Bramble-bees and Others
J. Henri Fabre

Part 4 out of 5

bee's. Above all, patience! The job is none of the most fruitful;
nor is it exactly an agreeable one. By dint of turning over
uncommonly jagged stones, our fingertips get hurt, lose their skin
and become as smooth as though we had held them on a grindstone.
After a whole afternoon of this work, our back will be aching, our
fingers will be itching and smarting and we shall possess a dozen
Osmia-nests and perhaps two or three Resin-bees' nests. Let us be
content with that.

The Osmia's shells can be recognized at once, as being closed at the
orifice with a clay cover. The Anthidium's call for a special
examination, without which we should run a great risk of filling our
pockets with cumbersome rubbish. We find a dead Snail-shell among the
stones. Is it inhabited by the Resin-bee or not? The outside tells us
nothing. The Anthidium's work comes at the bottom of the spiral, a
long way from the mouth; and, though this is wide open, the eye
cannot travel far enough along the winding stair. I hold up the
doubtful shell to the light. If it is completely transparent, I know
that it is empty and I put it back to serve for future nests. If the
second whorl is opaque, the spiral contains something. What does it
contain? Earth washed in by the rain? Remnants of the putrefied
Snail? That remains to be seen. With a little pocket-trowel, the
inquisitorial implement which always accompanies me, 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 possess
an Anthidium's nest. But, oh the number of failures that go to one
success! The number of windows vainly opened in shells whose bottom
is stuffed with clay or with noisome corpses! Thus picking shells
among the overturned stone-heaps, inspecting them in the sun,
breaking into them with the trowel and nearly always rejecting them,
I manage, after repeated attempts, to obtain my materials for this

The first to hatch is the Seven-pronged Resin-bee (Anthidium
septemdentatum). We see her, in the month of April, lumbering along
to the rubbish-heaps in the quarries and the low boundary-walls, in
search of her Snail-shell. She is a contemporary of the Three-horned
Osmia, who begins operations in the last week of April, and often
occupies the same stone-heap, settling in the next shell. She is
well-advised to start work early and to be on neighbourly terms with
the Osmia when the latter is building; in fact, we shall soon see the
terrible dangers to which that same proximity exposes her dilatory
rival in resin-work, Anthidium bellicosum.

The shell adopted in the great majority of cases is that of the
Common Snail, Helix aspersa. It is sometimes of full size, sometimes
half-developed. Helix nemoralis and H. caespitum, which are much
smaller, also supply suitable lodgings; and this would as surely
apply to any shell of sufficient capacity, if the places which I
explore possessed others, as witness a nest which my son Emile has
sent me from somewhere near Marseilles. This time, the Resin-bee is
settled in Helix algira, the most remarkable of our land-shells
because of the width and regularity of its spiral, which is copied
from that of the Ammonites. This magnificent nest, a perfect specimen
of both the Snail's work and the Bee's, deserves description before
any other.

For a distance of three centimetres (1.17 inches.--Translator's
Note.) from the mouth, the last spiral whorl contains nothing. At
this inconsiderable depth, a partition is clearly seen. The moderate
diameter of the passage accounts for the Anthidium's choice of this
site to which our eye can penetrate. In the common Snail-shell, whose
cavity widens rapidly, the insect establishes itself much farther
back, so that, in order to see the terminal partition, we must, as I
have said, make a lateral inlet. The position of this boundary-
ceiling, which may come farther forward or farther back, depends on
the variable diameter of the passage. The cells of the cocoons
require a certain length and a certain breadth, which the mother
finds by going higher up or lower down in the spiral, according to
the shape of the shell. When the diameter is suitable, the last whorl
is occupied up to the orifice, where the final lid appears,
absolutely exposed to view. This is the case with the adult Helix
nemoralis and H. caespitum, and also with the young Common Snail. We
will not linger at present over this peculiarity, the importance of
which will become manifest shortly.

Whether in the front or at the back of the spiral slope, the insect's
work ends in a facade of coarse mosaic, formed of small, angular bits
of gravel, firmly cemented with a gum the nature of which has to be
ascertained. It is an amber-coloured material, semi-transparent,
brittle, soluble in spirits of wine and burning with a sooty flame
and a strong smell of resin. From these characteristics it is evident
that the Bee prepares her gum with the resinous drops exuded by the

I think that I am even able to name the particular plant, though I
have never caught the insect in the act of gathering its materials.
Hard by the stone-heaps which I turn over for my collections there is
a plentiful supply of brown-berried junipers. Pines are totally
absent; and the cypress only appears occasionally near the houses.
Moreover, among the vegetable remains which we shall see assisting in
the protection of the nest, we often find the juniper's catkins and
needles. As the resin-insect is economical of its time and does not
fly far from the quarters familiar to it, the gum must have been
collected on the shrub at whose foot the materials for the barricade
have been gathered. Nor is this merely a local circumstance, for the
Marseilles nest abounds in similar remnants. I therefore regard the
juniper as the regular resin-purveyor, without, however, excluding
the pine, the cypress and other Coniferae when the favourite shrub is

The bits of gravel in the lid are angular and chalky in the
Marseilles nest; they are round and flinty in most of the Serignan
nests. In making her mosaic, the worker pays no heed to the form or
colour of its component parts; she collects indiscriminately anything
that is hard enough and not too large. Sometimes she lights upon
treasures that give her work a more original character. The
Marseilles nest shows me, neatly encrusted amid the bits of gravel, a
tiny whole landshell, Pupa cineres. A nest in my own neighbourhood
provides me with a pretty Snail-shell, Helix striata, forming a rose-
pattern in the middle of the mosaic. These little artistic details
remind me of a certain nest of Eumenes Amadei (A Mason-wasp, forming
the subject of an essay which has not yet been published in English.-
-Translator's Note.) which abounds in small shells. Ornamental shell-
work appears to number its lovers among the insects.

After the lid of resin and gravel, an entire whorl of the spiral is
occupied by a barricade of incongruous remnants, similar to that
which, in the reeds, protects the row of cocoons of the Manicate
Cotton-bee. It is curious to see exactly the same defensive methods
employed by two builders of such different talents, one of whom
handles flock, the other gum. The nest from Marseilles has for its
barricade bits of chalky gravel, particles of earth, fragments of
sticks, a few scraps of moss and especially juniper-catkins and
needles. The Serignan nests, installed in Helix aspersa, have almost
the same protective materials. I see bits of gravel, the size of a
lentil, and the catkins and needles of the brown-berried juniper
predominating. Next come the dry excretions of the Snail and a few
rare little land-shells. A similar jumble of more or less everything
found near the nest forms, as we know, the barricade of the Manicate
Cotton-bee, who is also an adept at using the Snail's stercoral
droppings after these have been dried in the sun. Let us observe
finally that these dissimilar materials are heaped together without
any cementing, just as the insect has picked them up. Resin plays no
part in the mass; and we have only to pierce the lid and turn the
shell upside down for the barricade to come dribbling to the ground.
To glue the whole thing together does not enter into the Resin-bee's
scheme. Perhaps such an expenditure of gum is beyond her means;
perhaps the barricade, if hardened into a solid block, would
afterwards form an invincible obstacle to the escape of the
youngsters; perhaps again the mass of gravel is an accessory rampart,
run up roughly as a work of secondary importance.

Amid these doubtful matters, I see at least that the insect does not
look upon its barricade as indispensable. It employs it regularly in
the large shells, whose last whorl, too spacious to be used, forms an
unoccupied vestibule; it neglects it in the moderate shells, such as
Helix nemoralis, in which the resin lid is level with the orifice. My
excavations in the stone-heaps supply me with an almost equal number
of nests with and without defensive embankments. Among the Cotton-
bees, the Manicate Anthidium is not faithful either to her fort of
little sticks and stones; I know some of her nests in which cotton
serves every purpose. With both of them, the gravel rampart seems
useful only in certain circumstances, which I am unable to specify.

On the other side of the outworks of the fortification, the lid and
barricade, are the cells set more or less far down in the spiral,
according to the diameter of the shell. They are bounded back and
front by partitions of pure resin, without any encrustations of
mineral particles. Their number is exceedingly restricted and is
usually limited to two. The front room, which is larger because the
width of the passage goes on increasing, is the abode of a male,
superior in size to the other sex; the less spacious back room
contains a female. I have already drawn attention in an earlier
chapter to the wonderful problem submitted for our consideration by
this breaking up of the laying into couples and this alternation of
the males and females. Without calling for other work than the
transverse partitions, the broadening stairway of the Snail-shell
thus furnishes both sexes with house-room suited to their size.

The second Resin-bee that inhabits shells, Anthidium bellicosum,
hatches in July and works during the fierce heat of August. Her
architecture differs in no wise from that of her kinswoman of the
springtime, so much so that, when we find a tenanted Snail-shell in a
hole in the wall or under the stones, it is impossible to decide to
which of the two species the nest belongs. The only way to obtain
exact information is to break the shell and split the cocoons in
February, at which time the nests of the summer Resin-bee are
occupied by larvae and those of the spring Resin-bee by the perfect
insect. If we shrink from this brutal method, we are still in doubt
until the cocoons open, so great is the resemblance between the two
pieces of work.

In both cases, we find the same lodging, Snail-shells of every size
and every kind, just as they happen to come; the same resin lid, the
inside gritty with tiny bits of stone, the outside almost smooth and
sometimes ornamented with little shells; the same barricade--not
always present--of various kinds of rubbish; the same division into
two rooms of unequal size occupied by the two sexes. Everything is
identical, down to the purveyor of the gum, the brown-berried
juniper. To say more about the nest of the summer Resin-bee would be
to repeat oneself.

There is only one thing that requires further investigation. I do not
see the reason that prompts the two insects to leave the greater part
of their shell empty in front, instead of occupying it entirely up to
the orifice as the Osmia habitually does. As the mother's laying is
broken up into intermittent shifts of a couple of eggs apiece, is it
necessary that there should be a new home for each shift? Is the
half-fluid resin unsuitable for the wide-spanned roofs which would
have to be constructed when the diameter of the helical passage
exceeded certain limits? Is the gathering of the cement too wearisome
a task to leave the Bee any strength for making the numerous
partitions which she would need if she utilized the spacious final
whorl? I find no answer to these questions. I note the fact without
interpreting it: when the shell is a large one, the front part,
almost the whole of the last whorl, remains an empty vestibule.

To the spring Resin-bee, Anthidium septemdentatum, this less than
half occupied lodging presents no drawbacks. A contemporary of the
Osmia, often her neighbour under the same stone, the gum-worker
builds her nest at the same period as the mud-worker; but there is no
fear of mutual encroachments, for the two Bees, working next door to
each other, watch their respective properties with a jealous eye. If
attempts at usurpation were to be made, the owner of the Snail-shell
would know how to enforce her rights as the first occupant.

For the summer Resin-bee, A. bellicosum, the conditions are very
different. At the moment when the Osmia is building, she is still in
the larval, or at most in the nymphal stage. Her abode, which would
not be more absolutely silent if deserted, her shell, with its vast
untenanted porch, will not tempt the earlier Resin-bee, who herself
wants apartments right at the far end of the spiral, but it might
suit the Osmia, who knows how to fill the shell with cells up to the
mouth. The last whorl left vacant by the Anthidium is a magnificent
lodging which nothing prevents the mason from occupying. The Osmia
does seize upon it, in fact, and does so too often for the welfare of
the unfortunate late-comer. The final resin lid takes the place, for
the Osmia, of the mud stopper with which she cuts off at the back the
portion of the spiral too narrow for her labours. Upon this lid she
builds her mass of cells in so many storeys, after which she covers
the whole with a thick defensive plug. In short, the work is
conducted as though the Snail-shell contained nothing.

