
some rough-hewn Ape? Of the two transformations, Favier's strikes me as
the more credible. A painter of my acquaintance, a brother of the great
composer Felicien David (Felicien Cesar David (1810-1876). His chief
work was the choral symphony "Le Desert":--Translator's Note.), favoured
me one day with his reflections on the human structure:

"Ve, moun bel ami," he said. "Ve, l'home a lou dintre d'un por et lou
defero d'uno mounino." "See, my dear friend, see: man has the inside of
a pig and the outside of a monkey."

I recommend the painter's aphorism to those who might like to discover
man's origin in the Hog when the Ape has gone out of fashion. According
to David, descent is proved by internal resemblances:

"L'home a lou dintre d'un por."

The inventory of precursory types sees nothing but organic resemblances
and disdains the differences of aptitude. By consulting only the bones,
the vertebrae, the hair, the nervures of the wings, the joints of the
antennae, the imagination may build up any sort of genealogical tree
that will fit with our theories of classification, for, when all is
said, the animal, in its widest generalization, is represented by a
digestive tube. With this common factor, the way lies open to every kind
of error. A machine is judged not by this or that train of wheels, but
by the nature of the work accomplished. The monumental roasting-jack of
a waggoners' inn and a Breguet chronometer both have trains of cogwheels
geared in almost a similar fashion. (Louis Breguet (1803-1883), a famous
Parisian watchmaker and physicist.--Translator's Note.) Are we to
class the two mechanisms together? Shall we forget that the one turns a
shoulder of mutton before the hearth, while the other divides time into

In the same way, the organic scaffolding is dominated from on high by
the aptitudes of the animal, especially that superior characteristic,
the psychical aptitudes. That the Chimpanzee and the hideous Gorilla
possess close resemblances of structure to our own is obvious. But
let us for a moment consider their aptitudes. What differences, what a
dividing gulf! Without exalting ourselves as high as the famous reed of
which Pascal speaks, that reed which, in its weakness, by the mere
fact that it knows itself to be crushed, is superior to the world that
crushes it, we may at least ask to be shown, somewhere, an animal making
an implement, which will multiply its skill and its strength, or
taking possession of fire, the primordial element of progress. (Blaise
Pascal(1623-1662). The allusion is to a passage in the philosopher's
"Pensees." Pascal describes man as a reed, the weakest thing in nature,
but "a thinking reed."--Translator's Note.) Master of implements and
of fire! These two aptitudes, simple though they be, characterize man
better than the number of his vertebrae and his molars.

You tell us that man, at first a hairy brute, walking on all fours,
has risen on his hind-legs and shed his fur; and you complacently
demonstrate how the elimination of the hairy pelt was effected. Instead
of bolstering up a theory with a handful of fluff gained or lost, it
would perhaps be better to settle how the original brute became the
possessor of implements and fire. Aptitudes are more important than
hair; and you neglect them because it is there that the insurmountable
difficulty really resides. See how the great master of evolution
hesitates and stammers when he tries, by fair means or foul, to fit
instinct into the mould of his formulae. It is not so easy to handle as
the colour of the pelt, the length of the tail, the ear that droops or
stands erect. Yes, our master well knows that this is where the shoe
pinches! Instinct escapes him and brings his theory crumbling to the

Let us return to what the Scoliae teach us on this question, which
incidentally touches on our own origin. In conformity with the Darwinian
ideas, we have accepted an unknown precursor, who by dint of repeated
experiment, adopted as the victuals to be hoarded the larvae of the
Scarabaeidae. This precursor, modified by varying circumstances, is
supposed to have subdivided herself into ramifications, one of which,
digging into vegetable mould and preferring the Cetonia to any other
game inhabiting the same heap, became the Two-banded Scolia; another,
also addicted to exploring the soil, but selecting the Oryctes, left as
its descendant the Garden Scolia; and a third, establishing itself
in sandy ground, where it found the Anoxia, was the ancestress of the
Interrupted Scolia. To these three ramifications we must beyond a doubt
add others which complete the series of the Scolia. As their habits are
known to me only by analogy, I confine myself to mentioning them.

The three species at least, therefore, with which I am familiar would
appear to be derived from a common precursor. To traverse the distance
from the starting-point to the goal, all three have had to contend with
difficulties, which are extremely grave if considered one by one and are
aggravated even more by this circumstance, that the overcoming of one
would lead to nothing unless the others were surmounted as successfully.
Success, then, is contingent upon a series of conditions, each one of
which offers almost no chance of victory, so that the fulfilment of them
all becomes a mathematical absurdity if we are to invoke accident alone.

And, in the first place, how was it that the Scolia of antiquity, having
to provide rations for her carnivorous family, adopted for her prey only
those larvae which, owing to the concentration of their nervous systems,
form so remarkable and so rare an exception in the insect order? What
chance would hazard offer her of obtaining this prey, the most suitable
of all because the most vulnerable? The chance represented by unity
compared with the indefinite number of entomological species. The odds
are as one to immensity.

Let us continue. The larva of the Scarabaeid is snapped up underground,
for the first time. The victim protests, defends itself after its
fashion, coils itself up and presents to the sting on every side a
surface on which a wound entails no serious danger. And yet the Wasp, an
absolute novice, has to select, for the thrust of its poisoned weapon,
one single point, narrowly restricted and hidden in the folds of the
larva's body. If she miscalculates, she may be killed: the larva,
irritated by the smarting puncture, is strong enough to disembowel her
with the tusks of its mandibles. If she escapes the danger, she will
nevertheless perish without leaving any offspring, since the necessary
provisions will be lacking. Salvation for herself and her race depends
on this: whether at the first thrust she is able to reach the little
nervous plexus which measures barely one-fiftieth of an inch in width.
What chance has she of plunging her lancet into it, if there is nothing
to guide her? The chance represented by unity compared with the number
of points composing the victim's body. The odds are as one against

Let us proceed still further. The sting has reached the mark; the fat
grub is deprived of movement. At what spots should the egg now be laid?
In front, behind, on the sides, the back or the belly? The choice is
not a matter of indifference. The young grub will pierce the skin of
its provender at the very spot on which the egg was fixed; and, once an
opening is made, it will go ahead without hesitation. If this point of
attack is ill-chosen, the nurseling runs the risk of presently finding
under its mandibles some essential organ, which should have been
respected until the end in order to keep the victuals fresh. Remember
how difficult it is to complete the rearing when the tiny larva is moved
from the place chosen by the mother. The game promptly becomes putrid
and the Scolia dies.

It is impossible for me to state the precise motives which lead to the
adoption of the spot on which the egg is laid; I can perceive general
reasons, but the details escape me, as I am not well enough versed in
the more delicate questions of anatomy and entomological physiology.
What I do know with absolute certainty is that the same spot is
invariably chosen for laying the egg. With not a single exception, on
all the victims extracted from the heap of garden mould--and they are
numerous--the egg is fixed behind the ventral surface, on the verge of
the brown patch formed by the contents of the digestive system.

If there be nothing to guide her, what chance has the mother of gluing
her egg to this point, which is always the same because it is that most
favourable to successful rearing? A very small point, represented by
the ratio of two or three square millimetres (About 1/100 square
inch.--Translator's Note.) to the entire surface of the victim's body.

Is this all? Not yet. The grub is hatched; it pierces the belly of the
Cetonia-larva at the requisite point; it plunges its long neck into the
entrails, ransacking them and filling itself to repletion. If it bite at
random, if it have no other guide in the selection of tit-bits than the
preference of the moment and the violence of an imperious appetite, it
will infallibly incur the danger of being poisoned by putrid food, for
the victim, if wounded in those organs which preserve a remnant of life
in it, will die for good and all at the first mouthfuls.

The ample joint must be consumed with prudent skill: this part must be
eaten before that and, after that, some other portion, always according
to method, until the time approaches for the last bites. This marks the
end of life for the Cetonia, but it also marks the end of the Scolia's
feasting. If the grub be a novice in the art of eating, if no special
instinct guide its mandibles in the belly of the prey, what chance has
it of completing its perilous meal? As much as a starving Wolf
would have of daintily dissecting his Sheep, when he tears at her
gluttonously, rends her into shreds and gulps them down.

These four conditions of success, with chance so near to zero in each
case, must all be realized together, or the grub will never be reared.
The Scolia may have captured a larva with close-packed nerve-centres,
a Cetonia-grub, for instance; but this will go for nothing unless she
direct her sting towards the only vulnerable point. She may know the
whole secret of the art of stabbing her victim, but this means nothing
if she does not know where to fasten her egg. The suitable spot may be
found, but all the foregoing will be useless if the grub be not versed
in the method to be followed in devouring its prey while keeping it
alive. It is all or nothing.

Who would venture to calculate the final chance on which the future of
the Scolia, or of her precursor, is based, that complex chance whose
factors are four infinitely improbable occurrences, one might almost
say four impossibilities? And such a conjunction is supposed to be a
fortuitous result, to which the present instinct is due! Come, come!

From another point of view again, the Darwinian theory is at variance
with the Scoliae and their prey. In the heap of garden mould which I
exploited in order to write this record, three kinds of larvae dwell
together, belonging to the Scarabaeid group: the Cetonia, the Oryctes
and Scarabeus pentodon. Their internal structure is very nearly similar;
their food is the same, consisting of decomposing vegetable matter;
their habits are identical: they live underground in tunnels which
are frequently renewed; they make a rough egg-shaped cocoon of earthy
materials. Environment, diet, industry and internal structure are all
similar; and yet one of these three larvae, the Cetonia's, reveals a
most singular dissimilarity from its fellow-trenchermen: alone among
the Scarabaeidae and, more than that, alone in all the immense order of
insects, it walks upon its back.

If the differences were a matter of a few petty structural details,
falling within the finical department of the classifier, we might pass
them over without hesitation; but a creature that turns itself upside
down in order to walk with its belly in the air and never adopts any
other method of locomotion, though it possesses legs and good legs at
that, assuredly deserves examination. How did the animal acquire its
fantastic mode of progress and why does it think fit to walk in a
fashion the exact contrary of that adopted by other beasts?

To these questions the science now in fashion always has a reply
ready: adaptation to environment. The Cetonia-larva lives in crumbling
galleries which it bores in the depths of the soil. Like the sweep who
obtains a purchase with his back, loins and knees to hoist himself up
the narrow passage of a chimney, it gathers itself up, applies the tip
of its belly to one wall of its gallery and its sturdy back to another;
and the combined effort of these two levers results in moving it
forward. The legs, which are used very little, indeed hardly at all,
waste away and tend to disappear, as does any organ which is left
unemployed; the back, on the other hand, the principal motive agent,
grows stronger, is furrowed with powerful folds and bristles with
grappling-hooks or hairs; and gradually, by adaptation to its
environment, the creature loses the art of walking, which it does not
practise, and replaces it by that of crawling on its back, a form of
progress better suited to underground corridors.

So far so good. But now tell me, if you please, why the larvae of the
Oryctes and the Scarabaeus, living in vegetable mould, the larva of the
Anoxia, dwelling in the sand, and the larva of the Cockchafer in our
cultivated fields have not also acquired the faculty of walking on their
backs? In their galleries they follow the chimney-sweep's methods quite
as cleverly as the Cetonia-grub; to move forward they make valiant use
of their backs without yet having come to ambling with their bellies
in the air. Can they have neglected to accommodate themselves to the
demands of their environment? If evolution and environment cause the
topsy-turvy progress of the one, I have the right, if words have
any meaning whatever, to demand as much of the others, since their
organization is so much alike and their mode of life identical.

I have but little respect for theories which, when confronted with two
similar cases, are unable to interpret the one without contradicting the
other. They make me laugh when they become merely childish. For
example: why has the tiger a coat streaked black and yellow? A matter of
environment, replies one of our evolutionary masters. Ambushed in bamboo
thickets where the golden radiance of the sun is intersected by stripes
of shadow cast by the foliage, the animal, the better to conceal itself,
assumed the colour of its environment. The rays of the sun produced the
tawny yellow of the coat; the stripes of shadow added the black bars.

And there you have it. Any one who refuses to accept the explanation
must be very hard to please. I am one of these difficult persons. If it
were a dinner-table jest, made over the walnuts and the wine, I would
willingly sing ditto; but alas and alack, it is uttered without a
smile, in a solemn and magisterial manner, as the last word in science!
Toussenel, in his day, asked the naturalists an insidious question.
(Alphonse Toussenel (1803-1885), the author of a number of learned and
curious works on ornithology.--Translator's Note.) Why, he enquired,
have Ducks a little curly feather on the rump? No one, so far as I know,
had an answer for the teasing cross-examiner: evolution had not been
invented then. In our time the reason why would be forthcoming in a
moment, as lucid and as well-founded as the reason why of the tiger's

Enough of childish nonsense. The Cetonia-grub walks on its back because
it has always done so. The environment does not make the animal; it is
the animal that is made for the environment. To this simple philosophy,
which is quite antiquated nowadays, I will add another, which Socrates
expressed in these words:

"What I know best is that I know nothing."


The family of Wasps whose name I inscribe at the head of this chapter
has not hitherto, so far as I know, made much noise in the world. Its
annals are limited to methodical classifications, which make very poor
reading. The happy nations, men say, are those which have no history.
I accept this, but I also admit that it is possible to have a history
without ceasing to be happy. In the conviction that I shall not disturb
its prosperity, I will try to substitute the living, moving insect for
the insect impaled in a cork-bottomed box.

It has been adorned with a learned name, derived from the Greek
Tachytes, meaning rapidity, suddenness, speed. The creature's godfather,
as we see, had a smattering of Greek; its denomination is none the
less unfortunate: intended to instruct us by means of a characteristic
feature, the name leads us astray. Why is speed mentioned in this
connection? Why a label which prepares the mind for an exceptional
velocity and announces a race of peerless coursers? Nimble diggers of
burrows and eager hunters the Tachytes are, to be sure, but they are no
better than a host of rivals. Not the Sphex, nor the Ammophila, nor the
Bembex, nor many another would admit herself beaten in either flying
or running. At the nesting-season, all this tiny world of huntresses is
filled with astounding activity. The quality of a speedy worker being
common to all, none can boast of it to the exclusion of the rest.

Had I had a vote when the Tachytes was christened, I should have
suggested a short, harmonious, well-sounding name, meaning nothing else
than the thing meant. What better, for example, than the term Sphex? The
ear is satisfied and the mind is not corrupted by a prejudice, a
source of error to the beginner. I have not nearly as much liking for
Ammophila, which represents as a lover of the sands an animal whose
establishments call for compact soil. In short, if I had been forced, at
all costs, to concoct a barbarous appellation out of Latin or Greek in
order to recall the creature's leading characteristic, I should have
attempted to say, a passionate lover of the Locust.

Love of the Locust, in the broader sense of the Orthopteron, an
exclusive, intolerant love, handed down from mother to daughter with
a fidelity which the centuries fail to impair, this, yes, this indeed
depicts the Tachytes with greater accuracy than a name smacking of
the race-course. The Englishman has his roast-beef; the German his
sauerkraut; the Russian his caviare; the Neapolitan his macaroni; the
Piedmontese his polenta; the man of Carpentras his tian. The Tachytes
has her Locust. Her national dish is also that of the Sphex, with whom I
boldly associate her. The methodical classifier, who works in cemeteries
and seems to fly the living cities, keeps the two families far removed
from each other because of considerations and attaching to the nervures
of the wings and the joints of the palpi. At the risk of passing for a
heretic, I bring them together at the suggestion of the menu-card.

To my own knowledge, my part of the country possesses five species, one
and all addicted to a diet of Orthoptera. Panzer's Tachytes (T. Panzeri,
VAN DER LIND), girdled with red at the base of the abdomen, must be
pretty rare. I surprise her from time to time working on the hard
roadside banks and the trodden edges of the footpaths. There, to a depth
of an inch at most, she digs her burrows, each isolated from the
rest. Her prey is an adult, medium-sized Acridian (Locust or
Grasshopper.--Translator's Note.), such as the White-banded Sphex
pursues. The captive of the one would not be despised by the other.
Gripped by the antennae, according to the ritual of the Sphex, the
victim is trailed along on foot and laid beside the nest, with the head
pointing towards the opening. The pit, prepared in advance, is closed
for the time being with a tiny flagstone and some bits of gravel, in
order to avoid either the invasion of a passer-by or obstruction by
landslips during the huntress' absence. A like precaution is taken by
the White-banded Sphex. Both observe the same diet and the same customs.

The Tachytes clears the entrance to the home and goes in alone. She
returns, puts out her head and, seizing her prey by the antennae,
warehouses it by dragging backwards. I have repeated, at her expense,
the tricks which I used to play on the Sphex. (For the author's
experiments with the Languedocian, the Yellow-winged and the White-edged
Sphex, cf. "The Hunting Wasps": chapter 11.--Translator's Note.) While
the Tachytes is underground, I move the game away. The insect comes up
again and sees nothing at its door; it comes out and goes to fetch its
Locust, whom it places in position as before. This done, it goes in
again by itself. In its absence I once more pull back the prey. Fresh
emergence of the Wasp, who puts things to rights and persists in going
down again, still by herself, however often I repeat the experiment.
Yet it would be very easy for her to put an end to my teasing: she would
only have to descend straightway with her game, instead of leaving it
for a moment on her doorstep. But, faithful to the usages of her race,
she behaves as her ancestors behaved before her, even though the ancient
custom happen to be unprofitable. Like the Yellow-winged Sphex, whom I
have teased so often during her cellaring-operations, she is a narrow
conservative, learning nothing and forgetting nothing.

Let us leave her to do her work in peace. The Locust disappears
underground and the egg is laid upon the breast of the paralysed insect.
That is all: one carcase for each cell, no more. The entrance is stopped
at last, first with stones, which will prevent the trickling of the
embankment into the chamber; next with sweepings of dust, under which
every vestige of the subterranean house disappears. It is now done:
the Tachytes will come here no more. Other burrows will occupy her,
distributed at the whim of her vagabond humour.

A cell provisioned before my eyes on the 22nd of August, in one of the
walls in the harmas, contained the finished cocoon a week later. (The
harmas was the piece of enclosed waste land in which the author used to
study his insects in their natural state. Cf. "The Life of the Fly,"
by J. Henri Fabre, translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos: chapter
1.--Translator's Note.) I have not noted many examples of so rapid a
development. This cocoon recalls, in its shape and texture, that of the
Bembex-wasps. It is hard and mineralized, this is to say, the warp and
woof of silk are hidden by a thick encrustation of sand. This composite
structure seems to me characteristic of the family; at all events I find
it in the three species whose cocoons I know. If the Tachytes are nearly
related to the Spheges in diet, they are far removed from them in the
industry of their larvae. The first are workers in mosaic, encrusting a
network of silk and sand; the second weave pure silk.

Of smaller size and clad in black with trimmings of silvery down on the
edge of the abdominal segments, the Tarsal Tachytes frequents the
ledges of soft limestone in fairly populous colonies. (T. tarsina, LEP.)
(According to M. J. Perez, to whom I submitted the Wasp of which I am
about to speak, this Tachytes might well be a new species, if it is not
Lepelletier's T. tarsina or its equivalent, Panzer's T. unicolor. Any
one wishing to clear up this point will always recognize the quarrelsome
insect by its behaviour. A minute description seems useless to me in the
type of investigation which I am pursuing.--Author's Note.) August and
September are the season of her labours. Her burrows, very close to
one another when an easily-worked vein presents itself, afford an ample
harvest of cocoons once the site is discovered. In a certain gravel-pit
in the neighbourhood, with vertical walls visited by the sun, I have
been able within a short space of time to collect enough to fill the
hollow of my hand completely. They differ from the cocoons of the
preceding species only in their smaller size. The provisions consist of
young Acridians, varying from about a quarter to half an inch in length.
The adult insect does not appear in the assorted bags of game, being
no doubt too tough for the feeble grub. All the carcases consist of
Locust-larvae, whose budding wings leave the back uncovered and put one
in mind of the short skirts of a skimpy jacket. Small so that it may be
tender, the game is numerous so that it may suffice all needs. I
count from two to four carcases to a cell. When the time comes we will
discover the reason for these differences in the rations served.

The Mantis-killing Tachytes wears a red scarf, like her kinswoman,
Panzer's Tachytes. (The Mantis-hunting Tachytes was submitted to
examination by M. J. Perez, who failed to recognize her. This species
may well be new to our fauna. I confine myself to calling her the
Mantis-killing Tachytes and leave to the specialists the task of
adorning her with a Latin name, if it be really the fact that the Wasp
is not yet catalogued. I will be brief in my delineation. To my thinking
the best description is this: mantis-hunter. With this information it
is impossible to mistake the insect, in my district of course. I may add
that it is black, with the first two abdominal segments, the legs and
the tarsi a rusty red. Clad in the same livery and much smaller than the
female, the male is remarkable for his eyes, which are of a beautiful
lemon-yellow when he is alive. The length is nearly half an inch for the
female and a little more than half this for the male.--Author's Note.)
I do not think that she is very widely distributed. I made her
acquaintance in the Serignan woods, where she inhabits, or rather used
to inhabit--for I fear that I have depopulated and even destroyed the
community by my repeated excavations--where she used to inhabit one of
those little mounds of sand which the wind heaps up against the rosemary
clumps. Outside this small community, I never saw her again. Her
history, rich in incident, will be given with all the detail which
it deserves. I will confine myself for the moment to mentioning her
rations, which consist of Mantis-larvae, those of the Praying Mantis
predominating. (Cf. "The Life of the Grasshopper": chapters 6 to
9.--Translator's Note.) My lists record from three to sixteen heads for
each cell. Once again we note a great inequality of rations, the reason
for which we must try to discover.

What shall I say of the Black Tachytes (T. nigra, VAN DER LIND) that I
have not already said in telling the story of the Yellow-winged Sphex?
("The Hunting Wasps": chapters 4 to 6.--Translator's Note.) I have there
described her contests with the Sphex, whose burrow she seems to me
to have usurped; I show her dragging along the ruts in the roads a
paralysed Cricket, seized by the hauling-ropes, his antennae; I speak of
her hesitations, which lead me to suspect her for a homeless vagabond,
and finally on her surrender of her game, with which she seems at once
satisfied and embarrassed. Save for the dispute with the Sphex, an
unique event in my records as observer, I have seen all the rest many
a time, but never anything more. The Black Tachytes, though the most
frequent of all in my neighbourhood, remains a riddle to me. I
know nothing of her dwelling, her larvae, her cocoons, her
family-arrangements. All that I can affirm, judging by the invariable
nature of the prey which one sees her dragging along, is that she must
feed her larvae on the same non-adult Cricket that the Yellow-winged
Sphex chooses for hers.

Is she a poacher, a pillager of other's property, or a genuine huntress?
My suspicions are persistent, though I know how chary a man should be of
suspicions. At one time I had my doubts about Panzer's Tachytes, whom
I grudged a prey to which the White-banded Sphex might have laid claim.
To-day I have no such doubts: she is an honest worker and her game is
really the result of her hunting. While waiting for the truth to be
revealed and my suspicions set aside, I will complete the little that I
know of her by noting that the Black Tachytes passes the winter in
the adult form and away from her cell. She hibernates, like the Hairy
Ammophila. In warm, sheltered places, with low, perpendicular, bare
banks, dear to the Wasps, I am certain of finding her at any time during
the winter, however briefly I investigate the earthen surface, riddled
with galleries. I find the Tachytes cowering singly in the hot oven
formed by the end of a tunnel. If the temperature be mild and the sky
clear, she emerges from her retreat in January and February and comes to
the surface of the bank to see whether spring is making progress.
When the shadows fall and the heat decreases, she reenters her

The Anathema Tachytes (T. anathema, VAN DER LIND), the giant of her
race, almost as large as the Languedocian Sphex and, like her, decorated
with a red scarf round the base of the abdomen, is rarer than any of
her congeners. I have come upon her only some four or five times, as an
isolated individual and always in circumstances which will tell us
of the nature of her game with a probability that comes very near to
certainty. She hunts underground, like the Scoliae. In September I see
her go down into the soil, which has been loosened by a recent light
shower; the movement of the earth turned over keeps me informed of her
subterranean progress. She is like the Mole, ploughing through a meadow
in pursuit of his White Worm. She comes out farther on, nearly a yard
from the spot at which she went in. This long journey underground has
taken her only a few minutes.

Is this due to extraordinary powers of excavation on her part? By no
means: the Anathema Tachytes is an energetic tunneller, no doubt, but,
after all, is incapable of performing so great a labour in so short
a time. If the underground worker is so swift in her progress, it is
because the track followed has already been covered by another. The
trail is ready prepared. We will describe it, for it is clearly defined
before the intervention of the Wasp.

On the surface of the ground, for a length of two paces at most, runs
a sinuous line, a beading of crumbled soil, roughly the width of my
finger. From this line of ramifications (others) shoot out to left and
right, much shorter and irregularly distributed. One need not be a great
entomological scholar to recognize, at the first glance, in these pads
of raised earth, the trail of a Mole-cricket, the Mole among insects. It
is the Mole-cricket who, seeking for a root to suit her, has excavated
the winding tunnel, with investigation-galleries grafted to either side
of the main road. The passage is free therefore, or at most blocked by a
few landslips, of which the Tachytes will easily dispose. This explains
her rapid journey underground.

But what does she do there? For she is always there, in the few
observations which chance affords me. A subterranean excursion would not
attract the Wasp if it had no object. And its object is certainly the
search for some sort of game for her larvae. The inference becomes
inevitable: the Anathema Tachytes, who explores the Mole-cricket's
galleries, gives her larvae this same Mole-cricket as their food. Very
probably the specimen selected is a young one, for the adult insect
would be too big. Besides, to this consideration of quantity is added
that of quality. Young and tender flesh is highly appreciated, as
witness the Tarsal Tachytes, the Black Tachytes and the Mantis-killing
Tachytes, who all three select game that is not yet made tough by age.
It goes without saying that the moment the huntress emerged from the
ground I proceeded to dig up the track. The Mole-cricket was no longer
there. The Tachytes had come too late; and so had I.

Well, how right was I to define the Tachytes as a Locust lover! What
constancy in the gastronomic rules of the race! And what tact in varying
the game, while keeping within the order of the Orthoptera! What have
the Locust, the Cricket, the Praying Mantis and the Mole-cricket in
common, as regards their general appearance? Why, absolutely nothing!
None of us, if he were unfamiliar with the delicate associations
dictated by anatomy, would think of classing them together. The
Tachytes, on the other hand, makes no mistake. Guided by her instinct,
which rivals the science of a Latreille, she groups them all
together. (Pierre Andre Latreille (1762-1833), one of the founders of
entomological science, a professor at the Musee d'histoire naturelle and
member of the Academie des sciences.--Translator's Note.)

This instinctive taxonomy becomes more surprising still if we consider
the variety of the game stored in a single burrow. The Mantis-killing
Tachytes, for instance, preys indiscriminately upon all the Mantides
that occur in her neighbourhood. I see her warehousing three of them,
the only varieties, in fact, that I know in my district. They are the
following: the Praying Mantis (M. religiosa, LIN.), the Grey Mantis
(Ameles decolor, CHARP. (Cf. "The Life of the Grasshopper": chapter
10.--Translator's Note.)) and the Empusa (E. pauperata, LATR. (Cf. idem:
chapter 9.--Translator's Note.)). The numerical predominance in the
Tachytes' cells belongs to the Praying Mantis; and the Grey Mantis
occupies second place. The Empusa, who is comparatively rare on the
brushwood in the neighbourhood, is also rare in the store-houses of the
Wasp; nevertheless her presence is repeated often enough to show that
the huntress appreciates the value of this prey when she comes across
it. The three sorts of game are in the larval state, with rudimentary
wings. Their dimensions, which vary a good deal, fluctuate between
two-fifths and four-fifths of an inch in length.

The Praying Mantis is a bright green; she boasts an elongated prothorax
and an alert gait. The other Mantis is ash-grey. Her prothorax is short
and her movements heavy. The coloration therefore is no guide to the
huntress, any more than the gait. The green and the grey, the swift
and the slow are unable to baffle her perspicacity. To her, despite the
great difference in appearance, the two victims are Mantes. And she is

But what are we to say of the Empusa? The insect world, at all events in
our parts, contains no more fantastic creature. The children here, who
are remarkable for finding names which really depict the animal, call
the larva "the Devilkin." It is indeed a spectre, a diabolical phantom
worthy of the pencil of a Callot. (Jacques Callot (1592-1635), the
French engraver and painter, famous for the grotesque nature of his
subjects.--Translator's Note.) There is nothing to beat it in the
extravagant medley of figures in his "Temptation of Saint Anthony." Its
flat abdomen, scalloped at the edges, rises into a twisted crook; its
peaked head carries on the top two large, divergent, tusk-shaped horns;
its sharp, pointed face, which can turn and look to either side,
would fit the wily purpose of some Mephistopheles; its long legs have
cleaver-like appendages at the joints, similar to the arm-pieces which
the knights of old used to bear upon their elbows. Perched high upon the
shanks of its four hind-legs, with its abdomen curled, its thorax raised
erect, its front-legs, the traps and implements of warfare, folded
against its chest, it sways limply from side to side, on the tip of the

Any one seeing it for the first time in its grotesque pose will give
a start of surprise. The Tachytes knows no such alarm. If she catches
sight of it, she seizes it by the neck and stabs it. It will be a treat
for her children. How does she manage to recognize in this spectre the
near relation of the Praying Mantis? When frequent hunting-expeditions
have familiarized her with the last-named and suddenly, in the midst of
the chase, she encounters the Devilkin, how does she become aware that
this strange find makes yet another excellent addition to her larder?
This question, I fear, will never receive an adequate reply. Other
huntresses have already set us the problem; others will set it to us
again. I shall return to it, not to solve it, but to show even more
plainly how obscure and profound it is. But we will first complete the
story of the Mantis-killing Tachytes.

The colony which forms the subject of my investigations is established
in a mound of fine sand which I myself cut into, a couple of years ago,
in order to unearth a few Bembex larvae. The entrances to the Tachytes'
dwelling open upon the little upright bank of the section. At the
beginning of July the work is in full swing. It must have been going on
already for a week or two, for I find very forward larvae, as well as
recent cocoons. There are here, digging into the sand or returning from
expeditions with their booty, some hundred females, whose burrows, all
very close to one another, cover an area of barely a square yard. This
hamlet, small in extent, but nevertheless densely populated, shows us
the Mantis-slayer under a moral aspect which is not shared by the Locust
slayer, Panzer's Tachytes, who resembles her so closely in costume.
Though engaged in individual tasks, the first seeks the society of her
kind, as do certain of the Sphex-wasps, while the second establishes
herself in solitude, after the fashion of the Ammophila. Neither the
personal form nor the nature of the occupation determines sociability.

Crouching voluptuously in the sun, on the sand at the foot of the bank,
the males lie waiting for the females, to plague them as they pass. They
are ardent lovers, but cut a poor figure. Their linear dimensions
are barely half those of the other sex, which implies a volume only
one-eighth as great. At a short distance they appear to wear on their
heads a sort of gaudy turban. At close quarters this headgear is seen to
consist of the eyes, which are very large and a bright lemon-yellow and
which almost entirely surround the head.

