Fabre's Book of Insects: Retold From Alexander Teixeira De M

Fabre's Book of Insects: Retold From Alexander Teixeira De M

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 1:37 am

Fabre's Book of Insects: Retold From Alexander Teixeira De Mattos' Translation of Fabre's "Souvenirs Entomologiques"
by Mrs. Rodolph Stawell
© 1921, by Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc.
Illustrations by DETMOLD





THE SACRED BEETLE: Sometimes the Scarab seems to enter into partnership with a friend.

Table of Contents:

• Chapter 1: My Work and My Workshop
• Chapter 2: The Sacred Beetle
• Chapter 3: The Cicada
• Chapter 4: The Praying Mantis
• Chapter 5: The Glow-Worm
• Chapter 6: A Mason-Wasp
• Chapter 7: The Psyches
• Chapter 8: The Self-Denial of the Spanish Copris
• Chapter 9: Two Strange Grasshoppers
• Chapter 10: Common Wasps
• Chapter 11: The Adventures of a Grub
• Chapter 12: The Cricket
• Chapter 13: The Sisyphus
• Chapter 14: The Capricorn
• Chapter 15: Locusts
• Chapter 16: The Anthrax Fly
• List of Illustrations
o The Sacred Beetle: Sometimes the Scarab seems to enter into partnership with a friend
o The Cicada: In July, when most of the insects in my sunny country are parched with thirst, the Cicada remains perfectly cheerful
o The Praying Mantis: A long time ago, in the days of ancient Greece, this insect was named Mantis, or the Prophet
o Pelopaeus Spirifex: When finished the work is amber-yellow, and rather reminds one of the outer skin of an onion
o The Psyches: This is the secret of the walking bundle of sticks. It is a Faggot Caterpillar, belonging to the group known as the Psyches
o The Spanish Copris: The burrow is almost filled by three or four ovoid nests, standing one against the other, with the pointed end upwards
o The White-Faced Decticus: The Greek word dectikos means biting, fond of biting. The Dectitcus is well named. It is eminently an insect given to biting
o Common Wasps: The wasp's nest is made of a thin, flexible material like brown paper, formed of particles of wood
o The Field Cricket: Here is one of the humblest of creatures able to lodge himself to perfection. He has a home; he has a peaceful retreat, the first condition of comfort
o The Sisyphus: The mother harnesses herself in the place of honour, in front. The father fushes behind in the reverse position, head downwards
o Italian Locusts: "I have buried underground," she says, "the treasure of the future"
o The Anthrax Fly: Her delicate suit of downy velvet, from which you take the bloom by merely breathing on it, could not withstand the contact of rough tunnels
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Re: Fabre's Book of Insects: Retold From Alexander Teixeira

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 1:38 am


WE all have our own talents, our special gifts. Sometimes these gifts seem to come to us from our forefathers, but more often it is difficult to trace their origin.

A goatherd, perhaps, amuses himself by counting little pebbles and doing sums with them. He becomes an astoundingly quick reckoner, and in the end is a professor of mathematics. Another boy, at an age when most of us care only for play, leaves his schoolfellows at their games and listens to the imaginary sounds of an organ, a secret concert heard by him alone. He has a genius for music. A third — so small, perhaps, that he cannot eat his bread and jam without smearing his face — takes a keen delight in fashioning clay into little figures that are amazingly lifelike. If he be fortunate he will some day be a famous sculptor.

To talk about oneself is hateful, I know, but perhaps I may be allowed to do so for a moment, in order to intro- duce myself and my studies.

From my earliest childhood I have felt drawn towards the things of Nature. It would be ridiculous to suppose that this gift, this love of observing plants and insects, was inherited from my ancestors, who were uneducated people of the soil and observed little but their own cows and sheep. Of my four grandparents only one ever opened a book, and even he was very uncertain about his spelling. Nor do I owe anything to a scientific training. Without masters, without guides, often without books, I have gone forward with one aim always before me : to add a few pages to the history of insects.

As I look back — so many years back! — I can see myself as a tiny boy, extremely proud of my first braces and of my attempts to learn the alphabet. And very well I remember the delight of finding my first bird's nest and gathering my first mushroom.

One day I was climbing a hill. At the top of it was a row of trees that had long interested me very much. From the little window at home I could see them against the sky, tossing before the wind or writhing madly in the snow, and I wished to have a closer view of them. It was a long climb — ever so long; and my legs were very short. I clambered up slowly and tediously, for the grassy slope was as steep as a roof.

Suddenly, at my feet, a lovely bird flew out from its hiding-place under a big stone. In a moment I had found the nest, which was made of hair and fine straw, and had six eggs laid side by side in it. The eggs were a magnificent azure blue, very bright. This was the first nest I ever found, the first of the many joys which the birds were to bring me. Overpowered with pleasure, I lay down on the grass and stared at it.

Meanwhile the mother-bird was flying about uneasily from stone to stone, crying "Tack! Tack!" in a voice of the greatest anxiety. I was too small to understand what she was suffering. I made a plan worthy of a little beast of prey. I would carry away just one of the pretty blue eggs as a trophy, and then, in a fortnight, I would come back and take the tiny birds before they could fly away. Fortunately, as I walked carefully home, carrying my blue egg on a bed of moss, I met the priest.

"Ah!" said he. "A Saxicola's egg I Where did you get it?"

I told him the whole story. "I shall go back for the others," I said, "when the young birds have got their quill-feathers."

"Oh, but you mustn't do that I" cried the priest.

"You mustn't be so cruel as to rob the poor mother of all her little birds. Be a good boy, now, and promise not to touch the nest."

From this conversation I learnt two things: first, that robbing birds' nests is cruel and, secondly, that birds and beasts have names just like ourselves.

"What are the names of all my friends in the woods and meadows?" I asked myself. "And what does Saxicola mean?" Years later I learnt that Saxicola means an inhabitant of the rocks. My bird with the blue eggs was a Stone-chat.

Below our village there ran a little brook, and beyond the brook was a spinney of beeches with smooth, straight trunks, like pillars. The ground was padded with moss. It was in this spinney that I picked my first mushroom, which looked, when I caught sight of it, like an egg dropped on the nrjoss by some wandering hen. There were many others there, of different sizes, forms, and colours. Some were shaped like bells, some like extinguishers, some like cups: some were broken, and were weeping tears of milk: some became blue when I trod on them. Others, the most curious of all, were like pears with a round hole at the top — a sort of chimney whence a whiff of smoke escaped when I prodded their under-side with my finger. I filled my pockets with these, and made them smoke at my leisure, till at last they were reduced to a kind of tinder.

Many a time I returned to that delightful spinney, and learnt my first lessons in mushroom-lore in the company of the Crows. My collections, I need hardly say, were not admitted to the house.

In this way — by observing Nature and making experiments — nearly all my lessons have been learnt: all except two, in fact. I have received from others two lessons of a scientific character, and two only, in the whole course of my life: one in anatomy and one in chemistry.

I owe the first to the learned naturalist Moquin-Tandon, who showed me how to explore the interior of a Snail in a plate filled with water. The lesson was short and fruitful.

My first introduction to chemistry was less fortunate. It ended in the bursting of a glass vessel, with the result that most of my fellow-pupils were hurt, one of them nearly lost his sight, the lecturer's clothes were burnt to pieces, and the wall of the lecture-room was splashed with stains. Later on, when I returned to that room, no longer as a pupil but as a master, the splashes were still there. On that occasion I learnt one thing at least. Ever after, when I made experiments of that kind, I kept my pupils at a distance.

It has always been my great desire to have a laboratory in the open fields — not an easy thing to obtain when one lives in a state of constant anxiety about one's daily bread. For forty years it was my dream to own a little bit of land, fenced in for the sake of privacy: a desolate, barren, sun-scorched bit of land, overgrown with thistles and much beloved by Wasps and Bees. Here, without fear of interruption, I might question the Hunting-wasps and others of my friends in that difficult language which consists of experiments and observations. Here, without the long expeditions and rambles that use up my time and strength, I might watch my insects at every hour of the day.

And then, at last, my wish was fulfilled. I obtained a bit of land in the solitude of a little village. It was a harmas which is the name we give in this part of Provence to an untilled, pebbly expanse where hardly any plant but thyme can grow. It is too poor to be worth the trouble of ploughing, but the sheep pass there in spring, when it has chanced to rain and a little grass grows up.

My own particular harmas, however, had a small quantity of red earth mixed with the stones, and had been roughly cultivated. I was told that vines once grew here, and I was sorry, for the original vegetation had been driven out by the three-pronged fork. There was no thyme left, nor lavender, nor a single clump of the dwarf oak. As thyme and lavender might be useful to me as a hunting-ground for Bees and Wasps, I was obliged to plant them again.

There were plenty of weeds : couch-grass, and prickly centauries, and the fierce Spanish oyster-plant, with its preading orange flowers and spikes strong as nails. Above it towered the Illyrian cotton-thistle, whose straight and solitary stalk grows sometimes to the height of six feet and ends in large pink tufts. There were smaller thistles too, so well armed that the plant- collector can hardly tell where to grasp them, and spiky knapweeds, and in among them, in long lines provided with hooks, the shoots of the blue dewberry creeping along the ground. If you had visited this prickly thicket with- out wearing high boots, you would have paid dearly for your rashness!

Such was the Eden that I won by forty years of desperate struggle.

This curious, barren Paradise of mine is the happy hunting-ground of countless Bees and Wasps. Never have I seen so large a population of insects at a single spot. All the trades have made it their centre. Here come hunters of every kind of game, builders in clay, cotton-weavers, leaf-cutters, architects in pasteboard, plasterers mixing mortar, carpenters boring wood, miners digging underground galleries, workers in gold-beaters' skin, and many more.

See — here is a Tailor-bee. She scrapes the cobwebby stalk of the yellow-flowered centaury, and gathers a ball of wadding which she carries off proudly with her mandibles or jaws. She will turn it, underground, into cotton satchels to hold the store of honey and the eggs. And here are the Leaf-cutting Bees, carrying their black, white, or blood-red reaping brushes under their bodies. They will visit the neighbouring shrubs, and there cut from the leaves oval pieces in which to wrap their harvest. Here too are the black, velvet-clad Mason-bees, who work with cement and gravel. We could easily find specimens of their masonry on the stones in the harmas. Next comes a kind of Wild Bee who stacks her cells in the winding staircase of an empty snail-shell; and another who lodges her grubs in the pith of a dry bramble-stalk ; and a third who uses the channel of a cut reed; and a fourth who lives rent-free in the vacant galleries of some Mason-bee. There are also Bees with horns, and Bees with brushes on their hind-legs, to be used for reaping.

While the walls of my harmas were being built some great heaps of stones and mounds of sand were scattered here and there by the builders, and were soon occupied by a variety of inhabitants. The Mason-bees chose the chinks between the stones for their sleeping-place. The powerful Eyed Lizard, who, when hard pressed, attacks both man and dog, selected a cave in which to lie in wait for the passing Scarab, or Sacred Beetle. The Black- eared Chat, who looks like a Dominican monk in his white-and-black raiment, sat on the top stone singing his brief song. His nest, with the sky-blue eggs, must have been somewhere in the heap. When the stones were moved the little Dominican moved too. I regret him: he would have been a charming neighbour. The Eyed Lizard I do not regret at all.

The sand-heaps sheltered a colony of Digger-wasps and Hunting-wasps, who were, to my sorrow, turned out at last by the builders. But still there are hunters left : some who flutter about in search of Caterpillars, and one very large kind of Wasp who actually has the courage to hunt the Tarantula. Many of these mighty Spiders have their burrows in the harmas, and you can see their eyes gleaming at the bottom of the den like little diamonds. On hot summer afternoons you may also see Amazon-ants, who leave their barracks in long battalions and march far afield to hunt for slaves.

Nor are these all. The shrubs about the house are full of birds, Warblers and Greenfinches, Sparrows and Owls; while the pond is so popular with the Frogs that in May it becomes a deafening orchestra. And boldest of all, the Wasp has taken possession of the house itself. On my doorway lives the White-banded Sphex: when I go indoors I must be careful not to tread upon her as she carries on her work of mining. Just within a closed window a kind of Mason-wasp has made her earth-built nest upon the freestone wall. To enter her home she uses a little hole left by accident in the shutters. On the mouldings of the Venetian blinds a few stray Mason- bees build their cells. The Common Wasp and the Solitary Wasp visit me at dinner. The object of their visit, apparently, is to see if my grapes are ripe.

Such are my companions. My dear beasts, my friends of former days and other more recent acquaintances, are all here, hunting, and building, and feeding their families. And if I wish for change the mountain is close to me, with its tangle of arbutus, and rock-roses, and heather, where Wasps and Bees delight to gather. And that is why I deserted the town for the village, and came to Serignan to weed my turnips and water my lettuces.



* See Insect Adventures, retold for young people from the works of Henri Fabre.
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Re: Fabre's Book of Insects: Retold From Alexander Teixeira

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 1:39 am



IT is six or seven thousand years since the Sacred Beetle was first talked about. The peasant of ancient Egypt, as he watered his patch of onions in the spring, would see from time to time a fat black insect pass close by, hurriedly trundling a ball backwards. He would watch the queer rolling thing in amazement, as the peasant of Provence watches it to this day.

The early Egyptians fancied that this ball was a symbol of the earth, and that all the Scarab's actions were prompted by the movements of the heavenly bodies. So much knowledge of astronomy in a Beetle seemed to them almost divine, and that is why he is called the Sacred Beetle. They also thought that the ball he rolled on the ground contained the egg, and that the young Beetle came out of it. But as a matter of fact, it is simply his store of food.

It is not at all nice food. For the work of this Beetle is to scour the filth from the surface of the soil. The ball he rolls so carefully is made of his sweepings from the roads and fields.

This is how he sets about it. The edge of his broad, flat head is notched with six teeth arranged in a semi- circle, like a sort of curved rake; and this he uses for digging and cutting up, for throwing aside the stuff he does not want, and scraping together the food he chooses. His bow-shaped fore-legs are also useful tools, for they are very strong, and they too have five teeth on the outside. So if a vigorous effort be needed to remove some obstacle the Scarab makes use of his elbows, that is to say he flings his toothed legs to right and left, and clears a space with an energetic sweep. Then he collects armfuls of the stuff he has raked together, and pushes it beneath him, between the four hinder-legs. These are long and slender, especially the last pair, slightly bowed and finished with a sharp claw. The Beetle then presses the stuff against his body with his hind-legs, curving it and spinning it round and round till it forms a perfect ball. In a moment a tiny pellet grows to the size of a walnut, and soon to that of an apple. I have seen some gluttons manufacture a ball as big as a man's fist.

When the ball of provisions is ready it must be moved to a suitable place. The Beetle begins the journey. He clasps the ball with his long hind-legs and walks with his fore-legs, moving backwards with his head down and his hind-quarters in the air. He pushes his load behind him by alternate thrusts to right and left. One would expect him to choose a level road, or at least a gentle incline. Not at all! Let him find himself near some steep slope, impossible to climb, and that is the very path the obstinate creature will attempt. The ball, that enormous burden, is painfully hoisted step by step, with in- finite precautions, to a certain height, always backwards. Then by some rash movement all this toil is wasted: the ball rolls down, dragging the Beetle with it. Once more the heights are climbed, and another fall is the result. Again and again the insect begins the ascent. The merest trifle ruins everything; a grass-root may trip him up or a smooth bit of gravel make him slip, and down come ball and Beetle, all mixed up together. Ten or twenty times he will start afresh, till at last he is successful, or else sees the hopelessness of his efforts and resigns himself to taking the level road.