When July arrives, this doubly-tenanted house becomes the scene of a
tragic conflict. Those below, on attaining the adult state, burst
their swaddling-bands, demolish their resin partitions, pass through
the gravel barricade and try to release themselves; those above,
larvae still or budding pupae, prisoners in their shells until the
following spring, completely block the way. To force a passage from
the far-end of those catacombs is beyond the strength of the Resin-
bee, already weakened by the effort of breaking out of her own nest.
A few of the Osmia's partitions are damaged, a few cocoons receive
slight injuries; and then, worn out with vain struggles, the captives
abandon hope and perish behind the impregnable wall of earth. And
with them perish also certain parasites, even less fit for the
prodigious work of clearance: Zonites and Chryses (Chrysis flammea),
of whom the first are consumers of provisions and the second of

This lamentable ending of the Resin-bee, buried alive under the
Osmia's walls, is not a rare accident to be passed over in silence or
mentioned in a few words; on the contrary, it happens very often; and
its frequency suggests this thought: the school which sees in
instinct an acquired habit treats the slightest favourable occurrence
in the course of animal industry as the starting-point of an
improvement which, transmitted by heredity and becoming in time more
and more accentuated, at last grows into a settled characteristic
common to the whole race. There is, it is true, a total absence of
positive proofs in support of this theory; but it is stated with a
wealth of hypothesis that leaves a thousand loopholes: 'Granting
that...Supposing that...It may be...nothing need prevent us from
believing... It is quite possible...' Thus argued the master; and the
disciples have not yet hit upon anything better.

'If the sky were to fall,' said Rabelais, 'the larks would all be

Yes, but the sky stays up; and the larks go on flying.

'If things happened in such and such a way,' says our friend,
'instinct may have undergone variations and modifications.'

Yes, but are you quite sure that things happened as you say?

I banish the word 'if' from my vocabulary. I suppose nothing, I take
nothing for granted; I pluck the brutal fact, the only thing that can
be trusted; I record it and then ask myself what conclusion rests
upon its solid framework. From the fact which I have related we may
draw the following inference:

'You say that any modification profitable to the animal is
transmitted throughout a series of favoured ones who, better equipped
with tools, better endowed with aptitudes, abandon the ancient usages
and replace the primitive species, the victim of the struggle for
life. You declare that once, in the dim distance of the ages, a Bee
found herself by accident in possession of a dead Snail-shell. The
safe and peaceful lodging pleased her fancy. On and on went the
hereditary liking; and the Snail-shell proved more and more agreeable
to the insect's descendants, who began to look for it under the
stones, so that later generations, with the aid of habit, ended by
adopting it as the ancestral dwelling. Again by accident, the Bee
happened upon a drop of resin. It was soft, plastic, well-suited for
the partitioning of the Snail-shell; it soon hardened into a solid
ceiling. The Bee tried the resinous gum and benefited by it. Her
successors also benefited by it, especially after improving it.
Little by little, the rubble-work of the lid and of the gravel
barricade was invented: an enormous improvement, of which the race
did not fail to take advantage. The defensive fortification was the
finishing-touch to the original structure. Here we have the origin
and development of the instinct of the Resin-bees who make their home
in Snail-shells.'

This glorious genesis of insect ways and means lacks just one little
thing: probability. Life everywhere, even among the humble, has two
phases: its share of good and its share of evil. Avoiding the latter
and seeking the former is the rough balance-sheet of life's actions.
Animals, like ourselves, have their portion of the sweet and the
bitter: they are just as anxious to reduce the second as to increase
the first; for, with them as with us,

De malheurs evites le bonheur se compose.
(Bad luck missed is good luck gained.)

If the Bee has so faithfully handed down her casual invention of a
resin nest built inside a Snail-shell, then there is no denying that
she must have just as faithfully handed down the means of averting
the terrible danger of belated hatchings. A few mothers, escaping at
rare intervals from the catacombs blocked by the Osmiae, must have
retained a lively memory, a powerful impression of their desperate
struggle through the mass of earth; they must have inspired their
descendants with a dread of those vast dwellings where the stranger
comes afterwards and builds; they must have taught them by habit the
means of safety, the use of the medium-sized shell, which the nest
fills to the mouth. So far as the prosperity of the race was
concerned, the discontinuance of the system of empty vestibules was
far more important than the invention of the barricade, which is not
altogether indispensable: it would have saved them from perishing
miserably, behind impenetrable walls, and would have considerably
increased the numbers of their posterity.

Thousands and thousands of experiments have been made throughout the
ages with Snail-shells of average dimensions: the thing is certain,
because I find many of them to-day. Well, have these life-saving
experiments, with their immense importance to the race, become
general by hereditary bequest? Not at all: the Resin-bee persists in
using big Snail-shells just as though her ancestors had never known
the danger of the Osmia-blocked vestibule. Once these facts are duly
recognized, the conclusion is irresistible: it is obvious that, as
the insect does not hand down the casual modification tending towards
the avoidance of what is to its disadvantage, neither does it hand
down the modification leading to the adoption of what is to its
advantage. However lively the impression made upon the mother, the
accidental leaves no trace in the offspring. Chance plays no part in
the genesis of the instincts.

Next to these tenants of the Snail-shells we have two other Resin-
bees who never come to the shells for a cabin for their nests. They
are Anthidium quadrilobum, LEP., and A. Latreillii, LEP., both
exceedingly uncommon in my district. If we meet them very rarely,
however, this may well be due to the difficulty of seeing them; for
they lead extremely solitary and wary lives. A warm nook under some
stone or other; the deserted streets of an Ant-hill in a sun-baked
bank; a Beetle's vacant burrow a few inches below the ground; in
short, a cavity of some sort, perhaps arranged by the Bee's own care:
these are the only establishments which I know them to occupy. And
here, with no other shelter than the cover of the refuge, they build
a mass of cells joined together and grouped into a sphere, which, in
the case of the Four-lobed Resin-bee, attains the size of a man's
fist and, in that of Latreille's Resin-bee, the size of a small

At first sight, we remain very uncertain as to the nature of the
strange ball. It is brown, rather hard, slightly sticky, with a
bituminous smell. Outside are encrusted a few bits of gravel,
particles of earth, heads of large-sized Ants. This cannibal trophy
is not a sign of barbarous customs: the Bee does not decapitate Ants
to adorn her hut. An inlayer, like her colleagues of the Snail-shell,
she gathers any hard granule near at hand capable of strengthening
her work; and the dried skulls of Ants, which are frequent around
about her abode, are in her eyes building-stones of equal value to
the pebbles. One and all employ whatever they can find without much
seeking. The inhabitant of the shell, in order to construct her
barricade, makes shift with the dry excrement of the nearest Snail;
the denizen of the flat stones and of the roadside banks frequented
by the Ants does what she can with the heads of the defunct and,
should these be lacking, is ready to replace them with something
else. Moreover, the defensive inlaying is slight; we see that the
insect attaches no great importance to it and has every confidence in
the stout wall of the home.

The material of which the work is made at first suggests some rustic
wax, much coarser than that of the Bumble-bees, or rather some tar of
unknown origin. We think again and then recognize in the puzzling
substance the semitransparent fracture, the quality of becoming soft
when exposed to heat and of burning with a smoky flame, the
solubility in spirits of wine--in short, all the distinguishing
characteristics of resin. Here then are two more collectors of the
exudations of the Coniferae. At the points where I find their nests
are Aleppo pines, cypresses, brown-berried junipers and common
junipers. Which of the four supplies the mastic? There is nothing to
tell us. Nor is there anything to explain how the native amber-colour
of the resin is replaced in the work of both Bees by a dark-brown hue
resembling that of pitch. Does the insect collect resin impaired by
the weather, soiled by the sanies of rotten wood? When kneading it,
does it mix some dark ingredient with it? I look upon this as
possible, but not as proved, since I have never seen the Bee
collecting her resin.

While this point escapes me, another of higher interest appears most
plainly; and that is the large amount of resinous material used in a
single nest, especially in that of Anthidium quadrilobum, in which I
have counted as many as twelve cells. The nest of the Mason-bee of
the Pebbles is hardly more massive. For so costly an establishment,
therefore, the Resin-bee collects her pitch on the dead pine as
copiously as the Mason-bee collects her mortar on the macadamized
road. Her workshop no longer shows us the niggardly partitioning of a
Snail-shell with two or three drops of resin; what we see is the
whole building of the house, from the basement to the roof, from the
thick outer walls to the partitions of the rooms. The cement expended
would be enough to divide hundreds of Snail-shells, wherefore the
title of Resin-bee is due first and foremost to this master-builder
in pitch. Honourable mention should be awarded to A. Latreillii, who
rivals her fellow-worker as far as her smaller stature permits. The
other manipulators of resin, those who build partitions in Snail-
shells, come third, a very long way behind.

And now, with the facts to support us, let us philosophize a little.
We have here, recognized as of excellent standard by all the expert
classifiers, so fastidious in the arrangement of their lists, a
generic group, called Anthidium, containing two guilds of workers
entirely dissimilar in character: the cotton-fullers and the resin-
kneaders. It is even possible that other species, when their habits
are better known, will come and increase this variety of
manufactures. I confine myself to the little that I know and ask
myself in what the manipulator of cotton differs from the manipulator
of resin as regards tools, that is to say, organs. Certainly, when
the genus Anthidium was set down by the classifiers, they were not
wanting in scientific precision: they consulted, under the lens of
the microscope, the wings, the mandibles, the legs, the harvesting-
brush, in short, all the details calculated to assist the proper
delimitation of the group. After this minute examination by the
experts, if no organic differences stand revealed, the reason is that
they do not exist. Any dissimilarity of structure could not escape
the accurate eyes of our learned taxonomists. The genus, therefore,
is indeed organically homogeneous; but industrially it is thoroughly
heterogeneous. The implements are the same and the work is different.

That eminent Bordeaux entomologist, Professor Jean Perez, to whom I
communicated the misgivings aroused in my mind by the contradictory
nature of my discoveries, thinks that he has found the solution of
the difficulty in the conformation of the mandibles. I extract the
following passage from his volume, "Les Abeilles":

'The cotton-pressing females have the edge of their mandibles cut out
into five or six little teeth, which make an instrument admirably
suited for scraping and removing the hairs from the epidermis of the
plants. It is a sort of comb or teasel. The resin-kneading females
have the edge of the mandible not toothed, but simply curved; the tip
alone, preceded by a notch which is pretty clearly marked in some
species, forms a real tooth; but this tooth is blunt and does not
project. The mandible, in short, is a kind of spoon perfectly fitted
to remove the sticky matter and to shape it into a ball.'

Nothing better could be said to explain the two sorts of industry: in
the one case, a rake which gathers the wool; in the other, a spoon
which scoops up the resin. I should have left it at that and felt
quite content without further investigation, if I had not had the
curiosity to open my boxes and, in my turn, to take a good look, side
by side, at the workers in cement and the workers in cotton. Allow
me, my learned master, to whisper in your ear what I saw.

The first that I examine is Anthidium septemdentatum. A spoon: yes,
it is just that. Powerful mandibles, shaped like an isosceles
triangle, flat above, hollowed out below; and no indentations, none
whatsoever. A splendid tool, as you say, for gathering the viscous
pellet; quite as efficacious in its kind of work as is the rake of
the toothed mandibles for gathering cotton. Here certainly is a
creature potently-gifted, even though it be for a poor little task,
the scooping up of two or three drops of glue.

