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Title: Insect Adventures
Author: Fabre, J. Henri, Hasbrouck, Louise Seymour
Language: English
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INSECT ADVENTURES

Petty truths, I shall be told, those presented by the habits of a
spider or a grasshopper. There are no petty truths today; there is but
one truth, whose looking-glass to our uncertain eyes seems broken,
though its every fragment, whether reflecting the evolution of a planet
or the flight of a bee, contains the supreme law.

                                                     MAURICE MAETERLINCK

[Illustration: “What a day it was when I first became a herdsman of
ducks!”]



  INSECT ADVENTURES

  BY
  J. HENRI FABRE

  _Selections from Alexander Teixeira de Mattos’
  Translation of Fabre’s “Souvenirs Entomologiques”_

  RETOLD FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
  BY
  LOUISE SEYMOUR HASBROUCK

  ILLUSTRATED BY
  ELIAS GOLDBERG

  [Colophon]

  NEW YORK
  DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
  1917

  COPYRIGHT, 1917,
  By DODD, MEAD & COMPANY, Inc.



PREFACE


Jean Henri Fabre, author of the long series of “Souvenirs
Entomologiques” from which these studies are taken, was a French
school-teacher and scientist whose peculiar gift for the observation
and description of insect life won for him the title of the “insects’
Homer.” A distinguished English critic says of him, “Fabre is the
wisest man, and the best read in the book of nature, of whom the
centuries have left us any record.” The fact that he was mainly
self-taught, and that his life was an unending struggle with poverty
and disappointment, increases our admiration for his wonderful
achievements in natural science.

A very interesting account of his early years, given by himself, will
be found in Chapter XVII of this volume. The salaries of rural teachers
and professors were extremely small in France during the last century,
and Fabre, who married young, could barely support his large family.
Nature study was not in the school curriculum, and it was years before
he could devote more than scanty spare hours to the work. At the age
of thirty-two, however, he published the first volume of his insect
studies. It attracted the attention of scientists and brought him a
prize from the French Institute. Other volumes were published from time
to time, but some of Fabre’s fellow scientists were displeased because
the books were too interesting! They feared, said Fabre, “lest a page
that is read without fatigue should not always be the expression of
the truth.” He defended himself from this extraordinary complaint in a
characteristic way.

“Come here, one and all of you,” he addressed his friends, the insects.
“You, the sting-bearers, and you, the wing-cased armor-clads—take up
my defense and bear witness in my favor. Tell of the intimate terms on
which I live with you, of the patience with which I observe you, of
the care with which I record your actions. Your evidence is unanimous;
yes, my pages, though they bristle not with hollow formulas or learned
smatterings, are the exact narrative of facts observed, neither more
nor less; and whoso cares to question you in his turn will obtain the
same replies.

“And then, my dear insects, if you cannot convince these good people,
because you do not carry the weight of tedium, I, in my turn, will say
to them:

“‘You rip up the animal and I study it alive; you turn it into an
object of horror and pity, whereas I cause it to be loved; you labor in
a torture-chamber and dissecting-room, I make my observation under the
blue sky to the song of the cicadas; you subject cell and protoplasm to
chemical tests, I study instinct in its loftiest manifestations; you
pry into death, I pry into life.... I write above all for the young. I
want to make them love the natural history which you make them hate;
and that is why, while keeping strictly in the domain of truth, I avoid
your scientific prose, which too often, alas, seems borrowed from some
Iroquois idiom.’”

Fabre, though an inspiring teacher, had no talent for pushing himself,
and did not advance beyond an assistant professorship at a tiny salary.
The other professors at Avignon, where he taught for twenty years,
were jealous of him because his lectures on natural history attracted
much attention, and nicknamed him “the Fly.” He was turned out of his
house at short notice because the owners, two maiden ladies, had been
influenced by his enemies, who considered his teachings in natural
history irreligious. Many years later, the invaluable textbooks he
had written were discontinued from use in the schools because they
contained too much religion! A process which he invented for the
extraction of dye from madder flowers, by which he hoped to make
himself independent, proved unprofitable on account of the appearance
on the market of the cheaper aniline dyes.

Though unknown during most of his lifetime to the world at large, Fabre
through his writings gained the friendship of several celebrated men.
Charles Darwin called him the “incomparable observer.” The Minister of
Education in France invited him to Paris and had him made a Chevalier
of the Legion of Honor, and presented him to the Emperor, Napoleon III.
He was offered the post of tutor to the Prince Imperial, but preferred
his country life and original researches, even though they meant
continued poverty.

At last, after forty years of drudgery, Fabre secured from his
textbooks a small independent income, which released him from teaching
and enabled him to buy at Serignan a house and garden of his own, and
a small piece of waste ground, dedicated to thistles and insects—a
“cursed ground,” he wrote, “which no one would have as a gift to sow
with a pinch of turnip seed,” but “an earthly paradise for bees and
wasps”—and, on that account, for him also.

“It is a little late, O my pretty insects,” he adds—he was at this time
over sixty; “I greatly fear the peach is offered to me only when I am
beginning to have no teeth wherewith to eat it.” He lived, however, to
spend many years at his chosen studies.

During the last years of his life his fame spread, and in 1910, in
his eighty-eighth year, some of his admirers arranged a jubilee
celebration for him at Serignan. Many famous men attended, and letters
and telegrams poured in from all parts of the world. He died five years
later, at the age of ninety-two.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

      I My First Pond                                                 17
     II The Caddis-Worm                                               31
    III The Mason-Bees                                                37
     IV Bees, Cats and Red Ants                                       49
      V The Mining Bees                                               62
     VI The Leaf-Cutting Bees                                         78
    VII The Cotton-Bees and Resin-Bees                                85
   VIII The Hairy Sand-Wasp                                           93
     IX The Wasp and the Cricket                                     106
      X The Fly-Hunting Wasp                                         113
     XI Parasites                                                    125
    XII Fly Scavengers                                               133
   XIII The Pine Caterpillar                                         135
    XIV The Cabbage Caterpillar                                      161
     XV The Great Peacock Moths                                      167
    XVI The Truffle-Hunting Beetle                                   171
   XVII The Boy Who Loved Insects                                    177
  XVIII The Banded Spider                                            199
    XIX The Tarantula                                                209
     XX The Clotho Spider                                            236
    XXI The Spiders’ Telegraph-Wire                                  242
   XXII The Crab Spider                                              248
  XXIII The Labyrinth Spider                                         257
   XXIV The Building of a Spider’s Web                               266
    XXV The Geometry of a Spider’s Web                               276



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                    PAGE

  What a Day It Was When I First Became a Herdsman
  of Ducks! (_Frontispiece_)                                           4

  I Think of the King’s Crown of the Princesses’
  Necklace                                                            25

  The Flowers Which Deck the Mountain Streams
  With Gold Supply Her With Sugary Liquid
  and Pollen                                                          41

  “Be Off, or You’ll Catch It!” Says the Doorkeeping Bee              73

  What Pattern that She Carries in Her Mind Guides
  Her Scissors?                                                       83

  The Gorgeous Drama                                                 102

  One Day, Bang!                                                     119

  When Winter is Near They Will Build a Stronger Tent                139

  They Proceed in Single File                                        146

  The Fire Was Not Exactly Lit for Us                                183

  Does She Help Them to Regain Their Place on Her Back?              226

  The Slanting Cord Is a Telegraph Wire                              244

  Like the Finish of a Fire-Works Display                            255



INSECT ADVENTURES



[Illustration]

CHAPTER I

MY FIRST POND


I am never tired of looking in a pond. What busy life there is in
that green world! On the warm mud of the edges, the Frog’s little
Tadpole basks and frisks in its black legions; down in the water, the
orange-bellied Newt steers his way slowly with the broad rudder of
his flat tail; among the reeds are stationed the little fleets of the
Caddis-worms, half-protruding from their tubes, which are now a tiny
bit of stick and again a tower of little shells.

In the deep places, the Water-beetle dives, carrying with him his extra
supply of breath, an air-bubble at the tip of the wing-cases and, under
the chest, a film of gas that gleams like a silver breast plate; on the
surface, the ballet of those shimmering pearls, the Whirligigs, turns
and twists about; hard by, there swims the troop of the Pond-skaters,
who glide along with side-strokes like those which the cobbler makes
when sewing.

Here are the Water-boatmen, who swim on their backs with two oars
spread crosswise, and the flat Water-scorpions; here, clad in mud, is
the grub of the largest of our Dragon-flies, so curious because of its
manner of moving: it fills its hinder parts, a yawning funnel, with
water, spirts it out again and advances just so far as the recoil of
its water cannon.

There are plenty of peaceful Shellfish. At the bottom, the plump
River-snails discreetly raise their lid, opening ever so little the
shutters of their dwelling; on the level of the water, in the glades
of the water-garden, the Pond-snails take the air. Dark Leeches writhe
upon their prey, a chunk of Earthworm; thousands of tiny, reddish
grubs, future Mosquitoes, go spinning around and twist and curve like
so many graceful Dolphins.

Yes, a stagnant pool, though but a few feet wide, hatched by the sun,
is an immense world, a marvel to the child who, tired of his paper
boat, amuses himself by noticing what is happening in the water. Let
me tell what I remember of my first pond, which I explored when I was
seven years old.

We had nothing but the little house inherited by my mother, and its
patch of garden. Our money was almost all gone. What was to be done?
That was the stern question which father and mother sat talking over
one evening.

Do you remember Hop-o’-My-Thumb, who hid under the wood-cutter’s stool
and listened to his parents overcome by want? I was like him. I also
listened, pretending to sleep, with my elbows on the table. It was not
blood-curdling designs that I heard but grand plans that set my heart
rejoicing.

[Illustration]

“Suppose we breed some ducks,” says mother. “They sell very well in
town. Henri would mind them and take them down to the brook. And we
could feed them on the grease from the tallow-factory, which they say
is excellent for ducks, and which we could buy for a small price.”

“Very well,” says father, “let’s breed some ducks. There may be
difficulties in the way; but we’ll have a try.”

That night I had dreams of paradise: I was with my ducklings, clad in
their yellow suits; I took them to the pond, I watched them have their
bath, I brought them back again, carrying the more tired ones in a
basket.

A month or two after the little birds of my dreams were a reality.
There were twenty-four of them. They had been hatched by two hens, of
whom one, the big black one, was an inmate of the house, while the
other was borrowed from a neighbor.

To bring them up, the big, black hen is enough, so careful is she of
her adopted family. At first everything goes perfectly: a tub with two
fingers’ depth of water serves as a pond. On sunny days the ducklings
bathe in it under the anxious eye of the hen.

Two weeks later, the tub no longer satisfies. It contains neither
cresses crammed with tiny Shellfish nor Worms and Tadpoles, dainty
morsels both. The time has come for dives and hunts among the tangle of
the water-weeds; and for us the day of trouble has also come. How are
we, right up at the top of the hill, to get water enough for a pond for
our broods? In summer, we have hardly water to drink!

Near the house there is only a scanty spring from which four or five
families besides ourselves draw their water with copper pails. By the
time that the schoolmasters donkey has quenched her thirst and the
neighbors have taken their provision for the day, the spring-basin is
dry. We have to wait four-and-twenty hours for it to fill. No, there is
no place there for ducklings.

There is a brook at the foot of the hill, but to go down to it with
the troop of ducklings is dangerous. On the way through the village we
might meet murdering cats, or some surly dog might frighten and scatter
the little band; and it would be a puzzling task to collect them all
again. But there is still another spot, part way up the hill, where
there is a meadow and a pond of some size. It is very quiet there, and
the place can be reached by a deserted footpath. The ducklings will be
well off.

What a day it was when I first became a herdsman of ducks! Why must
there be a drawback to such joys? Walking on the hard stones had given
me a large and painful blister on the heel. If I had wanted to put on
the shoes stowed away in the cupboard for Sundays and holidays, I could
not. I had to go barefoot over the broken stones, dragging my leg and
carrying high the injured heel.

The ducks, too, poor little things, had sensitive soles to their feet;
they limped, they quacked with fatigue. They would have refused to go
any farther towards the pond if I had not, from time to time, called a
halt under the shelter of an ash.

[Illustration]

We are there at last. The place could not be better for my birdlets:
shallow, tepid water, with a few muddy knolls and little green islands.
The pleasures of the bath begin at once. The ducklings clap their beaks
and rummage here, there, and everywhere; they sift each mouthful,
throwing out the clear water and swallowing the good bits. In the
deeper parts they point their tails into the air and stick their heads
under water. They are happy: and it is a blessed thing to see them at
work. I too am enjoying the pond.

What is this? On the mud lie some loose, knotted, soot-covered cords.
One might take them for threads of wool like those which you pull out
of an old ravelly stocking. Can some shepherdess, knitting a black
sock and finding her work turn out badly, have begun all over again
and, in her impatience, have thrown down the wool with all the dropped
stitches? It really looks like it.

I take up one of those cords in my hand. It is sticky and very loose;
the thing slips through my fingers before they can catch hold of it.
A few of the knots burst and shed their contents. What comes out is
a black ball, the size of a pin’s head, followed by a flat tail. I
recognize, on a very small scale, a familiar object: the Tadpole, the
Frog’s baby.

Here are some other creatures. They spin around on the surface of the
water and their black backs gleam in the sun. If I lift a hand to seize
them, that moment they disappear, I do not know where. It’s a pity; I
should have liked much to see them closer and to make them wriggle in a
little bowl which I should have put ready for them.

Let us look at the bottom of the water, pulling aside those bunches
of green string from which beads of air are rising and gathering into
foam. There is something of everything underneath. I see pretty shells
with compact whorls, flat as beans; I notice little worms carrying
tufts and feathers; I make out some with flabby fins constantly
flapping on their backs. What are they all doing there? What are their
names? I do not know. And I stare at them for ever so long, held by the
mystery of the waters.

At the place where the pond dribbles into the near-by field, are some
alder-trees; and here I make a glorious find. It is a Beetle—not a
very large one, oh, no! He is smaller than a cherry-stone, but of an
unutterable blue. The angels in paradise must wear dresses of that
color. I put the glorious one inside an empty snail-shell, which I plug
up with a leaf. I shall admire that living jewel at my leisure, when I
get back. Other things call me away.

The spring that feeds the pond trickles from the rock, cold and clear.
The water first collects into a cup, the size of the hollow of one’s
two hands, and then runs over in a stream. These falls call for a mill:
that goes without saying. I build one with two bits of straw, crossed
on an axis, and supported by flat stones set on edge. The mill is a
great success. I am sorry I have no playmates but the ducklings to
admire it.

Let us contrive a dam to hold back the waters and form a pool. There
are plenty of stones for the brickwork. I pick the most suitable; I
break the larger ones. And, while collecting these blocks, suddenly I
forget all about the dam which I meant to build.

On one of the broken stones, in a hole large enough for me to put
my fist into, something gleams like glass. The hollow is lined with
facets gathered in sixes which flash and glitter in the sun. I have
seen something like this in church, on the great saints’-days, when the
light of the candles in the big chandelier kindles the stars in its
hanging crystal.

We children, lying, in summer, on the straw of the threshing-floor,
have told one another stories of the treasures which a dragon guards
underground. Those treasures now return to my mind: the names of
precious stones ring out uncertainly but gloriously in my memory. I
think of the king’s crown, of the princesses’ necklaces. In breaking
stones, can I have found, but on a much richer scale, the thing that
shines quite small in my mother’s ring? I want more such.

The dragon of the subterranean treasures treats me generously. He gives
me his diamonds in such quantities that soon I possess a heap of broken
stones sparkling with magnificent clusters. He does more: he gives me
his gold. The trickle of water from the rock falls on a bed of fine
sand which it swirls into bubbles. If I bend over towards the light,
I see something like gold-filings whirling where the fall touches the
bottom. Is it really the famous metal of which twenty-franc pieces, so
rare with us at home, are made? One would think so, from the glitter.

[Illustration: “I think of the king’s crown, of the princesses’
necklace.”]

I take a pinch of sand and place it in my palm. The brilliant particles
are numerous, but so small that I have to pick them up with a straw
moistened in my mouth. Let us drop this: they are too tiny and too
bothersome to collect. The big, valuable lumps must be farther on,
in the thickness of the rock. We’ll come back later; we’ll blast the
mountain.

I break more stones. Oh, what a queer thing has just come loose, all
in one piece! It is turned spiral-wise, like certain flat Snails that
come out of the cracks of old walls in rainy weather. With its gnarled
sides, it looks like a little ram’s-horn. How do things like that find
their way into the stone?

Treasures and curiosities make my pockets bulge with pebbles. It is
late and the little ducklings have had all they want to eat. “Come
along, youngsters,” I say to them, “let’s go home.” My blistered heel
is forgotten in my excitement.

The walk back is a delight, as I think of all the wonderful things
I have found. But a sad disappointment is waiting for me when I
reach home. My parents catch sight of my bulging pockets, with their
disgraceful load of stones. The cloth has given way under the rough and
heavy burden.

“You rascal!” says father, at sight of the damage. “I send you to mind
the ducks and you amuse yourself picking up stones, as though there
weren’t enough of them all round the house! Make haste and throw them
away!”

Broken-hearted, I obey. Diamonds, gold-dust, petrified ram’s-horn,
heavenly Beetle, are all flung on a rubbish-heap outside the door.

[Illustration]

Mother bewails her lot:

“A nice thing, bringing up children to see them turn out so badly!
You’ll bring me to my grave. Green stuff I don’t mind: it does for
the rabbits. But stones, which ruin your pockets; poisonous animals,
which’ll sting your hand: what good are they to you, silly? There’s no
doubt about it; some one has thrown a spell over you!”

Poor mother! She was right. A spell had been cast upon me—a spell which
Nature herself had woven. In later years I found out that the diamonds
of the duck-pool were rock-crystal, the gold-dust, mica; but the
fascination of the pond held good for all that. It was full of secrets
that were worth more to me than diamonds or gold.

[Illustration]


THE GLASS POND

Have you ever had an indoor pond? Such a pond is easy to make and
one can watch the life of the water in it even better than outdoors,
where the ponds are too large and have too much in them. Besides, when
out-of-doors, one is likely to be disturbed by passers-by.

For my indoor pond, the blacksmith made me a framework of iron rods.
The carpenter, who is also a glazier, set the framework on a wooden
base and supplied it with a movable board as a lid; he then fixed thick
panes of glass in the four sides. The bottom of the pond was made of
tarred sheet iron, and had a trap to let the water out. The contrivance
looked very well, standing on a little table in front of a sunny
window. It held about ten or twelve gallons.

I put in it first some limy incrustations with which certain springs in
my neighborhood cover the dead clumps of rushes. It is light, full of
holes, and looks a little like a coral reef. Moreover, it is covered
with a short, green, velvety moss of tiny pond-weed. I count upon this
pond-weed to keep the water healthy. How? Let us see.

The living creatures in the pond fill the water, just as living people
fill the air, with gases unfit to breathe. Somehow the pond must get
rid of these gases, or its inhabitants will die. This is what the
pond-weed does; it breathes in and burns up the unwholesome gases,
changing them into a life-giving gas.

If you will look at the pond when the sun is shining on it, you will
see this change take place. How beautiful the water-weeds are! The
green-carpeted reef is lit up with countless sparkling points and
looks like a fairy lawn of velvet, studded with thousands of diamond
pin-heads. From this exquisite jewelry pearls constantly break loose
and are at once replaced by others; slowly they rise, like tiny globes
of light. They spread on every side. It is a constant display of
fireworks in the depth of the water.

This is what is really happening: The weeds are decomposing—that is,
separating into its elements—the unwholesome carbonic acid gas with
which the water is filled; they keep the carbon to use in their own
cells; they breathe out the oxygen in tiny bubbles, the pearls that you
have seen. These partly dissolve in the water, making it healthful for
the little water-creatures to breathe, and partly reach the surface,
where they vanish in the air, making it good for us to breathe.

No matter how often I see it, I cannot help being interested in this
everyday marvel of a bundle of weeds purifying a stagnant pool; I look
with a delighted eye upon the ceaseless spray of spreading bubbles; I
see in imagination the prehistoric times when seaweed, the first-born
of plants, produced the first atmosphere for living things to breathe
at the time when the land of the continents was beginning to rise out
of the oceans. What I see before my eyes, between the glass panes of my
pond, tells me the story of the planet surrounding itself with pure air.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER II

THE CADDIS-WORM

[The caddis-worm is the grub of the caddis-fly, which is like a small
moth and is often seen flitting over our streams and ponds. There are
about one hundred and fifty species of this fly in America.]


Whom shall I lodge in my glass trough, kept always wholesome by the
action of the water-weeds? I shall keep Caddis-worms, those insects
which clothe themselves with little sticks and other materials. They
are among the most ingenious of the self-clothing insects.

The particular species of Caddis-worm I have chosen is found in
muddy-bottomed, stagnant pools crammed with small reeds. It is the
little grub that carries through the still waters a bundle of tiny
fragments fallen from the reeds. Its sheath, a traveling house, is an
elaborate piece of work, made of many different materials.

The young worms, the beginners, start with a sort of deep basket in
wicker-work, made of small, stiff roots, long steeped and peeled under
water. The grub that has made a find of these fibers saws them with
its jaws and cuts them into little straight sticks, which it fixes
one by one to the edge of its basket, always crosswise. This pile of
spikes is a fine protection, but hard to steer through the tangle of
water-plants. Sooner or later the worm forsakes it, and builds with
round bits of wood, browned by the water, often as wide as a thick
straw and a finger’s breadth long, more or less—taking them as chance
supplies them.

It does not always use wood, however. If there are plenty of small,
dead Pond-snails in the pond, all of the same size, the Caddis-worm
makes a splendid patchwork scabbard; with a cluster of slender
roots, reduced by rotting to their stiff, straight, woody axis, it
manufactures pretty specimens of wicker-work like baskets. With grains
of rice, which I gave the grubs in my glass pond as an experiment, they
built themselves magnificent towers of ivory. Next to the sheaths of
snail-shells, this was the prettiest thing I ever saw the Caddis-worms
make.


THE PIRATES’ ATTACK

What is the use of these houses which the Caddis-worms carry about
with them? I catch a glimpse of the reason for making them. My glass
pond was at first occupied by a dozen Water-beetles, whose diving
performances are so curious to watch. One day, meaning no harm and for
want of a better place to put them, I fling among them a couple of
handfuls of Caddis-worms. Blunderer that I am, what have I done! The
pirate Water-beetles, hiding in the rugged corners of the rockwork,
at once perceive the windfall. They rise to the surface with great
strokes of their oars; they hasten and fling themselves upon the crowd
of carpenter Caddis-worms. Each Beetle grabs a sheath by the middle
and tries to rip it open by tearing off shells and sticks. While this
is going on, the Caddis-worm, close-pressed, appears at the mouth
of the sheath, slips out, and quickly escapes under the eyes of the
Water-beetle, who appears to notice nothing.

The brutal ripper of sheaths does not see the little worm, like a white
sausage, that slips between his legs, passes under his fangs, and madly
flees. He continues to tear away the outer case and to tug at the
silken lining. When the breach is made, he is quite crestfallen at not
finding what he expected.

[Illustration]

Poor fool! Your victim went out under your nose and you never saw it.
The worm has sunk to the bottom and taken refuge in the mysteries of
the rockwork. If things were happening in a larger, outdoor pond, it
is clear that, with their clever way of removing themselves, most of
the worms would escape scot-free. Fleeing to a distance and recovering
from the sharp alarm, they would build themselves a new scabbard, and
all would be over until the next attack, which would be foiled all over
again by the very same trick!


AN INSECT SUBMARINE

Caddis-worms are able to remain on the level of the water indefinitely
with no other support than their house; they can rest in unsinkable
flotillas and can even shift their place by working the rudder.

How do they do it? Do their sticks make a sort of raft? Can the shells
contain a few bubbles of air and serve as floats? Let us see.

I remove a number of Caddis-worms from their sheaths and put the
sheaths in the water. Not one of them floats, neither those made of
shells nor those of woody materials. The Worm also, when removed from
its tube, is unable to float.

This is how the Worm manages. When at rest, at the bottom of the pond,
it fills the whole of the tube of its sheath. When it wishes to reach
the top of the pond, it climbs up the reeds, dragging its house of
sticks with it; then it sticks the front of its body out of the sheath,
leaving a vacant space in the rear, like the vacuum in a pump when one
draws out the piston. This promptly fills with air, enabling the Worm
to float, sheath and all, just as the air in a life-preserver holds a
person up in the water. The Caddis-worm does not need to cling to the
grasses any longer. It can move about on the surface of the pond, in
the glad sunlight.

To be sure, it is not very talented as a boatman. But it can turn
round, tack about and shift its place slightly by using the front part
of its body, which is out of the tube, as a rudder and paddle; and that
is all it wishes to do. When it has had enough of the sun, and thinks
it time to return to the quiet of the mud-bed at the bottom, it draws
itself back into its sheath, expelling the air, and at once begins to
sink.

We have our submarines—the Caddis-worms have theirs. They can come out
of the water, they can dip down and even stop at mid-depth by releasing
gradually the surplus air. And this apparatus, so perfectly balanced,
so skillful, requires no knowledge on the part of its maker. It comes
into being of itself, in accordance with the plans of the universal
harmony of things.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER III

THE MASON-BEES


At a school where I once taught, one subject in particular appealed
to both master and pupils. This was open-air geometry, practical
surveying. When May came, once every week we left the gloomy schoolroom
for the fields. It was a regular holiday. We did our surveying on an
untilled plain, covered with flowering thyme and rounded pebbles. There
was room there for making every sort of triangle or polygon.

Well, from the very first day, my attention was attracted by something
suspicious. If I sent one of the boys to plant a stake, I would see him
stop frequently on his way, bend down, stand up again, look about and
stoop once more, neglecting his straight line and his signals. Another,
who was told to pick up the arrows, would forget and take up a pebble
instead; and a third, instead of measuring angles, would crumble a clod
of earth between his fingers.

[Illustration]

Most of them were caught licking a bit of straw. The surveying
suffered. What could the mystery be?

I inquired; and everything was explained. The scholars had known for a
long time what the master had not yet heard of, namely, that there was
a big black Bee who made clay nests on the pebbles in the fields. These
nests contained honey; and my surveyors used to open them and empty the
cells with a straw. The honey, although rather strong-flavored, was
most acceptable. I grew fond of it myself, and joined the nest-hunters,
putting off the lesson until later. It was thus that I first made the
acquaintance of the Mason-bee.

The Bee herself is a magnificent insect, with dark-violet wings and a
black-velvet dress. We have two kinds of Mason-bees in our district:
this one, who builds by herself on walls or pebbles, and the Sicilian
Mason-bee, who builds in colonies under sheds and roofs. Both use the
same kind of material: hard clay, mixed with a little sand and kneaded
into a paste with the Bee’s own saliva, forming, when dry, a sort of
hard cement.

Man’s masonry is formed of stones laid one above the other and cemented
together with lime. The Mason-bee’s work can bear comparison with
ours. Instead of stones, she uses big pieces of gravel. She chooses
them carefully one by one, picks out the hardest bits, generally with
corners, which, fitting one into the other, make a solid whole. She
holds them together with layers of her mortar, sparingly applied. Thus
the outside of her cell looks like a rough stone house; but the inside,
which must be smooth in order not to hurt the Bee-baby’s tender skin,
is covered with a coat of pure mortar. This inner whitewash, however,
is not put on artistically, but in great splashes; and the grub takes
care, after it has finished eating its honey, to make itself a cocoon
and hang the walls of its room with silk.

When the cell is finished, the Bee at once sets to work to provide food
for it. The flowers round about, especially those of the yellow broom,
which in May deck the pebbly borders of the mountain streams with gold,
supply her with sugary liquid and pollen. She comes with her crop
swollen with honey and her body yellowed underneath with pollen-dust.
She dives headfirst into the cell; and for a few moments you see her
jerk violently as she empties her crop of the honey-sirup. Afterwards,
she comes out of the cell, only to go in again at once, but this time
backwards. The Bee now brushes the lower side of her abdomen with her
two hind-legs and rids herself of her load of pollen. Once more she
comes out and once more goes in headfirst. It is a question of stirring
the materials, with her jaws for a spoon, and making the whole into a
smooth mixture. She does not do this after every journey; only once in
a while, when she has gathered a good deal of food.

When the cell is half full of food, she thinks there is enough. An egg
must now be laid on top of the paste and the house must be closed. All
this is done quickly. The cover is a lid of pure mortar, which the Bee
builds by degrees, working from the outside to the center. Two days at
most appeared to me to be enough for everything, provided that no bad
weather—rain or merely clouds—came to interrupt the work. Then a second
cell is built, with its back to the first and provisioned in the same
manner. A third, a fourth, and so on follow, each supplied with honey
and an egg and closed before the foundations of the next are laid.

[Illustration: “The flowers which deck the mountain streams with gold
supply her with sugary liquid and pollen.”]

When all the cells are finished, the Bee builds a thick cover over the
group, to protect her grub-babies from damp, heat and cold. This cover
is made of the usual mortar, but on this occasion with no small stones
in it. The Bee applies it pellet by pellet, trowelful by trowelful, to
the depth of about a third of an inch over the cluster of cells, which
disappear entirely under the clay covering. When this is done, the nest
has the shape of a rough dome, equal in size to half an orange. One
would take it for a round lump of mud which had been thrown and half
crushed against a stone and had then dried where it was. This outer
covering dries as quickly as the cement we use in our houses; and the
nest is soon almost as hard as a stone.

Instead of building a brand-new nest on a hitherto unoccupied bowlder,
the Mason-bee of the Walls is always glad to make use of old nests
built the year before. These need only a little repair to put them
in good condition. The Bee who has chosen one of these nests looks
about to see what parts need repairing, tears off the strips of cocoon
hanging from the walls, removes the fragments of clay that fell from
the ceiling when the young Bee of the preceding year bored her way
through it, gives a coat of mortar to parts that need it, mends the
opening a little, and that is all. She then goes about storing honey
and laying her egg, as she would in a new cell. When all the cells, one
after the other, are thus furnished, the Bee puts a few touches on the
outer dome of cement, if it needs them; and she is through.

From one and the same nest there come out several inhabitants, brothers
and sisters, the males with a bright brick-red fleece, and the female
of a splendid velvety black, with dark-violet wings. They are all the
children of the Bee who built or repaired and furnished the cells. The
male Bees lead a careless existence, never work, and do not return to
the clay houses except for a brief moment to woo the ladies; they have
nothing to do with the housekeeping or the new nests. What they want is
the nectar in the flower-cups, not mortar to build with. There are left
the sisters, who will be the mothers of the next family. As sisters,
they all have equal rights to the nest. They do not go by this rule,
however. The nest belongs to the one who first takes possession of it.
If any of the others or any neighbors dispute her ownership, she fights
them until they have the worst of it and fly away, leaving her in peace.


AN ENEMY OF THE MASON-BEE

All is not smooth sailing after the Mason-bee has finished building
her dome of cells. It is then that a certain Stelis-wasp, much smaller
than the Mason-bee, appears, looks carefully at the outside of the
Mason-bee’s home, and makes up her mind, weak and small as she is,
to introduce her eggs into this cement fortress. Everything is most
carefully closed: a layer of rough plaster, at least two fifths of an
inch thick, entirely covers the cells, which are each of them sealed
with a thick mortar plug. The plaster is almost as hard as a rock.
Never mind! The little insect is going to reach the honey in those
cells.

She pluckily sets to. Atom by atom, she drives a hole in the plaster
and scoops out a shaft just large enough to let her through; she
reaches the lid of the cell and gnaws it till she catches sight of the
honey. It is a slow and painful process, in which the feeble Wasp wears
herself out. I find it hard to break the plaster with the point of my
knife. How much harder, then, for the insect, with her tiny pincers!

When she reaches the honey, the Stelis-wasp slips through and, on the
surface of the provisions, side by side with the Mason-bee’s, she lays
a number of her own eggs. The honey-food will be the common property
of all the new arrivals, the Stelis-wasp’s grubs as well as the
Mason-bee’s.

The next thing for the parasite Wasp to do is to wall up the opening
she has made, so that other robbers cannot get in. At the foot of the
nest, the Wasp collects a little red earth; she makes it into mortar by
wetting it with saliva; and with the pellets thus prepared she fills up
the entrance shaft as neatly as if she were a master-mason. The mortar,
being red, shows up against the Bee’s house, which is white; so when we
see the red speck on the pale background of the Bee’s nest we know a
Stelis-wasp has been that way.