At ten o'clock in the morning, when the heat begins to grow intolerable
to the observer, there is a continual coming and going between the
burrows and the tufts of grass, everlasting, thyme and wormwood, which
constitute the Tachytes' hunting-grounds within a moderate radius. The
journey is so short that the Wasp brings her game home on the wing,
usually in a single flight. She holds it by the fore-part, a very
judicious precaution, which is favourable to rapid stowage in the
warehouse, for then the Mantis' legs stretch backwards, along the axis
of the body, instead of folding and projecting sideways, when their
resistance would be difficult to overcome in a narrow gallery. The lanky
prey dangles beneath the huntress, all limp, lifeless and paralysed.
The Tachytes, still flying, alights on the threshold of the home and
immediately, contrary to the custom of Panzer's Tachytes, enters with
her prey trailing behind her. It is not unusual for a male to come upon
the scene at the moment of the mother's arrival. He is promptly snubbed.
This is the time for work, not for amusement. The rebuffed male
resumes his post as a watcher in the sun; and the housewife stows her

But she does not always do so without hindrance. Let me recount one of
the misadventures of this work of storage. There is in the neighbourhood
of the burrows a plant which catches insects with glue. It is the Oporto
silene (S. portensis), a curious growth, a lover of the sea-side dunes,
which, though of Portuguese origin, as its name would seem to indicate,
ventures inland, even as far as my part of the country, where it
represents perhaps a survivor of the coastal flora of what was once a
Pliocene sea. The sea has disappeared; a few plants of its shores have
remained behind. This Silene carries in most of its internodes, in those
both of the branches and of the main stalk, a viscous ring, two- to
four-fifths of an inch wide, sharply delimited above and below. The
coating of glue is of a pale brown. Its stickiness is so great that the
least touch is enough to hold the object. I find Midges, Plant-lice and
Ants caught in it, as well as tufted seeds which have blown from the
capitula of the Cichoriaceae. A Gad-fly, as big as a Blue bottle, falls
into the trap before my eyes. She has barely alighted on the perilous
perch when lo, she is held by the hinder tarsi! The Fly makes violent
efforts to take wing; she shakes the slender plant from top to bottom.
If she frees her hinder tarsi she remains snared by the front tarsi
and has to begin all over again. I was doubting the possibility of her
escape when, after a good quarter of an hour's struggle, she succeeded
in extricating herself.

But, where the Gad-fly has got off, the Midge remains. The winged Aphis
also remains, the Ant, the Mosquito and many another of the smaller
insects. What does the plant do with its captures? Of what use are
these trophies of corpses hanging by a leg or a wing? Does the
vegetable bird-limer, with its sticky rings, derive advantage from these
death-struggles? A Darwinian, remembering the carnivorous plants, would
say yes. As for me, I don't believe a word of it. The Oporto silene is
ringed with bands of gum. Why? I don't know. Insects are caught in these
snares. Of what use are they to the plant? Why, none at all; and that's
all about it. I leave to others, bolder than myself, the fantastic idea
of taking these annular exudations for a digestive fluid which will
reduce the captured Midges to soup and make them serve to feed the
Silene. Only I warn them that the insects sticking to the plant do not
dissolve into broth, but shrivel, quite uselessly, in the sun.

Let us return to the Tachytes, who is also a victim of the vegetable
snare. With a sudden flight, a huntress arrives, carrying her drooping
prey. She grazes the Silene's lime-twigs too closely. Behold the Mantis
caught by the abdomen. For twenty minutes at least the Wasp, still on
the wing, tugs at her, tugging again and again, to overcome the cause of
the hitch and release the spoil. The hauling-method, a continuation of
the flight, comes to nothing; and no other is attempted. At last the
insect wearies and leaves the Mantis hanging to the Silene.

Now or never was the moment for the intervention of that tiny glimmer
of reason which Darwin so generously grants to animals. Do not, if you
please, confound reason with intelligence, as people are too prone to
do. I deny the one; and the other is incontestable, within very modest
limits. It was, I said, the moment to reason a little, to discover the
cause of the hitch and to attack the difficulty at its source. For the
Tachytes the matter was of the simplest. She had but to grab the body
by the skin of the abdomen immediately above the spot caught by the glue
and to pull it towards her, instead of persevering in her flight without
releasing the neck. Simple though this mechanical problem was, the
insect was unable to solve it, because she was not able to trace the
effect back to the cause, because she did not even suspect that the
stoppage had a cause.

Ants doting on sugar and accustomed to cross a foot-bridge in order
to reach the warehouse are absolutely prevented from doing so when the
bridge is interrupted by a slight gap. They would only need a few grains
of sand to fill the void and restore the causeway. They do not for a
moment dream of it, plucky navvies though they be, capable of raising
miniature mountains of excavated soil. We can get them to give us an
enormous cone of earth, an instinctive piece of work, but we shall never
obtain the juxtaposition of three grains of sand, a reasoned piece of
work. The Ant does not reason, any more than the Tachytes.

If you bring up a tame Fox and set his platter of food before him, this
creature of a thousand tricks confines himself to tugging with all his
might at the leash which keeps him a step or two from his dinner. He
pulls as the Tachytes pulls, exhausts himself in futile efforts and then
lies down, with his little eyes leering fixedly at the dish. Why does he
not turn round? This would increase his radius; and he could reach then
the food with his hind-foot and pull it towards him. The idea never
occurs to him. Yet another animal deprived of reason.

Friend Bull, my Dog, is no better-endowed, despite his quality as a
candidate for humanity. In our excursions through the woods, he happens
to get caught by the paw in a wire snare set for rabbits. Like the
Tachytes, he tugs at it obstinately and only pulls the noose tighter.
I have to release him when he does not himself succeed in snapping the
wire by his hard pulling. When he tries to leave the room, if the two
leaves of the door are just ajar, he contents himself with pushing his
muzzle, like a wedge, into the too narrow aperture. He moves forward,
pushing in the direction which he wishes to take. His simple, dog-like
method has one unfailing result: the two leaves of the door, when
pushed, merely shut still closer. It would be easy for him to pull one
of them towards him with his paw, which would make the passage wider;
but this would be a movement backward, contrary to his natural impulse;
and so he does not think of it. Yet another creature that does not

The Tachytes, who stubbornly persists in tugging at her limed Mantis
and refuses to acknowledge any other method of wresting her from the
Silene's snare, shows us the Wasp in an unflattering light. What a very
poor intellect! The insect becomes only the more wonderful, therefore,
when we consider its supreme talent as an anatomist. Many a time I have
insisted upon the incomprehensible wisdom of instinct; I do so again at
the risk of repeating myself. An idea is like a nail: it is not to be
driven in save by repeated blows. By hitting it again and again, I hope
to make it enter the most rebellious brains. This time I shall attack
the problem from the other end, that is, I shall first allow human
knowledge to have its say and shall then interrogate the insect's

The outward structure of the Praying Mantis would of itself be enough to
teach us the arrangement of the nerve-centres which the Tachytes has to
injure in order to paralyse its victim, which is destined to be devoured
alive but harmless. A narrow and very long prothorax divides the front
pair of legs from the two hinder pairs. There must therefore be an
isolated ganglion in front and two ganglia, close to each other,
about two-fifths of an inch back. Dissection confirms this forecast
completely. It shows us three fairly bulky thoracic ganglia, arranged in
the same manner as the legs. The first which actuates the fore-legs, is
placed opposite their roots. It is the largest of the three. It is also
the most important, for it presides over the insect's weapons, over the
two powerful arms, toothed like saws and ending in harpoons. The other
two, divided from the first by the whole length of the prothorax, each
face the origin of the corresponding legs; consequently they are very
near each other. Beyond them are the abdominal ganglia, which I pass
over in silence, as the operating insect does not have to trouble about
them. The movements of the belly are mere pulsations and are in no way

Now let us do a little reasoning on behalf of our non-reasoning insect.
The sacrificer is weak; the victim is comparatively powerful. Three
strokes of the lancet must abolish all offensive movement. Where will
the first stroke be delivered? In front is a real engine of warfare, a
pair of powerful shears with toothed jaws. Let the fore-arm close
upon the upper arm; and the imprudent insect, crushed between the two
saw-blades, will be torn to pieces; wounded by the terminal hook, it
will be eviscerated. This ferocious mechanism is the great danger; it is
this that must be mastered at the outset, at the risk of life; the rest
is less urgent. The first blow of the stylet, cautiously directed, is
therefore aimed at the lethal fore-legs, which imperil the vivisector's
own existence. Above all, there must be no hesitation. The blow must be
accurate then and there, or the sacrificer will be caught in the
vice and perish. The two other pairs of legs present no danger to the
operator, who might neglect them if she had only her own security to
think of; but the surgeon is operating with a view to the egg, which
demands complete immobility in the provisions. Their centres of
innervation will therefore be stabbed as well, with the leisure which
the Mantis, now put out of action, permits. These legs, as well as their
nervous centres, are situated very far behind the first point attacked.
There is a long neutral interval, that of the prothorax, into which it
is quite useless to drive the sting. This interval has to be crossed; by
a backward movement conforming with the secrets of the victim's internal
anatomy, the second ganglion must be reached and then its neighbour, the
third. In short, the surgical operation may be formulated thus: a
first stab of the lancet in front; a considerable movement to the rear,
measuring about two-fifths of an inch; lastly, two lancet-thrusts at
two points very close together. Thus speaks the science of man; thus
counsels reason, guided by anatomical structure. Having said this much
let us observe the insect's practice.

There is no difficulty about seeing the Tachytes operate in our
presence; we have only to resort to the method of substitution, which
has already done me so much service, that is, to deprive the huntress of
her prey and at once to give her, in exchange, a living Mantis of about
the same size. This substitution is impracticable with the majority
of the Tachytes, who reach the threshold of their dwelling in a single
flight and at once vanish underground with their game. A few of them,
from time to time, harassed perhaps by their burden, chance to alight at
a short distance from their burrow, or even drop their prey. I profit by
these rare occasions to witness the tragedy.

The dispossessed Wasp recognizes instantly, from the proud bearing of
the substituted Mantis, that she is no longer embracing and carrying off
an inoffensive carcase. Her hovering, hitherto silent, develops a buzz,
perhaps to overawe the victim; her flight becomes an extremely rapid
oscillation, always behind the quarry. It is as who should say the quick
movement of a pendulum swinging without a wire to hang from. The Mantis,
however, lifts herself boldly upon her four hind-legs; she raises the
fore-part of her body, opens, closes and again opens her shears and
presents them threateningly at the enemy; using a privilege which no
other insect shares, she turns her head this way and that, as we do when
we look over our shoulders; she faces her assailant, ready to strike a
return blow wheresoever the attack may come. It is the first time that
I have witnessed such defensive daring. What will be the outcome of it

The Wasp continues to oscillate behind the Mantis, in order to avoid the
formidable grappling-engine; then, suddenly, when she judges that the
other is baffled by the rapidity of her manoeuvres, she hurls herself
upon the insect's back, seizes its neck with her mandibles, winds her
legs round its thorax and hastily delivers a first thrust of the sting,
to the front, at the root of the lethal legs. Complete success! The
deadly shears fall powerless. The operator then lets herself slip as she
might slide down a pole, retreats along the Mantis' back and, going a
trifle lower, less than a finger's breadth, she stops and paralyses,
this time without hurrying herself, the two pairs of hind-legs. It is
done: the patient lies motionless; only the tarsi quiver, twitching in
their last convulsions. The sacrificer brushes her wings for a moment
and polishes her antennae by passing them through her mouth, an habitual
sign of tranquillity returning after the emotions of the conflict; she
seizes the game by the neck, takes it in her legs and flies away with

What do you say to it all? Do not the scientist's theory and the
insect's practice agree most admirably? Has not the animal accomplished
to perfection what anatomy and physiology enabled us to foretell?
Instinct, a gratuitous attribute, an unconscious inspiration, rivals
knowledge, that most costly acquisition. What strikes me most is the
sudden recoil after the first thrust of the sting. The Hairy Ammophila,
operating on her caterpillar, likewise recoils, but progressively,
from one segment to the next. Her deliberate surgery might receive a
quasi-explanation if we ascribe it to a certain uniformity. With the
Tachytes and the Mantis this paltry argument escapes us. Here are
no lancet-pricks regularly distributed; on the contrary, the
operating-method betrays a lack of symmetry which would be
inconceivable, if the organization of the patient did not serve as a
guide. The Tachytes therefore knows where her prey's nerve-centres lie;
or, to speak more correctly, she behaves as though she knew.

This science which is unconscious of itself has not been acquired, by
her and by her race, through experiments perfected from age to age and
habits transmitted from one generation to the next. It is impossible,
I am prepared to declare a hundred times, a thousand times over, it is
absolutely impossible to experiment and to learn an art when you are
lost if you do not succeed at the first attempt. Don't talk to me of
atavism, of small successes increasing by inheritance, when the novice,
if he misdirected his weapon, would be crushed in the trap of the two
saws and fall a prey to the savage Mantis! The peaceable Locust, if
missed, protests against the attack with a few kicks; the carnivorous
Mantis, who is in the habit of feasting on Wasps far more powerful than
the Tachytes, would protest by eating the bungler; the game would devour
the hunter, an excellent catch. Mantis-paralysing is a most perilous
trade and admits of no half-successes; you have to excel in it from the
first, under pain of death. No, the surgical art of the Tachytes is not
an acquired art. Whence then does it come, if not from the universal
knowledge in which all things move and have their being!

What would happen if, in exchange for her Praying Mantis, I were to give
the Tachytes a young Grasshopper? In rearing insects at home, I have
already noted that the larvae put up very well with this diet; and I
am surprised that the mother does not follow the example of the Tarsal
Tachytes and provide her family with a skewerful of Locusts instead
of the risky prey which she selects. The diet would be practically the
same; and the terrible shears would no longer be a danger. With such a
patient would her operating-method remain the same; should we again
see a sudden recoil after the first stab under the neck; or would the
vivisector modify her art in conformity with the unfamiliar nervous

This second alternative is highly improbable. It would be nonsense to
expect to see the paralyser vary the number and the distribution of the
wounds according to the genus of the victim. Supremely skilled in the
task that has fallen to its lot, the insect knows nothing further.

The first alternative seems to offer a certain chance and deserves a
test. I offer the Tachytes, deprived of her Mantis, a small Grasshopper,
whose hind-legs I amputate to prevent his leaping. The disabled Acridian
jogs along the sand. The Wasp flies round him for a moment, casts a
contemptuous glance upon the cripple and withdraws without attempting
action. Let the prey offered be large or small, green or grey, short
or long, rather like the Mantis or quite different, all my efforts
miscarry. The Tachytes recognizes in an instant that this is no
business of hers; this is not her family game; she goes off without even
honouring my Grasshoppers with a peck of her mandibles.

This stubborn refusal is not due to gastronomical causes. I have stated
that the larvae reared by my own hands feed on young Grasshoppers as
readily as on young Mantes; they do not seem to perceive any difference
between the two dishes; they thrive equally on the game chosen by me
and that selected by the mother. If the mother sets no value on the
Grasshopper, what then can be the reason of her refusal? I can see only
one: this quarry, which is not hers, perhaps inspires her with fear, as
any unknown thing might do; the ferocious Mantis does not alarm her,
but the peaceable Grasshopper terrifies her. And then, if she were to
overcome her apprehensions, she does not know how to master the Acridian
and, above all, how to operate upon him. To every man his trade, to
every Wasp her own way of wielding her sting. Modify the conditions ever
so slightly; and these skilful paralysers are at an utter loss.

To every insect also its own art of fashioning the cocoon, an art which
varies greatly, an art in which the larva displays all the resources
of its instincts. The Tachytes, the Bembeces, the Stizi, the Palari and
other burrowers build composite cocoons, hard as fruit-stones, formed of
an encrustation of sand in a network of silk. We are already acquainted
with the work of the Bembex. I will recall the fact that their larva
first weaves a conical, horizontal bag of pure white silk, with wide
meshes, held in place by interlaced threads which fix it to the walls
of the cell. I have compared this bag, because of its shape, with a
fishtrap. Without leaving this hammock, stretching its neck through the
orifice, the worker gathers from without a little heap of sand, which
it stores inside its workshop. Then, selecting the grains one by one,
it encrusts them all around itself in the fabric of the bag and cements
them with the fluid from its spinnerets, which hardens at once. When
this task is finished, the house has still to be closed, for it has been
wide open all this time to permit of the renewal of the store of sand
as the heap inside becomes exhausted. For this purpose a cap of silk is
woven across the opening and finally encrusted with the materials which
the larva has retained at its disposal.

The Tachytes builds in quite another fashion, although its work, once
finished, does not differ from that of the Bembex. The larva surrounds
itself, to begin with, about the middle of its body with a silken girdle
which a number of threads, very irregularly distributed, hold in place
and connect with the walls of the cell. Sand is collected, within reach
of the worker, on this general scaffolding. Then begins the work of
minor masonry, with grains of sand for rubble and the secretion of the
spinnerets for cement. The first course is laid upon the fore-edge of
the suspensory ring. When the circle is completed, a second course of
grains of sand, stuck together by the fluid silk, is raised upon the
hardened edge of what has just been done. Thus the work proceeds,
by ring-shaped courses, laid edge to edge, until the cocoon, having
acquired half of its proper length, is rounded into a cap and finally is
closed. The building-methods of the Tachytes-larva remind me of a mason
constructing a round chimney, a narrow tower of which he occupies the
centre. Turning on his own axis and using the materials placed to his
hand, he encloses himself little by little in his sheath of masonry.
In the same way the worker encloses itself in its mosaic. To build the
second half of the cocoon, the larva turns round and builds in the same
way on the other edge of the original ring. In about thirty-six hours
the solid shell is completed.

I am rather interested to see the Bembex and the Tachytes, two workers
in the same guild, employ such different methods to achieve the same
result. The first begins by weaving an eel-trap of pure silk and next
encrusts the grains of sand inside; the second, a bolder architect, is
economical of the silk envelope, confines itself to a hanging girdle and
builds course by course. The building-materials are the same: sand and
silk; the surroundings amid which the two artisans work are the same: a
cell in a soil of sandy gravel; yet each of the builders possesses its
individual art, its own plan, its one method.

The nature of the food has no more effect upon the larva's talents than
the environment in which it lives or the materials employed. The proof
of this is furnished by Stiza ruficornis, another builder of cocoons in
grains of sand cemented with silk. This sturdy Wasp digs her burrows in
soft sandstone. Like the Mantis-killing Tachytes, she hunts the various
Mantides of the countryside, consisting mainly of the Praying Mantis;
only her large size requires them to be more fully developed, without
however having attained the form and the dimensions of the adult. She
places three to five of them in each cell.

In solidity and volume her cocoon rivals that of the largest Bembex;
but it differs from it, at first sight, by a singular feature of which
I know no other example. From the side of the shell, which is uniformly
smoothed on every side, a rough knob protrudes, a little clod of sand
stuck on to the rest. The work of Stizus ruficornis can at once be
recognized, among all the other cocoons of a similar nature, by this

Its origin will be explained by the method which the larva follows in
constructing its strong-box. At the beginning, a conical bag is woven
of pure white silk; you might take it for the initial eel-trap of the
Bembeces, only this bag has two openings, a very wide one in front and
another, very narrow one at the side. Through the front opening the
Stizus provides itself with sand as and when it spends this material on
encrusting the interior. This strengthens the cocoon; and the cap
which closes it is made next. So far it is exactly like the work of the
Bembex. We now have the worker enclosed, engaged in perfecting the inner
wall. For these final touches a little more sand is needed. It obtains
it from outside by means of the aperture which it has taken the
precaution of contriving in the side of its building, a narrow
dormer-window just large enough to allow its slender neck to pass. When
the store has been taken in, this accessory orifice, which is used only
during the last few moments, is closed with a mouthful of mortar, thrust
outward from within. This forms the irregular nipple which projects from
the side of the shell.

For the present I shall not expatiate further upon Stizus ruficornis,
whose complete biography would be out of place in this chapter. I will
limit myself to mentioning its method of constructing strong-boxes in
order to compare it with that of the Bembex and above all with that
of the Tachytes, a consumer, like itself, of Praying Mantes. From this
parallel it seems to me to follow that the conditions of life in
which men see to-day the origin of instincts--the type of food, the
surroundings amid which the larval life is passed, the materials
available for a defensive wrapper and other factors which the
evolutionists are accustomed to invoke--have no actual influence upon
the larva's industry. My three architects in glued sand, even when all
the conditions, down to the nature of the provisions, are the same,
adopt different means to execute an identical task. They are engineers
who have not graduated from the same school, who have not been educated
on the same principles, though the lesson of things is almost the
same for all of them. The workshop, the work, the provisions have not
determined the instinct. The instinct comes first; it lays down laws
instead of being subject to them.


Brillat-Savarin, when pronouncing his famous maxim, "Tell me what you
eat and I will tell you what you are," certainly never suspected the
signal confirmation which the entomological world would bestow upon his
saying. Our gastrosopher was speaking only of the culinary caprices of
man rendered fastidious by the sweets of life; but he might, in a more
serious department of thought, have given his formula a wider and more
general bearing and applied it to the dishes which vary so greatly
according to latitude, climate and customs; he might above all have
taken into his reckoning the harsh realities suffered by the common
people, when perhaps his ideal of moral worth would have been found in
a platter of chick-peas oftener than in a pot of pate de foie gras. No
matter: his aphorism, the mere whimsical sally of an epicure, becomes an
imperious truth if we forget the luxury of the table and look into what
is eaten by the little world which swarms around us.

To each its mess. The cabbage Pieris consumes the pungent leaves of the
Cruciferae as the food of her infancy; the Silkworm disdains any foliage
other than that of the mulberry-tree. The Spurge Hawk-moth requires the
caustic milk-sap of the tithymals: the Corn-weevil the grain of wheat;
the Pea-weevil, the seeds of the Leguminosae; the Balaninus (A genus
of Beetles including the Acorn-weevil, the Nut-weevil and
others.--Translator's Note.) the hazel-nut, the chestnut, the acorn;
the Brachycera (A division of Flies including the Gad-flies and
Robber-flies.--Translator's Note.) the clove of garlic. Each has its
diet, each its plant; and each plant has its customary guests. Their
relations are so precise that in many cases one might determine the
insect by the vegetable which supports it, or the vegetable by the

If you know the lily, you may name as a Crioceris the tiny scarlet
Scarabaeid that inhabits it and peoples its leaves with larvae
which keep themselves cool beneath an overcoat of ordure. (For the
Lily-beetle, or Crioceris merdigera, cf. "The Glow-worm and Other
Beetles," by J. Henri Fabre, translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos:
chapters 16 and 17.--Translator's Note.) If you know the Crioceris, you
may name as a lily the plant which she devastates. It will not perhaps
be the common or white lily, but some other representative of the same
family--Turk's cap lily, orange lily, scarlet Martagon, lancifoliate
lily, tiger-spotted lily, golden lily--hailing from the Alps or the
Pyrenees, or brought from China or Japan. Relying on the Crioceris, who
is an expert judge of exotic as well as of native Liliaceae, you may
name as a lily the plant with which you are unacquainted and trust
the word of this singular botanical master. Whether the flower be red,
yellow, ruddy-brown or sown with crimson spots, characteristics so
unlike the immaculate whiteness of the familiar flower, do not hesitate,
adopt the name dictated by the Beetle. Where man is liable to mistake
the insect is never mistaken.

This insect botany, a cause of such grievous tribulations, has always
impressed the worker in the fields, who for all that, is a very
indifferent observer. The man who was the first to see his cabbage-plot
devastated by caterpillars made the acquaintance of the Pieris. Science
completed the process, in its desire to serve a useful purpose or merely
to seek truth for truth's sake; and to-day the relations between the
insect and the plant form a collection of records as important from the
philosophical as from the practical, agricultural point of view. What
is much less familiar to us, because it touches us less nearly, is the
zoology of the insect, that is to say, the selection which it makes,
to feed its larva, of this or that animal species, to the exclusion
of others. The subject is so vast that a volume were not sufficient to
exhaust it; besides, data are lacking in the vast majority of cases.
It is reserved for a still very distant future to raise this point of
biology to the level already reached by the question of vegetable diet.
It will be enough if I contribute a few observations scattered through
my writings or my notes.

What does the Wasp addicted to a predatory life eat, of course in the
larval state? Now, to begin with, we see natural sections which adopt as
their prey different species of one and the same order, in one and
the same group. Thus the Ammophilae hunt exclusively the larvae of
the night-flying Moths. This taste is shared by the Eumenes, a very
different genus. (Cf. "The Mason-wasps" by J. Henri Fabre, translated
by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos: chapter 1.--Translator's Note.) The
Spheges and Tachytes are addicted to Orthoptera; the Cerceres, apart
from a few exceptions, are faithful to the Weevil; both the Philanthi
and the Palari capture only Hymenoptera; the Pompili specialize in
hunting the Spider; the Astata revels in the flavour of Bugs; the
Bembeces want Flies and nothing else; the Scoliae enjoy the monopoly of
the Lamellicorn-grubs; the Pelopaei favour the young Epeirae (Or
Garden Spiders. Cf. "The Life of the Spider": chapters 9 to 14 and
appendix.--Translator's Note.), the Stizi vary in opinion: of the two in
my neighbourhood, one, S. ruficornis, fills her larder with Mantes and
the other, S. tridentatus, fills it with Cicadellae (Cf. "The Life
of the Grasshopper": chapter 20.--Translator's Note.); lastly, the
Crabronidae (Any Flies akin to the House-fly.--Translator's Note.). levy
tribute upon the rabble of the Muscidae. (Hornets.--Translator's Note.)

Already you see what a magnificent classification of these game-hunters
might be made with a faithfully listed bill of fare. Natural groups
stand out, characterized merely by the identity of their victuals. I
trust that the methodical science of the future will take account of
these gastronomic laws, to the great relief of the entomological novice,
who is too often hampered by the snares of the mouth-parts, the antennae
and the nervures of the wings. I call for a classification in which the
insect's aptitudes, its diet, its industry and its habits shall take
precedence of the shape of a joint in its antennae. It will come; but

If from generalities we descend to details, we shall see that the very
species may, in many instances, be determined from the nature of its
victuals. The number of burrows of Philanthus apivorus which I have
inspected since I have been rummaging the hot roadside embankments, to
enquire into their population, would seem hyperbolical were I able to
state the figures. (For the Bee-eating Philanthus cf. Chapter 10 of the
present volume.--Translator's Note.) They must amount, it seems to me,
to thousands. Well, in this multitude of food-stores, whether recent or
ancient, uncovered for a purpose or encountered by chance, I have not
once, not as often as once, discovered other remains than those of the
Hive-bee: the imperishable wings, still connected in pairs, the cranium
and thorax enveloped in a violet shroud, the winding-sheet which time
throws over these relics. To-day as when I was a beginner, ever so long
ago; in the north as in the south of the country which I explored;
in mountainous regions as on the plains, the Philanthus follows an
unvarying diet: she must have the Hive-bee, always the Bee and never any
other, however closely various other kinds of game resemble the Bee in
quality. If, therefore, when exploring sunny banks, you find beneath the
soil a small parcel of mutilated Bees, that will be enough to point to
the existence of a local colony of Philanthus apivorus. She alone
knows the recipe for making potted Bee-meat. The Crioceris was but now
teaching us all about the lily family; and here the mildewed body of the
Bee tells us of the Philanthus and her lair.

Similarly the female Ephippiger helps us to identify the Languedocian
Sphex: her relics, the cymbals and the long sabre, are the unmistakable
sign of the cocoon to which they adhere. The black Cricket, with his
red-braided thighs, is the infallible label of the Yellow-winged
Sphex; the larva of Oryctes nasicornis tells us of the Garden Scolia
as certainly as the best description; the Cetonia-grub proclaims the
Two-banded Scolia and the larva of the Anoxia announces the Interrupted

After these exclusive ones, who disdain to vary their meals, let us
mention the eclectics, who, in a group which is generally well-defined,
are able to select among different kinds of game appropriate to their
bulk. The Great Cerceris (Cerceris tuberculata. Cf. "The Hunting
Wasps": chapters 2 and 3.--Translator's Note.) favours above all Cleonus
ophthalmicus, one of the largest of our Weevils; but at need she accepts
the other Cleoni, as well as the kindred genera, provided that the
capture be of an imposing size. Cerceris arenaria (Cf. idem: chapter
1.--Translator's Note.) extends her hunting-grounds farther afield:
any Weevil of average dimensions is to her a welcome capture. The
Buprestis-hunting Cerceris adopts all the Buprestes indiscriminately,
so long as they are not beyond her strength. The Crowned Philanthus (P.
coronatus, FAB.) fills her underground warehouses with Halicti chosen
among the biggest. (Cf. "Bramble-bees and Others" by J. Henri
Fabre, translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos: chapters 12 to
14.--Translator's Note.) Much smaller than her kinswoman, Philanthus
raptor, LEP., stores away Halicti chosen among the less large species.
Any adult Acridian approaching an inch in length suits the White-banded
Sphex. The various tidae of the neighbourhood are admitted to the larder
of Stizus ruficornis and of the Mantis-hunting Tachytes on the sole
condition of being young and tender. The largest of our Bembeces (B.
rostrata, FAB., and B. bidentata, VAN DER LIND (For the Rostrate
Bembex and the Two-pronged Bembex, cf. "The Hunting Wasps": chapter
14.--Translator's Note.)) are eager consumers of Gad-flies. With these
chief dishes they associate relishes levied indifferently from the rest
of the Fly clan. The Sandy Ammophila (A. sabulosa, VAN DER LIND (Cf.
idem: chapter 13.--Translator's Note.)) and the Hairy Ammophila
(A. hirsuta, KIRB.) cram into each burrow a single but corpulent
caterpillar, always of the Moth tribe and varying greatly in coloration,
which denotes distinct species. The Silky Ammophila (A. holosericea,
VAN DER LIND. (Cf. idem: chapter 14.--Translator's Note.)) has a better
assorted diet. She requires for each banqueter three or four items,
which include the Measuring-worms, or Loopers, and the caterpillars of
ordinary Moths, all of which are equally appreciated. The Brown-winged
Solenius (S. fascipennis, LEP.), who elects to dwell in the soft dead
wood of old willow-trees, has a marked preference for Virgil's Bee,
Eristalis tenax (Actually the Common Drone-fly and somewhat resembling
a Bee in appearance. Cf. "The Hunting Wasps": chapter 14.--Translator's
Note.), willingly adding, sometimes as a side-dish, sometimes as the
principal game, Helophilus pendulus, whose costume is very different. On
the faith of indistinguishable remains, we must no doubt enter a number
of other Flies in her game-book. The Golden-mouthed Hornet (Crabro
chrysostomus, LEP.) another burrower in old willow-trees, prefers the
Syrphi, without distinction of species. (The Syrphi, like the Eristales,
resemble Bees through having the abdomen transversely banded with
yellow.--Translator's Note.) The Wandering Solenius (S. vagus, LEP. (For
this Fly-hunting insect cf. "Bramble-bees and Others": chapters 1 and
3.--Translator's Note.)), an inmate of the dry bramble-stems and of the
dwarf-elder, lays under contribution for her larder the genera Syritta,
Sphaerophoria, Sarcophaga, Syrphus, Melanophora, Paragus and apparently
many others. The species which recurs most frequently in my notes is
Syritta pipiens.

Without pursuing this tedious list any farther, we plainly perceive the
general result. Each huntress has her characteristic tastes, so much
so that, when we know the bill of fare, we can tell the genus and very
often the species of the guest, thus proving the proud truth of the
maxim, "Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are."

There are some which always need the same prey. The offspring of the
Languedocian Sphex religiously consume the Ephippiger, that family dish
so dear to their ancestors and no less dear to their descendants; no
innovation in the ancient usages can tempt them. Others are better
suited by variety, for reasons connected with flavour or with facility
of supply; but then the selection of the game is kept within fixed
limits. A natural group, a genus, a family, more rarely almost a whole
order: this is the hunting-ground beyond which poaching is strictly
forbidden. The law is absolute; and one and all scrupulously refrain
from transgressing it.

In the place of the Praying Mantis, offer the Mantis-hunting Tachytes an
equivalent in the shape of a Locust. She will scorn the morsel, though
it would seem to be of excellent flavour, seeing that Panzer's Tachytes
prefers it to any other form of game. Offer her a young Empusa, who
differs so widely from the Mantis in shape and colour: she will accept
without hesitation and operate before your eyes. Despite its fantastic
appearance, the Devilkin is instantly recognized by the Tachytes as a
Mantid and therefore as game falling within her scope.

In exchange for her Cleonus, give to the Great Cerceris a Buprestis, the
delight of one of her near kinsfolk. She will have nothing to say to the
sumptuous dish. Accept that! She, a Weevil-eater! Never in this world!
Present her with a Cleonus of a different species, or any other large
Weevil, of a sort which she has most probably never seen before, since
it does not figure on the inventory of the provisions in her burrows.
This time there is no show of disdain: the victim is seized and stabbed
in the regulation manner and forthwith stored away.