Things are not quite so satisfactory with the second Resin-bee of the
Snail-shells, A. bellicosum. I find that she has three teeth to her
mandibles. Still, they are slight and project very little. Let us say
that this does not count, even though the work is exactly the same.
With A. quadrilobum the whole thing breaks down. She, the queen of
Resin-bees; she, who collects a lump of mastic the size of one's
fist, enough to subdivide hundreds of her kinswomen's Snail-shells:
well, she, by way of a spoon, carries a rake! On the wide edges of
her mandibles stand four teeth, as long and pointed as those of the
most zealous cotton-gleaner. A. florentinum, that mighty manufacturer
of cotton-goods, can hardly rival her in respect of combing-tools.
And nevertheless, with her toothed implement, a sort of saw, the
Resin-bee collects her great heap of pitch, load by load; and the
material is carried not rigid, but sticky, half-fluid, so that it may
amalgamate with the previous lots and be fashioned into cells.

A. Latreillii, without having a very large implement, also bears
witness to the possibility of heaping up soft resin with a rake; she
arms her mandibles with three or four sharply-cut teeth. In short,
out of four Resin-bees, the only four that I know, one is armed with
a spoon, if this expression be really suited to the tool's function;
the three others are armed with a rake; and it so happens that the
most copious heap of resin is just the work of the rake with the most
teeth to it, a tool suited to the cotton-reapers, according to the
views of the Bordeaux entomological expert.

No, the explanation that appealed to me so much at first is not
admissible. The mandible, whether supplied with teeth or not, does
not account at all for the two manufactures. May we, in this
predicament, have recourse to the general structure of the insect,
although this is not distinctive enough to be of much use to us? Not
so either; for, in the same stone-heaps where the Osmia and the two
Resin-bees of the Snail-shells work, I find from time to time another
manipulator of mastic who bears no structural relationship whatever
to the genus Anthidium. It is a small-sized Mason-wasp, Odynerus
alpestris, SAUSS. She builds a very pretty nest with resin and gravel
in the shells of the young Common Snail, of Helix nemoralis and
sometimes of Bulimulus radiatus. I will describe her masterpiece on
some other occasion. To one acquainted with the genus Odynerus, any
comparison with the Anthidia would be an inexcusable error. In larval
diet, in shape, in habits, they form two dissimilar groups, very far
removed one from the other. The Anthidia feed their offspring on
honey-bread; the Odyneri feed it on live prey. Well, with her slender
form, her weakly frame, in which the most clear-seeing eye would seek
in vain for a clue to the trade practised, the Alpine Odynerus, the
game-lover, uses pitch in the same way as the stout and massive
Resin-bee, the honey-lover. She even uses it better, for her mosaic
of tiny pebbles is much prettier than the Bee's and no less solid.
With her mandibles, this time neither spoon nor rake, but rather a
long forceps slightly notched at the tip, she gathers her drop of
sticky matter as dexterously as do her rivals with their very
different outfit. Her case will, I think, persuade us that neither
the shape of the tool nor the shape of the worker can explain the
work done.

I will go further: I ask myself in vain the reason of this or that
trade in the case of a fixed species. The Osmiae make their
partitions with mud or with a paste of chewed leaves; the Mason-bees
build with cement; the Pelopaeus-wasps fashion clay pots; the
Megachiles made disks cut from leaves into urns; the Anthidia felt
cotton into purses; the Resin-bees cement together little bits of
gravel with gum; the Carpenter-bees and the Lithurgi bore holes in
timber; the Anthophorae tunnel the roadside slopes. Why all these
different trades, to say nothing of the others? How are they
prescribed for the insect, this one rather than that?

I foresee the answer: they are prescribed by the organization. An
insect excellently equipped for gathering and felting cotton is ill-
equipped for cutting leaves, kneading mud or mixing resin. The tool
in its possession decides its trade.

This is a very simple explanation, I admit, and one within the scope
of everybody: in itself a sufficient recommendation for any one who
has neither the inclination nor the time to undertake a more thorough
investigation. The popularity of certain speculative views is due
entirely to the easy food which they provide for our curiosity. They
save us much long and often irksome study; they impart a veneer of
general knowledge. There is nothing that achieves such immediate
success as an explanation of the riddle of the universe in a word or
two. The thinker does not travel so fast: content to know little so
that he may know something, he limits his field of search and is
satisfied with a scanty harvest, provided that the grain be of good
quality. Before agreeing that the tool determines the trade, he wants
to see things with his own eyes; and what he observes is far from
confirming the sweeping statement. Let us share his doubts for a
moment and look into matters more closely.

Franklin left us a maxim which is much to the point here. He said
that a good workman should be able to plane with a saw and to saw
with a plane. The insect is too good a workman not to follow the
advice of the sage of Boston. Its industry abounds in instances where
the plane takes the place of the saw, or the saw of the plane; its
dexterity makes good the inadequacy of the implement. To go no
further, have we not just seen different artisans collecting and
using pitch, some with spoons, others with rakes, others again with
pincers? Therefore, with such equipment as it possesses, the insect
would be capable of abandoning cotton for leaves, leaves for resin,
resin for mortar, if some predisposition of talent did not make it
keep to its speciality.

These few lines, which are the outcome not of a heedless pen but of
mature reflection, will set people talking of hateful paradoxes. We
will let them talk and we will submit the following proposition to
our adversaries: take an entomologist of the highest merit, a
Latreille (Pierre Andre Latreille (1762-1833), one of the founders of
modern entomological science.--Translator's Note.), for instance,
versed in all the details of the structure of insects but utterly
unacquainted with their habits. He knows the dead insect better than
anybody, but he has never occupied himself with the living insect. As
a classifier, he is beyond compare; and that is all. We ask him to
examine a Bee, the first that comes to hand, and to name her trade
from her tools.

Come, be honest: could he? Who would dare put him to such a test? Has
personal experience not fully convinced us that the mere examination
of the insect can tell us nothing about its particular industry? The
baskets on its legs and the brush on its abdomen will certainly
inform us that it collects honey and pollen; but its special art will
remain an utter secret, notwithstanding all the scrutiny of the
microscope. In our own industries, the plane denotes the joiner, the
trowel the mason, the scissors the tailor, the needle the seamstress.
Are things the same in animal industry? Just show us, if you please,
the trowel that is a certain sign of the mason-insect, the chisel
that is a positive characteristic of the carpenter-insect, the iron
that is an authentic mark of the pinking-insect; and as you show
them, say:

'This one cuts leaves; that one bores wood; that other mixes cement.'

And so on, specifying the trade from the tool.

You cannot do it, no one can; the worker's speciality remains an
impenetrable secret until direct observation intervenes. Does not
this incapacity, even of the most expert, proclaim loudly that animal
industry, in its infinite variety, is due to other causes besides the
possession of tools? Certainly, each of those specialists requires
implements; but they are rough and ready implements, good for all
sorts of purposes, like the tool of Franklin's workman. The same
notched mandible that reaps cotton, cuts leaves and moulds pitch also
kneads mud, scrapes decayed wood and mixes mortar; the same tarsus
that manufactures cotton and disks cut out of leaves is no less
clever at the art of making earthen partitions, clay turrets and
gravel mosaics.

What then is the reason of these thousand industries? In the light of
facts, I can see but one: imagination governing matter. A primordial
inspiration, a talent antecedent to the actual form, directs the tool
instead of being subordinate to it. The instrument does not determine
the manner of industry; the tool does not make the workman. At the
beginning there is an object, a plan, in view of which the animal
acts, unconsciously. Have we eyes to see with, or do we see because
we have eyes? Does the function create the organ, or the organ the
function? Of the two alternatives, the insect proclaims the first. It

'My industry is not imposed upon me by the implement which I possess;
what I do is to use the implement, such as it is, for the talent with
which I am gifted.'

It says to us, in its own way:

'The function has determined the organ; vision is the reason of the

In short, it repeats to us Virgil's profound reflection:

'Mens agitat molem'; 'Mind moves matter.'


I have discussed elsewhere the stings administered by the Wasps to
their prey. Now chemistry comes and puts a spoke in the wheel of our
arguments, telling us that the poison of the Bees is not the same as
that of the Wasps. The Bees' is complex and formed of two elements,
acid and alkaline. The Wasps' possess only the acid element; and it
is to this very acidity and not to the 'so-called' skill of the
operators that the preservation of the provisions is due. (The
author's numerous essays on the Wasps will form the contents of later
works. In the meantime, cf. "Insect Life," by J.H. Fabre, translated
by the author of "Mademoiselle Mori": chapters 4 to 12, and 14 to 18;
and "The Life and Love of the Insect," by J. Henri Fabre, translated
by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos: chapters 11, 12 and 17.--
Translator's Note.)

Admitting that there is a difference in the nature of the venom, I
fail to see that this has any bearing on the problem in hand. I can
inoculate with various liquids--acids, weak nitric acid, alkalis,
ammonia, neutral bodies, spirits of wine, essence of turpentine--and
obtain conditions similar to those of the victims of the predatory
insects, that is to say, inertia with the persistence of a dull
vitality betrayed by the movements of the mouth-parts and antennae. I
am not, of course, invariably successful, for there is neither
delicacy nor precision in my poisoned needle and the wound which it
makes does not bear comparison with the tiny puncture of the unerring
natural sting; but, after all, it is repeated often enough to put the
object of my experiment beyond doubt. I should add that, to achieve
success, we must have a subject with a concentrated ganglionic
column, such as the Weevil, the Buprestis, the Dung-beetle and
others. Paralysis is then obtained with but a single prick, made at
the point which the Cerceris has revealed to us, the point at which
the corselet joins the rest of the thorax. In that case, the least
possible quantity of the acrid liquid is instilled, a quantity too
small to endanger the patient's life. With scattered nervous centres,
each requiring a separate operation, this method is impracticable:
the victim would die of the excess of corrosive fluid. I am quite
ashamed to have to recall these old experiments. Had they been
resumed and carried on by others of greater authority than I, we
should have escaped the objections of chemistry.

When light is so easy to obtain, why go in search of scientific
obscurity? Why talk of acid or alkaline reactions, which prove
nothing, when it is so simple to have recourse to facts, which prove
everything? Before declaring that the hunting insects' poison has
preservative properties merely because of its acid qualities, it
would have been well to enquire if the sting of a Bee, with its acid
and its alkali, could not perchance produce the same effects as that
of the paralyser, whose skill is categorically denied. The chemists
never gave this a thought. Simplicity is not always welcome in our
laboratories. It is my duty to repair that little omission. I propose
to enquire if the poison of the Bee, the chief of the Apidae, is
suitable for a surgery that paralyses without killing.

The enquiry bristles with difficulties, though this is no reason for
abandoning it. First and foremost, I cannot possibly operate with the
Bee just as I catch her. Time after time I make the attempt, without
once succeeding; and patience becomes exhausted. The sting has to
penetrate at a definite point, exactly where the Wasp's sting would
have entered. My intractable captive tosses about angrily and stings
at random, never where I wish. My fingers get hurt even oftener than
the patient. I have only one means of gaining a little control over
the indomitable dart; and that is to cut off the Bee's abdomen with
my scissors, to seize the stump instantly with a fine forceps and to
apply the tip at the spot where the sting is to enter.

Everybody knows that the Bee's abdomen needs no orders from the head
to go on drawing its weapon for a few instants longer and to avenge
the deceased before being itself overcome with death's inertia. This
vindictive persistency serves me to perfection. There is another
circumstance in my favour: the barbed sting remains where it is,
which enables me to ascertain the exact spot pierced. A needle
withdrawn as soon as inserted would leave me doubtful. I can also,
when the transparency of the tissues permits, perceive the direction
of the weapon, whether perpendicular and favourable to my plans, or
slanting and therefore valueless. Those are the advantages.

