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Full text of "Fabre's book of insects, retold from Alexander Teixeira de Mattos' translation of Fabre's "Souvenirs entomologiques,""

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FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 



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THE SACRED BEETLE 
Sometimes the Scarab seems to enter into partnership zvith 

a friend Poge 13 



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FAB RE'S ? 
BOOK OF INSECTS 

RETOLD FROMALEXANDER TEIXEIRADE MATTOS' 
TRANSLATK)N of FABRES "SOUVENIRS ENTOMOLOGIQUES" 
FT MRS.RODOLPH STAWELL 

Illustrated hy 

E-J-DETMOLD 




NEW YORK 

DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY 

1921 



COPTBIOHT, 1921. 

Bt DODD. itEAD AND COICPANT. INQ 



PRINTRD nr U. B. A. 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER I 

PAGE 

MY WORK AND MY WORKSHOP i 



CHAPTER II 
THE SACRED BEETLE u 

CHAPTER m 
THE CICADA 2$ 

CHAPTER IV 
THE PRAYING MANTIS 40 

CHAPTER V 
THE GLOW-WORM 54 

CHAPTER VI 
A MASON-WASP 69 

CHAPTER VII 

THE PSYCHES 89 

vii 



CONTENTS 
CHAPTER VIII 



PACE 



THE SELF-DENIAL OF THE SPANISH COPRIS . . 109 

CHAPTER IX 
TWO STRANGE GRASSHOPPERS 121 

CR\PTER X 
COMMON WASPS 138 

CHAPTER XI 
THE ADVENTURES OF A GRUB 157 

CHAPTER XII 
THE CRICKET 175 

CHAPTER XIII 
THE SISYPHUS 198 

CHAPTER XIV 
THE CAPRICORN 209 

CHAPTER XV 
LOCUSTS 227 

CHAPTER XVI 

THE ANTHRAX FLY 149 

viii 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

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

THE CICADA ^,„„, 

PASB 

In July, when most of the insects in my sunny country are parched with 

thirst, the Cicada remains perfectly cheerful 26 

THE PRAYING MANTIS 

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

Mantis, or the Prophet 42 

PELOPiEUS SPIRIFEX 

When finished the work is amber-yellow, and rather reminds one of the 

outer skin of an onion 80 

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 ... 90 

THE SPANISH COPRIS 

The burrow is almost filled by three or four ovoid nests, standing one 

against the other, with the pointed end upwards 116 

THE WHITE-FACED DECTICUS 

The Greek word dectikos means biting, fond of biting. The Decticus 

is well named. It is eminently an insect given to biting . . . .130 

COMMON WASPS 

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

formed of particles of wood 144 

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 180 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 
THE SISYPHUS 

PAfll 

The mother harnesses herself in the place of honour, in front. The 

father pushes behind in the reverse position, head downwards . . 204 

ITALIAN LOCUSTS 
"I have buried underground," she says, "the treasure of the future" . . 238 

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 258 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

CHAPTER I 

MY WORK AND MY WORKSHOP 

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 as- 
toundingly 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. 

[1] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 my- 
self 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 

[2] 



MY WORK AND MY WORKSHOP 

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." 

[3] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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, 



[4] 



MY WORK AND MY WORKSHOP 

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 experi- 
ments — 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-Tan- 
don, 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 

* See Insect Adventures, retold for young people from the works of Henri Fabre. 

[5] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 observa- 
tions. 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 



[6] 



MY WORK AND MY WORKSHOP 

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 
spreading 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 knap- 
weeds, 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, 

[7] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 

[8] 



MY WORK AND MY WORKSHOP 

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 cour- 
age 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 

[9] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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. 



[10] 



CHAPTER II 

THE SACRED BEETLE 



THE BALL 

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 

[11] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 out- 
side. 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 arm- 
fuls 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. 

Wlien 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 



THE SACRED BEETLE 

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 in- 
cline. 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 enor- 
mous 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 

[13] 



FABRE S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 one- 
self to a neighbour's dinner, is much easier. Some thiev- 
ing 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 oVner 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 right- 

[14] 



THE SACRED BEETLE 

ful 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 sur- 
face he glances at the ball, on which the other lies, de- 
mure 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 

[15] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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. 

II 

THE PEAR 

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. 

[16] 



THE SACRED BEETLE 

At daybreak the next morning the shepherd and I went 
out to investigate the matter. We met among the brows- 
ing 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 

[17] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 deli- 
cate 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 tem- 
perature 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 peb- 
ble, 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 

[18] 



THE SACRED BEETLE 

the mother Beetle compresses the outer layer of the pear 
■ — or nest — with all the strength of her stout, flat fore- 
arms, 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 at- 
tention to the business in hand. The materials may be 
obtained in two ways. As a rule, under natural condi- 
tions, 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 strik- 
ing. 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 

[19] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 vari- 
ous 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 

[20] 



THE SACRED BEETLE 

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. 



Ill 



THE GROWING-UP OF THE SCARAB 

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 
Iving in front of it like a wide pleated scarf and its fore- 

[21] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

legs 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 I 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 fore- 

[22] 



THE SACRED BEETLE 

head 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 him- 
self 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. 

[23] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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. 



[24] 



CHAPTER III 



THE CICADA 



THE CICADA AND THE ANT 

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 I" And she turned her 
back on the beggar. 

[25] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 trans- 
lations 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 atten- 
tion 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. 

It is true, too, thut 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. 

[26] 



THE CICADA 

In July when most of the insects in my sunnv country are 

parched mth thirst, the Cicada remain} perfectly cheerful 



THE CICADA 

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 deli- 
cate 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. Driv- 
ing 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. 

[27] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 Ci- 
cada'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. 



II 



THE CICADA S BURROW 

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 peace- 
ful one. 

The first Cicada appear at midsummer. In the much- 
trodden, sun-baked paths I see, level with the ground, 

[28] 



THE CICADA 

round holes about the size of a man's thumb. Through 
these holes the Cicada-grubs come up from the under- 
ground 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 door- 
way, 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 

[29] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 

[30] 



THE CICADA 

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 

[31] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

only, he turns himself over till his head is hanging 
downwards. His crumpled wings straighten out, un- 
furl, 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, leav- 
ing his cast skin behind him. Sometimes it hangs from 
the twigs for months. 

Ill 

THE cicada's music 

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. 

[32] 



THE CICADA 

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 I 
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 him- 

[33] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

self 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 vil- 
lage. 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 thunder- 
clap. 

Quite unconcerned, the Cicadae continued to sing. 

[34] 



THE CICADA 

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. 

IV 

THE cicada's eggs 

The Common Cicada likes to lay her eggs on sm'all 
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 al- 
most 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 

[35] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 obser- 
vations 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 

[36] 



THE CICADA 

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 hatch- 
ing 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 

[37] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 w^ater 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 mag- 

[38] 



THE aCADA 

nifying-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, pro- 
vided 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? 



[39] 



CHAPTER IV 



THE PRAYING MANTIS 



HER HUNTING 



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 pro- 
vided 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 

[40] 



THE PRAYING MANTIS 

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 
w^ith her spikes, seizes you in her vice, and makes self- 

[41] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 appear- 
ance 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 plently 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. 

A grey Locust, heedless of danger, walks towards the 
Mantis. The latter gives a convulsive shiver, and sud- 
denly, 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 

[42] 



THE PRAYING MANTIS 

A long time ago, in the days of ancient Greece, this insect zvas 

named Mantis, or the Prophet 



■'.Xi'O Vi^rKt 't\\\\ .'ni' Ml ^0^,0 'jiHit vjwoi ^. 




^ 



THE PRAYING MANTIS 

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 I 

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 

[43] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

neck, to destroy its power of movement. TWis enables 
her to kill and eat an insect as big as herself, or even 
bigger. It is amazing that the greedy creature can con- 
tain so much food. 

The various Digger-wasps receive visits from her 
pretty frequently. Posted near the burrows on a bram- 
ble, 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 sus- 
picious 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 mo- 
ment 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 

I regret to say that the meals of this savage ogress 

[44] 



THE PRAYING MANTIS 

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 mouthf uls, leav- 
ing only the wings. 

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



II 



HER NEST 

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 

[45] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

when it is burnt. Tlie 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 hatch- 
ing. In every other part the wall of the nest is impene- 
trable. 

The eggs are arranged in layers, with the ends con- 
taining 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 

[46] 



THE PRAYING MANTIS 

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 remain- 
der 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 por- 
tion 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 them- 

[47] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

selves, the protecting froth, the soft sugar-like covering 
of the doorways, and at the same time can build over- 
lapping plates, and the narrow passages leading t?o them I 
Yet the Mantis, while she is doing all this, hangs mo- 
tionless 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 hus- 
band, and deserts her children. 



Ill 



THE HATCHING OF HER EGGS 

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, trans- 
parent lump, followed by two large black specks, which 
are the creature's eyes. The baby grub slips gently 

[48] 



THE PRAYING MANTIS 

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 it- 
self, 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. Finallv the legs and the 

[49] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 mto 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 

[50] 



THE PRAYING MANTIS 

too strong a fortress. But they wait outside for their 
prey. 

The moment that the young grubs appear they are 
grabed 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 stra"*' insects that have escaped the Ant. They 

[51] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 in- 
vaders. 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 .\nts, I 
eat the Wryneck. 

It may well be that the Mantis, the Locust, the .\nt, 
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. 

Is--] 



THE PRAYING MANTIS 

In many ages the Mantis has been regarded with super- 
stitious 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." 