Try to persuade the Hairy Ammophila that Spiders have a nutty flavour,
as Lalande asserts; and you will see how coldly your hints are received.
(Joseph Jerome Le Francois de Lalande (1732-1807), the astronomer.
Even after he had achieved his reputation, he sought means, outside the
domain of science, to make himself talked about and found these in
the display partly of odd tastes, such as that for eating Spiders and
caterpillars, and partly of atheistical opinions.--Translator's Note.)
Try merely to convince her that the caterpillar of a Butterfly is as
good to eat as the caterpillar of a Moth. You will not succeed. But, if
you substitute for her underground larva, which I suppose to be grey,
another underground larva striped with black, yellow, rusty-red or
any other tint, this change of coloration will not prevent her from
recognizing, in the substituted dish, a victim to her liking, an
equivalent of her Grey Worm.

So with the rest, so far as I have been able to experiment with them.
Each obstinately refuses what is alien to her hunting-preserves,
each accepts whatever belongs to them, always provided that the game
substituted is much the same in size and development as that whereof
the owner has been deprived. Thus the Tarsal Tachytes, an appreciative
epicure of tender flesh, would not consent to replace her pinch of young
Acridian-grubs with the one big Locust that forms the food of Panzer's
Tachytes; and the latter, in her turn, would never exchange her adult
Acridian for the other's menu of small fry. The genus and the species
are the same, but the age differs; and this is enough to decide the
question of acceptance or refusal.

When its depredations cover a somewhat extensive group, how does
the insect manage to recognize the genera, the species composing her
allotted portion and to distinguish them from the rest with an assured
vision which the inventory of her burrows proves never to be at
fault? Is it the general appearance that guides her? No, for in some
Bembex-burrows we shall find Sphaerophoriae, those slender, thong-like
creatures, and Bombylii, looking like velvet pincushions; no again,
for in the pits of the Silky Ammophila we shall see, side by side, the
caterpillar of the ordinary shape and the Measuring-worm, a living pair
of compasses which progresses by alternately opening out and closing;
no, once more, for in the storerooms of Stizus ruficornis and the
Mantis-hunting Tachytes we see stacked beside the Mantis the Empusa, her
unrecognizable caricature.

Is it the colouring? Not at all. There is no lack of instances. What
a variety of hues and metallic reflections, distributed in a host of
different fashions, appear in the Buprestes that are hunted by the
Cerceris celebrated by Leon Dufour. (Jean Marie Leon Dufour (1780-1865)
was an army surgeon who served with distinction in several campaigns
and subsequently practised as a doctor in the Landes. He attained great
eminence as a naturalist. Cf. "The Hunting Wasps": chapter 1; also
"The Life of the Spider": chapter 1.--Translator's Note.) A painter's
palette, containing crushed gold, bronze, ruby and amethyst, would find
it difficult to rival these sumptuous colours. Nevertheless the Cerceris
makes no mistake: all this nation of insects, so indifferently attired,
represents to her, as to the entomologist, the nation of the Buprestes.
The inventory of the Hornet's larder will include Diptera clad in grey
or russet frieze; others are girdled with yellow, flecked with white,
adorned with crimson lines; others are steel-blue, ebony black, or
coppery green; and underneath this variety of dissimilar costumes we
find the invariable Fly.

Let us take a concrete example. Ferrero's Cerceris (C. Ferreri, VAN DER
LIND) consumes Weevils. Her burrows are usually lined with Phynotomi
and Sitones both an indeterminate grey, and Otiorhynchi, black or
tan-coloured. Now I have sometimes happened to unearth from her cells
a collection of veritable jewels which, thanks to their bright metallic
lustre, made a most striking contrast with the sombre Otiorhynchus.
These were the Rhynchites (R. betuleti), who roll the vine-leaves into
cigars. Equally magnificent, some of them were azure blue, others copper
gilt, for the cigar-roller has a twofold colouring. How did the Cerceris
manage to recognize in these jewels the Weevil, the near relative of
the vulgar Phynotomus? Any such encounters probably found her lacking
in expert knowledge; her race cannot have handed down to her other
than very indeterminate propensities, for she does not appear to make
frequent use of the Rhynchites, as is proved by my infrequent discovery
of them amid the mass of my numerous excavations. For the first time,
perhaps, passing through a vineyard, she saw the rich Beetle gleaming on
a leaf; it was not for her a dish in current consumption, consecrated by
the ancient usages of the family. It was something novel, exceptional,
extraordinary. Well, this extraordinary creature is recognized with
certainty as a Weevil and stored away as such. The glittering cuirass
of the Rhynchites goes to take its place beside the grey cloak of the
Phynotomus. No, it is not the colour that guides the choice.

Neither is it the shape. Cerceris arenaria hunts any medium-sized
Weevil. I should be putting the reader's patience to too great a test if
I attempted to give in this place a complete inventory of the specimens
identified in her larder. I will mention only two, which my latest
searches around my village have revealed. The Wasp goes hunting on
the holm-oaks of the neighbouring hills the Pubescent Brachyderes (B.
pubescens) and the Acorn-weevil (Balaninus glandium). What have
these two Beetles in common as regards shape? I mean by shape not
the structural details which the classifier examines through his
magnifying-glass, not the delicate features which a Latreille would
quote when drawing up a technical description, but the general picture,
the general outline that impresses itself upon the vision even of an
untrained eye and makes the man who knows nothing of science and above
all the child, a most perspicacious observer, connect certain animals

In this respect, what have the Brachyderes and the Balaninus in common
in the eyes of the townsman, the peasant, the child or the Cerceris?
Absolutely nothing. The first has an almost cylindrical figure; the
second, squat, short and thickset, is conical in front and elliptical,
or rather shaped like the ace of hearts, behind. The first is black,
strewn with cloudy, mouse-grey spots; the second is yellow ochre. The
head of the first ends in a sort of snout; the head of the second tapers
into a curved beak, slender as a horse-hair and as long as the rest of
the body. The Brachyderes has a massive proboscis, cut off short; the
Balaninus seems to be smoking an insanely long cigarette-holder.

Who would think of connecting two creatures so unlike, of calling them
by the same name? Outside the professional classifiers, no one would
dare to. The Cerceris, more perspicacious, knows each of them for a
Weevil, a quarry with a concentrated nervous system, lending itself to
the surgical feat of her single stroke of the lancet. After obtaining an
abundant booty at the cost of the blunt-mouthed insect, with which
she sometimes stuffs her cellars to the exclusion of any other fare,
according to the hazards of the chase, she now suddenly sees before her
the creature with the extravagant proboscis. Accustomed to the first,
will she fail to know the second? By no means: at the first glance she
recognizes it as her own; and the cell already furnished with a few
Brachyderes receives its complement of Balanini. If these two species
are to seek, if the burrows are far from the holm-oaks, the Cerceris
will attack Weevils displaying the greatest variety of genus, species,
form and coloration, levying tribute indifferently on Sitones,
Cneorhini, Geonemi, Otiorhynchi, Strophosomi and many others.

In vain do I rack my brains merely to guess at the signs upon which
the huntress relies as a guide, without going outside one and the
same group, in the midst of such a variety of game; above all by what
characteristics she recognizes as a Weevil the strange Acorn Balaninus,
the only one among her victims that wears a long pipe-stem. I leave to
evolutionism, atavism and other transcendental "isms" the honour and
also the risk of explaining what I humbly recognize as being too far
beyond my grasp. Because the son of the bird-catcher who imitates
the call of his victims has been fed on roast Robins, Linnets and
Chaffinches, shall we hastily conclude that this education through the
stomach will enable him later, without other initiation than that of
the spit, to know his way about the ornithological groups and to avoid
confusing them when his turn comes to set his limed twigs? Will the
digesting of a ragout of little birds, however often repeated by him
or his ascendants, suffice to make him a finished bird-catcher?
The Cerceris has eaten Weevil; her ancestors have all eaten Weevil,
religiously. If you see in this the reason that makes the Wasp a
Weevil-expert endowed with a perspicacity unrivalled save by that of a
professional entomologist, why should you refuse to admit that the same
consequences would follow in the bird-catcher's family?

I hasten to abandon these insoluble problems in order to attack the
question of provisions from another point of view. Every Hunting Wasp is
confined to a certain genus of game, which is usually strictly limited.
She pursues her appointed quarry and regards anything outside it with
suspicion and distaste. The tricks of the experimenter, who drags her
prey from under her and flings her another in exchange, the emotions of
the possessor deprived of her property and immediately recovering it,
but under another form, are powerless to put her on the wrong scent.
Obstinately she refuses whatever is alien to her portion; instantly
she accepts whatever forms part of it. Whence arises this insuperable
repugnance for provisions to which the family is unaccustomed? Here we
may appeal to experiment. Let us do so: its dictum is the only one that
can be trusted.

The first idea that presents itself and the only one, I think, that can
present itself is that the larva, the carnivorous nurseling, has its
preferences, or we had better say its exclusive tastes. This kind of
game suits it; that does not; and the mother provides it with food in
conformity with its appetites, which are unchangeable in each species.
Here the family dish is the Gad-fly; elsewhere it is the Weevil;
elsewhere again it is the Cricket, the Locust and the Praying Mantis.
Good in themselves, in a general way, these several victuals may be
noxious to a consumer who is not used to them. The larva which dotes on
Locust may find caterpillar a detestable fare; and that which revels
in caterpillar may hold Locust in horror. It would be hard for us to
discover in what manner Cricket-flesh and Ephippiger-flesh differ
as juicy, nourishing foodstuffs; but it does not follow that the two
Sphex-wasps addicted to this diet have not very decided opinions on the
matter, or that each of them is not filled with the highest esteem for
its traditional dish and a profound dislike for the other. There is no
discussing tastes.

Moreover, the question of health may well be involved. There is nothing
to tell us that the Spider, that treat for the Pompilus, is not poison,
or at least unwholesome food, to the Bembex, the lover of Gad-flies;
that the Ammophila's succulent caterpillar is not repugnant to the
stomach of the Sphex fed upon the dry Acridian. The mother's esteem for
one kind of game and her distrust of another would in that case be due
to the likes and dislikes of her larvae; the victualler would regulate
the bill of fare by the gastronomic demands of the victualled.

This exclusiveness of the carnivorous larva seems all the more probable
inasmuch as the larva reared on vegetable food refuses in any way
to lend itself to a change of diet. However pressed by hunger, the
caterpillar of the Spurge Hawk-moth, which browses on the tithymals,
will allow itself to starve in front of a cabbage leaf which makes a
peerless meal for the Pieris. Its stomach, burned by pungent spices,
will find the Crucifera insipid and uneatable, though its piquancy is
enhanced by essence of sulphur. The Pieris, on its part, takes good
care not to touch the tithymals: they would endanger its life. The
caterpillar of the Death's-head Hawk-moth requires the solanaceous
narcotics, principally the potato, and will have nothing else. All that
is not seasoned with solanin it abhors. And it is not only larvae whose
food is strongly spiced with alkaloids and other poisonous substances
that refuse any innovation in their food; the others, even those whose
diet is least juicy, are invincibly uncompromising. Each has its plant
or its group of plants, beyond which nothing is acceptable.

I remember a late frost which had nipped the buds of the mulberry-trees
during the night, just when the first leaves were out. Next day there
was great excitement among my neighbours: the Silk-worms had hatched
and the food had suddenly failed. The farmers had to wait for the sun
to repair the disaster; but how were they to keep the famishing new-born
grubs alive for a few days? They knew me for an expert in plants; by
collecting them as I walked through the fields I had earned the name
of a medical herbalist. With poppy-flowers I prepared an elixir which
cleared the sight; with borage I obtained a syrup which was a sovran
remedy for whooping-cough; I distilled camomile; I extracted the
essential oil from the wintergreen. In short, botany had won for me the
reputation of a quack doctor. After all, that was something.

The housewives came in search of me from every point of the compass and
with tears in their eyes explained the situation. What could they give
their Silk-worms while waiting for the mulberry to sprout afresh? It was
a serious matter, well worthy of commiseration. One was counting on her
batch to buy a length of cloth for her daughter, who was on the point of
getting married; another told me of her plans for a Pig to be fattened
against the coming winter; all deplored the handful of crown-pieces
which, hoarded in the hiding-place in the cupboard, would have afforded
help in difficult times. And, full of their troubles, they unfolded,
before my eyes, a scrap of flannel on which the vermin were swarming:

"Regardas, moussu! Venoun d'espeli; et ren per lour douna! Ah, pecaire!"
"Look, sir! The frost has come and we've nothing to give them! Oh, what
a misfortune!"

Poor people! What a harsh trade is yours: respectable above all others,
but of all the most uncertain! You work yourselves to death; and, when
you have almost reached your goal, a few hours of a cold night, which
comes upon you suddenly, destroys your harvest. To help these afflicted
ones seemed to me a very difficult thing. I tried, however, taking
botany as my guide; it suggested to me, as substitutes for the mulberry,
the members of closely-related families: the elm, the nettle-tree, the
nettle, the pellitory. Their nascent leaves, chopped small, were offered
to the Silk-worms. Other and far less logical attempts were made, in
accordance with the inspiration of the individuals. Nothing came of
them. To the last specimen, the new-born Silk-worms died of hunger. My
renown as a quack must have suffered somewhat from this check. Was it
really my fault? No, it was the fault of the Silk-worm, which remained
faithful to its mulberry leaf.

It was therefore in nearly the certainty of non-fulfilment that I made
my first attempts at rearing carnivorous larvae with a quarry which did
not conform with the customary regimen. For conscience' sake, more or
less perfunctorily, I endeavoured to achieve something that seemed to
me bound to end in pitiful failure. Only the Bembex-wasps, which are
plentiful in the sand of the neighbouring hills, might still afford me,
without too prolonged a search, a few subjects on which to experiment.
The Tarsal Bembex furnished me with what I wanted: larvae young enough
to have still before them a long period of feeding and yet sufficiently
developed to endure the trials of a removal.

These larva are exhumed with all the consideration which their delicate
skin demands; a number of head of game are likewise unearthed intact,
having been recently brought by the mother. They consist of various
Diptera, including some Anthrax-flies. (Cf. "The Life of the Fly":
chapters 2 and 4.--Translator's Note.) An old sardine-box, containing a
layer of sifted sand and divided into compartments by paper partitions,
receives my charges, who are isolated one from another. These Fly-eaters
I propose to turn into Grasshopper-eaters; for their Bembex-diet I
intend to substitute the diet of a Sphex or a Tachytes. To save myself
tedious errands devoted to provisioning the refectory, I accept what
good fortune offers me at the very threshold of my door. A green
Locustid, with a short sabre bent into a reaping-hook, Phaneroptera
falcata, is ravaging the corollae of my petunias. Now is the time to
indemnify myself for the damage which she has caused me. I pick her
young, half to three-quarters of an inch in length; and I deprive her of
movement, without more ado, by crushing her head. In this condition she
is served up to the Bembex-larvae in place of their Flies.

If the reader has shared my convictions of failure, convictions based
on very logical motives, he will now share my profound surprise. The
impossible becomes possible, the senseless becomes reasonable and
the expected becomes the opposite of the real. The dish served on the
Bembeces' table for the first time since Bembeces came into the world
is accepted without any repugnance and consumed with every mark of
satisfaction. I will here set down the detailed diary of one of my
guests; that of the others would only be a repetition, save for a few

2 AUGUST, 1883.--The larva of the Bembex, as I extract it from its
burrow, is about half-developed. Around it I find only some
scanty relics of its meals, consisting chiefly of Anthrax-wings,
half-diaphanous and half-clouded. The mother would appear to have
completed the victualling by fresh contributions, added day by day. I
give the nurseling, which is an Anthrax-eater, a young Phaneroptera.
The Locustid is attacked without hesitation. This profound change in
the character of its victuals does not seem in the least to disturb the
larva, which bites straight into the rich morsel with its mandibles and
does not let go until it has exhausted it. Towards evening the drained
carcase is replaced by another, quite fresh, of the same species but
bulkier, measuring over three-quarters of an inch.

3 AUGUST.--Next day I find the Phaneroptera devoured. Nothing remains
but the dry integuments, which are not dismembered. The entire contents
have disappeared; the game has been emptied through a large opening made
in the belly. A regular Grasshopper-eater could not have operated more
skilfully. I replace the worthless carcase by two small Locustidae. At
first the larva does not touch them, being amply sated with the copious
meal of the day before. In the afternoon, however, one of the items is
resolutely attacked.

4 AUGUST.--I renew the victuals, although those of the day before are
not finished. For the rest, I do the same daily, so that my charge may
constantly have fresh food at hand. High game might upset its stomach.
My Locustidae are not victims at the same time living and inert,
operated upon according to the delicate method of the insects that
paralyse their prey; they are corpses, procured by a brutal crushing
of the head. With the temperature now prevailing, flesh soon becomes
tainted; and this compels me frequently to renew the provisions in my
sardine-box refectory. Two specimens are served up. One is attacked soon
afterwards; and the larva clings to it assiduously.

5 AUGUST.--The ravenous appetite of the start is becoming assuaged.
My supplies may well be too generous; and it might be prudent to try a
little dieting after this Gargantuan good cheer. The mother certainly is
more parsimonious. If all the family were to eat at the same rate as
my guest, she would never be able to keep pace with their demands.
Therefore, for reasons of health, this is a day of fasting and vigil.

6 AUGUST.--Supplies are renewed with two Phaneropterae. One is consumed
entirely; the other is bitten into.

7 August.--To-day's ration is tasted and then abandoned. The larva seems
uneasy. With its pointed mouth it explores the walls of its chamber.
This sign denotes the approach of the time for making the cocoon.

8 AUGUST.--During the night the larva has spun its silken eel-trap. It
is now encrusting it with grains of sand. Then follow, in due time, the
normal phases of the metamorphosis. Fed on Locustidae, a diet unknown to
its race, the larva passes through its several stages without any more
difficulty than its brothers and sisters fed on Flies.

I obtained the same success in offering young Mantes for food. One
of the larvae thus served would even incline me to believe that
it preferred the new dish to the traditional diet of its race. Two
Eristales, or Drone-flies, and a Praying Mantis an inch long composed
its daily allowance. The Drone-flies are disdained from the first
mouthful; and the Mantis, already tasted and apparently found excellent,
causes the Fly to be completely forgotten. Is this an epicure's
preference, due to the greater juiciness of the flesh? I am not in a
position to say. At all events, the Bembex is not so infatuated with Fly
as to refuse to abandon it for other game.

The failure which I foresaw has proved a magnificent success. It is
fairly convincing, is it not? Without the evidence of experiment, what
can we rely upon? Beneath the ruins of so many theories which appeared
to be most solidly erected I should hesitate to admit that two and two
make four if the facts were not before me. My argument had the most
tempting probability on its side, but it had not the truth. As it is
always possible to find reasons after the event in support of an opinion
which one would not at first admit, I should now argue as follows:

The plant is the great factory in which are elaborated, with mineral
materials, the organic principles which are the materials of life.
Certain products are common to the whole vegetable series, but others,
far less numerous, are prepared in special laboratories. Each genus,
each species has its trade-mark. Here essential oils are manufactured;
here alkaloids; here starches, fatty substances, resins, sugars, acids.
Hence result special energies, which do not suit every herbivorous
animal. It assuredly requires a stomach made expressly for the purpose
to digest aconite, colchicum, hemlock or henbane; those who have not
such a stomach could never endure a diet of that sort. Besides, the
Mithridates fed on poison resist only a single toxin. (Mithridates VI.
King of Pontus (d. B.C. 63) is said to have secured immunity from poison
by taking increased doses of it.--Translator's Note.) The caterpillar of
the Death's-head Hawk-moth, which delights in the solanin of the potato,
would be killed by the acrid principle of the tithymals that form the
food of the Spurge-caterpillar. The herbivorous larvae are therefore
perforce exclusive in their tastes, because different genera of
vegetables possess very different properties.

With this variety in the products of the plant, the animal, a consumer
far more than a producer, contrasts the uniformity in its own products.
The albumen in the egg of the Ostrich or the Chaffinch, the casein in
the milk of the Cow or the Ass, the muscular flesh of the Wolf or the
Sheep, the Screech-owl or the Field-mouse, the Frog or the Earth-worm:
these remain albumen, casein or fibrin, edible if not eaten. Here are
no excruciating condiments, no special acridities, no alkaloids fatal
to any stomach other than that of the appointed consumer; so that animal
food is not confined to one and the same eater. What does not man eat,
from that delicacy of the arctic regions, soup made of Seal's blood and
a scrap of Whale-blubber wrapped in a willow-leaf for a vegetable, to
the Chinaman's fried Silk-worm or the Arab's dried Locust? What would
he not eat, if he had not to overcome the repugnance dictated by habit
rather than by actual necessity? The prey being uniform in its nutritive
principles, the carnivorous larva ought to accommodate itself to any
sort of game, above all if the new dish be not too great a departure
from consecrated usage. Thus should I argue, with no less probability on
my side, had I to begin all over again. But, as all our arguments have
not the value of a single fact, I should be forced in the end to resort
to experiment.

I did so the next year, on a larger scale and with a greater variety of
subjects. I shrink from a continuous narrative of my experiments and
of my personal education in this new art, where the failure of one
day taught me the way to succeed on the morrow. It would be long and
tedious. Enough if I briefly state my results and the conditions which
must be fulfilled in order to run the delicate refectory as it should be

And, first, we must not dream of detaching the egg from its natural prey
to lay it on another. The egg adheres pretty firmly, by its cephalic
pole, to the quarry. To remove it from its place would inevitably
jeopardize its future. I therefore let the larva hatch and acquire
sufficient strength to bear the removal without peril. For that matter,
my excavations most often provide me with my subjects in the form of
larvae. I adopt for rearing-purposes the larvae that are a quarter to a
half developed. The others are too young and risky to handle, or too old
and limited to a short period of artificial feeding.

Secondly, I avoid bulky heads of game, a single one of which would
suffice for the whole growing-stage. I have already said and I here
repeat how nice a matter it is to consume a victim which has to keep
fresh for a couple of weeks and not to finish dying until it is almost
entirely devoured. Death here leaves no corpse; when life is extinct,
the body has disappeared, leaving only a shred of skin. Larvae with only
one large prey have a special art of eating, a dangerous art, in which a
clumsy bite would prove fatal. If bitten before the proper time at
such a point, the victim becomes putrid, which promptly causes death
by poisoning in the consumer. When diverted from its plan of attack,
deprived of its clue, the larva is not always able to rediscover the
lawful morsels in good time and is killed by the decomposition of its
badly dissected prey. What will happen if the experimenter gives it a
game to which it is not accustomed? Not knowing how to eat it according
to rule, the larva will kill it; and by next day the victuals will have
become so much toxic putrescence. I have already told how I found it
impossible to rear the Two-banded Scolia on Oryctes-larvae, fastened
down to deprive them of movement, or even on Ephippigers, paralysed by
the Languedocian Sphex. In both cases the new diet was accepted without
hesitation, a proof that it suited the nurseling; but in a day or two
putrescence supervened and the Scolia perished on the fetid morsel. The
method of preserving the Ephippiger, so well known to the Sphex, was
unknown to my boarder; in this was enough to convert a delicious food
into poison.

Even so did my other attempts miscarry wretchedly, attempts at feeding
with the single dish consisting of one big head of game to replace the
normal ration. Only one success is recorded in my notebooks, but that
was so difficult that I would not undertake to obtain it a second time.
I succeeded in feeding the larva of the Hairy Ammophila with an adult
black Cricket, who was accepted as readily as the natural game, the

To avoid putrefaction of victuals which last overlong and are not
consumed according to the method indispensable to their preservation, I
employ small game, each piece of which can be finished by the larva at a
single sitting, or at most in a single day. It matters little then that
the victim is slashed and dismembered at random; decomposition has no
time to seize upon its still quivering tissues. This is the procedure
of those larvae which gulp down their food, snapping at random without
distinguishing one part from another, such as the Bembex-larvae, which
finish the Fly into which they have bitten before beginning another in
the heap, or the Cerceris-larvae, which drain their Weevils methodically
one after another. With the first strokes of the mandibles the victim
broached may be mortally wounded. This is no disadvantage: a brief spell
suffices to make use of the corpse, which is saved from putrefaction by
being promptly consumed. Close beside it, the other victims, quite alive
though motionless, await their respective turns and supply reserves of
victuals which are always fresh.

I am too unskilful a butcher to imitate the Wasp and myself to resort to
paralysis; moreover, the caustic liquid injected into the nerve-centres,
ammonia in particular, would leave traces of smell or flavour which
might put off my boarders. I am therefore compelled to deprive my
insects of the power of movement by killing them outright. This makes
it impracticable to provide a sufficiency of provisions beforehand in a
single supply: while one item of the ration was being consumed the
rest would spoil. One expedient alone remains to me, one which entails
constant attendance: it is to renew the provisions each day. When all
these conditions are fulfilled, the success of artificial feeding is
still not without its difficulties; nevertheless, with a little care and
above all plenty of patience, it is almost certain.

It was thus that I reared the Tarsal Bembex, which eats Anthrax-flies
and other Diptera, on young Locustidae or Mantidae; the Silky Ammophila,
whose diet consists chiefly of Measuring-worms, on small Spiders; the
pot-making Pelopaeus, a Spider-eater, on tender Acridians; the Sand
Cerceris, a passionate lover of Weevils, on Halicti; the Bee-eating
Philanthus, which feeds exclusively on Hive-bees, on Eristales and other
Flies. Without succeeding in my final aim, for reasons which I have just
explained, I have seen the Two-banded Scolia feasting greedily on the
grub of the Oryctes, which was substituted for that of the Cetonia, and
putting up with an Ephippiger taken from the burrow of the Sphex; I have
been present at the repast of three Hairy Ammophilae accepting with an
excellent appetite the Cricket that replaced their caterpillar. One
of them, as I have related, contrived to keep its ration fresh, which
enabled it to reach its full development and to spin its cocoon.

These examples, the only ones to which my experiments have extended
hitherto, seem to me sufficiently convincing to allow me to conclude
that the carnivorous larva does not have exclusive tastes. The ration
supplied to it by the mother, so monotonous, so limited in quality,
might be replaced by others equally to its taste. Variety does not
displease the larva; it does it as much good as uniformity; indeed, it
would be of greater benefit to the race, as we shall see presently.


To rear a caterpillar-eater on a skewerful of Spiders is a very innocent
thing, unlikely to compromise the security of the State; it is also a
very childish thing, as I hasten to confess, and worthy of the schoolboy
who, in the mysteries of his desk, seeks as best he may some diversion
from the fascinations of his exercise in composition. And I should not
have undertaken these investigations, still less should I have spoken
them, not without some satisfaction, if I had not discerned, in
the results obtained in my refectory, a certain philosophic import,
involving, so it seemed to me, the evolutionary theory.

It is assuredly a majestic enterprise, commensurate with man's immense
ambitions, to seek to pour the universe into the mould of a formula
and submit every reality to the standard of reason. The geometrician
proceeds in this manner: he defines the cone, an ideal conception; then
he intersects it by a plane. The conic section is submitted to algebra,
an obstetrical appliance which brings forth the equation; and behold,
entreated now in one direction, now in another, the womb of the formula
gives birth to the ellipse, the hyperbola, the parabola, their foci,
their radius vectors, their tangents, their normals, their conjugate
axes, their asymptotes and the rest. It is magnificent, so much so that
you are overcome by enthusiasm, even when you are twenty years old, an
age hardly adapted to the austerities of mathematics. It is superb. You
feel as if you were witnessing the creation of a world.

As a matter of fact, you are merely observing the same idea from
different points of view, which are illumined by the successive phases
of the transformed formula. All that algebra unfolds for our benefit was
contained in the definition of the cone, but it was contained as a
germ, under latent forms which the magic of the calculus converts into
explicit forms. The gross value which our mind confided to the equation
it returns to us, without loss or gain, in coins stamped with every sort
of effigy. And here precisely is that which constitutes the inflexible
rigour of the calculus, the luminous certainty before which every
cultivated mind is forced to bow. Algebra is the oracle of the absolute
truth, because it reveals nothing but what the mind had hidden in
it under an amalgam of symbols. We put 2 and 2 into the machine; the
rollers work and show us 4. That is all.

But to this calculus, all-powerful so long as it does not leave the
domain of the ideal, let us submit a very modest reality: the fall of a
grain of sand, the pendular movement of a hanging body. The machine no
longer works, or does so only by suppressing almost everything that is
real. It must have an ideal material point, an ideal rigid thread, an
ideal point of suspension; and then the pendular movement is translated
by a formula. But the problem defies all the artifices of analysis if
the oscillating body is a real body, endowed with volume and friction;
if the suspensory thread is a real thread, endowed with weight and
flexibility; if the point of support is a real point, endowed with
resistance and capable of deflection. So with other problems, however
simple. The exact reality escapes the formula.

Yes, it would be a fine thing to put the world into an equation,
to assume as the first principle a cell filled with albumen and by
transformation after transformation to discover life under its thousand
aspects as the geometrician discovers the ellipse and the other curves
by examining his conic section. Yes, it would be magnificent and enough
to add a cubit to our stature. Alas, how greatly must we abate our
pretensions! The reality is beyond our reach when it is only a matter of
following a grain of dust in its fall; and we would undertake to ascend
the river of life and trace it to its source! The problem is a more
arduous one than that which algebra declines to solve. There are
formidable unknown quantities here, more difficult to decipher than the
resistances, the deflections and the frictions of the pendulum. Let us
eliminate them, that we may more easily propound the theory.

Very well; but then my confidence in this natural history which
repudiates nature and gives ideal conceptions precedence over real
facts is shaken. So, without seeking the opportunity, which is not my
business, I take it when it presents itself; I examine the theory of
evolution from every side; and, as that which I have been assured is the
majestic dome of a monument capable of defying the ages appears to me to
be no more than a bladder, I irreverently dig my pin into it.

Here is the latest dig. Adaptability to a varied diet is an element of
well-being in the animal, a factor of prime importance for the extension
and predominance of its race in the bitter struggle for life. The most
unfortunate species would be that which depended for its existence on a
diet so exclusive that no other could replace it. What would become of
the Swallow if he required, in order to live, one particular Gnat, a
single Gnat, always the same? When once this Gnat had disappeared--and
the life of the Mosquito is not a long one--the bird would die of
starvation. Fortunately for himself and for the happiness of our homes,
the Swallow gulps them all down indiscriminately, together with a host
of other insects that perform aerial ballets. What would become of the
Lark were his gizzard able to digest only one seed, invariably the same?
When the season for this seed was over--and the season is always a short
one--the haunter of the furrows would perish.

Is not man's complaisant stomach, adapted to the largest variety of
nourishment, one of his great zoological privileges? He is thus rendered
independent of climates, seasons and latitudes. And the Dog: how is
it that of all the domestic animals he alone is able to accompany us
everywhere, even on the most arduous expeditions? The Dog again is
omnivorous and therefore a cosmopolitan.

The discovery of a new dish, said Brillat-Savarin, is of greater
importance to humanity than the discovery of a new planet. The aphorism
is nearer to the truth than it appears to be in its humorous form.
Certainly the man who was the first to think of crushing wheat, kneading
flour and cooking the paste between two hot stones was more deserving
than the discoverer of the two-hundredth asteroid. The invention of
the potato is certainly as valuable as that of Neptune, glorious as the
latter was. All that increases our alimentary resources is a discovery
of the first merit. And what is true of man cannot be other than true
of animals. The world belongs to the stomach which is independent of
specialities. This truth is of the kind that has only to be stated to be

Let us now return to our insects. If I am to believe the evolutionists,
the various game-hunting Wasps are descended from a small number of
types, which are themselves derived, by an incalculable number of
concatenations, from a few amoebae, a few monera and lastly from the
first clot of protoplasm which was casually condensed. Let us not go
back as far as that; let us not plunge into the fogs where illusion and
error too easily find a lurking-place. Let us consider a subject with
exact limits to it; this is the only way to understand one another.

The Sphegidae are descended from a single type, which itself was already
a highly-developed descendant and, like its successors, fed its family
on prey. The close similarity in form, in colouring and, above all, in
habits seem to refer the Tachytes to the same origin. This is ample; let
us be satisfied with it. And now please tell me, what did this prototype
of the Sphegidae hunt? Was its diet varied or uniform? If we cannot
decide, let us examine the two cases.