Sometimes the Scarab seems to enter into partnership with a friend. This is the way in which it usually hap- pens. When the Beetle's ball is ready he leaves the crowd of workers, pushing his prize backwards. A neighbour, whose own task is hardly begun, suddenly drops his work and runs to the moving ball, to lend a hand to the owner. His aid seems to be accepted willingly. But the new-comer is not really a partner; he is a robber. To make one's own ball needs hard work and patience; to steal one ready-made, or to invite oneself to a neighbour's dinner, is much easier. Some thieving Beetles go to work craftily, others use violence.

Sometimes a thief comes flying up, knocks over the owner of the ball, and perches himself on top of it. With his fore-legs crossed over his breast, ready to hit out, he awaits events. If the owner raises himself to seize his ball the robber gives him a blow that stretches him on his back. Then the other gets up and shakes the ball till it begins rolling, and perhaps the thief falls off. A wrestling-match follows. The two Beetles grapple with one another: their legs lock and unlock, their joints intertwine, their horny armour clashes and grates with the rasping sound of metal under a file. The one who is successful climbs to the top of the ball, and after two or three attempts to dislodge him the defeated Scarab goes off to make himself a new pellet. I have sometimes seen a third Beetle appear, and rob the robber.

But sometimes the thief bides his time and trusts to cunning. He pretends to help the victim to roll the food along, over sandy plains thick with thyme, over cart-ruts and steep places, but he really does very little of the work, preferring to sit on the ball and do nothing. When a suitable place for a burrow is reached the rightful owner begins to dig with his sharp-edged forehead and toothed legs, flinging armfuls of sand behind him, while the thief clings to the ball, shamming dead. The cave grows deeper and deeper, and the working Scarab disappears from view. Whenever he comes to the surface he glances at the ball, on which the other lies, demure and motionless, inspiring confidence. But as the absences of the owner become longer the thief seizes his chance, and hurriedly makes off with the ball, which he pushes behind him with the speed of a pickpocket afraid of being caught. If the owner catches him, as some- times happens, he quickly changes his position, and seems to plead as an excuse that the pellet rolled down the slope, and he was only trying to stop it! And the two bring the ball back as though nothing had happened.

If the thief has managed to get safely away, however, the owner can only resign himself to his loss, which he does with admirable fortitude. He rubs his cheeks, sniffs the air, flies off, and begins his work all over again. I admire and envy his character.

At last his provisions are safely stored. His burrow is a shallow hole about the size of a man's fist, dug in soft earth or sand, with a short passage to the surface, just wide enough to admit the ball. As soon as his food is rolled into this burrow the Scarab shuts himself in by stopping up the entrance with rubbish. The ball fills almost the whole room: the banquet rises from floor to ceiling. Only a narrow passage runs between it and the walls, and here sit the banqueters, two at most, very often only one. Here the Sacred Beetle feasts day and night, for a week or a fortnight at a time, without ceasing.


As I have already said, the ancient Egyptians thought that the egg of the Sacred Beetle was within the ball that I have been describing. I have proved that it is not so. One day I discovered the truth about the Scarab's egg.

A young shepherd who helps me in his spare time came to me one Sunday in June with a queer thing in his hand. It was exactly like a tiny pear that had lost all its fresh colour and had turned brown in rotting. It was firm to the touch and very graceful in shape, though the materials of which it was formed seemed none too nicely chosen. The shepherd assured me there was an egg inside it; for a similar pear, crushed by accident in the digging, had contained a white egg the size of a grain of wheat.

At daybreak the next morning the shepherd and I went out to investigate the matter. We met among the browsing sheep, on some slopes that had lately been cleared of trees.

A Sacred Beetle's burrow is soon found : you can tell it by the fresh little mound of earth above it. My com- panion dug vigorously into the ground with my pocket trowel, while I lay down, the better to see what was being unearthed. A cave -opened out, and there I saw, lying in the moist earth, a splendid pear upon the ground. I shall not soon forget my first sight of the mother Beetle's wonderful work. My excitement could have been no greater had I, in digging among the relics of ancient Egypt, found the sacred insect carved in emerald.

We went on with our search, and found a second hole. Here, by the side of the pear and fondly embracing it, was the mother Beetle, engaged no doubt in giving it the finishing touches before leaving the burrow for good. There was no possible doubt that the pear was the nest of the Scarab. In the course of the summer I found at least a hundred such nests.

The pear, like the ball, is formed of refuse scraped up in the fields, but the materials are less coarse, because they are intended for the food of the grub. When it comes out of the egg it is incapable of searching for its own meals, so the mother arranges that it shall find itself surrounded by the food that suits it best. It can begin eating at once, without further trouble.

The egg is laid in the narrow end of the pear. Every germ of life, whether of plant or animal, needs air: even the shell of a bird's egg is riddled with an endless number of pores. If the germ of the Scarab were in the thick part of the pear it would be smothered, because there the materials are very closely packed, and are covered with a hard rind. So the mother Beetle prepares a nice airy room with thin walls for her little grub to live in, during its first moments. There is a certain amount of air even in the very centre of the pear, but not enough for a delicate baby-grub. By the time he has eaten his way to the centre he is strong enough to manage with very little air.

There is, of course, a good reason for the hardness of the shell that covers the big end of the pear. The Scarab's burrow is extremely hot: sometimes the temperature reaches boiling point. The provisions, even though they have to last only three or four weeks, are liable to dry up and become uneatable. When, instead of the soft food of its first meal, the unhappy grub finds nothing to eat but horrible crusty stuff as hard as a pebble, it is bound to die of hunger. I have found numbers of these victims of the August sun. The poor things are baked in a sort of closed oven. To lessen this danger the mother Beetle compresses the outer layer of the pear — or nest — with all the strength of her stout, flat forearms, to turn it into a protecting rind like the shell of a nut. This helps to ward off the heat. In the hot summer months the housewife puts her bread into a closed pan to keep it fresh. The insect does the same in its own fashion : by dint of pressure it covers the family bread with a pan.

I have watched the Sacred Beetle at work in her den, so I know how she makes her pear-shaped nest.

With the building-materials she has collected she shuts herself up underground so as to give her whole attention to the business in hand. The materials may be obtained in two ways. As a rule, under natural conditions, she kneads a ball in the usual way and rolls it to a favourable spot. As it rolls along it hardens a little on the surface and gathers a slight crust of earth and tiny grains of sand, which is useful later on. Now and then, however, the Beetle finds a suitable place for her burrow quite close to the spot where she collects her building-materials, and in that case she simply bundles armfuls of stuff into the hole. The result is most striking. One day I see a shapeless lump disappear into the burrow. Next day, or the day after, I visit the Beetle's workshop and find the artist in front of her work. The formless mass of scrapings has become a pear, perfect in outline and exquisitely finished.

The part that rests on the floor of the burrow is crusted over with particles of sand, while the rest is polished like glass. This shows that the Beetle has not rolled the pear round and round, but has shaped it where it lies. She has modelled it with little taps of her broad feet, just as she models her ball in the daylight.

By making an artificial burrow for the mother Beetle in my own workshop, with the help of a glass jar full of earth, and a peep-hole through which I can observe operations, I have been able to see the work in its various stages.

The Beetle first makes a complete ball. Then she starts the neck of the pear by making a ring round the ball and applying pressure, till the ring becomes a groove. In this way a blunt projection is pushed out at one side of the ball. In the centre of this projection she employs further pressure to form a sort of crater or hollow, with a swollen rim; and gradually the hollow is made deeper and the swollen rim thinner and thinner, till a sack is formed. In this sack, which is polished and glazed in- side, the egg is laid. The opening of the sack, or extreme end of the pear, is then closed with a plug of stringy fibres.

There is a reason for this rough plug — a most curious exception, when nothing else has escaped the heavy blows of the insect's leg. The end of the egg rests against it, and, if the stopper were pressed down and driven in, the infant grub might suffer. So the Beetle stops the hole without ramming down the stopper.


About a week or ten days after the laying of the egg, the grub is hatched, and without delay begins to eat its house. It is a grub of remarkable wisdom, for it always starts its meal with the thickest part of the walls, and so avoids making a hole through which it might fall out of the pear altogether. It soon becomes fat; and indeed it is an ungainly creature at best, with an enormous hump on its back, and a skin so transparent that if you hold it up to the light you can see its internal organs. If the early Egyptian had chanced upon this plump white grub he would never have suspected it to contain, in an undeveloped state, the sober beauty of the Scarab!

When first it sheds its skin the insect that appears Is not a full-grown Scarab, though all the Scarab's features can be recognised. There are few insects so beautiful as this delicate creature with its wing-cases living in front of it like a wide pleated scarf and its forelegs folded under its head. Half transparent and as yellow as honey, it looks as though it were carved from a block of amber. For four weeks it remains in this state, and then it too casts its skin.

Its colouring now is red-and-white, — so many times does the Sacred Beetle change its garments before it finally appears black as ebony! As it grows blacker it also grows harder, till it is covered with horny armour and is a full-grown Beetle.

All this time he is underground, in the pear-shaped nest. Great is his longing to burst the shell of his prison and come into the sunshine. Whether he succeeds in doing so depends on circumstances.

It is generally August when he is ready for release, and August as a rule is the driest and hottest month of the year. If therefore no rain falls to soften the earth, the cell to be burst and the wall to be broken defy the strength of the insect, which is helpless against all that hardness. The soft material of the nest has become an impassable rampart; it has turned into a sort of brick, baked in the kiln of summer.

I have, of course, made experiments on insects that are ready to be released. I lay the hard, dry shells in a box where they remain dry; and sooner or later I hear a sharp, grating sound inside each cell. It is the prisoner scraping the wall with the rakes on his forehead and his fore-feet. Two or three days pass, and no progress seems to have been made.

I try to help a couple of them by opening a loophole with my knife; but these favoured ones make no more progress than the others.

In less than a fortnight silence reigns in all the shells. The prisoners, worn out with their efforts, have all died.

Then I take some other shells, as hard as the first, wrap them in a wet rag, and put them in a corked flask. When the moisture has soaked through them I rid them of the wrapper, but keep them in the flask. This time the experiment is a complete success. Softened by the wet the shells are burst by the prisoner, who props himself boldly on his legs, using his back as a lever, or else scrapes away at one point till the walls crumble to pieces. In every case the Beetle is released.

In natural conditions, when the shells remain under- ground, the same thing occurs. When the soil is burnt by the August sun it is impossible for the insect to wear away his prison, which is hard as a brick. But when a shower comes the shell recovers the softness of its early days: the insect struggles with his legs and pushes with his back, and so becomes free.

At first he shows no interest in food. What he wants above all is the joy of the light. He sets himself in the sun, and there, motionless, basks in the warmth.

Presently, however, he wishes to eat. With no one to teach him, he sets to work, exactly like his elders, to make himself a ball of food. He digs his burrow and stores it with provisions. Without ever learning it, he knows his trade to perfection.
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Re: Fabre's Book of Insects: Retold From Alexander Teixeira

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 1:42 am



TO most of US the Cicada's song is unknown, for he lives in the land of the olive-trees. But every one who has read La Fontaine's "Fables" has heard of the snub the Cicada received from the Ant, though La Fontaine was not the first to tell the tale.

The Cicada, says the story, did nothing but sing all through the summer, while the Ants were busy storing their provisions. When winter came he was hungry, and hurried to his neighbour to borrow some food. He met with a poor welcome.

"Why didn't you gather your food in the summer?" asked the prudent Ant.

"I was busy singing all the summer,'' said the Cicada.

"Singing, were you?" answered the Ant unkindly. "Well, then, now you may dance!" And she turned her back on the beggar.

Now the insect in this fable could not possibly be a Cicada. La Fontaine, it is plain, was thinking of the Grasshopper and as a matter of fact the English translations usually substitute a Grasshopper for the Cicada.

For my village does not contain a peasant so ignorant as to imagine the Cicada ever exists in winter. Every tiller of the soil is familiar with the grub of this insect, which he turns over with his spade whenever he banks up the olive-trees at the approach of cold weather. A thousand times he has seen the grub leave the ground through a round hole of its own making, fasten itself to a twig, split its own back, take off its skin, and turn into a Cicada.

The fable is a slander. The Cicada is no beggar, though it is true that he demands a good deal of attention from his neighbours. Every summer he comes and settles in his hundreds outside my door, amid the greenery of two tall plane-trees; and here, from sun- rise to sunset, he tortures my head with the rasping of his harsh music. This deafening concert, this incessant rattling and drumming, makes all thought impossible.

THE CICADA: In July, when most of the insects in my sunny country are parched with thirst, the Cicada remains perfectly cheerful

It is true, too, that there are sometimes dealings between the Cicada and the Ant; but they are exactly the opposite of those described in the fable. The Cicada is never dependent on others for his living. At no time does he go crying famine at the doors of the Ant-hills.

In July when most of the insects in my sunny country are parched with thirst, the Cicada remain} perfectly cheerful

On the contrary, it is the Ant who, driven by hunger, begs and entreats the singer. Entreats, did I say? It is not the right word. She brazenly robs him.

In July, when most of the insects in my sunny country are parched with thirst, and vainly wander round the withered flowers in search of refreshment, the Cicada remains perfectly cheerful. With his rostrum— the delicate sucker, sharp as a gimlet, that he carries on his chest ' — he broaches a cask in his inexhaustible cellar. Sitting, always singing, on the branch of a shrub, lie bores through the firm, smooth bark, which is swollen with sap. Driving his sucker through the bunghole, he drinks his fill.

If I watch him for a little while I may perhaps see him in unexpected trouble. There are many thirsty insects in the neighbourhood, who soon discover the sap that oozes from the Cicada's well. They hasten up, at first quietly and discreetly, to lick the fluid as it comes out. I see Wasps, Flies, Earwigs, Rose-chafers, and above all, Ants.

The smallest, in order to reach the well, slip under the body of the Cicada, who good-naturedly raises him- self on his legs to let them pass. The larger insects snatch a sip, retreat, take a walk on a neighbouring branch, and then return more eager and enterprising than before. They now become violent brigands, deter- mined to chase the Cicada away from his well.

The worst offenders are the Ants. I have seen them nibbling at the ends of the Cicada's legs, tugging at the tips of his wings, and climbing on his back. Once a bold robber, before my very eyes, caught hold of a Cicada's sucker and tried to pull it out.

At last, worried beyond all patience, the singer deserts the well he has made. The Ant has now attained her object: she is left in possession of the spring. This dries up very soon, it is true; but, having drunk all the sap that is there, she can wait for another drink till she has a chance of stealing another well.

So you see that the actual facts are just the reverse of those in the fable. The Ant is the hardened beggar: the industrious worker is the Cicada.


I am in an excellent position to study the habits of the Cicada, for I live in his company. When July comes he takes possession of the enclosures right up to the threshold of the house. I remain master indoors, but out of doors he reigns supreme, and his reign is by no means a peaceful one.

The first Cicada appear at midsummer. In the much-trodden, sun-baked paths I see, level with the ground, round holes about the size of a man's thumb. Through these holes the Cicada-grubs come up from the underground to be transformed into full-grown Cicadse on the surface. Their favourite places are the driest and sunniest; for these grubs are provided with such powerful tools that they can bore through baked earth or sandstone. When I examine their deserted burrows I have to use my pickaxe.