The disadvantages are these: the amputated abdomen, though more
tractable than the entire Bee, is still far from satisfying my
wishes. It gives capricious starts and unexpected pricks. I want it
to sting here. No, it balks my forceps and goes and stings elsewhere:
not very far away, I admit; but it takes so little to miss the nerve-
centre which we wish to get at. I want it to go in perpendicularly.
No, in the great majority of cases it enters obliquely and passes
only through the epidermis. This is enough to show how many failures
are needed to make one success.

Nor is this all. I shall be telling nobody anything new when I recall
the fact that the Bee's sting is very painful. That of the hunting
insects, on the contrary, is in most cases insignificant. My skin,
which is no less sensitive than another's, pays no attention to it: I
handle Sphex, Ammophilae and Scoliae without heeding their lancet-
pricks. I have said this before; I remind the reader of it because of
the matter in hand. In the absence of well-known chemical or other
properties, we have really but one means of comparing the two
respective poisons; and that is the amount of pain produced. All the
rest is mystery. Besides, no poison, not even that of the
Rattlesnake, has hitherto revealed the cause of its dread effects.

Acting, therefore, under the instruction of that one guide, pain, I
place the Bee's sting far above that of the predatory insects as an
offensive weapon. A single one of its thrusts must equal and often
surpass in efficaciousness the repeated wounds of the other. For all
these reasons--an excessive display of energy; the variable quantity
of the virus inoculated by a wriggling abdomen which no longer
measures the emission by doses; a sting which I cannot direct as I
please; a wound which may be deep or superficial, the weapon entering
perpendicularly or obliquely, touching the nerve-centres or affecting
only the surrounding tissues--my experiments ought to produce the
most varied results.

I obtain, in fact, every possible kind of disorder: ataxy, temporary
disablement, permanent disablement, complete paralysis, partial
paralysis. Some of my stricken victims recover; others die after a
brief interval. It would be an unnecessary waste of space to record
in this volume my hundred and one attempts. The details would form
tedious reading and be of very little advantage, as in this sort of
study it is impossible to marshal one's facts with any regularity. I
will, therefore, sum them up in a few examples.

A colossal member of the Grasshopper tribe, the most powerful in my
district, Decticus verrucivorus (This Decticus has received its
specific name of verrucivorus, or Wart-eating, because it is employed
by the peasants in Sweden and elsewhere to bite off the warts on
their fingers.--Translator's Note.), is pricked at the base of the
neck, on the line of the fore-legs, at the median point. The prick
goes straight down. The spot is the same as that pierced by the sting
of the slayer of Crickets and Ephippigers. (A species of Green
Grasshopper. The Sphex paralyses Crickets and Grasshoppers to provide
food for her grubs. Cf. "Insect Life": chapters 6 to 12.--
Translator's Note.) The giantess, as soon as stung, kicks furiously,
flounders about, falls on her side and is unable to get up again. The
fore-legs are paralysed; the others are capable of moving. Lying
sideways, if not interfered with, the insect in a few moments gives
no signs of life beyond a fluttering of the antennae and palpi, a
pulsation of the abdomen and a convulsive uplifting of the
ovipositor; but, if irritated with a slight touch, it stirs its four
hind-legs, especially the third pair, those with the big thighs,
which kick vigorously. Next day, the condition is much the same, with
an aggravation of the paralysis, which has now attacked the middle-
legs. On the day after that, the legs do not move, but the antennae,
the palpi and the ovipositor continue to flutter actively. This is
the condition of the Ephippiger stabbed three times in the thorax by
the Languedocian Sphex. One point alone is missing, a most important
point: the long persistence of a remnant of life. In fact, on the
fourth day, the Decticus is dead; her dark colour tells me so.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from this experiment and it is
well to emphasise them. First, the Bee's poison is so active that a
single dagger-thrust aimed at a nervous centre kills in four days one
of the largest of the Orthoptera (An order of insects including the
Grasshoppers, Locusts, Cockroaches, Mantes and Earwigs, in addition
to the Stick- and Leaf-insects, Termites, Dragon-flies, May-flies,
Book-lice and others.--Translator's Note.), though an insect of
powerful constitution. Secondly, the paralysis at first affects only
the legs whose ganglion is attacked; next, it spreads slowly to the
second pair; lastly, it reaches the third. The local effect is
diffused. This diffusion, which might well take place in the victims
of the predatory insects, plays no part in the latters' method of
operation. The egg, which will be laid immediately afterwards,
demands the complete inertia of the prey from the outset. Hence all
the nerve-centres that govern locomotion must be numbed
instantaneously by the virus.

I can now understand why the poison of the predatory Wasps is
comparatively painless in its effects. If it possessed the strength
of that of the Bee, a single stab would impair the vitality of the
prey, while leaving it for some days capable of violent movements
that would be very dangerous to the huntress and especially to the
egg. More moderate in its action, it is instilled at the different
nervous centres, as is the case more particularly with the
caterpillars. (Caterpillars are the prey of the Ammophila, which
administers a separate stab to each of the several ganglia.--
Translator's Note.) In this way, the requisite immobility is obtained
at once; and, notwithstanding the number of wounds, the victim is not
a speedy corpse. To the marvels of the paralysers' talent we must add
one more: their wonderful poison, the strength of which is regulated
by delicate doses. The Bee revenging herself intensifies the
virulence of her poison; the Sphex putting her grubs' provender to
sleep weakens it, reduces it to what is strictly necessary.

One more instance of nearly the same kind. I prefer to take my
subjects from among the Orthoptera, which, owing to their imposing
size and the thinness of their skin at the points to be attacked,
lend themselves better than other insects to my delicate
manipulations. The armour of a Buprestis, the fat blubber of a
Rosechafer-grub, the contortions of a caterpillar present almost
insuperable obstacles to the success of a sting which it is not in my
power to direct. The insect which I now offer to the Bee's lancet is
the Great Green Grasshopper (Locusta viridissima), the adult female.
The prick is given in the median line of the fore-legs.

The effect is overwhelming. For two or three seconds the insect
writhes in convulsions and then falls on its side, motionless
throughout, save in the ovipositor and the antennae. Nothing stirs so
long as the creature is left alone; but, if I tickle it with a hair-
pencil, the four hind-legs move sharply and grip the point. As for
the fore-legs, smitten in their nerve-centre, they are quite
lifeless. The same condition is maintained for three days longer. On
the fifth day, the creeping paralysis leaves nothing free but the
antennae waving to and fro and the abdomen throbbing and lifting up
the ovipositor. On the sixth, the Grasshopper begins to turn brown;
she is dead. Except that the vestige of life is more persistent, the
case is the same as that of the Decticus. If we can prolong the
duration, we shall have the victim of the Sphex.

But first let us look into the effect of a prick administered
elsewhere than opposite the thoracic ganglia. I cause a female
Ephippiger to be stung in the abdomen, about the middle of the lower
surface. The patient does not seem to trouble greatly about her
wound: she clambers gallantly up the sides of the bell-jar under
which I have placed her; she goes on hopping as before. Better still,
she sets about browsing the vine-leaf which I have given her for her
consolation. A few hours pass and the whole thing is forgotten. She
has made a rapid and complete recovery.

A second is wounded in three places on the abdomen: in the middle and
on either side. On the first day, the insect seems to have felt
nothing; I see no sign of stiffness in its movements. No doubt it is
suffering acutely; but these stoics keep their troubles to
themselves. Next day, the Ephippiger drags her legs a little and
walks somewhat slowly. Two days more; and, when laid on her back, she
is unable to turn over. On the fifth day, she succumbs. This time, I
have exceeded the dose; the shock of receiving three stabs was too
much for her.

And so with the others, down to the sensitive Cricket, who, pricked
once in the abdomen, recovers in one day from the painful experience
and goes back to her lettuce-leaf. But, if the wound is repeated a
few times, death ensues within a more or less short period. I make an
exception, among those who pay tribute to my cruel curiosity, of the
Rosechafer-grubs, who defy three and four needle-thrusts. They will
collapse suddenly and lie outstretched, flabby and lifeless; and,
just when I am thinking them dead or paralysed, the hardy creatures
will recover consciousness, move along on their backs (This is the
usual mode of progression of the Cetonia- or Rosechafer-grub. Cf.
"The Life and Love of the Insect": chapter 11.--Translator's Note.),
bury themselves in the mould. I can obtain no precise information
from them. True, their thinly scattered cilia and their breastplate
of fat form a palisade and a rampart against the sting, which nearly
always enters only a little way and that obliquely.

Let us leave these unmanageable ones and keep to the Orthoperon,
which is more amenable to experiment. A dagger-thrust, we were
saying, kills it if directed upon the ganglia of the thorax; it
throws it into a transient state of discomfort if directed upon
another point. It is, therefore, by its direct action upon the
nervous centres that the poison reveals its formidable properties.

To generalize and say that death is always near at hand when the
sting is administered in the thoracic ganglia would be going too far:
it occurs frequently, but there are a good many exceptions, resulting
from circumstances impossible to define. I cannot control the
direction of the sting, the depth attained, the quantity of poison
shed; and the stump of the Bee is very far from making up for my
shortcomings. We have here not the cunning sword-play of the
predatory insect, but a casual blow, ill-placed and ill-regulated.
Any accident is possible, therefore, from the gravest to the mildest.
Let us mention some of the more interesting.

An adult Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa, so-called because the
toothed fore-legs, in which it catches and kills its prey, adopt,
when folded, an attitude resembling that of prayer.--Translator's
Note.) is pricked level with the attachment of the predatory legs.
Had the wound been in the centre, I should have witnessed an
occurrence which, although I have seen it many times, still arouses
my liveliest emotion and surprise. This is the sudden paralysis of
the warrior's savage harpoons. No machinery stops more abruptly when
the mainspring breaks. As a rule, the inertia of the predatory legs
attacks the others in the course of a day or two; and the palsied one
dies in less than a week. But the present sting is not in the exact
centre. The dart has entered near the base of the right leg, at less
than a millimetre (.039 inch.--Translator's Note.) from the median
point. That leg is paralysed at once; the other is not; and the
insect employs it to the detriment of my unsuspecting fingers, which
are pricked to bleeding-point by the spike at the tip. Not until to-
morrow is the leg which wounded me to-day rendered motionless. This
time, the paralysis goes no farther. The Mantis moves along quite
well, with her corselet proudly raised, in her usual attitude; but
the predatory fore-arms, instead of being folded against the chest,
ready for attack, hang lifeless and open. I keep the cripple for
twelve days longer, during which she refuses all nourishment, being
incapable of using her tongs to seize the prey and lift it to her
mouth. The prolonged abstinence kills her.

Some suffer from locomotor ataxy. My notes recall an Ephippiger who,
pricked in the prothorax away from the median line, retained the use
of her six limbs without being able to walk or climb for lack of co-
ordination in her movements. A singular awkwardness left her wavering
between going back and going forward, between turning to the right
and turning to the left.

Some are smitten with semiparalysis. A Cetonia-grub, pricked away
from the centre on a level with the fore-legs, has her right side
flaccid, spread out, incapable of contracting, while the left side
swells, wrinkles and contracts. Since the left half no longer
receives the symmetrical cooperation of the right half, the grub,
instead of curling into the normal volute, closes its spiral on one
side and leaves it wide open on the other. The concentration of the
nervous apparatus, poisoned by the venom down one side of the body
only, a longitudinal half, explains this condition, which is the most
remarkable of all.