The diet was varied. I heartily congratulate the first born of the
Sphex-wasps. She enjoyed the most favourable conditions for leaving
a prosperous offspring. Accommodating herself to any kind of prey not
disproportionate to her strength, she avoided the dearth of a given
species of game at this or that time and in this or that place; she
always found the wherewithal to endow her family magnificently,
they being, for that matter, fairly indifferent to the nature of the
victuals, provided that these consisted of fresh insect-flesh, as the
tastes of their cousins many times removed prove to this day. This
matriarch of the Sphex clan bore within herself the best chances of
assuring victory to her offspring in that pitiless fight for existence
which eliminates the weakly and incapable and allows none but the strong
and industrious to survive; she possessed an aptitude of great value
which atavism could not fail to hand down and which her descendants, who
are greatly interested in preserving this magnificent inheritance, must
have permanently adopted and even accentuated from one generation to the
next, from one branch, one offshoot, to another.

Instead of this unscrupulously omnivorous race, levying booty upon every
kind of game, to its very great advantage, what do we see to-day? Each
Sphex is stupidly limited to an unvarying diet; she hunts only one kind
of prey, though her larva accepts them all. One will have nothing but
the Ephippiger and must have a female at that; another will have nothing
but the Cricket. This one hunts the Locust and nothing else; that one
the Mantis and the Empusa. Yet another is addicted to the Grey Worm and
another to the Looper.

Fools! How great was your mistake in allowing the wise eclecticism
of your ancestress, whose relics now repose in the hard mud of some
lacustrian stratum, to become obsolete! How much better would things
be for you and yours! Abundance is assured; painful and often fruitless
searches are avoided; the larder is crammed without being subject to the
accidents of time, place and climate. When Ephippigers run short,
you fall back upon Crickets; when there are no Crickets, you capture
Grasshoppers. But no, my beautiful Sphex-wasps, you were not such fools
as that. If in our days you are each confined to a standing family-dish,
it is because your ancestress of the lacustrian schists never taught you

Could she have taught you uniformity? Let us suppose that the Sphex of
antiquity, a novice in the gastronomic art, prepared her potted meats
with a single kind of game, no matter what. It was then her descendants
who, subdivided into groups and constituted into so many distinct
species by the slow travail of the centuries, realized that in addition
to the ancestral fare there existed a host of other foods. Tradition
being abandoned, there was nothing to guide their choice. They therefore
tried a bit of everything in the way of insect game, at hap-hazard;
and each time the larva, whose tastes alone had to be consulted, was
satisfied with the food supplied, as it is to-day in the refectory
provisioned by my care.

Every attempt led to the invention of a new dish, an important event,
according to the masters, an inestimable resource for the family, who
were thereby delivered from the menace of death and enabled to thrive
over large areas whence the absence or rarity of a uniform game would
have excluded it. And, after making use of a host of different viands
in order to attain the culinary variety which is to-day adopted by the
whole of the Sphex nation, lo and behold, each species confines itself
to a single sort of game, outside which every specimen is obstinately
refused, not at table, of course, but in the hunting-field! By your
experiments, from age to age, to have discovered variety in diet; to
have practised it, to the great advantage of your race, and to end up
with uniformity, the cause of decadence; to have known the excellent and
to repudiate it for the middling: oh, my Sphex-wasps, it would be stupid
if the theory of evolution were correct!

To avoid insulting you and also from respect for common sense, I prefer
therefore to believe that, if in our days you confine your hunting to
a single kind of game, it is because you have never known any other. I
prefer to believe that your common ancestress, your precursor, whether
her tastes were simple or complex, is a pure chimera, for, if they
were any relationship between you, having tested everything in order to
arrive at the actual food of each species, having eaten everything and
found it grateful to the stomach, you would now, from first to last, be
unprejudiced consumers, omnivorous progressives. I prefer to believe, in
short, that the theory of evolution is powerless to explain your diet.
This is the conclusion drawn from the dining-room installed in my old


Considered in respect of quality, the food has just disclosed our
profound ignorance of the origins of instinct. Success falls to the
blusterers, to the imperturbable dogmatists, from whom anything is
accepted if only they make a little noise. Let us discard this bad habit
and admit that really, if we go to the bottom of things, we know nothing
about anything. Scientifically speaking, nature is a riddle to
which human curiosity finds no definite solution. Hypothesis follows
hypothesis; the theoretical rubbish-heap grows bigger and bigger; and
still truth escapes us. To know how to know nothing might well be the
last word of wisdom.

Considered in respect of quantity, the food sets us other problems, no
less obscure. Those of us who devote ourselves assiduously to studying
the customs of the game-hunting Wasps soon find our attention arrested
by a very remarkable fact, at the time when our mind, refusing to be
satisfied with sweeping generalities, which our indolence too readily
makes shift with, seeks to enter as far as possible into the secret of
the details, so curious and sometimes so important, as and when they
become better-known to us. This fact, which has preoccupied me for many
a long year, is the variable quantity of the provisions packed into the
burrow as food for the larva.

Each species is scrupulously faithful to the diet of its ancestors. For
more than a quarter of a century I have been exploring my district; and
I have never known the diet to vary. To-day, as thirty years ago, each
huntress must have the game which I first saw her pursuing. But, though
the nature of the victuals is constant, the quantity is not so. In
this respect the difference is so great that he would need to be a
very superficial observer who should fail to perceive it on his first
examination of the burrows. In the beginning, this difference, involving
two, three, four times the quantity and more, perplexed me extremely and
led me to the conclusions which I reject to-day.

Here, among the instances most familiar to me, are some examples of
these variations in the number of victims provided for the larva,
victims, of course, very nearly identical in size. In the larder of the
Yellow-winged Sphex, after the victualling is completed and the house
shut up, two or three Crickets are sometimes found and sometimes
four. Stizus ruficornis (Cf. "The Hunting Wasps": chapter 20; also
"Bramble-bees and Others": chapter 9.--Translator's Note.), established
in some vein of soft sandstone, places three Praying Mantes in one cell
and five in another. Of the caskets fashioned by Amedeus' Eumenes (Cf.
"The Mason-wasps": chapter 1.--Translator's Note.) out of clay and bits
of stone, the more richly endowed contain ten small caterpillars, the
more poorly furnished five. The Sand Cerceris (Cf. "The Hunting Wasps":
chapter 2.--Translator's Note.) will sometimes provide a ration of eight
Weevils and sometimes one of twelve or even more. My notes abound in
abstracts of this kind. It is unnecessary for the purpose in hand to
quote them all. It will serve our object better if I give the detailed
inventory of the Bee-eating Philanthus and of the Mantis-hunting
Tachytes, considered especially with regard to the quantity of the

The slayer of Hive-bees is frequently in my neighbourhood; and I can
obtain from her with the least trouble the greatest number of data. In
September I see the bold filibuster flying from clump to clump of the
pink heather pillaged by the Bee. The bandit suddenly arrives, hovers,
makes her choice and swoops down. The trick is done: the poor worker,
with her tongue lolling from her mouth in the death-struggle, is carried
through the air to the underground den, which is often a very long way
from the spot of the capture. The trickling of earthy refuse, on
the bare banks, or on the slopes of footpaths, instantly reveals the
dwellings of the ravisher; and, as the Philanthus always works in fairly
populous colonies, I am able, by noting the position of the communities,
to make sure of fruitful excavations during the forced inactivity of

The sapping is a laborious task, for the galleries run to a great depth.
Favier wields the pick and spade; I break the clods which he brings
down and open the cells, whose contents--cocoons and remnants of
provisions--I at once pour into a little screw of paper. Sometimes, when
the larva is not developed, the stack of Bees is intact; more often
the victuals have been consumed; but it is always possible to tell the
number of items provided. The heads, abdomens and thoraxes, emptied of
their fleshy substance and reduced to the tough outer skin, are easily
counted. If the larva has chewed these overmuch, the wings at least are
left; these are sapless organs which the Philanthus absolutely scorns.
They are likewise spared by moisture, putrefaction and time, so much
so that it is no more difficult to take an inventory of a cell several
years old than one of a recent cell. The essential thing is not to
overlook any of these tiny relics while placing them in the paper bag,
amid the thousand incidents of the excavation. The rest of the work will
be done in the study, with the aid of the lens, taking the remains heap
by heap; the wings will be separated from the surrounding refuse
and counted in sets of four. The result will give the amount of the
provisions. I do not recommend this task to any one who is not endowed
with a good stock of patience, nor above all to any one who does not
start with the conviction that results of great interest are compatible
with very modest means.

My inspection covers a total of one hundred and thirty-six cells, which
are divided as in the table below:

  2 cells each containing 1 Bee
 52 cells each containing 2 Bees
 36 cells each containing 3 Bees
 36 cells each containing 4 Bees
  9 cells each containing 5 Bees
  1 cell       containing 6 Bees

The Mantis-hunting Tachytes consumes its heap of Mantes, the horny
envelope included, without leaving any remains but scanty crumbs, quite
insufficient to establish the number of items provided. After the
meal is completed, any inventory of the rations becomes impossible. I
therefore have recourse to the cells which still contain the egg or the
very young larva and, above all, to those whose provisions have been
invaded by a tiny parasitic Gnat, a Tachina (Cf. "The Hunting Wasps":
chapters 4 and 16.--Translator's Note.), which drains the game without
cutting it up and leaves the whole skin intact. Twenty-five larders, put
to the count, give me the following result:

  8 cells each containing  3 items
  5 cells each containing  4 items
  4 cells each containing  6 items
  3 cells each containing  7 items
  2 cells each containing  8 items
  1 cell       containing  9 items
  1 cell       containing 12 items
  1 cell       containing 16 items

The predominant game is the Praying Mantis, green; next comes the Grey
Mantis, ash-coloured. A few Empusae make up the total. The specimens
vary in dimensions within fairly elastic limits: I measure some which
are a third to a half inch long, averaging two-thirds to one inch long,
and some which are two-fifths, averaging three quarters. I see pretty
plainly that their number increases in proportion as their size
diminishes, as though the Tachytes were seeking to make up for the
smallness of the game by increasing the amount; none the less I find it
quite impossible to detect the least equivalence by combining the
two factors of number and size. If the huntress really estimates the
provisions, she does so very roughly; her household accounts are not at
all well kept; each head of game, large or small, must always count as
one in her eyes.

Put on my guard, I look to see whether the honey-gathering Bees have a
double service, like the game-hunting Wasps'. I estimate the amount of
honeyed paste; I gauge the cups intended to contain it. In many cases
the result resembles the first obtained: the abundance of provisions
varies from one cell to another. Certain Osmiae (O. cornuta and O.
tricornis (Cf. "Bramble-bees and Others": passim; and, in particular,
chapters 3 to 5.--Translator's Note.)) feed their larvae on a heap of
pollen-dust moistened in the middle with a very little disgorged honey.
One of these heaps may be three or four times the size of some other
in the same group of cells. If I detach from its pebble the nest of the
Mason-bee, the Chalicodoma of the Walls, I see cells of large capacity,
sumptuously provisioned; close beside these I see others, of less
capacity, with victuals parsimoniously allotted. The fact is general;
and it is right that we should ask ourselves the reason for these marked
differences in the relative quantity of foodstuffs and for these unequal

I at last began to suspect that this is first and foremost a question of
sex. In many Bees and Wasps, indeed, the male and the female differ not
only in certain details of internal or external structure--a point of
view which does not affect the present problem--but also in length and
bulk, which depend in a high degree on the quantity of food.

Let us consider in particular the Bee-eating Philanthus. Compared with
the female, the male is a mere abortion. I find that he is only a third
to half the size of the other sex, as far as I can judge by sight alone.
To obtain exactly the respective quantities of substance, I should need
delicate balances, capable of weighing down to a milligramme. My
clumsy villager's scales, on which potatoes may be weighed to within a
kilogramme or so, do not permit of this precision. I must therefore rely
on the evidence of my sight alone, evidence, for that matter, which is
amply sufficient in the present instance. Compared with his mate, the
Mantis-hunting Tachytes is likewise a pigmy. We are quite astonished to
see him pestering his giantess on the threshold of the burrows.

We observe differences no less pronounced of size--and consequently
of volume, mass and weight--in the two sexes of many Osmiae. The
differences are less emphatic, but are still on the same side, in the
Cerceres, the Stizi, the Spheges, the Chalicodomae and many more. It is
therefore the rule that the male is smaller than the female. There are
of course some exceptions, though not many; and I am far from denying
them. I will mention certain Anthidia where the male is the larger of
the two. Nevertheless, in the great majority of cases the female has the

And this is as it should be. It is the mother, the mother alone, who
laboriously digs underground galleries and chambers, kneads the plaster
for coating the cells, builds the dwelling-house of cement and bits of
grit, bores the wood and divides the burrow into storeys, cuts the disks
of leaf which will be joined together to form honey-pots, works up
the resin gathered in drops from the wounds in the pine-trees to build
ceilings in the empty spiral of a Snail-shell, hunts the prey, paralyses
it and drags it indoors, gathers the pollen-dust, prepares the honey in
her crop, stores and mixes the paste. This severe labour, so imperious
and so active, in which the insect's whole life is spent, manifestly
demands a bodily strength which would be quite useless to the male, the
amorous trifler. Thus, as a general rule, in the insects which carry on
an industry the female is the stronger sex.

Does this pre-eminence imply more abundant provisions during the larval
stage, when the insect is acquiring the physical growth which it will
not exceed in its future development? Simple reflection supplies the
answer: yes, the aggregate growth has its equivalent in the aggregate
provisions. Though so slight a creature as the male Philanthus finds a
ration of two Bees sufficient for his needs, the female, twice or thrice
as bulky, will consume three to six at least. If the male Tachytes
requires three Mantes, his consort's meal will demand a batch of
something like ten. With her comparative corpulence, the female Osmia
will need a heap of paste twice or thrice as great as that of her
brother, the male. All this is obvious; the animal cannot make much out
of little.

Despite this evidence, I was anxious to enquire whether the reality
corresponded with the previsions of the most elementary logic. Instances
are not unknown in which the most sagacious deductions have been found
to disagree with the facts. During the last few years, therefore, I have
profited by my winter leisure to collect, from spots noted as favourable
during the working-season, a few handfuls of cocoons of various
Digger-wasps, notably of the Bee-eating Philanthus, who has just
furnished us with an inventory of provisions. Surrounding these cocoons
and thrust against the wall of the cell were the remnants of the
victuals--wings, corselets, heads, wing-cases--a count of which enabled
me to determine how many head of game had been provided for the larva,
now enclosed in its silken abode. I thus obtained the correct list
of provisions for each of the huntress' cocoons. On the other hand, I
estimated the quantities of honey, or rather I gauged the receptacles,
the cells, whose capacity is proportionate to the mass of the provisions
stored. After making these preparations, registering the cells, cocoons
and rations and putting all my figures in order, I had only to wait for
the hatching-season to determine the sex.

Well, I found that logic and experiment were in perfect agreement. The
Philanthus-cocoons with two Bees gave me males, always males; those with
a larger ration gave me females. From the Tachytes-cocoons with double
or treble that ration I obtained females. When fed upon four or five
Nut-weevils, the Sand Cerceris was a male; when fed upon eight or ten, a
female. In short, abundant provisions and spacious cells yield females;
scanty provisions and narrow cells yield males. This is a law upon which
I may henceforth rely.

At the stage which we have now reached a question arises, a question of
major importance, touching the most nebulous aspect of embryogeny.
How is it that the larva of the Philanthus, to take a particular case,
receives three to five Bees from its mother when it is to become a
female and not more than two when it is to become a male? Here the
various head of game are identical in size, in flavour, in nutritive
properties. The food-value is precisely in proportion to the number
of items supplied, a helpful detail which eliminates the uncertainties
wherein we might be left by the provision of game of different species
and varying sizes. How is it, then, that a host of Bees and Wasps,
of honey-gatherers as well as huntresses, store a larger or smaller
quantity of victuals in their cells according as the nurselings are to
become females or males?

The provisions are stored before the eggs are laid; and these provisions
are measured by the needs of the sex of an egg still inside the
mother's body. If the egg-laying were to precede the rationing, which
occasionally takes place, as with the Odyneri (Cf. "The Hunting Wasps":
chapters 2 and 8.--Translator's Note.), for example, we might imagine
that the gravid mother enquires into the sex of the egg, recognizes it
and stacks victuals accordingly. But, whether destined to become a male
or a female, the egg is always the same; the differences--and I have no
doubt that there are differences--are in the domain of the infinitely
subtle, the mysterious, imperceptible even to the most practised
embryogenist. What can a poor insect see--in the absolute darkness of
its burrow, moreover--where science armed with optical instruments has
not yet succeeded in seeing anything? And besides, even were it
more discerning than we are in these genetic obscurities, its visual
discernment would have nothing whereupon to practice. As I have said,
the egg is laid only when the corresponding provisions are stored. The
meal is prepared before the larva which is to eat it has come into the
world. The supply is generously calculated by the needs of the coming
creature; the dining-room is built large or small to contain a giant or
a dwarf still germinating in the ovarian ducts. The mother, therefore,
knows the sex of her egg beforehand.

A strange conclusion, which plays havoc with our current notions! The
logic of the facts leads us to it directly. And yet it seems so absurd
that, before accepting it, we seek to escape the predicament by another
absurdity. We wonder whether the quantity of food may not decide the
fate of the egg, originally sexless. Given more food and more room,
the egg would become a female; given less food and less room, it would
become a male. The mother, obeying her instincts, would store more food
in this case and less in that; she would build now a large and now
a small cell; and the future of the egg would be determined by the
conditions of food and shelter.

Let us make every test, every experiment, down to the absurd: the crude
absurdity of the moment has sometimes proved to be the truth of the
morrow. Besides, the well-known story of the Hive-bee should make us
wary of rejecting paradoxical suppositions. Is it not by increasing the
size of the cell, by modifying the quality and quantity of the food,
that the population of a hive transforms a worker larva into a female or
royal larva? It is true that the sex remains the same, since the workers
are only incompletely developed females. The change is none the less
miraculous, so much so that it is almost lawful to enquire whether the
transformation may not go further, turning a male, that poor abortion,
into a sturdy female by means of a plentiful diet. Let us therefore
resort to experiment.

I have at hand some long bits of reed in the hollow of which an Osmia,
the Three-horned Osmia, has stacked her cells, bounded by earthen
partitions. I have related elsewhere (Cf. "Bramble-bees and Others":
chapters 2 to 5.--Translator's Note.) how I obtain as many of these
nests as I could wish for. When the reed is split lengthwise, the cells
come into view, together with their provisions, the egg lying on the
paste, or even the budding larva. Observations multiplied ad nauseam
have taught me where to find the males and where the females in this
apiary. The males occupy the fore-part of the reed, the end next to the
opening; the females are at the bottom, next to the knot which serves
as a natural stopper to the channel. For the rest, the quantity of the
provisions in itself points to the sex: for the females it is twice or
thrice as great as for the males.

In the scantily-provided cells, I double or treble the ration with food
taken from other cells; in the cells which are plentifully supplied, I
reduce the portion to a half or a third. Controls are left: that is to
say, some cells remain untouched, with their provisions as I found them,
both in the part which is abundantly provided and in that which is more
meagrely rationed. The two halves of the reed are then restored to their
original position and firmly bound with a few turns of wire. We shall
see, when the time comes, whether these changes increasing or decreasing
the victuals have determined the sex.

Here is the result: the cells which at first were sparingly provided,
but whose supplies were doubled or trebled by my artifice, contain
males, as foretold by the original amount of victuals. The surplus which
I added has not completely disappeared, far from it: the larva has had
more than it needed for its evolution as a male; and, being unable to
consume the whole of its copious provisions, it has spun its cocoon in
the midst of the remaining pollen-dust. These males, so richly supplied,
are of handsome but not exaggerated proportions; you can see that the
additional food has profited them to some small extent.

The cells with abundant provisions, reduced to a half or a third by
my intervention, contain cocoons as small as the male cocoons, pale,
translucent and limp, whereas the normal cocoons are dark-brown, opaque
and firm to the touch. These, we perceive at once, are the work of
starved, anaemic weavers, who, failing to satisfy their appetite and
having eaten the last grain of pollen, have, before dying, done their
best with their poor little drop of silk. Those cocoons which correspond
with the smallest allowance of food contain only a dead and shrivelled
larva; others, in whose case the provisions were less markedly
decreased, contain females in the adult form, but of very diminutive
size, comparable with that of the males, or even smaller. As for the
controls which I was careful to leave, they confirm the fact that I had
males in the part near the orifice of the reed and females in the part
near the knot closing the channel.

Is this enough to dispose of the very improbable supposition that the
determination of the sex depends on the quantity of food? Strictly
speaking, there is still one door open to doubt. It may be said that
experiment, with its artifices, does not succeed in realizing the
delicate natural conditions. To make short work of all objections, I
cannot do better than have recourse to facts in which the experimenter's
hand has not intervened. The parasites will supply us with these facts;
they will show us how alien the quantity and even the quality of the
food are from either specific or sexual characters. The subject
of enquiry thus becomes double, instead of single as it was when I
plundered one cell in my split reeds to enrich another. Let us follow
this double current for a little while.

An Ammophila, the Silky Ammophila (Cf. "The Hunting Wasps": chapter
13.--Translator's Note.), which feeds on Looper caterpillars (Known also
as Measuring-worms, Inchworms, Spanworms and Surveyors: the caterpillars
of the Geometrid Moths.--Translator's Note.), has just been reared in
my refectory on Spiders. Replete to the regulation point, it spins its
cocoon. What will emerge from this? If the reader expects to see any
modifications, caused by a diet which the species, left to itself, had
never effected, let him be undeceived and that quickly. The Ammophila
fed on Spiders is precisely the same as the Ammophila fed on
caterpillars, just as man fed on rice is the same as man fed on wheat.
In vain I pass my lens over the product of my art: I cannot distinguish
it from the natural product; and I defy the most meticulous entomologist
to perceive any difference between the two. It is the same with my other
boarders who have had their diet altered.

I see the objection coming. The differences may be inappreciable, for my
experiments touch only a first rung of the ladder. What would happen
if the ladder were prolonged, if the offspring of the Ammophila fed
on Spiders were given the same food generation after generation? These
differences, at first imperceptible, might become accentuated until they
grew into distinct specific characters; the habits and instincts might
also change; and in the end the caterpillar-huntress might become a
Spider-huntress, with a shape of her own. A species would be created,
for, among the factors at work in the transformation of animals, the
most important of all is incontestably the type of food, the nature
of the thing wherewith the animal builds itself. All this is much more
important than the trivialities which Darwin relies upon.

To create a species is magnificent in theory, so that we find ourselves
regretting that the experimenter is not able to continue the attempt.
But, once the Ammophila has flown out of the laboratory to slake her
thirst at the flowers in the neighbourhood, just to try to find her
again and induce her to entrust you with her eggs, which you would rear
in the refectory, to increase the taste for Spiders from generation
to generation! Merely to dream of it were madness. Shall we, in our
helplessness, admit ourselves beaten by the evolutionary effects of
diet? Not a bit of it! One experiment--and you could not wish for a more
decisive--is continually in progress, apart from all artifices, on an
enormous scale. It is brought to our notice by the parasites.

They must, we are told, have acquired the habit of living on others
in order to save themselves work and to lead an easier life. The poor
wretches have made a sorry blunder. Their life is of the hardest. If a
few establish themselves comfortably, dearth and dire famine await most
of the rest. There are some--look at certain of the Oil-beetles--exposed
to so many chances of destruction that, to save one, they are obliged to
procreate a thousand. They seldom enjoy a free meal. Some stray into
the houses of hosts whose victuals do not suit them; others find only
a ration quite insufficient for their needs; others--and these are very
numerous--find nothing at all. What misadventures, what disappointments
do these needy creatures suffer, unaccustomed as they are to work! Let
me relate some of their misfortunes, gleaned at random.

The Girdled Dioxys (D. cincta) loves the ample honey-stores of the
Chalicodoma of the Pebbles. There she finds abundant food, so abundant
that she cannot eat it all. I have already passed censure on this waste.
(Cf. "The Mason-bees": chapter 10.--Translator's Note.) Now a little
Osmia (O. cyanoxantha, Perez) makes her nest in the Mason's deserted
cells; and this Bee, a victim of her ill-omened dwelling, also harbours
the Dioxys. This is a manifest error on the parasite's part. The nest of
the Chalicodoma, the hemisphere of mortar on its pebble, is what she is
looking for, to confide her eggs to it. But the nest is now occupied
by a stranger, by the Osmia, a circumstance unknown to the Dioxys, who
comes stealing up to lay her egg in the mother's absence. The dome
is familiar to her. She could not know it better if she had built it
herself. Here she was born; here is what her family wants. Moreover,
there is nothing to arouse her suspicions: the outside of the home has
not changed its appearance in any respect; the stopper of gravel and
green putty, which later will form a violent contrast with its white
front, is not yet constructed. She goes in and sees a heap of honey.
To her thinking this can be nothing but the Chalicodoma's portion. We
ourselves would be beguiled, in the Osmia's absence. She lays her eggs
in this deceptive cell.

Her mistake, which is easy to understand, does not in any way detract
from her great talents as a parasite, but it is a serious matter for
the future larva. The Osmia, in fact, in view of her small dimensions,
collects but a very scanty store of food: a little loaf of pollen and
honey, hardly the size of an average pea. Such a ration is insufficient
for the Dioxys. I have described her as a waster of food when her larva
is established, according to custom, in the cell of the Mason-bee. This
description no longer applies; not in the very least. Inadvertently
straying to the Osmia's table, the larva has no excuse for turning up
its nose; it does not leave part of the food to go bad; it eats up the
lot without having had enough.

This famine-stricken refectory can give us nothing but an abortion. As
a matter of fact, the Dioxys subjected to this niggardly test does not
die, for the parasite must have a tough constitution to enable it to
face the disastrous hazards which lie in wait for it; but it attains
barely half its ordinary dimensions, which means one-eighth of its
normal bulk. To see it thus diminished, we are surprised at its
tenacious vitality, which enables it to reach the adult form in spite
of the extreme deficiency of food. Meanwhile, this adult is still
the Dioxys; there is no change of any kind in her shape or colouring.
Moreover, the two sexes are represented; this family of pigmies has its
males and females. Dearth and the farinaceous mess in the Osmia's cell
has had no more influence over species or sex than abundance and flowing
honey in the Chalicodoma's home.

The same may be said of the Spotted Sapyga (S. punctata (A parasitic
Wasp. Cf. "The Mason-bees": chapters 9 and 10.--Translator's Note.)),
which, a parasite of the Three-pronged Osmia, a denizen of the bramble,
and of the Golden Osmia, an occupant of empty Snail-shells, strays into
the house of the Tiny Osmia (O. parvula (This bee makes her home in
the brambles. Cf. "Bramble-dwellers and Others": chapters 2 and
3.--Translator's Note.)), where, for lack of sufficient food, it does
not attain half its normal size.

A Leucopsis (Cf. "The Mason-bees": chapter 11.--Translator's Note.)
inserts her eggs through the cement wall of our three Chalicodomae. I
know her under two names. When she comes from the Chalicodoma of the
Pebbles or Walls, whose opulent larva saturates her with food, she
deserves by her large size the name of Leucopsis gigas, which Fabricius
bestows upon her; when she comes from the Chalicodoma of the Sheds, she
deserves no more than the name of L. grandis, which is all that
Klug grants her. With a smaller ration "the giant" is to some degree
diminished and becomes no more than "the large." When she comes from
the Chalicodoma of the Shrubs, she is smaller still; and, if some
nomenclator were to seek to describe her, she would no longer deserve
to be called more than middling. From dimension 2 she has descended to
dimension 1 without ceasing to be the same insect, despite the change
of diet; and at the same time both sexes are present in the three
nurselings, despite the variation in the quantity of victuals.

I obtain Anthrax sinuata ("The Mason-bees": chapters 8, 10 and
11.--Translator's Note.) from various bees' nests. When she issues from
the cocoons of the Three-horned Osmia, especially the female cocoons,
she attains the greatest development that I know of. When she issues
from the cocoons of the Blue Osmia (O. cyanea, KIRB.), she is sometimes
hardly one-third the length which the other Osmia gives her. And
we still have the two sexes--that goes without saying--and still
identically the same species.

Two Anthidia, working in resin, A. septemdentatum, LATR., and A.
bellicosum, LEP. (For these Resin-bees, cf. "Bramble-bees and Others":
chapter 10.--Translator's Note.), establish their domicile in old
Snail-shells. The second harbours the Burnt Zonitis (Z. proeusta (Cf.
"The Glow-worm and Other Beetles": chapter 6.--Translator's Note.)).
Amply nourished this Meloe then acquires her normal size, the size in
which she usually figures in the collections. A like prosperity awaits
her when she usurps the provisions of Megachile sericans. (For this
Bee, the Silky Leaf-cutter, cf. "Bramble-bees and Others": chapter
8.--Translator's Note.) But the imprudent creature sometimes allows
itself to be carried away to the meagre table of the smallest of
our Anthidia (A. scapulare, LATR. (A Cotton-bee, cf. idem: chapter
9.--Translator's Note.)), who makes her nests in dry bramble-stems. The
scanty fare makes a wretched dwarf of the offspring belonging to either
sex, without depriving them of any of their racial features. We still
see the Burnt Zonitis, with the distinctive sign of the species: the
singed patch at the tip of the wing-cases.

And the other Meloidae--Cantharides, Cerocomae, Mylabres (For these
Blister-beetles or Oil-beetles, cf. "The Glow-worm and Other Beetles":
chapter 6.--Translator's Note.)--to what inequalities of size are
they not subject, irrespective of sex! There are some--and they are
numerous--whose dimensions fall to a half, a third, a quarter of the
regular dimensions. Among these dwarfs, these misbegotten ones, these
victims of atrophy, there are females as well as males; and their
smallness by no means cools their amorous ardour. These needy creatures,
I repeat, have a hard life of it. Whence do they come, these diminutive
Beetles, if not from dining-rooms insufficiently supplied for their
needs? Their parasitical habits expose them to harsh vicissitudes. No
matter: in dearth as well as in abundance the two sexes appear and the
specific features remain unchanged.

It is unnecessary to linger longer over this subject. The demonstration
is completed. The parasites tell us that changes in the quantity and
quality of food do not lead to any transformation of species. Fed
upon the larva of the Three-horned Osmia or of the Blue Osmia, Anthrax
sinuata, whether of handsome proportions or a dwarf, is still
Anthrax sinuata; fed upon the allowance of the Anthidium of the empty
Snail-shells, the Anthidium of the brambles, the Megachile or doubtless
many others, the Burnt Zonitis is still the Burnt Zonitis. Yet variation
of diet ought to be a very potential factor in the problem of progress
towards another form. Is not the world of living creatures ruled by the
stomach? And the value of this factor is unity, changing nothing in the

The same parasites tell us--and this is the chief object of my
digression--that excess or deficiency of nutriment does not determine
the sex. So we are once more confronted with the strange proposition,
which is now more positive than ever, that the insect which amasses
provisions in proportion to the needs of the egg about to be laid knows
beforehand what the sex of this egg will be. Perhaps the reality is even
more paradoxical still. I shall return to the subject after discussing
the Osmiae, who are very weighty witnesses in this grave affair. (Cf.
"Bramble-bees and Others": chapters 3 to 5. The student is recommended
to read these three chapters in conjunction with the present chapter,
to which they form a sequel, with that on the Osmiae (chapter 2 of the
above volume) intervening.--Translator's Note.)