The first thing one notices is that the holes, which measure nearly an inch across, have absolutely no rubbish round them. There is no mound of earth thrown up outside. Most of the digging insects, such as the Dor-beetles for instance, make a mole-hill above their burrows. The reason for this difference lies in their manner of working. The Dorbeetle begins his work at the mouth of the hole, so he can heap up on the surface the material he digs out: but the Cicada-grub comes up from below. The last thing he does is to make the doorway, and he cannot heap rubbish on a threshold that does not yet exist.

The Cicada's tunnel runs to a depth of fifteen or six- teen inches. It is quite open the whole way. It ends in a rather wider space, but is completely closed at the bottom. What has become of the earth removed to make this tunnel? And why do not the walls crumble? One would expect that the grub, climbing up and down with his clawed legs, would make landslips and block up his own house.

Well, he behaves like a miner or a railway-engineer. The miner holds up his galleries with pit-props; the builder of railways strengthens his tunnel with a casing of brickwork; the Cicada is as clever as either of them, and covers the walls of his tunnel with cement. He carries a store of sticky fluid hidden within him, with which to make this plaster. His burrow is always built above some tiny rootlet containing sap, and from this root he renews his supply of fluid.

It is very important for him to be able to run up and down his burrow at his ease, because, when the time comes for him to find his way into the sunshine, he wants to know what the weather is like outside. So he works away for weeks, perhaps for months, to make a funnel with good strong plastered walls, on which he can clamber. At the top he leaves a layer as thick as one's finger, to protect him from the outer air till the last moment. At the least hint of fine weather he scrambles up, and, through the thin lid at the top, inquires into the state of the weather.

If he suspects a storm or rain on the surface — matter of great importance to a delicate grub when he takes off his skin! — he slips prudently back to the bottom of his snug funnel. But if the weather seems warm he smashes his ceiling with a few strokes of his claws, and climbs to the surface.

It is the fluid substance carried by the Cicada-grub in his swollen body that enables him to get rid of the rubbish in his burrow. As he digs he sprinkles the dusty earth and turns it into paste. The walls then become soft and yielding. The mud squeezes into the chinks of the rough soil, and the grub compresses it with his fat body. This is why, when he appears at the top, he is always covered with wet stains.

For some time after the Cicada-grub's first appearance above-ground he wanders about the neighbourhood, looking for a suitable spot in which to cast off his skin — a tiny bush, a tuft of thyme, a blade of grass, or the twig of a shrub. When he finds it he climbs up, and clings to it firmly with the claws of his fore-feet. His fore-legs stiffen into an immovable grip.

Then his outer skin begins to split along the middle of the back, showing the pale-green Cicada within. Presently the head is free ; then the sucker and front legs appear, and finally the hind-legs and the rumpled wings. The whole insect is free now, except the extreme tip of his body.

He next performs a wonderful gymnastic feat. High in the air as he is, fixed to his old skin at one point only, he turns himself over till his head is hanging downwards. His crumpled wings straighten out, unfurl, and spread themselves. Then with an almost in- visible movement he draws himself up again by sheer strength, and hooks his fore-legs on to his empty skin. This movement has released the tip of his body from its sheath. The whole operation has taken about half an hour.

For a time the freed Cicada does not feel very strong. He must bathe in air and sunshine before strength and colour come to his frail body. Hanging to his cast skin by his fore-claws only, he sways at the least breath of air, still feeble and still green. But at last the brown tinge appears, and is soon general. Supposing him to have taken possession of the twig at nine o'clock in the morning, the Cicada flies away at half-past twelve, leaving his cast skin behind him. Sometimes it hangs from the twigs for months.


The Cicada, it appears, loves singing for its own sake. Not content with carrying an instrument called the cymbal in a cavity behind his wings, he increases its power by means of sounding-boards under his chest.

Indeed, there is one kind of Cicada who sacrifices a great deal in order to give full play to his musical tastes. He carries such an enormous sounding-board that there is hardly any room left for his vital organs, which are squeezed into a tiny corner. Assuredly one must be passionately devoted to music thus to clear away one's internal organs in order to make room for a musical box! Unfortunately the song he loves so much is extremely unattractive to others. Nor have I yet discovered its object. It is usually suggested that he is calling his mate; but the facts appear to contradict this idea.

For fifteen years the Common Cicada has thrust his society upon me. Every summer for two months I have these insects before my eyes, and their song in my ears. I see them ranged in rows on the smooth bark of the plane-trees, the maker of music and his mate sitting side by side. With their suckers driven into the tree they drink, motionless. As the sun turns they also turn round the branch with slow, sidelong steps, to find the hottest spot. Whether drinking or moving they never cease singing.

It seems unlikely, therefore, that they are calling their mates. You do not spend months on end calling to some one who is at your elbow.

Indeed, I am inclined to think that the Cicada himself cannot even hear the song he sings with so much apparent delight. This might account for the relentless way in which he forces his music upon others.

He has very clear sight. His five eyes tell him what is happening to right and to left and above his head; and the moment he sees any one coming he is silent and flies away. Yet no noise disturbs him. Place yourself behind him, and then talk, whistle, clap your hands, and knock two stones together. For much less than this a bird, though he would not see you, would fly away terrified. The imperturbable Cicada gojies on rattling as though nothing were there.

On one occasion I borrowed the local artillery, that is to say the guns that are fired on feast-days in the village. There were two of them, and they were crammed with powder as though for the most important rejoicings. They were placed at the foot of the plane-trees in front of my door. We were careful to leave the windows open, to prevent the panes from breaking. The Cicadae in the branches overhead could not see what was happening.

Six of us waited below, eager to hear what would be the effect on the orchestra above.

Bang! The gun went off with a noise like a thunderclap.

Quite unconcerned, the Cicadae continued to sing.

Not one appeared in the least disturbed. There was no change whatever in the quality or the quantity of the sound. The second gun had no more effect than the first.

I think, after this experiment, we must admit that the Cicada is hard of hearing, and like a very deaf man, is quite unconscious that he is making a noise.


The Common Cicada likes to lay her eggs on small dry branches. She chooses, as far as possible, tiny stalks, which may be of any size between that of a straw and a lead-pencil. The sprig is never lying on the ground, is usually nearly upright in position, and is almost always dead.

Having found a twig to suit her, she makes a row of pricks with the sharp instrument on her chest — such pricks as might be made with a pin if it were driven downwards on a slant, so as to tear the fibres and force them slightly upwards. If she is undisturbed she will make thirty or forty of these pricks on the same twig.

In the tiny cells formed by these pricks she lays her eggs. The cells are narrow passages, each one slanting down towards the one below it. I generally find about ten eggs in each cell, so it is plain that the Cicada lays between three and four hundred eggs altogether.

This is a fine family for one insect. The numbers point to some special danger that threatens the Cicada, and makes it necessary to produce a great quantity of grubs lest some should be destroyed. After many observations I have discovered what this danger is. It is an extremely tiny Gnat, compared with which the Cicada is a monster.

This Gnat, like the Cicada, carries a boring-tool. It is planted beneath her body, near the middle, and sticks out at right angles. As fast as the Cicada lays her eggs the Gnat tries to destroy them. It is a real scourge to the Cicada family. It is amazing to watch her calm and brazen audacity in the presence of the giant who could crush her by simply stepping on her. I have seen as many as three preparing to despoil one unhappy Cicada at the same time, standing close behind one another.

The Cicada has just stocked a cell with eggs, and is climbing a little higher to make another cell. One of the brigands runs to the spot she has just left; and here, almost under the claws of the monster, as calmly and fearlessly as though she were at home, the Gnat bores a second hole above the Cicada's eggs, and places among them an egg of her own. By the time the Cicada flies away most of her cells have, in this way, received a stranger's egg, which will be the ruin of hers. A small quick-hatching grub, one only to each cell, handsomely-fed on a dozen raw eggs, will take the place of the Cicada's family.

This deplorable mother has learnt nothing from centuries of experience. Her large and excellent eyes cannot fail to see the terrible felons fluttering round her. She must know they are at her heels, and yet she remains unmoved, and lets herself be victimised. She could easily crush the wicked atoms, but she is incapable of altering her instincts, even to save her family from destruction.

Through my magnifying-glass I have seen the hatching of the Cicada's eggs. When the grub first appears it has a marked likeness to an extremely small fish, with large black eyes, and a curious sort of mock fin under its body, formed of the two fore-legs joined together. This fin has some power of movement, and helps the grub to work its way out of the shell, and also — a much more difficult matter — out of the fibrous stem in which it is imprisoned.

As soon as this fish-like object has made its way out of the cell it sheds its skin. But the cast skin forms itself into a thread, by which the grub remains fastened to the twig or stem. Here, before dropping to the ground, it treats itself to a sun-bath, kicking about and trying its strength, or swinging lazily at the end of its rope.

Its antennae now are free, and wave about; its legs work their joints; those in front open and shut their claws. I know hardly any more curious sight than this tiny acrobat hanging by the tip of its body, swinging at the least breath of wind, and making ready in the air for its somersault into the world.

Sooner or later, without losing much time, it drops to the ground. The little creature, no bigger than a Flea, has saved its tender body from the rough earth by swinging on its cord. It has hardened itself in the air, that luxurious eiderdown. It now plunges into the stern realities of life.

I see a thousand dangers ahead of it. The merest breath of wind could blow it on to the hard rock, or into the stagnant water in some deep cart-rut, or on the sand where nothing grows, or else on a clay soil, too tough for it to dig in.

The feeble creature needs shelter at once, and must look for an underground refuge. The days are growing cold, and delays are fatal to it. It must wander about in search of soft soil, and no doubt many die before they find it.

When at last it discovers the right spot it attacks the earth with the hooks on its fore-feet. Through the magnifying-glass I watch it wielding its pickaxes, and raking an atom of earth to the surface. In a few minutes a well has been scooped out. The little creature goes down into it, buries itself, and is henceforth invisible.

The underground life of the undeveloped Cicada remains a secret. But we know how long it remains in the earth before it comes to the surface and becomes a full-grown Cicada. For four years it lives below the soil. Then for about five weeks it sings in the sunshine.

Four years of hard work in the darkness, and a month of delight in the sun — such is the Cicada's life. We must not blame him for the noisy triumph of his song. For four years he has dug the earth with his feet, and then suddenly he is dressed in exquisite raiment, provided with wings that rival the bird's, and bathed in heat and light I What cymbals can be loud enough to celebrate his happiness, so hardly earned, and so very, very short?
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Re: Fabre's Book of Insects: Retold From Alexander Teixeira

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 1:43 am



THERE is an insect of the south that is quite as interesting as the Cicada, but much less famous, because it makes no noise. Had it been provided with cymbals, its renown would have been greater than the celebrated musician's, for it is most unusual both in shape and habits.

A long time ago, in the days of ancient Greece, this insect was named Mantis, or the Prophet. The peasant saw her on the sun-scorched grass, standing half-erect in a very imposing and majestic manner, with her broad green gossamer wings trailing like long veils, and her fore-legs, like arms, raised to the sky as though in prayer. To the peasant's ignorance the insect seemed like a priestess or a nun, and so she came to be called the Praying Mantis.

There was never a greater mistake! Those pious airs are a fraud; those arms raised in prayer are really the most horrible weapons, which slay whatever passes within reach. The Mantis is fierce as a tigress, cruel as an ogress. She feeds only on living creatures.

There is nothing in her appearance to inspire dread. She is not without a certain beauty, with her slender, graceful figure, her pale-green colouring, and her long gauze wings. Having a flexible neck, she can move her head freely in all directions. She is the only insect that can direct her gaze wherever she will. She almost has a face.

Great is the contrast between this peaceful-looking body and the murderous machinery of the fore-legs. The haunch is very long and powerful, while the thigh IS even longer, and carries on its lower surface two rows of sharp spikes or teeth. Behind these teeth are three spurs. In short, the thigh is a saw with two blades, between which the leg lies when folded back.

This leg itself is also a double-edged saw, provided with a greater number of teeth than the thigh. It ends in a strong hook with a point as sharp as a needle, and a double blade like a curved pruning-knife. I have many painful memories of this hook. Many a time, when Mantis-hunting, I have been clawed by the insect and forced to ask somebody else to release me. No in- sect in this part of the world is so troublesome to handle. The Mantis claws you with her pruning-hooks, pricks you with her spikes, seizes you in her vice, and makes self-defence impossible if you wish to keep your captive alive.

When at rest, the trap is folded back against the chest and looks quite harmless. There you have the insect praying. But if a victim passes by, the appearance of prayer is quickly dropped. The three long divisions of the trap are suddenly unfolded, and the prey is caught with the sharp hook at the end of them, and drawn back between the two saws. Then the vice closes, and all is over. Locusts, Grasshoppers, and even stronger insects are helpless against the four rows of teeth.

It is impossible to make a complete study of the habits of the Mantis in the open fields, so I am obliged to take her indoors. She can live quite happily in a pan filled with sand and covered with a gauze dish-cover, if only she be supplied with plenty of fresh food. In order to find out what can be done by the strength and daring of the Mantis, I provide her not only with Locusts and Grasshoppers, but also with the largest Spiders of the neighbourhood. This is what I see.

THE PRAYING MANTIS: A long time ago, in the days of ancient Greece, this insect was named Mantis, or the Prophet

A grey Locust, heedless of danger, walks towards the Mantis. The latter gives a convulsive shiver, and suddenly, in the most surprising way, strikes an attitude that fills the Locust with terror, and is quite enough to startle any one. You see before you unexpectedly a sort of bogy-man or Jack-in-the-box. The wing-covers open; the wings spread to their full extent and stand erect like sails, towering over the insect's back; the tip of the body curls up like a crook, rising and falling with short jerks, and making a sound like the puffing of a startled Adder. Planted defiantly on its four hind-legs, the Mantis holds the front part of its body almost up- right. The murderous legs open wide, and show a pat- tern of black-and-white spots beneath them.

In this strange attitude the Mantis stands motionless, with eyes fixed on her prey. If the Locust moves, the Mantis turns her head. The object of this performance is plain. It is intended to strike terror into the heart of the victim, to paralyse it with fright before attacking it. The Mantis is pretending to be a ghost!

The plan is quite successful. The Locust sees a spectre before him, and gazes at it without moving. He to whom leaping is so easy makes no attempt at escape. He stays stupidly where he is, or even draws nearer with a leisurely step.

As soon as he is within reach of the Mantis she strikes with her claws; her double saws close and clutch; the poor wretch protests in vain ; the cruel ogress begins her meal.

The pretty Crab Spider stabs her victim in the neck, in order to poison it and make it helpless. In the same way the Mantis attacks the Locust first at the back of the neck, to destroy its power of movement. This enables her to kill and eat an insect as big as herself, or even bigger. It is amazing that the greedy creature can contain so much food.

The various Digger-wasps receive visits from her pretty frequently. Posted near the burrows on a bramble, she waits for chance to bring near her a double prize, the Hunting-wasp and the prey she is bringing home. For a long time she waits in vain; for the Wasp is suspicious and on her guard: still, now and then a rash one is caught. With a sudden rustle of wings the Mantis terrifies the new-comer, who hesitates for a moment in her fright. Then, with the sharpness of a spring, the Wasp is fixed as in a trap between the blades of the double saw — the toothed fore-arm and toothed upper-arm of the Mantis. The victim is then gnawed in small mouthfuls.