There is nothing to be gained by multiplying these examples. We have
seen pretty clearly the great variety of results produced by the
haphazard sting of a Bee's abdomen; let us now come to the crux of
the matter. Can the Bee's poison reduce the prey to the condition
required by the predatory Wasp? Yes, I have proved it by experiment;
but the proof calls for so much patience that it seemed to me to
suffice when obtained once for each species. In such difficult
conditions, with a poison of excessive strength, a single success is
conclusive proof; the thing is possible so long as it occurs once.

A female Ephippiger is stung at the median point, just a little in
front of the fore-legs. Convulsive movements lasting for a few
seconds are followed by a fall to one side, with pulsations of the
abdomen, flutterings of the antennae and a few feeble movements of
the legs. The tarsi cling firmly to the hair-pencil which I hold out
to them. I place the insect on its back. It lies motionless. Its
state is absolutely the same as that to which the Languedocian Sphex
(Cf. "Insect Life": chapter 10.--Translator's Note.) reduces her
Ephippigers. For three weeks on end, I see repeated in all its
details the spectacle to which I have been accustomed in the victims
extracted from the burrows or taken from the huntress: the wide-open
mandibles, the quivering palpi and tarsi, the ovipositor shuddering
convulsively, the abdomen throbbing at long intervals, the spark of
life rekindled at the touch of a pencil. In the fourth week, these
signs of life, which have gradually weakened, disappear, but the
insect still remains irreproachably fresh. At last a month passes;
and the paralysed creature begins to turn brown. It is over; death
has come.

I have the same success with a Cricket and also with a Praying
Mantis. In all three cases, from the point of view of long-maintained
freshness and of the signs of life proved by slight movements, the
resemblance between my victim and those of the predatory insects is
so great that no Sphex and no Tachytes would have disowned the
product of my devices. My Cricket, my Ephippiger, my Mantis had the
same freshness as theirs; they preserved it as theirs did for a
period amply sufficient to allow of the grubs' complete evolution.
They proved to me, in the most conclusive manner, they prove to all
whom it may interest, that the poison of the Bees, leaving its
hideous violence on one side, does not differ in its effects from the
poison of the predatory Wasps. Are they alkaline or acid? The
question is an idle one in this connection. Both of them intoxicate,
derange, torpify the nervous centres and thus produce either death or
paralysis, according to the method of inoculation. For the moment,
that is all. No one is yet able to say the last word on the actions
of those poisons, so terrible in infinitesimal doses. But on the
point under discussion we need no longer be ignorant: the Wasp owes
the preservation of her grub's provisions not to any special
qualities of her poison but to the extreme precision of her surgery.

A last and more plausible objection is that raised by Darwin when he
said that there were no fossil remains of instincts. And, if there
were, O master, what would they teach us? Not very much more than
what we learn from the instincts of to-day. Does not the geologist
make the erstwhile carcases live anew in our minds in the light of
the world as we see it? With nothing but analogy to guide them, he
describes how some saurian lived in the jurassic age; there are no
fossil remains of habits, but nevertheless he can tell us plenty
about them, things worthy of credence, because the present teaches
him the past. Let us do a little as he does.

I will suppose a precursor of the Calicurgi (The Calicurgus, or
Pompilus, is a Hunting Wasp, feeding her larvae on Spiders. Cf. "The
Life and Love of the Insect": chapter 12.--Translator's Note.)
dwelling in the prehistoric coal-forests. Her prey was some hideous
Scorpion, that first-born of the Arachnida. How did the Hymenopteron
master the terrible prey? Analogy tells us, by the methods of the
present slayer of Tarantulae. It disarmed the adversary; it paralysed
the venomous sting by a stroke administered at a point which we could
determine for certain by the animal's anatomy. Unless this was the
way it happened, the assailant must have perished, first stabbed and
then devoured by the prey. There is no getting away from it: either
the precursor of the Calicurgi, that slaughterer of Scorpions, knew
her trade thoroughly, or else the continuation of her race became
impossible, even as it would be impossible to keep up the race of the
Tarantula-killer without the dagger-thrust that paralyses the
Spider's poison-fangs. The first who, greatly daring, pinked the
Scorpion of the coal-seams was already an expert fencer; the first to
come to grips with the Tarantula had an unerring knowledge of her
dangerous surgery. The least hesitation, the slightest speculation;
and they were lost. The first teacher would also have been the last,
with no disciples to take up her work and perfect it.

But fossil instincts, they insist, would show us intermediary stages,
first, second and third rungs; they would show us the gradual passing
from the casual and very incorrect attempt to the perfect practice,
the fruit of the ages; with their accidental differences, they would
give us terms of comparison wherewith to trace matters from the
simple to the complex. Never mind about that, my masters: if you want
varied instincts in which to seek the source of the complex by means
of the simple, it is not necessary to search the foliations of the
coal-seams and the successive layers of the rocks, those archives of
the prehistoric world; the present day affords to contemplation an
inexhaustible treasury realizing perhaps everything that can emerge
from the limbo of possibility. In what will soon be half a century of
study, I have caught but a tiny glimpse of a very tiny corner of the
realm of instinct; and the harvest gathered overwhelms me with its
variety: I do not yet know two species of predatory Wasps whose
methods are exactly the same.

One gives a single stroke of the dagger, a second two, a third three,
a fourth nine or ten. One stabs here and the other there; and neither
is imitated by the next, who attacks elsewhere. This one injures the
cephalic centres and produces death; that one respects them and
produces paralysis. Some squeeze the cervical ganglia to obtain a
temporary torpor; others know nothing of the effects of compressing
the brain. A few make the prey disgorge, lest its honey should poison
the offspring; the majority do not resort to preventive
manipulations. Here are some that first disarm the foe, who carries
poisoned daggers; yonder are others and more numerous, who have no
precautions to take before murdering the unarmed prey. In the
preliminary struggle, I know some who grab their victims by the neck,
by the rostrum, by the antennae, by the caudal threads; I know some
who throw them on their backs, some who lift them breast to breast,
some who operate on them in the vertical position, some who attack
them lengthwise and crosswise, some who climb on their backs or on
their abdomens, some who press on their backs to force out a pectoral
fissure, some who open their desperately contracted coil, using the
tip of the abdomen as a wedge. And so I could go on indefinitely:
every method of fencing is employed. What could I not also say about
the egg, slung pendulum-fashion by a thread from the ceiling, when
the live provisions are wriggling underneath; laid on a scanty
mouthful, a solitary opening dish, when the dead prey requires
renewing from day to-day; entrusted to the last joint stored away,
when the victuals are paralysed; fixed at a precise spot, entailing
the least danger to the consumer and the game, when the corpulent
prey has to be devoured with a special art that warrants its

Well, how can this multitude of varied instincts teach us anything
about gradual transformation? Will the one and only dagger-thrust of
the Cerceris and the Scolia take us to the two thrusts of the
Calicurgus, to the three thrusts of the Sphex, to the manifold thrust
of the Ammophila? Yes, if we consider only numerical progression. One
and one are two; two and one are three: so run the figures. But is
this what we want to know? What has arithmetic to do with the case?
Is not the whole problem subordinate to a condition that cannot be
translated into cyphers? As the prey changes, the anatomy changes;
and the surgeon always operates with a complete understanding of his
subject. The single dagger-thrust is administered to ganglia
collected into a common cluster; the manifold thrusts are distributed
over the scattered ganglia; of the two thrusts of the Tarantula-
huntress, one disarms and the other paralyses. And so with the
others: that is to say, the instinct is directed each time by the
secrets of the nervous organism. There is a perfect harmony between
the operation and the patient's anatomy.

The single stroke of the Scolia is no less wonderful than the
repeated strokes of the Ammophila. Each has her appointed game and
each slays it by a method as rational as any that our own science
could invent. In the presence of this consummate knowledge, which
leaves us utterly confounded, what a poor argument is that of 1 + 1 =
2! And what is that progress by units to us? The universe is mirrored
in a drop of water; universal logic flashes into sight in a single

Besides, push on the pitiful argument. One leads to two, two lead to
three. Granted without dispute. And then? We will accept the Scolia
as the pioneer, the foundress of the first principles of the art.
The simplicity of her method justifies our supposition. She learns
her trade in some way or other, by accident; she knows supremely well
how to paralyse her Cetonia-grub with a single dagger-thrust driven
into the thorax. One day, through some fortuitous circumstance, or
rather by mistake, she takes it into her head to strike two blows. As
one is enough for the Cetonia, the repetition was of no value unless
there was a change of prey. What was the new victim submitted to the
butcher's knife? Apparently, a large Spider, since the Tarantula and
the Garden Spider call for two thrusts. And the prentice Scolia, who
used at first to sting under the throat, had the skill, at her first
attempt, to begin by disarming her adversary and then to go quite low
down, almost to the end of the thorax, to strike the vital point. I
am utterly incredulous as to her success. I see her eaten up if her
lancet swerves and hits the wrong spot. Let us look impossibility
boldly in the face and admit that she succeeds. I then see the
offspring, which have no recollection of the fortunate event save
through the belly--and then we are postulating that the digestion of
the carnivorous larva leaves a trace in the memory of the honey-
sipping insect--I see the offspring, I say, obliged to wait at long
intervals for that inspired double thrust and obliged to succeed each
time under pain of death for them and their descendants. To accept
this host of impossibilities exceeds all my faculties of belief. One
leads to two, no doubt; the Ssingle blow of the predatory Wasp will
never lead to the blow twice delivered.

In order to live, we all require the conditions that enable us to
live: this is a truth worthy of the famous axioms of La Palice.
(Jacques de Chabannes, Seigneur de La Palice (circa 1470-1525), was a
French captain killed at the battle of Pavia. His soldiers made up in
his honour a ballad, two lines of which, translated, run:

Fifteen minutes before he died,
He was still alive.

Hence the French expression, une verite de La Palice, meaning an
obvious truth.--Translator's Note.)

The predatory insects live by their talent. If they do not possess
it to perfection, their race is lost. Hidden in the murk of the past
ages, the argument based upon the non-existence of fossil instinct is
no better able than the others to withstand the light of living
realities; it crumbles under the stroke of fate; it vanishes before a
La Palice platitude.


Do you know the Halicti? Perhaps not. There is no great harm done: it
is quite possible to enjoy the few sweets of existence without
knowing the Halicti. Nevertheless, when questioned persistently,
these humble creatures with no history can tell us some very singular
things; and their acquaintance is not to be disdained if we would
enlarge our ideas upon the bewildering swarm of this world. Since we
have nothing better to do, let us look into the Halicti. They are
worth the trouble.

How shall we recognize them? They are manufacturers of honey,
generally longer and slighter than the Bee of our hives. They
constitute a numerous group that varies greatly in size and
colouring. Some there are that exceed the dimensions of the Common
Wasp; others might be compared with the House-fly, or are even
smaller. In the midst of this variety, which is the despair of the
novice, one characteristic remains invariable. Every Halictus carries
the clearly-written certificate of her guild.

Examine the last ring, at the tip of the abdomen, on the dorsal
surface. If your capture be an Halictus, there will be here a smooth
and shiny line, a narrow groove along which the sting slides up and
down when the insect is on the defensive. This slide for the
unsheathed weapon denotes some member of the Halictus tribe, without
distinction of size or colour. No elsewhere, in the sting-bearing
order, is this original sort of groove in use. It is the distinctive
mark, the emblem of the family.

Three Halicti will appear before you in this biographical fragment.
Two of them are my neighbours, my familiars, who rarely fail to
settle each year in the best parts of the enclosure. They occupied
the ground before I did; and I should not dream of evicting them,
persuaded as I am that they will well repay my indulgence. Their
proximity, which allows me to visit them daily at my leisure, is a
piece of good luck. Let us profit by it.