To meet among the Wasps, those eager lovers of flowers, a species that
goes hunting more or less on its own account is certainly a notable
event. That the larder of the grub should be provided with prey is
natural enough; but that the provider, whose diet is honey, should
herself make use of the captives is anything but easy to understand. We
are quite astonished to see a nectar-drinker become a blood-drinker. But
our astonishment ceases if we consider things more closely. The double
method of feeding is more apparent than real: the crop which fills
itself with sugary liquid does not gorge itself with game. The Odynerus,
when digging into the body of her prey, does not touch the flesh, a fare
absolutely scorned as contrary to her tastes; she satisfies herself with
lapping up the defensive drop which the grub (The Larva of Chrysomela
populi, the Poplar Leaf-beetle.--Translator's Note.) distils at the
end of its intestine. This fluid no doubt represents to her some
highly-flavoured beverage with which she seasons from time to time
the staple diet fetched from the drinking-bar of the flowers, some
appetizing condiment or perhaps--who knows?--some substitute for honey.
Though the qualities of the delicacy escape me, I at least perceive that
the Odynerus does not covet anything else. Once its jar is emptied,
the larva is flung aside as worthless offal, a certain sign of a
non-carnivorous appetite. Under these conditions, the persecutor of the
Chrysomela ceases to surprise us by indulging in the crying abuse of a
double diet.

We even begin to wonder whether other species may not be inclined to
derive a direct advantage from the hunting imposed upon them for the
maintenance of the family. The Odynerus' method of work, the splitting
open of the anal still-room, is too far removed from the obvious
procedure to have many imitators; it is a secondary detail and
impracticable with a different kind of game. But there is sure to be a
certain variety in the direct means of utilizing the capture. Why, for
instance, when the victim paralysed by the sting contains a delicious
broth in some part of its stomach, should the huntress scruple to
violate her dying prey and force it to disgorge without injuring
the quality of the provisions? There must be those who rob the dead,
attracted not by the flesh but by the exquisite contents of the crop.

In point of fact, there are; and they are even numerous. We may
mention in the first rank the Wasp that hunts Hive-bees, the Bee-eating
Philanthus (P. apivorus, LATR.). I long suspected her of perpetrating
these acts of brigandage on her own behalf, having often surprised her
gluttonously licking the Bee's honey-smeared mouth; I had an inkling
that she did not always hunt solely for the benefit of her larvae. The
suspicion deserved to be confirmed by experiment. Also, I was engaged
in another investigation, which might easily be conducted simultaneously
with the one suggested: I wanted to study, with all the leisure of work
done at home, the operating-methods employed by the different Hunting
Wasps. I therefore made use, for the Philanthus, of the process of
experimenting under glass which I roughly outlined when speaking of the
Odynerus. It was even the Bee-huntress who gave me my first data in this
direction. She responded to my wishes with such zeal that I believed
myself to possess an unequalled means of observing again and again, even
to excess, what is so difficult to achieve on the actual spot. Alas,
the first-fruits of my acquaintance with the Philanthus promised me more
than the future held in store for me! But we will not anticipate; and
we will place the huntress and her game together under the bell-glass.
I recommend this experiment to whoever would wish to see with what
perfection in the art of attack and defence a Hunting Wasp wields the
stiletto. There is no uncertainty here as to the result, there is no
long wait: the moment when she catches sight of the prey in an attitude
favourable to her designs, the bandit rushes forward and kills. I will
describe how things happen.

I place under the bell-glass a Philanthus and two or three Hive-bees.
The prisoners climb the glass wall, towards the light; they go up, come
down again and try to get out; the vertical polished surface is to them
a practicable floor. They soon quiet down; and the spoiler begins to
notice her surroundings. The antennae are pointed forwards, enquiringly;
the hind-legs are drawn up with a little quiver of greed in the tarsi;
the head turns to right and left and follows the evolutions of the Bees
against the glass. The miscreant's posture now becomes a striking piece
of acting: you can read in it the fierce longings of the creature lying
in ambush, the crafty waiting for the moment to commit the crime. The
choice is made: the Philanthus pounces on her prey.

Turn by turn tumbling over and tumbled, the two insects roll upon the
ground. The tumult soon abates; and the murderess prepares to strangle
her capture. I see her adopt two methods. In the first, which is more
usual than the other, the Bee is lying on her back; and the Philanthus,
belly to belly with her, grips her with her six legs while snapping
at her neck with her mandibles. The abdomen is now curved forward from
behind, along the prostrate victim, feels with its tip, gropes about
a little and ends by reaching the under part of the neck. The sting
enters, lingers for a moment in the wound; and all is over. Without
releasing her prey, which is still tightly clasped, the murderess
restores her abdomen to its normal position and keeps it pressed against
the Bee's.

In the second method, the Philanthus operates standing. Resting on her
hind-legs and on the tips of her unfurled wings, she proudly occupies
an erect attitude, with the Bee held facing her between her four
front legs. To give the poor thing a position suited to receive the
dagger-stroke, she turns her round and back again with the rough
clumsiness of a child handling its doll. Her pose is magnificent to look
at. Solidly planted on her sustaining tripod, the two hinder tarsi and
the tips of the wings, she at last crooks her abdomen upwards and
again stings the Bee under the chin. The originality of the Philanthus'
posture at the moment of the murder surpasses the anything that I have
hitherto seen.

The desire for knowledge in natural history has its cruel side. To learn
precisely the point attacked by the sting and to make myself
thoroughly acquainted with the horrible talent of the murderess, I
have investigated more assassinations under glass than I would dare to
confess. Without a single exception, I have always seen the Bee stung
in the throat. In the preparations for the final blow, the tip of the
abdomen may well come to rest on this or that point of the thorax
or abdomen; but it does not stop at any of these, nor is the sting
unsheathed, as can readily be ascertained. Indeed, once the contest is
opened, the Philanthus becomes so entirely absorbed in her operation
that I can remove the cover and follow every vicissitude of the tragedy
with my pocket-lens.

After recognizing the invariable position of the wound, I bend back and
open the articulation of the head. I see under the Bee's chin a white
spot, measuring hardly a twenty-fifth of an inch square, where the horny
integuments are lacking and the delicate skin is shown uncovered. It
is here, always here, in this tiny defect in the armour, that the sting
enters. Why is this spot stabbed rather than another? Can it be the only
vulnerable point, which would necessarily determine the thrust of the
lancet? Should any one entertain so petty a thought, I advise him to
open the articulation of the corselet, behind the first pair of legs.
He will there see what I see: the bare skin, quite as fine as under the
neck, but covering a much larger surface. The horny breast-plate offers
no wider breach. If the Philanthus were guided in her operation solely
by the question of vulnerability, it is here certainly that she ought to
strike, instead of persistently seeking the narrow slit in the neck. The
weapon would not need to hesitate and grope; it would obtain admission
into the tissues off-hand. No, the stroke of the lancet is not forced
upon it mechanically: the assassin scorns the large defect in the
corselet and prefers the place under the chin, for eminently logical
reasons which we will now attempt to unravel.

Immediately after the operation I take the Bee from the Philanthus. What
strikes me is the sudden inertia of the antennae and the mouth-parts,
organs which in the victims of most of the Hunting Wasps continue to
move for so long a time. There are here not any of the signs of life to
which I have been accustomed in my old studies of insect paralysis: the
antennary threads waving slowly to and fro, the palpi quivering, the
mandibles opening and closing for days, weeks and months on end. At
most, the tarsi tremble for a minute or two; that constitutes the whole
death-struggle. Complete immobility ensues. The inference drawn from
this sudden inertia is inevitable: the Wasp has stabbed the cervical
ganglia. Hence the immediate cessation of movement in all the organs of
the head; hence the real instead of the apparent death of the Bee. The
Philanthus is a butcher and not a paralyser.

This is one step gained. The murderess chooses the under part of
the chin as the point attacked in order to strike the principal
nerve-centres, the cephalic ganglia, and thus to do away with life
at one blow. When this vital seat is poisoned by the toxin, death
is instantaneous. Had the Philanthus' object been simply to effect
paralysis, the suppression of locomotor movements, she would have driven
her weapon into the flaw in the corselet, as the Cerceres do with the
Weevils, who are much more powerfully armoured than the Bee. But her
intention is to kill outright, as we shall see presently; she wants a
corpse, not a paralytic patient. This being so, we must agree that her
operating-method is supremely well-inspired: our human murderers could
achieve nothing more thorough or immediate.

We must also agree that her attitude when attacking, an attitude
very different from that of the paralysers, is infallible in its
death-dealing efficacy. Whether she deliver her thrust lying on the
ground or standing erect, she holds the Bee in front of her, breast to
breast, head to head. In this posture all that she need do is to curve
her abdomen in order to reach the gap in the neck and plunge the sting
with an upward slant into her captive's head. Suppose the two insects
to be gripping each other in the reverse attitude, imagine the dirk
to slant slightly in the opposite direction; the results would be
absolutely different and the sting, driven downwards, would pierce
the first thoracic ganglion and produce merely partial paralysis. What
skill, to sacrifice a wretched Bee! In what fencing-school was the
slayer taught her terrible upward blow under the chin?

If she learnt it, how is it that her victim, such a past mistress in
architecture, such an adept in socialistic polity, has so far learnt no
corresponding trick to serve in her own defence? She is as powerful
as her executioner; like the other, she carries a rapier, an even more
formidable one and more painful, at least to my fingers. For centuries
and centuries the Philanthus has been storing her away in her cellars;
and the poor innocent meekly submits, without being taught by the annual
extermination of her race how to deliver herself from the aggressor by a
well-aimed thrust. I despair of ever understanding how the assailant has
acquired her talent for inflicting sudden death, when the assailed,
who is better-armed and quite as strong, wields her dagger anyhow and
therefore ineffectively. If the one has learnt by prolonged practice
in attack, the other should also have learnt by prolonged practice in
defence, for attack and defence possess a like merit in the fight for
life. Among the theorists of the day, is there one clear-sighted enough
to solve the riddle for us?

If so, I will take the opportunity of putting to him a second problem
that puzzles me: the carelessness, nay, more, the stupidity of the Bee
in the presence of the Philanthus. You would be inclined to think that
the victim of persecution, learning gradually from the misfortunes
suffered by her family, would show distress at the ravisher's approach
and at least attempt to escape. In my cages I see nothing of the sort.
Once the first excitement due to incarceration under the bell-glass or
the wire-gauze cover has passed, the Bee seems hardly to trouble about
her formidable neighbour. I see one side by side with the Philanthus on
the same honeyed thistle-head: assassin and future victim are drinking
from the same flask. I see some one who comes heedlessly to enquire who
that stranger can be, crouching in wait on the table. When the spoiler
makes her rush, it is usually at a Bee who meets her half-way, and, so
to speak, flings herself into her clutches, either thoughtlessly or out
of curiosity. There is no wild terror, no sign of anxiety, no tendency
to make off. How comes it that the experience of the ages, that
experience which, we are told, teaches the animal so many things, has
not taught the Bee the first element of apiarian wisdom: a deep-seated
horror of the Philanthus? Can the poor wretch take comfort by relying on
her trusty dagger? But she yields to none in her ignorance of fencing;
she stabs without method, at random. However, let us watch her at the
supreme moment of the killing.

When the ravisher makes play with her sting, the Bee does the same with
hers and furiously. I see the needle now moving this way or that way
in space, now slipping, violently curved, along the murderess' convex
surface. These sword-thrusts have no serious results. The manner
in which the two combatants are at grips has this effect, that the
Philanthus' abdomen is inside and the Bee's outside. The latter's sting
therefore finds under its point only the dorsal surface of the foe,
a convex, slippery surface and so well armoured as to be almost
invulnerable. There is here no breach into which the weapon can slip
by accident; and so the operation is conducted with absolute surgical
safety, notwithstanding the indignant protests of the patient.

After the fatal stroke has been administered, the murderess remains for
a long time belly to belly with the dead, for reasons which we shall
shortly perceive. There may now be some danger for the Philanthus. The
attitude of attack and defence is abandoned; and the ventral surface,
more vulnerable than the other, is within reach of the sting. Now the
deceased still retains the reflex use of her weapon for a few minutes,
as I learnt to my cost. Having taken the Bee too early from the
bandit and handling her without suspecting any risk, I received a most
downright sting. Then how does the Philanthus, in her long contact with
the butchered Bee, manage to protect herself against that lancet, which
is bent upon avenging the murder? Is there any chance of a commutation
of the death-penalty? Can an accident ever happen in the Bee's favour?

One incident strengthens my faith in this perhaps. I had placed four
Bees and as many Eristales under the bell-glass at the same time, with
the object of estimating the Philanthus' entomological knowledge in the
matter of the distinction of species. Reciprocal quarrels break out
in the mixed colony. Suddenly, in the midst of the fray, the killer is
killed. She tumbles over on her back, she waves her legs; she is dead.
Who struck the blow? It was certainly not the excitable but pacific
Drone-fly; it was one of the Bees, who struck home by accident during
the thick of the fight. Where and how? I cannot tell. The incident
occurs only once in my notes, but it throws a light upon the question.
The Bee is capable of withstanding her adversary; she can then and there
slay her would-be slayer with a thrust of the sting. That she does
not defend herself to better purpose, when she falls into her enemy's
clutches, is due to her ignorance of fencing and not to the weakness
of her weapon. And here again arises, more insistently than before, the
question which I asked above: how is it that the Philanthus has learnt
for offensive what the Bee has not learnt for defensive purposes? I see
but one answer to the difficulty: the one knows without having learnt;
the other does not know because she is incapable of learning.

Let us now consider the motives that induce the Philanthus to kill her
Bee instead of paralysing her. When the crime has been perpetrated,
she manipulates her dead victim without letting go of it for a
moment, holding its belly pressed against her own six legs. I see
her recklessly, very recklessly, rooting with her mandibles in the
articulation of the neck, sometimes also in the larger articulation of
the corselet, behind the first pair of legs, an articulation of whose
delicate membrane she is perfectly well aware, even though, when using
her sting, she did not take advantage of this point, which is the most
readily accessible of all. I see her rough-handling the Bee's belly,
squeezing it against her own abdomen, crushing it in the press. The
recklessness of the treatment is striking; it shows that there is no
need for keeping up precautions. The Bee is a corpse; and a little
hustling here and there will not deteriorate its quality, provided there
be no effusion of blood. In point of fact, however rough the handling, I
fail to discover the slightest wound.

These various manipulations, especially the squeezing of the neck, at
once bring about the desired results: the honey in the crop mounts
to the Bee's throat. I see the tiny drops spurt out, lapped up by the
glutton as soon as they appear. The bandit greedily, over and over
again, takes the dead insect's lolling, sugared tongue into her mouth;
then she once more digs into the neck and thorax, subjecting the
honey-bag to the renewed pressure of her abdomen. The syrup comes and is
instantly lapped up and lapped up again. In this way the contents of
the crop are exhausted in small mouthfuls, yielded one at a time. This
odious meal at the expense of a corpse's stomach is taken in a sybaritic
attitude; the Philanthus lies on her side with the Bee between her legs.
The atrocious banquet sometimes lasts for half an hour or longer. At
last the drained Bee is discarded, not without regret, it seems, for
from time to time I see the manipulation renewed. After taking a turn
round the top of the bell-jar, the robber of the dead returns to her
prey and squeezes it, licking its mouth until the last trace of honey
has disappeared.

This frenzied passion of the Philanthus for the Bee's syrup is declared
in yet another fashion. When the first victim has been sucked dry, I
slip under the glass a second victim, which is promptly stabbed under
the chin and then subjected to pressure to extract the honey. A third
follows and undergoes the same fate without satisfying the bandit. I
offer a fourth and a fifth. They are all accepted. My notes mention one
Philanthus who in front of my eyes sacrificed six Bees in succession and
squeezed out their crops in the regulation manner. The slaughter came to
an end not because the glutton was sated but because my functions as a
purveyor were becoming rather difficult: the dry month of August causes
the insects to avoid my harmas, which at this season is denuded of
flowers. Six crops emptied of their honey: what an orgy! And even then
the ravenous creature would very likely not have scorned a copious
additional course, had I possessed the means of supplying it!

There is no reason to regret this break in the service; the little that
I have said is more than enough to prove the singular characteristics of
the Bee-slayer. I am far from denying that the Philanthus has an honest
means of earning her livelihood; I find her working on the flowers as
assiduously as the other Wasps, peacefully drawing her honeyed
beakers. The males even, possessing no lancet, know no other manner of
refreshment. The mothers, without neglecting the table d'hote of the
flowers, support themselves by brigandage as well. We are told of the
Skua, that pirate of the seas, that he swoops down upon the fishing
birds, at the moment when they rise from the water with a capture. With
a blow of the beak delivered in the pit of the stomach he makes them
give up their prey, which is caught by the robber in mid-air. The
despoiled bird at least gets off with nothing worse than a contusion
at the base of the throat. The Philanthus, a less scrupulous pirate,
pounces on the Bee, stabs her to death and makes her disgorge in order
to feed upon her honey.

I say feed and I do not withdraw the word. To support my statement I
have better reasons than those set forth above. In the cages in which
various Hunting Wasps, whose stratagems of war I am engaged in studying,
are waiting till I have procured the desired prey--not always an easy
thing--I have planted a few flower-spikes, a thistle-head or two, on
which are placed drops of honey renewed at need. Here my captives come
to take their meals. With the Philanthus, the provision of honeyed
flowers, though favourably received, is not indispensable. I have only
to let a few live Bees into her cage from time to time. Half a dozen
a day is about the proper allowance. With no other food than the syrup
extracted from the slain, I keep my insects going for a fortnight or
three weeks.

It is as plain as a pikestaff: outside my cages, when the opportunity
offers, the Philanthus must also kill the Bee on her own account. The
Odynerus asks nothing from the Chrysomela but a mere condiment, the
aromatic juice of the rump; the other extracts from her victim an ample
supplement to her victuals, the crop full of honey. What a hecatomb
of Bees must not a colony of these freebooters make for their personal
consumption, not to mention the stored provisions! I recommend the
Philanthus to the signal vengeance of our Bee-masters.

Let us go no deeper into the first causes of the crime. Let us accept
things as we know them for the moment, with their apparent or real
atrocity. To feed herself, the Philanthus levies tribute on the Bee's
crop. Having made sure of this, let us consider the bandit's method
more closely. She does not paralyse her capture according to the rites
customary among the Hunting Wasps; she kills it. Why kill it? If the
eyes of our understanding be not closed, the need for sudden death is
clear as daylight. The Philanthus proposes to obtain the honeyed broth
without ripping up the Bee, a proceeding which would damage the game
when it is hunted on behalf of the larvae, without resorting to the
murderous extirpation of the crop. She must, by able handling, by
skilful pressure, make the Bee disgorge, she must milk her, in a manner
of speaking. Suppose the Bee stung behind the corselet and paralysed.
That deprives her of her power of locomotion, but not of her vitality.
The digestive organs in particular retain or very nearly retain their
normal energy, as is proved by the frequent excretions that take place
in the paralysed prey, so long as the intestine is not empty, as is
proved above all by the victims of the Languedocian Sphex (Cf. "The
Hunting Wasp": chapters 8 to 10.--Translator's Note.), those helpless
creatures which I used to keep alive for forty days on end with a soup
consisting of sugar and water. It is absurd to hope, without therapeutic
means, without a special emetic, to coax a sound stomach into emptying
its contents. The stomach of the Bee, who is jealous of her treasure,
would lend itself to the process even less readily than another. When
paralysed, the insect is inert; but there are always internal energies
and organic forces which will not yield to the manipulator's pressure.
The Philanthus will nibble at the throat and squeeze the sides in vain:
the honey will not rise to the mouth so long as a vestige of life keeps
the crop closed.

Things are different with a corpse. The tension is relaxed, the muscles
become slack, the resistance of the stomach ceases and the bag of honey
is emptied by the robber's vigorous pressure. You see, therefore, that
the Philanthus is expressly obliged to inflict a sudden death, which
will do away at once with the elasticity of the organs. Where is the
lightning stroke to be delivered? The slayer knows better than we do,
when she sticks the Bee under the chin. The cerebral ganglia are reached
through the little hole in the neck and death ensues immediately.

The relation of these acts of brigandage cannot satisfy my distressing
habit of following each reply obtained with a fresh question, until the
granite wall of the unknowable rises before me. If the Philanthus is
an expert in killing Bees and emptying crops swollen with honey, this
cannot be merely an alimentary resource, especially when, in common with
the others, she has the banqueting-hall of the flowers. I cannot accept
her atrocious talent as inspired merely by the craving for a feast
obtained at the expense of an empty stomach. Something certainly escapes
us: the why and wherefore of that crop drained dry. A creditable motive
may lie hidden behind the horrors which I have related. What is it?

Any one can understand the vagueness of the observer's mind when he
first asks himself this question. The reader is entitled to be treated
with consideration. I will spare him the recital of my suspicions, my
gropings and my failures and will come straight to the results of my
long investigation. Everything has its harmonious reason for existence.
I am too fully persuaded of this to believe that the Philanthus pursues
her habit of profaning corpses solely to satisfy her greed. What does
the emptied crop portend? May it not be that...? Why, yes.... After all,
who knows?... Let us try along these lines.

The mother's first care is the welfare of the family. So far, we have
seen the Philanthus hunting only for her stomach's sake; let us watch
her hunting as a mother. Nothing is easier than to distinguish the two
performances. When the Wasp wants a few good mouthfuls and nothing more,
she scornfully abandons the Bee after picking her crop. The Bee is
to her a worthless remnant, which will shrivel where it lies and be
dissected by the Ants. If, on the other hand, she wants to stow away
the Bee as a provision for her larvae, she clasps her in her two
intermediate legs and, walking on the other four, goes round and round
the edge of the bell-glass, seeking for an outlet through which to fly
off with her prey. When she recognizes the circular track as impossible,
she climbs up the sides, this time holding the Bee by the antennae with
her mandibles and clinging to the polished and perpendicular surface
with her six feet. She reaches the top of the glass, stays for a little
while in the hollow of the knob at the top, returns to the ground,
resumes her circling and her climbing and does not decide to relinquish
her Bee until she has stubbornly attempted every means of escape. This
persistence on her part to retain her hold on the cumbrous burden tells
us pretty plainly that the game would go straight to the cells if the
Philanthus had her liberty.

Well, these Bees intended for the larvae are stung under the chin like
the others; they are real corpses; they are manipulated, squeezed,
drained of their honey exactly as the others are. In all these respects,
there is no difference between the hunt conducted to provide food
for the larvae and the hunt conducted merely to gratify the mother's

As the worries of captivity might well be the cause of a few anomalies
in the insect's actions, I felt that I ought to enquire how things
happen in the open. I lay in wait near some colonies of Philanthi,
for longer perhaps than the question deserved, as it had already been
settled by what had happened under glass. My tedious watches were
rewarded from time to time. Most of the huntresses returned home
immediately, with the Bee under their abdomen; some halted on the
brambles hard by; and here I saw them squeezing the dead Bee and making
her disgorge the honey, which was greedily lapped up. After these
preliminaries the corpse was stored. Every doubt is therefore removed:
the provisions of the larva are first carefully drained of their honey.

Since we are on the spot, let us prolong our stay and enquire into the
customs of the Philanthus in a state of liberty. Serving dead prey,
which goes bad in a few days, the Bee-huntress cannot adopt the method
of certain insects which paralyse a number of separate heads of game and
fill the cell with provisions, completing the ration before laying
the egg. She needs the method of the Bembex, whose larva receives
the necessary nourishment at intervals, as it grows larger. The facts
confirm this deduction. Just now I described as tedious my watches near
the colonies of the Philanthi. They were tedious in fact, even more so
perhaps than those which the Bembeces used to inflict upon me in the old
days. Outside the burrows of the Great Cerceris and other Weevil-lovers,
outside those of the Yellow-winged Sphex, the Cricket-slayer, there is
plenty of distraction, thanks to the bustling movement of the hamlet.
The mother has hardly come back home before she goes out again, soon
returning laden with a new prey and once more setting out upon the
chase. The going and coming is repeated at close intervals until the
warehouse is full.

The burrow of the Philanthus is far from showing any such animation,
even in a populous colony. In vain were my watches prolonged for whole
mornings or afternoons; it was but very rarely that the mother whom I
had seen go in with a Bee came out again for a second expedition. Two
captures at most by the same huntress was all that I was able to
see during my long vigils. Feeding from day to day involves this
deliberation. Once the family is supplied with a sufficient ration for
the moment, the mother suspends her hunting-trips until further need
arises and occupies herself with mining-work in her underground house.
Cells are dug; I see the rubbish gradually pushed up to the surface.
Beyond this there is not a sign of activity; it is as though the burrow
were deserted.

The inspection of the site is no easy matter. The shaft descends to
a depth of nearly three feet in a compact soil, either vertically or
horizontally. The spade and pick, wielded by stronger but less expert
hands than mine, are indispensable, for which reason the process of
excavation is far from satisfying me fully. At the end of this long
tunnel, which the straw which I use for sounding despairs of ever
reaching, the cells are at last encountered, oval cavities with a
horizontal major axis. Their number and general arrangement escape me.

Some of them already contain the cocoon, which is slender and
semitransparent, like those of the Cerceris, and, like them, suggests
the shape of certain homoeopathic phials, with oval bellies surmounted
by a tapering neck. The cocoon is fastened to the end of the cell by
the tip of this neck, which is darkened and hardened by the larva's
excrement; it has no other support. It looks like a short club fixed by
the end of the handle along the horizontal axis of the nest. Other cells
contain the larva in a more or less advanced stage. The grub is munching
the last morsel served to it, with the scraps of the victuals already
consumed lying around it. Others lastly show me a Bee, one only, still
untouched and bearing an egg laid on her breast. This is the first
partial ration; the others will come as and when the grub grows larger.
My anticipations are thus confirmed: following the example of the
Bembeces, the Fly-killers, the Philanthus, the Bee-killer, lays her egg
on the first piece warehoused and at intervals adds to her nurselings'

The problem of the dead game is solved. There remains this other
problem, one of incomparable interest: why are the Bees robbed of their
honey before being served to the larvae? I have said and I say again
that the killing and squeezing cannot be explained and excused simply by
reference to the Philanthus' love of gormandizing. Robbing the worker
of her booty is nothing out of the way: we see it daily; but cutting her
throat in order to empty her stomach is going beyond a joke. And, as
the Bees packed away in the cellar are squeezed dry just as much as the
others, the thought occurs to my mind that a rumpsteak with jam is not
to everybody's liking and that the game stuffed with honey might well be
a distasteful or even unwholesome dish for the Philanthus' larvae. What
will the grub do when, sated with blood and meat, it finds the Bee's
honey-bag under its mandibles and especially when, nibbling at random,
it rips open the crop and spoils its venison with syrup? Will it thrive
on the mixture? Will the little ogre pass without repugnance from the
gamy flavour of a carcase to the scent of flowers? A blunt statement or
denial would serve no purpose. We must see. Let us see.

I rear some young Philanthus-grubs, already waxing large; but, instead
of supplying them with the prey taken from the burrows, I give them game
of my own catching, game replete with nectar from the rosemaries. My
Bees, whom I kill by crushing their heads, are readily accepted; and
I at first see nothing that corresponds with my suspicions. Then my
nurselings languish, disdain their food, give a careless bite here and
there and end by perishing, from the first to the last, beside their
unfinished victuals. All my attempts miscarry: I do not once succeed in
rearing my larvae to the stage of spinning the cocoon. And yet I am no
novice in the functions of a foster-father. How many pupils have not
passed through my hands and reached maturity in my old sardine-boxes as
comfortably as in their natural burrows!

I will not draw rash conclusions from this check; I am conscientious
enough to ascribe it to another cause. It may be that the atmosphere
of my study and the dryness of the sand serving as a bed have had a
bad effect on my charges, whose tender skins are accustomed to the warm
moisture of the subsoil. Let us therefore try another expedient.

It is hardly feasible to decide positively by the methods which I have
been following whether the honey is or is not repugnant to the grubs of
the Philanthus. The first mouthfuls consist of meat; and then nothing
particular occurs: it is the natural diet. The honey is met with later,
when the morsel has been largely bitten into. If hesitation and lack of
appetite are displayed at this stage, they come too late in the day
to be conclusive: the larva's discomfort may be due to other, known or
unknown, causes. The thing to do would be to offer the grub honey from
the first, before artificial rearing has affected its appetite. It is
useless, of course, to make the attempt with pure honey: no carnivorous
creature would touch it, though it were starving. The jam-sandwich is
the only device favourable to my plans, a meagre jam-sandwich, that is
to say, the dead Bee lightly smeared or varnished with honey by means of
a camel's-hair pencil.

Under these conditions, the problem is solved with the first few
mouthfuls. The grub that has bitten into the honeyed prey draws back in
disgust, hesitates a long time and then, urged by hunger, begins again,
tries this side and that and ends by refusing to touch the dish. For a
few days it pines away on top of its almost intact provisions; then it
dies. All that are subjected to this regimen succumb. Do they merely
perish of inanition in the presence of an unaccustomed food, which
revolts their appetite, or are they poisoned by the small quantity of
honey absorbed with the early mouthfuls? I cannot tell. The fact remains
that, whether poisonous or repugnant, the Bee in the state of bread and
jam is death to them; and this result explains, more clearly than the
unfavourable circumstance of my former experiment, my failures with the
Bee that had not been made to disgorge.

This refusal to touch the unwholesome or distasteful honey is connected
with principles of nutrition which are too general to constitute a
gastronomic peculiarity of the Philanthus. The other carnivorous larvae,
at least in the order of the Hymenoptera, are bound to share it. Let us
try. We will go to work as before. I unearth the larvae when they have
attained a medium size, to avoid the weakness of infancy; I take away
the natural provisions, smear the carcases separately with honey and,
when this is done, restore its victuals to each of the grubs. I had to
make a choice: not every subject was equally suited to my experiments. I
must reject the larvae which are fed on one fat joint, such as those
of the Scolia. The grub in fact attacks its prey at a determined point,
dips its head and neck into the insect's body, rooting skilfully in the
entrails to keep the game fresh until the end of the meal, and does
not withdraw from the breach until the whole skin is emptied of its

To make it let go with the object of coating the inside of the venison
with honey had two drawbacks: I should be compromising the lingering
vitality which saves the insect that is being devoured from going bad
and, at the same time, I should be disturbing the delicate art of the
devouring insect, which, if removed from the lode which it was working,
would no longer be able to recover it or to distinguish between the
lawful and the unlawful morsels. The larva of the Scolia, consuming its
Cetonia-grub, has taught us all that we want to know on this subject in
my earlier volume. (Chapters 2 to 5 of the present volume contain the
whole of the matter referred to above.--Translator's Note.) The only
acceptable larvae are those supplied with a heap of small insects, which
are attacked without any special art, dismembered at random and eaten up
quickly. Among these I have tested such as chance threw in my way: those
of various Bembeces, all fed on Flies, those of the Palarus, whose bill
of fare consists of a very large assortment of Hymenoptera; those of the
Tarsal Tachytes, supplied with young Locusts; those of the Nest-building
Odynerus, furnished with Chrysomela-grubs; those of the Sand Cerceris,
endowed with a pinch of Weevils. A goodly variety, as you see, of
consumers and consumed. Well, to all of these the seasoning with honey
proved fatal. Whether poisoned or disgusted, they all died in a few

A strange result indeed! Honey, the nectar of the flowers, the sole diet
of the Bee-tribe in both its forms and the sole resource of the Wasp
in her a adult form, is to the larvae of the latter an object
of insurmountable repugnance and probably a toxic dish. Even the
transformation of the nymphosis surprises me less than this inversion
of the appetite. What happens in the insect's stomach to make the adult
seek passionately what the youngster refused lest it should die? This is
not a question of organic debility unable to endure a too substantial,
too hard, too highly spiced dish. The grub that gnaws the Cetonia-larva,
that generous piece of butcher's meat; the glutton that crunches its
batch of tough Locusts; the one that battens on nitrobenzine-flavoured
game: they certainly own unfastidious gullets and accommodating
stomachs. And these robust eaters allow themselves to die of hunger
or digestive troubles because of a drop of syrup, the lightest food
imaginable, suited to the weakness of extreme youth and a feast for the
adult besides! What a gulf of obscurity in the stomach of a wretched

These gastronomical researches called for a counterexperiment. The
carnivorous larva is killed by honey. Conversely, is the mellivorous
larva killed by animal food? Reservations are needful here, as in the
previous tests. We should be courting a flat refusal if we offered
a pinch of Locusts to the larvae of the Anthophora or the Osmia, for
instance. (For both these Wild Bees cf. "Bramble-bees and Others":
passim.--Translator's Note.) The honey-fed insect would not bite
into it. There would be no use whatever in trying. We must find the
equivalent of the jam-sandwich aforesaid; in other words, we must give
the larva its natural fare with a mixture of animal food. The addition
made by my artifices shall be albumen, as found in the egg of the Hen,
albumen the isomer of fibrin, which is the essential factor in any form
of prey.