As a result of the Stelis’ action, the poor Bee-baby will starve to
death. The Wasp’s grubs mature first and eat up all the food.


[Illustration]

THE BEE HERSELF TURNED BURGLAR

Sometimes, when a Mason-bee has stayed too long among the flowers,
getting honey for her cell, she finds the cell closed when she returns
home. A neighbor Bee has taken the opportunity to lay her eggs there,
after finishing the building and stocking it with provisions. The real
Bee-owner is shut out.

She does not hesitate long about what to do. After she has examined
her former home very carefully, to make sure it is closed against her,
she seems to say to herself, “An egg for an egg, a cell for a cell.
You’ve stolen my house; I’ll steal yours.” She goes to another Bee’s
dwelling and patiently gnaws the mortar lid or door. When she has made
an opening, she stands bending over the cell, her head half-buried in
it, as if thinking. She goes away, she returns undecidedly; at last she
makes up her mind. The other Bees, meanwhile, pay no attention to her,
not even the one who laid the egg in the cell.

[Illustration]

The Bee who has turned burglar snaps up the strange egg from the
surface of the honey and flings it on the rubbish-heap as carelessly as
if she were ridding the house of a bit of dirt. Then, although there is
already plenty of honey in the cell, she adds more from her own stock,
lays her own egg, and closes up the house again. The lid is repaired
to look like new and everything restored to order. The Bee has had her
revenge; her anger is appeased. Next time she lays an egg it will be in
her own cell, unless that has again been seized by another.


SOME USEFUL VISITORS OF THE BEES

I have told you about the robber Stelis-wasp who enters the Bee’s
cement house and steals the provisions laid up for the Bee-baby; she is
not the only one who despoils the poor Mason-bee. There is another Bee,
the Dioxys, who acts in about the same way as the Stelis-wasp, except
that she sometimes does even worse, and eats up the grub itself, as
well as its honey. Then there are the Osmia-bees and the Leaf-cutting
Bees, who make themselves very much at home in the Bees’ houses, when
they get a chance, keeping out the real owners; and there are also
three flies, whose grubs eat the Bee-grub alive! It sometimes seems
wonderful that the Mason-bee should ever live to grow up; and you
will be glad to hear of three other visitors the Bee-grub has, which
actually help instead of making it impossible for it to live. These are
three Beetles.

The old nests which the Mason-bees build in, to save themselves the
trouble of making new ones, are often in a very insanitary condition.
The cells are full of dead larvæ (larva is another word for grub, and
both words mean the first stage of the insect after leaving the egg,
when it looks like a little worm), which, for some reason or other,
could not break through their hard prisons; of honey which has not been
eaten and has turned sour; of tattered cocoons, and shreds of skin,
left behind when the grubs turned into Bees. All these dead and useless
things are, of course, not pleasant to have in any house, especially in
a tidy Bee’s.

Here is where the Beetles come to the rescue. They enter the Bee’s
house and lay their eggs there. The larvæ, when they come out of the
eggs, begin to make themselves useful. Two species of larvæ gnaw the
remains of the dead Bees; the third, which is quite a good-looking
worm, with a black head and the rest of its body a pretty pink, takes
care of the spoiled honey. This worm turns into a Beetle in a red dress
with blue ornaments, whom you may often see strolling about the Bee’s
house in the working season, tasting here and there drops of honey
oozing from some cracked cell. The Bees leave him in peace, as if they
knew that it was his duty to keep their house wholesome.

Still later, when the Bee’s house, exposed as it is to wind and
weather, cracks and falls to pieces almost entirely, the Bees leave
it for good and all, and still other insects take possession of it.
These are gypsies, who are not particular where they camp out. Spiders
make their homes in the blind alleys which used to be cells, and weave
white-satin screens, behind which they lie in wait for passing game.
The Hunting-wasps arrange nooks with earthen embankments or clay
partitions, and there store up small members of the Spider tribe as
food for their families. So we see that the house that the Mason-bee
built for herself is useful to many others, good, bad, or indifferent
friends of hers as the case may be.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER IV

BEES, CATS AND RED ANTS


I wished to know something more about my Mason-bees. I had heard that
they knew how to find their nests even if carried away from them. One
day I managed to capture forty Bees from a nest under the eaves of
my shed, and to put them one by one in screws of paper. I asked my
daughter Aglaé to stay near the nest and watch for the return of the
Bees. Things being thus arranged, I carried off my forty captives to a
spot two and a half miles from home.

I had to mark each captive with a mixture of chalk and gum arabic
before I set her free. It was no easy business. I was stung many times,
and sometimes I forgot myself and squeezed the Bee harder than I should
have. As a result, about twenty out of my forty Bees were injured. The
rest started off, in different directions at first; but most of them
seemed to me to be making for their home.

Meanwhile a stiff breeze sprang up, making things still harder for the
Bees. They must have had to fly close to the ground; they could not
possibly go up high and get a view of the country.

Under the circumstances, I hardly thought, when I reached home, that
the Bees would be there. But Aglaé greeted me at once, her cheeks
flushed with excitement:

“Two!” she cried. “Two arrived at twenty minutes to three, with a load
of pollen under their bellies!” I had released my insects at about two
o’clock; these first arrivals had therefore flown two miles and a half
in less than three quarters of an hour, and lingered to forage on the
way.

As it was growing late, we had to stop our observations. Next day,
however, I took another count of my Mason-bees and found fifteen with
a white spot as I had marked them. At least fifteen out of the twenty
then had returned, in spite of having the wind against them, and in
spite of having been taken to a place where they had almost certainly
never been before. These Bees do not go far afield, for they have
all the food and building material they want near home. Then how did
my exiles return? What guided them? It was certainly not memory, but
some special faculty which we cannot explain, it is so different from
anything we ourselves possess.


MY CATS

The Cat is supposed to have the same power as the Bee to find its way
home. I never believed this till I saw what some Cats of my own could
do. Let me tell you the story.

[Illustration]

One day there appeared upon my garden wall a wretched-looking Cat, with
matted coat and protruding ribs; so thin that his back was a jagged
ridge. My children, at that time very young, took pity on his misery.
Bread soaked in milk was offered him at the end of a reed. He took
it. And the mouthfuls succeeded one another to such good purpose that
at last he had had enough and went, paying no attention to the “Puss!
Puss!” of his compassionate friends. But after a while he grew hungry
again, and reappeared on top of the wall. He received the same fare of
bread soaked in milk, the same soft words. He allowed himself to be
tempted. He came down from the wall. The children were able to stroke
his back. Goodness, how thin he was!

It was the great topic of conversation. We discussed it at table: we
would tame the tramp, we would keep him, we would make him a bed of
hay. It was a most important matter: I can see to this day, I shall
always see, the council of rattleheads deliberating on the Cat’s fate.
They were not satisfied until the savage animal remained. Soon he grew
into a magnificent Tom. His large, round head, his muscular legs, his
reddish fur, flecked with darker patches, reminded one of a little
jaguar. He was christened Ginger because of his tawny hue. A mate
joined him later, picked up in almost similar circumstances. Such was
the beginning of my series of Gingers, which I have kept for almost
twenty years, in spite of various movings.

The first time we moved we were anxious about our Cats. We were all
of us attached to them and should have thought it nothing short of
criminal to abandon the poor creatures, whom we had so often petted,
to distress and probably to thoughtless persecution. The shes and the
kittens would travel without any trouble: all you have to do is to put
them in a basket; they will keep quiet on the journey. But the old
Tom-cats were a serious problem. I had two, the head of the family and
one of his descendants, quite as strong as himself. We decided to take
the grandfather, if he consented to come, and to leave the grandson
behind, after finding him a home.

My friend Dr. Loriol offered to take the younger cat. The animal was
carried to him at nightfall in a closed hamper. Hardly were we seated
at the evening meal, talking of the good fortune of our Tom-cat, when
we saw a dripping mass jump through the window. The shapeless bundle
came and rubbed itself against our legs, purring with happiness. It was
the Cat.

I heard his story next day. On arriving at Dr. Loriol’s, he was locked
up in a bedroom. The moment he saw himself a prisoner in the unfamiliar
room, he began to jump about wildly on the furniture, against the
window panes, among the ornaments on the mantelpiece, threatening to
make short work of everything. Mrs. Loriol was frightened by the little
lunatic; she hastened to open the window; and the Cat leapt out among
the passers-by. A few minutes later, he was back at home. And it was no
easy matter: he had to cross the town almost from end to end; he had
to make his way through a long labyrinth of crowded streets, among a
thousand dangers, including boys and dogs; lastly—and this perhaps was
even harder—he had to pass over a river which ran through the town.
There were bridges at hand, many, in fact; but the animal, taking the
shortest cut, had used none of them, bravely jumping into the water, as
the streaming fur showed.

[Illustration]

I had pity on the poor Cat, so faithful to his home. We agreed to
take him with us. We were spared the worry: a few days later, he was
found lying stiff and stark under a shrub in the garden. Some one had
poisoned him for me. Who? It was not likely that it was a friend!

There was still the old Cat. He could not be found when we left our
home, so the carter was promised an extra two dollars if he would
bring the Cat to us at our new home with one of his loads. On his last
journey with our goods he brought him, stowed away under the driver’s
seat. I scarcely knew my old Tom when we opened the moving prison in
which he had been kept since the day before. He came out looking a most
alarming beast, scratching and spitting, with bristling hair, bloodshot
eyes, lips white with foam. I thought him mad and watched him closely
for a time. I was wrong: he was merely bewildered and frightened. Had
there been trouble with the carter when he was caught? Did he have a
bad time on the journey? I do not know. What I do know is that the very
nature of the Cat seemed changed: there was no more friendly purring,
no more rubbing against our legs; nothing but a wild expression and the
deepest gloom. Kind treatment could not soothe him. One day I found him
lying dead in the ashes on the hearth. Grief, with the help of old age,
had killed him. Would he have gone back to our old home, if he had had
the strength? I would not venture to say so. But, at least, I think it
very remarkable that an animal should let itself die of homesickness
because the weakness of old age prevented it from returning to its
former haunts.

The next time we move, the family of Gingers have been renewed: the
old ones have passed away, new ones have come, including a full-grown
Tom, worthy in every way of his ancestors. He alone will give us some
trouble in moving; the others, the babies and the mothers, can be
removed easily. We put them into baskets. The Tom has one to himself,
so that the peace may be kept. The journey is made by carriage. Nothing
striking happens before our arrival. When we let the mother Cats out of
their hampers, they inspect the new home, explore the rooms one by one;
with their pink noses they recognize the furniture: they find their own
seats, their own tables, their own armchairs; but the surroundings are
different. They give little surprised miaows and questioning glances.
We pet them and give them saucers of milk, and by the next day they
feel quite at home.

It is a different matter with the Tom. We put him in the attic, where
he will find plenty of room for his capers; we take turns keeping him
company; we give him a double portion of plates to lick; from time to
time we bring some of the other Cats to him, to show him that he is not
alone in the house; we do everything we can to make him forget the old
home. He seems, in fact, to forget it: he is gentle under the hand that
pets him, he comes when called, purrs, arches his back. We have kept
him shut up for a week, and now we think it is time to give him back
his liberty. He goes down to the kitchen, stands by the table like the
others, goes out into the garden, under the watchful eye of my daughter
Aglaé, who does not lose sight of him; he prowls all around with the
most innocent air. He comes back. Victory! The Tom-cat will not run
away.

Next morning:

“Puss! Puss!”

Not a sign of him! We hunt, we call. Nothing. Oh, the hypocrite, the
hypocrite! How he has tricked us! He has gone, he is at our old home.
So I declare, but the family will not believe it.

My two daughters went back to the old home. They found the Cat, as I
said they would, and brought him back in a hamper. His paws and belly
were covered with red clay; and yet the weather was dry, there was no
mud. The Cat, therefore, must have swum the river, and the moist fur
had kept the red earth of the fields through which he had passed. The
distance between our two homes was four and a half miles.

We kept the deserter in our attic for two weeks, and then we let him
out again. Before twenty-four hours had passed he was back at his old
home. We had to leave him to his fate. A neighbor out that way told
me that he saw him one day hiding behind a hedge with a rabbit in his
mouth. He was no longer provided with food; he had to hunt for it as
best he could. I heard no more of him. He came to a bad end, no doubt;
he had become a robber and must have met with a robber’s fate.

These true stories prove that Cats have in their fashion the instinct
of my Mason-bees. So, too, have Pigeons, who, transported for hundreds
of miles, are able to find their way back to their own dove-cot; so
have the Swallows and many other birds. But to go back to the insects.
I wished to find out if Ants, who are insects closely related to the
Bees, have the same sense of direction that they have.


[Illustration]

THE RED ANTS

Among the treasures of my piece of waste ground is an ant-hill
belonging to the celebrated Red Ants, the slave-hunting Amazons. If
you have never heard about these Ants, their practices seem almost too
wonderful to believe. They are unable to bring up their own families,
to look for their food, to take it even when it is within their reach.
Therefore they need servants to feed them and keep house for them. They
make a practice of stealing children to wait on the community. They
raid the neighboring ant-hills, the home of a different species; they
carry away the Ant-babies, who are in the nymph or swaddling-clothes
stage, that is, wrapped in the cocoons. These grow up in the Red Ants’
house and become willing and industrious servants.

When the hot weather of June and July sets in, I often see the Amazons
leave their barracks of an afternoon and start on an expedition.
The column is five or six yards long. At the first suspicion of an
ant-hill, the front ones halt and spread out in a swarming throng,
which is increased by the others as they come up hurriedly. Scouts are
sent out; the Amazons recognize that they are on a wrong track; and the
column forms again. It resumes its march, crosses the garden paths,
disappears from sight in the grass, reappears farther on, threads its
way through the heap of dead leaves, comes out again and continues its
search.

At last, a nest of Black Ants is discovered. The Red Ants hasten down
to the dormitories, enter the burrows where the Ant-grubs lie and
soon come out with their booty. Then we have, at the gates of the
underground city, a bewildering scrimmage between the defending Blacks
and the attacking Reds. The struggle is too unequal to remain in doubt.
Victory falls to the Reds, who race back home, each with her prize, a
swaddled baby, dangling from her jaws.

I should like to go on with the story of the Amazons, but I have no
time at present. Their return to the nest is what I am interested in.
Do they know their way as the Bees do?

Apparently not; for I find that the Ants always take exactly the same
path home that they did coming, no matter how difficult it was or how
many short cuts might be taken. I came upon them one day when they were
advancing on a raid by the side of a garden pond. The wind was blowing
hard and blew whole rows of the Ants into the water, where the Fish
gobbled them up. I thought that on the way back they would avoid this
dangerous bit. Not at all: they came back the same way, and the Fish
received a double windfall, the Ants and their prizes.

[Illustration]

As I had not time to watch the Ants for whole afternoons, I asked my
granddaughter Lucie, a little rogue who likes to hear my stories of
the Ants, to help me. She had been present at the great battle between
the Reds and the Blacks and was much impressed by the stealing of the
long-clothes babies, and she was willing to wander about the garden
when the weather was fine, keeping an eye on the Red Ants for me.

One day, while I was working in my study, there came a banging at my
door.

“It’s I, Lucie! Come quick: the Reds have gone into the Blacks’ house.
Come quick!”

“And do you know the road they took?”

“Yes, I marked it.”

“What! Marked it? And how?”

“I did what Hop-o’-My-Thumb did: I scattered little white stones along
the road.”

I hurried out. Things had happened as my six-year-old helper had said.
The Ants had made their raid and were returning along the track of
telltale pebbles. When I took some of them up on a leaf and set them
a few feet away from the path, they were lost. The Ant relies on her
sight and her memory for places to guide her home. Even when her raids
to the same ant-hill are two or three days apart, she follows exactly
the same path each time. The memory of an Ant! What can that be? Is it
like ours? I do not know; but I do know that, though closely related to
the Bee, she has not the same sense of direction that the Bee possesses.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER V

THE MINING BEES


These Bees are generally longer and slighter than the Bee of our hives.
They are of different sizes, some larger than the Common Wasp, others
even smaller than the House-fly, but all have a mark that shows the
family. This is a smooth and shiny line, at the back of the tip-end of
the abdomen, a groove along which the sting slides up and down when the
insect is on the defensive. The particular species I am going to tell
you about is called the Zebra Bee, because the female is beautifully
belted around her long abdomen with alternate black and pale-russet
scarfs; a simple and pretty dress. She is about the size of the Common
Wasp.

She builds her galleries in firm soil, where there is no danger of
landslides. The well-leveled paths in my garden suit her to perfection.
Every spring she takes possession of them, never alone, but in
gangs whose number varies greatly, amounting sometimes to as many
as a hundred. In this way she founds what may be described as small
townships.

Each Bee has her home, a house which no one but the owner has the right
to enter. A good beating would soon call to order any adventuress Bee
who dared to make her way into another’s dwelling. Let each keep to her
own place and perfect peace will reign in this new-formed society.

Operations begin in April, very quietly, the only sign of the
underground works being the little mounds of fresh earth. The laborers
show themselves very seldom, so busy are they at the bottom of their
pits. At moments, here and there, the summit of a tiny mole-hill begins
to totter and tumbles down the slopes of the cone: it is a worker
coming up with her armful of rubbish and shooting it outside, without
showing herself in the open.

May arrives, gay with flowers and sunshine. The diggers of April have
turned themselves into harvesters. At every moment I see them settling,
all befloured with yellow, on top of the mole-hills now turned into
craters.

The Bee’s home underneath consists first of a nearly vertical shaft,
which goes down into the ground from eight to twelve inches. This is
the entrance hall. It is about as thick around as a thick lead-pencil.

At the foot of this shaft, in what we might call the basement of the
house, are the cells. They are oval hollows, three quarters of an inch
long, dug out of the clay. They end in a short bottle-neck that widens
into a graceful mouth. All of them open into the passage.

[Illustration]

The inside of these little cells is beautifully polished. It is marked
with faint, diamond-shaped marks, the traces of the polishing tool that
has given the last finish to the work. What can this polisher be? None
other than the tongue. The Bee has made a trowel of her tongue and
licked the wall daintily and carefully in order to polish it.

I fill a cell with water. The liquid remains in it quite well, without
a trace of soaking through. The Bee has varnished the clay of her cell
with the saliva applied by her tongue. No wet or damp can reach the
Bee-baby, even when the ground is soaked with rain.

The Bee-grub’s rooms are made ready long beforehand, during the bad
weather at the end of March and in April, when there are few flowers.
The mother works alone at the bottom of her shaft, using her jaws to
spade the earth, and her feet, armed with tiny claws, for rakes. She
collects the dirt and then, moving backwards with her fore-legs closed
over the load, she lifts it up through the shaft and flings it outside,
upon the mole-hill, as we have seen. Then she puts the finishing
touches with her tongue, and when May comes, with its radiant sunshine
and wealth of flowers, everything is ready.

The fields are gay now with dandelions, rock-roses, tansies, daisies,
and other flowers, among which the harvesting Bee rolls gleefully,
covering herself with pollen. With her crop full of honey and the
brushes of her legs all floury with pollen, the Bee returns to her
village. Flying very low, almost level with the ground, she hesitates,
with sudden turns and bewildered movements. It appears as if she were
having trouble to find her own burrow among so many which look exactly
alike. But no, there are certain signs known to the insect alone. After
carefully examining the neighborhood, the Bee finds her home, alights
on the threshold, and dives into it quickly.

What happens at the bottom of the pit must be the same thing that
happens in the case of the other Wild Bees. The harvester enters a cell
backwards; she first brushes herself and drops her load of pollen;
then, turning round, she empties the honey in her crop upon the floury
mass. This done, the unwearied one leaves the burrow and flies away,
back to the flowers. After many journeys, she has collected enough
provisions in the cell. Now is the time to make them up into food, or
bake the cake, as we might say.

The mother Bee kneads her flour, mixing with it a little honey. She
makes the dough into a round loaf, the size of a pea. Unlike our own
loaves, this one has the crust inside and the soft part outside. The
middle of the loaf, the food which will be eaten last, when the grub
has gained strength, consists of almost nothing but dry pollen. The Bee
keeps the softest, nicest part for the outside, from which the feeble
grub is to take its first mouthfuls. Here it is all soft crumb, a
delicious sandwich with plenty of honey.

She now lays an egg, bent like a bow, upon the round mass of food. If
she were like most Honeybees, she would close the house now. But the
Zebra Wild Bee is different. She leaves the cells opening into the
burrow, so that she can look into them daily and see how her family is
getting on. I imagine that from time to time she gives more food to the
grub, for the original loaf appears to me a very small amount compared
with that served by the other Bees.

At last the grubs, close-watched and well-fed, have grown fat; they are
ready for the second stage of Bee life. They are about to weave their
wrappers, or cocoons, and change into chrysales. Then, and not till
then, the cells are closed; a big clay stopper is built by the mother
into the spreading mouth of the cells. Henceforth her cares are over.
The rest will come of itself.

If all goes well, the Zebra Bee’s spring family grows up in a couple of
months or so; they leave the cells about the end of June, flying off to
seek refreshment on the flowers as their mother has done before them.


[Illustration]

THE GNAT AND THE GIANTESS

Sometimes all does not go well with the Bee’s family. There are
brigands about. One of them is an insignificant Gnat, who is,
nevertheless, a bold robber of the Bee.

What does the Gnat look like? She is a Fly, less than one fifth of an
inch long. Eyes, dark-red; face, white. Corselet, pearl-gray, with five
rows of fine black dots, which are the roots of stiff bristles pointing
backwards. Grayish abdomen. Black legs. That is her picture.

There are many of these Gnats in the colony of Bees I am watching.
Crouching in the sun, near a burrow, the Gnat waits. As soon as the
Bee arrives from her harvesting, her legs yellow with pollen, the
Gnat darts forth and pursues her, keeping behind in all the turns
of her wavering flight. At last, the Bee suddenly dives indoors.
No less suddenly the Gnat settles on the mole-hill, quite close to
the entrance. Motionless, with her head turned towards the door of
the house, she waits for the Bee to finish her business. The latter
reappears at last and, for a few seconds, stands on the threshold, with
her head and neck outside the hole. The Gnat, on her side, does not
stir.

Often they are face to face, separated by a space no wider than a
finger’s breadth. Neither of them shows the least excitement. The Bee,
this amiable giantess, could, if she liked, rip up with her claw the
tiny bandit who ruins her home; she could crunch her with her jaws, run
her through with her sting. She does nothing of the sort, but leaves
the robber in peace. The latter does not seem in the least afraid. She
remains quite motionless in the presence of the Bee who could crush her
with one blow.

The Bee flies off. At once the Gnat walks in, with no more ceremony
than if she were entering her own place. She now chooses among the
victualed cells, for they are all open, as I have said; she leisurely
places her eggs in one of them. No one will disturb her until the Bee’s
return, and by that time she has made off. In some favorable spot, not
far from the burrow, she waits for a chance to do the same thing over
again.

Some weeks after, let us dig up the pollen loaves of the Bee. We shall
find them crumbled up, frittered away. We shall see two or three little
worms, with pointed mouths, moving in the yellow flour scattered over
the floor of the cell. These are the Gnat’s children. With them we
sometimes find the lawful owner, the grub-worm of the Bee, but stunted
and thin with fasting. His greedy companions, without otherwise hurting
him, deprive him of the best of everything. The poor creature dwindles,
shrivels up and soon disappears from view. The Gnat-worms make of his
corpse one mouthful the more.

The Bee mother, though she is free to visit her grubs at any moment,
does not appear to notice what is going on. She never kills the strange
grubs, or even turns them out of doors. She seals up the cells in which
the Gnat children have feasted just as carefully as if her own grubs
were in it. By this time the Gnat grubs have left. The cells are quite
empty.


THE DOORKEEPERS

The Zebra Bee’s spring family, when no accident such as we have been
describing has happened, consists of about ten young Bees, all sisters.
They save time by using the mother’s house, all of them together,
without dispute. They come and go peacefully through the same door,
attend to their business, pass and let the others pass. Down at the
bottom of the pit, each Bee has her little home, a group of cells which
she has dug for herself. Here she works alone; but the passage way is
free to all the sisters.

Let us watch them as they go to and fro. A harvester comes back from
the fields, the feather-brushes of her legs powdered with pollen. If
the door be open, the Bee at once dives underground. She is very busy,
and she does not waste time on the threshold. Sometimes several appear
upon the scene at almost the same moment. The passage is too narrow
for two, especially when they have to avoid jostling each other and
so making the floury burden fall to the floor. The one nearest to the
opening enters quickly. The others, drawn up on the threshold in the
order of their arrival, respectful of one another’s rights, await their
turn. As soon as the first disappears, the second follows after her,
and is herself swiftly followed by the third and then the others, one
by one.

Sometimes a Bee about to come out meets a Bee about to go in. Then the
latter draws back a little and makes way for the other. Each Bee tries
to outdo the other in politeness. I see some who, when on the point of
coming out from the pit, go down again and leave the passage free for
the one who has just arrived. Thanks to this accommodating spirit on
the part of all, the business of the house goes on without delay.

Let us keep our eyes open. There is something even better than this
to see. When a Bee appears, returning from her round of the flowers,
we see a sort of trap door, which closes the house, suddenly fall and
give a free passage. As soon as the new arrival has entered, the trap
rises back into its place, almost level with the ground, and closes
the entrance again. The same thing happens when the insects go out. At
a request from within, the trap descends, the door opens and the Bee
flies away. The opening is closed at once.

What can this thing be, which works like the piston of a pump, and
opens and closes the door at each departure and each arrival? It is a
Bee, who has become the doorkeeper of the establishment. With her large
head she stops up the top of the entrance hall. If any one belonging
to the house wants to go in or out, she “pulls the cord,” that is to
say, she withdraws to a spot where the gallery becomes wider and leaves
room for two. When the other has passed she returns to the opening and
blocks it with the top of her head. Motionless, ever on the lookout,
she does not leave her post except to drive away persistent visitors.

When she does come outside, let us take a look at her. We recognize in
her a Bee similar to the others except that the top of her head is bald
and her dress is dingy and threadbare. All the nap is gone; and one can
hardly make out the handsome stripes of red and brown which she used to
have. These tattered, work-worn garments make things clear to us.

This Bee who mounts guard and does the work of a doorkeeper is older
than the others. She is in fact the foundress of the establishment, the
mother of the actual workers, the grandmother of the present grubs.
When she was young, three months ago, she wore herself out making her
nest all by herself. Now she is taking a well-earned rest, but hardly a
rest, for she is helping the household to the best of her power.

You remember the suspicious Kid, in La Fontaine’s fable, who, looking
through the chink of the door, said to the Wolf:

“Show me a white foot, or I shan’t open the door.”

The grandmother Bee is no less suspicious. She says to each comer:

“Show me the yellow foot of a Wild Honey-bee, or you won’t be let in.”

None is admitted to the dwelling unless she be recognized as a member
of the family.

See for yourselves. Near the burrow passes an Ant, an unscrupulous
adventuress, who would not be sorry to know the meaning of the honeyed
fragrance that rises from the bottom of the cellar.

“Be off, or you’ll catch it!” says the doorkeeping Bee, with a movement
of her neck.

Usually the threat is enough. The Ant leaves at once. Should she
insist, the grandmother leaves her sentry-box, flings herself upon the
saucy Ant, beats her, and drives her away. The moment she has given her
punishment, she returns to her post.

[Illustration: “‘Be off, or you’ll catch it!’ says the doorkeeping
bee.”]

Next comes the turn of the Leaf-cutting Bee, who, unskilled in the art
of burrowing, uses the old galleries dug by others. Those of the Zebra
Bee suit her very well, when the terrible Gnat has left them vacant for
lack of heirs. Seeking for a home wherein to stack her Robinia-leaf
honey-pots, she often makes a flying visit to my colonies of Wild
Bees. A burrow seems to take her fancy; but, before she sets foot on
earth, her buzzing is noticed by the sentry, who suddenly darts out and
makes a few gestures on the threshold of her door. That is all. The
Leaf-cutter has understood. She moves on.

Sometimes the Leaf-cutting Bee has time to alight and stick her head
into the mouth of the pit. In a moment the grandmother is there, comes
a little higher, and bars the way. Follows a not very serious contest.
The stranger quickly recognizes the rights of the first occupant and,
without insisting, goes to seek a home elsewhere.

A clever burglar, the parasite of the Leaf-cutting Bee, receives a
sound whipping under my eyes. She thought, the featherbrain, that she
was entering the Leaf-cutter’s house! She soon finds out her mistake;
she meets the grandmother Bee, who punishes her severely. She makes
off at full speed. And so with the others who, through carelessness or
ambition, try to enter the burrow.

Sometimes the doorkeeping Bee has an encounter with another
grandmother. About the middle of July, when the Bee colony is at its
busiest, there appear to be two distinct sets of Bees: the young
mothers and the old. The young ones, much more numerous, brisk in
movement and smartly arrayed, come and go unceasingly from the burrows
to the fields and from the fields to the burrows. The older ones, faded
and dispirited, wander idly from hole to hole. They look as though
they had lost their way and could not find their homes. Who are these
vagabonds? I see in them afflicted ones who have lost a family through
the act of the hateful Gnat. At the awakening of summer, the poor
mother Bee found herself alone. She left her empty house and went off
in search of a dwelling where there were cradles to defend, a guard
to keep. But those fortunate nests already have their overseer, the
grandmother, who is jealous and gives her unemployed neighbor a cold
reception. One sentry is enough; two would merely block the narrow
passage.

Sometimes the grandmothers actually fight. When the tramp looking for
employment appears outside the door, the one on guard does not move
from her post, does not withdraw into the passage, as she would before
a young Bee returning from the fields. Instead of that, she threatens
the intruder with her feet and jaws. The other retaliates and tries to
force her way in notwithstanding. They come to blows. The fight ends by
the defeat of the stranger, who goes off to pick a quarrel elsewhere.

What becomes of the poor grandmothers who have no homes? They grow
rarer and more languid from day to day; then they disappear for good.
The little Gray Lizard had his eye on them, they are easily snapped up.

[Illustration]

As for the one on guard, she seems never to rest. In the cool hours of
the early morning, she is at her post. She is there also towards noon,
when the harvesting is in full swing and there are many Bees going in
and out. In the afternoon, when the heat is great and the working Bees
do not go to the fields, but stay indoors instead, preparing the new
cells, the grandmother is still upstairs, stopping the door with her
bald head. She takes no nap during the stifling hours: the safety of
the household requires her to forego it. At nightfall, or even later,
she is just as busy as in the day. The others are resting, but not she,
for fear, apparently, of night dangers known to herself alone.

Guarded in this manner, the burrow is safe from such a misfortune as
overtook it in May. Let the Gnat come now, if she dare, to steal the
Bee’s loaves! She will be put to flight at once. She will not come,
because, until spring returns, she is underground in the pupa state,
that is, wrapped up in her cocoon. But in her absence there is no lack,
among the Fly rabble, of other parasites. And yet, for all my daily
visits, I never catch one of these in the neighborhood of the summer
burrows. How well the rascals know their trade! How well aware are they
of the guard who keeps watch at the Bees’ door!



[Illustration]

CHAPTER VI

THE LEAF-CUTTING BEE


If you know how to use your eyes in your garden you may observe, some
day or other, a number of curious holes in the leaves of the lilac-
and rose-trees, some of them round, some of them oval, as if idle but
skillful hands had been at work with the pinking-iron. In some places
there is scarcely anything but the veins of the leaves left. The author
of the mischief is a gray-clad Bee. For scissors, she has her jaws; for
compasses, she has her eye and the pivot of her body. The pieces cut
out are made into thimble-shaped bags, meant to contain the honey and
the egg: the larger, oval pieces make the floor and sides; the smaller,
round pieces are kept for the lid. The Leaf-cutter’s nest consists of a
row of a dozen, more or less, of these thimbles, placed one on top of
the other.

One species of the Leaf-cutting Bee whom we will notice is called the
White-girdled Leaf-cutter. She usually takes for her dwelling the
tunnel of some Earthworm opening off a claybank. The tunnel is too
deep for her purpose. At the bottom of it the climate is too damp, and
besides, when the Bee-grub is hatched, it would be dangerous for it to
have to climb so far through all sorts of rubbish to reach the surface.
The Leaf-cutter, therefore, uses only the front part of the Worm’s
gallery, seven or eight inches at the most. What is to be done with the
rest of the tunnel? It would never do to leave it open, because some
underground burglar, a worm or other insect, might come that way and
attack the cells at the rear.