I once saw a Bee-eating Wasp, while carrying a Bee to her storehouse, attacked and caught by a Mantis. The Wasp was in the act of eating the honey she had found in the Bee's crop. The double saw of the Mantis closed suddenly on the feasting Wasp; but neither terror nor torture could persuade that greedy creature to leave off eating. Even while she was herself being actually devoured she continued to lick the honey from her Bee!

I regret to say that the meals of this savage ogress are not confined to other kinds of insects. For all her sanctimonious airs she is a cannibal. She will eat her sister as calmly as though she were a Grasshopper; and those around her will make no protest, being quite ready to do the same on the first opportunity. Indeed, she even makes a habit of devouring her mate, whom she seizes by the neck and then swallows by little mouthfuls, leaving only the wings.

She is worse than the Wolf; for it is said that even Wolves never eat each other.


After all, however, the Mantis has her good points, like most people. She makes a most marvellous nest.

This nest is to be found more or less everywhere in sunny places: on stones, wood, vine-stocks, twigs, or dry grass, and even on such things as bits of brick, strips of linen, or the shrivelled leather of an old boot. Any support will serve, as long as there is an uneven surface to form a solid foundation.

In size the nest is between one and two inches long, and less than an inch wide; and its colour is as golden as a grain of wheat. It is made of a frothy substance, which has become solid and hard, and it smells like silk when it is burnt. The shape of it varies according to the support on which it is based, but in all cases the upper surface is convex. One can distinguish three bands, or zones, of which the middle one is made of little plates or scales, arranged in pairs and over-lapping like the tiles of a roof. The edges of these plates are free, forming two rows of slits or little doorways, through which the young Mantis escapes at the moment of hatching. In every other part the wall of the nest is impenetrable.

The eggs are arranged in layers, with the ends containing the heads pointed towards the doorways. Of these doorways, as I have just said, there are two rows. One half of the grubs will go out through the right door, and the other half through the left.

It is a remarkable fact that the mother Mantis builds this cleverly-made nest while she is actually laying her eggs. From her body she produces a sticky substance, rather like the Caterpillar's silk-fluid; and this material she mixes with the air and whips into froth. She beats it into foam with two ladles that she has at the tip of her body, just as we beat white of egg with a fork. The foam is greyish-white, almost like soapsuds, and when it first appears it is sticky; but two minutes afterwards it has solidified.

In this sea of foam the Mantis deposits her eggs. As each layer of eggs is laid, it is covered with froth, which quickly becomes solid.

In a new nest the belt of exit-doors is coated with a material that seems different from the rest — a layer of fine porous matter, of a pure, dull, almost chalky white, which contrasts with the dirty white of the remainder of the nest. It is like the mixture that confectioners make of whipped white of egg, sugar, and starch, with which to ornament their cakes. This snowy covering is very easily crumbled and removed. When it is gone the exit-belt is clearly visible, with its two rows of plates. The wind and rain sooner or later remove it in strips or flakes, and therefore the old nests show no traces of it.

But these two materials, though they appear different, are really only two forms of the same matter. The Mantis with her ladles sweeps the surface of the foam, skimming the top of the froth, and collecting it into a band along the back of the nest. The ribbon that looks like sugar-icing is merely the thinnest and lightest portion of the sticky spray, which appears whiter than the nest because its bubbles are more delicate, and reflect more light.

It is truly a wonderful piece of machinery that can, so methodically and swiftly, produce the horny central substance on which the first eggs are laid, the eggs themselves, the protecting froth, the soft sugar-like covering of the doorways, and at the same time can build overlapping plates, and the narrow passages leading to them! Yet the Mantis, while she is doing all this, hangs motionless on the foundation of the nest. She gives not a glance at the building that is rising behind her. Her legs act no part in the affair. The machinery works by itself.

As soon as she has done her work the mother with- draws. I expected to see her return and show some tender feeling for the cradle of her family, but it evidently has no further interest for her.

The Mantis, I fear, has no heart. She eats her husband, and deserts her children.


The eggs of the Mantis usually hatch in bright sun- shine, at about ten o'clock on a mid-June morning.

As I have already told you, there is only one part of the nest from which the grub can find an outlet, namely the band of scales round the middle. From under each of these scales one sees slowly appearing a blunt, transparent lump, followed by two large black specks, which are the creature's eyes. The baby grub slips gently under the thin plate and half releases itself. It is reddish yellow, and has a thick, swollen head. Under its outer skin it is quite easy to distinguish the large black eyes, the mouth flattened against the chest, the legs plastered to the body from front to back. With the exception of these legs the whole thing reminds one somewhat of the first state of the Cicada on leaving the egg.

Like the Cicada, the young Mantis finds it necessary to wear an overall when it is coming into the world, for the sake of convenience and safety. It has to emerge from the depths of the nest through narrow, winding ways, in which full-spread slender limbs could not find enough room. The tall stilts, the murderous harpoons, the delicate antennae, would hinder its passage, and indeed make it impossible. The creature therefore appears in swaddling-clothes, and has the shape of a boat.

When the grub peeps out under the thin scales of its nest its head becomes bigger and bigger, till it looks like a throbbing blister. The little creature alternately pushes forward an-d draws back, in its efforts to free itself, and at each movement the head grows larger. At last the outer skin bursts at the upper part of the chest, and the grub wriggles and tugs and bends about, deter- mined to throw off its overall. Finally the legs and the long antenna? are freed, and a few shakes complete the operation.

It is a striking sight to see a hundred young Mantes coming from the nest at once. Hardly does one tiny creature show its black eyes under a scale before a swarm of others appears. It is as though a signal passed from one to the other, so swiftly does the hatching spread. Almost in a moment the middle zone of the nest is covered with grubs, who run about feverishly, stripping themselves of their torn garments. Then they drop off, or clamber into the nearest foliage. A few days later a fresh swarm appears, and so on till all the eggs are hatched.

But alas! the poor grubs are hatched into a world of dangers. I have seen them hatching many times, both out of doors in my enclosure, and in the seclusion of a greenhouse, where I hoped I should be better able to protect them. Twenty times at least I have watched the scene, and every time the slaughter of the grubs has been terrible. The Mantis lays many eggs, but she will never lay enough to cope with the hungry murderers who lie in wait until the grubs appear.

The Ants, above all, are their enemies. Every day I find them visiting my nests. It is in vain for me to interfere; they always get the better of me. They seldom succeed in entering the nest; its hard walls form too strong a fortress. But they wait outside for their prey.

The moment that the young grubs appear they are grabbed by the Ants, pulled out of their sheaths, and cut in pieces. You see piteous struggles between the little creatures who can only protest with wild wrigglings and the ferocious brigands who are carrying them off. In a moment the massacre is over; all that is left of the flourishing family is a few scattered survivors who have escaped by accident.

It is curious that the Mantis, the scourge of the insect race, should be herself so often devoured at this early stage of her life, by one of the least of that race, the Ant. The ogress sees her family eaten by the dwarf. But this does not continue long. So soon as she has become firm and strong from contact with the air the Mantis can hold her own. She trots about briskly among the Ants, who fall back as she passes, no longer daring to tackle her : with her fore-legs brought close to her chest, like arms ready for self-defence, she already strikes awe into them by her proud bearing.

But the Mantis has another enemy who is less easily dismayed. The little Grey Lizard, the lover of sunny walls, pays small heed to threatening attitudes. With the tip of his slender tongue he picks up, one by one, the few straggling insects that have escaped the Ant. They make but a small mouthful, but to judge from the Lizard's expression they taste very good. Every time he gulps down one of the little creatures he half-closes his eyelids, a sign of profound satisfaction.

Moreover, even before the hatching the eggs are in danger. There is a tiny insect called the Chalcis, who carries a probe sharp enough to penetrate the nest of solidified foam. So the brood of the Mantis shares the fate of the Cicada's. The eggs of a stranger are laid in the nest, and are hatched before those of the rightful owner. The owner's eggs are then eaten by the invaders. The Mantis lays, perhaps, a thousand eggs. Possibly only one couple of these escapes destruction.

The Mantis eats the Locust: the Ant eats the Mantis: the Wryneck eats the Ant. And in the autumn, when the Wryneck has grown fat from eating many ants, I eat the Wryneck.

It may well be that the Mantis, the Locust, the Ant, and even lesser creatures contribute to the strength of the human brain. In strange and unseen ways they have all supplied a drop of oil to feed the lamp of thought. Their energies, slowly developed, stored up, and handed on to us, pass into our veins and sustain our weakness. We live by their death. The world is an endless circle. Everything finishes so that everything may begin again; everything dies so that everything may live.

In many ages the Mantis has been regarded with superstitious awe. In Provence its nest is held to be the best remedy for chilblains. You cut the thing in two, squeeze it, and rub the afflicted part with the juice that streams out of it. The peasants declare that it works like a charm. I have never felt any relief from it myself.

Further, it is highly praised as a wonderful cure for toothache. As long as you have it on you, you need never fear that trouble. Our housewives gather it under a favourable moon; they keep it carefully in the corner of a cupboard, or sew it into their pocket. The neighbours borrow it when tortured by a tooth. They call it a tigno.

"Lend me your tigno, I am in agony," says the sufferer with the swollen face.

The other hastens to unstitch and hand over the precious thing.

"Don't lose it, whatever you do," she says earnestly to her friend, "It's the only one I have, and this isn't the right time of moon."

This simplicity of our peasants is surpassed by an English physician and man of science who lived in the sixteenth century. He tells us that, in those days, if a child lost his way in the country, he would ask the Mantis to put him on his road. "The Mantis," adds the author, "will stretch out one of her feet and shew him the right way and seldome or never misse."
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Re: Fabre's Book of Insects: Retold From Alexander Teixeira

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 1:44 am



FEW insects enjoy more fame than the Glow- worm, the curious little animal who celebrates the joy of life by lighting a lantern at its tail-end. We all know it, at least by name, even if we have not seen it roaming through the grass, like a spark fallen from the full moon. The Greeks of old called it the Bright-tailed, and modern science gives it the name Lampyris.

As a matter of fact the Lampyris is not a worm at all, not even in general appearance. He has six short legs, which he well knows how to use, for he is a real gadabout. The male, when he is full-grown has wing-cases, like the true Beetle that he is. The female is an unattractive creature who knows nothing of the delights of flying and all her life remains in the larva, or in- complete form. Even at this stage the word "worm" is out of place. We French use the phrase "naked as a worm" to express the lack of any kind of protection. Now the Lampyris is clothed, that is to say he wears an outer skin that serves as a defence; and he is, moreover, rather richly coloured. He is dark brown, with pale pink on the chest; and each segment, or division, of his body is ornamented at the edge with two spots of fairly bright red. A costume like this was never worn by a worm!

Nevertheless we will continue to call him the Glow-worm, since it is by that name that he is best known to the world.

The two most interesting peculiarities about the Glow-worm are, first, the way he secures his food, and secondly, the lantern at his tail.

A famous Frenchman, a master of the science of food, once said :

"Show me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."

A similar question should be addressed to every insect whose habits we propose to study; for the information supplied by food is the chief of all the documents of animal life. Well, in spite of his innocent appearance, the Glow-worm is an eater of flesh, a hunter of game; and he carries on his hunting with rare villainy. His regular prey is the Snail. This fact has long been known; but what is not so well known is his curious method of attack, of which I have seen no other example anywhere.

Before he begins to feed on his victim he gives it an anaesthetic — he makes it unconscious, as a person is made unconscious with chloroform before a surgical operation. His food, as a rule, is a certain small Snail hardly the size of a cherry, which collects in clusters during the hot weather, on the stiff stubble and other dry stalks by the roadside, and there remains motionless, in profound meditation, throughout the scorching summer days. In some such place as this I have often seen the Glow-worm feasting on his unconscious prey, which he had just paralysed on its shaky support.

But he frequents other places too. At the edge of cool, damp ditches, where the vegetation is varied, many Snails are to be found; and in such spots as these the Glow-worm can kill his victim on the ground. I can reproduce these conditions at home, and can there follow the operator's performance down to the smallest detail.

I will try to describe the strange sight. I place a little grass in a wide glass jar. In this I install a few Glow-worms and a supply of Snails of a suitable size, neither too large nor too small. One must be patient and wait, and above all keep a careful watch, for the events take place unexpectedly and do not last long.

For a moment the Glow-worm examines his prey, which, according to its habit, is completely hidden in the shell, except for the edge of the "mantle," which projects slightly. Then the hunter draws his weapon. It is a very simple weapon, but it cannot be seen without a magnifying-glass. It consists of two mandibles, bent back into a hook, very sharp and as thin as a hair. Through the microscope one can see a slender groove running down the hook. And that is all.

The insect repeatedly taps the Snail's mantle with its instrument. It all happens with such gentleness as to suggest kisses rather than bites. As children, teasing one another, we used to talk of "tweaks" to express a slight squeeze of the finger-tips, something more like tickling than a serious pinch. Let us use that word. In conversation with animals, language loses nothing by remaining simple. The Glow-worm gives tweaks to the Snail.

He doles them out methodically, without hurrying, and takes a brief rest after each of them, as though to find out what effect has been produced. The number of tweaks is not great : half a dozen at most, which are enough to make the Snail motionless, and to rob him of all feeling. That other pinches are administered later, at the time of eating, seems very likely, but I cannot say anything for certain on that subject. The first few, however — there are never many — are enough to prevent the Snail from feeling anything, thanks to the promptitude of the Glow-worm, who, at lightning speed, darts some kind of poison into his victim by means of his grooved hooks.

There is no doubt at all that the Snail is made insensible to pain. If, when the Glow-worm has dealt some four or five of his twitches, I take away the victim and prick it with a fine needle, there is not a quiver in the wounded flesh, there is not the smallest sign of life. Moreover, I occasionally chance to see Snails attacked by the Lampyris while they are creeping along the ground, the foot slowly crawling, the tentacles swollen to their full extent. A few disordered movements betray a brief excitement on the part of the Snail, and then everything ceases: the foot no longer crawls, the front- part loses its graceful curve, the tentacles become limp and give way under their own weight, dangling feebly like a broken stick. The Snail, to all appearance, is dead.

He is not, however, really dead. I can bring him to life again. When he has been for two or three days in a condition that is neither life nor death I give him a shower-bath. In about a couple of days my prisoner, so lately injured by the Glow-worm's treachery, is restored to his usual state. He revives, he recovers movement and sensibility. He is affected by the touch of a needle; he shifts his place, crawls, puts out his tentacles, as though nothing unusual had occurred. The general torpor, a sort of deep drunkenness, has vanished outright. The dead returns to life.

Human science did not invent the art of making a person insensible to pain, which is one of the triumphs of surgery. Far back in the centuries the Glow-worm, and apparently others too, was practising it. The surgeon makes us breathe the fumes of ether or chloroform: the insect darts forth from his fangs very tiny doses of a special poison.

When we consider the harmless and peaceful nature of the Snail it seems curious that the Glow-worm should require this remarkable talent. But I think I know the reason.

When the Snail is on the ground, creeping, or even shrunk into his shell, the attack never presents any difficulty. The shell possesses no lid and leaves the hermit's fore-part to a great extent exposed. But it very often happens that he is in a raised position, clinging to the tip of a grass-stalk, or perhaps to the smooth surface of a stone. This support to which he fastens himself serves very well as a protection; it acts as a lid, supposing that the shell fits closely on the stone or stalk. But if the least bit of the Snail be left uncovered the slender liooks of the Glow-worm can find their way in through the gap, and in a moment the victim is made unconscious, and can be eaten in comfort.