[53] 



CHAPTER V 



THE GLOW-WORM 



HIS SURGICAL INSTRUMENT 



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 gad- 
about. 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 

[54] 



THE GLOW-WORM 

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 
pmk 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 I 



Nevertheless we will continue to call him the Glow- 
worm, since it is bv 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 

[55] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 motion- 
less, 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. 

[56] 



THE GLOW-WORM 

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, 

[57] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

however — there are never many — are enough to prevent 
the Snail from feeling anything, thanks to the prompti- 
tude 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 in- 
sensible 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 re- 
stored to his usual state. He revives, he recovers move- 

[58] 



THE GLOW-WORM 

ment 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 out- 
right. 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 chloro- 
form: 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, cling- 
ing 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 

[59] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

slender liooks of the Glow-worm can find their way in 
through the gap, and in a moment the victim is made un- 
conscious, 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 un- 
conscious 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. 



n 



HIS ROSETTE 

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 

[60] 



THE GLOW-WORM 

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 begin- 
ning, 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 m.outhfuls 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 in- 

[61] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

jcct 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 themseves with a speck of the sticky sub- 
stance 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 

[62] 



THE GLOW-WORM 

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 some- 
times 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 any- 
thing, 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, 

[63] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

after a meal, the Glow-worm passes and repasses this 
brush over his head and sides and his whole body, a per- 
formance 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. 

Ill 

HIS LAMP 

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 

[64] 



THE GLOW-WORM 

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, deli- 
cately 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 micro- 
scope. 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 

[65] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

that is oxidised, and the air is supplied by the tube con- 
nected with the Glow-worm's breathing-organs. But 
as to the nature of the shining substance, no one as yet 
knows anything. 

\Vc 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, in- 
fluenced 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 sur- 
prise. 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 

[66] 



THE GLOW-WORM 

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 illumina- 
tion 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 re- 
quired. 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 

[67] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 sihines. 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. 



[68] 



CHAPTER VI 

A MASON-WASP 

I 

HER CHOICE OF A BUILDING-SITE 

OF the various insects that like to make their 
home in our houses, certainly the most inter- 
esting, 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 PelopaBus 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 

[69] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

heat of summers, and if possible possessing a big fire- 
place in which a fire of sticks always burns. The cheer- 
ful 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 wth 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 aw^y, 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 Pelopjeus: 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 draw- 
backs. The smoke gets to the nests, and gives them a 
glaze of brown or black like that which covers the stone- 
work. They might easily be taken for inequalities in the 

[70] 



A MASON-WASP 

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 any- 
thing 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 un- 
harmed. She will face this danger repeatedly all day, 
until the cell is built, stored with food, and closed. 

[71] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 upwn 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-gather- 
ers. 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 

[72] 



A MASON-WASP 

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 holi- 
days. 

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 

[73] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 fire- 
place 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. 

[74] 



A MASON-WASP 

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. 

II 

N 

HER BUILDING 

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 I 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, how- 
ever, watch the builders at my leisure in my own garden, 
when a thin trickle of water runs all day, as it does some- 

[75] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

times, througli the little trenches that are cut in my 
vegetable plots. 

The Pelopitus Wasps of the neighlxjurhood soon be- 
come aware of this glad event, and come hurrying up to 
take advantage of the precious layer of mud, a rare dis- 
covery 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. 

[76] 



A MASON- WASP 

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 dwell- 
ings, 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 

[77] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 in- 
tended 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 

[78] 



A MASON- WASP 

husk. In this final state the nest is like a great splash 
of mud, flung against the wall by accident. 



Ill 



HER PROVISIONS 

Now that we know what the pro vision- 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 

[79] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

leads also to variation in number. One cell will con- 
tain 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 decom- 
pose. 

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 

[80] 



PELOPAEUS SPIRIFEX 

When finished the work is amber-yellozu, and rather reminds 

one of the outer skin of an onion 



t\w 



\U 




^ 




^, -r -_iiy^( ^'^i 



A MASON-WASP 

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. Some- 
thing 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, an'd 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 

[81] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 — pos- 
sibly 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 

[82] 



A MASON-WASP 

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 pos- 
sesses. 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 

[83] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 per- 
suade 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 discerment lies the possibility of 
future improvement for the insect. 



IV 



HER ORIGIN 

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, 

[84] 



A MASON-WASP 

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 fire- 
side. 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 jflints, 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 chimnevs it may 
have served at a pinch. 

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

[85] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 
Pelopa?us 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 cen- 
turies. 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. 

[86] 



A MASON-WASP 

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 Pe- 
lopaeus 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 neigh- 
bourhood 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 im- 
possible 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 

[87] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

ProverKjal. In Africa she is said often to nest under 
stones, but in the Malay Archipelago we hear of her kins- 
woman 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 Archi- 
pelago I should turn over the stone-heaps, and should 
most likely discover a nest in the original position, under 
a flat stone. 



[88] 



CHAPTER VII 



THE PSYCHES 



A WELL-DRESSED CATERPILLAR 

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. 

[89] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 ma- 
terial. 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 infor- 
mation. 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. 

At the first glance it appears like thatch: but thatch 
is not an exact description of it. for grain-stems are rarely 

[90] 



THE PSYCHES 

This is the secret of the zvalking bundle of sticks. It is a Faggot 

Caterpillar, belonging to the group knozvn as the Psyches 



"j-.X' i'->-; yT -.XWT 



'.r,\,nr> 



;|," » 







\ 




THE PSYCHES 

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, with- 
out 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 ham- 
per 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. 

[91] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

This collar, which allows of free movement, is so impor- 
tant 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, shred- 
ding 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 Cater- 
pillar 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 wTinkled outside, where it bristles with a crust 
of woody particles. 

Later on we shall see how the Caterpillar makes him- 
self 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 

[92] 



THE PSYCHES 

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 arrange- 
ment. 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 

[93] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 economi- 
cally. 



II 



A DEVOTED MOTHER 

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 

[94] 



THE PSYCHES 

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, rec- 
tangular, 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 

[95] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 
coro*net 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 move- 
ment 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 precau- 
tions. 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 

[96] 



THE PSYCHES 

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 

[97] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 chrysa- 
lid 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 ex- 
quisitely 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 

[98] 



THE PSYCHES 

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 sndwy 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 micro- 
scope 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 toil- 
ing to make themselves a cotton night-cap. There are 
numbers of things to remark, both in the finish of the work 

[99] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 over- 
turn them or puif 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 in- 
side of the chrysalid bag. It is like a bed of eider-down, 
on which the little Caterpillars rest for a while after leav- 
ing the egg. Warmly nestling in this soft rug they pre- 
pare 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 

[lOO] 



THE PSYCHES 

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. 

Ill 

A CLEVER TAILOR 

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

[101] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

The hatching of the eggs takes place in the first fort- 
night 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 them- 
selves in walking. They are all picking up strength be- 
fore 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 import- 
ance 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 

[102] 



THE PSYCHES 

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 com- 
plete garment, the grub has only to fix to it the scraps 
of pith which the mandibles never cease tearing from 

[103] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 white- 
ness. 

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 ever\"\vhere. 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 

[104] 



THE PSYCHES 

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 them- 
selves 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 hesi- 
tated. 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 

[105] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 Cater- 
pillars 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 B}'^antine 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 foo'd, 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 sensi- 
tiveness 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. 

[106] 



THE PSYCHES 

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 

[107] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 up- 
holstering; 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. 



[108] 



CHAPTER VIII 

THE SELF-DENIAL OF THE SPANISH COPRIS 

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 pro- 
visions 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 won- 
derful that she should continue her ball-making under- 
ground? 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 

[109] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 flexi- 
bility 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 

[no] 



SELF-DENIAL OF THE SPANISH COPRIS 

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 shapless 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 un- 
suited 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 cart- 
ing, 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 

[111] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 care- 
fully 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 archi- 
tectural 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 

[112] 



SELF-DENIAL OF THE SPANISH COPRIS 

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 

[113] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 de- 
taches 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. Sol- 

[114] 



SELF-DENIAL OF THE SPANISH COPRIS 

emnly 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 remain- 
der serves for a third ovoid, or even a fourth. The 
Sacred Beetle, you remember, made a single pear-shaped 

[115] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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. 

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 

[116] 



THE SPANISH COPRIS 
The hurrozv is almost filled by three or four ovoid nests, stand- 
ing one against the other, ivith the pointed end iipzvards 



SELF-DENIAL OF THE SPANISH COPRIS 

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 some- 
times 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? How- 
ever, 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 in- 
spection? 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 

[117] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 
Proven(^al 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 

[118] 



SELF-DENIAL OF THE SPANISH COFRIS 

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 dark- 
ness of the burrow she watches over her brood for four 

[119] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

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 exam- 
ples of maternal instinct in a humble scavenger of the 
fields. The Spirit breatheth where He will. 



[120] 



CHAPTER IX 

TWO STRANGE GRASSHOPPERS 

I 

THE EMPUSA 

THE sea, where life first appeared, still preserves 
in its depths many of those curious shapes 
which were the earliest specimens of the ani- 
mal kingdom. But the land has almost entirely lost 
the strange forms of other days. The few that remain 
are mostly insects. One of these is the Praying Mantis, 
whose remarkable shape and habits I have already 
described to you. Another is the Empusa. 