The little Bee foresees this danger. She sets to work to block the
passage with a strong barricade of fragments of leaves, some dozens of
pieces rolled into screws and fitting into each other. You can see that
the insect has cut out these pieces carelessly and hurriedly, and on a
different pattern from that of the pieces which are to make the nest.

Next after the barricade of leaves comes the row of cells, usually
about five or six in number. These are made of round and oval pieces,
as we have seen; oval for the sides, round for the lid. There are two
sizes of ovals, the larger ones for the outside and bottom of the bag;
the smaller ones for the inside, to make the walls thicker and fill up
the gaps.

The Leaf-cutter therefore is able to use her scissors according to the
task before her; she makes large or small pieces as they are needed.
She is especially careful about the bottom of the bag. As the natural
curve of the larger pieces is not enough to make a cup without cracks
in it, the Bee improves the work with two or three small ovals applied
to the holes.

The cover of the pot consists solely of round pieces, and these are cut
so exactly by the careful Bee that the edges of the cover rest upon
the brim of the honey-bag. No one could do better with the help of
compasses.

[Illustration]

When the row of cells is finished, the entrance to the gallery must be
blocked up with a safety stopper. The Bee then returns to the free and
easy use of her scissor-jaws which we noticed at the beginning when she
was fencing off the back part of the Earthworm’s too-deep burrow; she
cuts out of the foliage irregular pieces of different shapes and sizes;
and with all these pieces, very few of which fit at all closely the
opening to be blocked, she succeeds in making a door which cannot be
forced open, thanks to the huge number of layers.

Let us leave the Leaf-cutter to finish laying her eggs, and consider
for a moment her skill as a cutter. What model does she use, when
cutting her neat ovals out of the delicate Robinia-leaves, which she
uses for her cells? What pattern that she carries in her mind guides
her scissors? What system of measurement tells her the correct size?
One would like to picture the insect as a living pair of compasses,
able to trace curves by swaying her body, even as our arm traces a
circle by swinging from the shoulder. This explanation might do if she
made only one size of oval; but she makes two, large and small. A pair
of compasses which changes its radius of its own accord and alters
the curve according to the plan before it appears to me an instrument
somewhat difficult to believe in. Besides, the Bee cuts out round
pieces also. These rounds, for the most part, fit the mouth of her
jar almost exactly. When the cell is finished, the Bee flies hundreds
of yards away to make the lid. She arrives at the leaf from which the
round pieces are to be cut. What picture, what recollection has she of
the pot to be covered? Why, none at all; she has never seen it; she
does her work underground, in utter darkness! At the utmost, she can
only remember how it felt.

And yet the circular piece to be cut out must be of a certain size: if
it were too large, it would not go in; if too small, it would close
badly, it would slip down on the honey and suffocate the egg. The Bee
does not hesitate a moment. She cuts out her circle as quickly as she
would cut out any shapeless piece; and that circle, without further
measurement, is of the right size to fit the pot. Who can explain this
geometry?

One winter evening, as we were sitting round the fire, whose cheerful
blaze unloosed our tongues, I put the problem of the Leaf-cutter to my
family:

“Among your kitchen utensils,” I said, “you have a pot in daily use;
but it has lost its lid, which was knocked over and broken by the cat
playing on the shelves. To-morrow is market-day and one of you will
be going to Orange to buy the week’s provisions. Would she undertake,
without a measure of any kind, with the sole aid of memory, which we
would allow her to refresh by a careful examination of the object
before starting, to bring back exactly what the pot wants, a lid
neither too large nor too small, in short, the same size as the top?”

It was admitted with one accord that nobody would accept such a
commission without taking a measure with her, or at least a bit of
string giving the width. Our memory for sizes is not accurate enough.
She would come back from the town with something that “might do”; and
it would be the merest chance if this turned out to be the right size.

[Illustration: “What pattern that she carries in her mind guides her
scissors?”]

Well, the Leaf-cutting Bee is even less well off than ourselves. She
has no mental picture of her pot, because she has never seen it; she is
not able to pick and choose in the crockery dealer’s heap, which acts
as something of a guide to our memory by comparison; she must, without
hesitation, far away from her home, cut out a disk that fits the top
of her jar. What is impossible to us is child’s play to her. Where we
could not do without a measure of some kind, a bit of string, a pattern
or a scrap of paper with figures upon it, the little Bee needs nothing
at all. In housekeeping matters she is cleverer than we are.

The insect excels us in practical geometry. I look upon the
Leaf-cutter’s pot and lid as an addition to the many other marvels of
instinct that cannot be explained by mechanics; I submit it to the
consideration of science; and I pass on.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER VII

THE COTTON-BEES AND RESIN-BEES


There are many Bees who, like the Leaf-cutters, do not make their own
dwellings, but use shelters made by the work of others. Many of the
Osmia-bees seize the old homes of the Masons; other honey-gatherers use
earthworm galleries, snail-shells, dry brambles which have been made
into hollow tubes by the mining Bees, and even the homes of the Digger
Wasps burrowed in the sand. Among these borrowers are the Cotton-bees,
who fill the reeds with cottony satchels, and the Resin-bees, who plug
up snail-shells with gum and resin.

There is a reason for such arrangement. The Bees who work hard to make
their homes, such as the Mason-bee, who scrapes hard clay and makes a
large cement mansion, the Carpenter-bee, who bores dead wood to a depth
of nine inches, and the Anthophora, who digs corridors and cells in the
banks hardened by the sun, have no time left to spend in furnishing
their cells elaborately. On the other hand, the Bees who take
possession of ready-made homes, are artists in interior decorations.
There is the Leaf-cutting Bee, who makes her leafy baskets with such
skill; the Upholsterer-bee, who hangs her cells with poppy-petals, and
the Cotton-bee, who makes the most beautiful purses of cotton.

We have only to look at the Cotton-bee’s nests, to realize that the
insect who makes these could not be a digger, too. When newly-felted,
and not yet sticky with honey, the wadded purse is very elegant, of
a dazzling white. No bird’s-nest can compare with it in fineness
of material or in gracefulness of form. How, with the little bales
of cotton brought up one by one in her mouth, can the Bee manage
to mat all together into one material and then to work this into a
thimble-shaped wallet? She has no other tools to work with than those
owned by the Mason-bees and the Leaf-cutting Bees; namely, her jaws and
her feet. Yet what very different results are obtained!

It is hard to see the Cotton-bees in action, since they work inside the
reeds when making the nests. However, I will describe the little that I
saw. The Bee procures her cotton from many different kinds of plants,
such as thistles, mulleins, the woolly sage and everlastings. She uses
only the plants that are dead and dry, however, never fresh ones. In
this way she avoids mildew, which would make its appearance in her
nests in the mass of hairs still filled with sap.

[Illustration]

She alights on the plant she wishes to use, scrapes it with her mouth,
and then passes the tiny flake to her hind-legs, which hold it pressed
against the chest, mixes with it still more down, and makes the whole
into a little ball. When this is the size of a pea, it goes back to the
mouth, and the insect flies off, with her bale of cotton in her mouth.
If we have the patience to wait, we shall see her coming back again and
again to the same plant, until her bags are all made.

The Cotton-bee uses different grades of cotton for the different parts
of her work. She is like the bird, who furnishes the inside of her nest
with wool to make it soft for the little birds, and strengthens the
outside with sticks. The Bee makes her cells, the grubs’ nurseries, of
the very finest down, the cotton gathered from a thistle; she makes
the barrier plug at the entrance of stiff, prickly hairs, such as the
coarse bristles scraped from a mullein-leaf.

I do not see her making the cells inside the bramble, but I catch her
preparing the plug for the top. With her fore-legs she tears the cotton
apart and spreads it out; with her jaws she loosens the hard lumps;
with her forehead she presses each new layer of the plug upon the one
below. This is a rough task; but probably her general way of working is
the same for the finer cells.

Some Cotton-bees after making the plug go even further and fill up
the empty space at the end of the bramble with any kind of rubbish
that they can find: little pieces of gravel, bits of earth, grains of
sawdust, mortar, cypress-catkins, or broken leaves. The pile is a real
barricade, and will keep any foe from breaking in.

The honey with which the Cotton-bee whose nest I examined filled the
cells was pale-yellow, all of the same kind and only partly liquefied,
so that it would not trickle through the cotton bag. On this honey the
egg is laid. After a while the grub is hatched and finds its food all
ready. It plunges its head in the honey, drinks long draughts, and
grows fat. We will leave it there, knowing that after a while it will
build a cocoon and turn into a Cotton-bee.

Another interesting Bee who uses a ready-made home is the Resin-bee. In
the stone-heaps which have been left from the quarries, we often find
the Field-mouse sitting on a grass mattress, nibbling acorns, almonds,
olive-stones, apricot-stones, and snail-shells. When he is gone, he
has left behind him, under the overhanging stones, a heap of empty
shells. Among these, there is always a hope of finding a few plugged
up with resin, the nests of this sort of Bee. The Osmia-bees also use
snail-shells, but they plug them up with clay.

[Illustration]

It is hard to tell the Resin-bees’ nests, because the insect often
makes its home at the very inside of the spiral, a long way from the
mouth. I hold up a shell to the light. If it is quite transparent, I
know that it is empty and I put it back to be used for future nests. If
the second whorl is opaque, does not let the light through, the spiral
contains something. What? Earth washed in by the rain? Remnants of the
dead Snail? That remains to be seen. With a little pocket-trowel I make
a wide window in the middle of the final whorl. If I see a gleaming
resin floor, with incrustations of gravel, the thing is settled: I have
a Resin-bee’s nest.

[Illustration]

The Bee picks out the particular whorl of the shell which is the right
size for her nest. In large shells, the nest is near the back; in
smaller shells, at the very front, where the passage is widest. She
always makes a partition of a mosaic formed of bits of gravel set in
gum. I did not know at first what this gum was. It is amber-colored,
semi-transparent, brittle, soluble in spirits of wine, and burns with
a sooty flame and a strong smell of resin. These characteristics told
me that the Bee uses the resinous drops that ooze from the trunks
of various cone-bearing trees. There are plenty of junipers in the
neighborhood, and I think that these form the main part of this Bee’s
materials. If there were pines, cypresses, and other cone-bearing trees
near, she would probably use those.

After the lid of resin and gravel, the Bee stops up the shell still
further with bits of gravel, catkins and needles of the juniper, and
other odds and ends, including a few rare little land-shells. This is
the secondary barrier, to make the shell still safer for her nest. The
Cotton-bee uses the same sort of barrier in the bramble. The Resin-bee
uses it only in the larger shells, where there is much vacant space; in
the smaller ones, where her nest reaches nearly to the entrance, she
does without it.

The cells come next, farther back in the spiral. There are usually
only two. The front room, which is the larger, contains a male, which
in this kind of Bee is larger than the female; the smaller back room
houses a female. It is extraordinary how the mother Bee knows the sex
of the egg she is laying. This matter has never been explained to the
satisfaction of scientists.

The Resin-bee makes a mistake in choosing large shells and not filling
them up to the very entrance. The Osmia-bee also makes her nest in
snail-shells; she often seizes upon the empty rooms in the Resin-bee’s
house and fills them with her mass of cells. She then stops up the
entrance with a thick clay stopper. When July comes, this house with
the two families of tenants becomes the scene of a tragic conflict.
The Resin-bees, in the back rooms, on attaining the adult state, burst
their swaddling bands, bore their way through the resin partitions,
pass through the gravel barricade and try to release themselves. Alas,
the strange family ahead blocks the way! The Osmia inmates are still in
the grub stage; they mean to stay in their cells till the next spring.
The Resin-bees cannot get out through this second row of clay-stoppered
cells; they give up all hope and perish behind the wall of earth. If
their mother had only foreseen this danger, the disaster would never
have happened; but instinct has failed her for once. Misfortune has not
taught the Resin-bees anything through all the generations; and this
contradicts the theory of those scientists who say that animals learn
through experience.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER VIII

THE HAIRY SAND-WASPS


A slender waist, a slim shape; an abdomen tapering very much at the
upper part and fastened to the body as though by a thread; black
raiment with a red sash across the belly: there you have a short
description of the burrowing Sand-Wasps, who hunt Caterpillars.

The Sand-Wasps choose for their burrows a light soil, easily tunneled,
in which the sand is held together with a little clay and lime. Edges
of paths, sunny banks where the grass is rather bare—these are the
favorite spots. In spring, quite early in April, we see the Hairy
Sand-Wasp there.

Its burrow is a straight up-and-down hole, like a well, about as thick
as a goose-quill and about two inches deep. At the bottom is a solitary
cell, to hold the egg. The Sand-Wasp digs by herself, quietly, without
hurrying, without any joyous enthusiasm. As usual, the front feet serve
as rakes and the jaws do duty as mining-tools. When some grain of sand
is very hard to remove, you hear rising from the well a sort of shrill
grating sound made by the quivering of the insect’s wings and of her
whole body. Every little while the Wasp appears in the open with a load
of dirt in her teeth, some bit of gravel which she usually flies away
with and drops at a distance of a few inches, so as not to litter the
place.

Some of these grains the Sand-Wasp does not treat as she does the rest.
Instead of flying off and dropping them far from the work yard, she
removes them on foot and lays them near her burrow. She has a special
use for them. When her home is dug, she looks at this little heap of
stones to see if there is any there to suit her. If there is not, she
explores the neighborhood until she finds what she wants, a small flat
stone a little larger in diameter than the mouth of her hole. She
carries off this slab in her jaws and lays it, as a temporary door,
over the opening of the burrow. To-morrow, when she comes back from
hunting, the Wasp will know how to find her home, made safe by this
heavy door; she will bring back a paralyzed caterpillar, grasped by the
skin of its neck and dragged between her legs; she will lift the slab,
which looks exactly like the other little stones around, and which she
alone is able to identify; she will let down the game to the bottom of
her well, lay her egg and close the house for good by sweeping into the
hole all the rubbish, which she has kept near by.

The Hairy Sand-Wasp hunts a particular sort of prey, a kind of large
Caterpillar called the Gray Worm, which spends most of its time
underground. How does she then get hold of it? We shall see. One day
I was returning from a walk when I saw a Hairy Sand-Wasp very busy at
the foot of a tuft of thyme. I at once lay down on the ground, close
to where she was working. My presence did not frighten the Wasp; in
fact, she came and settled on my sleeve for a moment, decided that her
visitor was harmless, since he did not move, and returned to her tuft
of thyme. As an old stager, I knew what this tameness meant: the Wasp
was too busy to bother about me.

[Illustration]

The insect scratched the ground at the foot of the plant, where the
root joined the stem, pulled up slender grass rootlets and poked her
head under the little clods which she had lifted. She ran hurriedly
this way and that around the thyme, looking at every crevice. She was
not digging herself a burrow but hunting the game hidden underground;
she was like a Dog trying to dig a Rabbit out of his hole.

Presently, excited by what was happening overhead, a big Gray Worm made
up his mind to leave his lair and come up to the light of day. That
settled him: the Wasp was on the spot at once, gripping him by the skin
of his neck and holding tight in spite of his contortions. Perched on
the monster’s back, the Wasp bent her abdomen and deliberately, without
hurrying, like a clever surgeon, drove her lancet-sting into the back
surface of each of the victim’s rings or segments, from the first to
the last. Not a ring was left without receiving a stab; all, whether
with legs or without, were dealt with in order, from front to back.

[Illustration]

The Wasp’s skill would make science turn green with envy! She knows by
instinct what man hardly ever knows; she knows her victim’s nervous
system and exactly what nerve centers to strike to make it motionless
without killing it. Where does she receive this knowledge? From the
power that rules the world, and guides the ignorant by the laws of its
inspiration.

I will tell you about another encounter of a Sand-Wasp with a Gray Worm
which I witnessed. It was in May, when I detected a Sand-Wasp giving
a last sweep of the rake to her burrow, on the smooth, hard path. She
had paralyzed her Caterpillar, probably, and left it a few yards away
from the home while she made ready the entrance. At last the cave is
pronounced spick and span, and the doorway thought wide enough to admit
the bulky prey. The Sand-Wasp sets off in search of her captive.

She finds it easily. It is a Gray Worm, lying on the ground: but, alas,
the Ants have found it, too; they have already invaded it. The Wasp now
scorns it. She will not have anything to do with a Worm which she must
share with Ants. To drive them away is impossible; for each one sent to
the right-about, ten would return to the attack. So the Wasp seems to
think; for she goes on with her hunting, without indulging in useless
strife.

She explores the soil within a radius of ten feet from the nest,
on foot, little by little, without hurrying; she lashes the ground
continually with her antennæ curved like a bow. For nearly three hours,
in the heat of the sun, I watch her search. What a difficult thing a
Gray Worm is to find, for a Wasp who needs it just at that moment!

It is no less difficult for man. I have a plan. I wish to give the Wasp
a Worm in order to see how she paralyzes it.

Favier, my old soldier friend, is there, gardening. I call out to him:

“Come here, quick; I want some Gray Worms!”

I explain the thing to him. He understands at once and goes in
search. He digs at the foot of the lettuces, he scrapes among the
strawberry-beds, he inspects the iris-borders. I know his sharp eyes
and his intelligence; I have every confidence in him. Meanwhile, time
passes.

“Well, Favier? Where’s that Gray Worm?”

“I can’t find one, sir.”

“Bother! Then come to the rescue, you others! Claire, Aglaé, all of
you! Hurry up, hunt and find!”

The whole family is put at work. All its members become very active.
But nothing turns up: three hours pass and not one of us has found the
Caterpillar.

The Sand-Wasp does not find it either. I see her hunting persistently
in spots where the earth is slightly cracked. She wears herself out in
clearing-operations; with a great effort she removes lumps of earth the
size of an apricot-stone. These spots are soon given up, however. Then
a suspicion comes to me: perhaps the Gray Worm, foreseeing a gathering
storm, has dug its way lower down. The huntress Wasp very well knows
where it lies, but cannot get it out from its deep hiding-place.
Wherever the Sand-Wasp scratches, there must a Gray Worm be; she leaves
the place only because she cannot dig deep enough. It was very stupid
of me not to have thought of this earlier. Would such an experienced
huntress pay any attention to a place where there is really nothing?
What nonsense!

I make up my mind to help her. The insect, at this moment, is digging
a tilled and absolutely bare spot. It leaves the place, as it has
already done with so many others. I myself continue the work, with the
blade of a knife. I do not find anything, either; and I leave it. The
insect comes back and again begins to scratch at a certain part of my
excavations. I understand:

“Get out of that, you clumsy fellow!” the Wasp seems to say. “I’ll show
you where the thing lives!”

I dig at the spot she indicates and unearth a Gray Worm. Well done, my
clever Sand-Wasp! Did I not say that you would never have raked at an
empty burrow?

[Illustration]

Following the same system, I obtain a second Gray Worm, followed by a
third and a fourth. The digging is always done at bare spots that have
been turned by the pitchfork a few months earlier. There is absolutely
nothing to show the presence of the Caterpillar from without. Well,
Favier, Claire, Aglaé, and the rest of you, what have you to say? In
three hours you have not been able to dig me up a single Gray Worm,
whereas this clever huntress supplies me with as many as I want, once
that I have thought of coming to her assistance!


THE ATTACK

I leave the Wasp her fifth Worm, which she unearths with my help. I
will tell in numbered paragraphs the various acts of the gorgeous drama
that passes before my eyes. I am lying on the ground, close to the
slaughterer, and not one detail escapes me.

1. The Sand-Wasp seizes the Caterpillar by the back of the neck with
the curved pincers of her jaws. The Gray Worm struggles violently,
rolling and unrolling its body. The Wasp is quite unconcerned: she
stands aside and thus avoids the shocks. Her sting strikes the
Caterpillar at the joint between the first ring and the head, in the
middle of the under side, at a spot where the skin is more delicate.
This is the most important blow, the one which will master the Gray
Worm and make it more easy to handle.

[Illustration: “The gorgeous drama.”]

2. The Sand-Wasp now leaves her prey. She flattens herself on the
ground, with wild movements, rolling on her side, twitching and
dangling her limbs, fluttering her wings, as though in danger of
death. I am afraid that the huntress has received a nasty wound in the
contest. I am overcome with emotion at seeing the plucky Wasp finish so
piteously. But suddenly the Wasp recovers, smooths her wings, curls her
antennæ, and returns briskly to the attack. What I had taken for the
convulsions of approaching death was the wild enthusiasm of victory.
The Wasp was congratulating herself on the way she had floored the
enemy.

3. The Wasp grips the Caterpillar by the skin of the back, a little
lower than before, and pricks the second ring, still on the under
side. I then see her gradually going back along the Gray Worm, each
time seizing the back a little lower down, clasping it with the jaws,
those wide pincers, and each time driving the sting into the next ring.
In this way are wounded the first three rings, with the true legs;
the next two rings, which are legless; and the four rings, with the
pro-legs, which are not real legs, but simply little protuberances. In
all, nine stings. After the first prick of the needle, the Gray Worm
offers but a feeble resistance.

4. Lastly, the Sand-Wasp, opening the forceps of her jaws to their full
width, seizes the Caterpillar’s head and crunches it, squeezing it with
a series of leisurely movements, without creating a wound. She pauses
after each squeezing as if to learn the effect produced; she stops,
waits, and begins again. This handling of the brain cannot be carried
too far, or the insect would die; and strange to say, the Wasp does not
wish to kill the Caterpillar.

The surgeon has finished. The poor patient, the Worm, lies on the
ground on its side, half doubled up. It is motionless, lifeless, unable
to resist when the Wasp drags it to the burrow, unable to harm the grub
that is to feed upon it. This is the purpose of the Wasp’s proceedings.
She is procuring food for her babies, which are as yet non-existent.
She will drag the Caterpillar to her burrow and lay an egg upon it.
When the grub comes out of the egg, it will have the Caterpillar to
feed upon. But suppose this Caterpillar were active? One movement of
his body would crush the egg against the wall of the cell. No, the
Caterpillar must be motionless; but it must not be dead, for if it
were, it would speedily decay and be unfit eating for the fastidious
little grub. The Wasp, therefore, drives her poisoned sting into the
nerve-centers of every segment whose movement could hurt the grub-baby.
She does better than that. The victim’s head is still unhurt, the jaws
are at work; they might easily, as the Caterpillar is dragged to the
burrow, grip some bit of straw in the ground and stop progress. The
Caterpillar, therefore, must be rendered torpid, and the Wasp does this
by munching his head. She does not use her sting on the brain, because
that would kill the Caterpillar; she merely squeezes it enough to make
the Caterpillar unconscious.

Though we admire the wonderful skill of the Wasp, we cannot help
feeling sorry for the victim, the poor Gray Worm. If we were farmers,
however, we should not waste any pity on the Worm. These Caterpillars
are a dreadful scourge to agricultural crops, as well as to garden
produce. Curled in their burrows by day, they climb to the surface at
night and gnaw the base or collar of plants. Everything suits them:
ornamental plants and edible plants alike, flower-beds, market-gardens,
and plants in fields. When a seedling withers without apparent cause,
draw it to you gently; and the dying plant will come up, but maimed,
cut from its root. The Gray Worm has passed that way in the night; its
greedy jaws have cut the plant. It is as bad as the White Worm, the
grub of the Cockchafer. When it swarms in a beet-country, the damage
amounts to millions. This is the terrible enemy against which the
Sand-Wasp comes to our aid. Let us not feel too sorry for it!



[Illustration]

CHAPTER IX

THE WASP AND THE CRICKET


At the end of July the Yellow-winged Wasp tears the cocoon that has
protected her till then and flies out of her underground cradle. During
the whole of August she is often seen flitting about the fields in
search of honey. But this careless life does not last long, for by
the beginning of September the Wasp must begin to dig her burrows and
search for game for her family. For her burrows she usually chooses
some sandy soil on the high banks by the side of the road. One thing is
necessary: the site must receive plenty of sunshine.

Ten or twelve Yellow-winged Wasps usually work together. They scrape
the earth with their fore-feet like mischievous puppies. At the same
time, each worker sings her glad song, which is a shrill noise,
constantly broken off and rising higher or sinking lower in a regular
rhythm. One would think they were a troop of merry companions singing
to encourage each other in their work. Meanwhile, the sand flies,
falling in a fine dust on their quivering wings; and the too-large
gravel, removed bit by bit, rolls far away from the work yard. If a
piece seems too heavy to be moved, the insect gets up steam with a
shrill note which reminds one of the workman’s “Hoo!”

Soon the cave takes shape; the insect dives into it bodily. We still
hear underground her untiring song, while every little while we catch
a glimpse of her hind-legs, pushing a torrent of sand backwards to
the mouth of the burrow. From time to time the Wasp comes outside the
entrance to dust herself in the sun, and to rid herself of grains of
sand. In spite of these interruptions, she manages to dig the gallery
in two or three hours. Then she comes to her threshold to chant her
triumph and give the finishing polish to her work by smoothing out some
unevenness and carrying away a speck or two of earth.

There are two, three, or four cells in the Yellow-winged Wasp’s burrow,
in each of which lies an egg. But the Wasp does not content herself
with one burrow: she digs about ten, all in the month of September,
and she has to get food for all of them. She has not a moment to lose,
when, in so short a time, she has to dig her burrows, procure a dozen
Crickets or more for food for her families, and stop the burrows up
again. Besides, there are gray days and rainy days during the month,
when she cannot work.

The Yellow-winged Wasp is not content with comparatively defenseless
Beetles and Caterpillars; she hunts the powerful Cricket. Watch her
chasing one. The terrified Cricket takes to flight, hopping as fast as
he can; the Wasp pursues him hot-foot, reaches him, rushes upon him.
There follows, in the dust, a confused struggle, wherein each fighter
is in turn victor and vanquished, on top and underneath. The issue
seems doubtful. But at last the Wasp triumphs. In spite of his vigorous
kicks, in spite of the snaps of his pincer-like jaws, the Cricket is
laid low and stretched upon his back.

[Illustration]

The Wasp places herself upon him, belly to belly, but in the opposite
direction. She grasps one of the threads at the tip of the Cricket’s
abdomen with her mouth and masters with her fore-legs the convulsive
efforts of his thick hinder-thighs. At the same time her middle-legs
hug the heaving sides of the beaten insect, and her hind-legs force the
joint of the neck to open wide. The Wasp then curves herself outward so
as to offer the Cricket no chance to bite her, and drives her poisoned
sting once into the victim’s neck, next into the joint of the front
two rings of the thorax, or part next the neck, and lastly towards the
abdomen. In less time than it takes to tell, the murder is done; and
the Wasp, after making herself tidy again, gets ready to haul home the
victim.

You must acknowledge she knows how to fight, better even than the Wasps
who attack Beetles, or those who capture Caterpillars. Those insects
cannot fly, they have no defensive weapons. What a difference between
them and the Cricket! The Cricket is armed with dreadful jaws, capable
of eating the vitals out of the Wasp if they succeed in seizing her; he
has a pair of powerful legs, regular clubs bristling with a double row
of sharp spikes, which can be used by the Cricket either to hop out of
his enemy’s reach, or to send her sprawling with brutal kicks.

Notice, therefore, the precautions the Wasp takes before setting her
sting in motion. She turns the Cricket upon his back so that he cannot
use his hind-legs to escape. She controls his spurred legs with her
fore-feet, so that he cannot kick her; and she keeps his jaws at a
distance with her own hind-legs. She makes him motionless by grasping
one of the threads at the end of the abdomen. An athlete, an expert
wrestler, could not do better.

Consider, also, her science. She wishes to paralyze the prey without
killing it, so that it will remain in a fit condition for food for
her babies for many weeks. If she should leave the Cricket any power
of motion, it would knock the eggs off; if she killed it entirely, it
would decay. How does she produce this paralysis? She does just what a
surgeon would advise her to do; she strikes the nerve-centers of the
different parts of the Cricket’s body which are likely to do harm, the
three nervous centers that set the legs in motion.

If we look at the Cricket a week, two weeks, or even longer after the
murder, we shall see the abdomen moving slightly, a sign that he is
still alive.

After the Wasp has paralyzed her Cricket, she grips him with her feet,
holding also one of his antennæ in her mouth, and in this manner flies
off with him. She has to stop sometimes to take a minute’s rest. Then
she once more takes up her burden and, with a great effort, carries him
in one flight almost to her home. The Wasp I am watching alights in
the middle of a Wasp village. She makes the rest of her way on foot.
She bestrides her victim and advances, bearing her head proudly aloft
and hauling the Cricket, who trails between her legs, by the antennæ
held between her jaws. If the ground is bare, she has an easy time; but
sometimes she meets with some spreading grass shoots, and then it is
curious to see her marches and countermarches, her repeated attempts
to get past, which she finally does by some means or other, either by
flight or by taking another path.

At last she reaches home and places the Cricket so that his antennæ
exactly touch the mouth of the burrow. The Wasp then leaves him and
goes down hastily to the bottom of the cave, perhaps to see that
everything is as it should be and no other Wasp has made her nest
there. A few seconds later she reappears, showing her head out of doors
and giving a little cry of delight. The Cricket’s antennæ are within
her reach; she seizes them, and the game is brought quickly down to the
lair.

When the Yellow-winged Wasp has stacked up three or four Crickets for
each cell, she lays an egg on one of them and closes the burrow. She
does this by sweeping the heaped-up sand outside the door down the
burrow. She mixes fair-sized bits of gravel with the sand to make it
stronger. If she cannot find gravel of the right size within reach,
she goes and searches in the neighborhood, and seems to choose the
pieces as carefully as a mason would choose the chief stones for his
building. In a few moments she has closed up the underground dwelling
so carefully that nothing remains to show where it has been. Then she
goes on, digs another burrow, catches game for it, and walls it up.
And so on. When she is through laying all her eggs, she goes back to
the flowers, leading a careless, wandering life until the first cold
snap puts an end to her existence, which has been so full of duties and
excitements.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER X

THE FLY-HUNTING WASP


You have read about the Wasps who store up paralyzed Caterpillars and
Crickets for their babies’ food, then close up the cells and fly away;
now you shall hear about a Wasp who feeds her children with fresh food
from day to day. This is the Bembex, or the Fly-hunting Wasp, as I
shall call her.

This Wasp digs her burrows in very soft, light sand, under a blazing
sun and a blue sky. I go out and watch her sometimes on an unshaded
plain where it is so hot that the only way to avoid sunstroke is to
lie down at full length behind some sandy knoll, put one’s head down a
rabbit-burrow, or provide one’s self with a large umbrella. The latter
is what I did. If the reader will sit with me under the umbrella at the
end of July, he will see the following sight.

A Fly-hunting Wasp arrives suddenly and alights, without any
hesitation, at a spot which to my eyes looks exactly like the rest of
the sandy surface. With her front feet, which are armed with rows of
stiff hairs and remind one at the same time of a broom, a brush, and a
rake, she works at clearing her underground dwelling. The insect stands
on her four hind-legs, while the front ones first scratch and then
sweep the shifting sand. She shoots the sand backwards so fast that it
gushes in a curve like a stream of water, falling to the ground seven
or eight inches away. This spray of dust is kept up evenly for five or
ten minutes at a time by the swift, graceful Wasp.

Mingled with this dust are tiny bits of wood, decayed leaf stalks,
particles of grit and other rubbish. The Wasp picks them up in her
mouth and carries them away. This is really the purpose of her digging.
She is sifting out the sand at the entrance to her home, which is all
ready underground, having been dug some time before. The Wasp wishes
to make the sand at the entrance to her burrow fine, light, and free
from any obstacle, so that when she alights suddenly with a Fly for her
children, she can dig an entrance to her home quickly. She does this
work in her spare time, when her larva has enough food to last it for
a while, so that she does not need to go hunting. She seems happy as
she works so fast and eagerly, and who knows that she is not expressing
in this way her mother’s satisfaction in watching over the roof of her
house where her baby lives?

If we should take a knife and dig down into the sand where the
Wasp-mother is scratching, we should find, first, an entrance corridor,
as wide as one’s finger, and perhaps eight to twelve inches long, and
then a room, hollowed out down below where the sand is damper and
firmer. It is large enough to contain two or three walnuts; but all it
does hold at present is a Fly, a golden-green Greenbottle, with a tiny
white egg laid on the side. This is the Wasp’s egg. It will hatch out
in about twenty-four hours, into a little worm, which will feed on the
dead Fly. For the Fly is dead, and not paralyzed, as the food of other
Wasp-babies often is.