At the head of my three subjects is the Zebra Halictus (H. zebrus,
WALCK.), which is beautifully belted around her long abdomen with
alternate black and pale-russet scarves. Her slender shape, her size,
which equals that of the Common Wasp, her simple and pretty dress,
combine to make her the chief representative of the genus here.

She establishes her galleries in firm soil, where there is no danger
of landslips which would interfere with the work at nesting-time. In
my garden, the well-levelled paths, made of a mixture of tiny pebbles
and red clayey earth, suits her to perfection. Every spring she takes
possession of it, 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 clearly marked
out and distant from the other, in which the joint possession of the
site in no way entails joint work.

Each has her home, an inviolable manor which none but the owner has
the right to enter. A sound buffeting would soon call to order any
adventuress who dared to make her way into another's dwelling. No
such indiscretion is suffered among the Halicti. Let each keep to her
own place and to herself and perfect peace will reign in this new-
formed society, made up of neighbours and not of fellow-workers.

Operations begin in April, most unobtrusively, the only sign of the
underground works being the little mounds of fresh earth. There is no
animation in the building-yards. The labourers 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. Nothing more for the moment.

There is one precaution to be taken: the villages must be protected
against the passers-by, who might inadvertently trample them under
foot. I surround each of them with a palisade of reed-stumps. In the
centre I plant a danger-signal, a post with a paper flag. The
sections of the paths thus marked are forbidden ground; none of the
household will walk upon them.

May arrives, gay with flowers and sunshine. The navvies of April have
turned themselves into harvesters. At every moment I see them
settling, all befloured with yellow, atop of the mole-hills now
turned into craters. Let us first look into the question of the
house. The arrangement of the home will give us some useful
information. A spade and a three-pronged fork place the insect's
crypts before our eyes.

A shaft as nearly vertical as possible, straight or winding according
to the exigencies of a soil rich in flinty remains, descends to a
depth of between eight and twelve inches. As it is merely a passage
in which the only thing necessary is that the Halictus should find an
easy support in coming and going, this long entrance-hall is rough
and uneven. A regular shape and a polished surface would be out of
place here. These artistic refinements are reserved for the
apartments of her young. All that the Halictus mother asks is that
the passage should be easy to go up and down, to ascend or descend in
a hurry. And so she leaves it rugged. Its width is about that of a
thick lead-pencil.

Arranged one by one, horizontally and at different heights, the cells
occupy the basement of the house. They are oval cavities, three-
quarters of an inch long, dug out of the clay mass. They end in a
short bottle-neck that widens into a graceful mouth. They look like
tiny vaccine-phials laid on their sides. All of them open into the

The inside of these little cells has the gloss and polish of a stucco
which our most experienced plasterers might envy. It is diapered with
faint longitudinal, diamond-shaped marks. These are 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, that is obvious. The
Halictus has made a trowel of her tongue and licked the wall daintily
and methodically in order to polish it.

This final glazing, so exquisite in its perfection, is preceded by a
trimming-process. In the cells that are not yet stocked with
provisions, the walls are dotted with tiny dents like those in a
thimble. Here we recognize the work of the mandibles, which squeeze
the clay with their tips, compress it and purge it of any grains of
sand. The result is a milled surface whereon the polished layer will
find a solid adhesive base. This layer is obtained with a fine clay,
very carefully selected by the insect, purified, softened and then
applied atom by atom, after which the trowel of the tongue steps in,
diapering and polishing, while saliva, disgorged as needed, gives
pliancy to the paste and finally dries into a waterproof varnish.

The humidity of the subsoil, at the time of the spring showers, would
reduce the little earthen alcove to a sort of pap. The coating of
saliva is an excellent preservative against this danger. It is so
delicate that we suspect rather than see it; but its efficacy is none
the less evident. I fill a cell with water. The liquid remains in it
quite well, without any trace of infiltration.

The tiny pitcher looks as if it were varnished with galenite. The
impermeability which the potter obtains by the brutal infusion of his
mineral ingredients the Halictus achieves with the soft polisher of
her tongue moistened with saliva. Thus protected, the larva will
enjoy all the advantages of a dry berth, even in rain-soaked ground.

Should the wish seize us, it is easy to detach the waterproof film,
at least in shreds. Take the little shapeless lump in which a cell
has been excavated and put it in sufficient water to cover the bottom
of it. The whole earthy mass will soon be soaked and reduced to a mud
which we are able to sweep with the point of a hair-pencil. Let us
have patience and do our sweeping gently; and we shall be able to
separate from the main body the fragments of a sort of extremely fine
satin. This transparent, colourless material is the upholstery that
keeps out the wet. The Spider's web, if it formed a stuff and not a
net, is the only thing that could be compared with it.

The Halictus' nurseries are, as we see, structures that take much
time in the making. The insect first digs in the clayey earth a
recess with an oval curve to it. It has its mandibles for a pick-axe
and its tarsi, armed with tiny claws, for rakes. Rough though it be,
this early work presents difficulties, for the Bee has to do her
excavating in a narrow gully, where there is only just room for her
to pass.

The rubbish soon becomes cumbersome. The insect collects it and then,
moving backwards, with its fore-legs closed over the load, it hoists
it up through the shaft and flings it outside, upon the mole-hill,
which rises by so much above the threshold of the burrow. Next come
the dainty finishing-touches: the milling of the wall, the
application of a glaze of better-quality clay, the assiduous
polishing with the long-suffering tongue, the waterproof coating and
the jarlike mouth, a masterpiece of pottery in which the stopping-
plug will be fixed when the time comes for locking the door of the
room. And all this has to be done with mathematical precision.

No, because of this perfection, the grubs' chambers could never be
work done casually from day to day, as the ripe eggs descend from the
ovaries. They are prepared long beforehand, during the bad weather,
at the end of March and in April, when flowers are scarce and the
temperature subject to sudden changes. This thankless period, often
cold, liable to hail-storms, is spent in making ready the home. Alone
at the bottom of her shaft, which she rarely leaves, the mother works
at her children's apartments, lavishing upon them those finishing-
touches which leisure allows. They are completed, or very nearly,
when May comes with the radiant sunshine and wealth of flowers.

We see the evidence of these long preparations in the burrows
themselves, if we inspect them before the provisions are brought. All
of them show us cells, about a dozen in number, quite finished, but
still empty. To begin by getting all the huts built is a sensible
precaution: the mother will not have to turn aside from the delicate
task of harvesting and egg-laying in order to perform rough navvy's

Everything is ready by May. The air is balmy; the smiling lawns are
gay with a thousand little flowers, dandelions, rock-roses, tansies
and daisies, among which the harvesting Bee rolls gleefully, covering
herself with pollen. With her crop full of honey and the brushes of
her legs befloured, the Halictus returns to her village. Flying very
low, almost level with the ground, she hesitates, with sudden turns
and bewildered movements. It seems that the weak-sighted insect finds
its way with difficulty among the cottages of its little township.

Which is its mole-hill among the many others near, all similar in
appearance? It cannot tell exactly save by the sign-board of certain
details known to itself alone. Therefore, still on the wing, tacking
from side to side, it examines the locality. The home is found at
last: the Halictus alights on the threshold of her abode 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 disgorges 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, the stack of
provisions in the cell is sufficient. This is the moment to bake the

The mother kneads her flour, mingles it sparingly with honey. The
mixture is made into a round loaf, the size of a pea. Unlike our own
loaves, this one has the crust inside and the crumb outside. The
middle part of the roll, the ration which will be consumed last, when
the grub has acquired some strength, consists of almost nothing but
dry pollen. The Bee keeps the dainties in her crop for the outside of
the loaf, whence the feeble grub-worm is to take its first mouthfuls.
Here it is all soft crumb, a delicious sandwich with plenty of honey.
The little breakfast-roll is arranged in rings regulated according to
the age of the nurseling: first the syrupy outside and at the very
end the dry inside. Thus it is ordained by the economics of the

An egg bent like a bow is laid upon the sphere. According to the
generally-accepted rule, it now only remains to close the cabin.
Honey-gatherers--Anthophorae, Osmiae, Mason-bees and many others--
usually first collect a sufficient stock of food and then, having
laid the egg, shut up the cell, to which they need pay no more
attention. The Halicti employ a different method. The compartments,
each with its round loaf and its egg--the tenant and his provisions--
are not closed up. As they all open into the common passage of the
burrow, the mother is able, without leaving her other occupations, to
inspect them daily and enquire tenderly into the progress of her
family. I imagine, without possessing any certain proof, that from
time to time she distributes additional provisions to the grubs, for
the original loaf appears to me a very frugal ration compared with
that served by the other Bees.

Certain hunting Hymenoptera, the Bembex-wasps, for instance, are
accustomed to furnish the provisions in instalments: so that the grub
may have fresh though dead game, they fill the platter each day. The
Halictus mother has not these domestic necessities, as her provisions
keep more easily; but still she might well distribute a second
portion of flour to the larvae, when their appetite attains its
height. I can see nothing else to explain the open doors of the cells
during the feeding-period.

At last the grubs, close-watched and fed to repletion, have achieved
the requisite degree of fatness; they are on the eve of being
transformed into pupae. Then and not till then the cells are closed:
a big clay stopper is built by the mother into the spreading mouth of
the jug. Henceforth the maternal cares are over. The rest will come
of itself.

Hitherto we have witnessed only the peaceful details of the
housekeeping. Let us go back a little and we shall be witnesses of
rampant brigandage. In May, I visit my most populous village daily,
at about ten o'clock in the morning, when the victualling-operations
are in full swing. Seated on a low chair in the sun, with my back
bent and my arms upon my knees, I watch, without moving, until
dinner-time. What attracts me is a parasite, a trumpery Gnat, the
bold despoiler of the Halictus.

Has the jade a name? I trust so, without, however, caring to waste my
time in enquiries that can have no interest for the reader. Facts
clearly stated are preferable to the dry minutiae of nomenclature.
Let me content myself with giving a brief description of the culprit.
She is a Dipteron, or Fly, five millimetres long. (.195 inch.--
Translator's Note.) Eyes, dark-red; face, white. Corselet, pearl-
grey, with five rows of fine black dots, which are the roots of stiff
bristles pointing backwards. Greyish belly, pale below. Black legs.

She abounds in the colony under observation. Crouching in the sun,
near a burrow, she waits. As soon as the Halictus arrives from her
harvesting, her legs yellow with pollen, the Gnat darts forth and
pursues her, keeping behind her in all the turns of her oscillating
flight. At last, the Bee suddenly dives indoors. No less suddenly the
other 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 thorax 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
Halictus--judging, at least, by her tranquillity--takes no notice of
the parasite lying in wait for her; the parasite, on the other hand,
displays no fear of being punished for her audacity. She remains
imperturbable, she, the dwarf, in the presence of the colossus who
could crush her with one blow.

In vain I watch anxiously for some sign of apprehension on either
side: nothing in the Halictus points to a knowledge of the danger run
by her family; nor does the Gnat betray any dread of swift
retribution. Plunderer and plundered stare at each other for a
moment; and that is all.

If she liked, the amiable giantess could rip up with her claw the
tiny bandit who ruins her home; she could crunch her with her
mandibles, run her through with her stiletto. She does nothing of the
sort, but leaves the robber in peace, to sit quite close, motionless,
with her red eyes fixed on the threshold of the house. Why this
fatuous clemency?