This insect, in its undeveloped or larval state, is 
certainly the strangest creature in all Provence : a slim, 
swaying thing of so fantastic an appearance that unaccus- 
tomed fingers dare not lay hold of it. The children of 
my neighbourhood are so much impressed by its startling 
shape that they call it "the Devilkin." They imagine 
it to be in some way connected with witchcraft. One 
comes across it, though never in great numbers, in the 
spring up to May; in autumn; and sometimes in 
winter if the sun be strong. The tough grasses of the 

[121] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

waste-lands, the stunted bushes which catch the sun- 
shine and are sheltered from the wind by a few heaps of 
stones, are the chilly Empusa's favourite dwelling. 

I will tell you, as well as I can, what she looks like. 
The tail-end of her body is always twisted and curved 
up over her back so as to form a crook, and the lower 
surface of her body (that is to say, of course, the upper 
surface of the crook) is covered with pointed, leaf-shaped 
scales, arranged in three rows. The crook is propped 
on four long, thin legs, like stilts; and on each of these 
legs, at the point where the thigh joins the shin, is a 
curved, projecting blade not unlike that of a cleaver. 

In front of this crook on stilts, this four-legged stool, 
there rises suddenly — very long and almost perpendicu- 
lar — the stiff corselet or bust. It is round and slender 
as a straw, and at the end of it is the hunting-trap, copied 
from that of the Mantis. This consists of a harpoon 
sharper than a needle, and a cruel vice with jaws toothed 
like a saw. The jaw, or blade formed by the upper arm, 
is hollowed into a groove and carries five long spikes 
on each side, with smaller indentations in between. 
The jaw formed by the fore-arm is grooved in the same 
way, but the teeth are finer, closer, and more regular. 
When at rest, the saw of the fore-arm fits into the groove 
of the upper arm. If the machine were only larger it 
would be a fearful instrument of torture. 

[122] 



TWO STRANGE GRASSHOPPERS 

The head is in keeping with this arsenal. What a 
queer head it is! A pointed face, with curled mous- 
taches; large, goggle eyes; between them the blade of a 
dirk; and on the forehead a mad, unheard-of thing — a 
sort of tall mitre, an extravagant head-dress that juts 
forward, spreading right and left into peaked wings. 
What does the Devilkin want with that monstrous 
pointed cap, as magnificent as any ever worn by astrol- 
oger of old? The use of it will appear presently. 

The creature's colouring at this time is commonplace — 
chiefly grey. As it develops it becomes faintly striped 
with pale green, white, and pink. 

If you come across this fantastic object in the bramble- 
bushes, it sways upon its four stilts, it wags its head 
at you knowingly, it twists its mitre round and peers 
over its shoulder. You seem to see mischief in its 
pointed face. But if you try to take hold of it this 
threatening attitude disappears at once; the raised 
corselet is lowered, and the creature makes off with 
mighty strides, helping itself along with its weapons, 
with which it clutches the twigs. If you have a prac- 
ticed eye, however, the Empusa is easily caught, and 
penned in a cage of wire-gauze. 

At first I was uncertain how to feed them. My Devil- 
kins were very little, a month or two old at most. I gave 
them Locusts suited to their size, the smallest I 

[123] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

could find. They not only refused them, but were 
afraid of them. Any thoughtless Locust that meekly 
approached an Empusa met with a bad reception. The 
pointed mitre was lowered, and an angry thrust sent the 
Locust rolling. The wizard's cap, then, is a defensive 
weapon. As the Ram charges with his forehead, so the 
Empusa butts with her mitre. 

I next offered her a live House-fly, and this time the 
dinner was accepted at once. The moment the Fly came 
within reach the watchful Devilkin turned her head, bent 
her corselet slantwise, harpooned the Fly, and gripped it 
between her two saws. No Cat could pounce more 
quickly on a Mouse. 

To my surprise I found that the Fly was not only 
enough for a meal, but enough for the whole day, and 
often for several days. These fierce-looking insects are 
extremely abstemious. I was expecting them to be ogres, 
and found them with the delicate appetites of invalids. 
After a time even a Midge failed to tempt them, and 
through the winter months they fasted altogether. 
When the spring came, however, they were ready to in- 
dulge in a small piece of Cabbage Butterfly or Locust; 
attacking their prey invariably in the neck, like the 
Mantis. 

The young Empusa has one very curious habit when in 
captivity. In its cage of wire-gauze its attitude is the 

[124] 



TWO STRANGE GRASSHOPPERS 

same from first to last, and a most strange attitude it is. 
It grips the wire by the claws of its four hind-legs, and 
hangs motionless, back downwards, with the whole of its 
body suspended from those four points. If it wishes to 
move, its harpoons open in front, stretch out, grasp a 
mesh of the wire, and pull. This process naturally 
draws the insect along the wire, still upside down. 
Then the jaws close back against the chest. 

And this upside-down position, which seems to us so 
trying, lasts for no short while. It continues, in my 
cages, for ten months without a break. The Fly on the 
ceiling, it is true, adopts the same position; but she has 
her moments of rest. She flies, she walks in the usual 
way, she spreads herself flat in the sun. The Empusa, 
on the other hand, remains in her curious attitude for ten 
months on end, without a pause. Hanging from the 
wire netting, back downwards, she hunts, eats, digests, 
dozes, gets through all the experiences of an insect's life, 
and finally dies. She clambers up while she is still quite 
young; she falls down in her old age, a corpse. 

This custom is all the more remarkable in that it is 
practised only in captivity. It is not an instinctive 
habit of the rape; for out of doors the insect, except at 
rare intervals, stands on the bushes back upwards. 

Strange as the performance is, I know of a similar case 
that is even more peculiar: the attitude of certain 

[125] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

Wasps and Bees during the night's rest. A particular 
Wasp, an Ammophila with red fore-legs, is plentiful in 
my enclosure towards the end of August, and likes to 
sleep in one of the lavender borders. At dusk, espe- 
cially after a stifling day when a storm is brewing, I am 
sure to find the strange sleeper settled there. Never was 
a more eccentric attitude chosen for a night's rest. The 
jaws bite right into the lavender-stem. Its square shape 
supplies a firmer hold than a round stalk would give. 
With this one and only prop the Wasp's body juts out 
stiflly at full length, with legs folded. It forms a right 
angle with the stalk, so that the whole weight of the in- 
sect rests upon the -mandibles. 

The Ammophila is enabled by its mighty jaws to sleep 
in this way, extended in space. It takes an animal to 
think of a thing like that, which upsets all our previous 
ideas of rest. Should the threatening storm burst and 
the stalk sway in the wind, the sleeper is not troubled by 
her swinging hammock; at most, she presses her fore-legs 
for a moment against the tossing stem. Perhaps the 
Wasp's jaws, like the Bird's toes, possess the power of 
gripping more tightly in proportion to the violence of the 
wind. However that may be, there are several kinds of 
Wasps and Bees who adopt this strange position, — grip- 
ping a stalk with their mandibles, and sleeping with their 
bodies outstreched and their legs folded back. This 

[126] 



TWO STRANGE GRASSHOPPERS 

state of things makes us wonder what it is that really con- 
stitutes rest. 

About the middle of May the Empusa is transformed 
into her full-grown condition. She is even more re- 
markable in figure and attire than the Praying Mantis. 
She still keeps some of her youthful eccentricities — the 
bust, the weapons on her knees, and the three rows of 
scales on the lower surface of her body. But she is now 
no longer twisted into a crook, and is comelier to look 
upon. Large pale-green wings, pink at the shoulder and 
swift in flight, cover the white and green stripes that orn- 
ament the body below. The male Empusa, who is a 
dandy, adorns himself, like some of the Moths, with 
feathery antennae. 

When, in the spring, the peasant meets the Empusa, 
he thinks he sees the common Praying Mantis, who is a 
daughter of the autumn. They are so much alike that 
one would expect them to have the same habits. In fact, 
any one might be tempted, led away by the extraordinary 
armour, to suspect the Empusa of a mode of life even 
more atrocious than that of the Mantis. This would 
be a mistake : for all their war-like aspect the Empusae 
are peaceful creatures. 

Imprisoned in their wire-gauze bell-jar, either in 
groups of half a dozen or in separate couples, they at no 
time lose their placidity. Even in their full-grown state 

[127] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

they arc very small eaters, and content themselves with 

a fly or two as their daily ration. 

Big eaters are naturally quarrelsome. The Mantis, 
gorged with Locusts, soon becomes irritated and shows 
fight. The En>pusa, with her frugal meals, is a lover of 
peace. She indulges in no quarrels with her neighbours, 
nor does she pretend to be a ghost, with a view to 
frightening them, after the manner of the Mantis. She 
never unfurls her wings suddenly nor pufFs like a 
startled Adder. She has never the least inclination for 
the cannibal banquets at which a sister, after being 
worsted in a fight, is eaten up. Nor does she, like the 
Mantis, devour her husband. Such atrocities are here 
unknown. 

The organs of the two insects are the same. These 
profound moral differences, therefore, are not due to 
any difference in the bodily form. Possibly they may 
arise from the difference in food. Simple living, as a 
matter of fact, softens character, in animals as in men; 
over-feeding brutalises it. The glutton, gorged with 
meat and strong drink — a very common cause of savage 
outbursts — could never be as gentle as the self-denying 
hermit who lives on bread dipped into a cup of milk. 
The Mantis is a glutton: the Empusa lives the simple 
life. 

And yet, even when this is granted, one is forced to 

[128] 



TWO STRANGE GRASSHOPPERS 

ask a further question. Why, when the two insects are 
almost exactly the same in form, and might be expected 
to have the same needs, should the one have an enormous 
appetite and the other such temperate ways? They 
tell us, in their own fashion, what many insects have 
told us already : that inclinations and habits do not de- 
pend entirely upon anatomy. High above the laws that 
govern matter rise other laws that govern instincts. 