[Illustration]

At the end of two or three days the Wasp-grub will have eaten up the
little Fly. Meanwhile the mother Wasp remains in the neighborhood and
you see her sometimes feeding herself by sipping the honey of the field
flowers, sometimes settling happily on the burning sand, no doubt
watching the outside of the house. Every now and then she sifts the
sand at the entrance; then she flies away for a while. But, however
long she may stay away, she never forgets the young larva who has food
enough to last only a short time; her mother’s instinct tells her the
hour when the grub has finished its food and wants more. She therefore
returns to the nest, which, you must remember, does not show in the
least from the surface of the ground, as the shifting sand has filled
in the entrance; she knows, however, exactly where to look for it; she
goes down into the earth, this time carrying a larger piece of game.
After leaving this in the underground room she again leaves the house
and waits outside until the time comes to serve a third course. This
is not long, for the little worm is getting a larger appetite all the
time. Again the mother appears with another Fly.

For nearly two weeks, while the larva is growing up, the meals thus
follow in succession, one by one, as needed, and coming closer together
as the infant grows larger. Towards the end of the two weeks, the
mother is kept as busy as she can be satisfying her hungry child, now a
large, fat grub. You see her at every moment coming back with a fresh
capture, at every moment setting out again upon the chase. She does not
cease her efforts until the grub is stuffed full and refuses its food.
I have counted and found that sometimes the grub will eat as many as
eighty-two Flies.

I have wondered sometimes why this Wasp does not lay up a store of
food, as the other Wasps do, close the door of her burrow and fly
away, instead of waiting about, as she does so patiently. I realize
that she does not do so because her Flies would not keep; they would
spoil and be unfit for eating. But why does she kill the Fly instead of
paralyzing it? Possibly because the Fly would not make a satisfactory
preserved food; it is so slight and frail, it would shrivel up and
there would be nothing of it; it must be eaten fresh to be worth
anything. Another reason almost certainly is that the Fly has to be
captured very quickly, on the wing. There is not time for the Wasp to
aim her sting, as the Wasps do who are killing clumsy Worms or fat
Crickets on the ground. She must attack with claws, mouth or sting
wherever she can, and this method of attack kills at once.

It is not easy to surprise a Wasp hunting, as she flies far away from
where her burrow lies; but one day I had a quite unexpected experience
as I was sitting in the hot sun under my umbrella. I was not the only
one to enjoy the shade of the umbrella. Gad-flies of various kinds
would take refuge under the silken dome and sit peacefully on every
part of the tightly stretched cover. To while away the hours when I
had nothing to do, it amused me to watch their great gold eyes, which
shone like carbuncles under my umbrella; I loved to follow their solemn
progress when some part of the ceiling became too hot and obliged them
to move a little way on.

One day, bang! The tight cover resounded like the skin of a drum.
Perhaps an oak had dropped an acorn on the umbrella. Presently, one
after the other, bang, bang, bang! Can some practical joker be flinging
acorns or little pebbles at my umbrella? I leave my tent and look
around: nothing! I hear the same sharp sounds again. I look up at the
ceiling and the mystery is explained. The Fly-hunting Wasps of the
neighborhood, who all eat Gad-flies, had discovered the rich game that
was keeping me company and were impudently coming into my shelter to
seize the Flies on the ceiling. Things were going to perfection: I had
only to sit still and look.

Every moment a Wasp would enter, swift as lightning, and dart up to
the silken ceiling, which resounded with a sharp thud. Some rumpus was
going on aloft, where so lively was the fray that one could not tell
which was attacker, which attacked. The struggle did not last long: the
Wasp would soon retire with a victim between her legs. The dull herd of
Gad-flies would not leave the dangerous shelter. It was so hot outside!
Why get excited?

[Illustration: “One day, bang!”]

Let us watch the Wasp as she returns to the burrow with her capture
held under her body between her legs. As she draws near her home, she
makes a shrill humming, which has something plaintive about it and
which lasts until the insect sets foot to earth. The Wasp hovers above
the sand and then dips down, very slowly and cautiously, all the time
humming. If her keen eyes see anything unusual, she slows up in her
descent, hovers for a second or two, goes up again, comes down again
and flies away, swift as an arrow. We shall see in a few moments what
it is that makes her hesitate. Soon she is back again, looks at things
once more from a height, then comes down slowly and alights at a spot
which looks exactly like the rest of the sandy surface.

I think she has landed more or less on chance, and will now look about
for the entrance to her home. But no; she is exactly over her burrow.
Without once letting go her prey, she scratches a little in front of
her, gives a push with her head, and at once enters, carrying the Fly.
The sand falls in, the door closes, and the Wasp is at home. It makes
no difference that I have seen this Wasp return to her nest hundreds of
times; I am always astonished to behold the keen-sighted insect find
without hesitation a door which does not show at all.

The Wasp does not always hesitate in the air before alighting at
her house, and when she does, it is because she sees her nest is
threatened by a very grave danger. Her plaintive hum shows anxiety; she
never gives it when there is no peril. But who is the enemy? It is a
miserable little Fly, feeble and harmless in appearance, whom we have
mentioned in another chapter. The Wasp, the scourge of the Fly-tribe,
the fierce slayer of large Gad-flies, does not enter her home because
she sees herself watched by another Fly, a tiny dwarf, who would make
scarcely a mouthful for her larvæ.

I feel just as I should if I saw my Cat fleeing in terror from a Mouse.
Why does the Wasp not pounce upon the little wretch of a Fly and get
rid of her? I do not know. It must be because this wretched little Fly
has her tiny part to play in the universe, as well as the Wasp. These
things are ordered somehow, in a way we do not understand.

[Illustration]

As I shall mention elsewhere, this is the Fly that lays her eggs on
the game the Wasp puts in the nest for her own baby; and the Fly’s
offspring eat the food of the Wasp-grub, and sometimes eat the grub
itself, if provisions are scarce. The way the Fly manages her business
is interesting. She never enters the Wasp’s burrow, but she waits with
the greatest patience for the moment when the Wasp dives into her home,
with her game clasped between her legs. Just as she has half her body
well within the entrance and is about to disappear underground, the
Fly dashes up and settles on the piece of game that projects a little
way beyond the hinder end of the Wasp; and while the latter is delayed
by the difficulty of entering, the former, with wonderful swiftness,
lays an egg on the prey, or even two or three in quick succession. The
hesitation of the Wasp, hampered by her load, lasts but the twinkling
of an eye. No matter: the Gnat has accomplished what she wished to,
and now she goes and squats in the sun, close to the burrow, and plans
fresh deeds of darkness.

A number of these Flies, usually three or four, are apt to station
themselves on the sand at one time near a burrow, of which they well
know the entrance, carefully hidden though it be. Their dull-brown
color, their great blood-red eyes, their astonishing patience, have
often reminded me of a picture of brigands, clad in dark clothes,
with red handkerchiefs around their heads, waiting in ambush for an
opportunity to hold up some travelers.

[Illustration]

It is when the poor Wasp sees these brigands that she hesitates. At
last she comes nearer, however. The Midges then take flight and follow
behind the Wasp. If she turns, they turn also, so as to keep exactly
behind her; if she advances, they advance; if she retreats, they
retreat. She cannot keep them off. At last she grows weary and alights;
they also alight, still behind her. The Wasp darts off again, with an
indignant whimpering; the Midges dart after her. The Wasp tries one
more way to get rid of them. She flies far away at full speed, hoping
that they will follow and lose their way. But they know too much for
that. They settle down on the sand again near the burrow and wait for
her to come back. Come she does; the pursuit begins all over again; the
mother’s patience is worn out, and at last they have a chance to lay
their eggs as she goes into the burrow.

We shall end our chapter with the story of the Wasp-grub to whom no
accidents happen, into whose burrow no nasty Fly-eggs enter. For two
weeks it eats and grows; then it begins to weave its cocoon. It has
not very much silk in its body to use for this, so it uses grains of
sand to strengthen it. First it pushes away the remains of its food and
forces them into a corner of the cell. Then, having swept its floor, it
fixes to the different walls of its room threads of a beautiful white
silk, forming a web which makes a kind of scaffold for the next work.

It then weaves a hammock of silk in the center of the threads. This
hammock is like a sack open wide at one end and closed at the other in
a point. The grub, leaning half out of its hammock, picks up the sand
almost grain by grain with its mouth. If any grain found is too large,
it is thrown away. When the sand is sorted in this way, the grub brings
some into the hammock in its mouth, and begins to spread it in an even
layer on the lower side of the hammock-sack; it adds grains also to the
upper side, fixing them in the silk as one would place stones in putty.

The cocoon is still open at one end. It is time to close it. The grub
weaves a cap of silk which fits the mouth of the sack exactly, and
lays grains of sand one by one upon this foundation. The cocoon is all
finished now, except that the grub gives some finishing touches to the
inside by glazing the walls with varnish to protect its delicate skin
from the rough sand. It then goes peacefully to sleep, to wait for its
transformation into a Wasp like its mother.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XI

PARASITES


In August or September, let us go into some gorge with bare and
sun-scorched sides. When we find a slope well-baked by the summer heat,
a quiet corner with the temperature of an oven, we shall call a halt;
there is a fine harvest to be gathered here. This tropical land is the
native soil of a host of Wasps and Bees, some of them busily piling
the household provisions in underground warehouses—here a stack of
Weevils, Locusts or Spiders, there a whole assortment of Flies, Bees,
or Caterpillars,—while others are storing up honey in wallets or clay
pots, cottony bags or urns made with pieces of leaves.

With the Bees and Wasps who go quietly about their business, mingle
others whom we call parasites, prowlers hurrying from one home to the
next, lying in wait at the doors, watching for a chance to settle their
family at the expense of others.

It is something like the struggle that goes on in our world. No sooner
has a worker by means of hard labor gotten together a fortune for his
children than those who have not worked come hurrying up to fight
for its possession. To one who saves there are sometimes five, six
or more bent upon his ruin; and often it ends not merely in robbery
but in black murder! The worker’s family, the object of so much care,
for whom that home was built and those provisions stored, is devoured
by the intruders. Grubs or insect-babies are shut up in cells closed
on every side, protected by silken coverings, in order that they may
sleep quietly while the changes needed to make them into full-grown
insects take place. In vain are all these precautions taken. An enemy
will succeed in getting into the impregnable fortress. Each foe has
his special tactics to accomplish this—tactics contrived with the most
surprising skill. See, some strange insect inserts her egg by means
of a probe beside the torpid grub, the rightful owner; or else a tiny
worm, an atom, comes creeping and crawling, slips in and reaches the
sleeper, who will never wake again, because the ferocious visitor will
eat him up. The interloper makes the victim’s cell and cocoon his own
cell and cocoon; and next year, instead of the mistress of the house,
there will come from below ground the bandit who stole the dwelling and
ate the occupant.

[Illustration]

Look at this one, striped black, white, and red, with the figure of
a clumsy, hairy Ant. She explores the slope on foot, looks at every
nook and corner, sounds the soil with her antennæ. She is a kind of
Wasp without wings, named Mutilla, the terrible enemy of the other
Wasp-grubs sleeping in their cradles. Though the female Mutilla has no
wings, she carries a sharp dagger, or sting. If you saw her, you might
think she was a sort of sturdy Ant, gayer in dress than other Ants. If
you watched her for some time, you would see her, after trotting about
for a bit, stop somewhere and begin to scratch and dig, finally laying
bare a burrow underground, of which there was no trace outside; but she
can see what we cannot. She goes into the burrow, stays there for a
while, and at last reappears to replace the rubbish and close the door
as it was at the start. The abominable deed is done: the Mutilla’s egg
has been laid in another’s cocoon, beside the slumbering grub or larva
on which it will feed.

Here are other insects, all aglitter with gleams of gold, emerald,
blue, and purple. They are the humming-birds of the insect-world, and
are called the Golden Wasps. You would never think of them as thieves
or murderers; but they, too, feed on the children of other Wasps. One
of them, half emerald and half pale-pink, boldly enters the burrow
of a Fly-hunting Wasp at the very moment when the mother is at home,
bringing a fresh piece of game to her babies, whom she feeds from
day to day. The elegant criminal, the Golden Wasp who does not know
how to dig, takes this moment when the door is open to enter. If the
mother were away, the house would be shut up, and the Golden Wasp, that
sneak-thief in royal robes, could not get in. She enters, therefore,
dwarf as she is, the house of the giantess whose ruin she is planning;
she makes her way right to the back, never bothering about the Wasp,
with her sting and her powerful jaws. The Wasp-mother either does not
know the danger or is paralyzed with terror. She lets the strange Wasp
have her way.

Next year, if we open the cells of the poor Fly-hunting Wasp, we shall
find some which contain a russet-silk cocoon, the shape of a thimble,
with its opening closed with a flat lid. In this silky covering, which
is protected by the hard outer shell, is a grub of the Golden Wasp.
As for the grub of the Fly-hunter, that grub which wove the silk and
encrusted the outer casing with sand, it has disappeared entirely, all
but a few tattered shreds of skin. Disappeared how? The Golden Wasp’s
grub has eaten it.

[Illustration]

One of these splendid-appearing, criminal Golden Wasps is dressed in
lapis-lazuli on the front part of the body and in bronze and gold
on the abdomen, with a scarf of blue at the end. When one of the
Mason-wasps has built on the rock her heap of dome-shaped cells, with
a covering of little pebbles set in the plaster, when the grubs have
eaten up their store of Caterpillars and hung their rooms with silk,
we see the Golden Wasp settle on the outside of the nest. Probably
some tiny crack, some defect in the cement, allows her to insert her
probe and lay her egg. At any rate, about the end of the following May,
the Mason-wasp’s chamber holds a cocoon which again is shaped like a
thimble. From this cocoon comes a Golden Wasp. There is nothing left of
the Mason-wasp’s grub; the Golden Wasp has gorged herself upon it.

Flies, as we have seen, often act the part of robbers. They are not the
least to be dreaded, though they are weak, sometimes so feeble that
one cannot take them in his fingers without crushing them. One species
called Bombylii are clad in velvet so delicate that the least touch
rubs it off. They are fluffs of down almost as frail as a snowflake,
but they can fly with wonderful quickness. See this one, hovering
motionless two feet above the ground. Her wings vibrate so rapidly one
cannot see the motion at all, and they seem to be in repose. The insect
looks as though it were hung at one point in space by some invisible
thread. You make a movement, and your Fly has disappeared. You look
about for her. There is nothing here, nothing there. Then where is she?
Close by you. She is back where she started, before you could see where
she went to. What is she doing, there in the air? She is up to some
mischief; she is watching for a chance to leave her egg where it will
feed on some other insect’s provisions. I do not know yet what sort of
insect she preys upon, nor what she wishes for her children, whether
honey, game, or the grubs themselves.

I know more about the actions of certain tiny, pale-gray Flies, called
Tachinæ, who, cowering on the sand in the sun, near a burrow, patiently
wait for the hour at which to strike the fell blow. When the different
Wasps return from hunting, one kind with her Gad-fly, another with a
Bee, another with a Beetle, another with a Locust, at once the Gray
Flies are there, coming and going, turning and twisting with the Wasp,
always behind her and never losing her. At the moment when the Wasp
huntress goes indoors, with her captured game between her legs, they
fling themselves on her prey, which is on the point of disappearing
underground, and quickly lay their eggs upon it. The thing is done in
the twinkling of an eye; before the Wasp has crossed the threshold
of her home, the food for her babies holds the germs of a new set of
guests, who will feed on it and starve the children of the house to
death.

Perhaps, after all, we should not blame too much these insects which
feed on others, or on the food of others. An idle human being who
feeds at other people’s tables is contemptible; we call him a parasite
because he lives at his neighbor’s expense. The insect never does
this; that is to say, it does not live on the food of another of the
same species. You remember the Mason-bees: not one of the Bees touches
another’s honey, unless the owner is dead or has stayed away a long
time. The other Bees and Wasps behave in the same way.

What we call parasitism in insects is really a kind of hunting. The
Mutilla, for instance, is a huntress, and her prey is the grub of
another kind of Wasp, just as the game of this other kind of Wasp
may be a Caterpillar or a Beetle. When it comes to this, we are all
hunters, or thieves, whichever way you look at it, and Man the greatest
of all. He steals the milk from the Calf, he steals the honey from the
children of the Bee, just as the Gray Fly takes the food of the Wasps’
babies. She does it to feed her children; and Man helps himself to
everything he can find to feed his.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XII

FLY SCAVENGERS


There are various kinds of insects that perform a very useful work in
the world, for which they do not always receive credit. When you pass
a dead Mole in the fields, and see Ants, Beetles and Flies on it, you
shudder and get away from the spot as quickly as possible. You think
they are horrid, dirty insects; but they are not; they are busy making
the world a cleaner place for you to live in. Let us watch some of
these Flies at work, and we shall get an idea of the wonderful things
they do in this connection.

You have seen the Greenbottle Flies. They are a beautiful golden-green
which shines like metal, and they have red eyes, set in a silver
border. They scent dead animals from far away, and rush to lay their
eggs in them. A few days afterward, the flesh of the corpse has turned
into liquid, in which are thousands of tiny grubs with pointed heads.
This is very unpleasant, perhaps you think; but, after all, it is the
best and easiest way for dead things to disappear, to be absorbed in
the soil and pass on to another form of life. And it is the little
Greenbottle worms that produce this liquid.

If the corpse were left undisturbed, it would dry up and take a long
while to disappear. The Greenbottle grubs, and the grubs of other Flies
as well, have a wonderful power of turning solid things into liquid.
When I give the Greenbottle grubs a piece of hard-boiled white of
egg to feed upon, they turn it at once into a colorless liquid which
looks like water. They have some sort of pepsin which comes out of
their mouths and does this work. It is like the gastric juice in our
stomach, which dissolves and renders digestible the food we eat. The
grubs or worms live on the broth they make in this way until it has all
disappeared.

Other Flies whose worms do this work are the Gray Flesh-flies and the
big Bluebottles, whom you often see buzzing about the window-panes. Do
not let them come near the meat for your dinner, for if they do they
will surely make it uneatable. Out in the fields, however, they are
in their right element. They give back to life, with all speed, the
remains of that which has lived; they change corpses into an essence
which enriches our foster-mother earth.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIII

THE PINE CATERPILLAR


In my piece of waste ground stand some pine-trees. Every year the
Caterpillar takes possession of them and spins his great purses in
their branches. To protect the pine-needles, which are horribly eaten,
I have to destroy the nests each winter with a long forked stick.

You hungry little Caterpillars, if I let you have your way, I should
soon be robbed of the murmur of my once so leafy pines. But I am going
to make a compact with you. You have a story to tell. Tell it to me;
and for a year, for two years or longer, until I know more or less
about it, I will leave you undisturbed.

The result of my compact with the Caterpillars is that I soon have
some thirty nests within a few steps of my door. With such treasures
daily before my eyes, I cannot help seeing the Pine Caterpillar’s
story unfolded at full length. These Caterpillars are also called the
Processionaries, because they always go abroad in a procession, one
following closely after the other.

[Illustration]

First of all, the egg. During the first half of August, if we look at
the lower branches of the pines, we shall discover, here and there
on the foliage, certain little whitish cylinders spotting the dark
green. These are the Pine Moth’s eggs; each cylinder is the cluster
laid by one mother. The cylinder is like a tiny muff about an inch
long and a fifth or sixth of an inch wide, wrapped around the base of
the pine-needles, which are grouped in twos. This muff has a silky
appearance and is white slightly tinted with russet. It is covered with
scales that overlap like the tiles on a roof. The whole thing resembles
somewhat a walnut-catkin that is not yet full-grown.

The scales, soft as velvet to the touch and carefully laid one upon the
other, form a roof that protects the eggs. Not a drop of rain or dew
can penetrate. Where did this soft covering come from? From the mother
Moth; she has stripped a part of her body for her children. Like the
Eider-duck, she has made a warm overcoat for her eggs out of her own
down.

If one removes the scaly fleece with pincers the eggs appear, looking
like little white-enamel beads. There are about three hundred of them
in one cylinder. Quite a family for one mother! They are beautifully
placed, and remind one of a tiny cob of Indian corn. Nobody, young or
old, learned or ignorant, could help exclaiming, on seeing the Pine
Moth’s pretty little spike,

“How handsome!”

And what will strike us most will be not the beautiful enamel pearls,
but the way in which they are put together with such geometrical
regularity. Is it not strange that a tiny Moth should follow the laws
of order? But the more we study nature, the more we realize that there
is order everywhere. It is the beauty of the universe, the same under
every sun, whether the suns be single or many, white or red, blue or
yellow. Why all this regularity in the curve of the petals of a flower,
why all this elegance in the chasings on a Beetle’s wing-cases? Is that
infinite grace, even in the tiniest details, the result of brutal,
uncontrolled forces? It seems hardly likely. Is there not Some One
back of it all, Some One who is a supreme lover of beauty? That would
explain everything.

These are very deep thoughts about a group of Moth-eggs that will
bear a crop of Caterpillars. It cannot be helped. The minute we begin
to investigate the tiniest things in nature, we have to begin asking
“Why?” And science cannot answer us. That is the strange part of it.

The Pine Moth’s eggs hatch in September. If one lifts the scales of
the little muff, one can see black heads appear, which nibble and push
back their coverings. The tiny creatures come out slowly all over the
surface. They are pale yellow, with a black head twice as large as
their body. The first thing they do is to eat the pine-needles on which
their nest was placed; then they fall to on the near-by needles.

From time to time, three or four who have eaten as much as they want
fall into line and walk in step in a little procession. This is
practice for the coming processions. If I disturb them, they sway the
front half of their bodies and wag their heads.

[Illustration: “When winter is near they will build a stronger tent.”]

The next thing they do is to spin a little tent at the place where
their nest was. The tent is a small ball made of gauze, supported on
some leaves. Inside it the Caterpillars take a rest during the hottest
part of the day. In the afternoon they leave this shelter and start
feeding again.

In less than an hour, you see, after coming from the egg, the young
Caterpillar shows what he can do. He eats leaves, he forms processions,
and he spins tents.

In twenty-four hours the little tent has become as large as a
hazel-nut, and in two weeks it is the size of an apple. But it is still
only a temporary summer tent. When winter is near, they will build a
stronger one. In the meantime, the Caterpillars eat the leaves around
which their tent is stretched. Their house gives them at the same time
board and lodging. This is a good arrangement, because it saves them
from going out, and they are so young and so tiny that it is dangerous
for them to go out yet awhile.

When this tent gives way, owing to the Caterpillars having nibbled the
leaves supporting it, the family moves on, like the Arabs, and erects a
new tent higher up on the pine-tree. Sometimes they reach the very top
of the tree.

In the meantime the Caterpillars have changed their dress. They now
wear six little bright red patches on their backs, surrounded with
scarlet bristles. In the midst of these red patches are specks of gold.
The hairs on their sides and underneath are whitish.

In November they begin to build their winter tent high up in the pine
at the tip of a bough. They surround the leaves at the end of the
bough with a network of silk. Leaves and silk together are stronger
than silk alone. By the time it is finished it is as large as a
half-gallon measure and about the shape of an egg, with a sheath over
the supporting branch. In the center of the nest is a milk-white mass
of thickly-woven threads mingled with green leaves. At the top are
round openings, the doors of the house, through which the Caterpillars
go in and out. There is a sort of veranda on top made of threads
stretched from the tips of the leaves projecting from the dome, where
the Caterpillars come and doze in the sun, heaped one upon the other,
with rounded backs. The threads above are an awning, to keep the sun
from being too warm for them.

The inside of the Caterpillars’ nest is not at all a tidy place; it is
full of rags, shreds of the Caterpillars’ skins, and dirt.

The Caterpillars stay in their nest all night, and come out about ten
o’clock in the morning to take the sun on their terrace or veranda.
They spend the whole day there, dozing. Motionless, heaped together,
they steep themselves deliciously in warmth and from time to time
show their bliss by nodding and wagging their heads. At six or seven
o’clock, when it grows dark, the sleepers awake, bestir themselves, and
go their several ways over the surface of the nest.

[Illustration]

Wherever they go, they strengthen the nest or enlarge it by the threads
of silk that come out of their mouths and trail behind them. More green
leaves are taken in, and the tent becomes bigger and bigger. They are
busy doing this for an hour or two every evening. So far, they have
known nothing but summer; but they seem to realize that winter is
coming. They work away at their house with an ardor that seems to say:

“Oh, how nice and warm we shall be in our beds here, nestling one
against the other, when the pine-tree swings aloft its frosted
candelabra! Let us work with a will!”

Yes, Caterpillars, my friends, let us work with a will, great and
small, men and grubs alike, so that we may fall asleep peacefully; you
with the torpor that makes way for your transformation into Moths, we
with that last sleep which breaks off life only to renew it. Let us
work!

After the day’s work comes their dinner. The Caterpillars come down
from the nest and begin on the pine-needles below. It is a magnificent
sight to see the red-coated band lined up in twos and threes on each
needle and in ranks so closely formed that the green sprigs of the
branch bend under the load. The diners, all motionless, all poking
their heads forward, nibble in silence, placidly. Their broad black
foreheads gleam in the rays of my lantern. They eat far into the
night. Then they go back to the nest, where, for a little longer, they
continue spinning on the surface. It is one or two o’clock in the
morning when the last of the band goes indoors.

The Pine Caterpillars eat only three kinds of pine: the Scotch pine,
the maritime pine, and the Aleppo pine; never the leaves of the other
cone-bearing trees, with one exception. In vain I offer them other
foliage from the evergreens in my yard: the spruce, the yew, the
juniper, the cypress. What! Am I asking them, the Pine Caterpillars,
to bite into that? They will take good care not to, in spite of the
tempting resinous smell! They would die of hunger rather than touch
it! One cone-bearing tree and one only is excepted: the cedar. They
will eat the leaves of that. Why the cedar and not the others? I do not
know. The Caterpillar’s stomach is as particular as ours, and has its
secrets.

To guide them as they wander about their tree, the Caterpillars have
their silk ribbon, formed by threads from their mouths. They follow
this on their return. Sometimes they miss it and strike the ribbon made
by another band of Caterpillars. They follow it and reach a strange
dwelling. No matter! There is not the least quarreling between the
owners and the new arrivals. Both go on browsing peacefully, as though
nothing had happened. And all without hesitation, when bedtime comes,
make for the nest, like brothers who have always lived together; all do
some spinning before going to rest, thicken the blanket a little, and
are then swallowed up in the same dormitory. By accidents like these
some nests grow to be very large. Each for all and all for each. So
says the Processionary, who every evening spends his little capital of
silk on enlarging a shelter that is often new to him. What would he do
with his puny skein, if alone? Hardly anything. But there are hundreds
and hundreds of them in the spinning-mill; and the result of their tiny
contributions is a stuff belonging to all, a thick blanket splendidly
warm in winter. In working for himself, each works for the others;
and the others work for him. Lucky Caterpillars that know nothing of
property, the cause of strife!


THE PROCESSIONARIES

There is an old story about a Ram which was thrown into the water from
on board ship, whereupon all the sheep leaped into the sea one after
the other; “for,” says the teller of the story, “it is the nature of
the sheep always to follow the first, wheresoever it goes; which makes
Aristotle mark them for the most silly and foolish animals in the
world.”

The Pine Caterpillars are even more sheeplike than sheep. Where the
first goes all the others go, in a regular string, with not an empty
space between them.

They proceed in single file, each touching with its head the rear of
the one in front of it. No matter how the one in front twists and
turns, the whole procession does the same. Another odd thing: they are
all, you might say, tight-rope walkers; they all follow a silken rail.
The leading Caterpillar dribbles his thread on the path he makes, the
second Caterpillar steps on it and doubles it with his thread; and all
the others add their rope, so that after the procession has passed,
there is left a narrow white ribbon whose dazzling whiteness shimmers
in the sun. This is a sumptuous manner of road-making: we sprinkle our
roads with broken stones and level them by the pressure of a heavy
steam-roller; they lay over their paths a soft satin rail!

[Illustration: “They Proceed in Single File.”]

What is the use of all this luxury? Could they not, like other
Caterpillars, walk about without these costly preparations? I see two
reasons. It is night when the Processionaries go forth to feed, and
they follow a very winding route. They go down one branch, up another,
from the needle to the twig, from the twig to the branch, and so on.
When it is time to go home, they would have hard work to find their way
if it were not for the silken thread they leave behind them. It reminds
one of the story of Theseus (in the “Tanglewood Tales,” or the old
mythologies), who would have been lost in the Cretan labyrinth if it
had not been for the clue of thread which Ariadne gave him.

Sometimes, too, they take longer expeditions by day, marching in
procession for thirty yards or so. They are not looking for food; they
are off on a trip, seeing the world, perhaps looking for a place to
bury themselves later on, in the second stage before they become Moths.
In a walk of this distance, the guiding-thread is very necessary.

The guiding-thread, too, brings them all back home to the nest when
they are separated, hunting for food in the pine-tree. They pick up
their threads, and come hurrying from a host of twigs, from here, from
there, from above, from below, back to the group. So the silk is more
than a road: it is a social bond that keeps all the members of the
community united.

At the head of every procession, long or short, goes the first
Caterpillar, the leader. He is leader only by chance; everything
depends upon the order in which they happen to line up. If the
file should break up, for some reason, and form again, some other
Caterpillar might have first rank. But the leader’s temporary duties
give him airs of his own. While the others follow passively in a close
file, he, the captain, tosses himself about and flings the front of his
body hither and thither. As he marches ahead he seems to be seeking
his way. Does he really explore the country? Does he choose the best
places? Or are his hesitations only the result of the absence of the
guiding-thread the rest follow? Why cannot I read what passes under his
black, shiny skull, so like a drop of tar? To judge by actions, he has
sense enough to recognize very rough places, over-slippery surfaces,
dusty places, and, above all, the threads left by other Caterpillars.
This is all, or nearly all, that my long acquaintance with the
Processionaries has taught me about their brain power.

The processions vary greatly in length. The finest one I ever saw
was twelve or thirteen yards long and numbered about three hundred
Caterpillars, drawn up with absolute precision in a wavy line. If there
were only two in a row, however, the order would still be perfect: the
second touches and follows the first.

I make up my mind to play a trick upon the Caterpillars which have
hatched out in my greenhouse. I wish to arrange their silken track so
that it will join on to itself and form an endless circuit, with no
branch tracks leading from it. Will the Processionaries then go round
and round upon a road that never comes to an end?

Chance makes it easy for me to arrange something of this sort. On the
shelf in my greenhouse in which the nests are planted stand some big
palm vases measuring nearly a yard and a half in circumference at the
top. The Caterpillars often scale the sides and climb up to the molding
which forms a cornice or ledge around the opening. This place suits
them for their processions. It provides me with a circular track all
ready-made.

One day I discover a numerous troop making their way up and gradually
reaching the favorite ledge. Slowly, in single file, the Caterpillars
climb the great vase, mount the ledge, and advance in regular
procession, while others are constantly arriving and continuing the
series. I wait for the string to close up, that is to say, for the
leader, who is following the circular track, to return to the point
from which he started. This happens in a quarter of an hour. I now have
a circle of Caterpillars around the top of the vase.

The next thing is to get rid of the rest of the Caterpillars who are on
their way up and who might disturb the experiment; we must also do away
with all the silken paths that lead from the top of the vase to the
ground. With a thick hair-pencil I sweep away the Caterpillars; with
a big brush I carefully rub down the vase and get rid of every thread
which the Caterpillars have laid on the march. When these preparations
are finished, a curious sight awaits us.

The Caterpillars are going round and round on the ledge at the top
of the vase. They no longer have a leader, because the circle is
continuous; but they do not know this, and each follows the one in
front of him, who he thinks is the leader.

The rail of silk has grown into a narrow ribbon, which the Caterpillars
keep adding to. It has no branches anywhere. Will they walk endlessly
round and round until their strength gives out entirely?

[Illustration]

Old-fashioned scholars were fond of quoting the tale of the Donkey who,
when placed between two bundles of hay, starved to death because he was
unable to decide in favor of either. They slandered the worthy animal.
The Donkey, who is no more foolish than any one else, would feast off
both bundles. Will my Caterpillars show a little of his common-sense?
Will they make up their minds to leave their closed circuit, to swerve
to this side or that? I thought that they would, and I was wrong. I
said to myself:

“The procession will go on turning for some time, for an hour, two
hours perhaps; then the Caterpillars will perceive their mistake. They
will abandon the deceptive road and make their descent somewhere or
other.”