Now, a Snail perched on top of a stalk is very easily upset. The slightest struggle, the most feeble wriggle on his part, would dislodge him; he would fall to the ground, and the Glow-worm would be left without food. It is necessary for the Snail to be made instantly unconscious of pain, or he would escape; and it must be done with a touch so delicate that it does not shake him from his stalk. And that, I think, is why the Glow-worm possesses his strange surgical instrument.


The Glow-worm not only makes his victim insensible while he is poised on the side of a dry grass-stalk, but he eats him in the Same dangerous position. And his preparations for his meal are by no means simple.

What is his manner of consuming it? Does he really eat, that is to say, does he divide his food into pieces, does he carve it into minute particles, which are afterwards ground by a chewing-apparatus? I think not. I never see a trace of solid nourishment on my captives' mouths. The Glow-worm does not eat in the strict sense of the word; he merely drinks. He feeds on a thin gruel, into which he transforms his prey. Like the flesh-eating grub of the Fly, he can digest his food before he swallows it; he turns his prey into liquid before feeding on it.

This is how things happen. A Snail has been made insensible by a Glow-worm, who is nearly always alone, even when the prize is a large one like the Common Snail. Soon a number of guests hasten up two, three, or more — and, without any quarrel with the real owner, all alike fall to. A couple of days later, if I turn the shell so that the opening is downwards, the contents flow out like soup from a saucepan. By the time the meal is finished only insignificant remains are left.

The matter is obvious. By repeated tiny bites, similar to the tweaks which we saw administered at the beginning, the flesh of the Snail is converted into a gruel on which the various guests nourish themselves each in his own way, each working at the broth by means of some special pepsine (or digestive fluid), and each taking his own mouthfuls of it. The use of this method shows that the Glow-worm's mouth must be very feebly armed, apart from the two fangs which sting the patient and inject the poison. No doubt these fangs at the same time inject some other substance which turns the solid flesh into liquid, in such a thorough way that every morsel is turned to account.

And this is done with exquisite delicacy, though some- times in a position that is anything but steady. The Snails imprisoned in my apparatus sometimes crawl up to the top, which is closed with a glass pane. To this pane they fix themselves with a speck of the sticky substance they carry with them; but, as they are miserly in their use of this substance, the merest shake is enough to loosen the shell and send it to the bottom of the jar.

Now it is not unusual for the Glow-worm to hoist himself to the top, with the help of a certain climbing-organ that makes up for the weakness of his legs. He selects his prey, makes a careful inspection of it to find a slit, nibbles it a little, makes it insensible, and then, without delay, proceeds to prepare the gruel which he will go on eating for days on end.

When he has finished his meal the shell is found to be absolutely empty. And yet this shell, which was fixed to the glass only by the slight smear of stickiness, has not come loose, nor even shifted its position in the smallest degree. Without any protest from the hermit who has been gradually converted into broth, it has been drained dry on the very spot at which the first attack was made. These small details show us how promptly the anaesthetic bite takes effect, and how very skilfully the Glow-worm treats his Snail.

To do all this, poised high in air on a sheet of glass or a grass-stem, the Glow-worm must have some special limb or organ to keep him from slipping. It is plain that his short clumsy legs are not enough.

Through the magnifying-glass we can see that he does indeed possess a special organ of this kind. Beneath his body, towards the tail, there is a white spot. The glass shows that this is composed of about a dozen short, fleshy little tubes, or stumpy fingers, which are sometimes gathered into a cluster, sometimes spread into a rosette. This bunch of little fingers helps the Glow-worm to stick to a smooth surface, and also to climb. If he wishes to fix himself to a pane of glass or a stalk he opens his rosette, and spreads it wide on the support, to which it clings by its own natural stickiness. And by opening and shutting alternately it helps him to creep along and to climb.

The little fingers that form this rosette are not jointed, but are able to move in all directions. Indeed they are more like tubes than fingers, for they cannot seize anything, they can only hold on by their stickiness. They are very useful, however, for they have a third purpose, besides their powers of clinging and climbing. They are used as a sponge and brush. At a moment of rest, after a meal, the Glow-worm passes and repasses this brush over his head and sides and his whole body, a performance made possible by the flexibility of his spine. This is done point by point, from one end of the body to the other, with a scrupulous care that proves the great interest he takes in the operation. At first one may wonder why he should dust and polish himself so care- fully. But no doubt, by the time he has turned the Snail into gruel inside the shell and has then spent several days in eating the result of his labours, a wash and brush-up is not amiss.


If the Glow-worm possessed no other talent than that of chloroforming his prey by means of a few tweaks as gentle as kisses, he would be unknown to the world in general. But he also knows how to light himself like a lantern. He shines; which is an excellent manner of becoming famous.

In the case of the female Glow-worm the lighting-apparatus occupies the last three divisions of the body. On each of the first two it takes the form, on the under surface, of a wide belt of light: on the third division or segment the bright part is much smaller, and consists only of two spots, which shine through the back, and are visible both above and below the animal. From these belts and spots there comes a glorious white light, delicately tinged with blue.

The male Glow-worm carries only the smaller of these lamps, the two spots on the end segment, which are possessed by the entire tribe. These luminous spots appear upon the young grub, and continue throughout life unchanged. And they are always visible both on the upper and lower surface, whereas the two large belts peculiar to the female shine only below the body.

I have examined the shining belt under the microscope. On the skin a sort of whitewash is spread, formed of some very fine grain-like substance, which is the source of the light. Close beside it is a curious air-tube, with a short wide stem leading to a kind of bushy tuft of delicate branches. These branches spread over the sheet of shining matter, and sometimes dip into it.

It is plain to me that the brightness is produced by the breathing-organs of the Glow-worm. There are certain substances which, when mixed with air, become luminous or even burst into flame. Such substances are called combustible, and the act of their producing light or flame by mingling with the air is called oxidisation. The lamp of the Glow-worm is the result of oxidisation. The substance that looks like whitewash is the matter that is oxidised, and the air is supplied by the tube connected with the Glow-worm's breathing-organs. But as to the nature of the shining substance, no one as yet knows anything.

We are better informed as regards another question. We know that the Glow-worm has complete control of the light he carries. He can turn it up or down, or out, as he pleases.

If the flow of air through the tube be increased, the light becomes more intense: if the same air-tube, influenced by the will of the animal, stops the passage of air, the light grows fainter or even goes out.

Excitement produces an effect upon the air-tube. I am speaking now of the modest fairy-lamp, the spots on the last segment of the Glow-worm's body. These are suddenly and almost completely put out by any kind of flurry. When I am hunting for young Glow-worms I can plainly see them glimmering on the blades of grass; but should the least false step disturb a neighbouring twig, the light goes out at once and the insect becomes invisible.

The gorgeous belts of the females, however, are very little, if at all, affected by even the most violent surprise. I fire a gun, for instance, beside a wire-gauze cage in which I am rearing a menagerie of female Glow-worms in the open air. The explosion produces no result: the illumination continues, as bright and placid as before. I take a spray, and rain down a slight shower of cold water upon the flock. Not one of my animals puts out its light; at the very most there is a brief pause m the radiance, and then only in some cases. I send a puff of smoke from my pipe into the cage. This time the pause is more marked. There are even some lamps put out, but they are soon relit. Calm returns, and the light is as bright as ever. I take some of the captives in my fingers and tease them a little. Yet the illumination is not much dimmed, if I do not press too hard with my thumb. Nothing short of very serious reasons would make the insect put out its signals altogether.

All things considered, there is not a doubt but that the Glow-worm himself manages his lighting-apparatus, extinguishing and rekindling it at will; but there is one circumstance over which the insect has no control. If I cut off a strip of the skin, showing one of the luminous belts, and place it in a glass tube, it will shine away merrily, though not quite as brilliantly as on the living body. The presence of life is unnecessary, because the luminous skin is in direct contact with the air, and the flow of oxygen through the air-tube is therefore not required. In aerated water the skin shines as brightly as in the free air, but the light is extinguished in water that has been deprived of its air by boiling. There could be no better proof that the Glow- worm's light is the effect of oxidisation.

The light is white, calm, and soft to the eyes, and suggests a spark dropped by the full moon. In spite of its splendour it is very feeble. If we move a Glow-worm along a line of print, in perfect darkness, we can easily make out the letters one by one, and even words when they are not too long; but nothing is visible beyond this very narrow zone. A lantern of this kind soon tires the reader's patience.

These brilliant creatures know nothing at all of family affection. They lay their eggs anywhere, or rather strew them at random, either on the earth or on a blade of grass. Then they pay no further attention to them.

From start to finish the Glow-worm shines. Even the eggs are luminous, and so are the grubs. At the approach of cold weather the latter go down into the ground, but not very far. If I dig them up I find them with their little stern-lights still shining. Even below the soil they keep their lanterns bravely alight.
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Re: Fabre's Book of Insects: Retold From Alexander Teixeira

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 1:46 am



OF the various insects that like to make their home in our houses, certainly the most interesting, for her beautiful shape, her curious manners, and her wonderful nest, is a certain Wasp called the Pelopaeus. She is very little known, even to the people by whose fireside she lives. This is owing to her quiet, peaceful ways; she is so very retiring that her host is nearly always ignorant of her presence. It is easy for noisy, tiresome, unpleasant persons to make themselves famous. I will try to rescue this modest creature from her obscurity.

The Pelopaeus is an extremely chilly mortal. She pitches her tent under the kindly sun that ripens the olive and prompts the Cicada's song; and even then she needs for her family the additional warmth to be found in our dwellings. Her usual refuge is the peasant's lonely cottage, with its old fig-tree shading the well in front of the door. She chooses one exposed to all the heat of summers, and if possible possessing a big fireplace in which a fire of sticks always burns. The cheerful blaze on winter evenings has a great influence upon her choice, for she knows by the blackness of the chimney that the spot is a likely one. A chimney that is not well glazed by smoke gives her no confidence: people must shiver with cold in that house.

During the dog-days in July and August the visitor suddenly appears, seeking a place for her nest. She is not in the least disturbed by the bustle and movement of the household: they take no notice of her nor she of them. She examines — now with her sharp eyes, now with her sensitive antennae — the corners of the blackened ceiling, the rafters, the chimney-piece, the sides of the fireplace especially, and even the inside of the flue. Having finished her inspection and duly approved of the site she flies away, soon to return with the pellet of mud which will form the first layer of the building.

The spot she chooses varies greatly, and often it is a very curious one. The temperature of a furnace appears to suit the young Pelopaeus: at least the favourite site is the chimney, on either side of the flue, up to a height of twenty inches or so. This snug shelter has its drawbacks. The smoke gets to the nests, and gives them a glaze of brown or black like that which covers the stonework. They might easily be taken for inequalities in the mortar. This is not a serious matter, provided that the flames do not lick against the nests. That would stew the young Wasps to death in their clay pots. But the mother Wasps seems to understand this: she only places her family in chimneys that are too wide for anything but smoke to reach their sides.

But in spite of all her caution one danger remains. It sometimes happens, while the Wasp is building, that the approach to the half-built dwelling is barred to her for a time, or even for the whole day, by a curtain of steam or smoke. Washing-days are most risky. From morning till night the housewife keeps the huge cauldron boiling. The smoke from the hearth, the steam from the cauldron and the wash-tub, form a dense mist in front of the fireplace.

It is told of the Water-Ouzel that, to get back to his nest, he will fly through the cataract under a mill-weir. This Wasp is even more daring: with her pellet of mud in her teeth she crosses the cloud of smoke and disappears behind it, where she becomes invisible, so thick is the screen. An irregular chirring sound, the song she sings at her work, alone betrays her presence. The building goes on mysteriously behind the cloud. The song ceases, and the Wasp flies back through the steam, quite unharmed. She will face this danger repeatedly all day, until the cell is built, stored with food, and closed.

Once and once only I was able to observe a Pelopaeus at my own fireside; and, as it happened, it was a washing-day. I had not long been appointed to the Avignon grammar-school. It was close upon two o'clock, and in a few minutes the roll of the drum would summon me to give a scientific lecture to an audience of wool-gatherers. Suddenly I saw a strange, agile insect dart through the steam that rose from the wash-tub. The front part of its body was very thin, and the back part was very plump, and the two parts were joined together by a long thread. It was the Pelopaus, the first I had seen with observant eyes.

Being very anxious to become better acquainted with my visitor, I fervently entreated the household not to disturb her in my absence. Things went better than I dared hope. On my return she was still carrying on her mason's work behind the steam. Being eager to see the building of the cells, the nature of the provisions, and the evolution of the young Wasps, I raked the fire so as to decrease the volume of smoke, and for a good two hours I watched the mother Wasp diving through the cloud.

Never again, in the forty years that followed, was my fireplace honoured with such a visit. All the further information I have gathered was gleaned on the hearths of my neighbours.

The Pelopsus, it appears, is of a solitary and vagrant disposition. She nearly always builds a lonely nest, and unlike many Wasps and Bees, she seldom founds her family at the spot where she was reared herself. She is often found in our southern towns, but on the whole she prefers the peasant's smoky house to the townsman's white villa. Nowhere have I seen her so plentiful as in my village, with its tumble-down cottages burnt yellow by the sun.

It is obvious that this Wasp, when she so often chooses the chimney as her abode, is not seeking her own comfort: the site means work, and dangerous work. She seeks the welfare of her family. This family, then, must require a high temperature, such as other Wasps and Bees do not need.

I have seen a Pelopaeus nest in the engine-room of a silk-factory, fixed to the ceiling just above the huge boiler. At this spot the thermometer marked 120 degrees all through the year, except at night and on holidays.

In a country distillery I have found many nests, fixed on anything that came to hand, even a pile of account-books. The temperature of one of these, quite close to the still, was 113 degrees. It is plain that this Wasp cheerfully endures a degree of heat that makes the oily palm-tree sprout.

A boiler or a furnace she regards as the ideal home, but she is quite willing to content herself in any snug corner: a conservatory, a kitchen-ceiling, the recess of a closed window, the wall of a cottage bedroom. As to the foundation on which she fixes her nest, she is entirely indifferent. As a rule she builds her groups of cells on stonework or timber; but at various times I have seen nests inside a gourd, in a fur cap, in the hollow of a brick, on the side of a bag of oats, and in a piece of lead tubing.

Once I saw something more remarkable still, in a farm near Avignon. In a large room with a very wide fireplace the soup for the farm-hands and the food for the cattle simmered in a row of pots. The labourers used to come in from the fields to this room, and devour their meal with the silent haste that comes from a keen appetite. To enjoy this half-hour comfortably they would take off their hats and smocks, and hang them on pegs. Short though this meal was, it was long enough to allow the Wasps to take possession of their garments. The inside of a straw hat was recognised as a most useful building-site, the folds of a smock were looked upon as a capital shelter; and the work of building started at once. On rising from the table one of the men would shake his smock, and another his hat, to rid it of the Wasp's nest, which was already the size of an acorn.

The cook in that farmhouse regarded the Wasps with no friendly eye. They dirtied everything, she said.