On the other hand, the Three-horned Osmia lends herself most admirably
to my plans, because of her dry honey, consisting for the greater part
of floury pollen. I therefore knead this honey with albumen, graduating
the dose until its weight largely exceeds that of the flour. In this way
I obtain pastes of different degrees of consistency, but all firm enough
to bear the larva without danger of immersion. With too fluid a
mixture there would be a risk of death by drowning. Lastly I install a
moderately-developed larva on each of my albuminous cakes.

The dish of my inventing does not incite dislike: far from it. The grubs
attack it without hesitation and consume it with every appearance of
the usual appetite. Things could not go better if the food had not been
altered by my culinary recipes. Everything goes down, including the
morsels in which I feared that I had overdone the addition of albumen.
And--an even more important point--the Osmia-larvae fed in this manner
attain their normal dimensions and spin their cocoons, from which adult
insects issue in the following year. Notwithstanding the albuminous
regimen, the cycle of the evolution is achieved without impediment.

What are we to conclude from all this? I feel greatly embarrassed. Omne
vivum ex ovo, the physiologists tell us. Every animal is carnivorous, in
its first beginnings: it is formed and nourished at the cost of its egg,
in which albumen predominates. The highest, the mammal, adheres to this
diet for a long time: it has its mother's milk, rich in casein, another
isomer of albumen. The gramnivorous nestling is first fed on grubs,
which are better adapted to the niceties of its stomach; many of the
minutest new-born creatures, being at once left to their own devices,
take to animal food. In this way the original method of nourishment is
continued for all alike: the method which allows flesh to be made from
flesh and blood from blood, with no chemical process beyond the simplest
modification. At maturity, when the stomach has acquired its full
strength, vegetable food is adopted, involving a more complicated
chemistry but easier to obtain. Milk is followed by fodder, worms by
seeds, the prey in the burrow by the nectar of the flowers.

This supplies a partial explanation of the twofold diet of the
Hymenoptera with carnivorous larvae: meat first, honey next. But then
the note of interrogation is shifted. It stood elsewhere; it now stands
here. Why is the Osmia, who as a larva fares so well on albumen, fed on
honey at the start? Why do the Bee-tribe receive a vegetable diet when
the other members of the order receive an animal diet?

If I were a believer in evolution, I should say yes, by the fact of its
germ, every animal is originally carnivorous. The insect in particular
starts with albuminoid materials. Many larvae adhere to the egg-food,
many adult insects do likewise. But the struggle to fill the belly,
which after all is the struggle for life, demands something better than
the precarious hazards of the chase. Man, at first a ravenous hunter
after game, brought the flock into existence and turned shepherd to
avoid a time of dearth. An even greater progress inspired him to scrape
the earth and to sow seed, which assures him of a living. The evolution
from scarcity to moderation and from moderation to plenty has led to the
resources of husbandry.

The animals forestalled us this path of progress. The ancestors of the
Philanthus, in the remote ages of the lacustrian tertiary formations,
lived by prey in both the larval and the adult forms: they hunted for
themselves as well as for the family. They did not confine themselves
to emptying the Bee's crop, as their descendants do to this day: they
devoured the deceased. From the beginning to the end they remained
flesh-eaters. Later, fortunate innovators, whose race supplanted the
laggards, discovered an inexhaustible nourishment, obtained without
dangerous conflicts or laborious search: the sugary secretions of the
flowers. The costly habit of living on prey, which does not favour large
populations, was maintained for the feeble larvae; but the vigorous
adult broke herself of it to lead an easier and more prosperous life.
Thus, gradually, was formed the Philanthus of our day; thus was acquired
the twofold diet of the various predatory insects our contemporaries.

The Bee has done better still: from the moment of leaving the egg she
delivered herself completely from food-stuffs the acquisition of which
depended on chance. She discovered honey, the grubs' food. Renouncing
the chase for ever and becoming an agriculturalist pure and simple,
the insect attains a degree of physical and moral prosperity which the
predatory species are far from sharing. Hence the flourishing colonies
of the Anthophorae, the Osmiae, the Eucerae (A genus of long-horned
Burrowing Bees.--Translator's Note.), the Halicti and other
honey-manufacturers, whereas the predatory insects work in isolation;
hence the societies in which the Bee displays her wonderful tendencies,
the supreme expression of instinct.

This is what I should say if I belonged to that school. It all forms a
chain of very logical deductions and proffers itself with a certain air
of likelihood which we should be glad to find in a host of evolutionist
arguments put forward as irrefutable. Well, I will make a present of my
deductive views, without regret, to whoever cares to have them: I don't
believe one word of them; and I confess my profound ignorance of the
origin of the twofold diet.

What I do understand more clearly, after all these investigations, is
the tactics of the Philanthus. When witnessing her ferocious feasting,
the real reason of which was unknown to me, I heaped the most
ill-sounding epithets upon her, calling her a murderess, a bandit, a
pirate, a robber of the dead. Ignorance is always evil-tongued; the
man who does not know indulges in rude assertions and mischievous
interpretations. Now that my eyes have been opened to the facts, I
hasten to apologize and to restore the Philanthus to her place in my
esteem. In draining the crops of her Bees the mother is performing the
most praiseworthy of all actions: she is protecting her family against
poison. If she happens to kill on her own account and to abandon the
corpse after making it disgorge, I dare not reckon this against her as a
crime. When the habit has been formed of emptying the Bee's crop with
a good motive, there is a great temptation to do it again with no other
excuse than hunger. Besides, who knows? Perhaps there is always at the
back of her hunting some thought of game which might be useful for the
larvae. Although not carried into effect, the intention excuses the

I therefore withdraw my epithets in order to admire the insect's
maternal logic and to hold it up to the admiration of others. The honey
would be pernicious to the health of the larvae. How does the mother
know that the syrup, a treat for her, is unwholesome for her young?
To this question our science offers no reply. The honey, I say, would
imperil the grubs' lives, The Bee must therefore first be made to
disgorge. The disgorging must be effected without lacerating the victim,
which the nurseling must receive in the fresh state; and the operation
is impracticable on a paralysed insect because of the resistance of
the stomach. The Bee must therefore be killed outright instead of being
paralysed, or the honey will not be voided. Instantaneous death can be
inflicted only by wounding the primordial centre of life. The sting must
therefore aim at the cervical ganglia, the seat of innervation on which
the rest of the organism depends. To reach them there is only one way,
through the little gap in the throat. It is here therefore that the
sting must be inserted; and it is here in fact that it is inserted, in
a spot hardly as large as the twenty-fifth of an inch square. Suppress
a single link of this compact chain, and the Bee-fed Philanthus becomes

That honey is fatal to carnivorous larvae is a fact which teems with
consequences. Several Hunting Wasps feed their families upon Bees. These
include, to my knowledge, the Crowned Philanthus (P. coronatus, FAB.),
who lines her burrows with big Halicti; the Robber Philanthus (P.
raptor, LEP.), who chases all the smaller-sized Halicti, suited to her
own dimensions, indifferently; the Ornate Cerceris (C. ornata, FAB.),
another passionate lover of Halicti; and the Palarus (P. flavipes,
FAB.), who, with a curious eclecticism, stacks in her cells the greater
part of the Hymenopteron clan that does not exceed her powers. What do
these four huntresses and the others of similar habits do with their
victims whose crops are more or less swollen with honey? They must
follow the example of the Bee-eating Philanthus and make them disgorge,
lest their family perish of a honeyed diet; they must manipulate the
dead Bee, squeeze her and drain her dry. Everything goes to show it. I
leave it to the future to display these dazzling proofs of my doctrine
in their proper light.


(For these Sand-wasps, cf. "The Hunting Wasps": chapters 13 and 18 to
20.--Translator's Note.)

My readers may differ in appraising the comparative value of the
trifling discoveries which entomology owes to my labours. The geologist,
the recorder of forms, will prefer the hypermetamorphosis of the
Oil-beetles (The chapter treating of this subject has not yet been
translated into English and will appear in a later volume.--Translator's
Note.), the development of the Anthrax (Cf. "The Life of the Fly":
chapter 2.--Translator's Note.) or larval dimorphism; the embryogenist,
searching into the mysteries of the egg, will have some esteem for my
enquiries into the egg-laying habits of the Osmia (Cf. "Bramble-bees and
Others": chapter 4.--Translator's Note.); the philosopher, racking his
brain over the nature of instinct, will award the palm to the operations
of the Hunting Wasps. I agree with the philosopher. Without hesitation,
I would abandon all the rest of my entomological baggage for this
discovery, which happens to be the earliest in date and that of which
I have the fondest memories. Nowhere do I find a more brilliant, more
lucid, more eloquent proof of the intuitive wisdom of instinct; nowhere
does the theory of evolution suffer a more obstinate check.

Darwin, a true judge, made no mistake about it. (Charles Robert Darwin,
born the 12th of February, 1809, at Shrewsbury, died at Down, in Kent,
on the 19th of April, 1882. For an account of certain experiments
which the author conducted on his behalf, cf. "The Mason-bees": chapter
4.--Translator's Note.) He greatly dreaded the problem of the instincts.
My first results in particular left him very anxious. If he had known
the tactics of the Hairy Ammophila, the Mantis-hunting Tachytes, the
Bee-eating Philanthus, the Calicurgi and other marauders, his anxiety,
I believe, would have ended in a frank admission that he was unable to
squeeze instinct into the mould of his formula. Alas, the philosopher of
Down quitted this world when the discussion, with experiments to support
it, had barely begun: a method superior to any argument! The little
that I had published at that time left him with still some hope of an
explanation. In his eyes, instinct was always an acquired habit. The
predatory Wasps killed their prey at first by stabbing it at random,
here and there, in the softest parts. By degrees they found the spot
where the sting was most effectual; and the habit once formed became a
true instinct. Transitions from one method of operation to the other,
intermediary changes, sufficed to bolster up these sweeping assertions.
In a letter of the 16th of April, 1881, he asks G.J. Romanes to consider
the problem:

"I do not know," he says "whether you will discuss in your book on the
mind of animals any of the more complex and wonderful instincts. It is
unsatisfactory work, as there can be no fossilised instincts, and the
sole guide is their state in other members of the same order, and mere

"But if you do discuss any (and it will perhaps be expected of you), I
should think that you could not select a better case than that of
the sand-wasps which paralyse their prey as described by Fabre in his
wonderful paper in the 'Anales des sciences naturelles,' and since
amplified in his admirable 'Souvenirs...'"

I thank you, O illustrious master, for your eulogistic expressions,
proving the keen interest which you took in my studies of instinct, no
ungrateful task--far from it--when we tackle it as it should be tackled:
from the front, with the aid of facts, and not from the flank, with
the aid of arguments. Arguments are here out of place, if we wish to
maintain our position in the light. Besides, where would they lead us?
To evoking the instincts of bygone ages, which have not been preserved
by fossilization? Any such appeal to the dim and distant past is quite
unnecessary, if we wish for variations of instinct, leading by degrees,
according to you, from one instinct to another; the present world offers
us plenty.

Each operator has her particular method, her particular kind of game,
her particular points of attack and tricks of fence; but in the midst
of this variety of talents we observe, immutable and predominant, the
perfect accordance of the surgery with the victim's organization and the
larva's needs. The art of one will not explain the art of another,
no less exact in the delicacy of its rules. Each operator has her own
tactics, which tolerate no apprenticeship. The Ammophila, the Scolia,
the Philanthus and the others all tell us the same thing: none can
leave descendants if she be not from the outset the skilful paralyser or
slayer that she is to-day. The "almost" is impracticable when the future
of the race is at stake. What would have become of the first-born mammal
but for its perfect instinct of suckling?

And then, to suppose the impossible: a Wasp discovers by chance the
operative method which will be the saving attribute of her race. How are
we to admit that this fortuitous act, to which the mother has vouchsafed
no more attention than to her other less fortunate attempts, could leave
a profound trace behind it and be faithfully transmitted by heredity? Is
it not going beyond reason, going beyond the little that is known to
us as certain, if we grant to atavism this strange power, of which our
present world knows no instance? There is a good deal to be said for
this point of view, my revered master! But, once more, arguments are
here out of place; there is room only for facts, of which I will resume
the recital.

Hitherto I had but one means of studying the operative methods of the
spoilers: to surprise the Wasp in possession of her capture, to rob her
of her prey and immediately to give her in exchange a similar prey, but
a living one. This method of substitution is an excellent expedient. Its
only defect--a very grave one--is that it subjects observation to
very uncertain chances. There is little prospect of meeting the insect
dragging its victim along; and, in the second place, should good fortune
suddenly smile upon you, preoccupied as you are with other matters
you have not the substitute at hand. If we provide ourselves with the
necessary head of game in advance, the huntress is not there. We
avoid one reef to founder on another. Moreover, these unlooked for
observations, made sometimes on the public highway, the worst of
laboratories, are only half-satisfactory. In the case of swiftly-enacted
scenes, which it is not in our power to renew again and again until
perfect conviction is reached, we always fear lest we may not have seen
accurately, may not have seen everything.

A method which could be controlled at will would offer the best
guarantees, above all if employed at home, under comfortable conditions,
favourable to precision. I wished, therefore, to see my insects at work
on the actual table at which I am writing their history. Here very few
of their secrets would escape me. This wish of mine was an old one. As
a beginner, I made some experiments under glass with the Great Cerceris
(C. tuberculata) and the Yellow-winged Sphex. Neither of them responded
to my desires. The refusal of each to attack respectively her Cleonus or
her Cricket discouraged further progress in this direction. I was wrong
to abandon my attempts so soon. Now, very long afterwards, the idea
occurs to me to place under glass the Bee-eating Philanthus, whom I
sometimes surprise in the open engaged in forcing a bee to disgorge her
honey. The captive massacres her bees in such a spirited fashion that
the old hope revives stronger than ever. I contemplate reviewing all the
wielders of the stiletto and forcing each to reveal her tactics.

I was obliged to abate these ambitions considerably. I had some
successes and many more failures. I will tell you of the former. My
insect-cage is a spacious dome of wire-gauze resting on a bed of sand.
Here I keep in reserve the captives of my hunting-expeditions. I feed
them on honey, placed in little drops on spikes of lavender, on heads
of thistle, or field eryngo, or globe-thistle, according to the season.
Most of my prisoners do well on this diet and seem scarcely affected by
their internment; others pine away and die in two or three days.
These victims of despair nearly always throw me back, because of the
difficulty of obtaining the necessary prey at short notice.

Indeed it entails no small trouble to secure in the nick of time the
game demanded by the huntress who has recently fallen a captive to my
net. As assistant-purveyors I have a few small schoolboys, who, released
from the tedium of their declensions and conjugations, set out, on
leaving the classroom, to inspect the greenswards and beat the bushes
in the neighbourhood on my behalf. The gros sou, the penny-piece, if you
please, stimulates their zeal; but with misadventurous results! What I
need to-day is Crickets. The band sallies forth and returns with not a
single Cricket, but numbers of Ephippigers, for which I asked the day
before yesterday and which I no longer need, my Languedocian Sphex
being dead. General surprise at this sudden change of market. My young
scatterbrains find it hard to understand that the beast which was so
precious two days ago is now of no value whatever. When, owing to the
chances of my net, a renewed demand for the Ephippiger sets in, then
they will bring me the Cricket, the despised Cricket.

Such a trade could never hold out if now and again my speculators were
not encouraged by some success. At the moment when urgent necessity is
sending up prices, one of them brings me a magnificent Gad-fly intended
for the Bembex. For two hours, when the sun was at its height, he kept
watch on the threshing-floor hard by, waiting for the blood-sucker, in
order to catch him on the buttocks of the Mules which trot round and
round trampling the corn. This gallant fellow shall have his gros sou
and a slice of bread and jam as well. A second, no less fortunate, has
found a fat Spider, the Epeira, for whom my Pompili are waiting. To the
two sous of this fortunate youth I add a little picture for his missal.
Thus are my purveyors kept going; and, after all, their help would be
very inadequate if I did not take upon myself the main burden of these
wearisome quests.

Once in possession of the requisite prey, I transfer the huntress from
my warehouse, the wire-gauze cage, to a bell-glass varying in capacity
from one to three or four litres (1 3/4 to 5 or 7 pints.--Translator's
Note.), according to the size and habits of the combatants; I place the
victim in the arena; I expose the bell-glass to the direct rays of
the sun, without which condition the executioner as a rule declines to
operate; I arm myself with patience and await events.

We will begin with the Hairy Ammophila, my neighbour. Year after year,
when April comes, I see her in considerable numbers, very busy on the
paths in my enclosure. Until June I see her digging her burrows and
searching for the Grey Worm, to be placed in the meat-cellar. Her
tactics are the most complex that I know and more than any other
deserves to be thoroughly studied. To capture the cunning vivisector, to
release her and catch her again I find an easy matter for the best part
of a month; she works outside my door.

I have still to obtain the Grey Worm. This means a repetition of the
disappointments which I had before, when, to find a caterpillar, I was
obliged to watch the Ammophila while hunting and to be guided by her
hints, as the truffle-hunter is guided by the scent of his Dog. A
patient exploration of the harmas, one tuft of thyme after another, does
not give me a single worm. My rivals in this search are finding their
game at every moment; I cannot find it even once. Yet one more reason
for bowing to the superiority of the insect in the management of her
affairs. My band of schoolboys get to work in the surrounding fields.
Nothing, always nothing! I in my turn explore the outer world; and for
ten days the pursuit of a caterpillar torments me till I lose my power
of sleep. Then, at last, victory! At the foot of a sunny wall, under the
budding rosettes of the panicled centaury, I find a fair supply of the
precious Grey Worm or its equivalent.

Behold the worm and the Ammophila face to face beneath the bell-glass.
Usually the attack is prompt enough. The caterpillar is grabbed by the
neck with the mandibles, wide, curved pincers capable of embracing the
greater part of the living cylinder. The creature thus seized twists
and turns and sometimes, with a blow of its tail, sends the assailant
rolling to a distance. The latter is unconcerned and thrusts her sting
thrice in rapid succession into the thorax, beginning with the third
segment and ending with the first, where the weapon is driven home with
greater determination than elsewhere.

The caterpillar is then released. The Ammophila stamps on the ground;
with her quivering tarsi she taps the cardboard on which the bell-glass
stands; she lies down flat, drags herself along, gets up again, flattens
herself once more. The wings jerk convulsively. From time to time the
insect places its mandibles and forehead on the ground, then rears high
upon its hind-legs as though to turn head over heels. In all this I
see a manifestation of delight. We rub our hands when rejoicing at a
success; the Ammophila is celebrating her triumph over the monster in
her own fashion. During this fit of delirious joy, what is the wounded
caterpillar doing? It can no longer walk; but all the part behind the
thorax struggles violently, curling and uncurling when the Ammophila
sets a foot upon it. The mandibles open and shut menacingly.

SECOND ACT.--When the operation is resumed, the caterpillar is seized
by the back. From front to rear, in order, all the segments are stung on
the ventral surface, except the three operated on. All serious danger is
averted by the stabs of the first act; therefore, the Wasp is now able
to work upon her patient without the haste displayed at the outset.
Deliberately and methodically she drives in her lancet, withdraws it,
selects the spot, stabs it and begins again, passing from segment to
segment, taking care, each time, to lay hold of the back a little more
to the rear, in order to bring the segment to be paralysed within reach
of the needle. For the second time, the caterpillar is released. It
is absolutely inert, except the mandibles, which are still capable of

THIRD ACT.--The Ammophila clasps the paralysed victim between her legs;
with the hooks of her mandibles she seizes the back of its neck, at the
base of the first thoracic segment. For nearly ten minutes she munches
this weak spot, which lies close to the cerebral nerve-centres. The
pincers squeeze suddenly but at intervals and methodically, as though
the manipulator wished each time to judge of the effect produced; the
squeezes are repeated until I am tired of trying to count them. When
they cease, the caterpillar's mandibles are motionless. Then comes the
transportation of the carcase, a detail which is not relevant in this

I have set forth the complete tragedy, as it is fairly often enacted,
but not always. The insect is not a machine, unvarying in the effect
of its mechanism; it is allowed a certain latitude, enabling it to
cope with the eventualities of the moment. Any one expecting to see
the incidents of the struggle unfolding themselves exactly as I have
described will risk disappointment. Special instances occur--they are
even numerous--which are more or less at variance with the general rule.
It will be well to mention the more important, in order to put future
observers on their guard.

Not infrequently the first act, that of paralysing the thorax, is
restricted to two thrusts of the sting instead of three, or even to one,
which is then delivered in the foremost segment. This, it would seem,
from the persistency with which the Ammophila inflicts it, is the most
important prick of all. Is it unreasonable to suppose that the operator,
when she begins by pricking the thorax, intends to subdue her capture
and to make it incapable of injuring her, or even of disturbing her when
the moment comes for the delicate and protracted surgery of the second
act? This idea seems to me highly admissible; and then, instead of three
dagger-thrusts, why not two only, why not merely one, if this would
suffice for the time being? The amount of vigour displayed by the
caterpillar must be taken into consideration. Be this as it may, the
segments spared in the first act are stabbed in the second. I have
sometimes even seen the three thoracic segments stung twice over: at
the beginning of the attack and again when the Wasp returned to her
vanquished prey.

The Ammophila's triumphant transports beside her wounded and writhing
victim are also subject to exceptions. Sometimes, without releasing
its prey for a moment, the insect proceeds from the thorax to the next
segments and completes its operation in a single spell. The joyous
entr'acte does not take place; the convulsive movements of the wings and
the acrobatic postures are suppressed.

The rule is paralysis of all the segments, however many, in regular
order from front to back, including even the anal segment if this boast
of legs. By a fairly frequent exception the last two or three segments
are spared. Another exception, but a very rare one, of which I have
observed only a single instance, consists in the inversion of the
dagger-thrusts of the second act, the thrusts being delivered from back
to front. The caterpillar is then seized by its hinder extremity; and
the Ammophila, progressing towards the head, stings in reverse order,
passing from the succeeding to the preceding segment, including the
thorax already stabbed. This reversal of the usual tactics I am inclined
to attribute to negligence on the insect's part. Negligence or not,
the inverted method has the same final result as the direct method: the
paralysis of all the segments.

Lastly, the compression of the neck by the mandibulary pincers, the
munching of the weak spot between the base of the skull and the first
segment of the thorax, is sometimes practised and sometimes neglected.
If the caterpillar's jaws open and threaten, the Ammophila stills them
by biting the neck; if they are already growing quiescent, she refrains.
Without being indispensable, this operation is useful at the moment of
carting the prey. The caterpillar, too heavy to be carried on the wing,
is dragged, head first, between the Ammophila's legs. If the mandibles
are working, the least clumsiness may render them dangerous to the
carrier, who is exposed to their bite without any means of defence.

Moreover, once on the way, thickets of grass are traversed in which
the Grey Worm can seize a blade and offer a desperate resistance to
the traction. Nor is this all. The Ammophila does not as a rule trouble
about her burrow, or at least does not complete it, until she has
caught her caterpillar. During the mining-operations, the game is laid
somewhere high up, out of reach of the Ants, on some tuft of grass, or
the twigs of a shrub, whither the huntress, from time to time, stopping
her well-sinking, hastens to see if her quarry is still there. For her
this is a means of refreshing her memory of the spot where she has laid
it, often at some distance from the burrow, and of preventing attempts
at robbery. When the moment comes for removing the game from its
hiding-place, the difficulty would be insurmountable were the worm,
gripping the shrub with all the might of its jaws, to anchor itself
there. Hence inertia of the powerful hooks, which are the paralysed
creature's sole means of resistance, becomes essential during the
carting. The Ammophila obtains it by compressing the cerebral ganglia,
by munching the neck. The inertia is temporary; it wears off sooner
or later; but by this time the carcase is in the cell and the egg,
prudently laid at a distance on the ventral surface of the worm, has
nothing to fear from the caterpillar's grapnels. No comparison is
permissible between the methodical squeezes of the Ammophila benumbing
the cephalic nerve-centres and the brutal manipulations of the
Philanthus emptying the crop of her Bee. The huntress of Grey Worms
induces a temporary torpor of the mandibles; the ravisher of Bees makes
them eject their honey. No one gifted with the least perspicacity will
confound the two operations.

For the moment we will not dwell any longer on the method of the
Hairy Ammophila; we will see instead how her kinswomen behave. After
protracted refusals the Sandy Ammophila (A. sabulosa, FAB.),on whom
I experimented in September, ended by accepting the proffered prey, a
powerful caterpillar as thick as a lead-pencil. The surgical method did
not differ from that employed by the Hairy Ammophila when operating on
her Grey Worm in one spell. All the segments, excepting the last three,
were stung from front to back, beginning with the prothorax. This single
success with a simplified method left me in ignorance of the accessory
manoeuvres, which I do not doubt must more or less closely recall those
of the preceding species.

I am all the more inclined to accept these secondary manoeuvres, not
as yet recorded--the transports of triumph and the compressions of the
neck--inasmuch as I see them practised upon the Looper caterpillars,
which differ so greatly from the others in external structure, exactly
as I have described them in the case of the Grey Worm, which is of the
ordinary form. Two species, the Silky Ammophila (A. holoserica,
FAB.) and Jules' Ammophila (See in the first volume of the "Souvenirs
entomologiques" what I mean by this denomination.--Author's Note.),
affect this curious prey, which moves with the stride of a pair of
compasses. The first, often renewed under glass during the greater part
of August, has always refused my offers; the second, her contemporary,
has, on the contrary, promptly accepted them.

I present Jules' Ammophila with a slender, brownish Looper which I
caught on the jasmine. The attack is not slow in coming. The caterpillar
is grabbed by the neck: lively contortions of the victim, which rolls
the aggressor over and drags her along, now uppermost, now undermost in
the struggle. First the thorax is stung, in its three rings, from
back to front. The sting lingers longest near the throat, in the first
segment. This done, the Ammophila releases her victim and proceeds
to stamp her tarsi, to polish her wings, to stretch herself. Again I
observe the acrobatic postures, the forehead touching the ground, the
hinder part of the body raised. This mimic triumph is the same as that
of the huntress of the Grey Worm. Then the Looper is once more seized.
Despite its contortions, which are not in the least abated by the three
wounds in the thorax, it is stung from front to back in each segment
still unwounded, no matter how many, whether supplied with legs or not.
I expected to see the sting refrain more or less in the long interval
which separates the true legs in front from the pro-legs at the back
(Fleshy legs found on the abdominal segments of caterpillars and certain
other larvae.--Translator's Note.): segments devoid of organs of defence
or locomotion did not seem to me to deserve conscientious surgery. I was
mistaken: not a segment of the Looper is spared, not even the last ones.
It is true that these, being eminently capable of catching hold with
their false legs, would be dangerous later were the Wasp to neglect

I observe, however, that the lancet works more rapidly in the second
part of the operation than in the first, either because the caterpillar,
half subjugated by the triple wound at the outset, is easier to reach
with the sting, or because the segments more remote from the head are
rendered harmless with a smaller injection of poison. Nowhere do we see
repeated the care expended upon paralysing the thorax, still less the
insistent attention to the first segment. On returning to her Looper
after the entr'acte devoted to the joys of success, the Ammophila stabs
so swiftly that, on one occasion, I saw her obliged to begin all over
again. Lightly stung along its whole length, the victim still struggles.
Without hesitation, the operator unsheathes her scalpel for the second
time and operates on the Looper afresh, with the exception of the
thorax, which was already sufficiently anaesthetized. This done, all is
in order; there is no more movement.

After the stiletto the hooks of the mandibles rarely fail to intervene.
Long and curved, they nibble at the paralysed victim's neck, sometimes
from above, sometimes from below. It is a repetition of what the Hairy
Ammophila showed us: the same sudden squeezes of the pincers, with
rather long intervals between. These intervals, these measured bites and
the insect's watchful attitude have every appearance of telling us that
the operator is noting the effect produced before giving a fresh pinch
of the nippers.

It will be seen how valuable is the evidence of Jules' Ammophila:
it tells us that the immolaters of Looper caterpillars and those of
ordinary caterpillars follow precisely the same method; that victims
displaying very dissimilar external structure do not entail any
modification of the operative tactics so long as the internal
organization remains the same. The number, arrangement and degree of
mutual independence of the nerve-centres guide the sting; the anatomy of
the game, rather than its form, controls the huntress' tactics.

Let me mention, before I dismiss the subject, a superb example of this
marvellous anatomical discrimination. I once took from between the legs
of a Hairy Ammophila, which had just paralysed it, a caterpillar of
Dicranura vinula. What a strange capture compared with the ordinary
caterpillar! Bridling in thick folds beneath its pink neckerchief,
its fore-part raised in a sphinx-like attitude, its hinder-part slowly
waving two long caudal threads, the curious animal is no caterpillar
to the schoolboy who brings it to me, nor to the man who comes upon
it while cutting his bundle of osiers; but it is a caterpillar to the
Ammophila, who treats it accordingly. I explore the queer creature's
segments with the point of a needle. All are insensitive; all therefore
have been stung.


After the Ammophilae, the paralysers who multiply their lancet-thrusts
to destroy the influence of the various nerve-centres, excepting those
of the head, it seemed advisable to interrogate other insects which also
are accustomed to a naked prey, vulnerable at all points save the
head, but which deliver only a single thrust of the sting. Of these two
conditions the Scoliae fulfilled one, with their regular quarry, the
tender Cetonia-, Oryctes-or Anoxia-larva, according to the Scolia's
species. Did they fulfil the second? I was convinced beforehand that
they did. From the anatomy of the victims, with their concentrated
nervous system, I foresaw, when compiling my history of the Scoliae,
that the sting would be unsheathed once only; I even mentioned the exact
spot into which the weapon would be plunged.

These were assertions dictated by the anatomist's scalpel, without the
slightest direct proof derived from observed facts. Manoeuvres executed
underground escaped the eye, as it seemed to me that they must always
do. How indeed could I hope that a creature whose art is practised in
the darkness of a heap of mould would decide to work in broad daylight?
I did not reckon upon it all. Nevertheless, to salve my conscience,
I tried bringing the Scolia into contact with her prey under the
bell-glass. I was well-advised to do so, for my success was in inverse
ratio to my hopes. Next to the Philanthus, none of the Hunting Wasps
displayed such ardour in attacking under artificial conditions. All the
insects experimented upon, some sooner, some later, rewarded me for my
patience. Let us watch the Two-banded Scolia (S. bifasciata, VAN DER
LIND) operating on her Cetonia grub.

The incarcerated larva strives to escape its terrible neighbour. Lying
on its back, it fiercely wends its way round and round the glass circus.
Presently the Scolia's attention awakens and is betrayed by a continued
tapping with the tips of the antennae upon the table, which now
represents the accustomed soil. The Wasp attacks the game, delivering
her assault upon the monster's hinder end. She climbs upon the
Cetonia-grub, obtaining a purchase with the tip of her abdomen. The
quarry merely travels the more quickly on its back, without coiling
itself into a defensive posture. The Scolia reaches the fore-part,
with tumbles and other accidents which vary greatly with the amount
of tolerance displayed by the larva, her improvised steed. With her
mandibles she nips a point of the thorax, on the upper surface; she
places herself athwart the beast, arches herself and makes every effort
to reach with the end of her abdomen the region into which the sting
is to be driven. The arch is a little too narrow to embrace almost the
whole circumference of her corpulent prey; and she renews her
attempts and efforts for a long time. The tip of the belly tries every
conceivable expedient, touching here, there and everywhere, but as yet
stopping nowhere. This persistent search in itself demonstrates the
importance which the paralyser attaches to the point at which her lancet
is to penetrate the flesh.