The Bee flies off. Forthwith, the Gnat walks in, with no more
ceremony than if she were entering her own place. She now chooses
among the victualled cells at her ease, for they are all open, as I
have said; she leisurely deposits her eggs. No one will disturb her
until the Bee's return. To flour one's legs with pollen, to distend
one's crop with syrup is a task that takes long a-doing; and the
intruder, therefore, has time and to spare wherein to commit her
felony. Moreover, her chronometer is well-regulated and gives the
exact measure of the Bee's length of absence. When the Halictus comes
back from the fields, the Gnat has decamped. In some favourable spot,
not far from the burrow, she awaits the opportunity for a fresh

What would happen if a parasite were surprised at her work by the
Bee? Nothing serious. I see them, greatly daring, follow the Halictus
right into the cave and remain there for some time while the mixture
of pollen and honey is being prepared. Unable to make use of the
paste so long as the harvester is kneading it, they go back to the
open air and wait on the threshold for the Bee to come out. They
return to the sunlight, calmly, with unhurried steps: a clear proof
that nothing untoward has occurred in the depths where the Halictus

A tap on the Gnat's neck, if she become too enterprising in the
neighbourhood of the cake: that is all that the lady of the house
seems to allow herself, to drive away the intruder. There is no
serious affray between the robber and the robbed. This is apparent
from the self-possessed manner and undamaged condition of the dwarf
who returns from visiting the giantess engaged down in the burrow.

The Bee, when she comes home, whether laden with provisions or not,
hesitates, as I have said, for a while; in a series of rapid zigzags,
she moves backwards, forwards and from side to side, at a short
distance from the ground. This intricate flight at first suggests the
idea that she is trying to lead her persecutress astray by means of
an inextricable tangle of marches and countermarches. That would
certainly be a prudent move on the Bee's part; but so much wisdom
appears to be denied her.

It is not the enemy that is disturbing her, but rather the difficulty
of finding her own house amid the confusion of the mole-hills,
encroaching one upon the other, and all the alleys of the little
township, which, owing to landslips of fresh rubbish, alter in
appearance from one day to the next. Her hesitation is manifest, for
she often blunders and alights at the entrance to a burrow that is
not hers. The mistake is at once perceived from the slight
indications of the doorway.

The search is resumed with the same see-sawing flights, mingled with
sudden excursions to a distance. At last, the burrow is recognized.
The Halictus dives into it with a rush; but, however prompt her
disappearance underground, the Gnat is there, perched on the
threshold with her eyes turned to the entrance, waiting for the Bee
to come out, so that she may visit the honey-jars in her turn.

When the owner of the house ascends, the other draws back a little,
just enough to leave a free passage and no more. Why should she put
herself out? the meeting is so peaceful that, short of further
information, one would not suspect that a destroyer and destroyed
were face to face. Far from being intimidated by the sudden arrival
of the Halictus, the Gnat pays hardly any attention; and, in the same
way, the Halictus takes no notice of her persecutress, unless the
bandit pursue her and worry her on the wing. Then, with a sudden
bend, the Bee makes off.

Even so do Philanthus apivorus (The Bee-hunting Wasp. Cf. "Social
Life in the Insect World": chapter 13.--Translator's Note.) and the
other game-hunters behave when the Tachina is at their heels seeking
the chance to lay her egg on the morsel about to be stored away.
Without jostling the parasite which they find hanging around the
burrow, they go indoors quite peaceably; but, on the wing, perceiving
her after them, they dart off wildly. The Tachina, however, dares not
go down to the cells where the huntress stacks her provisions; she
prudently waits at the door for the Philanthus to arrive. The crime,
the laying of the egg, is committed at the very moment when the
victim is about to vanish underground.

The troubles of the parasite of the Halictus are of quite another
kind. The homing Bee has her honey in her crop and her pollen on her
leg-brushes: the first is inaccessible to the thief; the second is
powdery and would give no resting-place to the egg. Besides, there is
not enough of it yet: to collect the wherewithal for that round loaf
of hers, the Bee will have to make repeated journeys. When the
necessary amount is obtained, she will knead it with the tip of her
mandibles and shape it with her feet into a little ball. The Gnat's
egg, were it present among the materials, would certainly be in
danger during this manipulation.

The alien egg, therefore, must be laid on the finished bread; and, as
the preparation takes place underground, the parasite is needs
obliged to go down to the Halictus. With inconceivable daring, she
does go down, even when the Bee is there. Whether through cowardice
or silly indulgence, the dispossessed insect lets the other have its

The object of the Gnat, with her tenacious lying-in-wait and her
reckless burglaries, is not to feed herself at the harvester's
expense: she could get her living out of the flowers with much less
trouble than her thieving trade involves. The most, I think, that she
can allow herself to do in the Halictus' cellars is to take one
morsel just to ascertain the quality of the victuals. Her great, her
sole business is to settle her family. The stolen goods are not for
herself, but for her offspring.

Let us dig up the pollen-loaves. We shall find them most often
crumbled with no regard to economy, simply frittered away. We shall
see two or three maggots, with pointed mouths, moving in the yellow
flour scattered over the floor of the cell. These are the Gnat's
progeny. With them we sometimes find the lawful owner, the grub-worm
of the Halictus, but stunted and emaciated with fasting. His
gluttonous companions, without otherwise molesting him, deprive him
of the best of everything. The wretched starveling dwindles, shrivels
up and soon disappears from view. His corpse, a mere atom, blended
with the remaining provisions, supplies the maggots with one mouthful
the more.

And what does the Halictus mother do in this disaster? She is free to
visit her grubs at any moment; she has but to put her head into the
passage of the house: she cannot fail to be apprised of their
distress. The squandered loaf, the swarming mass of vermin tell their
own tale. Why does she not take the intruders by the skin of the
abdomen? To grind them to powder with her mandibles, to fling them
out of doors were the business of a second. And the foolish creature
never thinks of it, leaves the ravagers in peace!

She does worse. When the time of the nymphosis comes, the Halictus
mother goes to the cells rifled by the parasite and closes them with
an earthen plug as carefully as she does the rest. This final
barricade, an excellent precaution when the cot is occupied by an
Halictus in course of metamorphosis, becomes the height of absurdity
when the Gnat has passed that way. Instinct does not hesitate in the
face of this ineptitude: it seals up emptiness. I say, emptiness,
because the crafty maggot hastens to decamp the instant that the
victuals are consumed, as though it foresaw an insuperable obstacle
for the coming Fly: it quits the cell before the Bee closes it.

To rascally guile the parasite adds prudence. All, until there is
none of them left, abandon the clay homes which would be their
undoing once the entrance was plugged up. The earthen niche, so
grateful to the tender skin, thanks to its polished coating, so free
from humidity, thanks to its waterproof glaze, ought, one would
think, to make an excellent waiting-place. The maggots will have none
of it. Lest they should find themselves walled in when they become
frail Gnats, they go away and disperse in the neighbourhood of the
ascending shaft.

My digging operations, in fact, always reveal the pupae outside the
cells, never inside. I find them enshrined, one by one, in the body
of the clayey earth, in a narrow recess which the emigrant worm has
contrived to make for itself. Next spring, when the hour comes for
leaving, the adult insect has but to creep through the rubbish, which
is easy work.

Another and no less imperative reason compels this change of abode on
the parasite's part. In July, a second generation of the Halictus is
procreated. The Gnat, reduced on her side to a single brood, remains
in the pupa state and awaits the spring of the following year before
effecting her transformation. The honey-gather resumes her work in
her native village; she avails herself of the pits and cells
constructed in the spring, saving no little time thereby. The whole
elaborate structure has remained in good condition. It needs but a
few repairs to make the old house habitable.

Now what would happen if the Bee, so scrupulous in matters of
cleanliness, were to find a pupa in the cell which she is sweeping?
She would treat the cumbersome object as she would a piece of old
plaster. It would be no more to her than any other refuse, a bit of
gravel, which, seized with the mandibles, crushed perhaps, would be
sent to join the rubbish-heap outside. Once removed from the soil and
exposed to the inclemencies of the weather, the pupa would inevitably

I admire this intelligent foresight of the maggot, which forgoes the
comfort of the moment for the security of the future. Two dangers
threaten it: to be immured in a casket whence the Fly can never
issue; or else to die out of doors, in the unkindly air, when the Bee
sweeps out the restored cells. To avoid this twofold peril, it
decamps before the door is closed, before the July Halictus sets her
house in order.

Let us now see what comes of the parasite's intrusion. In the course
of June, when peace is established in the Halictus' home, I dig up my
largest village, comprising some fifty burrows in all. None of the
sorrows of this underworld shall escape me. There are four of us
engaged in sifting the excavated earth through our fingers. What one
has examined another takes up and examines; and then another and
another yet. The returns are heartrending. We do not succeed in
finding one single nymph of the Halictus. The whole of the populous
city has perished; and its place has been taken by the Gnat. There is
a glut of that individual's pupae. I collect them in order to trace
their evolution.

The year runs its course; and the little russet kegs, into which the
original maggots have hardened and contracted, remain stationary.
They are seeds endowed with latent life. The heats of July do not
rouse them from their torpor. In that month, the period of the second
generation of the Halictus, there is a sort of truce of God: the
parasite rests and the Bee works in peace. If hostilities were to be
resumed straight away, as murderous in summer as they were in spring,
the progeny of the Halictus, too cruelly smitten, might possibly
disappear altogether. This lull readjusts the balance.

In April, when the Zebra Halictus, in search of a good place for her
burrows, roams up and down the garden paths with her oscillating
flight, the parasite, on its side, hastens to hatch. Oh, the precise
and terrible agreement between those two calendars, the calendar of
the persecutor and the persecuted! At the very moment when the Bee
comes out, here is the Gnat: she is ready to begin her deadly
starving-process all over again.

Were this an isolated case, one's mind would not dwell upon it: an
Halictus more or less in the world makes little difference in the
general balance. But, alas, brigandage in all its forms is the rule
in the eternal conflict of living things! From the lowest to the
highest, every producer is exploited by the unproductive. Man
himself, whose exceptional rank ought to raise him above such
baseness, excels in this ravening lust. He says to himself that
business means getting hold of other people's cash, even as the Gnat
says to herself that business means getting hold of the Halictus'
honey. And, to play the brigand to better purpose, he invents war,
the art of killing wholesale and of doing with glory that which, when
done on a smaller scale, leads to the gallows.

Shall we never behold the realization of that sublime vision which is
sung on Sundays in the smallest village-church: Gloria in excelsis
Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis! If war affected
humanity alone, perhaps the future would have peace in store for us,
seeing that generous minds are working for it with might and main;
but the scourge also rages among the lower animals, which in their
obstinate way, will never listen to reason. Once the evil is laid
down as a general condition, it perhaps becomes incurable. Life in
the future, it is to be feared, will be what it is to-day, a
perpetual massacre.

Whereupon, by a desperate effort of the imagination, one pictures to
oneself a giant capable of juggling with the planets. He is
irresistible strength; he is also law and justice. He knows of our
battles, our butcheries, our farm-burnings, our town-burnings, our
brutal triumphs; he knows our explosives, our shells, our torpedo-
boats, our ironclads and all our cunning engines of destruction; he
knows as well the appalling extent of the appetites among all
creatures, down to the very lowest. Well, if that just and mighty one
held the earth under his thumb, would he hesitate whether he ought to
crush it?