Dabs of mud on the ceiling, on the walls, or on the chimney-piece you could put up with; but it was a very different matter when you found them on the linen and the curtains. She had to beat the curtains every day with a bamboo. And it was trouble thrown away. The next morning the Wasps began building as busily as ever.


I sympathised with the sorrows of that farm-cook, but greatly regretted that I could not take her place. How gladly I would have left the Wasps undisturbed, even if they had covered all the furniture with mud! How I longed to know what the fate of a nest would be, if perched on the uncertain support of a coat or a curtain! The nest of the Mason-bee is made of hard mortar, which surrounds the twig on which it is built, and becomes firmly fixed to it; but the nest of the Pelopaeus Wasp is a mere blob of mud, without cement or foundations.

The materials of which it is made are nothing but wet earth or dirt, picked up wherever the soil is damp enough. The thin clay of a river-bank is very suitable, but in my stony country streams are rare. I can, however, watch the builders at my leisure in my own garden, when a thin trickle of water runs all day, as it does sometimes, through the little trenches that are cut in my vegetable plots.

The Pelopaeus Wasps of the neighborhood soon become aware of this glad event, and come hurrying up to take advantage of the precious layer of mud, a rare discovery in the dry season. They scrape and skim the gleaming, shiny surface with their mandibles while standing high on their legs, with their wings quivering and their black bodies upraised. No neat little house- wife, with skirts carefully tucked up out of the dirt, could be more skilful in tackling a job likely to soil her clothes. These mud-gatherers have not an atom of dirt upon them, so careful are they to tuck up their skirts in their own fashion, that is to say, to keep their whole body out of the way, all but the tips of their legs and the busy points of the mandibles with which they work.

In this way a dab of mud is collected, almost the size of a pea. Taking the load in its teeth the insect flies off, adds a layer to its building, and soon returns to collect another pellet. The same method is pursued as long as the earth remains sufficiently wet, during the hottest hours of the day.

But the favourite spot is the great fountain in the village, where the people come to water their mules. Here there is a constant sheet of black mud which neither the hottest sunshine nor the strongest wind can dry.

This bed of mire is very unpleasant for the passers-by, but the Pelopaeus loves to gather her pellets here, amid the hoofs of the mules.

Unlike some builders in clay, such as the Mason-bees, the Wasp does not improve the mud to make it into mortar, but uses it just as it is. Consequently her nests are flimsy work, absolutely unfitted to stand the changes and chances of the open air. A drop of water laid upon their surface softens the spot touched and reduces it to mud again, while a sprinkling equal to an average shower turns it to pap. They are nothing but dried slime, and become slime again as soon as they are wetted.

It is plain, then, that even if the young Pelopaeus were not so chilly by nature, a shelter is indispensable for the nests, which would go to pieces at the first shower of rain. That is why this Wasp is so fond of human dwellings, and especially of the chimney.

Before receiving its final coating, which covers up the details of the building, the nest has a certain beauty of its own. It consists of a cluster of cells, sometimes arranged side by side in a row — which makes it look rather like a mouth-organ — but more often grouped in layers placed one above the other. I have sometimes counted as many as fifteen cells; some nests contain only ten ; others are reduced to three or four, or even only one. In shape the cells are not far from cylinders, slightly larger at the mouth than at the base. They are a little more than an inch long, and about half an inch wide. Their delicate surface is carefully polished, and shows a series of string-like projections, running cross-wise, not unlike the twisted cords of some kinds of gold-lace. Each of these strings is a layer of the building; it comes from the clod of mud used for the coping of the part already built. By counting them you can tell how many journeys the Wasp has made in the course of her work. There are usually between fifteen and twenty. For one cell, therefore, the industrious builder fetches materials something like twenty times.

The mouth of the cells is, of course, always turned upwards. A pot cannot hold its contents if it be upside down. And the Wasp's cell is nothing but a pot intended to hold the store of food, a pile of small Spiders.

The cells — built one by one, stuffed full of Spiders, and closed as the eggs are laid — preserve their pretty appearance until the cluster is considered large enough. Then, to strengthen her work, the Wasp covers the whole with a casing, as a protection and defence. She lays on the plaster without stint and without art, giving it none of the delicate finishing-touches which she lavishes on the cells. The mud is applied just as it is brought, and merely spread with a few careless strokes. The beauties of the building all disappear under this ugly husk. In this final state the nest is like a great splash of mud, flung against the wall by accident.


Now that we know what the provision-jar is like, we must find out what it contains.

The young Pelopaeus is fed on Spiders. The food does not lack variety, even in the same nest and the same cell, for any Spider may form a meal, as long as it is not too large for the jar. The Cross Spider, with three crosses of white dots on her back, is the dish that occurs oftenest. I think the reason for this is simply that the Wasp does not go far from home in her hunting-trips, and the Spider with the crosses is the easiest to find.

The Spider, armed with poison-fangs, is a dangerous prey to tackle. When of fair size, she could only be conquered by a greater amount of daring and skill than the Wasp possesses. Moreover, the cells are too small to hold a bulky object. The Wasp, therefore, hunts game of moderate size. If she meets with a kind of Spider that is apt to become plump, she always chooses a young one. But, though all are small, the size of her victims varies enormously, and this variation in size leads also to variation in number. One cell will contain a dozen Spiders, while in another there are only five or six.

Another reason for her choice of small Spiders is that she kills them before potting them in her cells. She falls suddenly upon her prey, and carries it off almost without pausing in her flight. The skilful paralysis practised by some insects is unknown to her. This means that when the food is stored it soon decays. Fortunately the Spiders are small enough to be finished at a single meal. If they were large and could only be nibbled here and there, they would decay, and poison the grubs in the nest.

I always find the egg, not on the surface of the heap, but on the first Spider that was stored. There is no exception to this rule. The Wasp places a Spider at the bottom of the cell, lays her egg upon it, and then piles the other Spiders on the top. By this clever plan the grub is obliged to begin on the oldest of the dead Spiders, and then go on to the more recent. It always finds in front of it food that has not had time to decompose.

PELOPAEUS SPIRIFEX: When finished the work is amber-yellow, and rather reminds one of the outer skin of an onion

The egg is always laid on the same part of the Spider, the end containing the head being placed on the plumpest spot. This is very pleasant for the grub, for the moment it is hatched it can begin eating the tenderest and nicest food in the store. Not a mouthful is wasted, however, by these economical creatures. When the meal is finished there is practically nothing left of the whole heap of Spiders. This life of gluttony lasts for eight or ten days.

The grub then sets to work to spin its cocoon, a sack of pure, perfectly white silk, extremely delicate. Something more is required to make this sack tough enough to be a protection, so the grub produces from its body a sort of liquid varnish. As soon as it trickles into the meshes of the silk this varnish hardens, and becomes a lacquer of exquisite daintiness. The grub then fixes a hard plug at the base of the cocoon to make all secure.

When finished, the work is amber-yellow, and rather reminds one of the outer skin of an onion. It has the same fine texture, the same colour and transparency; and like the onion skin it rustles when it is fingered. From it, sooner or later according to temperature, the perfect insect is hatched.

It is possible, while the Wasp is storing her cell, to play her a trick which will show how purely mechanical her instincts are. A cell has just been completed, let us suppose, and the huntress arrives with her first Spider. She stores it away, and at once fastens her egg on the plumpest part of its body. She sets out on a second trip. I take advantage of her absence to remove with my tweezers from the bottom of the cell both the dead Spider and the egg.

The disappearance of the egg must be discovered by the Wasp, one would think, if she possesses the least gleam of intelligence. The egg is small, it is true, but it lies on a comparatively large object, the Spider. What will the Wasp do when she finds the cell empty? Will she act sensibly, and repair her loss by laying a second egg? Not at all; she behaves most absurdly.

What she does is to bring a second Spider, which she stores away with as much cheerful zeal as if nothing unfortunate had occurred. She brings a third and a fourth, and still others, each of whom I remove during her absence; so that every time she returns from the chase the storeroom is found empty. I have seen her persist obstinately for two days in seeking to fill the insatiable jar, while my patience in emptying it was equally unflagging. With the twentieth victim — possibly owing to the fatigue of so many journeys — the huntress considered that the pot was sufficiently supplied, and began most carefully to close the cell that contained absolutely nothing.

The intelligence of insects is limited everywhere in this way. The accidental difficulty which one insect is powerless to overcome, any other, no matter what its species, will be equally unable to cope with. I could give a host of similar examples to show that insects are absolutely without reasoning power, notwithstanding the wonderful perfection of their work. A long series of experiments has forced me to conclude that they are neither free nor conscious in their industry. They build, weave, hunt, stab, and paralyse their prey, in the same way as they digest their food, or secrete the poison of their sting, without the least understanding of the means or the end. They are, I am convinced, completely ignorant of their own wonderful talents.

Their instinct cannot be changed. Experience does not teach it; time does not awaken a glimmer in its unconsciousness. Pure instinct, if it stood alone, would leave the insect powerless in the face of circumstances. Yet circumstances are always changing, the unexpected is always happening. In this confusion some power is needed by the insect — as by every other creature — to teach it what to accept and what to refuse. It requires a guide of some kind, and this guide it certainly possesses. Intelligence is too fine a word for it : I will call it discernment.

Is the insect conscious of what it does'? Yes, and no. No, if its action is guided by instinct. Yes, if its action is the result of discernment.

The Pelopaeus, for instance, builds her cells with earth already softened into mud. This is instinct. She has always built in this way. Neither the passing ages nor the struggle for life will induce her to imitate the Mason-bee and make her nest of dry dust and cement.

This mud nest of hers needs a shelter against the rain. A hiding-place under a stone, perhaps, sufficed at first. But when she found something better she took possession of it. She installed herself in the home of man. This is discernment.

She supplies her young with food in the form of Spiders. This is instinct, and nothing will ever persuade her that young Crickets are just as good. But should there be a lack of her favourite Cross Spider she will not leave her grubs unfed; she will bring them other Spiders. This is discernment.

In this quality of discernment lies the possibility of future improvement for the insect.


The Pelopaeus sets us another problem. She seeks the warmth of our fireplaces. Her nest, built of soft mud which would be reduced to pulp by damp, must have a dry shelter. Heat is a necessity to her.

Is it possible that she is a foreigner? Did she come, perhaps, from the shores of Africa, from the land of dates to the land of olives? It would be natural, in that case, that she should find our sunshine not warm enough for her, and should seek the artificial warmth of the fireside. This would explain her habits, so unlike those of the other Wasps, by all of whom mankind is avoided.

What was her life before she became our guest? Where did she lodge before there were any houses? Where did she shelter her grubs before chimneys were thought of?

Perhaps, when the early inhabitants of the hills near Serignan were making weapons out of flints, scraping goatskins for clothes, and building huts of mud and branches, those huts were already frequented by the Pelopaeus. Perhaps she built her nest in some bulging pot, shaped out of clay by the thumbs of our ancestors; or in the folds of the garments, the skins of the Wolf and the Bear. When she made her home on the rough walls of branches and clay, did she choose the nearest spot, I wonder, to the hole in the roof by which the smoke was let out? Though not equal to our chimneys it may have served at a pinch.

If the Pelopseus really lived here with the earliest human inhabitants, what improvements she has seen! She too must have profited greatly by civilisation: she has turned man's increasing comfort into her own.

When the dwelling with a roof and a ceiling was planned, and the chimney with a flue was invented, we can imagine the chilly creature saying to herself:

"How pleasant this is I Let us pitch our tent here."

But we will go back further still. Before huts existed, before the niche in the rut, before man himself had appeared, where did the Pelopaeus build? The question does not "stand alone. Where did the Swallow and the Sparrow build before there were windows and chimneys to build in?

Since the Swallow, the Sparrow, and the Wasp existed before man, their industry cannot be dependent on the works of man. Each of them must have had an art of building in the time when man was not here.

For thirty years and more I asked myself where the Pelopaeus lived in those times. Outside our houses I could find no trace of her nests. At last chance, which favours the persevering, came to my help.

The Serignan quarries are full of broken stones, of refuse that has been piled there in the course of centuries. Here the Fieldmouse crunches his olive-stones and acorns, or now and then a Snail. The empty Snail-shells lie here and there beneath a stone, and within them different Bees and Wasps build their cells. In searching for these treasures I found, three times, the nest of a Pelopaeus among the broken stones.

These three nests were exactly the same as those found in our houses. The material was mud, as always; the protective covering was the same mud. The dangers of the site had suggested no improvements to the builder. We see, then, that sometimes, but very rarely, the Pelopaeus builds in stoneheaps and under flat blocks of stone that do not touch the ground. It was in such places as these that she must have made her nest before she invaded our houses.

The three nests, however, were in a piteous state. The damp and exposure had ruined them, and the cocoons were in pieces. Unprotected by their earthen cover the grubs had perished — eaten by a Fieldmouse or another.

The sight of these ruins made me wonder if my neighbourhood were really a suitable place for the Pelopaeus to build her nest out of doors. It is plain that the mother Wasp dislikes doing so, and is hardly ever driven to such a desperate measure. And if the climate makes it impossible for her to practise the industry of her forefathers successfully, I think we may conclude that she is a foreigner. Surely she comes from a hotter and drier climate, where there is little rain and no snow.

I believe the Pelopaus is of African origin. Far back in the past she came to us through Spain and Italy, and she hardly ever goes further north than the olive-trees. She is an African who has become a naturalised Provencal. In Africa she is said often to nest under stones, but in the Malay Archipelago we hear of her kinswoman in houses. From one end of the world to the other she has the same tastes — Spiders, mud cells, and the shelter of a man's roof. If I were in the Malay Archipelago I should turn over the stone-heaps, and should most likely discover a nest in the original position, under a flat stone.
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Re: Fabre's Book of Insects: Retold From Alexander Teixeira

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 1:51 am



IN the springtime, those who have eyes to see may find a surprise on old walls and dusty roads. Certain tiny faggots, for no apparent reason, set themselves in motion and make their way along by sudden jerks. The lifeless comes to life : the immovable moves. This is indeed amazing. If we look closer, however, we shall solve the riddle.

Enclosed within the moving bundle is a fair-sized Caterpillar, prettily striped with black and white. He is seeking for food, and perhaps for some spot where he can turn into a Moth. He hurries along timidly, dressed in a queer garment of twigs, which completely covers the whole of him except his head and the front part of his body, with its six short legs. At the least alarm he disappears entirely into his case, and does not budge again. This is the secret of the walking bundle of sticks. It is a Faggot Caterpillar, belonging to the group known as the Psyches.

To protect himself from the weather the chilly, bare- skinned Psyche builds himself a portable shelter, a travelling cottage which the owner never leaves until he becomes a Moth. It is, indeed, something better than a hut on wheels, with a thatched roof to it: it is more like a hermit's frock, made of an unusual kind of material. In the valley of the Danube the peasant wears a goatskin cloak fastened with a belt of rushes. The Psyche wears even rougher raiment than this: he makes himself a suit of clothes out of sticks. And since this would be a regular hair-shirt to a skin so delicate as his, he puts in a thick lining of silk.

In April, on the walls of my chief workshop — my stony harmas with its wealth of insect life — I find the Psyche who will supply me with my most detailed information. He is in the torpid state which shows he will soon become a Moth. It is a good opportunity for examining his bundle of sticks, or case.

It is a fairly regular object, shaped like a spindle, and about an inch and a half long. The pieces that compose it are fixed in front and free at the back. They are arranged anyhow, and would form rather a poor shelter against the sun and rain if the hermit had no other protection than this.