That they should remain up there, hard pressed by hunger and the lack
of shelter, when nothing prevented them from going away, seemed to
me unthinkable foolishness. Facts, however, forced me to accept the
incredible.

The Caterpillars keep on marching round the vase for hours and hours.
As evening comes on, there are more or less lengthy halts; they go
more slowly at times, especially as it grows colder. At ten o’clock in
the evening the walk is little more than a lazy swaying of the body.
Grazing-time comes, when the other Caterpillars come crowding out from
their nests to feast on the pine-needles. The ones on the vase would
gladly take part in the feast; they must have an appetite after a ten
hours’ walk. A branch of pine is not a hand’s breadth away from them.
To reach it they have only to go down the vase; and the poor wretches,
foolish slaves of their ribbon that they are, cannot make up their
minds to do so. At half-past ten I leave them to go to bed; I am sure
that during the night they will come to their senses. At dawn I visit
them again. They are lined up as on the day before, but motionless.
When the air grows a little warmer, they shake off their torpor,
revive, and start walking again in their circle.

Things go on as before during the next day. The following night is very
cold. The poor Caterpillars spend a bad night. I find them clustered
in two heaps on the top of the vase, without any attempt at order.
They have huddled together to keep warm. Perhaps, now that they are
divided into two parts, one of the leaders, not being obliged to follow
a Caterpillar in front of him, will have the sense to break away. I am
delighted to see them lining up by degrees into two distinct files,
with two leaders, free to go where they please. At the sight of their
large black heads swaying anxiously from side to side, I am inclined to
think they will leave the enchanted circle. But I am soon undeceived.
As the ranks fill out, the two sections of the chain meet and the
circle is formed again. Again the Caterpillars march round and round
all day.

The next night is again cold, and the Caterpillars gather in a heap
which overflows both sides of the fatal ribbon. Next morning, when they
awake, some of them who find themselves outside the track actually
follow a leader who climbs to the top of the vase and down the inside.
There are seven of these daring ones. The rest pay no attention to them
and walk round the circle again.

The Caterpillars inside the vase find no food there, and retrace their
steps along their thread to the top, strike the procession again, and
slip back into the ranks.

Another day passes, and another. The sixth day is warm, and for the
first time I see daring leaders, who, drunk with heat, stand on
their hind-legs at the extreme edge of the vase and fling themselves
forward into space. At last one of them decided to take the plunge.
He slips under the ledge and four follow him. They go halfway down
the vase, then their courage fails and they climb up again and rejoin
the procession. But a start has been made and a new track laid. Two
days later, on the eighth day of the experiment, the Caterpillars—now
singly, then in small groups, then again in strings of some length—come
down from the ledge by starting on this fresh path. At sunset the last
of the Caterpillars is back in the nest at the foot.

I figure that they have walked for eighty-four hours, and covered a
good deal more than a quarter of a mile while traveling in the circle.
It was only the disorder due to the cold nights that ever set them off
the track and back to safety. Poor, stupid Caterpillars! People are
fond of saying that animals can reason, but there are no beginnings of
a reasoning power to be seen in them.


[Illustration]

THE CATERPILLARS AS WEATHER PROPHETS

In January the Pine Caterpillar sheds his skin for the second time. He
is not nearly so pretty afterwards, but he has gained some new organs
which are very useful. The hairs on the middle of his back are now
of a dull reddish color, made paler still by many long white hairs
mixed in with them. This faded costume has an odd feature. On the back
may be seen eight gashes, like mouths, which open and close at the
Caterpillar’s will. When the mouths are open there appears in each of
them a little swelling, which seems extremely sensitive, for at the
slightest irritation it goes in again.

What is the use of these queer mouths and tumors, as we call the little
swellings? Certainly not to breathe with, for no one, not even a
Caterpillar, breathes from the middle of his back. Let us consider the
habits of the Pine Caterpillar, and perhaps we shall find out.

The Pine Caterpillar is most active during the winter, and at night.
But if the north wind blow too violently, if the cold be too piercing,
if it snow, or rain, or if the mist thicken into an icy drizzle, the
Caterpillars prudently stay at home, sheltering under their waterproof
tent.

It would be convenient to foresee these disagreeable weather
conditions. The Caterpillar dreads them. A drop of rain sets him in a
flutter; a snowflake exasperates him. To start for the grazing-grounds
at dark of night, in uncertain weather, would be dangerous, for the
procession goes some distance and travels slowly. The flock would have
a bad time of it before regaining shelter, if they were caught in a
sudden storm, such as are frequent in the bad season of the year. Can
the Pine Caterpillar possibly be able to foretell the weather? Let me
tell how I came to suspect this.

One night some friends came to see my Caterpillars in the greenhouse
start on their nightly pilgrimage. We waited till nine o’clock, then
went in. But, but ... what is this? Not a Caterpillar outside the
nests! Last night and on the nights before they came out in countless
numbers; to-night not one is to be seen. We waited till ten o’clock,
till eleven, till midnight. Then, very much mortified, I had to send my
friends away.

Next day I found that it had rained in the night and again in
the morning, and that there was snow on the mountains. Had the
Caterpillars, more sensitive than any of us to atmospheric changes,
refused to venture out because they had known what was going to happen?
After all, why not? I thought I would keep on observing them.

I found that whenever the weather chart in the newspaper announced a
coming depression of the atmosphere, such as is made by storms, my
greenhouse Caterpillars stayed at home, though neither rain, snow, nor
cold could affect them in their indoor shelter. Sometimes they foretold
the storm two days ahead. Their gift for scenting bad weather very soon
won the confidence of the household. When we had to go into town to buy
provisions, we used to consult our Caterpillars the night before; and
according to what they did, we went or stayed at home.

The second dress of the Pine Caterpillar, therefore, seems to bring
with it the power to foretell the weather. And this power is probably
given by the wide mouths, which yawn open to sample the air from time
to time and to give a warning of the sudden storm.


THE PINE MOTH

When March comes, the Caterpillars leave their nest and their pine-tree
and go on their final trip. On the twentieth of March I spent a whole
morning watching a file about three yards long, containing about a
hundred of the Caterpillars, now much faded as to their coats. The
procession toils grimly along, up and down over the uneven ground. Then
it breaks into groups, which halt and form independent processions.

They have important business on hand. After two hours or so of
marching, the little procession reaches the foot of a wall, where the
soil is powdery, very dry, and easy to burrow in. The Caterpillar at
the head of the row explores, and digs a little, as if to find out
the nature of the ground. The others, trusting their leader, follow
him blindly. Whatever he decides will be adopted by all. Finally the
leading Caterpillar finds a spot he likes; he stops, and the others
break up into a swarming heap. All their backs are joggling pell-mell;
all their feet are raking; all their jaws are digging the soil. Little
by little, they make a hole in which to bury themselves. For some time
to come the tunneled soil cracks and rises and covers itself with
little mole-hills; then all is still. The Caterpillars have descended
to a depth of three inches, and are weaving, or about to weave, their
cocoons.

Two weeks later I dug down and found them there, wrapped in scanty
white silk, soiled with dirt. Sometimes, if the soil permits, they bury
themselves as deep as nine inches.

How, then, does the Moth, that delicate creature, with her flimsy wings
and sweeping antennæ-plumes, make her way above ground? She does not
appear till the end of July or in August. By that time the soil is
hard, having been beaten down by the rain and baked by the sun. Never
could a Moth break her way through unless she had tools for the purpose
and were dressed with great simplicity.

[Illustration]

From some cocoons that I kept in test-tubes in my laboratory I found
that the Pine Moth, on coming out of the cocoon, has her finery bundled
up. She looks like a cylinder with rounded ends. The wings are pressed
against her breast like narrow scarfs; the antennæ have not yet
unfolded their plumes and are turned back along the Moth’s sides. Her
hair fleece is laid flat, pointing backwards. Her legs alone are free,
to help her through the soil.

She needs even more preparation, though, to bore her hole. If you pass
the tip of your finger over her head you will feel a few very rough
wrinkles. The magnifying-glass shows us that these are hard scales, of
which the longest and strongest is the top one, in the middle of her
forehead. There you have the center-bit of her boring-tool. I see the
Moths in the sand in my test-tubes butting with their heads, jerking
now in one direction, now in another. They are boring into the sand.
By the following day they will have bored a shaft ten inches long and
reached the surface.

When at last the Moth reaches the surface, she slowly spreads her
bunched wings, extends her antennæ, and puffs out her fleece. She
is all dressed now, as nicely as she can be. To be sure, she is
not the most brilliant of our Moths, but she looks very well. Her
upper wings are gray, striped with a few crinkly brown streaks; her
under-wings white; throat covered with thick gray fur; abdomen clad in
bright-russet velvet. The tip end of her body shines like pale gold.
At first sight it looks bare, but it is not: it is covered with tiny
scales, so close together that they look like one piece.

There is something interesting about these scales. However gently we
touch them with the point of a needle, they fly off in great numbers.
This is the golden fleece of which the mother robs herself to make the
nest or muff for her eggs at the base of the pine-needles which we
spoke of at the beginning of the story.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIV

THE CABBAGE-CATERPILLAR


The cabbage is the oldest vegetable we possess. We know that people in
classic times ate it, but it goes much further back than that, so that
indeed we are ignorant of when or how mankind first began cultivating
it. The botanists tell us that originally it was a long-stalked,
scanty-leaved, ill-smelling wild plant which grew on ocean cliffs.
History pays but little attention to such details: it celebrates the
battlefields on which we meet our death, it thinks the plowed fields by
which we thrive are not important enough to speak of; it can tell us
the names of kings’ favorites, it cannot tell us of the beginning of
wheat! Perhaps some day it will be written differently.

It is too bad that we do not know more about the cabbage, for it
would have some very interesting things to teach us. It is certainly
a treasure in itself. Other creatures think so besides man; and one
of these is the Caterpillar of the common Large White Butterfly.
This Caterpillar feeds on the leaves of the cabbage and all kinds of
cabbagey plants, such as the cauliflower, the Brussels sprout, the
kohlrabi, and the rutabaga, all near relatives of the cabbage.

It will feed also on other plants which belong to the cabbage family.
They are all of the order of the Cruciferæ, so-called by the botanists
because the petals are four in number and arranged in a cross. The
White Butterfly lays her eggs only on this order of plants. How she
knows them is a mystery. I have studied flowers and plants for fifty
years and more, yet, if I wished to find out if a plant new to me was
or was not one of the Cruciferæ, and there were no flowers or fruit to
guide me, I should believe the White Butterfly’s record on the matter
sooner than anything I could find in books.

The White Butterfly has two families a year: one in April and May, the
other in September. This is just the time that cabbages are ripe in our
part of the world. The Butterfly’s calendar agrees with the gardener’s.
When there are provisions to be eaten, the Caterpillars are on hand.

[Illustration]

The eggs are a bright orange-yellow and are laid in slabs, sometimes
on the upper surface, sometimes on the lower surface of the leaves.
The Caterpillars come out of their eggs in about a week, and the
first thing they do is to eat the egg-shells, or egg-wrappers, before
tackling the green leaves. It is the first time I have ever seen the
grub make a meal of the sack in which it was born, and I wonder what
reason it has. I suspect as follows: the leaves of the cabbage are
waxed and slippery. To walk on them without falling off, the grub needs
bits of silk, something for its legs to grip. To make this silk, it
needs special food; so it eats the egg-wrapper, which is of a horny
substance of the same nature as silk, and probably easily changed to
the latter in the stomach of the little grub.

[Illustration]

Soon the grubs get hungry for green food, and then the ruin of the
cabbages commences. What appetites they have! I served up to a herd
of these Caterpillars which I had in my laboratory a bunch of leaves
picked from among the biggest cabbages: two hours later nothing was
left but the thick middle veins. At this rate the cabbage bed will not
last long.

The gluttonous Caterpillars do nothing at all but eat, unless we except
a curious motion they sometimes indulge in. When several Caterpillars
are grazing side by side, you sometimes see all the heads in the row
briskly lifted and as briskly lowered, time after time, all together
and as accurately as if they were Prussian soldiers drilling. I do
not know whether this is their way of showing that they would fight,
if necessary, or a sign of pleasure in the eating and the warm sun.
Anyhow, it is the only exercise they take until they are full-grown and
fat.

After a whole month of grazing, the Caterpillars at last have enough.
They begin to climb in every direction. They walk about anyhow, with
the front part of their bodies raised and searching space. It is now
the beginning of cold weather, and my Caterpillar guests are in a small
greenhouse. I leave the door of the house open. Soon the whole crowd
have disappeared.

I find them scattered all over the neighboring walls, some thirty yards
off. They are under ledges and eaves, which will serve them as shelters
through the winter. The Cabbage-caterpillar is hardy and does not mind
the cold.

In these shelters they weave themselves hammock cocoons and turn into
chrysales, from which next spring the Moths will come.

[Illustration]

We may be interested in the story of the Cabbage-caterpillar, but
we know that there would be not enough cabbages for us if he were
allowed full sway. So we are not ill-pleased to hear that there is
still another insect who preys upon him and keeps him from being too
numerous. If the Cabbage-caterpillar is our enemy, this insect is our
friend. Yet she is so small, she works so discreetly, that the gardener
does not know her, has not even heard of her. If he were to see her by
accident, flitting around the plant which she protects, he would take
no notice of her, would not dream of the help she is giving him. I am
going to give the tiny midget her deserts.

[Illustration]

Scientists call her by a name as long as she is tiny. Part of the name
is Microgaster. It is what I shall have to call her, for she has no
other that I know of. You must blame the wise scientists who named her
that, and not me.

How does she work? Well, we shall see. In the spring, let us look about
our kitchen-gardens. We can hardly help noticing against the walls
or on the withered grasses at the foot of the hedges some very small
yellow cocoons, heaped into masses the size of a hazel-nut. Beside each
group lies a Cabbage-caterpillar, sometimes dead and always looking
very tattered. These cocoons are the work of the Microgaster’s family,
hatched or on the point of hatching; they have been feeding on the poor
Caterpillar.

The little Microgaster or Midge is about the size of a Gnat. When the
Caterpillar-moth lays her orange eggs on the cabbage leaves, the Midge
hastens up and with a slender, horny prickle she possesses, lays her
egg _inside_ the film of the Moth’s egg. Often many Midges lay their
little eggs in the same Moth’s egg. Judging by the cocoons, there are
sometimes as many as sixty-five Midges to one Caterpillar.

As the Caterpillar grows up, it does not seem to suffer; it feeds on
the cabbage leaves and, when that is done, makes its pilgrimage as
usual to find the place where it will weave its cocoon. It even begins
this work; but it is listless, it has no strength; it grows thin and
dies. No wonder, with a host of worms of the little Microgaster in its
body, drinking its blood! The Caterpillar has obligingly lived till
just the time when the Microgaster’s worms are ready to come out. They
do so, and begin to weave their cocoons, where they turn into Midges
with the long name.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XV

THE GREAT PEACOCK MOTH


It was an evening long to be remembered, when the Great Peacock Moths
came to my house. This Moth is magnificent, the largest in Europe, clad
in maroon velvet, with a necktie of white fur. The wings are sprinkled
with gray and brown, crossed by a faint zigzag and edged with smoky
white, and they have in the center a round patch, a great eye with a
black pupil and a many-colored iris containing black, white, chestnut,
and purple arcs. The Moth is hatched from a Caterpillar also remarkable
in appearance, being yellow with beads of turquoise-blue. It feeds on
almond leaves.

Well, on the morning of the sixth of May, a female Great Peacock
Moth came out of her cocoon in my presence, on the table of my
insect-laboratory. I at once caged her under a wire-gauze bell-jar. I
did not think much about the matter. I kept her on general principles,
for I am always on the lookout for something to happen.

I was glad afterwards that I had done so. At nine o’clock in the
evening, just as the household is going to bed, there is a great stir
in the room next to mine. Little Paul, half-undressed, is rushing
about, jumping and stamping, knocking the chairs over like a mad thing.
I hear him call me:

“Come, quick!” he screams. “Come and see these Moths, big as birds! The
room is full of them!”

I hurry in. The child has not exaggerated very much. The room is full
of giant Moths. Four are already caught and lodged in a bird-cage. Many
others are fluttering on the ceiling.

At this sight, I remember my prisoner of the morning.

“Put on your things, laddie,” I say to my son. “Leave your cage and
come with me. We shall see something interesting.”

We run downstairs to go to my study, which is in the right wing of the
house. In the kitchen I find the servant, who is also bewildered by
what is happening and stands flicking her apron at great Moths whom
she took at first for Bats. It seems that the Great Peacock has taken
possession of pretty nearly every part of the house.

We enter my study, candle in hand. One of the windows had been left
open, and what we see is unforgetable. With a soft flick-flack the
great Moths fly around the bell-jar, alight, set off again, come back,
fly up to the ceiling and down. They rush at the candle, putting it out
with a stroke of their wings; they descend on our shoulders, clinging
to our clothes, grazing our faces. The scene suggests a wizard’s cave,
with its whirl of Bats. Little Paul holds my hand tighter than usual,
to keep up his courage.

How many are there? About twenty in this room. Add to these the number
who have strayed into the other parts of the house, and the total
cannot be much short of forty. Forty lovers, who have come to pay their
respects to the bride born that morning—the princess imprisoned in her
tower!

Every night that week the Moths come to court their princess. It is
stormy weather, so dark one can hardly see one’s hand before one’s
face. Our house is difficult for them to reach. It is hidden by tall
plane-trees, pines, and cypresses; clusters of bushy shrubs make a
rampart a few steps away from the door. It is through this tangle, in
complete darkness, that the Great Peacock has to tack about to reach
his lady.

Under such conditions the Brown Owl would not dare leave the hole in
his tree. Yet the Moth goes forward without hesitating and passes
through without knocking against things. He steers his way so
skillfully that he arrives in a state of perfect freshness, with his
big wings unharmed, with not a scratch upon him. The darkness is light
enough for him.

With a view to his wedding, the one and only object of his life, the
Great Peacock is gifted with a wonderful talent. He is able to discover
the object of his desire in spite of distance, obstacles, and darkness.
For two or three evenings he is allowed a few hours to find his mate.
If he cannot find her, all is over. He dies.

The Great Peacock knows nothing of eating. While so many other Moths,
jolly companions one and all, flit from flower to flower, dipping into
the honeyed cups, he never thinks of refreshment. No wonder he does not
live long. Two or three evenings, just time enough to allow the couple
to meet, and that is all; the big Moth has lived.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XVI

THE TRUFFLE-HUNTING BEETLE


Before we come to the Beetle, I must first tell you about my friend,
the Dog, who hunts truffles, which are underground mushrooms. Dogs are
quite often used for this purpose, and I have had the good fortune on
several occasions to go with a Dog who was a great expert in this line.
He was certainly nothing to look at, this artist whom I was so anxious
to see at work: just a Dog, placid and deliberate in his ways, ugly,
unkempt; the sort of Dog you would never have at your own fireside.
Talent and poverty often go hand in hand.

His master, a celebrated truffle-gatherer in the village, was at first
afraid that I wanted to steal his secrets and set up a rival business,
but when he found that I only made drawings of mushrooms and set down
lists of underground vegetable things, he let me join his expeditions.

It was agreed between us that the Dog should act as he pleased and
receive a bit of bread as his reward after each discovery, no matter
whether the underground mushroom he discovered was a real truffle, the
kind people like to eat, or an uneatable one. In no case was the master
to drive the dog away from a spot where experience told him there was
nothing salable to be found. As far as my studies went, I did not care
whether the mushrooms were edible or not.

Conducted in this way, the expedition was very successful. The busy
Dog trotted along with his nose to the wind, at a moderate pace. Every
little while he stopped, questioned the ground with his nostrils,
scratched for a few seconds, without too much excitement, then looked
up at his master as if to say:

“Here we are, here we are! On my word of honor as a Dog, there’s a
truffle here.”

And he spoke the truth. The master dug at the spot indicated. If the
trowel went astray, the Dog showed the man how to put it right by
sniffing at the bottom of the hole. The mushroom was always there. A
Dog’s nose cannot lie. But he made us gather all sorts of underground
mushrooms: the large and the small, the fresh and the decayed, the
scented and the unscented, the fragrant and those which were the
reverse. I was surprised at my collection, which included most of the
underground fungi of the neighborhood.

Is it smell as we understand it that guides the Dog in his search? I
do not believe that it is, otherwise he would not point out so many
varieties which smell so very different. He must perceive something
that we cannot. It is a mistake to compare everything by human
standards. There are more sensations in the world than we know of. Such
secrets are known to insects better than to other animals, like the Dog
or the Pig, who also hunts truffles with its nose. We will hear now
about the Truffle-hunting Beetle.

[Illustration]

This is a pretty little black Beetle, with a pale and velvety belly,
round as a cherry-stone and much the same size. By rubbing the tip of
its abdomen against the edge of its wing-cases it makes a soft chirrup
like that which little birds make when their mother comes with their
food. The male wears a graceful horn on his head.

I found these Beetles in a certain pine-woods where there are plenty
of mushrooms. It is a pleasant place, where my whole family like to go
in the mild days of autumn. They find everything there: old Magpies’
nests, made of bundles of twigs; Jays squabbling with each other, after
filling their crops with acorns on the oaks hard by; Rabbits suddenly
starting out of a rosemary bush, showing their little white upturned
tails. There is lovely sand for the children to dig tunnels in, sand
that is easy to build into rows of huts which we thatch with moss and
top with a bit of reed by way of a chimney. And when we are there we
lunch off an apple to the sound of the Æolian harps of the breezes
softly sighing through the pine-needles!

Yes, for the children it is a real paradise. The grown-ups also enjoy
it, and one of my chief enjoyments is watching my Truffle-beetle.
His burrows may be seen here and there. The door is left open and
surrounded merely by a padding of sand. The burrow is about nine inches
deep, going straight down in very loose soil. When I cut into it with
a knife, I often find that it is empty. The insect has left during the
night, having finished its business there and gone to settle elsewhere.
The Truffle-beetle is a tramp, a night-walker, who leaves his home
whenever he feels like it and easily gets a new one. Sometimes I do
find the insect at the bottom of the pit, always alone, sometimes a
male, sometimes a female, never two at the same time. The burrow is not
a house for the family; it is a sort of bachelor house, dug for comfort
only for the solitary Beetle.

The Beetle in this house is clutching a small mushroom, usually partly
eaten. He will not part from it. It is his treasure, his worldly goods.
Scattered crumbs tell us that we have caught him feasting.

When we take his prize away from him we find that it is a sort of
little underground mushroom, closely related to the truffle.

This throws a light upon the habits of the Beetle and his reason for
making new burrows so often. In the calm of the twilight, the little
gadabout takes to the fields, chirruping softly as he goes, cheering
himself with song. He explores the soil, questions it as to its
contents, just as the Dog does when hunting for truffles. His sense of
smell tells him when the coveted morsel is underneath, covered by a few
inches of sand. Certain of the exact spot where the thing lies, he digs
straight down and never fails to reach it. As long as the provisions
last, he does not go out again. Blissfully he feeds at the bottom of
the well he has dug to reach the mushroom. He does not care whether his
door is open or not.

When he has eaten all his food, he moves, looking for more, and to
find it he digs a new burrow, which will be given up in its turn. Thus
he spends all autumn and the next spring, the seasons for mushrooms,
traveling from one of his little hotels to another.

This truffle which the Beetle hunts appears to have no particular odor.
How, then, can he detect it from the ground over the place where it
is buried? He is a clever Beetle, and we do not know yet just how he
manages it.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XVII

THE BOY WHO LOVED INSECTS


Nowadays, people lay everything to heredity; that is, they say that
human beings and animals both receive their special talents from
their ancestors, who have perhaps been developing them through many
generations. I do not altogether agree with this theory. I am going to
tell you my own story to show that I did not inherit my passion for
insects from any of my ancestors.

Neither my grandfather nor my grandmother on my mother’s side cared in
the least about insects. I did not know my grandfather, but I know that
he had a hard time making a living, and I am sure the only attention
he paid to an insect, if he met it, was to crush it under his foot.
Grandmother, who could not even read, certainly cared nothing about
science or insects. If, sometimes, when rinsing her salad at the tap,
she found a Caterpillar on the lettuce leaves, with a start of fright
she would fling the loathsome thing away.

My other grandparents, my father’s father and mother, I knew well.
Indeed, I went to live with them when I was five or six years old,
because my father and mother were too poor to take care of me. These
grandparents lived on a poverty-stricken farm away out in the country.
They did not know how to read; they had never opened a book in their
lives. Grandfather knew a great deal about cows and sheep, but nothing
about anything else. How dumfounded he would have been to learn that,
in the distant future, one of his family would spend his time studying
insignificant insects! If he had guessed that that lunatic was myself,
seated at the table by his side, what a smack I should have caught in
the neck!

“The idea of wasting one’s time with that nonsense!” he would have
thundered.

Grandmother, dear soul, was too busy with washing the clothes, minding
the children, seeing to the meals of the household, spinning, attending
to the chickens, curds and whey, butter, and pickles, to think of
anything else. Sometimes, in the evenings, she used to tell us stories,
as we sat around the fire, about the Wolf who lived on the moors. I
should have very much liked to see this Wolf, the hero of so many tales
that made our flesh creep, but I never did. I owe a great deal to you,
dear grandmother; it was in your lap that I found consolation for my
first sorrows. You have handed down to me, perhaps, a little of your
physical vigor, a little of your love for work; but certainly you did
not give me my love for insects.

Nor did either of my own parents. My mother was quite illiterate; my
father had been to school as a child, he knew how to read and write a
little, but he was too busy making a living to have room for any other
cares. A good cuff or two when he saw me pinning an insect to a cork
was all the encouragement I received from him.

And yet I began to observe, to inquire into things, when I was still
almost a baby. My first memories of this tendency will amuse you. One
day when I was five or six years old I was standing on the moor in
front of our farm, clad in a soiled frieze frock flapping against my
bare heels: I remember the handkerchief hanging from my waist by a bit
of string,—a handkerchief, I am sorry to say, often lost and replaced
by the back of my sleeve.

My face was turned toward the sun. The dazzling splendor fascinated me.
No Moth was ever more attracted by the light of the lamp. As I stood
there, I was asking myself a question. With what was I enjoying the
glorious radiance, with my mouth or my eyes? Reader, do not smile: this
was true scientific curiosity. I opened my mouth wide and closed my
eyes: the glory disappeared. I opened my eyes and shut my mouth: the
glory reappeared. I repeated the performance, with the same result. The
question was solved: I had learned by deduction that I see the sun with
my eyes. Oh, what a discovery! That evening, I told the whole house
about it. Grandmother smiled lovingly at my simplicity: the others
laughed at it.

[Illustration]

Another find. At nightfall, amidst the neighboring bushes, a sort of
jingle attracted my attention, sounding very faintly and softly through
the evening silence. Who is making that noise? Is it a little Bird
chirping in his nest? We must look into the matter and that quickly.
True, there is a Wolf, who comes out of the woods at this time, so they
tell me. Let’s go all the same, but not too far: just there, behind
that clump of gloom.

I stand on the lookout for long, but all in vain. At the faintest sound
of movement in the brushwood, the jingle ceases. I try again next day
and the day after. This time, my stubborn watch succeeds. Whoosh! A
grab of my hand and I hold the singer. It is not a Bird; it is a kind
of Grasshopper whose hind-legs my playfellows have taught me to like;
a poor reward for my long hiding. The best part of the business is not
the two haunches with the shrimpy flavor, but what I have just learned.
I now know, from personal observation, that the Grasshopper sings. I
did not tell of my discovery, for fear of the same laughter that had
greeted my story about the sun.

Oh, what pretty flowers, in a field close to the house! They seem to
smile at me with their great violet eyes. Later on, I see, in their
place, bunches of big red cherries. I taste them. They are not nice
and they have no stones. What can those cherries be? At the end of the
summer, grandfather comes with a spade and turns my field topsy-turvy.
From underground there comes, by the basketful and sackful, a sort of
round root. I know that root; it abounds in the house; time after time
I have cooked it in the peat-stove. It is the potato. Its violet flower
and its red fruit are pigeonholed for good and all in my memory.

With an ever-watchful eye for animals and plants, the future observer,
the little six-year-old monkey, practiced by himself, all unawares.
He went to the flower, he went to the insect, even as the Large White
Butterfly goes to the cabbage and the Red Admiral to the thistle. He
looked and inquired, drawn by a curiosity whereof heredity did not know
the secret.

A little later on I am back in the village, in my father’s house. I am
now seven years old; and it is high time that I went to school. Nothing
could have turned out better; the master is my godfather. What shall I
call the room in which I was to become acquainted with the alphabet?
It would be difficult to find the exact word, because the room served
for every purpose. It was at once a school, a kitchen, a bedroom, a
dining-room and, at times, a chicken-house and a piggery. Palatial
schools were not dreamed of in those days; any wretched hovel was
thought good enough.

A broad fixed ladder led to the floor above. Under the ladder stood a
big bed in a boarded recess. What was there upstairs? I never quite
knew. I would see the master sometimes bring down an armful of hay for
the Ass, sometimes a basket of potatoes which the housewife emptied
into the pot in which the little porkers’ food was cooked. It must have
been a sort of loft, a storehouse of provisions for man and beast.
Those two rooms were all there were in the whole dwelling.

[Illustration: “The fire was not exactly lit for us.”]

To return to the lower one, the schoolroom: a window faces south, the
only window in the house, a low, narrow window whose frame you can
touch at the same time with your head and both your shoulders. This
sunny opening is the only lively spot in the dwelling; it overlooks
the greater part of the village, which straggles along the slopes of a
slanting valley. In the window-recess is the master’s little table.

The opposite wall contains a niche in which stands a gleaming copper
pail full of water. Here the parched children can relieve their thirst
when they please, with a cup left within their reach. At the top of
the niche are a few shelves bright with pewter plates, dishes, and
drinking-vessels, which are taken down from their sanctuary on great
occasions only.

More or less everywhere, at any spot which the light touches, are
crudely colored pictures pasted on the walls. Against the far wall
stands the large fireplace. In the middle is the hearth, but, on the
right and left, are two breast-high recesses, half wood and half stone.
Each of them is a bed, with a mattress stuffed with chaff of winnowed
corn. Two sliding planks serve as shutters and close the chest if the
sleeper would be alone. These beds are used by the favored ones of the
house, the two boarders. They must lie snug in there at night, with
their shutters closed, when the north wind howls at the mouth of the
dark valley and sends the snow awhirl. The rest is occupied by the
hearth and its accessories: the three-legged stools; the salt-box,
hanging against the wall to keep its contents dry; the heavy shovel
which it takes two hands to wield; lastly, the bellows like those with
which I used to blow out my cheeks in grandfather’s house. They are
made of a mighty branch of pine, hollowed throughout its length with a
red-hot iron. One blows through this channel. With a couple of stones
for supports, the master’s bundle of sticks and our own logs blaze and
flicker, each of us having to bring a log of wood in the morning, if he
would share in the treat.

For that matter, the fire was not exactly lit for us, but, above
all, to warm a row of three pots in which simmered the Pigs’ food, a
mixture of potatoes and bran. That, in spite of our each giving a log,
was the real object of the brushwood-fire. The two boarders, on their
stools, in the best places, and we others sitting on our heels, formed
a semicircle around those big kettles, full to the brim and giving
off little jets of steam, with puff-puff-puffing sounds. The bolder
among us, when the master was not looking, would dig a knife into a
well-cooked potato and add it to their bit of bread; for I must say
that, if we did little work in my school, at least we did a deal of
eating. It was the regular custom to crack a few nuts and nibble at a
crust while writing our page or setting out our rows of figures.

[Illustration]

We, the smaller ones, in addition to the comfort of studying with our
mouths full, had every now and then two other delights, which were
quite as good as cracking nuts. The back-door gave upon the yard where
the Hen, surrounded by her brood of Chicks, scratched, while the little
Pigs, of whom there were a dozen, wallowed in their stone trough. This
door would open sometimes to let one of us out, a privilege which we
abused, for the sly ones among us were careful not to close it on
returning. Forthwith, the porkers would come running in, one after the
other, attracted by the smell of the boiled potatoes. My bench, the
one where the youngsters sat, stood against the wall, under the copper
pail, and was right in the way of the Pigs. Up they came trotting and
grunting, curling their little tails; they rubbed against our legs;
they poked their cold pink snouts into our hands in search of a scrap
of crust; they questioned us with their sharp little eyes to learn if
we happened to have a dry chestnut for them in our pockets. When they
had gone the round, some this way and some that, they went back to the
farmyard, driven away by a friendly flick of the master’s handkerchief.