Meanwhile, the larva continues to move along on its back. Suddenly it
curls up; with a stroke of its head it hurls the enemy to a distance.
Undiscouraged by all her set-backs, the Wasp picks herself up, brushes
her wings and resumes her attack upon the colossus, almost always by
mounting the larva's hinder end. At last after all these fruitless
attempts, the Scolia succeeds in achieving the correct position. She
is seated athwart the Cetonia-grub; the mandibles grip a point on the
dorsal surface of the thorax; the body, bent into a bow, passes under
the larva and with the tip of the belly reaches the region of the neck.
The Cetonia-grub, placed in serious peril, writhes, coils and uncoils
itself, spinning round upon its axis. The Scolia does not interfere.
Holding the victim tightly gripped, she turns with it, allows herself to
be dragged upwards, downwards, sidewards, following its contortions. Her
obstinacy is such that I can now remove the bell-glass and follow the
details of the drama in the open.

Briefly, in spite of the turmoil, the tip of the abdomen feels that the
right spot has been found. Then and only then the sting is unsheathed.
It plunges in. The thing is done. The larva, at first plump and active,
suddenly becomes flaccid and inert. It is paralysed. Henceforth there
are no movements save of the antennae and the mouthparts, which will for
a long time yet bear witness to a remnant of life. The point wounded
has never varied in the series of combats under glass: it occupies
the middle of the line of demarcation between the prothorax and the
mesothorax, on the ventral surface. Note that the Cerceres, operating on
Weevils, whose nervous system is as compact as the Cetonia-grub's,
drive in the needle at the same spot. Similarity of nervous organization
occasions similarity of method. Note also that the Scolia's sting
remains in the wound for some time and roots about with marked
persistence. Judging by the movements of the tip of the abdomen, one
would certainly say that the weapon is exploring and selecting. Free to
shift in one direction or the other, within narrow limits, its point is
most probably seeking for the little mass of nerve-tissue which must
be pricked, or at least sprinkled with poison, to obtain overwhelming

I will not close this report of the duel without relating a few further
facts, of minor importance. The Two-banded Scolia is a fierce persecutor
of the Cetonia. In one sitting the same mother stabs three larvae, one
after the other, in front of my eyes. She refuses the fourth, perhaps
owing to fatigue or to exhaustion of the poison-bag. Her refusal is only
temporary. Next day, she begins again and paralyses two grubs; the day
after that, she does the same, but with a zeal that decreases from day
to day.

The other Hunting Wasps that pursue the chase far afield grip, drag,
carry their prey, after depriving it of movement, each in her own
fashion and, laden with their burden, make prolonged attempts to escape
from the bell-glass and to gain the burrow. Discouraged by these futile
endeavours, they abandon them at last. The Scolia does not remove her
quarry, which lies on its back for an indefinite time on the actual spot
of the sacrifice. When she has withdrawn her dagger from the wound, she
leaves her victim where it lies and, without taking further notice
of it, begins to flutter against the side of the glass. The paralysed
carcase is not transported elsewhere, into a special cellar; there where
the struggle has occurred it receives, upon its extended abdomen, the
egg whence the consumer of the succulent tit-bit will emerge, thus
saving the expense of setting up house. It goes without saying that
under the bell-glass the laying does not take place: the mother is too
cautious to abandon her egg to the perils of the open air.

Why then, recognizing the absence of her underground burrow, does the
Scolia uselessly pursue the Cetonia with the frantic ardour of the
Philanthus flinging herself upon the Bee? The action of the Philanthus
is explained by her passion for honey; hence the murders committed in
excess of the needs of her family. The Scolia leaves us perplexed: she
takes nothing from the Cetonia-grub, which is left without an egg; she
stabs, though well aware of the uselessness of her action: the heap of
mould is lacking and it is not her custom to transport her prey. The
other prisoners, once the blow is struck, at least seek to escape with
their capture between their legs; the Scolia attempts nothing.

After due reflection, I lump together in my suspicions all these
surgeons and ask myself whether they possess the slightest foresight,
where the egg is concerned. When, exhausted by their burden, they
recognize the impossibility of escape, the more expert among them ought
not to begin all over again; yet they do so begin a few minutes later.
These wonderful anatomists know absolutely nothing about anything, they
do not even know what their victims are good for. Admirable artists
in killing and paralysis, they kill or paralyse at every favourable
opportunity, no matter what the final result as regards the egg.
Their talent, which leaves our science speechless, has not a shadow of
consciousness of the task accomplished.

A second detail strikes me: the desperate persistence of the Scolia. I
have seen the struggle continue for more than a quarter of an hour, with
frequent alternations of good luck and bad, before the Wasp achieved the
required position and reached with the end of her abdomen the spot where
the sting should penetrate. During these assaults, which were resumed as
soon as they were repulsed, the aggressor repeatedly applied the tip of
her belly to the larva, but without unsheathing, as I could see by the
absence of the start which the larva gives when it feels the pain of the
sting. The Scolia therefore does not prick the Cetonia anywhere until
the weapon covers the requisite spot. If no wounds are inflicted
elsewhere, this is not in any way due to the structure of the larva,
which is soft and vulnerable all over, except in the head. The point
sought by the sting is no more unprotected than any other part of the

In the scuffle, the Scolia, curved into a bow, is sometimes seized by
the vice-like grip of the Cetonia-grub, which is violently coiling and
uncoiling. Heedless of the powerful grip, the Wasp does not let go for
a moment, either with her mandibles or with the tip of her abdomen. At
such times the two creatures, locked in a mutual embrace, turn over and
over in a mad whirl, each of them now on top, now underneath. When it
contrives to rid itself of its enemy, the larva uncoils again, stretches
itself out and proceeds to make off upon its back with all possible
speed. Its defensive ruses are exhausted. Formerly, before I had seen
things for myself, taking probability as my guide I willingly granted to
the larva the trick of the Hedgehog, who rolls himself into a ball and
sets the Dog at defiance. Coiled upon itself, with an energy which my
fingers have some difficulty in overcoming, the larva, I thought, would
defy the Scolia, powerless to unroll it and disdaining any point but
the one selected. I hoped and believed that it possessed this means of
defence, a means both efficacious and extremely simple. I had presumed
too much upon its ingenuity. Instead of imitating the Hedgehog and
remaining contracted, it flees, belly in air; it foolishly adopts the
very posture which allows the Scolia to mount to the assault and to
reach the spot for the fatal stroke. The silly beast reminds me of
the giddy Bee who comes and flings herself into the clutches of the
Philanthus. Yet another who has learnt no lesson from the struggle for

Let us proceed to further examples. I have just captured an Interrupted
Scolia (Colpa interrupta, LATR.), exploring the sand, doubtless in
search of game. It is a matter of making the earliest possible use of
her, before her spirit is chilled by the tedium of captivity. I know her
prey, the larva of Anoxia australis (The Anoxia are a genus of Beetles
akin to the Cockchafers.--Translator's Note.); I know, from my past
excavations, the points favoured by the grub: the mounds of sand
heaped up by the wind at the foot of the rosemaries on the neighbouring
hill-sides. It will be a hard job to find it, for nothing is rarer than
the common if one wants it then and there. I appeal for assistance to my
father, an old man of ninety, still straight as a capital I. Under a sun
hot enough to broil an egg, we set off, shouldering a navvy's shovel
and a three-pronged luchet. (The local pitchfork of southern
France.--Translator's Note.) Employing our feeble energies in turns, we
dig a trench in the sand where I hope to find the Anoxia. My hopes are
not disappointed. After having by the sweat of our brow--never was the
expression more justified--removed and sifted two cubic yards at least
of sandy soil with our fingers, we find ourselves in possession of two
larvae. If I had not wanted any, I should have turned them up by the
handful. But my poor and costly harvest is sufficient for the moment.
To-morrow I will send more vigorous arms to continue the work of

And now let us reward ourselves for our trouble by studying the tragedy
in the bell-glass. Clumsy, awkward in her movements, the Scolia slowly
goes the round of the circus. At the sight of the game, her attention
is aroused. The struggle is announced by the same preparations as those
displayed by the Two-banded Scolia: the Wasp polishes her wings and taps
the table with the tips of her antennae. And view, halloo! The attack
begins. Unable to move on a flat surface, because of its short and
feeble legs, deprived moreover of the Cetonia-larva's eccentric means
of travelling on its back, the portly grub has no thought of fleeing; it
coils itself up. The Scolia, with her powerful pincers, grips its skin
now here, now elsewhere. Curved into a circle with the two ends almost
touching, she strives to thrust the tip of her abdomen into the narrow
opening in the coil formed by the larva. The contest is conducted
calmly, without violent bouts at each varying accident. It is the
determined attempt of a living split ring trying to slip one of its ends
into another living split ring, which with equal determination
refuses to open. The Scolia holds the victim subdued with her legs
and mandibles; she tries one side, then the other, without managing to
unroll the circle, which contracts still more as it feels its danger
increasing. The actual circumstances make the operation more difficult:
the prey slips and rolls about the table when the insect handles it too
violently; there are no points of purchase and the sting cannot reach
the desired spot; the fruitless efforts are continued for more than an
hour, interrupted by periods of rest, during which the two adversaries
represent two narrow, interlocked rings.

What ought the powerful Cetonia-grub to do to defy the Two-banded
Scolia, who is far less vigorous than her victim? It should imitate
the Anoxia-larva and remain rolled up like a Hedgehog until the enemy
retires. It tries to escape, unrolls itself and is lost. The other does
not stir from its posture of defence and resists successfully. Is this
due to acquired caution? No, but to the impossibility of doing otherwise
on the slippery surface of a table. Clumsy, obese, weak in the legs,
curved into a hook like the common White Worm (The larva of the
Cockchafer.--Translator's Note.), the Anoxia-larva is unable to move
along a smooth surface; it writhes laboriously, lying on its side. It
needs the shifting soil in which, using its mandibles as a plough-share,
it digs into the ground and buries itself.

Let us try if sand will shorten the struggle, for I see no end to it
yet, after more than an hour of waiting. I lightly powder the arena.
The attack is resumed with a vengeance. The larva, feeling the sand, its
native element, tries to escape. Imprudent creature! Did I not say that
its obstinacy in remaining rolled up was due to no acquired prudence but
to the necessity of the moment? The sad experience of past adversities
has not yet taught it the precious advantage which it might derive from
keeping its coils closed so long as danger remains. For that matter,
on the unyielding support of my table, they are not one and all so
cautious. The larger seem even to have forgotten what they knew so well
in their youth: the defensive art of coiling themselves up.

I continue my story with a fine-sized specimen, less likely to slip
under the Scolia's onslaught. When attacked, the larva does not curl up,
does not shrink into a ring as did the last, which was younger and only
half as large. It struggles awkwardly, lying on its side, half-open.
For all defence it twists about; it opens, closes and reopens the great
hooks of its mandibles. The Scolia grabs it at random, clasps it in
her shaggy legs and for nearly a quarter of an hour battles with the
luscious tit-bit. At last, after a not very tumultuous struggle, when
the favourable position is attained and the propitious moment has come,
the sting is implanted in the creature's thorax, in a central point,
below the throat, level with the fore-legs. The effect is instantaneous:
total inertia, except of the appendages of the head, the antennae and
mouth-parts. I achieved the same results, the same prick at a definite,
invariable point, with my several operators, renewed from time to time
by some lucky cast of the net.

Let us mention, in conclusion, that the attack of the Interrupted Scolia
is far less fierce than that of the Two-banded Scolia. The Wasp, a
rough sand-digger, has a clumsy gait; her movements are stiff and almost
automatic. She does not find it easy to repeat her dagger-thrust. Most
of the specimens with which I experimented refused a second victim on
the first two days after their exploits. As though somnolent, they did
not stir unless excited by my teasing them with a bit of straw. Although
more active and more ardent in the chase, the Two-banded Scolia likewise
does not draw her weapon every time that I invite her. For all these
huntresses there are moments of inaction which the presence of a fresh
prey is powerless to disturb.

The Scoliae have taught me nothing further, in the absence of subjects
belonging to other species. No matter: the results obtained represent no
small triumph for my ideas. Before seeing the Scoliae operate, I said,
guided solely by the anatomy of the victims, that the Cetonia-, Anoxia-
and Oryctes-larvae must be paralysed by a single thrust of the lancet;
I even named the point where the sting must strike, a central point,
in the immediate vicinity of the fore-legs. Of the three genera of
paralysers, two have allowed me to witness their surgical methods, which
the third, I feel certain, will confirm. In both cases, a single thrust
of the lancet; in both cases, injection of the venom at a predetermined
point. A calculator in an observatory could not compute the position of
his planet with greater accuracy. An idea may be taken as proved when
it attains to this mathematical forecast of the future, this certain
knowledge of the unknown. When will the acclaimers of chance achieve a
like success? Order appeals to order; and chance knows no laws.


The non-armoured victims, vulnerable by the sting over almost their
whole body, ordinary caterpillars and Looper caterpillars, Cetonia- and
Anoxia-larvae, whose only means of defence, apart from their mandibles,
consists of rollings and contortions, called for the testimony of
another victim, the Spider, almost as ill-protected, but armed with
formidable poison-fangs. How, in particular, will the Ringed Calicurgus
set to work in operating on the Black-bellied Tarantula, the terrible
Lycosa, who with a single bite kills the Mole or the Sparrow and
endangers the life of man? How does the bold Pompilus overcome an
adversary more powerful than herself, better-equipped with virulent
poison and capable of making a meal of her assailant? Of all the Hunting
Wasps, none risks such unequal conflicts, in which appearances would
proclaim the aggressor to be the victim and the victim the aggressor.

The problem was one deserving patient study. True, I foresaw, from the
Spider's organization, a single sting in the centre of the thorax; but
that did not explain the victory of the Wasp, emerging safe and sound
from her tussle with such a quarry. I had to see what occurred. The
chief difficulty was the scarcity of the Calicurgus. It is easy for me
to obtain the Tarantula at the desired moment: the part of the plateau
in my neighbourhood left untilled by the vine-growers provides me with
as many as are necessary. To capture the Pompilus is another matter. I
have so little hope of finding her that special quests are regarded as
useless. To search for her would perhaps be just the way not to find
her. Let us rely on the uncertainties of chance. Shall I get her or
shall I not?

I've got her. I catch her unexpectedly on the flowers. Next day I supply
myself with half a dozen Tarantulae. Perhaps I shall be able to
employ them one after the other in repeated duels. As I return from my
Lycosa-hunt, luck smiles upon me again and crowns my desires. A
second Calicurgus offers herself to my net; she is dragging her heavy,
paralysed Spider by one leg, in the dust of the highway. I attach great
value to my find: the laying of the egg has become a pressing matter;
and the mother, I believe, will accept a substitute for her victim
without much hesitation. Here then are my two captives, each under her
bell-glass with her Tarantula.

I am all eyes. What a tragedy there will be in a moment! I wait,
anxiously... But... but... what is this? Which of the two is the
assailed? Which is the assailant? The characters seem to be inverted.
The Calicurgus, unable to climb up the smooth glass wall, strides round
the ring of the circus. With a proud and rapid gait, her wings and
antennae vibrating, she goes and returns. The Lycosa is soon seen. The
Calicurgus approaches her without the least sign of fear, walks round
her and appears to have the intention of seizing one of her legs. But at
that moment the Tarantula rises almost vertically on her four hinder
legs, with her four front legs lifted and outspread, ready for the
counterstroke. The poison-fangs gape widely; a drop of venom moistens
their tips. The very sight of them makes my flesh creep. In this
terrible attitude, presenting her powerful thorax and the black velvet
of her belly to the enemy, the Spider overawes the Pompilus, who
suddenly turns tail and moves away. The Lycosa then closes her bundle of
poisoned daggers and resumes her natural pose, standing on her eight
legs; but, at the slightest attempt at aggression on the Wasp's part,
she resumes her threatening position.

She does more: suddenly she leaps and flings herself upon the
Calicurgus; swiftly she clasps her and nibbles at her with her fangs.
Without wielding her sting in self-defence, the other disengages
herself and merges unscathed from the angry encounter. Several times in
succession I witness the attack; and nothing serious ever befalls the
Wasp, who swiftly withdraws from the fray and appears to have received
no hurt. She resumes her marching and countermarching no less boldly and
swiftly than before.

Is this Wasp invulnerable, that she thus escapes from the terrible
fangs? Evidently not. A real bite would be fatal to her. Big, sturdily
built Acridians succumb (Locusts and Grasshoppers.--Translator's Note.);
how is it that she, with her delicate organism, does not! The Spider's
daggers, therefore, make no more than an idle feint; their points do not
enter the flesh of the tight-clasped Wasp. If the strokes were real, I
should see bleeding wounds, I should see the fangs close for a moment on
the part seized; and with all my attention I cannot detect anything of
the kind. Then are the fangs powerless to pierce the Wasp's integuments?
Not so. I have seen them penetrate, with a crackling of broken armour,
the corselet of the Acridians, which offers a far greater resistance.
Once again, whence comes this strange immunity of the Calicurgus held
between the legs and assailed by the daggers of the Tarantula? I do not
know. Though in mortal peril from the enemy confronting her, the Lycosa
threatens her with her fangs and cannot decide to bite, owing to a
repugnance which I do not undertake to explain.

Obtaining nothing more than alarums and excursions of no great
seriousness, I think of modifying the gladiatorial arena and
approximating it to natural conditions. The soil is very imperfectly
represented by my work-table; and the Spider has not her fortress, her
burrow, which plays a part of some importance both in attack and in
defence. A short length of reed is planted perpendicularly in a large
earthenware pan filled with sand. This will be the Lycosa's burrow. In
the middle I stick some heads of globe-thistle garnished with honey as
a refectory for the Pompilus; a couple of Locusts, renewed as and
when consumed, will sustain the Tarantula. These comfortable quarters,
exposed to the sun, receive the two captives under a wire-gauze dome,
which provides adequate ventilation for a prolonged residence.

My artifices come to nothing; the session closes without result. A
day passes, two days, three; still nothing happens. The Pompilus is
assiduous in her visits to the honeyed flower-clusters; when she has
eaten her fill, she clambers up the dome and makes interminable circuits
of the netting; the Tarantula quietly munches her Locust. If the other
passes within reach, she swiftly raises herself and waves her off. The
artificial burrow, the reed-stump, fulfills its purpose excellently. The
Lycosa and the Pompilus resort to it in turns, but without quarrelling.
And that is all. The drama whose prologue was so full of promise appears
to be indefinitely postponed.

I have a last resource, on which I base great hopes: it is to remove my
two Calicurgi to the very site of their investigations and to install
them at the door of the Spider's lodging, at the top of the natural
burrow. I take the field with an equipment which I am carrying across
the country for the first time: a glass bell-jar, a wire-gauze cover and
the various implements needed for handling and transferring my irascible
and dangerous subjects. My search for burrows among the pebbles and the
tufts of thyme and lavender is soon successful.

Here is a splendid one. I learn by inserting a straw that it is
inhabited by a Tarantula of a size suited to my plans. The soil around
the aperture is cleared and flattened to receive the wire-gauze, under
which I place a Pompilus. This is the time to light a pipe and wait,
lying on the pebbles...Yet another disappointment. Half an hour goes by;
and the Wasp confines herself to travelling round and round the netting
as she did in my study. She gives no sign of greed when confronted with
the burrow, though I can see the Tarantula's diamond eyes glittering at
the bottom.

The trellised wall is replaced by the glass wall, which, since it does
not allow her to scale its heights, will oblige the Wasp to remain on
the ground and at last to take cognizance of the shaft, which she seems
to ignore. This time we have done the trick!

After a few circuits of her cage, the Calicurgus notices the pit yawning
at her feet. She goes down it. This daring confounds me. I should never
have ventured to anticipate as much. That she should suddenly fling
herself upon the Tarantula when the latter is outside her stronghold,
well and good; but to rush into the lair, when the terrible monster is
waiting for you below with those two poisoned daggers of hers! What will
come of such temerity? A buzzing of wings ascends from the depths. Run
to earth in her private apartments, the Lycosa is no doubt at grips with
the intruder. That hum of wings is the Calicurgus' paean of triumph,
until it be her death-song. The slayer may well be the slain. Which of
the two will come up alive?

It is the Lycosa, who hurriedly scampers out and posts herself just over
the orifice of the burrow, in her posture of defence, her fangs open,
her four front legs uplifted. Can the other have been stabbed? Not at
all, for she emerges in her turn, not without receiving on the way a
cuff from the Spider, who immediately regains her lair. Dislodged from
her basement a second and yet a third time, the Tarantula always
comes up unwounded; she always awaits her adversary on her threshold,
administers punishment and reenters her dwelling. In vain do I try
my two Pompili alternately and change the burrow; I do not succeed
in observing anything else. Certain conditions not realized by my
stratagems are lacking to complete the tragedy.

Discouraged by the repetition of my futile attempts, I throw up the
game, the richer however by one fact of some value: the Calicurgus,
without the least fear, descends into the Tarantula's den and dislodges
her. I imagine that things happen in the same fashion outside my cages.
When expelled from her dwelling, the Spider is more timid and more
vulnerable to attack. Moreover, while hampered by a narrow shaft, the
operator would not wield her lancet with the precision called for by her
designs. The bold irruption shows us once again, more plainly than the
tussles on my table, the Lycosa's reluctance to sink her fangs into her
enemy's body. When the two are face to face at the bottom of the lair,
then or never is the moment to have it out with the foe. The Tarantula
is in her own house, with all its conveniences; every nook and corner of
the bastion is familiar to her. The intruder's movements are hampered by
her ignorance of the premises. Quick, my poor Lycosa, quick, a bite; and
it's all up with your persecutor! But you refrain, I know not why, and
your reluctance is the saving of the rash invader. The silly Sheep does
not reply to the butcher's knife by charging with lowered horns. Can it
be that you are the Pompilus' Sheep?

My two subjects are reinstalled in my study under their wire-gauze
covers, with bed of sand, reed-stump burrow and fresh honey, complete.
Here they find again their first Lycosae, fed upon Locusts. Cohabitation
continues for three weeks without other incidents than scuffles and
threats which become less frequent day by day. No serious hostility is
displayed on either side. At last the Calicurgi die: their day is over.
A pitiful end after such an enthusiastic beginning.

Shall I abandon the problem? Why, not a bit of it! I have encountered
greater difficulties, but they have never deterred me from a
warmly-cherished project. Fortune favours the persevering. She proves
as much by offering me, in September, a fortnight after the death of my
Tarantula-huntresses, another Calicurgus, captured for the first time.
This is the Harlequin Calicurgus (C. scurra, LEP.), who sports the same
gaudy costume as the first and is almost of the same size.

Now what does this newcomer, of whom I know nothing, want? A Spider,
that is certain; but which? A huntress like this will need a corpulent
quarry: perhaps the Silky Epeira (E. serica), perhaps the Banded
Epeira (E. fasciata), the largest Spiders in the district, next to the
Tarantula. The first of these spreads her large upright net, in which
Locusts are caught, from one clump of brushwood to another. I find
her in the copses on the neighbouring hills. The second stretches
hers across the ditches and the little streams frequented by the
Dragon-flies. I find her near the Aygues, beside the irrigation-canals
fed by the torrent. A couple of trips procures me the two Epeirae, whom
I offer to my captive next day, both at the same time. It is for her to
choose according to her taste.

The choice is soon made: the Banded Epeira is the one preferred. But she
does not yield without protest. On the approach of the Wasp, she rises
and assumes a defensive attitude, just like that of the Lycosa. The
Calicurgus pays no attention to threats: under her harlequin's coat, she
is violent in attack and quick on her legs. There is a rapid exchange of
fisticuffs; and the Epeira lies overturned on her back. The Pompilus is
on top of her, belly to belly, head to head; with her legs she masters
the Spider's legs; with her mandibles she grips the cephalothorax. She
curves her abdomen, bringing the tip of it beneath her; she draws her
sting and...

One moment, reader, if you please. Where is the sting about to strike?
From what we have learnt from the other paralysers, it will be driven
into the breast, to suppress the movement of the legs. That is your
opinion; it was also mine. Well, without blushing too deeply at our
common and very excusable error, let us confess that the insect knows
better than we do. It knows how to assure success by a preparatory
manoeuvre of which you and I had never dreamt. Ah, what a school is that
of the animals! Is it not true that, before striking the adversary, you
should take care not to get wounded yourself? The Harlequin Pompilus
does not disregard this counsel of prudence. The Epeira carries beneath
her throat two sharp daggers, with a drop of poison at their points;
the Calicurgus is lost if the Spider bites her. Nevertheless, her
anaesthetizing demands perfect steadiness of the lancet. What is to
be done in the face of this danger which might disconcert the most
practised surgeon? The patient must first be disarmed and then operated

And in fact the Calicurgus' sting, aimed from back to front, is driven
into the Epeira's mouth, with minute precautions and marked persistency.
On the instant, the poison-fangs close lifelessly and the formidable
quarry is powerless to harm. The Wasp's abdomen then extends its arc and
drives the needle behind the fourth pair of legs, on the median line,
almost at the junction of the belly and the cephalothorax. At this
point the skin is finer and more easily penetrable than elsewhere. The
remainder of the thoracic surface is covered with a tough breast-plate
which the sting would perhaps fail to perforate. The nerve-centres, the
source of the leg-movements, are situated a little above the wounded
point, but the back-to-front direction of the sting makes it possible
to reach them. This last wound results in the paralysis of all the eight
legs at once.

To enlarge upon it further would detract from the eloquence of this
performance. First of all, to safeguard the operator, a stab in the
mouth, that point so terribly armed, the most formidable of all; then,
to safeguard the larva, a second stab in the nerve-centres of the
thorax, to suppress the power of movement. I certainly suspected that
the slayers of robust Spiders were endowed with special talents; but
I was far from expecting their bold logic, which disarms before
it paralyses. So the Tarantula-huntress must behave, who, under my
bell-glasses, refused to surrender her secret. I now know what her
method is; it has been divulged by a colleague. She throws the terrible
Lycosa upon her back, pricks her prickers by stinging her in the mouth
and then, in comfort, with a single thrust of the lancet, obtains
paralysis of the legs.

I examine the Epeira immediately after the operation and the Tarantula
when the Calicurgus is dragging her by one leg to her burrow, at the
foot of some wall. For a little while longer, a minute at most, the
Epeira convulsively moves her legs. So long as these throes continue,
the Pompilus does not release her prey. She seems to watch the progress
of the paralysis. With the tips of her mandibles she explores the
Spider's mouth several times over, as though to ascertain if the
poison-fangs are really innocuous. When all movement subsides, the
Pompilus makes ready to drag her prey elsewhere. It is then I take
charge of it.

What strikes me more than anything else is the absolute inertia of the
fangs, which I tickle with a straw without succeeding in rousing
them from their torpor. The palpi, on the other hand, their immediate
neighbours, wave at the least touch. The Epeira is placed in safety, in
a flask, and undergoes a fresh examination a week later. Irritability
has in part returned. Under the stimulus of a straw, I see her legs move
a little, especially the lower joints, the tibiae and tarsi. The palpi
are even more irritable and mobile. These different movements, however,
are lacking in vigour and coordination; and the Spider cannot employ
them to turn over, much less to escape. As for the poison-fangs, I
stimulate them in vain: I cannot get them to open or even to stir. They
are therefore profoundly paralysed and in a special manner. The peculiar
insistence of the sting when the mouth was stabbed told me as much in
the beginning.

At the end of September, almost a month after the operation, the Epeira
is in the same condition, neither dead nor alive: the palpi still quiver
when touched with a straw, but nothing else moves. At length, after
six or seven weeks' lethargy, real death supervenes, together with its
comrade, putrefaction.

The Tarantula of the Ringed Calicurgus, as I take her from the owner
at the moment of transportation, presents the same peculiarities. The
poison-fangs are no longer irritable when tickled with my straw: a fresh
proof, added to those of analogy, to show that the Lycosa, like the
Epeira, has been stung in the mouth. The palpi, on the other hand, are
and will be for weeks highly irritable and mobile. I wish to emphasise
this point, the importance of which will be recognized presently.

I found it impossible to provoke a second attack from my Harlequin
Calicurgus: the tedium of captivity did not favour the exercise of her
talents. Moreover, the Epeira sometimes had something to do with her
refusals; a certain ruse de guerre which was twice employed before my
eyes may well have baffled the aggressor. Let me describe the incident,
if only to increase our respect a little for these foolish Spiders, who
are provided with perfected weapons and do not dare to make use of them
against the weaker but bolder assailant.

The Epeira occupies the wall of the wire-gauze cage, with her eight legs
wide-spread upon the trelliswork; the Calicurgus is wheeling round
the top of the dome. Seized with panic at the sight of the approaching
enemy, the Spider drops to the ground, with her belly upwards and her
legs gathered together. The other dashes forward, clasps her round the
body, explores her and prepares to sting her in the mouth. But she does
not bare her weapon. I see her bending attentively over the poisoned
fangs, as though to investigate their terrible mechanism; she then goes
away. The Spider is still motionless, so much so that I really believe
her dead, paralysed unknown to me, at a moment when I was not looking.
I take her from the cage to examine her comfortably. No sooner is she
placed on the table than behold, she comes to life again and promptly
scampers off! The cunning creature was shamming death beneath the Wasp's
stiletto, so artfully that I was taken in. She deceived an enemy more
cunning than myself, the Pompilus, who inspected her very closely
and took her for a corpse unworthy of her dagger. Perhaps the simple
creature, like the Bear in the fable of old, already noticed the smell
of high meat.

This ruse, if ruse it be, appears to me more often than not to turn to
the disadvantage of the Spider, whether Tarantula, Epeira or another.
The Calicurgus who has just put the Spider on her back after a brisk
fight knows quite well that her prostrate foe is not dead. The latter,
thinking to protect itself, simulates the inertia of a corpse; the
assailant profits by this to deliver her most perilous blow, the stab in
the mouth. Were the fangs, each tipped with its drop of poison, to open
then; were they to snap, to give a desperate bite, the Pompilus would
not dare to expose the tip of her abdomen to their deadly scratch. The
shamming of death is exactly what enables the huntress to succeed in her
dangerous operation. They say, O guileless Epeirae, that the struggle
for life has taught you to adopt this inert attitude for purposes of
defence. Well, the struggle for life was a very bad counsellor. Trust
rather to common sense and learn, by degrees, at your own cost, that to
hit back, above all if you can do so promptly, is still the best way to
intimidate the enemy. (Fabre does not believe in the actual shamming
of death by animals. Cf. "The Glow-worm and Other Beetles," by J.
Henri Fabre, translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos: chapters 8 to
15.--Translator's Note.)

The remainder of my observations on these insects under glass is little
more than a long series of failures. Of two operators on Weevils, one,
the Sandy Cerceris (C. arenaria), persistently scorned the victims
offered; the other, Ferrero's Cerceris (C. Ferreri), allowed herself to
be empted after two days' captivity. Her tactical method, as I expected,
is precisely that of the Cleonus-huntress, the Great Cerceris, with whom
my investigations commenced. When confronted with the Acorn-weevil, she
seizes the insect by the snout, which is immensely long and shaped
like a pipe-stem, and plants her sting in its body to the rear of the
prothorax, between the first and second pair of legs. It is needless to
insist: the spoiler of the Cleoni has taught us enough about this mode
of operation and its results.

None of the Bembex-wasps, whether chosen among the huntresses of
the Gadfly or among the lovers of the House-fly rabble, satisfied my
aspirations. Their method is as unknown to me now as at the distant
period when I used to watch it in the Bois des Issards. (Cf. "The
Hunting Wasps": chapters 14 to 18.--Translator's Note.) Their impetuous
flight, their love of long journeys are incompatible with captivity.
Stunned by colliding with the walls of their glass or wire-gauze prison,
they all perish within twenty-four hours. Swifter in their movements
and apparently satisfied with their honeyed thistle-heads, the Spheges,
huntresses of Crickets or Ephippigers, die as quickly of nostalgia. All
I offer them leaves them indifferent.