THE PSYCHES: This is the secret of the walking bundle of sticks. It is a Faggot Caterpillar, belonging to the group known as the Psyches

At the first glance it appears like thatch: but thatch is not an exact description of it. for grain-stems are rarely found in it. The chief materials are remnants of very- small stalks, light, soft, and rich in pith; next in order come bits of grass-leaves, scaly twigs from the cypress- tree, and all sorts of little sticks; and lastly, if the favourite pieces run short, fragments of dry leaves.

In short the Caterpillar, while preferring pithy pieces, will use anything he comes across, provided it be light, very dry, softened by long exposure, and of the right size. All his materials are used just as they are, without any alterations or sawings to make them the proper length. He does not cut the laths that form his roof; he gathers them as he finds them. His work is limited to fixing them at the fore-end.

In order to lend itself to the movements of the travel- ling Caterpillar, and particularly to enable the head and legs to move freely while a new piece is being fixed in position, the front part of this case or sheath must be made in a special way. Here a casing of sticks is no longer suitable, for their length and stiffness would hamper the workman and even make his work impossible. What is required here is a flexible neck, able to move in all directions. The collection of stakes, therefore, ends suddenly at some distance from the fore-part, and is there replaced by a collar where the silk lining is merely hardened with very tiny particles of wood, which strengthen the material without making it less flexible.

This collar, which allows of free movement, is so important that all the Psyches use it, however greatly the rest of their work may differ. All carry, in front of the bundle of sticks, a yielding neck, soft to the touch, formed inside of a web of pure silk and coated outside with a velvety sawdust, which the Caterpillar obtains by crushing up any sort of dry straw.

The same kind of velvet, but dull and faded — apparently through age — finishes the sheath at the back, in the form of a rather long projection, open at the end.

When I remove the outside of the straw casing, shredding it piece by piece, I find a varying number of laths, or tiny sticks. I have counted as many as eighty, and more. Underneath it I find, from one end of the Caterpillar to the other, the same kind of inner sheath that was formerly visible at the front and back only. This inner sheath is composed everywhere of very strong silk, which resists without breaking when pulled by the fingers. It is a smooth tissue, beautifully white inside, drab and wrinkled outside, where it bristles with a crust of woody particles.

Later on we shall see how the Caterpillar makes himself this complicated garment, formed of three layers, one placed upon the other in a definite order. First comes the extremely fine satin which is in direct contact with the skin ; next, the mixed stuff dusted with woody matter, which saves the silk and gives strength to the work; and lastly the outer casing of overlapping sticks.

Although all the Psyches wear this threefold garment, the different species make distinct variations in the outer case. There is one kind, for instance, whom I am apt to meet towards the end of June, hurrying across some dusty path near the houses. His case surpasses that of the first species, both in size and in regularity of arrangement. It forms a thick coverlet of many pieces, in which I recognise fragments of hollow stalks, bits of fine straw, and perhaps blades of grass. In front there is never any flounce of dead leaves, a troublesome piece of finery which is pretty frequent, though not always used, in the costume of the first species I described. At the back there is no long projection beyond the outer covering. Save for the indispensable collar at the neck, the whole Caterpillar is cased in sticks. There is not much variety about the thing, but, when all is said, there is a certain beauty in its stern faultlessness.

There is a smaller and more simply dressed Psyche who is very common at the end of winter on the walls, as well as in the bark of gnarled old trees, whether olive-trees or elms, or indeed almost any other. His case, a modest little bundle, is hardly more than two-fifths of an inch in length. A dozen rotten straws, picked up at random and fixed close to one another in a parallel direction, represent, with the silk sheath, his whole out-lay on dress.

It would be difficult to clothe oneself more economically.


If I gather a number of little Psyches in April and place them in a wire bell-jar, I can find out more about them. Most of them are in the chrysalis state, waiting to be turned into Moths, but a few are still active and clamber to the top of the wire trellis. There they fix themselves by means of a little silk cushion, and both they and I must wait for weeks before anything further happens.

At the end of June the male Psyche comes out of his case, no longer a Caterpillar, but a Moth. The case, or bundle of sticks, you will remember, had two openings, one in front and one at the back. The front one, which is the more regular and carefully made, is permanently closed by being fastened to the support on which the chrysalis is fixed; so the Moth, when he is hatched, is obliged to come out by the opening at the back. The Caterpillar turns round inside the case before he changes into a Moth.

Though they wear but a simple pearl-grey dress and have insignificant wings, hardly larger than those of a Common Fly, these little male Moths are graceful enough. They have handsome feathery plumes for antennae, and their wings are edged with delicate fringes. For the appearance of the female Psyche, however, little can be said.

Some days later than the others she comes out of the sheath, and shows herself in all her wretchedness. Call that little fright a Moth! One cannot easily get used to the idea of so miserable a sight: as a Caterpillar she was no worse to look at. There are no wings, none at all; there is no silky fur either. At the tip of her round, tufty body she wears a crown of dirty-white velvet; on each segment, in the middle of the back, is a large, rectangular, dark patch — her sole attempts at ornament. The mother Psyche renounces all the beauty which her name of Moth seems to promise.

As she leaves her chrysalid sheath she lays her eggs within it, thus bequeathing the maternal cottage (or the maternal garment, if you will) to her heirs. As she lays a great many eggs the affair takes some thirty hours. When the laying is finished she closes the door and makes everything safe against invasion. For this purpose some kind of wadding is required. The fond mother makes use of the only ornament which, in her extreme poverty, she possesses. She wedges the door with the coronet of velvet which she carries at the tip of her body.

Finally she does even more than this. She makes a rampart of her body itself. With a convulsive movement she dies on the threshold of her recent home, her cast chrysalid skin, and there her remains dry up. Even after death she stays at her post.

If the outer case be now opened it will be found to contain the chrysalid wrapper, uninjured except for the opening in front, by which the Psyche came out. The male Moth, when obliged to make his way through the narrow pass, would find his wings and his plumes very cumbersome articles. For this reason he makes a start for the door while he is still in the chrysalis state, and comes half-way out. Then, as he bursts his amber-coloured tunic, he finds, right in front of him, an open space where flight is possible.

But the mother Moth, being unprovided with wings and plumes, is not compelled to take any such precautions. Her cylinder-like form is bare, and differs very little from that of the Caterpillar. It allows her to crawl, to slip into the narrow passage, and to come forth without difficulty. So she leaves her cast skin behind her, right at the back of the case, well covered by the thatched roof.

And this is an act of prudence, showing her deep concern for the fate of her eggs. They are, in fact, packed as though in a barrel, in the parchment-like bag formed by the cast skin. The Moth has methodically gone on laying eggs in that receptacle till it is full. Not satisfied with bequeathing her house and her velvet coronet to her offspring, as the last act of her life she leaves them her skin.

Wishing to observe the course of events at my ease I once took one of these chrysalid bags, stuffed with eggs, from its outer casing of sticks, and placed it by itself, beside its case, in a glass tube. In the first week of July I suddenly found myself in possession of a large family. The hatching took place so quickly that the new-born Caterpillars, about forty in number, had already clothed themselves in my absence.

They wore a garment like a sort of Persian head-dress, in dazzling white plush. Or, to be more commonplace, a white cotton night-cap without a tassel. Strange to say, however, instead of wearing their caps on their heads, they wore them standing up from their hind-quarters, almost perpendicularly. They roamed about gaily inside the tube, which was a spacious dwelling for such mites. I was quite determined to find out with what materials and in what manner the first outlines of the cap were woven.

Fortunately the chrysalid bag was far from being empty. I found within the rumpled wrapper a second family as numerous as those already out of the case. Altogether there must have been five or six dozen eggs. I transferred to another place the little Caterpillars who were already dressed, keeping only the naked new-comers in the tube. They had bright red heads ; the rest of their bodies was dirty-white; and they measured hardly a twenty-fifth of an inch in length.

I had not long to wait. The next day, little by little, singly or in groups, the little laggards left the chrysalid bag. They came out without breaking that frail object, through the opening in front made by their mother. Not one of them used it as a dress- material, though it had the delicacy and amber colouring of an onion-skin ; nor did any of them make use of a certain fine quilting that lines the inside of the bag and forms an exquisitely soft bed for the eggs. One would have thought this downy stuff would make an excellent blanket for the chilly creatures, but not a single one used it. There would not be enough to go round.

They all went straight to the coarse outer casing of sticks, which I had left in contact with the chrysalid skin containing the eggs. The matter was urgent, they evidently felt. Before making your entrance into the world and going a-hunting, you must first be clad. All therefore, with equal fury, attacked the old sheath and hastily dressed themselves in their mother's old clothes.

Some turned their attention to bits that happened to be opened lengthwise, scraping the soft white inner layer; others, greatly daring, penetrated into the tunnel of a hollow stalk and collected their materials in the dark. The courage of these was rewarded; they secured first-rate materials and wove garments of dazzling white. There were others who bit deeply into the piece they chose, and made themselves a motley covering, in which the snowy whiteness was marred by darker particles.

The tools the little Caterpillars use for this purpose are their mandibles, which are shaped like wide shears and have five strong teeth apiece. The two blades fit into each other, and form an instrument capable of seizing and slicing any fibre, however small. Under the microscope it is seen to be a wonderful specimen of mechanical precision and power. If the Sheep had a similar tool in proportion to her size, she could browse on the stems of trees instead of the grass.

It is very instructive to watch these Psyche-grubs toiling to make themselves a cotton night-cap. There are numbers of things to remark, both in the finish of the work and the skill of the methods they employ. They are so tiny that while I observe them through my magnifying glass I must be careful not to breathe, lest I should overturn them or puff them away. Yet this speck is expert in the art of blanket-making. An orphan, born but a moment ago, it knows how to cut itself a garment out of its mother's old clothes. Of its methods I will tell you more presently, but first I must say another word with regard to its dead mother.

I have spoken of the downy quilting that covers the inside of the chrysalid bag. It is like a bed of eider-down, on which the little Caterpillars rest for a while after leaving the egg. Warmly nestling in this soft rug they prepare themselves for their plunge into the outer world of work.

The Eider robs herself of her down to make a luxurious bed for her brood; the mother Rabbit shears from her own body the softest part of her fur to provide a mattress for her new-born family. And the same thing is done by the Psyche.

The mass of soft wadding that makes a warm coverlet for the baby Caterpillar is a material of incomparable delicacy. Through the microscope it can be recognised as the scaly dust, the intensely fine down in which every Moth is clad. To give a snug shelter to the little grubs who will soon be swarming in the case, to provide them with a refuge in which they can play about and gather strength before entering the wide world, the Psyche strips herself of her fur like the mother Rabbit.

This may possibly be done mechanically; it may be the unintentional effect of rubbing repeatedly against the low-roofed walls; but there is nothing to tell us so. Even the humblest mother has her foresight. It is quite likely that the hairy Moth twists about, and goes to and fro in the narrow passage, in order to get rid of her fleece and prepare bedding for her family.

I have read in books that the young Psyches begin life by eating up their mother. I have seen nothing of the sort, and I do not even understand how the idea arose. Indeed, she has given up so much for her family that there is nothing left of her but some thin, dry strips — not enough to provide a meal for so numerous a brood. No, my little Psyches, you do not eat your mother. In vain do I watch you: never, either to clothe or to feed him- self, does any one of you lay a tooth upon the remains of the deceased.


I will now describe in greater detail the dressing of the grubs.

The hatching of the eggs takes place in the first fortnight of July. The head and upper part of the little grubs are of a glossy black, the next two segments are brownish, and the rest of the body is a pale amber. They are sharp, lively little creatures, who run about with short, quick steps.

For a time, after they are out of the bag where they are hatched, they remain in the heap of fluff that was stripped from their mother. Here there is more room, and more comfort too, than in the bag whence they came; and while some take a rest, others bustle about and exercise themselves in walking. They are all picking up strength before leaving the outer case.

They do not stay long amid this luxury. Gradually, as they gain vigour, they come out and spread over the surface of the case. Work begins at once, a very urgent work — that of dressing themselves. By and by they will think of food: at present nothing is of any importance but clothes.

Montaigne, when putting on a cloak which his father had worn before him, used to say, "I dress myself in my father." Well, the young Psyches in the same way dress themselves in their mother. (In the same way, it must be remembered; not in her skin, but in her clothes.) From the outer case of sticks, which I have sometimes described as a house and sometimes as a garment, they scrape the material to make themselves a frock. The stuff they use is the pith of the little stalks, especially of the pieces that are split lengthwise, because the contents are more easily taken from these.

The manner of beginning the garment is worth noting. The tiny creature employs a method as ingenious as any that we could hope to discover. The wadding is collected in pellets of infinitesimal size. How are these little pellets to be fixed and joined together? The manufacturer needs a support, a base; and this support cannot be obtained on the Caterpillar's own body. The difficulty is overcome very cleverly. The pellets are gathered together, and by degrees fastened to one another with threads of silk — for the Caterpillar, as you know, can spin silk from his own body as the Spider spins her web. In this way a sort of garland is formed, with the pellets or particles swinging in a row from the same rope. When it is long enough this garland is passed round the waist of the little creature, in such a way as to leave its six legs free. Then it ties the ends together with a bit of silk, so that it forms a girdle round the grub's body.

This girdle is the starting-point and support of the whole work. To lengthen it, and enlarge it into a complete garment, the grub has only to fix to it the scraps of pith which the mandibles never cease tearing from the case. These scraps or pellets are sometimes placed at the top, sometimes at the bottom or side, but they are always fixed at the fore-edge. No device could be better contrived than this garland, first laid out flat and then buckled like a belt round the body.

Once this start is made the weaving goes on well. Gradually the girdle grows into a scarf, a waistcoat, a short jacket, and lastly a sack, and in a few hours it is complete — a conical hood or cloak of magnificent whiteness.

Thanks to his mother's care the little grub is spared the perils of roaming about in a state of nakedness. If she did not place her family in her old case they might have great difficulty in clothing themselves, for straws and stalks rich in pith are not found everywhere. And yet, unless they died of exposure, it appears that sooner or later they would find some kind of garment, since they seem ready to use any material that comes to hand. I have made many experiments with new-born grubs in a glass tube.

From the stalks of a sort of dandelion they scraped, without the least hesitation, a superb white pith, and made it into a delicious white cloak, much finer than any they would have obtained from the remains of their mother's clothes. An even better garment was woven from some pith taken from the kitchen-broom. This time the work glittered with little sparks, like specks of crystal or grains of sugar. It was my manufacturers' masterpiece.

The next material I offered them was a piece of blotting-paper. Here again my grubs did not hesitate: they lustily scraped the surface and made themselves a paper coat. Indeed, they were so much pleased with this that when I gave them their native case they scorned it, preferring the blotting-paper.

To others I gave nothing at all. Not to be baffled, however, they hastened to scrape the cork of the tube and break it into atoms. Out of these they made themselves a frock of cork-grains, as faultless as though they and their ancestors had always made use of this material. The novelty of the stuff, which perhaps no Caterpillar had ever used before, made no difference in the cut of the garment.

Finding them ready to accept any vegetable matter that was dry and light, I next tried them with animal and mineral substances. I cut a strip from the wing of a Great Peacock Moth, and placed two little naked Caterpillars upon it. For a long time they both hesitated. Then one of them resolved to use the strange carpet. Before the day was over he had clothed himself in grey velvet made of the Great Peacock's scales.