Next came the visit of the Hen, bringing her velvet-coated Chicks
to see us. All of us eagerly crumbled a little bread for our pretty
visitors. We vied with one another in calling them to us and tickling
with our fingers their soft and downy backs.

What could we learn in such a school as that! Each of the younger
pupils had, or rather was supposed to have, in his hands a little penny
book, the alphabet, printed on gray paper. It began, on the cover, with
a Pigeon, or something like it. Next came a cross, with the letters in
their order. But, if the little book was to be of any use, the master
should have shown us something about it. For this, the worthy man, too
much taken up with the big ones, had not the time. He gave us the book
only to make us look like scholars. We were to study it on our bench,
to decipher it with the help of our next neighbor, in case he might
know one or two of the letters. Our studying came to nothing, being
every moment disturbed by a visit to the potatoes in the stew-pots, a
quarrel among playmates about a marble, the grunting invasion of the
little Pigs or the arrival of the Chicks.

The big ones used to write. They had the benefit of the small amount
of light in the room, by the narrow window, and of the large and only
table with its circle of seats. The school supplied nothing, not even
a drop of ink; every one had to come with a full set of utensils. The
inkhorn of those days was a long cardboard box divided into two parts.
The upper compartment held the pens, made of goose- or turkey-quill
trimmed with a penknife; the lower contained, in a tiny well, ink made
of soot mixed with vinegar.

The master’s great business was to mend the pens—and then to trace
at the head of the white page a line of strokes, single letters, or
words, according to the scholar’s capabilities. When that is over keep
an eye on the work of art which is coming to adorn the copy! With what
undulating movements of the wrist does the master’s hand, resting on
the little finger, prepare and plan its flight! All at once the hand
starts off, flies, whirls; and lo and behold, under the line of writing
is unfurled a garland of circles, spirals, and flourishes, framing a
bird with outspread wings, the whole, if you please, in red ink, the
only kind worthy of such a pen. Large and small, we stood awestruck in
the presence of these marvels.

What was read at my school? At most, in French, a few selections
from sacred history. Latin came oftener, to teach us to sing vespers
properly.

And history, geography? No one ever heard of them. What difference did
it make to us whether the earth was round or square! In either case, it
was just as hard to make it bring forth anything.

And grammar? The master troubled his head very little about that; and
we still less. And arithmetic? Yes, we did a little of this, but not
under that learned name. We called it sums. On Saturday evening, to
finish up the week, there was a general orgy of sums. The top boys
stood up and, in a loud voice, recited the multiplication table up to
twelve times. When this recital was over, the whole class, the little
ones included, took it up in chorus, creating such an uproar that
Chicks and porkers took to flight if they happened to be there.

When all is said, our master was an excellent man who could have kept
school very well but for his lack of one thing; and that was time. He
managed the property of an absentee landlord. He had under his care an
old castle with four towers, which had become so many pigeon-houses;
he directed the getting-in of the hay, the walnuts, the apples and the
oats. We used to help him during the summer. Lessons at that time were
less dull. They were often given on the hay or on the straw; oftener
still, lesson-time was spent in cleaning out the dove-cot or stamping
on the Snails that had sallied in rainy weather from their fortresses,
the tall box borders of the garden belonging to the castle.

Our master was a barber. With his light hand, which was so clever at
beautifying our copies with curlicue birds, he shaved the notabilities
of the place: the mayor, the parish-priest, the notary. Our master was
a bell-ringer. A wedding or a christening interrupted the lessons; he
had to ring a peal. A gathering storm gave us a holiday; the great bell
must be tolled to ward off the lightning and the hail. Our master was a
choir-singer. Our master wound up and regulated the village-clock. This
was his proudest duty. Giving a glance at the sun, to tell the time
more or less nearly, he would climb to the top of the steeple, open a
huge cage of rafters and find himself in a maze of wheels and springs
whereof the secret was known to him alone.

With such a school and such a master and such examples, what will
become of my natural tastes, as yet so undeveloped? In those
surroundings, they seem bound to perish, stifled forever. Yet no,
the germ has life; it works in my veins, never to leave them again.
It finds food everywhere, down to the cover of my penny alphabet,
beautified with a crude picture of a Pigeon which I study much more
eagerly than the A B C. Its round eye, with its circlet of dots, seems
to smile upon me. Its wing, of which I count the feathers one by one,
tells me of flights on high, among the beautiful clouds; it carries me
to the beeches raising their smooth trunks above a mossy carpet studded
with white mushrooms that look like eggs, dropped by some wandering
hen; it takes me to the snow-clad peaks where the birds leave the
starry print of their red feet. He is a fine fellow, my Pigeon-friend;
he consoles me for the woes hidden behind the cover of my book. Thanks
to him, I sit quietly on my bench and wait more or less till school is
over.

School out-of-doors has other charms. When the master takes us to kill
the Snails in the box borders, I do not always do so. My heel sometimes
hesitates before coming down upon the handful which I have gathered.
They are so pretty! Just think, there are yellow ones and pink, white
ones and brown, all with dark spiral streaks. I fill my pockets with
the handsomest, so as to feast my eyes on them at my leisure.

[Illustration]

On hay-making days in the master’s field, I strike up an acquaintance
with the Frog. Flayed and stuck at the end of a split stick, he serves
as bait to tempt the Crayfish to come out of his retreat by the
brook-side. On the alder-trees I catch the Hoplia, the splendid Beetle
who pales the azure of the heavens. I pick the narcissus and learn to
gather, with the tip of my tongue, the tiny drop of honey that lies
right at the bottom of the cleft corolla. I also learn that too-long
indulgence in this feast brings a headache; but this discomfort in no
way impairs my admiration for the glorious white flower, which wears a
narrow red collar at the throat of its funnel.

When we go to beat the walnut-trees, the barren grass-plots provide
me with Locusts spreading their wings, some into a blue fan, others
into a red. And thus the country school, even in the heart of winter,
furnished continuous food for my interest in things. My passion for
animals and plants made progress of itself.

What did not make progress was my acquaintance with my letters,
greatly neglected in favor of the Pigeon. I was still at the same
stage, hopelessly behindhand with the alphabet, when my father, by a
chance inspiration, brought me home from the town what was to give me
a start along the road of reading. It was a large print, price three
cents, colored and divided into compartments in which animals of all
sorts taught the A B C by means of the first letters of their names.
You began with the sacred beast, the Donkey, whose name, _Âne_, with
a big initial, taught me the letter A. The _Bœuf_, the Ox, stood for
B; the _Canard_, the Duck, told me about C; the _Dindon_, the Turkey,
gave me the letter D. And so on with the rest. A few compartments, it
is true, were lacking in clearness. I had no friendly feeling for the
Hippopotamus, the Kamichi, or Horned Screamer, and the Zebu, who aimed
at making me say H, K, and Z. No matter; father came to my aid in hard
cases; and I made such rapid progress that, in a few days, I was able
to turn in good earnest the pages of my little Pigeon-book, hitherto
so undecipherable. I was initiated; I knew how to spell. My parents
marveled. I can explain this unexpected progress to-day. Those speaking
pictures, which brought me amongst my friends the beasts, were in
harmony with my tastes. I have the animals to thank for teaching me to
read. Animals forever!

Luck favored me a second time. As a reward for learning to read, I
was given La Fontaine’s Fables, in a popular, cheap edition, crammed
with pictures, small, I admit, and very inaccurate, but still
delightful. Here were the Crow, the Fox, the Wolf, the Magpie, the
Frog, the Rabbit, the Donkey, the Dog, the Cat; all persons of my
acquaintance. The glorious book was immensely to my taste, with its
skimpy illustrations in which the animals walked and talked. As to
understanding what it said, that was another story! Never mind, my lad!
Put together syllables that say nothing to you as yet; they will speak
to you later and La Fontaine will always remain your friend.

I come to the time when I was ten years old and at Rodez College. I was
well thought of in the school, for I cut a good figure in composition
and translation. In that classical atmosphere, there was talk of
Procas, King of Alba, and of his two sons, Numitor and Amulius. We
heard of Cynœgirus, the strong-jawed man, who, having lost his two
hands in battle, seized and held a Persian galley with his teeth, and
of Cadmus the Phœnician, who sowed a dragon’s teeth as though they were
beans and gathered his harvest in the shape of a host of armed men, who
killed one another as they rose up from the ground. The only one who
survived the slaughter was one as tough as leather, presumably the son
of the big back grinder-tooth.

Had they talked to me about the man in the moon, I could not have been
more startled. I made up for it with my animals. While admiring Cadmus
and Cynœgirus, I hardly ever failed, on Sundays and Thursdays, to go
and see if the cowslip or the yellow daffodil was making its appearance
in the meadows, if the Linnet was hatching on the juniper-bushes, if
the Cockchafers were plopping down from the wind-shaken poplars.

By easy stages I came to Virgil and was very much smitten with
Melibœus, Corydon, Menalcas, Damœtas and the rest of them. Within the
frame in which the characters moved were exquisite details concerning
the Bee, the Cicada, the Turtle-dove, the Crow, the Nanny-goat, and the
golden broom. A real delight were these stories of the fields, sung
in sonorous verse; and the Latin poet left a lasting impression on my
classical recollections.

Then, suddenly, good-by to my studies, good-by to Tityrus and Menalcas.
Ill-luck is swooping down on us, relentlessly. Hunger threatens us at
home. And now, boy, put your trust in God; run about and earn your
penn’orth of potatoes as best you can. Life is about to become a
hideous inferno. Let us pass quickly over this phase.

[Illustration]

During this sad time, my love for the insects ought to have gone under.
Not at all. I still remember a certain Pine Cockchafer met for the
first time. The plumes on her antennæ, her pretty pattern of white
spots on a dark-brown ground, were as a ray of sunshine in the gloomy
wretchedness of the day.

To cut a long story short: good fortune, which never abandons the
brave, brought me to the primary normal school at Vaucluse, where I
was certain of food: dried chestnuts and chick-peas. The principal, a
man of broad views, soon came to trust his new assistant. He left me
practically a free hand so long as I satisfied the school curriculum,
which was very modest in those days. I was a little ahead of my
fellow-pupils. I took advantage of this to get some order into my vague
knowledge of plants and animals. While a dictation lesson was being
corrected around me, I would examine, in the recesses of my desk, the
oleander’s fruit, the snap-dragon’s seed-vessel, the Wasp’s sting and
the Ground-beetle’s wing-case.

With this foretaste of natural science, picked up haphazard and
secretly, I left school more deeply in love than ever with insects and
flowers. And yet I had to give it all up. Natural history could not
bring me anywhere. The schoolmasters of the time despised it; Latin,
Greek, and mathematics were the subjects to study.

So I flung myself with might and main into higher mathematics: a hard
battle, if ever there was one, without teachers, face to face for days
on end with abstruse problems. Next I studied the physical sciences
in the same manner, with an impossible laboratory, the work of my own
hands. I went against my feelings: I buried my natural-history books at
the bottom of my trunk.

And so, in the end, I am sent to teach physics and chemistry at Ajaccio
College. This time, the temptation is too much for me. The sea, with
its wonders, the beach, covered with beautiful shells, the myrtles,
arbutus, and other trees; all this paradise of gorgeous nature is more
attractive than geometry and trigonometry. I give up. I divide my spare
time into two parts. The larger part is devoted to mathematics, by
which I expect to make my way in the world; the other is spent, with
much misgiving, in botanizing and looking for the treasures of the sea.

We never know what will happen to us. Mathematics, on which I spent so
much time in my youth, has been of hardly any good to me; and animals,
which I avoided as much as ever I could, are the consolation of my old
age.

I met two famous scientists in Ajaccio: Requien, a well-known botanist,
and Moquin-Tandom, who gave me my first lesson in natural history. He
stayed at my house, as the hotel was full. The day before he left he
said to me:

“You interest yourself in shells. That is something, but it is not
enough. You must look into the animal itself. I will show you how it’s
done.”

He took a sharp pair of scissors from the family work-basket and a
couple of needles, and showed me the anatomy of a snail in a soup-plate
filled with water. Gradually he explained and sketched the organs which
he spread before my eyes. This was the only, the never-to-be-forgotten
lesson in natural history that I ever received in my life.

It is time to finish this story about myself. It shows that from early
childhood I have felt drawn towards the things of nature. I have the
gift of observation. Why and how? I do not know.

We have all of us, men and animals, some special gift. One child takes
to music, another is always modeling things out of clay; another is
quick at figures. It is the same way with insects. One kind of Bee can
cut leaves; another builds clay houses, Spiders know how to make webs.
These gifts exist because they exist, and that is all any one can say.
In human beings, we call the special gift genius. In an insect, we call
it instinct. Instinct is the animal’s genius.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XVIII

THE BANDED SPIDER


In the disagreeable season of the year, when the insect has nothing to
do and retires to winter quarters, an observer who looks in the sunny
nooks, grubs in the sand, lifts the stones, or searches the brushwood,
will often find something very interesting, a real work of art. Happy
are they who can appreciate such treasures! I wish them all the joys
they have brought me and will continue to bring me, in spite of the
vexations of life, which grow ever more bitter as the years follow
their swift downward course.

Should the seekers rummage among the wild grasses in the willow-beds
and thickets, I wish them the delight of finding the wonderful object
that, at this moment, lies before my eyes. It is the work of a Spider,
the nest of the Banded Spider.

In bearing and coloring, this Spider is among the handsomest that I
know. On her fat body, nearly as large as a hazel-nut, are alternate
yellow, black, and silver sashes, to which she owes her name of Banded.
Her eight long legs, with their dark-brown and pale-brown rings,
surround her body like the spokes of a wheel.

Any small prey suits her; and, as long as she can find supports for her
web, she settles wherever the Locust hops, wherever the Fly hovers,
wherever the Dragon-fly dances or the Butterfly flits. Usually, because
of the greater abundance of game there, she spreads her web across
some brooklet, from bank to bank, among the rushes. She also stretches
it sometimes in the thickets of evergreen oak, on the slopes with the
scrubby grass, dear to Grasshoppers.

Her hunting-weapon is a large upright web, whose outer boundary is
fastened to the neighboring branches by a number of moorings. Her
web is like that of the other weaving Spiders. Straight threads
run out like spokes of a wheel from a central point. Over these
runs a continuous spiral thread, forming chords, or cross-bars,
from the center to the circumference. It is magnificently large and
magnificently symmetrical.

In the lower part of the web, starting from the center, a thick wide
ribbon descends zigzag-wise across the spokes. This is the Spider’s
trademark, the way she signs her work of art. Also, the strong silk
zigzag gives greater firmness to the web.

The net needs to be firm to hold the heavy insects that light on it.
The Spider cannot pick and choose her prizes. Seated motionless in the
center of the web, her eight legs widespread to feel the shaking of
the network in any direction, she waits for what luck will bring her:
sometimes some giddy weak thing unable to control its flight, sometimes
some powerful prey rushing headlong with a reckless bound.

[Illustration]

The Locust in particular, the fiery Locust, who releases the spring of
his long shanks at random, often falls into the trap. One imagines that
his strength ought to frighten the Spider; the kick of his spurred legs
should enable him to make a hole then and there in the web and to get
away. But not at all. If he does not free himself at the first effort,
the Locust is lost.

Turning her back on the game, the Banded Spider works all her
spinnerets—the spinneret is the organ with which she makes her silk,
and is pierced with tiny holes like the mouth of a watering-pot—at one
and the same time. She gathers the silky spray with her hind-legs,
which are longer than the others and open wide apart to allow the
silk to spread. In this way the Spider obtains not a thread but a
rainbow-colored sheet, a sort of clouded fan wherein the threads are
kept almost separate. Her two hind-legs fling this sheet, or shroud, by
rapid alternate armfuls, while, at the same time, they turn the Locust
over and over, swathing it completely.

The gladiator of old times, when forced to fight against powerful
wild beasts, appeared in the ring with a rope-net folded over his
left shoulder. The animal made its spring. The man, with a sudden
movement of his right arm, cast the net as a fisherman does; he covered
the beast and tangled it in the meshes. A thrust of the trident, or
three-pronged spear, gave the finishing touch to the vanquished foe.

The Spider works in the same way, with this advantage, that she can
renew her armful of fetters. If the first is not enough, a second
instantly follows, and another and yet another until she has used up
all her silk.

When all movement ceases under the snowy winding-sheet, the Spider goes
up to her bound prisoner. She has a better weapon than the gladiator’s
three-pronged spear: she has her poison-fangs. She gnaws at the Locust.
When she has finished, she flings the clean-bled remains out of the net
and returns to her waiting-place in the centre of the web.


[Illustration]

THE NEST

The Spiders show their great talents even better in the business of
motherhood than in their hunting. The silk bag, the nest, in which
the Banded Spider houses her eggs, is a much greater marvel than the
bird’s nest. In shape it is a balloon turned upside down, nearly the
size of a pigeon’s egg. The top tapers like a pear and is cut short and
crowned with a scalloped rim, the corners of which are lengthened by
means of moorings that fasten the nest to the near-by twigs. The whole,
a graceful egg-shaped object, hangs straight down among a few threads
that steady it.

The top of the Spider’s nest is hollowed into a bowl closed with a
silky padding. Covering all the rest of the nest is a wrapper of thick,
compact white satin, adorned with ribbons and patterns of brown and
even black silk. We know at once the use of this satin wrapper; it is a
waterproof cover which neither dew nor rain can penetrate.

The Spider’s nest, down among the dead grasses, close to the ground,
must protect its contents from the winter cold. Let us cut the wrapper
with our scissors. Underneath, we find a thick layer of reddish-brown
silk, not worked into a fabric this time, but puffed into an extra-fine
wadding. This is a comforter, a quilt, for the Spider’s babies, softer
than any swan’s down and warm as toast.

In the middle of this quilt hangs a cylindrical pocket, round at the
bottom, cut square at the top and closed with a padded lid. It is made
of extremely fine satin; it holds the Spider’s eggs, pretty little
orange-colored beads, which, glued together, form a little globe the
size of a pea. These are the treasures which must be guarded against
the weather.

When the Spider is making her pouch she moves slowly round and round,
paying out a single thread. The hind-legs draw it out and place it
in position on that which is already done. Thus is formed the satin
bag. Guy-ropes bind it to the nearest threads and keep it stretched,
especially at the mouth. The bag is just large enough to hold all the
eggs, without any room left over.

When the Spider has laid her eggs, she begins to work her spinneret
once more, but in a different manner. Her body sinks and touches a
point, goes back, sinks again and touches another point, first here,
then there, making confused zigzags. At the same time, the hind-legs
tread the material given out. The result is not a woven cloth, but a
sort of felt, a blanketing.

To make the eider-down quilt, she turns out reddish-brown silk, finer
than the other and coming out in clouds which she beats into a sort of
froth with her hind-legs. The egg-pocket disappears, drowned in this
exquisite wadding.

[Illustration]

Again she changes her material, making the white silk of the outer
wrapper. Already the bag has taken its balloon shape, tapering towards
the neck. She now decorates the nest with brown markings, making for
this purpose still a different kind of silk, varying in color from
russet to black. When this is done, the work is finished.

What a wonderful silk-factory the Spider runs! With a very simple
and never-varying plant, consisting of her own hind-legs and
spinnerets, she produces, by turns, rope-maker’s, spinner’s, weaver’s,
ribbon-maker’s and felt-maker’s work. How does she do it? How can she
obtain, as she wishes, skeins of different colors and grades? How
does she turn them out, first in this fashion, then in that? I see
the results, but I do not understand the machinery and still less the
process. It beats me altogether.

When the Spider has finished her nest, she moves away with slow
strides, without giving a glance at the bag. The rest does not interest
her: time and the sun will hatch the eggs. By weaving the house for
her children she has used up all her silk. If she returned to her web
now, she would not have any with which to bind her prey. Besides, she
no longer has any appetite. Withered and languid, she drags out her
existence for a few days and, at last, dies. This is how things happen
when I keep the Spiders in my cages; this is how they must happen in
the brushwood.


THE BANDED SPIDER’S FAMILY

The pretty orange-yellow eggs of the Banded Spider number above five
hundred. They are inclosed, you will remember, in a white-satin nest,
in which there is no opening of any kind. How will the little Spiders
get out, when their time comes and their mother is not there to help
them?

The animal and vegetable kingdoms are sometimes very much alike. The
Spider’s nest seems to me like an animal fruit, which holds eggs
instead of seeds. Now seeds have all sorts of ways of scattering. The
fruit of the garden balsam, when ripe, splits, at the least touch,
into five fleshy valves, which curl up and shoot their seeds to a
distance. You all know the jewel-weeds, or touch-me-nots, along the
wayside, whose seed pods explode when you touch them. Then there are
light seeds, like the dandelion, which have tufts or plumes to carry
them away. The “keys” of the elm are formed of a broad, light fan with
the seed cased in the center; those of the maple are joined in pairs
and are like the unfurled wings of a bird; those of the ash, carved
like the blade of an oar, perform the most distant journeys when driven
before the storm. Like the plant, the insect also sometimes has ways of
shooting its large families out into the world. You will notice this in
the case of many Spiders, and particularly this Banded Spider.

As March comes on the Spiders begin to hatch out inside the nest. If
we cut it open with the scissors we shall find some scattered over
the eider-down outside the center room, and some still in the orange
eggs. The little Spiders have not got their beautiful banded dresses
yet; they are pale yellow on top, with black-rimmed eyes, and white
and brown underneath. They stay in the outer room of the nest for four
months, during which time their bodies harden and they grow mature.

When June and July come, they are anxious to be off, but they cannot
make a hole in the tough fabric of the nest. Never mind, the nest will
open of itself, like a ripe seed-pod. Some day, when the sun is very
hot, the satin bursts. Some of the Spiderlings, all mixed up with
their flossy mattress, shoot out of the balloon. They are in frantic
commotion. Others stay inside the nest and come out in their own good
time. But as they come out, all of them climb up the near-by twigs and
send out little threads which float, break, and fly away, carrying the
tiny Spiders with them. You shall hear more about these flying machines
of the young Spiders in the next chapters.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIX

THE TARANTULA


The Spider has a bad name: most of us think her a horrid animal,
and hasten to crush her under our feet. Nevertheless, any one who
observes her knows that she is a hard worker, a talented weaver, a
wily huntress, and very interesting in other ways. Yes, the Spider is
well worth studying, apart from any scientific reasons; but she is
said to be poisonous, and that is her crime and the main reason why we
hate her. She _is_ poisonous, in a way, if by that we understand that
the animal is armed with two fangs which cause the immediate death of
the little victims that she catches; but there is a great difference
between killing a Midge and harming a Man. However quickly the Spider’s
poison kills insects, it is not as a rule serious for us and causes
less trouble than a gnat-bite. That, at least, is what we can safely
say about the great majority of Spiders.

Nevertheless, a few are to be feared. The Italians say that the
Tarantula produces convulsions and frenzied dances in the person stung
by her. Music is the only cure for this, and they tell us some tunes
are better than others. The tarantella, a lively dance, probably owes
its name to this idea of the Italian peasants. The story makes us feel
like laughing, but, after all, the bite of the Tarantula may possibly
bring on some nervous trouble which music will relieve; and possibly a
very energetic dance makes the patient break out into a perspiration
and so get rid of the poison.

The most powerful Spider in my neighborhood, the Black-bellied
Tarantula, will presently show us what her poison can do. But first I
will introduce her to you in her home, and tell you about her hunting.

This Tarantula is dressed in black velvet on the lower surface, with
brown stripes on the abdomen and gray and white rings around the legs.
Her favorite dwelling-place is the dry, pebbly ground, covered with
sun-scorched thyme. In my plot of waste ground, there are quite twenty
of these Spiders’ burrows. I hardly ever pass by one of these haunts
without giving a glance down the pit where gleam, like diamonds, the
four great eyes, the four telescopes of the hermit. The four other
eyes, which are much smaller, are not visible at that depth.

The Tarantula’s dwellings are pits about a foot deep, dug by herself
with her fangs, going straight down at first and then bent elbow-wise.
They are about an inch wide. On the edge of the hole stands a curb,
formed of straw, bits and scraps of all sorts, and even small pebbles,
the size of a hazel-nut. The whole is kept in place and cemented with
the Spider’s silk. Sometimes this curb, or little tower, is an inch
high; sometimes it is a mere rim.

I wished to catch some of these Spiders, so I waved a spikelet of
grass at the entrance of the burrow to imitate the humming of a Bee. I
expected that the Tarantula would rush out, thinking she heard a prey.
My scheme did not succeed. The Tarantula, indeed, came a little way up
her tube to find out the meaning of the sounds at her door; but she
soon scented a trap; she remained motionless at mid-height and would
not come any farther.

I found that the best method to secure the wily Tarantula was to
procure a supply of live Bumble-bees. I put one into a little bottle
with a mouth just wide enough to cover the opening of the burrow; and
I turned the apparatus thus baited over the opening. The powerful Bee
at first fluttered and hummed about her glass prison; then, seeing a
burrow like that made by her own family, she went into it without much
hesitation. She was very foolish: while she went down, the Spider came
up; and the meeting took place in the perpendicular passage. For a
few moments, I heard a sort of death-song: it was the humming of the
poor Bumble-bee. This was followed by a long silence. I removed the
bottle and explored the pit with a pair of pincers. I brought out the
Bumble-bee, motionless, dead. A terrible tragedy must have happened.
The Spider followed, refusing to let go so rich a booty. Game and
huntress were brought outside the hole, which I stopped up with a
pebble. Outside her own house the Tarantula is timid and hardly able to
run away. To push her with a straw into a paper bag was the work of a
second. Soon I had a colony of Tarantulas in my laboratory.

[Illustration]

I did not give the Tarantula the Bee merely in order to capture her. I
wished to know also her manner of hunting. I knew that she is one of
those insects who live from day to day on what they kill. She does not
store up preserved food for her children, like the Beetles; she is not
a “paralyzer,” like the Wasps you have read about, who cleverly spare
their game so as to leave it a glimmer of life and keep it fresh for
weeks at a time; she is a killer, who makes a meal off her capture on
the spot. I wished to find out how she kills them so quickly.

She does not go in for peaceable game. The big Grasshopper, with the
powerful jaws, the Bee and other wearers of poisoned daggers must
fall into her hole from time to time, and the duel she fights with
them is nearly equal as far as weapons go. For the poisonous fangs of
the Spider the Wasp has her poisoned dagger or sting. Which of the
two bandits shall have the best of it? The Tarantula has no second
means of defense, no cord to bind her victim, as the Garden Spiders
have. These cover the captives with their silk, making all resistance
impossible. The Tarantula has a riskier job. She has only her courage
and her fangs, and she must leap upon her dangerous prey and kill it
quickly. She must know exactly where to strike, for, strong though her
poison is, I cannot believe it would kill the prey instantly at any
point where she happens to bite. She must bite in some spot of vital
importance.


[Illustration]

A FIGHT WITH A CARPENTER-BEE

Instead of with the Bumble-bee, who enters the Spider’s burrow, I wish
to make the Tarantula fight with some other insect, who will stay above
ground. For this purpose I take one of the largest and most powerful
Bees that I can find, the Carpenter-bee, clad in black velvet, with
wings of purple gauze. She is nearly an inch long; her sting is very
painful and produces a swelling that hurts for a long time. I know,
because I have been stung. Here indeed is a foe worthy of the Tarantula.

I catch several Carpenter-bees, place them one by one in bottles, and
choose a strong, bold Tarantula, one moreover who appears to be very
hungry. I put the bottle baited with a Carpenter-bee upside down over
her door. The Bee buzzes gravely in her glass bell; the Spider comes
up from the recesses of her cave; she is on the threshold, but inside;
she looks; she waits. I also wait. The quarters, the half-hours pass;
nothing happens. The Spider goes down again: she probably thought the
attempt too dangerous. I try in this way three more Tarantulas, but
cannot make them leave their lairs.

At last I have better success. A Spider suddenly rushes from her
hole: she is unusually warlike, doubtless because she is very hungry.
She attacks the Bee in the bottle, and the combat lasts for but the
twinkling of an eye. The sturdy Carpenter-bee is dead. Where did the
murderess strike her? Right in the nape of the neck; her fangs are
still there. She has the knowledge which I suspected: she has bitten
the only point she could bite to produce sudden death. She has struck
the center of the victim’s nervous system.

I make more experiments and find that it is only once in a while that
the Tarantula will come out to fight the Carpenter-bee, but each time
that she does so she kills it in the same way. The reason of the
Tarantula’s hesitation is plain. An insect of this kind cannot be
seized recklessly: the Tarantula who missed her strike by biting at
random would do so at the risk of her life. Stung in any other place,
the Bee might live for hours and manage to sting her foe with her
poisoned dagger. The Spider is well aware of this. In the safe shelter
of her threshold she watches for the right moment; she waits for the
big Bee to face her, when the neck is easily grabbed.


[Illustration]

THE TARANTULA’S POISON

The Tarantula’s poison is a pretty dangerous weapon, as we shall see.
I make a Tarantula bite the leg of a young, well-fledged Sparrow,
ready to leave the nest. A drop of blood flows; the wounded spot is
surrounded by a reddish circle, changing to purple. The bird almost
immediately loses the use of its leg, which drags, with the toes
doubled in; it hops upon the other leg. Aside from this, the patient
does not seem to trouble much about his hurt; his appetite is good.
My daughters feed him on Flies, bread-crumb, apricot-pulp. He is sure
to get well; he will recover his strength; the poor victim of the
curiosity of science will be restored to liberty. This is the wish and
intention of us all. Twelve hours later, we are still more hopeful;
the invalid takes nourishment readily; he clamors for it, if we keep
him waiting. Two days after, he refuses his food. Wrapping himself
stoically in his rumpled feathers, the Sparrow hunches into a ball, now
motionless, now twitching. My girls take him in the hollow of their
hands and warm him with their breath. The spasms become more frequent.
A gasp tells us that all is over. The bird is dead.

There is a certain coolness among us at the evening meal. I read silent
reproaches, because of my experiment, in the eyes of the home-circle;
I know they think me cruel. The death of the unfortunate Sparrow has
saddened the whole family. I myself feel remorseful: what I have found
out seems to me too dearly bought.

Nevertheless, I had the courage to try again with a Mole who was caught
stealing from our lettuce-beds. I put him in a cage and fed him on a
varied diet of insects—Beetles and Grasshoppers. He crunched them up
with a fine appetite. Twenty-four hours of this life convinced me that
the Mole was making the best of the bill of fare and taking kindly to
his captivity.

I made the Tarantula bite him at the tip of the snout. When put back in
his cage, the Mole kept on scratching his nose with his broad paws. The
thing seemed to burn, to itch. From now on, he ate less and less of the
store of insects: on the evening of the following day, he refused them
altogether. About thirty-six hours after being bitten, the Mole died
during the night, and certainly not from starvation, for there were
still many live insects in the cage.

The bite of my Tarantula is therefore dangerous to other animals than
insects: it is fatal to the Sparrow, it is fatal to the Mole. I did
not make any more experiments, but I should say that people had better
beware of the bite of this Spider. It is not to be trifled with.

Think, just for a moment, of the skill of the Spider, the
insect-killer, as contrasted with the skill of the Wasps, the
insect-paralyzers. These insect-killers, who live on their prey, strike
the game dead at once by stinging the nerve-centers of the neck; the
paralyzers, on the other hand, who wish to keep the food fresh for
their larvæ, destroy the power of movement by stinging the game in the
other nerve-centers, lower down. They do not acquire this knowledge,
they have it as soon as they are born. And they teach those of us who
think that there is something behind it all, that there is Some One who
has planned things for insects and men alike.


THE TARANTULA’S HUNTING

From the Tarantulas whom I have captured and placed in pans filled with
earth in my laboratory, I learn still more about their hunting. They
are really magnificent, these captives. With their great bodies inside
their burrows, their heads outside, their glassy eyes staring, their
legs gathered for a spring, for hours and hours they wait, motionless,
bathing luxuriously in the sun.