II 

THE WHITE-FACED DECTICUS 

The White-faced Decticus stands at the head of the 
Grasshopper clan in my district, both as a singer and as 
an insect of imposing presence. He has a grey body, 
a pair of powerful mandibles, and a broad ivory face. 
Without being plentiful, he is neither difficult nor weari- 
some to hunt. In the height of summer we find him 
hopping in the long grass, especially at the foot of the 
sunny rocks where the turpentine-tree takes root. 

The Greek word dectikos means biting, fond of biting. 
The Decticus is well named. It is eminently an insect 
given to biting. Mind your finger if this sturdy Grass- 
hopper gets hold of it : he will rip it till the blood comes. 
His powerful jaw, of which I have to beware when I 
handle him, and the large muscles that swell out his 

[129] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

cheeks, are evidently intended for cutting up leathery 
prey. 

I find, when the Decticus is imprisoned in my 
menagerie, that any fresh meat tasting of Locust or 
Grasshopper suits his needs. The blue-winged Locust 
is the most frequent victim. As soon as the food is 
introduced into the cage there is an uproar, especially 
if the Dectici are hungry. They stamp about, and dart 
forward clumsily, being hampered by their long shanks. 
Some of the Locusts are caught at once, but others with 
desperate bounds rush to the top of the cage, and there 
hang on out of the reach of the Grasshopper, who is too 
stout to climb so high. But they have only postponed 
their fate. Either because they are tired, or because 
they are tempted by the green stuff below, they will 
come down, and the Dectici will be after them im- 
mediately. 

This Grasshopper, though his intellect is dull, pos- 
sesses the art of scientific killing of which we have seen 
instances elsewhere. He always spears his prey in the 
neck, and, to make it helpless as quickly as possible, 
begins by biting the nerves that enable it to move. It 
is a very wise method, for the Locust is hard to kill. 
Even when beheaded he goes on hopping. I have seen 
some who, though half-eaten, kicked out so desperately 
that they succeeded in escaping. 

[130] 



THE WHITE-FACED DECTICUS 

The Greek zvord dectikos means biting, fond of biting. The 

Decticiis is -well named. It is eminently an insect given 

to biting 



•iAT vui\\".'\ "^0 ^^W0^ \ 




>. 



^ 



r^ 



TWO STRANGE GRASSHOPPERS 

With his weakness for Locusts, and also for certain 
seeds that are harmful to unripe corn, these Grasshoppers 
might be of some service to agriculture if only there were 
more of them. But nowadays his assistance in preserv- 
ing the fruits of the earth is very feeble. His chief 
interest in our eyes is the fact that he is a memorial of 
the remotest times. He gives us a vague glimpse of 
habits now out of use. 

It was thanks to the Decticus that I first learnt one 
or two things about young Grasshoppers. 

Instead of packing their eggs in casks of hardened 
foam, like the Locust and the Mantis, or laying them 
in a twig like the Cicada, Grasshoppers plant them like 
seeds in the earth. 

The mother Decticus has a tool at the end of her 
body with which she scrapes out a little hole in the soil. 
In this hole she lays a certain number of eggs, then 
loosens the dust round the side of the hole and rams it 
down with her tool, very much as we should pack the 
earth in a hole with a stick. In this way she covers up 
the well, and then sweeps and smooths the ground above 
it. 

She then goes for a little walk in the neighbourhood, 
by way of recreation. Soon she comes back to the place 
where she has already laid her eggs, and, very near the 
original spot, which she recognises quite well, begins the 

[131] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

work afresh. If I watch her for an hour I see her go 
through this whole performance, including the short 
stroll in the neighbourhood, no less than five times. The 
points where she lays the eggs are always very close 
together. 

When everything is finished I examine the little pits. 
The eggs lie singly, without any cell or sheath to protect 
them. There are about sixty of them altogether, pale 
lilac-grey in colour, and shaped like a shuttle. 

When I began to observe the ways of the Decticus 
I was anxious to watch the hatching, so at the end of 
August I gathered plenty of eggs, and placed them in 
a small glass jar with a layer of sand. Without suffer- 
ing any apparent change they spent eight months there 
under cover, sheltered from the frosts, the showers, and 
the overpowering heat of the sun, which they would be 
obliged to endure out of doors. 

When June came, the eggs in my jar showed no sign 
of being about to hatch. They were just as I had 
gathered them nine months before, neither wrinkled nor 
tarnished, but on the contrary wearing a most healthy 
look. Yet in June young Dectici are often to be met 
in the fields, and sometimes even those of larger growth. 
What was the reason of this delay, I wondered. 

Then an idea came to me. The eggs of the Grass- 
hopper are planted like seeds in the earth, were they are 

[132] 



TWO STRANGE GRASSHOPPERS 

exposed, without any protection, to snow and rain. 
Those in my jar had spent two-thirds of the year in a 
state of comparative dryness. Since they were sown 
like seeds, perhaps they needed, to make them hatch, 
the moisture that seeds require to make them sprout. 
I resolved to try. 

I placed at the bottom of some glass tubes a pinch 
of backward eggs taken from my collection, and on the 
top I heaped lightly a layer of fine, damp sand. I closed 
the tubes with plugs of wet cotton, to keep the air in them 
constantly moist. Any one seeing my preparations 
would have supposed me to be a botanist experimenting 
with seeds. 

My hopes were fulfilled. In the warmth and mois- 
ture the eggs soon showed signs of hatching. They 
began to swell, and the bursting of the shell was evi- 
dently close at hand. I spent a fortnight in keeping 
a tedious watch at every hour of the day, for I had to 
surprise the young Decticus actually leaving the egg, 
in order to solve a question that had long been in my 
mind. 

The question was this. The Grasshopper is buried, 
as a rule, about an inch below the surface of the soil. 
Now the new-born Decticus, hopping awkwardly in the 
grass at the approach of summer, has, like the full-grown 
insect, a pair of very long tentacles, as slender as hairs; 

[133] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

while he carries behind him two extraordinary legs, two 
enormous hinged jumping-poles that would be very in- 
convenient for ordinary walking. I wished to find out 
how the feeble little creature set to work, with this 
cumbrous luggage, to make its way to the surface of the 
earth. By what means could it clear a passage through 
the rough soil? With its feathery antennae, which an 
atom of sand can break, and its immense shanks, which 
are disjointed by the least effort, this mite is plainly 
incapable of freeing itself. 

As I have already told you, the Cicada and the 
Praying Mantis, when issuing, the one from his twig, 
and the other from his nest, wear a protective covering 
like an overall. It seemed to me that the little Grass- 
hopper, too, must come out through the sand in a simpler, 
more compact form than he wears when he hops about the 
lawn on the day after his birth. 

Nor was I mistaken. The Decticus, like the others, 
wears an overall for the occasion. The tiny, flesh-white 
creature is cased in a scabbard which keeps the six legs 
flattened against the body, stretching backwards, inert. 
In order to slip more easily through the soil his shanks 
are tied up beside him; while the antennae, those other 
inconvenient appendages, are pressed motionless against 
the parcel. 

The head is very much bent against the chest. With 

[134] 



TWO STRANGE GRASSHOPPERS 

the big black specks that are going to be its eyes, and its 
inexpressive, rather swollen mask, it suggests a diver's 
helmet. The neck opens wide at the back, and, with a 
slow throbbing, by turns swells and sinks. It is by 
means of this throbbing protrusion through the opening at 
the back of the head that the new-born insect moves. 
When the lump is flat, the head pushes back the damp 
sand a little way and slips into it by digging a tiny pit. 
Then the swelling is blown out and becomes a knob 
which sticks firmly in the hole. This supplies the re- 
sistance necessary for the grub to draw up its back and 
push. Thus a step forward is made. Each thrust of 
the motor-blister helps the little Decticus upon the up- 
ward path. 

It is pitiful to see this tender creature, still almost 
colourless, knocking with its swollen neck and ramming 
the rough soil. With flesh that is not yet hardened it 
is painfully fighting stone; and fighting it so success- 
fully that in the space of a morning it makes a gallery, 
either straight or winding, an inch long and as wide as 
an average straw. In this way the harassed insect 
reaches the surface. 

Before it is altogether freed from the soil the struggler 
halts for a moment, to recover from the effects of the 
journey. Then, with renewed strength, it makes a last 
effort: it swells the protrusion at the back of its head as 

[135] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

far as it will go, and bursts the sheath that has protected 
it so far. The creature throws off its overall. 

Here, then, is the Decticus in his youthful shape, 
quite pale still, but darker the next day, and a regular 
blackamoor compared with the full-grown insect. As a 
prelude to the ivory face of his riper age he wears a 
narrow white stripe under his hinder thighs. 

Little Decticus, hatched before my eyes, life opens 
for you very harshly! Many of your relatives must die 
of exhaustion before winning their freedom. In my 
tubes I see numbers who, being stopped by a grain of 
sand, give up the struggle half-way and become furred 
with a sort of silky fluff. Mildew soon absorbs their 
poor little remains. And when carried out without my 
help, their journey to the surface must be even more 
dangerous, for the soil out of doors is coarse and baked 
by the sun. 

The little white-striped nigger nibbles at the lettuce- 
leaf I give him, and leaps about gaily in the cage where 
I have housed him. I could easily rear him, but he 
would not teach me much more. So I restore him to 
liberty. In return for what he has taught me I give 
him the grass and the Locusts in the garden. 