I next took some soft, flaky stones, such as will break at the merest touch into atoms nearly as fine as the dust on a Butterfly's wing. On a bed of this powdery stuff, which glittered like steel filings, I placed four Caterpillars in need of clothes. One, and one alone, decided to dress himself. His metallic garment, from which the light drew flashes of every colour of the rainbow, was very rich and sumptuous, but mightily heavy and cumbrous. Walking became laborious under that load of metal. Even so must a Byzantine Emperor have walked at ceremonies of State.

In cases of necessity, then, the young Caterpillar does not shrink from acts of sheer madness. So urgent is his need to clothe himself that he will weave mineral matter rather than go naked. Food means less to him than clothes. If I make him fast for a couple of days, and then, having robbed him of his garment, place him on his favourite food, a leaf of very hairy hawkweed, he will make himself a new coat before satisfying his hunger.

This devotion to dress is due, not to any special sensitiveness to cold, but to the young Caterpillar's foresight. Other Caterpillars take shelter among the leaves, in underground cells, or in the cracked bark of trees, but the Psyche spends his winter exposed to the weather. He therefore prepares himself, from his birth, for the perils of the cold season.

As soon as he is threatened with the rains of autumn he begins to work upon his outer case. It is very rough at first. Straws of uneven length and bits of dry leaves are fastened, with no attempt at order, behind the neck of the sack or undergarment, which must remain flexible so as to allow the Caterpillar to bend freely in every direction. These untidy first logs of the outer case will not interfere with the final regularity of the building: they will be pushed back and driven out as the sack grows longer in front.

After a time the pieces are longer and more carefully chosen, and are all laid on lengthwise. The placing of a straw is done with surprising speed and skill. The Caterpillar turns it round and round between his legs, and then, gripping it in his mandibles, removes a few morsels from one end, and immediately fixes them to the end of the sack. He probably does this in order that the silk may obtain a firmer hold, as a plumber gives a touch of the file to a point that is to be soldered.

Then, by sheer strength of jaw, he lifts and brandishes his straw in the air before laying it on his back. At once the spinneret sets to work and fixes it in place. Without any groping about or correcting, the thing is done. By the time the cold weather arrives the warm case is complete.

But the silky felt of the interior is never thick enough to please the Caterpillar. When spring comes he spends all his spare time in improving his quilt, in making it ever thicker and softer. Even if I take off his outer case he refuses to rebuild it : he persists in adding new layers to the lining, even when there is nothing to be lined. The sack is lamentably flabby; it sags and rumples. He has no protection nor shelter. No matter. The hour for carpentry has passed. The hour has come for upholstering; and he upholsters obstinately, padding a house — or lining a garment — that no longer exists. He will perish miserably, cut up by the Ants, as the result of his too-rigid instinct.
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Re: Fabre's Book of Insects: Retold From Alexander Teixeira

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 1:52 am


YOU remember, I hope, the Sacred Beetle, who spends her time in making balls, both to serve as food and also to be the foundation of her pear-shaped nest, I pointed out the advantages of this shape for the young Beetles, since the globe is the best form that could be invented to keep their provisions from becoming dry and hard.

After watching this Beetle at work for a long time I began to wonder if I had not perhaps been mistaken in admiring her instinct so greatly. Was it really care for her grubs, I asked myself, that taught her to provide them with the tenderest and most suitable food? It is the trade of the Sacred Beetle to make balls. Is it wonderful that she should continue her ball- making underground? A creature built with long curved legs, very useful for rolling balls across the fields, will go on with her favourite occupation wherever she may be, without regard to her grubs. Perhaps the shape of the pear is mere chance.

To settle this question satisfactorily in my own mind I should need to be shown a Scavenger Beetle who was utterly unfamiliar with the ball-making business in everyday life, and who yet, when laying-time was at hand, made an abrupt change in her habits and stored her provisions in the form of a round lump. That would show me that it was not merely custom, but care for her grubs, that made her choose the globular shape for her nest.

Now in my neighbourhood there is a Beetle of this very kind. She is one of the handsomest and largest, though not so imposing as the Sacred Beetle. Her name is the Spanish Copris, and she is remarkable for the sharp slope of her chest and the size of the horn surmounting her head.

Being round and squat, the Spanish Copris is certainly incapable of such gymnastics as are performed by the Sacred Beetle. Her legs, which are insignificant in length, and which she folds under her body at the slightest alarm, are not in the least like the stilts of the pill-rollers. Their stunted form and their lack of flexibility are enough in themselves to tell us that their owner would not care to roam about burdened with a rolling ball.

The Copris, indeed, is not of an active nature. Once she has found her provisions, at night or in the evening twilight, she begins to dig a burrow on the spot. It is a rough cavern, large enough to hold an apple. Here is introduced, bit by bit, the stuff that is just overhead, or at any rate lying on the threshold of the cave. An enormous supply of food is stored in a shapeless mass, plain evidence of the insect's gluttony. As long as the hoard lasts the Copris remains underground. When the larder is empty the insect searches out a fresh supply of food, and scoops out another burrow.

For the time being the Copris is merely a scavenger, a gatherer of manure. She is evidently quite ignorant, at present, of the art of kneading and modelling a round loaf. Besides, her short clumsy legs seem utterly unsuited for any such art.

In May or June, however, comes laying-time. The insect becomes very particular about choosing the softest materials for her family's food. Having found what pleases her, she buries it on the spot, carrying it down by armfuls, bit by bit. There is no travelling, no carting, no preparation. I observe, too, that the burrow is larger and better built than the temporary abodes in which the Copris takes her own meals.

Finding it difficult to observe the insect closely in its wild state, I resolved to place it in my insect-house, and there watch it at my ease.

The poor creature was at first a little nervous in captivity, and when she had made her burrow was very cautious about entering it. By degrees, however, she was reassured, and in a single night she stored a supply of the food I had provided for her.

Before a week was out I dug up the soil in my insect-house, and brought to light the burrow I had seen her storing with provisions. It was a spacious hall, with an irregular roof and an almost level floor. In a corner was a round hole leading to a slanting gallery, which ran up to the surface of the soil. The walls of this dwelling, which was hollowed out of fresh earth, had been carefully compressed, and were strong enough to resist the earthquake caused by my experiments. It was easy to see that the insect had put forth all her skill, all her digging-powers, in the making of this permanent home, whereas her own dining-room had been a mere cave, with walls that were none too safe.

I suspect she is helped, in the building of this architectural masterpiece, by her mate: at least I often see him with her in the burrows. I also believe that he lends his partner a hand with the collecting and storing of the provisions. It is a quicker job when there are two to work. But once the home is well stocked he retires: he makes his way back to the surface and settles down elsewhere. His part in the family mansion is ended.

Now what do I find in this mansion, into which I have seen so many tiny loads of provisions lowered"? A mass of small pieces, heaped together anyhow? Not a bit of it. I always find a simple lump, a huge mass which fills the dwelling except for a narrow passage.

This lump has no fixed shape. I come across some that are like a Turkey's egg in form and size; some the shape of a common onion; I find some that are almost round, and remind me of a Dutch cheese; I see some that are circular, with a slight swelling on the upper surface. In every case the surface is smooth and nicely curved.

There is no mistaking what has happened. The mother has collected and kneaded into one lump the numerous fragments brought down one after the other. Out of all those particles she has made a single lump, by mashing them, working them together, and treading on them. Time after time I have seen her on top of the colossal loaf which is so much larger than the ball of the Sacred Beetle — a mere pill in comparison. She strolls about on the convex surface, which sometimes measures as much as four inches across; she pats the mass, and makes it firm and level. I only catch a sight of the curious scene, for the moment she sees me she slips down the curved slope and hides away.

With the help of a row of glass jars, all enclosed in opaque sheaths of cardboard, I can find out a good many interesting things. In the first place I have found that the big loaf does not owe its curve — which is always regular, no matter how much the slope may vary — to any rolling process. Indeed I already knew that so large a mess could not have been rolled into a hole that it nearly fills. Besides, the strength of the insect would be unequal to moving so great a load.

Every time I go to the jar the evidence is the same. I always see the mother Beetle twisted on top of the lump, feeling here and feeling there, giving little taps, and making the thing smooth. Never do I catch her looking as if she wanted to turn the block. It is clear as daylight that rolling has nothing to do with the matter.

At last it is ready. The baker divides his lump of dough into smaller lumps, each of which will become a loaf. The Copris does the same thing. By making a circular cut with the sharp edge of her forehead, and at the same time using the saw of her fore-legs, she detaches from the mass a piece of the size she requires. In giving this stroke she has no hesitation: there are no after-touches, adding a bit here and taking off a bit there. Straight away, with one sharp, decisive cut, she obtains the proper-sized lump.

Next comes the question of shaping it. Clasping it as best she can in her short arms, so little adapted, one would think, for work of this kind, the Copris rounds her lump of food by pressure, and pressure only. Solemnly she moves about on the still shapeless mass, climbs up, climbs down, turns to right and left, above and below, touching and re-touching with unvarying patience. Finally, after twenty-four hours of this work, the piece that was all corners has become a perfect sphere, the size of a plum. There in her cramped studio, with scarcely room to move, the podgy artist has completed her work without once shaking it on its base: by dint of time and patience she has obtained the exact sphere which her clumsy tools and her confined space seemed to render impossible.

For a long time she continues to polish up the globe with affectionate touches of her foot, but at last she is satisfied. She climbs to the top, and by simple pressure hollows out a shallow cavity. In this basin she lays an egg.

Then, with extreme caution and delicacy, she brings together the sides of the basin so as to cover the egg, and carefully scrapes the sides towards the top, which begins to taper a little and lengthen out. In the end the ball has become ovoid, or egg-shaped.

The insect next helps herself to a second piece of the cut loaf, which she treats in the same way. The remainder serves for a third ovoid, or even a fourth. The Sacred Beetle, you remember, made a single pear-shaped nest in a way that was familiar to her, and then left her egg underground while she engaged in fresh enterprises. The Copris behaves very differently.

Her burrow is almost filled by three or four ovoid nests, standing one against the other, with the pointed end upwards. After her long fast one would expect her to go away, like the Sacred Beetle, in search of food. On the contrary, however, she stays where she is. And yet she has eaten nothing since she came underground, for she has taken good care not to touch the food prepared for her family. She will go hungry rather than let her grubs suffer.

THE SPANISH COPRIS: The burrow is almost filled by three or four ovoid nests, standing one against the other, with the pointed end upwards

Her object in staying is to mount guard over the cradles. The pear of the Sacred Beetle suffers from the mother's desertion. It soon shows cracks, and becomes scaly and swollen. After a time it loses its shape. But the nest of the Copris remains perfect, owing to the mother's care. She goes from one to the other, feels them, listens to them, and touches them up at points where my eye can detect no flaw. Her clumsy horn-shod foot is more sensitive in the darkness than my sight in broad daylight: she feels the least threatening of a crack and attends to it at once, lest the air should enter and dry up her eggs. She slips in and out of the narrow spaces between the cradles, inspecting them with the utmost care. If I disturb her she sometimes rubs the tip of her body against the edge of her wing-cases, making a soft rustling sound, like a murmur of complaint. In this way, caring industriously for her cradles, and sometimes snatching a brief sleep beside them the mother waits.

The Copris enjoys in her underground home a rare privilege for an insect: the pleasure of knowing her family. She hears her grubs scratching at the shell to obtain their liberty; she is present at the bursting of the nest which she has made so carefully. And when the little captive, stiffening his legs and humping his back, tries to split the ceiling that presses down on him, it is quite possible that the mother comes to his assistance by making an assault on the nest from the outside. Being fitted by instinct for repairing and building, why should she not also be fitted for demolishing? However, I will make no assertions, for I have been unable to see.

Now it is possible to say that the mother Copris, being imprisoned in an enclosure from which she cannot escape, stays in the midst of her nest because she has no choice in the matter. Yet, if this were so, would she trouble about her work of polishing and constant inspection? These cares evidently are natural to her: they form part of her habits. If she were anxious to regain her liberty, she would surely roam restlessly round the enclosure, whereas I always see her very quiet and absorbed.

To make certain, I have inspected my glass jars at different times. She could go lower down in the sand and hide anywhere she pleased, if rest were what she wanted; she could climb outside and sit down to fresh food, if refreshment became necessary. Neither the prospect of rest in a deeper cave nor the thought of the sun and of food snakes her leave her family. Until the last of them has burst his shell she sticks to her post. I always find her beside her cradles.

For four months she is without food of any kind. She was no better than a glutton at first, when there was no family to consider, but now she becomes self-denying to the point of prolonged fasting. The Hen sitting on her eggs forgets to eat for some weeks; the watchful Copris mother forgets food for a third part of the year.

The summer is over. The rains so greatly desired by man and beast have come at last, soaking the ground to some depth. After the torrid and dusty days of our Provencial summer, when life is in suspense, we have the coolness that revives it. The heath puts out its first pink bells; the autumnal squill lifts its little spike of lilac flowers; the strawberry-tree's coral bells begin to soften; the Sacred Beetle and the Copris burst their shells, and come to the surface in time to enjoy the last fine weather of the year.

The newly released Copris family, accompanied by their mother, gradually emerge from underground. There are three or four of them, five at most. The sons are easily recognised by the greater length of their horns; but there is nothing to distinguish the daughters from the mother. For that matter, the same confusion exists among themselves. An abrupt change has taken place. The mother whose devotion was lately so remark- able is now utterly indifferent to the welfare of her family. Henceforward each looks after his own home and his own interests. They no longer have anything to do with one another.

The present indifference of the mother Beetle must not make us forget the wonderful care she has lavished for four months on end. Except among the Bees, Wasps, and Ants, who spoon-feed their young and bring them up with every attention to their health, I know of no other such case of maternal self-denial. Alone and unaided she provides each of her children with a cake of food, whose crust she constantly repairs, so that it be- comes the safest of cradles. So intense is her affection that she loses all desire and need of food. In the darkness of the burrow she watches over her brood for four months, attending to the wants of the egg, the grub, the undeveloped Beetle, and the full-grown insect. She does not return to the glad outer life till all her family are free. Thus we see one of the most brilliant examples of maternal instinct in a humble scavenger of the fields. The Spirit breatheth where He will.
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Re: Fabre's Book of Insects: Retold From Alexander Teixeira

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 1:54 am


Sometimes the Scarab seems to enter into partnership with a friend

In July, when most of the insects in my sunny country are parched with thirst, the Cicada remains perfectly cheerful

A long time ago, in the days of ancient Greece, this insect was named Mantis, or the Prophet

When finished the work is amber-yellow, and rather reminds one of the outer skin of an onion

This is the secret of the walking bundle of sticks. It is a Faggot Caterpillar, belonging to the group known as the Psyches

The burrow is almost filled by three or four ovoid nests, standing one against the other, with the pointed end upwards

The Greek word dectikos means biting, fond of biting. The Decticus is well named. It is eminently an insect given to biting

The wasp's nest is made of a thin, flexible material like brown paper, formed of particles of wood

Here is one of the humblest of creatures able to lodge himself to perfection. He has a home; he has a peaceful retreat, the first condition of comfort

The mother harnesses herself in the place of honour, in front. The father pushes behind in the reverse position, head downwards

"I have buried underground," she says, "the treasure of the future"

Her delicate suit of downy velvet, from which you take the bloom by merely breathing on it, could not withstand the contact of rough tunnels
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