Should a titbit to her liking happen to pass, at once the watcher
darts from her tall tower, swift as an arrow from the bow. With a
dagger-thrust in the neck, she stabs the Locust, Dragon-fly, or other
prey; and she as quickly climbs her tower and retires with her capture.
The performance is a wonderful exhibition of skill and speed.

She very seldom misses the game, provided that it pass at a convenient
distance, within reach of her bound. But if it be farther away she
takes no notice of it. Scorning to go in pursuit, she allows it to roam
at will.

This proves that the Tarantula has great patience, for the burrow has
nothing that can serve to attract victims. At best, refuge provided by
the tower may, once in a long while, tempt some weary wayfaring insect
to use it as a resting-place. But, if the game does not come to-day,
it is sure to come to-morrow, the next day, or later, for there are
many Locusts hopping in the waste land, and they are not always able to
regulate their leaps. Some day or other, chance is bound to bring one
of them near the burrow. Then the Spider springs upon the victim from
the ramparts. Until then, she stoically watches and fasts. She will
dine when she can; but she will finally dine.

The Tarantula really does not suffer much from a long fast. She has an
accommodating stomach, which is satisfied to be gorged to-day and to
remain empty afterwards for goodness knows how long. When I had the
Spiders in my laboratory, I sometimes neglected to feed them for weeks
at a time, and they were none the worse for it. After they have fasted
a long time, they do not pine away, but are smitten with a wolf-like
hunger.

In her youth, before she has a burrow, the Tarantula earns her living
in another manner. Clad in gray like her elders, but without the
black-velvet apron which she receives on reaching the marriageable age,
she roams among the stubby grass. This is true hunting. When the right
kind of game heaves in sight, the Spider pursues it, drives it from
its shelters, follows it hot-foot. The fugitive gains the heights, and
makes as though to fly away. He has not the time. With an upward leap,
the Tarantula grabs him before he can rise.

I am charmed with the quick way in which my year-old Spider boarders
seize the Flies that I provide for them. In vain does the Fly take
refuge a couple of inches up, on some blade of grass. With a sudden
spring into the air, the Spider pounces on her prey. No Cat is quicker
in catching her Mouse.

But these are the feats of youth not handicapped by fatness. Later,
when the bag of eggs has to be trailed along, the Tarantula cannot
indulge in gymnastics. She then digs herself her hunting-lodge, and
sits in her watch-tower, on the lookout for game.


[Illustration]

THE TARANTULA’S BAG

You will be surprised to hear how devoted this terrible Tarantula is to
her family.

Early one morning in August, I found a Tarantula spinning on the ground
a silk network covering an extent about as large as the palm of one’s
hand. It was coarse and shapeless, but firmly fixed. This is the floor
on which the Spider means to work. It will protect her nest from the
sand.

On this floor she weaves a round mat, about the size of a fifty-cent
piece and made of superb white silk. She thickens the outer part of it,
until it becomes a sort of bowl, surrounded by a wide, flat edge. Upon
this bowl she lays her eggs. These she covers with silk. The result is
a pill set in the middle of a circular carpet.

With her legs she takes up and breaks off one by one the threads that
keep the round mat stretched on the coarse floor. At the same time, she
grips this sheet with her fangs, lifts it by degrees, tears it from
its base, and folds it over upon the globe of eggs. It is hard work.
The whole thing totters, the floor collapses, heavy with sand. The
Tarantula, by a movement of her legs, casts these soiled shreds aside.
She pulls with her fangs and sweeps with her broom-like legs, till she
has pulled away her bag of eggs.

It is like a white-silk pill, soft and sticky to the touch, as big
as an average cherry. If you look closely, you will notice, running
horizontally around the middle, a fold which a needle is able to raise
without breaking it. This is the edge of the circular mat, drawn over
the lower half of the bag. The upper half, through which the young
Tarantulas will go out, is less well protected: its only wrapper is the
silk spun over the eggs immediately after they were laid.

Inside, there is nothing but the eggs: no mattress, no soft eider down,
like that of the Banded Spider. This Tarantula has no need to guard her
eggs against the weather, for the hatching will take place long before
the cold weather comes.

The mother has been busy the whole morning over her bag. Now she is
tired. She embraces her dear pill and remains motionless. I shall see
her no more to-day. Next morning I find the Spider carrying her bag of
eggs slung behind her.

For three weeks and more the Tarantula trails the bag of eggs hanging
to her spinnerets. When she comes up from her shaft to lean upon
the curb and bask in the sun, when she suddenly retires underground
in the face of danger, and when she is roaming the country before
settling down, she never lets go her precious bag, though it is a
very inconvenient burden in walking, climbing or leaping. If, by some
accident, it become detached from the fastening to which it is hung,
she flings herself madly on her treasure and lovingly embraces it,
ready to bite the person who would take it from her. She restores the
pill to its place with a quick touch of her spinnerets, and strides
off, still threatening.

Towards the end of summer, every morning, as soon as the sun is hot,
the Tarantulas come up from the bottom of their burrows with their bags
and station themselves at the opening. Earlier in the season they have
taken long naps on the threshold in the sun in the middle of the day;
but now they ascend for a different reason. Before, the Tarantula came
out into the sun for her own sake. Leaning on the parapet, she had the
front half of her body outside the pit and the back half inside. Her
eyes took their fill of light; the body remained in the dark. When
carrying her egg-bag the Spider reverses her position: the front is
in the pit, the rear outside. With her hind-legs she holds the white
pill, bulging with germs, lifted above the entrance; gently she turns
and re-turns it, so as to present every side to the life-giving rays of
the sun. And this goes on for half the day, as long as the temperature
is high; and it is repeated daily, with exquisite patience, during
three or four weeks. To hatch its eggs, the bird covers them with the
quilt of its breast; it strains them to the furnace of its heart. The
Tarantula turns hers in front of the hearth of hearths: she gives them
the sun as an incubator.


[Illustration]

THE TARANTULA’S BABIES

In the early days of September, the young ones, who have been some time
hatched, are ready to come out. The pill rips open along the middle
fold. We have read of this fold. Does the mother, feeling the brood
quicken inside the satin wrapper, herself break open the vessel at the
right moment? It seems probable. On the other hand, it may burst of
itself, as does the Banded Spider’s balloon, a tough wallet which opens
a breach of its own accord, long after the mother has ceased to exist.

As they come out of the pill, the little Tarantulas, to the number of
about a couple of hundred, clamber on the mother Tarantula’s back and
there sit motionless, jammed close together, forming a sort of bark of
mingled legs and bodies. The mother cannot be recognized under this
live cloak. When the hatching is over, the wallet is loosened from the
spinnerets and cast aside as a worthless rag.

The little ones are very good: none stirs, none tries to get more room
for himself at his neighbor’s expense. What are they doing there, so
quietly? They allow themselves to be carted about, like the young of
the Opossum. Whether she sit in long meditation at the bottom of her
den, or come to the opening, in mild weather, to bask in the sun, the
Tarantula never throws off her greatcoat of swarming youngsters until
the fine season comes.

If, in the middle of winter, in January, or February, I happen, out in
the fields, to ransack the Spider’s dwelling, after the rain, snow,
and frost have battered it and, as a rule, destroyed the curb at
the entrance, I always find her at home, still full of vigor, still
carrying her family. This upbringing of her youngsters on her back
lasts five or six months at least, without interruption. The celebrated
American carrier, the Opossum, who lets her children go after a few
weeks’ carting, cuts a poor figure beside the Tarantula.

[Illustration: “Does she help them to regain their place on her back?”]

What do the little ones eat on their mother’s spine? Nothing, so far as
I know. I do not see them grow larger. I find them, when they finally
leave to shift for themselves, just as they were when they left the bag.

During the bad season, the mother herself eats very little. At long
intervals she accepts, in my jars, a belated Locust, whom I have
captured, for her benefit, in the sunnier nooks. In order to keep
herself in condition, as she is when she is dug up in the course of my
winter excavations, she must therefore sometimes break her fast and
come out in search of prey, without, of course, discarding her live
cloak of youngsters.

The expedition has its dangers. The little Spiders may be brushed off
by a blade of grass. What becomes of them when they have a fall? Does
the mother give them a thought? Does she help them to regain their
place on her back? Not at all. The affection of a Spider’s heart,
divided among some hundreds, can spare but a very feeble portion to
each. The Tarantula hardly troubles, whether one youngster fall from
his place, or six, or all of them. She waits quietly for the victims of
the mishap to get out of their own difficulty, which they do for that
matter, and very nimbly.

I sweep the whole family from the back of one of my boarders with a
hair-pencil. Not a sign of emotion, not an attempt at search on the
part of the mother. After trotting about a little on the sand, the
dislodged youngsters find, these here, those there, one or another
of the mother’s legs, spread wide in a circle. By means of these
climbing-poles they swarm to the top, and soon the group on the
mother’s back resumes its original form. Not one of the lot is missing.
The Tarantula’s sons know their trade as acrobats to perfection: the
mother need not trouble her head about their fall.


[Illustration]

A MEAL OF SUNSHINE

Does the Tarantula at least feed the youngsters who, for seven months,
swarm upon her back? Does she invite them to the party when she has
captured a prize? I thought so at first; and I gave special attention
to watching the mothers eat. Usually, the prey is devoured out of
sight, in the burrow; but sometimes a meal is taken on the threshold,
in the open air. Well, I see then that while the mother eats, the
youngsters do not budge from their camping ground on her back. Not one
quits its place or gives a sign of wishing to slip down and join in the
meal. Nor does the mother invite them to come and refresh themselves,
or put any left-over food aside for them. She feeds and the others look
on, or rather remain indifferent to what is happening. Their perfect
quiet during the Tarantula’s feast is a proof that they are not hungry.

Then what do they live upon, during their seven months’ upbringing on
the mother’s back? One thinks of their absorbing nourishment from their
mother’s skin. We must give up this notion. Never are they seen to put
their mouths to it. And the Tarantula, far from being exhausted and
shriveling, keeps perfectly well and plump; she even puts on flesh.

Once more, with what do the little ones keep up their strength? We
do not like to suggest that they are still living on the food they
received in the egg, especially when we consider that they must use the
energy drawn from this food to produce silk, a material of the highest
importance, of which a plentiful use will be made presently. There must
be other powers at play in the tiny animal’s machinery.

We could understand their not needing anything to eat if they did not
move; complete quiet is not life. But the young Spiders, although
usually quiet on their mother’s back, are at all times ready for
exercise and for agile swarming. When they fall from the mother’s
baby-carriage, they briskly pick themselves up, briskly scramble
up a leg and make their way to the top. It is a splendidly nimble
and spirited performance. Besides, once seated, they have to keep a
firm balance; they have to stretch and stiffen their little limbs in
order to hang on to their neighbors. As a matter of fact, there is no
absolute rest for them.

Now physiology teaches us that not a muscle works without using up
energy. The animal is like a machine; it must renew its body, which
wears out with movement, and it must have something to make heat, which
is turned into action. We can compare it with the locomotive-engine.
As the iron horse does its work, it gradually wears out its pistons,
its rods, its wheels, its boiler-tubes, all of which have to be made
good from time to time. The foundry-man and the blacksmith repair it,
supply it with new parts; it is as if they were giving it food to renew
itself. But, although it be brand-new, it cannot move until the stoker
shovels some coal into its inside and sets fire to it. This coal is
like energy-producing food; it makes the engine work.

Things are just the same with the animal. Since nothing is made from
nothing, the little new-born animal is made from the food there was
in the egg. This is tissue-forming food which increases the body, up
to a certain point, and renews it as it wears away. But it must have
heat-food, or energy-food, too. Then the animal will walk, run, jump,
swim, fly, or move in any one of a thousand manners.

To return to the young Spiders: they grow no larger until after they
leave their mother. At the age of seven months they are the same as at
birth. The egg supplied the food necessary for their tiny frames; and
they do not need more tissue-forming food as long as they do not grow.
This we can understand. But where do they get the energy-food that
makes them able to move about so actively?

Here is an idea. What is coal, the energy-food of the locomotive? It is
the fossil remains of trees which, ages ago, drank the sunlight with
their leaves. Coal is really stored-up sunlight and the locomotive,
devouring it, is devouring sunlight.

Beasts of flesh and blood act no otherwise. Whether they eat one
another or plants, they always live on the stimulant of the sun’s heat,
a heat stored in grass, fruit, seed, and those which feed on such. The
sun, the soul of the universe, is the supreme giver of energy.

Instead of being served up in food and being digested through the
stomach, could not this sun-energy enter the animal directly and charge
it with activity, just as the electric battery charges an accumulator
with power? Why not live on sun, seeing that, after all, we find
nothing but sun in the fruits which we eat?

The chemists say they are going to feed us some day on artificial
food-stuffs put up in drug-stores. Perhaps the laboratory and the
factory will take the place of the farm. Why should not physical
science do as well? It would leave to the chemist the preparation of
tissue-forming food; it would give us energy-food. With the help of
some ingenious apparatus, it would pump into us our daily supply of
sun-energy, to be later spent in movement, so that we could keep going
without eating at all. What a delightful world, where one would lunch
off a ray of sunshine!

Are we dreaming, or will something like this happen some day? It is
worth while surely for the scientists to think about it.


[Illustration]

THE FLIGHT OF THE BABY TARANTULAS

As the month of March comes to an end, the mother Tarantula is outside
her burrow, squatting on the parapet at the entrance. It is time for
the youngsters to leave her. She lets them do as they please, seeming
perfectly indifferent to what is happening.

The departure begins during glorious weather, in the hottest hours of
the morning. First these, then those, of the little ones, according
as they feel themselves soaked with sunshine, leave the mother in
batches, run about for a moment on the ground, and then quickly reach
the trellis-work of the cage in my laboratory, which they climb with
surprising quickness. They all make for the heights, though their
mother is accustomed to stay on the solid ground. There is an upright
ring at the top of the cage. The youngsters hurry to it. They hang out
threads across the opening; they stretch others from the ring to the
nearest points of the trellis-work. On these foot-bridges they perform
slack-rope exercises. The tiny legs open out from time to time as
though to reach the most distant points. I begin to realize that they
wish to go higher.

I top the trellis with a branch as high again. The little Spiders
hastily scramble up it, reach the tip of the topmost twigs and from
there send out threads that fasten themselves to every surrounding
object. These are suspension-bridges; and my beasties nimbly run along
them, incessantly passing to and fro. They seem to wish to climb still
higher.

I take a nine-foot reed, with tiny branches spreading right up to the
top, and place it above the cage. The little Tarantulas clamber to
the very summit. Here they send out longer threads, which are left to
float, and which again form bridges when their loose ends touch some
object. The rope-dancers embark upon them and form garlands which the
least breath of air swings daintily. One cannot see the threads at all
unless they come between the eyes and the sun; the Spiders look as if
they were dancing in the air.

Then, suddenly, shaken by the air-currents, the delicate mooring breaks
and flies through space. Behold the little Spiders fly off and away,
hanging to their threads! If the wind be favorable, they can land at
great distances.

The bands of little Spiders keep on leaving thus for a week or two,
if the weather is fine. On cloudy days, none dreams of going. The
travelers need the kisses of the sun, which give them energy and vigor.

At last, the whole family has disappeared, carried afar by its
flying-ropes. The mother is alone. The loss of her children hardly
seems to distress her. She goes on with her hunting with greater
energy, now that she is not hampered with her coat of little ones. She
will have other families, become a grandmother and a great-grandmother,
for the Tarantulas live several years.

In this species of Tarantula, as we have seen, a sudden instinct
arises in the young ones, to disappear, as promptly and forever, a few
hours later. This is the climbing-instinct, which is unknown to the
older Tarantula and soon forgotten by the young ones, who alight upon
the ground and wander there for many a long day before they begin to
build their burrows. Neither of them dreams of climbing to the top of
a grass-stalk. Yet here we have the young Tarantula, wishing to leave
her mother and to travel far away by the easiest and swiftest methods,
suddenly becoming an enthusiastic climber. We know her object. From on
high, finding a wide space beneath her, she sends a thread floating.
It is caught by the wind, and carries her hanging to it. We have our
aeroplanes; she too possesses her flying-machine. She makes it in her
hour of need, and when the journey is finished thinks no more about it.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XX

THE CLOTHO SPIDER


Prettily shaped and clad, as far as a Spider can be, the Clotho Spider
is, above all, a very clever spinstress. She is named after the Clotho
of antiquity, the youngest of the Three Fates, who holds the distaff
whence our destinies are spun. It is a pity that the Fate Clotho cannot
spin as soft lives for us as the exquisite silk the Spider Clotho spins
for herself!

If we would make the acquaintance of the Clotho Spider we must go up
the rocky slopes in the olive-land, scorched and blistered by the sun,
turn over the flat stones, those of a fair size, search, above all,
the piles which the shepherds set up for a seat from which to watch
the sheep browsing amongst the lavender below. Do not be too easily
disheartened if you do not find her at first. The Clotho is rare; not
every spot suits her. If we are lucky, we shall see, clinging to the
lower surface of the stone which we have lifted, a queer-looking thing,
shaped like the dome of a building turned upside down, and about half
the size of a tangerine orange. The outside is hung with small shells,
bits of earth, and, especially, dried insects.

[Illustration]

The edge of the dome is scalloped into a dozen pointed scallops, the
points of which spread and are fixed to the stone. A flat roof closes
the top of the dwelling.

Where is the entrance? All the arches of the edge open upon the roof;
not one leads inside. Yet the owner of the house must go out from time
to time, if only in search of food; on returning from her expedition,
she must go in again. How does she make her exits and her entrances? A
straw will tell us the secret.

Pass it over the threshold of the various arches. It finds them all
carefully closed, apparently. But one of the scallops, if cleverly
coaxed, opens at the edge into two lips and stands slightly ajar. This
is the door, which at once shuts again of its own elasticity. Nor is
this all: the Spider, when she returns home, often bolts herself in;
that is to say, she joins and fastens the two leaves of the door with a
little silk.

The Clotho, when in danger, runs quickly home; she opens the chink
with a touch of her claw, enters and disappears. The door closes of
itself and is supplied, in case of need, with a lock consisting of a
few threads. No burglar, on the outside of so many arches, one and all
alike, will ever discover under which one the fugitive vanished so
suddenly.

Let us open the Spider’s cabin. What luxury! We have read how the
Princess in the fairy-tale was unable to rest, if there was a crumpled
rose-leaf in her bed. The Clotho is quite as fastidious. Her couch is
more delicate than swan’s-down and whiter than the fleece of clouds
where brood the summer storms. It is the ideal blanket. Above is a
canopy or tester of equal softness. Between the two nestles the Spider,
short-legged, clad in somber garments, with five yellow favors on her
back.

Rest in this exquisite retreat demands that it be perfectly steady,
especially on gusty days, when sharp draughts creep under the stone
dwelling. By taking a careful look at her we can see how the Spider
manages this. The arches that bear the weight of the building are
fastened to the stone at each end. Moreover, where they touch, you may
see a cluster of diverging threads that creep along the stone and cling
to it throughout their length, which spreads afar. I have measured some
that were fully nine feet long. These are so many cables; they are like
the ropes and pegs that hold the Arab’s tent in position.

Another detail attracts our attention: whereas the inside of the house
is exquisitely clean, the outside is covered with dirt, bits of earth,
chips of rotten wood, little pieces of gravel. Often there are worse
things still: hung up or embedded are the dry carcasses of Beetles that
favor under-rock shelters; parts of Thousand-legged Worms, bleached by
the sun; snail-shells, chosen from among the smallest.

These relics are plainly, for the most part, table-leavings, broken
victuals. Unskilled in laying traps, the Clotho lives upon the insects
who wander from one stone to another. Whoever ventures under the slab
at night is strangled by the hostess; and the dried-up carcass, instead
of being flung to a distance, is hung to the silken wall, as though
the Spider wished to make a bogey-house of her home. But this cannot
be her aim. To act like the ogre who hangs his victim from the castle
battlements is the worst way to disarm suspicion in the passers-by whom
you are lying in wait to capture.

There are other reasons which increase our doubts. The shells hung up
are most often empty; but there are also some occupied by the Snail,
alive and untouched. What can the Spider do with these snail-shells
wherein the animal retreats so far that she cannot reach it? The
Spider cannot break the hard shell or get at the hermit through the
opening. Then why should she collect these prizes, whose slimy flesh
is probably not to her taste? We begin to suspect a simple question
of ballast and balance. The House Spider prevents her web, spun in a
corner of the wall, from losing its shape at the least breath of air,
by loading it with crumbling plaster and allowing tiny fragments of
mortar to accumulate. The Clotho Spider dumps down on her abode any
more or less heavy object, mainly corpses of insects, because she need
not look for these and finds them ready to hand after each meal. They
are weights, not trophies; they take the place of materials that must
otherwise be collected from a distance and lifted to the top. In this
way, a breastwork is obtained that strengthens and steadies the house.
Further balance is often given by tiny shells and other objects hanging
a long way down. The Clotho knows the laws of balancing; by means of
additional weights, she is able to lower the center of gravity and thus
to give her dwelling the proper equilibrium and roominess.

Now what does she do in her softly-wadded home? Nothing, that I know
of. With a full stomach, her legs luxuriously stretched over the down
carpet, she does nothing, thinks of nothing; she listens to the sound
of the earth revolving on its axis. It is not sleep, still less is it
waking; it is a middle state where the Spider is conscious of nothing
except that she is happy. We ourselves, when comfortably in bed, enjoy,
just before we fall asleep, a few moments of bliss, when we neither
think nor worry; and those moments are among the sweetest in our lives.
The Clotho Spider seems to know similar moments and to make the most of
them.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXI

THE SPIDER’S TELEGRAPH-WIRE


Of the six Garden Spiders I have noticed, two only, the Banded and the
Silky Spiders, stay constantly in their webs, even under the blinding
rays of a fierce sun. The others, as a rule, do not show themselves
until nightfall. At some distance from the net they have a rough and
ready retreat in the brambles, a hiding-place made of a few leaves held
together by stretched threads. It is here that they usually remain in
the daytime, motionless and sunk in meditation.

But the shrill light that vexes them is the joy of the fields. At
such time, the Locust hops more nimbly than ever, more gayly skims
the Dragon-fly. Besides, the sticky web, in spite of the rents
suffered during the night, is still in fairly good condition. If some
giddy-pated insect allow himself to be caught, will the Spider, at the
distance whereto she has retired, be unable to take advantage of the
windfall? Never fear. She arrives in a flash. How does she know what
has happened? Let us explain the matter.

It is the vibration of the web which tells her, rather than the sight
of the captured object. To prove this, I laid upon several Spiders’
webs a dead Locust. I placed the Locust where the Spider might have
plainly seen it. Sometimes the Spider was in her web, and sometimes
she was outside, in her hiding-place. In both cases, nothing happened
at first. The Spider remained motionless, even when the Locust was at
a short distance in front of her. She did not seem to see the game at
all. Then, with a long straw, I set the dead insect trembling.

That was quite enough. The Banded Spider and the Silky Spider hastened
to the central floor, the others, who were in hiding, came down from
the branch; all went to the Locust, bound him with tape, treated him,
in short, as they would treat a live prey captured under the usual
conditions. It took the shaking of the web to decide them to attack.

If we look carefully behind the web of any Spider with a daytime
hiding-place, we shall see a thread that starts from the center of the
web and reaches the place where the Spider lurks. It is joined to the
web at the central point only. Its length is usually about twenty-two
inches, but the Angular Spider, settled high up in the trees, has shown
me some as long as eight or nine feet.

[Illustration: “The slanting cord is a telegraph wire.”]

This slanting line is a foot-bridge by which the Spider hurries to her
web when there is something going on there, and then, when her errand
is finished, returns to her hut. But that is not all it is. If it were,
the foot-bridge would be fastened to the upper end of the web. The
journey would then be shorter and the slope less steep.

The line starts from the center of the net because that is the place
where the spokes meet and therefore where the vibration from any part
of the net is best felt. Anything that moves upon the web sets it
shaking. All then that is needed is a thread going from this central
point to carry to a distance the news of a prey struggling in some part
or other of the net. The slanting cord is not only a foot-bridge: it is
a signaling-apparatus, a telegraph-wire.

In their youth, the Garden Spiders, who are then very wide-awake, know
nothing of the art of telegraphy. Only the old Spiders, meditating or
dozing in their green tent, are warned from afar, by telegraph, of what
takes place on the net.

To save herself from keeping a close watch that would be drudgery and
to remain alive to events even when resting, with her back turned on
the net, the hidden Spider always has her foot upon the telegraph-wire.
Here is a true story to prove it.

An Angular Spider has spun her web between two laurestine-shrubs,
covering a width of nearly a yard. The sun beats upon the snare, which
is abandoned long before dawn. The Spider is in her day house, a resort
easily discovered by following the telegraph-wire. It is a vaulted
chamber of dead leaves, joined together with a few bits of silk. The
refuge is deep: the Spider disappears in it entirely, all but her
rounded hind-quarters, which bar the entrance.

With her front half plunged into the back of her hut, the Spider
certainly cannot see her web; she could not even if she had good sight,
instead of being half blind as she is. Does she give up hunting during
this period of bright sunlight? Not at all. Look again.

Wonderful! One of her hind-legs is stretched outside the leafy cabin;
and the signaling-thread ends just at the tip of that leg. Whoever
has not seen the Spider in this attitude, with her hand, so to speak,
on the telegraph-receiver, knows nothing of one of the most curious
examples of animal cleverness. Let any game appear upon the scene,
and the slumberer, at once aroused by means of the leg receiving the
vibrations, hastens up. A Locust whom I myself lay on the web gives her
this agreeable shock, and what follows? If she is satisfied with her
prey, I am still more satisfied with what I have learned.

One word more. The web is often shaken by the wind. The signaling-cord
must pass this vibration to the Spider. Nevertheless, she does not
leave her hut and remains indifferent to the commotion prevailing in
the net. Her line, therefore, is something better than a bell-rope; it
is a telephone capable, like our own, of transmitting infinitesimal
waves of sound. Clutching her telephone-wire with a toe, the Spider
listens with her leg; she can tell the difference between the vibration
proceeding from a prisoner and the mere shaking caused by the wind.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXII

THE CRAB-SPIDER


The Banded Spider, who works so hard to give her eggs a wonderfully
perfect dwelling-house, becomes, after that, careless of her family.
For what reasons? She lacks the time. She has to die when the first
cold comes, whereas the eggs are to pass the winter in their cozy home.
She cannot help deserting the nest. But, if the hatching were earlier
and took place in the Spider’s life, I imagine that she would be as
devoted to her family as a Bird is. So I gather from the behavior of a
shapely Spider who weaves no webs, lies in wait for her prey, and walks
sideways, like a Crab.

This Spider with the Crab-like figure does not know how to make nets
for catching game. Without springs or snares, she lies hidden among the
flowers, and waits for the arrival of the prey, which she kills by a
scientific stab in the neck. The particular species I have observed is
passionately fond of the pursuit of the Domestic Bee.

The Bee appears, seeking no quarrel, intent upon plunder. She tests
the flowers with her tongue; she chooses a spot that will yield a good
return. Soon she is wrapped up in her harvesting. While she is filling
her baskets and distending her crop, the Crab-spider, that bandit
lurking under cover of the flowers, comes out of her hiding-place,
creeps round behind the bustling insect, steals up close, and, with a
sudden rush, nabs her in the nape of the neck. In vain the Bee protests
and darts her sting at random; the assailant does not let go.

Besides, the bite in the neck is paralyzing, because the nerve-centers
are affected. The poor thing’s legs stiffen; and all is over in a
second. The murderess Spider now sucks the victim’s blood at her ease
and, when she has done, scornfully flings the drained corpse aside.

We shall see the cruel vampire become a model of devotion where her
family is concerned. The ogre loved his children; he ate the children
of others. Under the tyranny of hunger, we are all of us, beasts and
men alike, ogres.

After all, this cutter of Bees’ throats is a pretty, a very pretty
creature, in spite of her unwieldy body fashioned like a squat pyramid
and embossed on the base, on either side, with a pimple shaped like a
camel’s hump. The skin, more pleasing to the eye than any satin, is
milk-white in some, in others lemon-yellow. There are fine ladies among
them who adorn their legs with a number of pink bracelets and their
backs with crimson patterns. A narrow, pale-green ribbon sometimes
edges the right and left of the breast. The costume is not so rich
as that of the Banded Spider, but much more elegant because of its
soberness, its daintiness, and the artistic blending of its colors.
People who shrink from touching any other Spider do not fear to handle
the beautiful Crab Spider, so gentle in appearance.


[Illustration]

THE CRAB-SPIDER’S NEST

Skillful in the prompt despatch of her prey, the little Crab-spider
is no less clever in the nesting art. I find her settled on a privet
in the inclosure. Here, in the heart of a cluster of flowers, the
luxurious creature plaits a little pocket of white satin, shaped like a
wee thimble. It is the receptacle for the eggs. A round, flat lid, of a
felted fabric, closes the mouth.

Above this ceiling rises a dome of stretched threads and faded
flowerets which have fallen from the cluster. This is the watcher’s
conning-tower. An opening, which is always free, gives access to this
post.

Here the Spider remains on constant duty. She has thinned greatly since
she laid her eggs, has almost lost her figure. At the least alarm,
she sallies forth, waves a threatening limb at the passing stranger
and invites him, with a gesture, to keep his distance. Having put the
intruder to flight, she quickly returns indoors.

And what does she do in there, under her arch of withered flowers and
silk? Night and day, she shields the precious eggs with her poor body
spread out flat. Eating is neglected. No more lying in wait, no more
Bees drained to the last drop of blood. Motionless, rapt in meditation,
the Spider is sitting on her eggs.

The brooding Hen does likewise, but she is also a heating-apparatus
and, with the gentle warmth of her body, awakens the germs to life. For
the Spider, the heat of the sun is enough; and this alone keeps me from
saying that she “broods.”

For two or three weeks, the little Spider, more and more wrinkled by
lack of food, never relaxes her position. What is the withered thing
waiting for, before expiring? She is waiting for her children to
emerge; the dying creature is still of use to them.

When the Banded Spider’s little ones come out from their balloon, they
have long been orphans. There is none to come to their assistance;
and they have not the strength to free themselves without help. The
balloon has to split automatically and to scatter the youngsters and
their flossy mattress all mixed up together. The Crab-spider’s wallet,
sheathed in leaves over the greater part of its surface, never bursts;
nor does the lid rise, so carefully is it sealed down. Nevertheless,
after the delivery of the brood, we see, at the edge of the lid, a
small, gaping hole, an exit-window. Who contrived this window, which
was not there at first?

The fabric is too thick and tough to have yielded to the twitches of
the feeble little prisoners. It was the mother, therefore, who, feeling
her offspring shuffle impatiently under the silken ceiling, herself
made a hole in the bag. She persists in living for five or six weeks,
despite her shattered health, so as to give a last helping hand and
open the door for her family. After performing this duty, she gently
lets herself die, hugging her nest and turning into a shriveled relic.
The Hen does not reach this height of unselfishness!


[Illustration]

THE YOUNG CRAB-SPIDERS

It is in July that some little Crab-spiders that I have in my
laboratory come out of their eggs. Knowing their acrobatic habits, I
have placed a bundle of slender twigs at the top of the cage in which
they were born. All of them pass through the wire gauze and form a
group on the summit of the brushwood, where they swiftly weave a roomy
lounge of criss-cross threads. Here they stay, pretty quietly, for a
day or two; then foot-bridges begin to be flung from one object to the
next. This is the fortunate moment.

I put the bunch laden with beasties on a small table, in the shade,
before the open window. Soon they begin to spin threads to carry them
away, but slowly and unsteadily. They hesitate, go back, fall short at
the end of a thread, climb up again. In short, much trouble for a poor
result.

As matters continue to drag, it occurs to me, at eleven o’clock, to
take the bundle of brushwood swarming with the little Spiders, all
eager to be off, and place it on the window-sill, in the glare of the
sun. After a few minutes of heat and light, things move much faster.
The little Spiders run to the top of the twigs, bustle about actively.
I cannot see them manufacturing the ropes or sending them floating at
the mercy of the air; but I guess their presence.

Three or four Spiders start at a time, each going her own way. All are
moving upwards, all are climbing some support, as can be told by the
nimble motion of their legs. Moreover, you can see the thread behind
them, where it is of double thickness. Then, at a certain height,
individual movement ceases. The tiny animal soars in space and shines,
lit up by the sun. Softly it sways, then suddenly takes flight.