For he taught me that Grasshoppers, in order to 
leave the ground where the eggs are laid, wear a tem- 
porary form which keeps those too cumbrous parts, the 

[136] 



TWO STRANGE GRASSHOPPERS 

long legs and antennae, swathed together in a sheath. 
He taught me, too, that this mummy-like creature, fit 
only to lengthen and shorten itself a little, has for its 
means of travelling a hernia in the neck, a throbbing 
blister — an original piece of mechanism which, when I 
first observed the Decticus, I had never seen used as an 
aid to progression. 



[137] 



CHAPTER X 



COMMON WASPS 



THEIR CLEVERNESS AND STUPIDITY 

WISHING to observe a Wasp's nest I go 
out, one day in September, with my 
little son Paul, who helps me with his 
good sight and his undivided attention. We look with 
interest at the edges of the footpaths. 

Suddenly Paul cries: "A Wasp's nest! A Wasp's 
nest, as sure as anything!" For, twenty yards away, 
he has seen rising from the ground, shooting up and 
flying away, now one and then another swiftly moving 
object, as though some tiny crater in the grass were 
hurling them forth. 

We approach the spot with caution, fearing to attract 
the attention of the fierce creatures. At the entrance- 
door of their dwelling, a round opening large enough to 
admit a man's thumb, the inmates come and go, busily 
passing one another as they fly in opposite directions. 
Burr! A shudder runs through me at the thought of the 
unpleasant time we should have, did we incite these 

[138] 



COMMON WASPS 

irritable warriors to attack us by inspecting them too 
closely. Without further investigation, which might 
cost us too dear, we mark the spot, and resolve to return 
at nightfall. By that time all the inhabitants of the 
nest will have come home from the fields. 

The conquest of a nest of Common Wasps would be 
rather a serious undertaking if one did not act with a 
certain amount of prudence. Half a pint of petrol, 
a reed-stump nine inches long, and a good-sized lump 
of clay or loam, kneaded to the right consistency — such 
are my weapons, which I have come to consider the best 
and simplest, after various trials with less successful 
means. 

The suffocating method is necessary, unless I use costly 
measures which I cannot afford. When Reaumur 
wanted to place a live Wasp's nest in a glass case with a 
view to observing the habits of the inmates, he employed 
helpers who were used to the painful job, and were 
willing, for a handsome reward, to serve the man of 
science at the cost of their skins. But I, who should 
have to pay with my own skin, think twice before dig- 
ging up the nest I desire. I begin by suffocating the 
inhabitants. Dead Wasps do not sting. It is a brutal 
method, but perfectly safe. 

I use petrol because its effects are not too violent, and 
in order to make my observations I wish to leave a small 

[139] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

nuniijer of survivors. The question is how to intro- 
duce it into the cavity containing the Wasp's nest. A 
vestibule, or entrance-passage, about nine inches long, 
and very nearly horizontal, leads to the underground 
cells. To pour the petrol straight into the mouths of 
this tunnel would be a blunder that might have serious 
consequences later on. For so small a quantity of petrol 
would be absorbed by the soil and would never reach 
the nest; and next day, when we might think we were 
digging safely, we should find an infuriated swarm 
under the spade. 

The bit of reed prevents this mishap. WTien in- 
serted into the passage it forms a water-tight funnel, 
and carries the petrol to the cavern without the loss of 
a drop, and as quickly as possible. Then we fix the 
lump of kneaded clay into the entrance-hole, like a 
stopper. We have nothing to do now but wait. 

When we are going to perform this operation Paul 
and I set out, carrying a lantern and a basket with the 
implements, at nine o'clock on some mild, moonlit 
evening. While the farm-house Dogs are yelping at 
each other in the distance, and the Screech Owl is hooting 
in the olive-trees, and the Italian Crickets are performing 
their symphony in the bushes, Paul and I chat about 
insects. He asks questions, eager to learn, and I tell 

[140] 



COMMON WASPS 

him the little that I know. So delightful are our nights 
of Wasp-hunting that we think little of the loss of sleep 
or the chance of being stung I 

The pushing of the reed into the hole is the most 
delicate matter. Since the direction of the passage is 
unknown there is some hesitation, and sometimes sentries 
come flying out of the Wasp's guard-house to attack the 
operator's hand. To prevent this one of us keeps watch, 
and drives away the enemy with a handkerchief. And 
after all, a swelling on one's hand, even if it does smart, 
is not much to pay for an idea. 

As the petrol streams into the cavern we hear the 
threatening buzz of the population underground. Then 
quick I — the door must be closed with the wet clay, and 
the clod kicked once or twice with the heel to make the 
istopper solid. There is nothing more to be done for 
the present. Off we go to bed. 

With a spade and a trowel we are back on the spot at 
dawn. It is wise to be early, because many Wasps will 
have been out all night, and will want to get into their 
home while we are digging. The chill of the morning 
will make them less fierce. 

In front of the entrance-passage, in which the reed 
is still sticking, we dig a trench wide enough to allow us 
free movement. Then the side of this ditch is carefully 

[141] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

cut away, slice after slice, until, at a depth of about 
twenty inches, the Wasp's nest is revealed, uninjured, 
slung from the roof of a spacious cavity. 

It is indeed a superb achievement, as large as a fair- 
sized pumpkin. It hangs free on every side except at 
the top, where various roots, mostly of couch-grass, pene- 
trate the thickness of the wall and fasten the nest firmly. 
Its shape is round wherever the ground has been soft, 
and of the same consistency all through. In stony soil, 
where the Wasps meet with obstacles in their digging, 
the sphere becomes more or less misshapen. 

A space of a hand's-breadth is always left open be- 
tween the paper nest and the sides of the underground 
vault. This space is the wide street along which the 
builders move unhindered at their continual task of 
enlarging and strengthening the nest, and the passage 
that leads to the outer world opens into it. Under- 
neath the nest is a much larger unoccupied space, 
rounded into a big basin, so that the wrapper of the nest 
can be enlarged as fresh cells are added. This cavity 
also serves as a dust-bin for refuse. 

The cavity was dug by the Wasps themselves. Of 
that there is no doubt ; for holes so large and so regular 
do not exist ready-made. The original foundress of the 
nest may have seized on some cavity made by a Mole, 
to help her at the beginning; but the greater part of the 

[142] 



COMMON WASPS 

enormous vault was the work of the Wasps. Yet there 
is not a scrap of rubbish outside the entrance. Where 
is the mass of earth that has been removed? 

It has been spread over such a large surface of ground 
that it is unnoticed. Thousands and thousands of 
Wasps work at digging the cellar, and enlarging it as 
that becomes necessary. They fly up to the outer world, 
each carrying a particle of earth, which they drop on the 
ground at some distance from the nest, in all directions. 
Being scattered in this way the earth leaves no visible 
trace. 

The Wasp's nest is made of a thin, flexible material 
like brown paper, formed of particles of wood. It is 
streaked with bands, of which the colour varies according 
to the wood used. If it were made in a single continu- 
ous sheet it would give little protection against the cold. 
But the Common Wasp, like the ballon-maker, knows 
that heat may be preserved by means of a cushion of 
air contained by several wrappers. So she makes her 
paper-pulp into broad scales, which overlap loosely and 
are laid on in numerous layers. The whole forms a 
coarse blanket, thick and spongy in texture and well 
filled with stagnant air. The temperature under this 
shelter must be truly tropical in hot weather. 

The fierce Hornet, chief of the Wasps, builds her nest 
on the same principle. In the hollow of a willow, or 

[143] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

within some empty granary, she makes, out of fragments 
of wood, a very brittle kind of striped yellow cardboard. 
Her nest is wrapped round with many layers of this 
substance, laid on in the form of broad convex scales 
which are welded to one another. Between them are 
wide intervals in which air is held motionless. 

The Wasp, then, often acts in accordance with the 
laws of physics and geometry. She employs air, a non- 
conductor of heat, to keep her home warm; she made 
blankets before man thought of it; she builds the outer 
walls of the nest in the shape that gives her the largest 
amount 'of room in the smallest wrapper; and in the 
form of her cell, too, she economises space and material. 

And yet, clever as these wonderful architects are, they 
amaze us by their stupidity in the face of the smallest 
difficulty. On the one hand their instincts teach them 
to behave like men of science; but on the other it is plain 
that they are entirely without the power ot reflection. 
I have convinced myself of this fact by various experi- 
ments. 

The Common Wasp has chanced to set up house be- 
side one of the walks in my enclosure, which enables 
me to experiment with a bell-glass. In the open fields 
I could not use this appliance, because the boys of the 
country-side would soon smash it. One night, when all 
was dark and the Wasps had gone home, I placed the 

[144] 



COMMON WASPS 

The Wasp's nest is made of a thin, flexible materia! like brozvn 

paper, formed of particles of wood 



COMMON WASPS 

glass over the entrance of the burrow, after first flat- 
tening the soil. When the Wasps began work again 
next morning and found themselves checked in their 
flight, would they succeed in making a passage under 
the rim of the glass? Would these sturdy creatures, 
who were capable of digging a spacious cavern, realise 
that a very short underground tunnel would set them 
free? That was the question. 

The next morning I found the bright sunlight falling 
on the bell-glass, and the workers ascending in crowds 
from underground, eager to go in search of provisions. 
They butted against the transparent wall, tumbled 
down, picked themselves up again, and whirled round 
and round in a crazy swarm. Some, weary of dancing, 
wandered peevishly at random and then re-entered their 
dwelling. Others took their places as the sun grew 
hotter. But not one of them, not a single one, scratched 
with her feet at the base of the glass circle. This means 
of escape was beyond them. 