He would not hesitate...He would let things take their course. He
would say to himself:

'The old belief is right; the earth is a rotten apple, gnawed by the
vermin of evil. It is a first crude attempt, a step towards a
kindlier destiny. Let it be: order and justice are waiting at the


Leaving our village is no very serious matter when we are children.
We even look on it as a sort of holiday. We are going to see
something new, those magic pictures of our dreams. With age come
regrets; and the close of life is spent in stirring up old memories.
Then the beloved village reappears, in the biograph of the mind,
embellished, transfigured by the glow of those first impressions; and
the mental image, superior to the reality, stands out in amazingly
clear relief. The past, the far-off past, was only yesterday; we see
it, we touch it.

For my part, after three-quarters of a century, I could walk with my
eyes closed straight to the flat stone where I first heard the soft
chiming note of the Midwife Toad; yes, I should find it to a
certainty, if time, which devastates all things, even the homes of
Toads, has not moved it or perhaps left it in ruins.

I see, on the margin of the brook, the exact position of the alder-
trees whose tangled roots, deep under the water, were a refuge for
the Crayfish. I should say:

'It is just at the foot of that tree that I had the unutterable bliss
of catching a beauty. She had horns so long...and enormous claws,
full of meat, for I got her just at the right time.'

I should go without faltering to the ash under whose shade my heart
beat so loudly one sunny spring morning. I had caught sight of a sort
of white, cottony ball among the branches. Peeping from the depths of
the wadding was an anxious little head with a red hood to it. O what
unparalleled luck! It was a Goldfinch, sitting on her eggs.

Compared with a find like this, lesser events do not count. Let us
leave them. In any case, they pale before the memory of the paternal
garden, a tiny hanging garden of some thirty paces by ten, situated
right at the top of the village. The only spot that overlooks it is a
little esplanade on which stands the old castle (The Chateau de
Saint-Leons standing just outside and above the village of Saint-
Leons, where the author was born in 1823. Cf. "The Life of the Fly":
chapters 6 and 7.--Translator's Note.) with the four turrets that
have now become dovecotes. A steep path takes you up to this open
space. From my house on, it is more like a precipice than a slope.
Gardens buttressed by walls are staged in terraces on the sides of
the funnel-shaped valley. Ours is the highest; it is also the

There are no trees. Even a solitary apple-tree would crowd it. There
is a patch of cabbages, with a border of sorrel, a patch of turnips
and another of lettuces. That is all we have in the way of garden-
stuff; there is no room for more. Against the upper supporting-wall,
facing due south, is a vine-arbour which, at intervals, when the sun
is generous, provides half a basketful of white muscatel grapes.
These are a luxury of our own, greatly envied by the neighbours, for
the vine is unknown outside this corner, the warmest in the village.

A hedge of currant-bushes, the only safeguard against a terrible
fall, forms a parapet above the next terrace. When our parents'
watchful eyes are off us, we lie flat on our stomachs, my brother and
I, and look into the abyss at the foot of the wall bulging under the
thrust of the land. It is the garden of monsieur le notaire.

There are beds with box-borders in that garden; there are pear-trees
reputed to give pears, real pears, more or less good to eat when they
have ripened on the straw all through the late autumn. In our
imagination, it is a spot of perpetual delight, a paradise, but a
paradise seen the wrong way up: instead of contemplating it from
below, we gaze at it from above. How happy they must be with so much
space and all those pears!

We look at the hives, around which the hovering Bees make a sort of
russet smoke. They stand under the shelter of a great hazel. The tree
has sprung up all of itself in a fissure of the wall, almost on the
level of our currant-bushes. While it spreads its mighty branches
over the notary's hives, its roots, at least, are on our land. It
belongs to us. The trouble is to gather the nuts.

I creep along astride the strong branches projecting horizontally
into space. If I slip or if the support breaks, I shall come to grief
in the midst of the angry Bees. I do not slip and the support does
not break. With the bent switch which my brother hands me, I bring
the finest clusters within my reach. I soon fill my pockets. Moving
backwards, still straddling my branch, I recover terra firma. O
wondrous days of litheness and assurance, when, for a few filberts,
on a perilous perch we braved the abyss!

Enough. These reminiscences, so dear to my dreams, do not interest
the reader. Why stir up more of them? I am content to have brought
this fact into prominence: the first glimmers of light penetrating
into the dark chambers of the mind leave an indelible impression,
which the years make fresher instead of dimmer.

Obscured by everyday worries, the present is much less familiar to
us, in its petty details, than the past, with childhood's glow upon
it. I see plainly in my memory what my prentice eyes saw; and I
should never succeed in reproducing with the same accuracy what I saw
last week. I know my village thoroughly, though I quitted it so long
ago; and I know hardly anything of the towns to which the
vicissitudes of life have brought me. An exquisitely sweet link binds
us to our native soil; we are like the plant that has to be torn away
from the spot where it put out its first roots. Poor though it be, I
should love to see my own village again; I should like to leave my
bones there.

Does the insect in its turn receive a lasting impression of its
earliest visions? Has it pleasant memories of its first surroundings?
We will not speak of the majority, a world of wandering gipsies who
establish themselves anywhere provided that certain conditions be
fulfilled; but the others, the settlers, living in groups: do they
recall their native village? Have they, like ourselves, a special
affection for the place which saw their birth?

Yes, indeed they have: they remember, they recognize the maternal
abode, they come back to it, they restore it, they colonize it anew.
Among many other instances, let us quote that of the Zebra Halictus.
She will show us a splendid example of love for one's birthplace
translating itself into deeds.

The Halictus' spring family acquire the adult form in a couple of
months or so; they leave the cells about the end of June. What goes
on inside these neophytes as they cross the threshold of the burrow
for the first time? Something, apparently, that may be compared with
our own impressions of childhood. An exact and indelible image is
stamped on their virgin memories. Despite the years, I still see the
stone whence came the resonant notes of the little Toads, the parapet
of currant-bushes, the notary's garden of Eden. These trifles make
the best part of my life. The Halictus sees in the same way the blade
of grass whereon she rested in her first flight, the bit of gravel
which her claw touched in her first climb to the top of the shaft.
She knows her native abode by heart just as I know my village. The
locality has become familiar to her in one glad, sunny morning.

She flies off, seeks refreshment on the flowers near at hand and
visits the fields where the coming harvests will be gathered. The
distance does not lead her astray, so faithful are her impressions of
her first trip; she finds the encampment of her tribe; among the
burrows of the village, so numerous and so closely resembling one
another, she knows her own. It is the house where she was born, the
beloved house with its unforgettable memories.

But, on returning home, the Halictus is not the only mistress of the
house. The dwelling dug by the solitary Bee in early spring remains,
when summer comes, the joint inheritance of the members of the
family. There are ten cells, or thereabouts, underground. Now from
these cells there have issued none but females. This is the rule
among the three species of Halicti that concern us now and probably
also among many others, if not all. They have two generations in each
year. The spring one consists of females only; the summer one
comprises both males and females, in almost equal numbers. We shall
return to this curious subject in our next chapter.

The household, therefore, if not reduced by accidents, above all if
not starved by the usurping Gnat, would consist of half-a-score of
sisters, none but sisters, all equally industrious and all capable of
procreating without a nuptial partner. On the other hand, the
maternal dwelling is no hovel; far from it: the entrance-gallery, the
principal room of the house, will serve quite well, after a few odds
and ends of refuse have been swept away. This will be so much gained
in time, ever precious to the Bee. The cells at the bottom, the clay
cabins, are also nearly intact. To make use of them, it will be
enough for the Halictus to polish up the stucco with her tongue.

Well, which of the survivors, all equally entitled to the succession,
will inherit the house? There are six of them, seven, or more,
according to the chances of mortality. To whose share will the
maternal dwelling fall?

There is no quarrel between the interested parties. The mansion is
recognized as common property without dispute. The sisters 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 has her
little demesne, her group of cells dug at the cost of fresh toil,
when the old ones, now insufficient in number, are occupied. In these
recesses, which are private estates, each mother works by herself,
jealous of her property and of her privacy. Every elsewhere, traffic
is free to all.

The exits and entrances in the working fortress provide a spectacle
of the highest interest. A harvester arrives from the fields, the
feather-brushes of her legs powdered with pollen. If the door be
open, the Bee at once dives underground. To tarry on the threshold
would mean waste of time; and the business is urgent. Sometimes,
several appear upon the scene at almost the same moment. The passage
is too narrow for two, especially when they have to avoid any
untimely contact that would make the floury burden fall to the floor.
The nearest to the opening enters quickly. The others, drawn up on
the threshold in 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, again, there is a meeting between a Bee about to come out
and a Bee about to go in. Then the latter draws back a little and
makes way for the former. The politeness is reciprocal. I see some
who, when on the point of emerging from the pit, go down again and
leave the passage free for the one who has just arrived. Thanks to
this mutual spirit of accommodation, the business of the house
proceeds without impediment.

Let us keep our eyes open. There is something better than the well-
preserved order of the entrances. When an Halictus appears, returning
from her round of the flowers, we see a sort of trap-door, which
closed 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 anew. 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 outlet is
closed forthwith.

What can this valve be which, descending or ascending in the cylinder
of the pit, after the fashion of a piston, opens and closes the house
at each departure and at each arrival? It is an Halictus, who has
become the portress of the establishment. With her large head, she
makes an impassable barrier at 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. The other passes. She then at
once returns to the orifice and blocks it with the top of her head.
Motionless, ever on the look-out, she does not leave her post save to
drive away importunate visitors.

Let us profit by her brief appearances outside to take a look at her.
We recognize in her an Halictus similar to the others, which are now
busy harvesting; but the top of her head is bald and her dress is
dingy and thread-bare. 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 performs the office of a portress at
the entrance to the burrow is older than the others. She is the
foundress of the establishment, the mother of the actual workers, the
grandmother of the present grubs. In the springtime of her life,
three months ago, she wore herself out in solitary labours. Now that
her ovaries are dried up, she takes a well-earned rest. No, rest is
hardly the word. She still works, she assists the household to the
best of her power. Incapable of being a mother for a second time, she
becomes a portress, opens the door to the members of her family and
makes strangers keep their distance.

The suspicious Kid (In La Fontaine's fable, "Le Loup, la Chevre et le
Chevreau."--Translator's Note.), looking through the chink, said to
the Wolf:

'Show me a white foot, or I shan't open the door.'

No less suspicious, the grandmother says to each comer:

'Show me the yellow foot of an Halictus, 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 portress, wagging her neck.

As a rule the threat suffices. The Ant decamps. Should she insist,
the watcher leaves her sentry-box, flings herself upon the saucy
jade, buffets her and drives her away. The moment the punishment has
been administered, she returns to her post.

Next comes the turn of a Leaf-cutter (Megachile albocincta, PEREZ),
which, unskilled in the art of burrowing, utilizes, after the manner
of her kin, the old galleries dug by others. Those of the Zebra
Halictus 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 inspection of my
colonies of Halicti. 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 Megachile has time to alight and insert her head into
the mouth of the pit. In a moment, the portress 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 an abode elsewhere.

An accomplished marauder (Caelioxys caudata, SPIN.), a parasite of
the Megachile, receives a sound drubbing under my eyes. She thought,
the feather-brain, that she was entering the Leaf-Cutter's
establishment! She soon finds out her mistake; she meets the door-
keeping Halictus, who administers a sharp correction. She makes off
at full speed. And so with the others which, through inadvertence or
ambition, seek to enter the burrow.

The same intolerance exists among the different grandmothers. About
the middle of July, when the animation of the colony is at its
height, two sets of Halicti are easily distinguishable: the young
mothers and the old. The former, much more numerous, brisk of
movement and smartly arrayed, come and go unceasingly from the
burrows to the fields and from the fields to the burrows. The latter,
faded and dispirited, wander idly from hole to hole. They look as
though they had lost their way and were incapable of finding their


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