Nor can I get anything out of the Eumenes, notably the biggest of them,
the builder of gravel cupolas, Amedeus' Eumenes. All the Pompili, except
the Harlequin Calicurgus, refuse my Spiders. The Palarus, who preys upon
an indefinite number of the Hymenopteron clan, refuses to tell me if she
drinks the honey of the Bees, as does the Philanthus, or if she lets the
others go without manipulating them to make them disgorge. The Tachytes
do not vouchsafe their Locusts a glance; Stizus ruficornis promptly
gives up the ghost, disdaining the Praying Mantis which I provide for

What is the use of continuing this list of checks? The rule may
be gathered from these few examples: occasional successes and many
failures. What can be the reason? With the exception of the Philanthus,
tempted from time to time by a bumper of honey, the predatory Wasps do
not hunt on their own account; they have their victualling-time, when
the egg-laying is imminent, when the family calls for food. Outside
these periods, the finest heads of game might well leave these
nectar-bibbers indifferent. I am careful therefore, as far as possible,
to capture my subjects at the proper season; I give preference to
mothers caught upon the threshold of the burrow with their prey between
their legs. This diligence of mine by no means always succeeds. There
are demoralized insects which, once under glass, even after a brief
delay, no longer care about the equivalent of their prize.

All the species do not perhaps pursue their game with the same ardour;
mood and temperament are more variable even than conformation. To these
factors, which are of the nicest order, we may add that of the hour,
which is often unfavourable when the subject is caught at haphazard on
the flowers, and we shall have more than enough to explain the frequency
of the failures. After all, I must beware of representing my failures
as the rule: what does not succeed one day may very well succeed another
day, under different conditions. With perseverance and a little skill,
any one who cares to continue these interesting studies will, I am sure,
fill up many gaps. The problem is difficult but not impossible.

I will not quit my bell-jars without saying a word on the entomological
tact of the captives when they decide to attack. One of the pluckiest
of my subjects, the Hairy Ammophila, was not always provided with
the hereditary dish of her family, the Grey Worm. I offered her
indiscriminately any bare-skinned caterpillars that I chanced to find.
Some were yellow, some green, some brown with white edges. All were
accepted without hesitation, provided that they were of suitable size.
Tasty game was recognized wonderfully under very dissimilar liveries.
But a young Zeuzera-caterpillar, dug out of the branches of a
lilac-tree, and a silkworm of small dimensions were definitely refused.
The over-fed products of our silkworm-nurseries and the mystery-loving
caterpillar which gnaws the inner wood of the lilac inspired her with
suspicion and disgust, despite their bare skin, which favoured the
sting, and their shape, which was similar to that of the victims

Another ardent huntress, the Interrupted Scolia, refused the
Cetonia-grub, which is of like habits with the Anoxia-larva; the
Two-banded Scolia also refused the Anoxia. The Philanthus, the headlong
murderess of Bees, saw through my trickery when I confronted her with
the Virgilian Bee, the Eristalis (E. tenax). She, a Philanthus, take
this Fly for a Bee! What next! The popular idea is mistaken; antiquity
too is mistaken, as witness the "Georgics," which make the putrid
remains of a sacrificed Bull give birth to a swarm; but the Wasp makes
no mistake. In her eyes, which see farther than ours, the Eristalis is
an odious Dipteron, a lover of corruption, and nothing more.


No idea of any scope can begin its soaring flight but straightway the
curmudgeons are after it, eager to break its wings and to stamp the
wounded thing under foot. My discovery of the surgical methods that give
the Hunting Wasps their preserved foodstuffs has undergone the common
rule. Let theories be discussed, by all means: the realm of the
imagination is an untilled domain, in which every one is free to plant
his own conceptions. But realities are not open to discussion. It is a
bad policy to deny facts with no more authority than one's wish to find
them untrue. No one that I know of has impugned by contrary observations
what I have so long been saying about the anatomical instinct of the
Wasps that hunt their prey; instead, I am met with arguments. Mercy on
us! First use your eyes and then you shall have leave to argue! And, to
persuade people to use their eyes, I mean to reply, since we have time
to spare, to the objections which have been or may be raised. Of course,
I pass over in silence those in which childish disparagement shows its
nose too plainly.

The sting, I am told, is directed at one point rather than another
because that is the only vulnerable point. The insect cannot choose what
wound it will inflict; it stings where it must. Its wonderful operative
method is the necessary result of the victim's structure. Let us first,
if we attach any importance to lucidity, come to an understanding about
the word "vulnerable." Do you mean by this that the point or rather
points wounded by the sting are the only points at which a lesion will
suddenly cause either death or paralysis? If so, I share your opinion;
not only do I share it, but I was the first to proclaim it. My whole
thesis is contained in that. Yes, a hundred times yes, the points
wounded are the only vulnerable points; they are even very vulnerable;
they are the only points which lend themselves to the infliction of
sudden death or else paralysis, according to the operator's intention.

But this is not how you understand the matter: you mean accessible to
the sting, in a word, penetrable. Here we part company. I have against
me, I admit, the Weevils and the Buprestes of the Cerceres. These mailed
ones hardly give the sting a chance, save behind the prothorax, the
point at which the lancet is actually directed. If I were one to stand
on trifles, I might observe that in front of the prothorax, under the
throat, is an accessible spot and that the Cerceres will have nothing to
do with it. But let us proceed; I give up the horn-clad Beetle.

What are we to say of the Grey Worm and other caterpillars beloved of
the Ammophilae? Here are victims accessible to the sting underneath, on
the back, on the sides, fore and aft, everywhere with the same facility,
excepting the top of the head. And of this infinity of points, which are
equally penetrable, the Wasp selects ten, always the same, differing
in no way from the rest, unless it be by the close proximity of the
nerve-centres. What are we to say of the Cetonia- and Anoxia-larvae,
which are always attacked in the first thoracic segment, after long
and painful struggles, when the assailant can sting the grub freely
at whatever point she chooses, since it is quite naked and offers no
greater resistance to the lancet at one point than at another?

What are we to think of the Sphex' Crickets and Ephippigers, stabbed
three times on the side of the thorax, which is fairly well defended,
whereas the abdomen, soft and bulky, into which the sting would sink
like a needle into a pat of butter, is neglected? Do not let us forget
the Philanthus, who takes no account either of the fissures beneath the
abdominal plates or of the wide hiatus behind the corselet, but plunges
her weapon, at the base of the throat, through a gap of a fraction of
a millimetre. Let us just mention the Mantis-hunting Tachytes. Does she
make for the most undefended point when she stabs, first of all, at its
base, the Mantis' dreadful engine--the arm-pieces each fitted with a
double saw--at the risk of being seized, transfixed and crunched on the
spot if she misses her blow? Why does she not strike at the creature's
long abdomen? That would be quite easy and free from danger.

And the Calicurgi, if you please. Are they also unskilled duelists,
plunging the dirk into the only easily accessible point, when their very
first move is to paralyse the poison-fangs? If there is one point about
the Tarantula and the Epeira that is dangerous and difficult to attack,
it is certainly the mouth which bites with its two poisoned harpoons.
And these desperadoes dare to brave that deadly trap! Why do they not
follow your judicious advice? They should sting the plump belly, which
is wholly unprotected. They do not; and they have their reasons, as have
the others.

All, from the first to the last, show us, clear as water from the rock,
that the outer structure of the victims operated on counts for nothing
in the method of operating. This is determined by the inner anatomy. The
points wounded are not stung because they are the only points penetrable
by the lancet; they are stung because they fulfil an important
condition, without which penetrability loses its value. This condition
is none other than the immediate proximity of the nerve-centres whose
influence has to be suppressed. When at close quarters with her prey,
whether soft or armour-clad, the huntress behaves as if she understood
the nervous system better than any of us. The thoughtless objection
about the only penetrable points is, I hope, swept aside forever.

I am also told:

"It is possible, if it comes to that, for the sting to be delivered in
the neighbourhood of the nerve-centres; in a victim at most three or
four centimetres long, distances are very small. But a casual there or
thereabouts is a very different thing from the precision of which you

Oh, they are "thereabouts," are they? We shall see! You want figures,
millimetres, fractions? You shall have them!

First I call to witness the Interrupted Scolia. If the reader no longer
has her method of operating in mind, I will beg him to refresh his
memory. The two adversaries, in the preliminary conflict, may be fairly
well represented by two rings interlocked not in the same plane but at
right angles. The Scolia grips a point of the Anoxia-grub's thorax; she
curves her body underneath it and, while encircling the grub, gropes
with the tip of her abdomen along the median line of the larva's neck.
Owing to her transversal position, the assailant is now free to aim her
weapon in a slightly slanting direction, whether towards the head or
towards the thorax, at the same point of entry in the larva's throat.
Between the two opposite slants of the sting, which is itself
very short, what can the distance be? Two millimetres (.078
inch.--Translator's Note.), perhaps less. That is very little. No
matter: let the operator make a mistake of this length--negligible, you
may tell me--let the sting slant towards the head instead of slanting
towards the thorax; and the result of the operation will be entirely
different. With a slant towards the head, the cerebral ganglia are
wounded and their lesion causes sudden death. This is the stroke of
the Philanthus, who kills her Bee by stinging her from below, under the
chin. The Scolia needed a motionless but not dead victim, one that would
supply fresh victuals; she will now have only a corpse, which will soon
go bad and poison the larva.

With a slant towards the thorax, the sting wounds the little mass of
nerve-cells in the thorax. This is the regulation stroke, the one which
will induce paralysis and leave the small amount of life needed to keep
the provisions fresh. A millimetre higher kills; a millimetre lower
paralyses. On this tiny deviation the salvation of the Scolia race
depends. You need not fear that the operator will make any mistake in
this micrometrical performance: her sting always slants towards the
thorax, although the opposite inclination is just as practicable and
easy. What would be the outcome of a there or thereabouts under these
conditions? Very often a corpse, a form of food fatal to the grub.

The Two-banded Scolia stings a little lower down, on the line of
demarcation between the first two thoracic segments. Her position is
likewise transversal in relation to the Cetonia-grub; but the distance
of the cervical ganglia from the point where the sting enters would
possibly not allow the weapon turned towards the head to inflict a
lesion followed by sudden death as in the above instance. I am calling
this witness with another object. It is extremely unusual for the
operator, no matter what her prey or her method, to make a slight
mistake and sting merely somewhere near the requisite point. I see them
all groping with the tip of the abdomen, sometimes seeking persistently,
before unsheathing. They thrust only when the point beneath the sting
is precisely that at which the wound will produce its full effect. The
Two-banded Scolia in particular will struggle with the Cetonia-grub for
half an hour at a time to enable herself to drive in the stiletto at the
right spot.

Wearied by an endless scuffle, one of my captives committed before my
eyes a slight blunder, an unprecedented thing. Her weapon entered a
little to one side, not quite a millimetre from the central point and
still, of course, on the line of demarcation between the first two
thoracic segments. I at once laid hold of the precious specimen, which
was to teach me curious matters about the effects of an ill-delivered
stroke. If I myself had made the insect sting at this or that point,
there would have been no particular interest in it: the Scolia, held
between the finger-tips, would wound at random, like a Bee defending
herself; her undirected sting would inject the poison at haphazard.
But here everything happened by rule, except for the little error of

Well, the victim of this clumsy operation has its legs paralysed only on
the left side, the side towards which the weapon was deflected; it is
a case of hemiplegia. The legs on the right side move. If the operation
had been performed in the normal fashion the result would have been
sudden inertia of all six legs. The hemiplegia, it is true does not last
long. The torpor of the left half rapidly gains the right half of the
body and the creature lies motionless, incapable of burying itself in
the mould, without, however, realizing the conditions indispensable to
the safety of the egg or the young grub. If I seize one of its legs or
a point of the skin with the tweezers, it suddenly shrivels and curls
up and swells out again, as it does when in complete possession of its
energies. What would become of an egg laid on such victuals? At the
first closing of this ruthless vice, at the first contraction, it would
be crushed, or at least detached from its place; and any egg removed
from the point where the mother has fastened it is bound to perish. It
needs, on the Cetonia's abdomen, a yielding support which the bites of
the new-born larva will not set aquiver. The slightly eccentric sting
gives none of this soft mass of fat, always outstretched and quiescent.
Only on the following day, after the torpor has made progress, does the
larva become suitably inert and limp. But it is too late; and in the
meantime the egg would be in serious danger on this half-paralysed
victim. The sting, by straying less than a millimetre, would leave the
Scolia without progeny.

I promised fractions. Here they are. Let us consider the Tarantula and
the Epeira on whom the Calicurgi have just operated. The first thrust
of the sting is delivered in the mouth. In both victims the poison-fangs
are absolutely lifeless: tickling with a bit of straw never once
succeeds in making them open. On the other hand, the palpi, their very
near neighbours, their adjuncts as it were, possess their customary
mobility. Without any previous touches, they keep on moving for weeks.
In entering the mouth the sting did not reach the cervical ganglia,
or sudden death would have ensued and we should have before our eyes
corpses which would go bad in a few days, instead of fresh carcases
in which traces of life remain manifest for a long time. The cephalic
nerve-centres have been spared.

What is wounded then, to procure this profound inertia of the
poison-fangs? I regret that my anatomical knowledge leaves me undecided
on this point. Are the fangs actuated by a special ganglion? Are they
actuated by fibres issuing from centres exercising further functions? I
leave to anatomists equipped with more delicate instruments than I the
task of elucidating this obscure question. The second conjecture appears
to me the more probable, because of the palpi, whose nerves, it seems to
me, must have the same origin as those of the fangs. Basing our argument
on this latter hypothesis, we see that the Calicurgus has only one means
of suppressing the movement of the poisoned pincers without affecting
the mobility of the palpi, above all without injuring the cephalic
centres and thus producing death, namely, to reach with her sting the
two fibres actuating the fangs, fibres as fine as a hair.

I insist upon this point. Despite their extreme delicacy, these two
filaments must be injured directly; for, if it were enough for the sting
to inject its poison "there or thereabouts," the nerves of the palpi, so
close to the first, would undergo the same intoxication as the adjacent
region and would leave those appendages motionless. The palpi move;
they retain their mobility for a considerable period; the action of the
poison, therefore, is evidently situated in the nerves of the fangs.
There are two of these nerve-filaments, very fine, very difficult to
discover, even by the professional anatomist. The Calicurgus has
to reach them one after the other, to moisten them with her poison,
possibly to transfix them, in any case to operate upon them in a very
restricted manner; so that the diffusion of the virus may not involve
the adjoining parts. The extreme delicacy of this surgery explains
why the weapon remains in the mouth so long; the point of the sting is
seeking and eventually finds the tiny fraction of a millimetre where the
poison is to act. This is what we learn from the movements of the palpi
close to the motionless fangs; they tell us that the Calicurgi are
vivisectors of alarming accuracy.

If we accept the hypothesis of a special nerve-centre for the mandibles,
the difficulty would be a little less, without detracting from the
operator's talent. The sting would then have to reach a barely visible
speck, an atom in which we should hardly find room for the point of a
needle. This is the difficulty which the various paralysers solve in
ordinary practice. Do they actually wound with their dirks the ganglion
whose influence is to be done away with? It is possible, but I have
tried no test to make sure, the infinitely tiny wound appearing to be
too difficult to detect with the optical instruments at my disposal. Do
they confine themselves to lodging their drop of poison on the ganglion,
or at all events in its immediate neighbourhood? I do not say no.

I declare moreover, that, to provoke lightning paralysis, the poison, if
it is not deposited inside the mass of nervous substance, must act
from somewhere very near. This assertion is merely echoing what the
Two-banded Scolia has just shown us: her Cetonia-grub, stung less than
a millimetre from the regular spot, did not become motionless until next
day. There is no doubt, judging by this instance, that the effect of the
virus spreads in all directions within a radius of some extent; but
this diffusion is not enough for the operator, who requires for her egg,
which is soon to be laid, absolute safety from the very first.

On the other hand, the actions of the paralysers argue a precise search
for the ganglia, at all events for the first thoracic ganglion, the
most important of all. The Hairy Ammophila, among others, affords us an
excellent example of this method. Her three thrusts in the caterpillar's
thorax and especially the last, between the first and second pair of
legs, are more prolonged than the stabs distributed among the abdominal
ganglia. Everything justifies us in believing that, for these decisive
inoculations, the sting seeks out the corresponding ganglion and acts
only when it finds it under its point. On the abdomen this peculiar
insistence ceases; the sting passes swiftly from one segment to another.
For these segments, which are less dangerous, the Ammophila perhaps
relies on the diffusion of her venom; in any case, the injections,
though hastily administered, do not diverge from a close vicinity of the
ganglia, for their field of action is very limited, as is proved by the
number of inoculations necessary to induce complete torpor, or, more
simply, by the following example.

A Grey Worm which had just received its first sting on the third
thoracic segment repulses the Ammophila and with a jerk hurls her to a
distance. I profit by the occasion and take hold of the grub. The legs
of this third segment only are paralysed; the others retain their usual
mobility. However helpless in the two injured legs, the animal can walk
very well; it buries itself in the earth, returning to the surface at
night to gnaw the stump of lettuce with which I have served it. For a
fortnight my paralytic retains perfect liberty of action, except in the
segment operated on; then it dies, not of its wound but accidentally.
All this time the effect of the poison has not spread beyond the
inoculated segment.

At any point where the sting enters, anatomy informs us of the presence
of a nervous nucleus. Is this centre directly smitten by the weapon?
Or is it poisoned with virus, from a very small distance, by the
progressive impregnation of the neighbouring tissues? This is the
doubtful point, though it does not in any way invalidate the precision
of the abdominal injections, which are comparatively neglected. As for
those in the caterpillar's thorax, their precision is beyond dispute.
After the Ammophilae, the Scoliae and, above all, the Calicurgi, is it
really necessary to bring into court yet other witnesses, who would all
swear that, with modifications of detail, the movement of their lancet
is strictly regulated by the nervous system of the prey? This ought
to be enough. The proof is established for those who have ears to hear

Others delight in objections whose oddity surprises me. They see in the
poison of the Hunting Wasps an antiseptic liquid and in victuals stored
in their burrows preserved meats which are kept fresh not by a remnant
of life but by the virus and its microbes. Come, my learned masters, let
us just talk the matter over, between ourselves. Have you ever seen the
larder of a skilled Hunting Wasp, a Sphex for instance, a Scolia, an
Ammophila? You haven't, have you? I thought as much. Yet it would be
better to begin by doing so, before bringing the preservative microbe
on the scene. The slightest examination would have shown you that the
victuals cannot be compared exactly with smoked hams. The thing moves,
therefore it is not dead. There you have the whole matter, in its
artless simplicity. The palpi move, the mandibles open and shut, the
tarsi quiver, the antennae and the abdominal filaments wave to and
fro, the abdomen throbs, the intestine rejects its contents, the animal
reacts to the stimulus of a needle, all of which signs are hardly
compatible with the idea of pickled meat.

Have you had the curiosity to look through the pages in which I set
forth the detailed results of my observations? You haven't, have
you? Again, I thought as much. It is a pity. You would there find, in
particular, the history of certain Ephippigers who, after being stung
by the Sphex according to rule, were reared by myself by hand. You must
agree that these are queer preserves to be produced by the use of an
antiseptic fluid. They accept the mouthfuls which I offer them on the
tip of a straw; they feed, they sit up and take nourishment. I shall
never live to see tinned sardines doing as much.

I will avoid tedious repetition and content myself with adding to my
old sheaf of proofs a few facts which have not yet been related. The
Nest-building Odynerus showed us in her cells a few Chrysomela-larvae
fixed by the hinder part to the side of the reed. The grub fastens
itself in this way to the poplar-leaf to obtain a purchase when the
moment has come for leaving the larval slough. Do not these preparations
for the nymphosis tell us plainly that the creature is not dead?

The Hairy Ammophila affords us an even better example. A number of
caterpillars operated on before my eyes attained, some sooner, some
later, the chrysalis stage. My notes are explicit on the subject of some
of them, taken on Verbascum sinuatum. Sacrificed on the 14th of April,
they were still irritable when tickled with a straw a fortnight after.
A little later, the pale-green colouring of the early stages is replaced
by a reddish brown, except on two or three segments of the median
ventral surface. The skin wrinkles and splits, but does not come
detached of its own accord. I can easily remove it in shreds. Under
this slough appears the firm, chestnut-brown horn integument of the
chrysalis. The development of the nymphosis is so correct that for a
moment the crazy hope occurs to me that I may see a Turnip-moth come out
of this mummy, the victim of a dozen dagger-thrusts. For the rest, there
is no attempt at spinning a cocoon, no jet of silky threads flung out
by the caterpillar before turning into a chrysalis. Perhaps under normal
conditions metamorphosis takes place without this protection. However,
the moth whom I expected to see was beyond the limits of the possible.
In the middle of May, a month after the operation on the caterpillars,
my three chrysalids, still incomplete underneath, in the three or four
middle segments, withered and at last went mouldy. Is the evidence
conclusive this time? Who can conceive such a silly idea as that a prey
really dead, a corpse preserved from putrefaction by an antiseptic,
could contain what is perhaps the most delicate work of life, the
development of the grub into the perfect insect?

The truth must be driven into recalcitrant brains with great blows of
the sledge-hammer. Let us once more employ this method. In September
I unearth from a heap of mould five Cetonia-grubs, paralysed by the
Two-banded Scolia and bearing on the abdomen the as yet unhatched egg of
the Wasp. I remove the eggs and install the helpless creatures on a bed
of leaf-mould with a glass cover. I propose to see how long I can keep
them fresh, able to move their mandibles and palpi. Already the victims
of various Hunting Wasps had instructed me on a similar matter; I knew
that traces of life linger for two, three, four weeks and longer. For
instance, I had seen the Ephippigers of the Languedocian Sphex continue
the waving of their antennae and their paralytic shudders for forty days
of artificial feeding by hand; and I used to wonder whether the more or
less early death of the other victims was not due to lack of nourishment
quite as much as to the operation which they had undergone. However,
the insect in its adult form usually has a very brief existence. It soon
dies, killed by the mere fact of living, without any other accident.
A larva is preferable for these investigations. Its constitution is
livelier, better able to support protracted abstinence, above all during
the winter torpor. The Cetonia-grub, a regular lump of bacon, nourished
by its own fat during the winter season, fulfils the needful conditions
to perfection. What will become of it, lying belly upwards on its bed of
leaf-mould? Will it survive the winter?

At the end of a month, three of my grubs turn brown and lapse into
rottenness. The other two keep perfectly fresh and move their antennae
and palpi at the touch of a straw. The cold weather comes and tickling
no longer elicits these signs of life. The inertia is complete;
nevertheless their appearance remains excellent, without a trace of the
brownish tinge, the sign of deterioration. At the return of the warm
weather, in the middle of May, there is a sort of resurrection. I
find my two larvae turned over, belly downwards; much more: they are
half-buried in the mould. When teased, they coil up lazily; they move
their legs as well as their mouth-parts, but slowly and without vigour.
Then their strength seems to revive. The convalescent, resuscitated
grubs dig with clumsy efforts into their bed of mould; they dive into
it and disappear to a depth of about two inches. Recovery seems to be

I am mistaken. In June I unearth the invalids. This time, the larvae
are dead; their brown colour tells me as much. I expected better things.
Never mind: this is no trifling success. For nine months, nine long
months, the grubs stabbed by the Scolia kept fresh and alive. Towards
the end, torpor was dispelled, strength and movement returned,
sufficiently to enable them to leave the surface where I had placed them
and to regain the depths by boring a passage through the soil. I
really think that after this resurrection there will be no more talk of
antiseptics, unless and until tinned Herrings begin to frolic in their
brine. (The subject of this and the preceding chapters is continued in
an essay entitled "The Poison of the Bee" for which cf. "Bramble-bees
and Others": chapter 11.--Translator's Note.)



Amedeus' Eumenes.

Ameles decolor (see Grey Mantis).

Ammophila (see also the varieties below).

Ammophila hursuta (see Hairy Ammophila).

Ammophila holoserica (see Silky Ammophila).

Ammophila Julii (see Jules' Ammophila).

Ammophila sabulosa (see Sandy Ammophila).

Anathema Tachytes.

Anoxia (see also the varieties below).

Anoxia australis.

Anoxia matutinalis (see Morning Anoxia).

Anoxia villosa (see Shaggy Anoxia).


Anthidium (see also the varieties below).

Anthidium bellicosum.

Anthidium scapulare.

Anthidium septemdentatum.


Anthrax (see also Anthrax sinuata).

Anthrax sinuata.


Aphis (see Plant-louse).



Balaninus (see also Balaninus glandum).

Balaninus glandum (see Acorn-weevil).

Banded Epeira.


Bee (see also Bumble-bee, Hive-bee, Mason-bee).

Bee-eating Philanthus.


Bembex (see also the varieties below).

Bembex bidentata (see Two-pronged Bembex).

Bembex rostrata (see Rostrate Bembex).

Black, Adam and Charles.

Black-bellied Tarantula.

Black Spider (see Cellar Spider).

Black Tachytes.

Blister-beetle (see Oil-beetle).


Blue Osmia.


Boyle, Robert.


Brachyderes pubescens (see Pubescent Brachyderes).

Breguet, Louis.

Brillat-Savarin, Anthelme.

Brown-winged Solenius.



Bull, the author's Dog.




Buprestis-hunting Cerceris.

Burnt Zonitis.


Cabbage Pieris.

Calicurgus (see Pompilus and the varieties below).

Calicurgus annulatus (see Ringed Calicurgus).

Calicurgus scurra (see Harlequin Calicurgus).

Callot, Jacques.



Cellar Spider.

Century co.

Cerceris (see also Buprestis-hunting Cerceris and the varieties below).

Cerceris arenaria (see Sand Cerceris).

Cerceris Ferreri (see Ferrero's Cerceris).

Cerceris ornata (see Ornate Cerceris).

Cerceris tuberculata (see Great Cerceris).


Cetonia (see also the varieties below).

Cetonia aurata (see Golden Cetonia).

Cetonia morio.


Chalicodoma (see Mason-bee).

Chaoucho-grapaou (see Nightjar).


Chrysomela populi (see Poplar Leaf-beetle).



Cleonus (see also Cleonus ophthalmicus).

Cleonus ophthalmicus.



Colpa interrupta (see Interrupted Scolia).

Common Cockchafer (see Cockchafer).

Common Wasp.

Cotton-bee (see Anthidium scapulare).



Crabro (see Hornet).

Crabro chrysostomus (see Golden-mouthed Hornet).


Crowned Philanthus.


Darwin, Charles Robert.

David the painter.

David, Felicien Cesar.

Death's-head Hawk-moth.

Devilkin (see Empusa).

Dicranura vinula.

Dioxys cincta (see Girdled Dioxys).

Dog (see also Bull).


Dufour, Jean Marie Leon.

Duges, Louis Antoine.


Eight-spotted Pompilus.


Epeira (see also the varieties below).

Epeira fasciata (see Banded Epeira).

Epeira serica (see Silky Epeira).


Eristalis E. tenax (see Drone-fly).


Euchlora Julii.

Eumenes (see also Amedeus Eumenes).

Fabricius, Johan Christian.

Favier, the author's factotum.

Ferrero's Cerceris.


Fly (see also Gad-fly, House-fly).





Garden Scolia.

Garden Spider (see Epeira).


Girdled Dioxys.



Goatsucker (see Nightjar).

Golden Cetonia.

Golden-crested Wren.

Golden-mouthed Hornet.

Golden Osmia.



Great Cellar Spider (see Cellar Spider).

Great Cerceris.

Grey Mantis.

Grey Worm.

Hairy Ammophila.


Harlequin Calicurgus.


Helophilus pendulus.

Hemorrhoidal Scolia.





Hornet (see also Golden-mouthed Hornet).


Interrupted Scolia.

Jules, Ammophila.


Lalande, Joseph Jerome Le Francais de.


Languedocian Sphex.


Latreille, Pierre Andre.

Leucopsis gigas, L. grandis.





Lycosa (see Black-bellied Tarantula).

Macmillan Co.

Mantis (see also Grey Mantis, Praying Mantis).

Mantis-hunting Tachytes (see Mantis-killing Tachytes).

Mantis-killing Tachytes.

Mariotte, Edme.

Mason-bee (see also the Anthophora and the varieties below).

Mason-bee of the Pebbles (see Mason-bee of the Walls).

Mason-bee of the Sheds.

Mason-bee of the Shrubs.

Mason-bee of the Walls.

Measuring-worm (see Looper).

Megachile sericans.


Meloe (see Oil-beetle).

Miall, Bernard.


Mithradates VI.




Monoceros (see Oryctes nasicornis).

Morning Anoxia.




Muscid (see House-fly).


Narbonne Lycosa (see Black-bellied Tarantula).

Nest-building Odynerus.



Odynerus (see also Nest-building Odynerus).


Ornate Cerceris.

Oryctes nasicornis.

Oryctes Silenus.

Osmia (see also the varieties below).

Osmia cyanea (see Blue Osmia).

Osmia cyanoxantha.

Osmia Latreillii (see Latreille's Osmia).

Osmia parvula (see Tiny Osmia).

Osmia tricornis (see Three-horned Osmia).



Palarus (see also Palarus flavipes).

Palarus flavipes.


Panzer's Tachytes.


Pascal, Blaise.




Pentodon punctatus.

Perez, J.

Phaneropteron falcata.

Philanthus (see also the varieties below).

Philanthus apivorus (see Bee-eating Philanthus).

Philanthus coronatus (see Crowned Philanthus).

Philanthus raptor (see Robber Philanthus).


Pieris (see Cabbage Pieris).





Pompilus (see also the varieties below).

Pompilus annulatus (see Ringed Calicurgus).

Pompilus apicalis.

Pompilus octopunctatus (see Eight-spotted Pompilus).

Poplar Leaf-Beetle.

Praying Mantis.

Pubescent Brachyderes.


Resin-bee (see Anthidium bellicosum, Anthidium septemdentatum).

Rhinoceros Beetle (see Oryctes nasicornis).

Rhynchites betuleti.

Ringed Calicurgus.

Ringed Pompilus (see Ringed Calicurgus).

Robber Philanthus.



Romanes, George John.

Rose-chafer (see Cetonia, Golden Cetonia).

Rostrate Bembex.

Sand Cerceris.

Sandy Ammophila.

Sapyga punctata (see Spotted Sapyga).



Scarabaeus pentodon.

Scolia (see also the varieties below).

Scolia bifasciata (see Two-banded Scolia).

Scolia haemorrhoidalis (see Hemorrhoidal Scolia).

Scolia hortorum (see Garden Scolia).

Scolia interrupta (see Interrupted Scolia).



Segestria perfidia (see Cellar Spider).

Shaggy Anoxia.



Silky Ammophila.

Silky Epeira.

Silky Leaf-cutter (see Megachile sericans).






Solenius fascipennis (see Brown-winged Solenius).

Solenius vagus (see Wandering Solenius).




Sphex (see also Languedocian Sphex, White-banded Sphex, Yellow-winged

Spider (see also Black-bellied Tarantula, Cellar Spider, Epeira.

Spotted Sapyga.

Spurge Hawk-moth.

Stizus (see also the varieties below).

Stizus ruficornis.

Stizus tridentatus.



Swammerdam, Jan.

Syritta perpens.


Tachytes (see also Mantis-killing Tachytes and the varieties below).

Tachytes anathema (see Anathema Tachytes).

Tachytes nigra (see Black Tachytes).

Tachytes Panzeri (see Panzer's Tachytes).

Tachytes tarsina (see Tarsal Tachytes).

Tachytes unicolor.

Tarantula (see Black-bellied Tarantula).

Tarsal Bembex.

Tarsal Tachytes.

Teixeira de Mattos, Alexander.

Three-horned Osmia.

Tiny Osmia.


Toricelli, Evangelista.

Toussenel, Alphonse.


Turnip Moth.

Two-banded Scolia.

Two-pronged Bembex.

Unwin, T. Fisher, Ltd.

Vespa crabro (see Hornet).

Virgilian Bee, Virgil's Bee (see Drone-fly).

Wandering Solenius.

Wasp (see Common Wasp).

Weevil (see also Acorn-weevil, Nut-weevil, Pea-weevil).


Whippoorwill (see Nightjar).

White-banded Sphex.

White Worm.


Yellow-winged Sphex.


Zonitis praeusta (see Burnt Zonitis).

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