Meanwhile a few Wasps who had spent the night 
out of doors were coming in from the fields. Round and 
round the bell-glass they flew; and at last, after much 
hesitation, one of them decided to dig under the edge. 
Others followed her example, a passage was easily 
opened, and the Wasps went in. Then I closed the 
passage with some earth. The narrow opening, if seen 

[145] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

from within, might help the Wasps to escape, and I 
wished to leave the prisoners the honour of winning 
their liberty. 

However poor the Wasps' power of reasoning, I 
thought their escape was now probable. Those who had 
just entered would surely show the way; they would 
teach the others to dig below the wall of glass. 

I was too hasty. Of learning by experience or ex- 
ample there was not a sign. Inside the glass not an 
attempt was made to dig a tunnel. The insect popula- 
tion whirled round and round, but showed no enter- 
prise. They floundered about, while every day numbers 
died from famine and heat. At the end of a week not 
one was left alive. A heap of corpses covered the 
ground. 

The Wasps returning from the field could find their 
way in, because the power of scenting their house 
through the soil, and searching for it, is one of their 
natural instincts, one of the means of defence given to 
them. There is no need for thought or reasoning here: 
the earthy obstacle has been familiar to every Wasp 
since Wasps first came into the world. 

But those who are within the bell-glass have no such 
instinct to help them. Their aim is to get into the light, 
and finding daylight in their transparent prison they 
think their aim is accomplished. In spite of constant 

[146] 



COMMON WASPS 

collisions with the glass they spend themselves in vainly 
trying to fly farther in the direction of the sunshine. 
There is nothing in the past to teach them what to do. 
They keep blindly to their familiar habits, and die. 



II 



SOME OF THEIR HABITS 

If we open the thick envelope of the nest we shall find, 
inside, a number of combs, or layers of cells, lying one 
belo-w the other and fastened together by solid pillars. 
The number of these layers varies. Towards the end of 
the season there may be ten, or even more. The opening 
of the cells is on the lower surface. In this strange 
world the young grow, sleep, and receive their food 
head downwards. 

The various storeys, or layers of combs, are divided 
by open spaces; and between the outer envelope and 
the stack of combs there are doorways through which 
every part can be easily reached. There is a continual 
coming and going of nurses, attending to the grubs in 
the cells. On one side of the outer wrapper is the gate 
of the city, a modest unadorned opening, lost among 
the thin scales of the envelope. Facing it is the entrance 
to the tunnel that leads from the cavity to the world 
at large. 

[147] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

In a Wasp community there is a large number of 
Wasps whose whole life is spent in work. It is their 
business to enlarge the nest as the population grows; 
and though they have no grubs of their own, they nurse 
the grubs in the cells with the greatest care and industry. 
Wishing to watch their operations, and also to see what 
would take place at the approach of winter, I placed 
under cover one October a few fragments of a nest, con- 
taking a large number of eggs and grubs, with about 
a hundred workers to take care of them. 

To make my inspection easier I separated the combs 
and placed them side by side, with the openings of the 
cells turned upwards. This arrangement, the reverse 
of the usual position, did not seem to annoy my 
prisoners, who soon recovered from the disturbance and 
set to work as if nothing had happened. In case they 
should wish to build I gave them a slip of soft wood; 
and I fed them with honey. The underground cave in 
which the nest hangs out of doors was represented by 
a large earthen pan under a wire-gauze cover. A re- 
movable cardboard dome provided darkness for the 
Wasps, and — when removed — light for me. 

The Wasps' work went on as if it had never been 
interrupted. The worker-Wasps attended to the grubs 
and the building at the same time. They began to 
raise a wall round the most thickly populated combs; 

[148] 



COMMON WASPS 

and it seemed as though they might intend to build a 
new envelope, to replace the one ruined by my spade. 
But they were not repairing; they were simply carrying 
on the work from the point at which I interrupted it. 
Over about a third of the comb they made an arched roof 
of paper scales, which would have been joined to the 
envelope of the nest if it had been intact. The tent 
they made sheltered only a small part of the disk of 
cells. 

As for the wood I provided for them, they did not 
touch it. To this raw material, which would have been 
troublesome to work, they preferred the old cells that 
were no longer in use. In these the fibres were already 
prepared; and, with a little saliva and a little grinding 
in their mandibles, they turned them into pulp of the 
highest quality. The uninhabited cells were nibbled 
into pieces, and out of the ruins a sort of canopy was 
built. New cells could be made in the same way if 
necessary. 

Even more interesting than this roofing-work is the 
feeding of the grubs. One could never weary of the 
sight of the rough fighters turned into tender nurses. 
The barracks become a creche. With what care those 
grubs are reared! If we watch one of the busy Wasps 
we shall see her, with her crop swollen with honey, halt 
in front of a cell. With a thoughtful air she bends 

[149] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

her head into the opening, and touches the grub with the 
tip of her antenna. The grub wakes and gapes at her, 
like a fledgling when the mother-bird returns to the 
nest with food. 

For a moment the awakened larva swings its head to 
and fro: it is blind, and is trying to feel the food brought 
to it. The two mouths meet; a drop of syrup passes 
from the nurse's mouth to the nurseling's. That is 
enough for the moment: now for the next Wasp-baby. 
The nurse moves on, to continue her duties elsewhere. 

Meanwhile the grub is licking the base of its own 
neck. For, while it is being fed, there appears a tempo- 
rary swelling on its chest, which acts as a bib, and catches 
whatever trickles down from the mouth. After 
swallowing the chief part of the meal the grub gathers up 
the crumbs that have fallen on its bib. Then the swell- 
ing disappears; and the grub, withdrawing a little way 
into its cell, resumes its sweet slumbers. 

When fed in my cage the Wasp-grubs have their heads 
up, and what falls from their mouths collects naturally 
on their bibs. When fed in the nest they have their 
heads down. But I have no doubt that even in this 
position the bib serves its purpose. 

By slightly bending its head the grub can always de- 
posit on the projecting bib a portion of the overflowing 
mouthful, which is sticky enough to remain there. 

[150] 



COMMON WASPS 

Moreover, it is quite possible that the nurse herself 
places a portion of her helping on this spot. Whether 
it be above or below the mouth, right way up or upside 
down, the bib fulfils its office because of the sticky nature 
of the food. It is a temporary saucer which shortens the 
work of serving out the rations, and enables the grub to 
feed in a more or less leisurely fashion and without too 
much gluttony. 

In the open country, late in the year when fruit is 
scarce, the grubs are mostly fed upon minced Fly; but in 
my cages everything is refused but honey. Both nurses 
and nurselings seem to thrive on this diet, and if any in- 
truder ventures too near to the combs he is doomed. 
Wasps, it appears, are far from hospitable. Even the 
Polistes, an insect who is absolutely like a Wasp in shape 
and colour, is at once recognised and mobbed if she 
approaches the honey the Wasps are sipping. Her ap- 
pearance takes nobody in for a moment, and unless she 
hastily retires she will meet with a violent death. No, 
it is not a good thing to enter a Wasps' nest, even when 
the stranger wears the same uniform, pursues the same 
industry, and is almost a member of the same corpo- 
ration. 

Again and again I have seen the savage reception given 
to strangers. If the stranger be of sufficient importance 
he is stabbed, and his body is dragged from the nest and 

[151] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

flung into the refuse-heap below. But the poisoned dag- 
ger seems to be reserved for great occasions. If I throw 
the grub of a Saw-fly among the Wasps they show great 
surprise at the black-and-green dragon; they snap at it 
boldly, and wound it, but without stinging it. They try 
to haul it away. The dragon resists, anchoring itself to 
the comb by its hooks, holding on now by its fore-legs 
and now by its hind-legs. At last the grub, however, 
weakened by its wounds, is torn from the comb and 
dragged bleeding to the refuse-pit. It has taken a 
couple of hours to dislodge it. 

Supposing, on the other hand, I throw on to the combs 
a certain imposing grub that lives under the bark of 
cherry-trees, five or six Wasps will at once prick it with 
their stings. In a couple of minutes it is dead. But the 
hugh dead body is much too heavy to be carried out of 
the nest. So the Wasps, finding they cannot move 
the grub, eat it where it lies, or at least reduce its weight 
till they can drag the remains outside the walls. 



Ill 



THEIR SAD END 

Protected in this fierce way against the invasion of in- 
truders, and fed with excellent honey, the grubs in my 
cage prosper greatly. But of course there are excep- 

[152] 



COMMON WASPS 

tions. In the Wasps' nest, as everywhere, there are 
weaklings who are cut down before their time. 

I see these puny sufferers refuse their food and slowly 
pine away. The nurses perceive it even more clearly. 
They bend their heads over the invalid, sound it with 
their antennae, and pronounce it incurable. Then the 
creature at the point of death is torn ruthlessly from its 
cell and dragged outside the nest. In the brutal com- 
monwealth of the Wasps the invalid is merely a piece 
of rubbish, to be got rid of as soon as possible for fear of 
contagion. Nor indeed is this the worst. As winter 
draws near the Wasps foresee their fate. They know 
their end is at hand. 

The first cold nights of November bring a change in 
the nest. The building proceeds with diminished en- 
thusiasm; the visits to the pool of honey are less constant. 
Household duties are relaxed. Grubs gaping with 
hunger receive tardy relief, or are even neglected. Pro- 
found uneasiness seizes ujpon the nurses. Their former 
devotion is succeeded by indifference, which soon turns 
to dislike. What is the good of continuing attentions 
which soon will be impossible? A time of famine is 
coming; the nurselings in any case must die a tragic 
death. So the tender nurses become savage execu- 
tioners. 