What has happened? There is a slight breeze outside. The floating cable
has snapped and the creature has gone off, borne on its parachute.
I see it drifting away, showing, like a spot of light, against the
dark foliage of the near cypresses, some forty feet distant. It rises
higher, it crosses over the cypress-screen, it disappears. Others
follow, some higher, some lower, hither and thither.

[Illustration: “Like the finish of a fireworks display.”]

But the throng has finished its preparations; the hour has come to
disperse in swarms. We now see, from the crest of the brushwood, a
continuous spray of starters, who shoot up like tiny rockets and mount
in a spreading cluster. In the end, it is like the bouquet at the
finish of a fireworks display, the sheaf of rockets fired all at once.
The comparison is correct down to the dazzling light itself. Flaming in
the sun like so many gleaming points, the little Spiders are the sparks
of that living fireworks. What a glorious send-off! What an entrance
into the world!

Sooner or later, nearer or farther, the fall comes. To live, we have to
descend, often very low, alas! The Spiderling, therefore, touches land.
The parachute tempers her fall. She is not hurt.

The rest of her story escapes me. What infinitely tiny Midges does she
capture before possessing the strength to stab her Bee? What are the
methods, what the wiles of atom contending with atom? I know not. We
shall find her again in spring, grown quite large and crouching among
the flowers whence the Bee takes toll.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXIII

THE LABYRINTH SPIDER


While the Garden Spiders are incomparable weavers, many other Spiders
have even more ingenious devices for catching game. Some of them are
real celebrities, who are mentioned in all the books.

Certain Bird Spiders, or American Tarantulas, live in a burrow like
the Tarantula I have been telling you about, but their burrow is more
perfect than hers. My Tarantula surrounds the mouth of her hole with a
simple curb, a mere collection of tiny pebbles, sticks, and silk; the
American ones fix a movable floor to theirs, a round shutter with a
hinge, a groove, and a set of bolts. When one of these Tarantulas comes
home, the lid drops into the groove and fits so exactly one cannot tell
where it joins. If any one from outside tries to raise the trap-door,
the Spider pushes the bolt,—that is to say, plants her claws into
certain holes on the opposite side to the hinge,—props herself against
the wall, and holds the door firmly.

Another, the Water Spider, builds herself an elegant silken
diving-bell, in which she stores air. She waits in it for the coming
of game and keeps cool meanwhile. On scorching hot days, hers must
be a real palace of luxury, such as men have sometimes ventured to
build under water, with mighty blocks of stone and marble. Tiberius,
the wicked Roman Emperor, had such a submarine palace; but his is
only a hateful memory, whereas the Water Spider’s dainty tower still
flourishes.

If I had had the chance to observe these Spiders, I should gladly add
a few unpublished facts to their life-history; but I must give up
the idea. The Water Spider is not found in my district. The American
Tarantula, the expert in hinged doors, I saw once only, by the side of
a path. I was occupied with something else, and did not give it more
than a passing glance. I have never seen it again.

But it is not only the uncommon insects that are worth attention.
The common ones, if carefully observed, can tell us things just as
important. I am interested in the Labyrinth Spider, which I find
oftener than any other in the fields. Several times a week, in July,
I go to study my Spiders on the spot, early in the morning, before
the sun beats fiercely on one’s neck. The children come with me, each
provided with an orange in case they get thirsty.

We soon discover high silk buildings, the threads beaded with dew and
glittering in the sun. The children are wonderstruck at those glorious
chandeliers, so that they even forget their oranges for a moment. I am
not indifferent to them, either. Our Spider’s labyrinth is a splendid
spectacle. That and the concert of the Thrushes are worth getting up
for.

Half an hour’s heat, and the magic jewels disappear with the dew. Now
is the time to look at the webs. Here is one spreading its sheet over
a large cluster of rock-roses; it is the size of a handkerchief. Many
guy-ropes moor it to the brushwood. It covers the bush like a piece of
white muslin.

The web is flat at the edges and gradually hollows into a crater, not
unlike the bell of a hunting-horn. At the center is a funnel whose
neck, narrowing by degrees, is eight or nine inches deep and leads back
into the leafy thicket.

At the entrance to the tube sits the Spider, who looks at us and shows
no great excitement at our presence. She is gray, modestly adorned on
the thorax with two black ribbons and on the abdomen with two stripes
in which white specks alternate with brown. She has a sort of double
tail at the end of her body, a rather curious feature in a Spider.

I expected to find, at the bottom of the Spider’s funnel, a wadded cell
where she might rest in her hours of leisure. On the contrary, there is
only a sort of door, which stands always ajar so that the Spider may
escape at any time through the grass and gain the open.

Above, in the Spider’s web, there is a forest of ropes. It might be the
rigging of a ship disabled by a storm. They run from every twig of the
supporting boughs, they are fastened to the tip of every branch. There
are long ropes and short ropes, upright and slanting, straight and
bent, taut and slack, all criss-cross and a-tangle, to the height of
three feet or so. The whole makes a chaos of netting, a real labyrinth
which none but the very strongest insects can break through.

There is nothing like the sticky snare of the Garden Spiders here. The
threads are not sticky, but they are very bewildering. See this small
Locust who has lighted on the rigging. He is unable to get a steady
foothold on that shaky support; he flounders about; and the more he
struggles, the more he is entangled. The Spider, looking at him from
her funnel, lets him have his way. She does not run up the ropes; she
waits until the desperate prisoner in his struggles falls on the main
part of the web.

Then she comes, flings herself upon her prey, and slowly drains his
blood. The Locust is lifeless at the first bite; the Spider’s poison
has settled him.

When laying-time is at hand, the Spider changes her residence; she
leaves her web, which is still in excellent condition; she does not
come back to it. The time has come to make the nest. But where? The
Spider knows well; I am in the dark. I spend whole mornings ransacking
the bushes, until at last I learn the secret. The nest is some distance
away from the web, in a low, thick cluster of bushes; it is a clumsy
bundle of dead leaves, roughly drawn together with silk threads. Under
this rude covering is a pouch of fine texture containing the egg-casket.

[Illustration]

I am disappointed in the appearance of this Spider’s nest, until I
remember that she probably cannot do better in the places where she
builds. In the midst of a dense thicket, among a tangle of dead leaves
and twigs, there is no room for an elegant piece of work. By way of
experiment, I carry half a dozen Labyrinth Spiders into my laboratory
near the laying-time, place them in large wire-gauze cages, standing
in earthen pans filled with sand, with a sprig of thyme planted in the
center to give a support for each nest. Now they will show what they
can do.

The experiment works perfectly. By the end of August I have six nests,
magnificent in shape and of a dazzling whiteness. The Spiders have
had elbow-room, and they have done their best. The nests are ovals
of exquisite white muslin, nearly as large as a Hen’s egg. They are
open at either end. The front-entrance broadens into a gallery; the
back-entrance tapers into a funnel-neck. It is somewhat the same
construction as that of the Labyrinth web. Even the labyrinth is
repeated, for in front of the bell-shaped mouth is a tangle of threads.
The Spider has her pattern by heart, and uses it on all occasions.

This palace of silk is a guard-house. Behind the soft, milky,
partly transparent wall glimmers the egg-casket, its shape vaguely
suggesting the star of some order of knighthood. It is a large pocket,
of a splendid dead-white, with pillars on every side which keep it
motionless in the center of the nest. There are about ten of these
pillars; they are slender in the middle and wider at both ends. They
form corridors around the central room. The mother walks gravely to and
fro under the arches of these corridors, which are like the cloisters
of a nunnery; she stops first here, then there; she listens to all
that happens inside the satin wrapper of her egg-wallet. I would not
disturb her for anything; but I find, from nests I have picked up in
the fields, that the purse contains about a hundred eggs, very pale
amber-yellow beads.

When I remove the outer white-satin wall, I come upon a kernel of
earthy matter, grains of sand mixed with the silk. However did they
get there? Did they soak through the rain-water? No, the wrapper is
spotless white outside. They have been put there by the mother herself.
She has built around her eggs, to protect them from parasites, a wall
composed of a great deal of sand and a little silk.

Inside this is still another silken wrapper, and then come the little
Spiders, already hatched out and moving about in their nursery.

But, to go back—why does the mother leave her fine web when laying-time
comes, and make her nest so far away? She has her reason, you may
depend upon it. Her large net, like a sheet, with the labyrinth
stretched above, is very conspicuous; parasites will not fail to come
running at this signal, showing up against the green; if her nest is
near, they will certainly find it; and a strange grub, feasting on a
hundred new-laid eggs, will ruin her home. So the wise Labyrinth Spider
shifts her quarters, and goes off at night to explore the neighborhood
for a less dangerous retreat for her coming family. The low brambles
dragging along the ground, keeping their leaves through the winter, and
catching the dead leaves from the oaks hard by, or rosemary tufts, low
and bushy, suit her perfectly. In such spots I usually find her nest.

Many Spiders leave their nests after they have laid the eggs, but
the Labyrinth, like the Crab-spider, remains to watch over hers. She
does not become thin and wither away, like the Crab-spider. She keeps
her appetite, she is on the lookout for Locusts; and so she builds a
hunting-box, a tangle of threads, on the outside of her nest.

When she is not hunting, as we have seen, she walks the corridors
around her eggs, she listens to find out if all is well. If I shake the
nest at any point with a straw, she quickly runs up to inquire what is
happening. Probably she keeps off parasites in this way.

The Spider’s appetite for Locusts shows that she must have more to do.
Insects, unlike some human beings, eat only that they may work. When I
watch her, I find out what this work is. For nearly another month, I
see her adding layer upon layer to the walls of her nest. These were
at first semi-transparent; they become thick and opaque. This is why
the Spider eats, so that she may fill her silk-glands and make a thick
wrapper for her nest.

About the middle of September the little Spiders come out of their
eggs, but they do not leave their house, where they are to spend the
winter packed in soft wadding. The mother continues to watch and spin,
but she grows less active from day to day. She eats fewer Locusts; she
sometimes scorns those whom I myself entangle in her trap. But for four
or five months longer she keeps on making her inspection-rounds of her
egg-casket, happy at hearing the new-born Spiders swarming inside.
At last, when October ends, she clutches her children’s nursery and
dies. She has done all that a mother’s devotion can do; the special
Providence that watches over tiny animals will do the rest. When spring
comes, the youngsters will come out of their snug homes and scatter
all over the neighborhood on their floating threads, like the little
Crab-spiders you have read about.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXIV

THE BUILDING OF A SPIDER’S WEB


The smallest garden contains the Garden Spiders, all clever weavers.

Let us go every evening, step by step, from one border of tall
rosemaries to the next. Should things move too slowly, we will sit down
at the foot of the shrubs, where the light falls favorably, and watch
with unwearying attention. Let us give ourselves a title, “Inspector of
Spiders’ Webs!” There are not many people in that profession, and we
shan’t make any money by it; but never mind, we shall learn some very
interesting things.

The Spiders I watch are young ones, much slenderer than they will be in
the late autumn. They work by day, work even in the sun, whereas the
old ones weave only at night. Work starts in July, a couple of hours
before sunset.

The spinstresses of my inclosures then leave their daytime
hiding-places, choose their posts and begin to spin, one here, another
there. There are many of them; we can choose where we please. Let us
stop in front of this one, whom we surprise in the act of laying the
foundations of her web. She runs about the rosemary hedge, from the tip
of one branch to another, within the limits of some eighteen inches.
Gradually, she puts a thread in position, drawing it from her body with
the combs attached to her hind-legs. She comes and goes impetuously,
as though at random; she goes up, comes down, goes up again, dives
down again and each time strengthens the points of contact with
threads distributed here and there. The result is a sort of frame. The
shapeless structure is what she wishes; it marks out a flat, free, and
perpendicular space. This is all that is necessary.

A special thread, the foundation of the stronger net which will be
built later, is stretched across the area of the other. It can be told
from the others by its isolation, its position at a distance from any
twig that might interfere with its swaying length. It never fails to
have, in the middle, a thick white point, formed of a little silk
cushion.

The time has come to weave the hunting-snare. The Spider starts from
the center, which bears the white signpost, and, running along the
cross-thread, hurriedly reaches the circumference, that is to say, the
irregular frame inclosing the free space. Still with the same sudden
movement, she rushes from the outside to the center; she starts again
backwards and forwards, makes for the right, the left, the top, the
bottom; she hoists herself up, dives down, climbs up again, runs down
and always returns to the central landmark by roads that slant in the
most unexpected manner. Each time a radius or spoke is laid, here,
there, or elsewhere, in what looks like mad disorder.

[Illustration]

Any one looking at the finished web, so neat and regular in appearance,
would think that the Spider laid the spokes in an orderly fashion, one
after the other. She does nothing of the sort, but she knows what she
is about, all the same. After setting a few spokes in one direction,
the Spider runs across to the other side to draw some in the opposite
direction. These sudden changes have a reason; they show us how clever
the Spider is in her business. If she began by laying all the spokes on
one side, she would pull the web out of shape or even destroy it. She
must put some on the other side to balance. She is a past mistress of
the secrets of rope-building, without serving an apprenticeship.

One would think that this interrupted and apparently disordered
labor must result in a confused piece of work. Wrong: the rays are
equidistant and form a beautifully regular circle. Their number is a
characteristic mark of the different species. The Angular Epeira places
twenty-one in her web, the Banded Epeira thirty-two, the Silky Epeira
forty-two. These numbers are not absolutely fixed; but the variation is
very slight.

Now which of us would undertake, offhand, without much preliminary
experiment and without measuring-instruments, to divide a circle into a
given quantity of sectors or parts of equal width? The Garden Spider,
though weighted with a wallet and tottering on threads shaken by the
wind, performs the delicate division without stopping to think. She
achieves it by a method which seems mad according to our notions of
geometry. Out of disorder she brings order. We are amazed at the result
obtained. How does this Spider come to succeed with her difficult
problem, so strangely managed? I am still asking myself the question.

The laying of the radii or spokes is finished. The Spider takes her
place in the center, on the little cushion. Stationed on this support,
she slowly turns round and round. She is engaged on a delicate piece of
work. With an extremely thin thread, she describes from spoke to spoke,
starting from the center, a spiral line with very close coils. This is
the center of the web. I will call it the “resting-floor.”

The thread now becomes thicker. The first could hardly be seen; the
second is plainly visible. The Spider shifts her position with great
slanting strides, turns a few times, moving farther and farther from
the center, fixes her line each time to the spoke which she crosses,
and at last comes to a stop at the lower edge of the frame. She has
described a spiral with coils of rapidly-increasing width. The average
distance between the coils, even in the webs of the young Spiders, is
about one third of an inch.

This spiral is not a curved line. All curves are banished from
the Spiders’ work; nothing is used but the straight line and its
combinations. This line forms the cross-bars, or supporting rungs,
connecting the spokes, or radii.

All this is but a support for the snaring-web. Clinging on the one
hand to the radii, on the other to the cross-bars, the Spider covers
the same ground as when laying the first spiral, but in the opposite
direction: formerly, she moved away from the center; now she moves
towards it and with closer and more numerous circles. She starts from
the end of the first spiral, near the outside of the web.

What follows is hard to observe, for the movements are very quick and
jerky, consisting of a series of sudden little rushes, sways, and bends
that bewilder the eye. The two hind-legs, the weaving implements, keep
going constantly. One draws out the thread from the spinneret, and
passes it to the other, which lays it on the radius. As soon as the
radius is touched, the thread sticks to it by its own glue.

[Illustration]

The Spider, without a stop of any kind, turns and turns and turns,
drawing nearer to the center and always fixing her thread at each spoke
which she crosses. At last, at some distance from the center, on the
edge of what I have called the resting-floor, the Spider suddenly ends
her spiral. She next eats the little cushion in the center, which is a
mat of ends of saved silk. She does this to economize silk, for after
she has eaten it the cushion will be turned into silk for the next web
she spins.

Two Spiders, the Banded and the Silky, sign their work by laying a
broad white ribbon in a thick zigzag from the center to the lower edge
of the web. Sometimes they put a second band of the same shape, but a
little shorter, opposite the first, on the upper part of the web.


[Illustration]

THE STICKY SNARE

The spiral part of the Garden Spider’s web is a wonderful contrivance.
The thread that forms it may be seen with the naked eye to be different
from that of the framework and the spokes. It glitters in the sun,
and looks as though it were knotted. I cannot examine it through the
microscope outdoors because the web shakes so, but by passing a sheet
of glass under the web and lifting it I can take away a few pieces of
thread to study. The microscope now shows me an astounding sight.

Those threads, so slender as to be almost invisible, are very closely
twisted twine, something like the gold cord of officers’ sword-knots.
Moreover, they are hollow. They contain a sticky moisture resembling a
strong solution of gum arabic. I can see it trickling from the broken
ends. This moisture must ooze through the threads, making them sticky.
Indeed, they are sticky. When I lay a straw flat upon them, it adheres
at once. We see now that the Garden Spider hunts, not with springs, but
with sticky snares that catch everything, down to the dandelion-plume
that barely brushes against the web. Nevertheless, the Spider herself
is not caught in her own snare. Why?

For one thing, she spends most of her time on her resting-floor in the
middle of the web, which the spiral does not enter. The resting-floor
is not at all sticky, as I find when I pass a straw against it. But
sometimes when a victim is caught, perhaps right at the end of the web,
the Spider has to rush up quickly to bind it and overcome its attempts
to free itself. She seems to be able to walk upon her network perfectly
well then. Has she something on her feet which makes them slip over the
glue? Has she perhaps oiled them? Oil, you know, is the best thing to
prevent surfaces from sticking.

I pull out the leg of a live Spider and put it to soak for an hour in
disulphide of carbon, which dissolves fat. I wash it carefully with a
brush dipped in the same fluid. When the washing is finished, the leg
sticks to the spiral of the web! We see now that the Spider varnishes
herself with a special sweat so that she can go on any part of her web
without difficulty. However, she does not wish to remain on the spiral
too long, or the oil might wear away, so most of the time she stays on
her safe resting-floor.

This spiral thread of the Spider’s is very quick to absorb moisture,
as I find out by experiment. For this reason the Garden Spiders, when
they weave their webs in the early morning, leave that part of the work
unfinished, if the air turns misty. They build the general framework,
they lay the spokes, they make the resting-floor, for all these parts
are not affected by excess moisture; but they are very careful not to
work at the sticky spiral, which, if soaked by the fog, would dissolve
into sticky threads and lose its usefulness by being wet. The net that
was started will be finished to-morrow, if the weather is right. But on
hot days this property of the spiral is a fine thing; it does not dry
up, but absorbs all the moisture in the atmosphere and remains, at the
most scorching times of day, supple, elastic, and more and more sticky.
What bird-catcher could compete with the Garden Spider in the art of
laying snares? And all this industry and cunning for the capture of a
Moth!

Then, too, what a passion the Spider has for production. I calculated
that, in one sitting, each time that she remakes her web, the Angular
Spider produces some twenty yards of gummy thread. The more skillful
Silky Spider produces thirty. Well, during two months, the Angular
Spider, my neighbor, renewed her snare nearly every evening. During
that time she manufactured something like three quarters of a mile of
this tubular thread, rolled into a tight twist and bulging with glue.

We cannot but wonder how she ever carries so much in her little body,
how she manages to twist her silk into this tube, how she fills it with
glue! And how does she first turn out plain threads, then russet foam,
for her nest, then black stripes to adorn the nest? I see the results,
but I cannot understand the working of her factory.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXV

THE GEOMETRY OF THE SPIDER’S WEB

[This chapter, one of the most wonderful in Fabre’s books, is included
in a simplified form in this volume, on account of its interest to such
younger readers as have studied geometry.]


When we look at the webs of the Garden Spiders, especially those of the
Silky Spider and the Banded Spider, we notice first that the spokes or
radii are equally spaced; the angles formed by each consecutive pair
are of the same value; and this in spite of their number, which in the
webs of the Silky Spider sometimes exceeds forty. We know in what a
strange way the Spider weaves her web and divides the area of the web
into a large number of equal parts or sectors, a number which is almost
always the same in the work of each species of Spider. The Spider
darts here and there when laying her spokes as if she had no plan,
and this irresponsible way of working produces a beautiful web like
the rose-window in a church, a web which no designer could have drawn
better with compasses.

We shall also notice that, in each sector, the various chords, parts
of the angular spiral, are parallel to one another and gradually draw
closer together as they near the center. With the two radiating lines
that frame them they form obtuse angles on one side and acute angles on
the other; and these angles remain constant in the same sector, because
the chords are parallel.

There is more than this: these same angles, the obtuse as well as the
acute, do not alter in value, from one sector to another, as far as the
eye can judge. Taken as a whole, therefore, the spiral consists of a
series of cross-bars intersecting the several radiating lines obliquely
at angles of equal value.

By this characteristic we recognize what geometricians have named the
“logarithmic spiral.” It is famous in science. The logarithmic spiral
describes an endless number of circuits around its pole, to which it
constantly draws nearer without ever being able to reach it. We could
not see such a line, the whole of it, even with our best philosophical
instruments. It exists only in the imagination of scientists. But
the Spider knows it, and winds her spiral in the same way, and very
accurately at that.

Another property of this spiral is that if one in imagination winds
a flexible thread around it, then unwinds the thread, keeping it
taut the while, its free end will describe a spiral similar at all
points to the original. The curve will merely have changed places.
Jacques Bernouilli, the professor of mathematics who discovered this
magnificent theorem, had engraved on his tomb, as one of his proudest
titles to fame, the spiral and its double, made by the unwinding of the
thread. Written underneath it was the sentence: _Eadem mutata resurgo._
“I rise again like unto myself.” It was a splendid flight of fancy
which showed his belief in immortality.

Now is this logarithmic spiral, with its curious properties, merely an
idea of the geometricians? Is it a mere dream, an abstract riddle?

No, it is a reality in the service of life, a method of construction
often employed by animals in their architecture. The Mollusk never
makes its shell without reference to the scientific curve. The
first-born of the species knew it and put it into practice; it was as
perfect in the dawn of creation as it can be to-day.

There are perfect examples of this spiral found in the shells of
fossils. To this day, the last representative of an ancient tribe, the
Nautilus of the Southern Seas, remains faithful to the old design, and
still whirls its spiral logarithmically, as did its ancestors in the
earliest ages of the world’s existence. Even in the stagnant waters of
our grassy ditches, a tiny Shellfish, no bigger than a duckweed, rolls
its shell in the same manner. The common snail-shell is constructed
according to logarithmic laws.

[Illustration]

Where do these creatures pick up this science? We are told that the
Mollusk is descended from the Worm. One day the Worm, rendered frisky
by the sun, brandished its tail and twisted it into a corkscrew for
sheer glee. There and then the plan of the future spiral shell was
discovered.

This is what is taught quite seriously, in these days, as the very
last word in science. But the Spider will have none of this theory.
For she is not related to the Worm; and yet she is familiar with the
logarithmic spiral and uses it in her web, in a simpler form. The
Mollusk has years in which to build her spiral, so she makes it very
perfectly. The Spider has only an hour at the most to spread her net,
so she makes only a skeleton of the curve; but she knows the same
line dear to the Snail. What guides her? Nothing but an inborn skill,
whose effects the animal is no more able to control than the flower is
able to control the arrangement of its petals and stamens. The Spider
practices higher geometry without knowing or caring. The thing works of
itself and takes its way from an instinct imposed upon creation at the
start.

The stone thrown by the hand returns to earth describing a certain
curve; the dead leaf torn and wafted away by a breath of wind makes its
journey from the tree to the ground with a similar curve. The curve is
known to science and is called the “parabola.”

The geometricians speculate still more about this curve; they imagine
it rolling on an indefinite straight line and ask what course the focus
of the curve follows. The answer comes that the focus of the parabola
describes a “catenary,” a line whose algebraic symbol is so complicated
that a numeral will not express it. The nearest it can get is this
terrible sum:

1 + 1/1 + 1/(1.2) + 1/(1.2.3) + 1/(1.2.3.4) + 1/(1.2.3.4.5) + etc.

The geometricians do not attempt to refer to it by this number; they
give it a letter, _e_.

[Illustration]

Is this line imaginary? Not at all; you may see the catenary
frequently. It is the shape taken by a flexible cord when held at each
end and relaxed; it is the line that governs the shape of a sail filled
out by the wind. All this answers to the number _e_.

What a quantity of abstruse science for a bit of string! Let us not be
surprised. A pellet of shot swinging at the end of a thread, a drop of
dew trickling down a straw, a splash of water rippling under the kisses
of the air, a mere trifle, after all, becomes tremendously complicated
when we wish to examine it with the eye of calculation. We need the
club of Hercules to crush a fly.

Our methods of mathematical investigation are certainly ingenious; we
cannot too much admire the mighty brains that have invented them; but
how slow and laborious they seem when compared with the smallest actual
things! Shall we never be able to inquire into reality in a simpler
fashion? Shall we be intelligent enough some day to do without all
these heavy formulæ? Why not?

Here we have the magic number _e_ reappearing, written on a Spider’s
thread. On a misty morning the sticky threads are laden with tiny
drops, and, bending under the burden, have become so many catenaries,
so many chains of limpid gems, graceful chaplets arranged in exquisite
order and following the curve of a swing. If the sun pierce the mist,
the whole lights up with rainbow-colored fires and becomes a dazzling
cluster of diamonds. The number _e_ is in its glory.

Geometry, that is to say, the science of harmony in space, rules over
everything. We find it in the arrangement of the scales of a fir-cone,
as in the arrangement of a Spider’s sticky snare; we find it in the
spiral of a snail-shell, in the chaplet of a Spider’s thread, as in the
orbit of a planet; it is everywhere, as perfect in the world of atoms
as in the world of immensities.

And this universal geometry tells us of a Universal Geometrician,
whose divine compass has measured all things. I prefer that, as an
explanation of the logarithmic curve of the Nautilus and the Garden
Spiders, to the Worm screwing up the tip of its tail. It may not
perhaps be in agreement with some latter-day teaching, but it takes a
loftier flight.



INDEX


  Angular Spider, web of, 269, 274-275
  Ants, battle between Red and Black, 59-60
    habits of Red, or Amazon, 58-59
    sense of direction of, 60-61

  Banded Spider, eggs and young of, 207-208
    hunting habits and prey of, 199-203
    nest of, 203-206
    telegraph wire of, 242-247
  Bees, Carpenter, prey of Tarantula, 214-215
    Cotton, 85-88
    Dioxys, 47
    doorkeeping, 69-77
    Gnats as enemies of, 67-69
    home-finding instinct of, 49-50
    Leaf-cutting, 47, 78-84, 86
    Mason, 37-46
    Osmia, 47
    Resin, 89-92
    victims of Crab-spider, 248-249
    Zebra, 62-77
  Beetles, Hoplia, 192
    Truffle-hunting, 171-176
    usefulness of, about Bees’ houses, 47-48
  Birds, sense of direction of, 57-58
  Bluebottle Flies, as scavengers, 134
  Bumble-bee, prey of Tarantula, 211-212
  Butterfly, hunted by Banded Spider, 200

  Cabbage-caterpillars, 161-166
  Caddis-worms, 17
    study of, 31-32
    use of defensive sheath by, 33-34
    viewed as insect submarine, 35-36
  Carpenter-bee, fight between Tarantula and, 214-215
  Caterpillars, Cabbage, 161-166
    Pine, 135-160
    prey of Hairy Sand-wasp, 95-105
  Cats, home-finding instinct of, 52-57
    study of, 51-52
  Clotho Spider, food of, 239
    habits of, 239-241
    home of, 236-239
    origin of name, 236
  Crab-spider, described, 249-250
    eggs of, 251-252
    hunting practices of, 248-249
    nest of, 251-252
    young of, 253-256
  Crickets, prey of Yellow-winged Wasps, 106-112

  Dioxys-bee, 47
  Dog, truffle-hunting by, 171-173
  Doorkeeping Bees, 69-77
  Dragon-flies, 18
    prey of Banded Spider, 200

  Flesh-flies, Gray, as scavengers, 134
  Flies, as prey of Wasps, 113-118
    Bombylii, as parasites, 130-131
    scavenger work done by, 133-134
    Wasps preyed on by, 120-123, 131

  Gad-flies, hunted by Wasps, 113-118
  Geometry of Spider’s web, 276-283
  Glass pond, described, 28-30
  Gnats, as enemies of Bees, 67-69
    Cabbage-caterpillar victim of, 165-166
  Grasshoppers, prey of Banded Spider, 200
    prey of Tarantula, 213
  Gray Worm, hunting of, by Hairy Sand-wasp, 95-105
  Great Peacock Moth, 167-170
  Greenbottle Flies, as scavengers, 133-134

  Honey, of Cotton-bees, 88
    of Mason-bees, 37-38

  Instinct in animals compared with genius in men, 197-198

  Labyrinth Spider, habits of, 264-265
    nest of, 260-264
    web of, 259-260
    young of, 264-265
  Leeches, in pond, 18
  Locust, prey of Banded Spider, 201-203

  Microgaster, enemy of Cabbage-caterpillar, 165-166
  Midge, Cabbage-caterpillar preyed on by, 165-166
  Mole, effect of Tarantula’s poison on, 217-218
  Mollusk, curve of shell of, 278-280
  Mosquitoes, grubs of, 18
  Moths, Great Peacock, 167-170
    Pine, 157-160

  Nautilus, curve of shell of, 278-280
  Newt, orange-bellied, in pond, 17

  Parasites, insect, 125-132
  Pigeons, home-finding instinct of, 57
  Pine Caterpillars, 135-160
    cocoons and moths of, 157-160
    eggs of, 136-138
    habits of, 141-144
    procession habit of, 145-153
    weather prophesied by, 154-156
    winter homes of, 141
    young of, 138-140
  Pond, studies in a, 17-30
  Pond-skaters, 17
  Processionaries, Pine Caterpillars called, 136
    study of, 145-153

  River-snails, found in pond, 18

  Scavengers, Flies as, 133-134
  School, account of early, 182-194
  Shellfish, varieties of, in pond, 18
  Silky Spider, telegraph wire of, 242-247
  Snails, pond and river, 18
  Sparrow, effect of Tarantula’s poison on, 216-217
  Spiders, Angular, 269
    Banded, 199-208, 269
    Bird, 257, 258
    Clotho, 236-241
    Crab, 248-256
    Garden, 272
    Labyrinth, 257-265
    poisonous qualities of, 209
    Silky, 269
    Tarantula, 209-235
    telegraph wire of, 242-247
    Water, 258
    web building by, 266-283
  Stelis-wasp, as enemy of Mason-bee, 43-44

  Tadpoles, in pond, 17, 22
  Tarantula, American, 257, 258
    Black-bellied, 210
    description of, 210
    eggs and young of, 221-232
    fight with Carpenter-bee described, 214-215
    flight of young, 232-235
    food of young, 228-232
    home of, 210-211
    hunting methods of, 211-214, 218-220
    poison of, 216-218
  Truffle-hunters, 171-176

  Wasps, Fly-hunting, 113-124
    Golden, as parasites, 128-130
    Hairy Sand, 93-105
    hunting of Crickets by Yellow-winged, 106-112
    hunting practices contrasted with Tarantula’s, 218
    Mutilla, 126-128
    preyed on by Flies, 120-123
    Stelis, as enemies of Mason-bee, 43-44
  Water-beetles, in pond, 17
    escape of Caddis-worms from, 33-34
  Water-boatmen, 18
  Water-scorpions, 18
  Weather prophets, Pine Caterpillars as, 154-156
  Web, building of Spider’s, 266-275
    geometry of Spider’s, 276-283
  Weeds, decomposition of, in stagnant water, 29-30
  Whirligigs, in pond, 17

  Zebra Bees, appearance of, 62
    doorkeeping by, described, 69-77
    eggs and young of, 66-67, 69-70
    Gnat enemy of, 67-69
    homes of, 62-65



Transcriber’s Notes

Variant spelling and hyphenation have been preserved as printed;
simple typographical errors have been corrected.

In the Table of Contents, the printed page numbers were all off by
10: page 7 should read page 17, page 21 should read page 31, and so
on. The page numbers have been updated for the plain text version of
this book. (The HTML and e-reader versions do not use page
references in the ToC.)

The following changes were also made:

Page 86:
dead and dry, however, never fresh ones. [added period]

Page 183, illustration:
The fire was not exactly lit for us. [changed from colon]

Page 277:
lines obliquely at angles of equal value. [added period]

Page 285, Index:
habits of Red, or Amazon, [added comma]





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