"Let us leave no orphans," they say to themselves; 

[153] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

"no one would care for them after we are gone. Let us 
kill everything, eggs and grubs alike. A violent end is 
better than a slow death by starvation." 

A massacre follows. The grubs are seized by the 
scruff of the neck, brutally torn from their cells, dragged 
out of the nest, and thrown into the refuse-heap at the 
bottom of the cave. The nurses, or workers, root them 
out of their cells as violently as though they were 
strangers or dead bodies. They tug at them savagely 
and tear them. Then the eggs are ripped open and de- 
voured. 

Before much longer the nurses themselves, the execu- 
tioners, are languidly dragging what remains of their 
lives. Day by day, with a curiosity mingled with 
emotion, I watch the end of my insects. The workers 
die suddenly. They come to the surface, slip down, fall 
on their backs and rise no more, as if they were struck 
by lightning. They have had their day; they are slain 
by age, that merciless poison. Even so does a piece of 
clockwork become motionless when its mainspring has 
unwound its last spiral. 

The workers are old : but the mothers are the last to 
be born into the nest, and have all the vigour of youth. 
And so, when winter sickness seizes them, they are 
capable of a certain resistance. Those whose end is near 
are easily distinguished from the others by the disorder 

[154] 



COMMON WASPS 

of their appearance. Their backs are dusty. While 
they are well they dust themselves without ceasing, and 
their black-and-yellow coats are kept perfectly glossy. 
Those who are ailing are careless of cleanliness; they 
stand motionless in the sun or wander languidly about. 
They no longer brush their clothes. 

This indifference to dress is a bad sign. Two or three 
days later the dusty female leaves the nest for the last 
time. She goes outside, to enjoy yet a little of the sun- 
light; presently she slides quietly to the ground and 
does not get up again. She declines to die in her be- 
loved paper home, where the code of the Wasps ordains 
absolute cleanliness. The dying Wasp performs her 
own funeral rites by dropping herself into the pit at 
the bottom of the cavern. For reasons of health these 
stoics refuse to die in the actual house, among the combs. 
The last survivors retain this repugnance to the very 
end. It is a law that never falls into disuse, however 
greatly reduced the population may be. 

My cage becomes emptier day by day, notwithstand- 
ing the mildness of the room, and notwithstanding the 
saucer of honey at which the able-bodied come to sip. 
At Christmas I have only a dozen females left. On the 
sixth of January the last of them perishes. 

Whence arises this mortality, which mows down the 
whole of my wasps? They have not suffered from 

[155] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

famine : they have not suffered from cold : they have not 
suffered from home-sickness. Then what have they 
died of? 

We must not blame their captivity. The same thing 
happens in the open country. \^arious nests I have in- 
spected at the end of December all show the same condi- 
tion. The vast majority of Wasps must die, apparently, 
not by accident, nor illness, nor the inclemency of the 
season, but by an inevitable destiny, which destroys them 
as energetically as it brings them into life. And it is 
well for us that it is so. One female Wasp is enough 
to found a city of thirty thousand inhabitants. If all 
were to survive, what a scourge they would be! The 
Wasps would tyrannise over the countryside. 

In the end the nest itself perishes. A certain Cater- 
pillar which later on becomes a mean-looking Moth; 
a tiny reddish Beetle; and a scaly grub clad in gold 
velvet, are the creatures that demolish it. They gnaw 
the floors of the various storeys, and crumble the whole 
dwelling. A few pinches of dust, a few shreds of brown 
paper are all that remain, by the return of spring, of the 
Wasps' city and its thirty thousand inhabitants. 



[156] 



CHAPTER XI 



THE AVENTURES OF A GRUB 



THE YOUNG SITARIS 



THE high banks of sandy clay in the country 
round about Carpentras are the favourite 
haunts of a host of Bees and Wasps, those 
lovers of a sunny aspect and of soil that is easy to dig 
in. Here, in the month of May, two Bees, both of them 
Mason-bees, builders of subterranean cells, are espe- 
cially abundant. One of them builds at the entrance of 
her dwelling an advanced fortification, an earthly 
cylinder, wrought in open work and curved, of the 
width and length of a man's finger. When it is peopled 
with many Bees one stands amazed at the elaborate 
ornamentation formed by all these hanging fingers of 
clay. 

The other Bee, who is very much more frequently 
seen and is called Anthophora pilipes, leaves the opening 
of her corridor bare. The chinks between the stones 
in old walls and abondoned hovels, or exposed surfaces 
of sand stone or marl, are found suitable for her labours; 

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FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

but the favourite spots, those to which the greatest 
number of swarms resort, are straight stretches of ground 
exposed to the south, such as occur in the cuttings of 
deeply-sunken roads. Here, over areas many yards in 
width, the wall is drilled with a multitude of holes, 
which give to the earthy mass the look of some enormous 
sponge. These round holes might have been made with 
a gimlet, so regular are they. Each is the entrance to 
a winding corridor, which runs to the depth of four or 
five inches. The cells are at the far end. If we wish 
to watch the labours of the industrious Bee we must 
visit her workshop during the latter half of May. Then 
— but at a respectful distance — we may see, in all its 
bewildering activity, the tumultuous, buzzing swarm, 
busied with the building and provisioning of the cells. 
But it has been most often during the months of 
August and September, the happy months of the summer 
holidays, that I have visited the banks inhabited by the 
Anthophora. At this season all is silent near the nests: 
the work has long been completed: and numbers of 
Spiders' webs line the crevices or plunge their silken 
tubes into the Bees' corridors. That is no reason, how- 
ever, for hastily abandoning the city that was once so 
full of life and bustle, and now appears deserted. A 
few inches below the surface, thousands of grubs are 
imprisoned in their cells of clay, resting until the coming 

[158] 



THE ADVENTURES OF A GRUB 

spring. Surely these grubs, which are paralysed and 
incapable of self-defence, must be a temptation — fat 
little morsels as they are — to some kind of parasite, some 
kind of insect stranger in search of prey. The matter 
is worth inquiring into. 

Two facts are at once noticeable. Some dismal- 
looking Flies, half black and half white, are flying in- 
dolently from gallery to gallery, evidently with the 
object of laying their eggs there. Many of them are 
hanging dry and lifeless in the Spiders' webs. At other 
places the entire surface of a bank is hung with the dried 
corpses of a certain Beetle, called the Sitaris. Among 
the corpses, however, are a few live Beetles, both male 
and female. The female Beetle invariably disappears 
into the Bees' dwelling. Without a doubt she, too, lays 
her eggs there. 

If we give a few blows of the pick to the surface of 
the bank we shall find out something more about these 
things. During the early days of August this is what 
we shall see: the cells forming the top layer are unlike 
those at a greater depth. The difference is owing to the 
fact that the same establishment is used by two kinds of 
Bee, the Anthophora and the Osmia. 

The Anthophorae are the actual pioneers. The work 
of boring the galleries is wholly theirs, and their cells 
are right at the end. If they, for any reason, leave the 

[159] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

outer cells, the Osmia comes in and takes possession of 
them. She divides the corridors into unequal and in- 
artistic cells by means of rough earthen partitions, her 
only idea of masonry. 

The cells of the Anthophora are faultlessly regular and 
perfectly finished. They 'are works of art, cut out of 
the very substance of the earth, well out of reach of all 
ordinary enemies; and for this reason the larva of this 
Bee has no means of spinning a cocoon. It lies naked 
in the cell, whose inner surface is polished like stucco. 

In the Osmia's cells, however, means of defence are 
required, because they are at the surface of the soil, are 
roughly made, and are badly protected by their thin par- 
titions. So the Osmia's grubs enclose themselves in a 
very strong cocoon, which preserves them both from the 
rough sides of their shapeless cells and from the jaws 
of various enemies who prowl about the galleries. It 
is easy, then, in a bank inhabited by these two Bees, 
to recognise the cells belonging to each. The An- 
thophora's cells contain a naked grub : those of the Osmia 
contain a grub enclosed in a cocoon. 

Now each of these two Bees has its own especial 
parasite, or uninvited guest. The parasite of the Osmia 
is the black-and-white Fly who is to be seen so often 
at the entrance to the galleries, intent on laying her eggs 
within them. The parasite of the Anthophora is the 

[160] 



THE ADVENTURES OF A GRUB 

Sitaris, the Beetle whose corpses appear in such quan- 
tities on the surface of the bank. 

If the layer of Osmia-cells be removed from the nest 
we can observe the cells of the Anthophora, Some will 
be occupied by larvae, some by the perfect insect, and 
some — indeed many — will contain a singular egg-shaped 
shell, divided into segments with projecting breathing- 
pores. This shell is extremely thin and fragile; it is 
amber-coloured, and so transparent that one can dis- 
tinguish quite plainly through its sides a full-grown 
Sitaris, struggling as though to set herself at liberty. 

What is this curious shell, which does not appear to 
be a Beetle's shell at all? And how can this parasite 
reach a cell which seems to be inaccessible because of 
its position, and in which the most careful examination 
under the magnifying-glass reveals no sign of violence? 
Three years of close observation enabled me to answer 
these questions, and to add one of its most astonishing 
chapters to the story of insect life. Here is the result 
of my inquiries. 

The Sitaris in the full-grown state lives only for a day 
or two, and its whole life is passed at the entrance to 
the Anthophora's galleries. It has no concern but the 
reproduction of the species. It is provided with the 
usual digestive organs, but I have grave reasons to doubt 
whether it actuallv takes any nourishment whatever. 

[161] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

The female's only thought is to lay her eggs. This done, 
she dies. The male, after cowering in a crevice for a day 
or two, also perishes. This is the origin of all those 
corpses swinging in the Spiders' web, with which the 
neighbourhood of the Anthophora's dwelling is uphol- 
stered. 

At first sight one would expect that the Sitaris, when 
laying her eggs, would go from cell to cell, confiding 
an egg to each of the Bee-grubs. But when, in the 
course of my observations, I searched the Bees' galleries, 
I invariably found the eggs of the Sitaris gathered in 
a heap inside the entrance, at a distance of an inch or 
two from the opening. They are white, oval, and very 
small, and they stick together slightly. As for their 
number, I do not believe I am exaggerating when I esti- 
mate it at two thousand at least. 

Thus, contrary to what one was to some extent en- 
titled to suppose, the eggs are not laid in the cells of the 
Bee; they are simply dumped in a heap inside the door- 
way of her dwelling. Nay more, the mother does not 
make any protective structure for them; she takes no 
pains to shield them from the rigours of winter; she 
does not even attempt to stop up the entrance-lobby 
in which she has placed them, and so protect them from 
the thousand enemies that threaten them. For as long 

[162] 



THE ADVENTURES OF A GRUB 

as the frosts of winter have not arrived these open gal- 
leries are trodden by Spiders and other plunderers, for 
whom the eggs would make an agreeable meal. 

The better to observe them, I placed a number of the 
eggs in boxes; and when they hatched out about the 
end of September I imagined they would at once start 
off in search of an Anthophora-cell. I was entirely 
wrong. The young grubs — little black creatures no 
more than the twenty-fifth of an inch long — did not 
move away, though provided with vigorous legs. They 
remained higgledy-piggledy, mixed up with the skins of 
the eggs whence they came. In vain I placed within 
their reach lumps of earth containing open Bee-cells: 
nothing would tempt them to move. If I forcibly re- 
moved a few from the common heap they at once hur- 
ried back to it in order to hide themselves among the 
rest. 

At last, to assure myself that the Sitaris-grubs, in the 
free state, do not disperse after they are hatched, I went 
in the winter to Carpentras and inspected the banks 
inhabited by the Anthophorse. There, as in my boxes, 
I found the grubs all piled up in heaps, all mixed up 
with the skins of the eggs. 

I was no nearer answering the question : how does the 
Sitaris get into the Bees' cells, and into a shell that does 
not belong to it? 

[163] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 
II 

THE FIRST ADVENTURE 

The appearance of the young Sitaris showed me at 
once that its habits must be peculiar. It could not, I 
saw, be called on to move on an ordinary surface. The 
spot where this larva has to live evidently exposes it 
to the risk of many dangerous falls, since, in order to 
prevent them, it is equipped with a pair of powerful 
mandibles, curved and sharp; robust legs which end in 
a long and very mobile claw; a variety of bristles and 
probes; and a couple of strong spikes with sharp, hard 
points — an elaborate mechanism, like a sort of plough- 
share, capable of biting into the most highly polished 
surface. Nor is this all. It is further provided with 
a sticky liquid, sufficiently adhesive to hold it in position 
without the help of other appliances. In vain I racked 
my brains to guess what the substance might be, so 
shifting, so uncertain, and so perilous, which the young 
Sitaris is destined to inhabit. I waited with eager im- 
patience for the return of the warm weather. 

At the end of April the young grubs imprisoned in my 
cages, hitherto lying motionless and hidden in the spongy 
heap of egg-skins, suddenly began to move. They 
scattered, and ran about in all directions through the 
boxes and jars in which they have passed the winter. 

[164] 



THE ADVENTURES OF A GRUB 

Their hurried movements and untiring energy showed 
they were in search of something, and the natural 
thing for them to seek was food. For these grubs were 
hatched at the end of September, and since then, that is 
to say for seven long months, they had taken no nourish- 
ment, although they were by no means in a state of 
torpor. From the moment of their hatching they are 
doomed, though full of life, to an absolute fast lasting 
for seven months; and when I saw their excitement I 
naturally supposed that an imperious hunger had set 
them bustling in that fashion. 

The food they desired could only be the contents of 
the Anthophora's cells, since at a later stage the Sitaris 
is found in those cells. Now these contents are limited 
to honey and Bee-grubs. 

I offered them some cells containing larvae: I even 
slipped the Sitares into the cells, and did all sorts of 
things to tempt their appetite. My efforts were fruit- 
less. Then I tried honey. In hunting for cells pro- 
visioned with honey I lost a good part of the month of 
May. Having found them I removed the Bee-grub 
from some of them, and laid the Sitaris-grub on the 
surface of the honey. Never did experiment break 
down so completely! Far from eating the honey, the 
grubs became entangled in the sticky mass and perished 
in it, suffocated. "I have offered you larvae, cells, 

[165] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

honey I" I cried in despair. "Then what do you want, 
you fiendish little creatures?" 

Well, in the end I found out what they wanted. 
They wanted the Anthophora herself to carry them into 
the cells! 

When April comes, as I said before, the heap of grubs 
at the entrance to the Bees' cells begins to show signs of 
activity. A few days later they are no longer there. 
Strange as it may appear, they are all careering about 
the country, sometimes at a great distance, clinging like 
grim death to the fleece of a Bee! 

When the Anthophorte pass by the entrance to their 
cells, on their way either in or out, the young Sitaris- 
grub, who is lying in wait there, attaches himself to 
one of the Bees. He wriggles into the fur and clutches 
it so firmly that he need not fear a fall during the long 
journeys of the insect that carries him. By thus attach- 
ing himself to the Bee the Sitaris intends to get himself 
carried, at the right moment, into a cell supplied with 
honey. 

One might at first sight believe that these adventur- 
ous grubs derive food for a time from the Bee's body. 
But not at all. The young Sitares, embedded in the 
fleece, at right angles to the body of the Anthophora, 
head inwards, tail outwards, do not stir from the spot 
they have selected, a point near the Bee's shoulders. 

[166] 



THE ADVENTURES OF A GRUB 

We do not see them wandering from spot to spot, ex- 
ploring the Bee's body, seeking the part where the skin 
is most delicate, as they would certainly do if they were 
really feeding on the insect. On the contrary, they 
are always fixed on the toughest and hardest part of the 
Bee's body, a little below the insertion of the wings, 
or sometimes on the head; and they remain absolutely 
motionless, clinging to a single hair. It seems to me 
undeniable that the young Sitares settle on the Bee 
merely to make her carry them into the cells that she will 
soon be building. 

But in the meantime the future parasites must hold 
tight to the fleece of their hostess, in spite of her rapid 
flights among the flowers, in spite of her rubbing against 
the walls of the galleries when she enters to take shelter, 
and in spite, above all, of the brushing which she must 
often give herself with her feet, to dust herself and keep 
spick and span. We were wondering a little time ago 
what the dangerous, shifting thing could be on which 
the grub would have to establish itself. That thing is 
the hair of a Bee who makes a thousand rapid journeys, 
now diving into her narrow galleries, now forcing her 
way down the tight throat of a flower. 

We can now quite understand the use of the two 
spikes, which close together and are able to take hold 
of hair more easily than the most delicate tweezers. We 

[167] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

can see the full value of the sticky liquid that helps the 
tiny creature to hold fast; and we can realise that the 
elastic probes and bristles on the legs serve to penetrate 
the Bee's down and anchor the grub in position. The 
more one considers this arrangement, which seems so 
useless as the grub drags itself laboriously over a smooth 
surface, the more does one marvel at all the machinery 
which this fragile creature carries about to save it from 
falling during its adventurous rides. 

m 

THE SECOND ADVENTURE 

One 2 1st of May I went to Carpentras, determined to 
see, if possible, the entrance of the Sitaris into the Bee's 
cells. 

The works were in full swing. In front of a high ex- 
panse of earth a swarm of Bees, stimulated by the sun, 
was dancing a crazy ballet. From the tumultuous heart 
of the cloud rose a monotonous, threatening murmur, 
while my bewildered eye tried to follow the movements 
of the throng. Quick as a lightning-flash thousands of 
Anthophora' were flying hither and thither in search of 
booty: thousands of others, also, were arriving, laden 
with honey, or with mortar for their building. 

At that time I knew comparatively little about these 
insects. It seemed to me that any one who ventured 

[168] 



THE ADVENTURES OF A GRUB 

into the swarm, or — above all — who laid a rash hand 
on the Bees' dwellings, would instantly be stabbed by 
a thousand stings. I had once observed the combs of the 
Hornet too closely; and a shiver of fear passed through 
me. 

Yet, to find out what I wished to know, I must needs 
penetrate that fearsome swarm; I must stand for whole 
hours, perhaps all day, watching the works I intended 
to upset; lens in hand, I must examine, unmoved amid 
the whirl, the things that were happening in the cells. 
Moreover, the use of a mask, of gloves, of a covering 
of any kind, was out of the question, for my fingers and 
eyes must be absolutely free. No matter : even though 
I should leave the Bee's nest with my face swollen 
beyond recognition, I was determined that day to solve 
the problem that had puzzled me too long. 

Having caught a few stray Anthophorse with my net, 
I satisfied myself that the Sitaris-larvae were perched, as 
I expected, on the Bees. 

I buttoned my coat tightly and entered the heart of 
the swarm. With a few blows of the mattock I secured 
a lump of earth, and to my great surprise found myself 
uninjured. A second expedition, longer than the first, 
had the same result: not a Bee touched me with her 
sting. After this I remained permanently in front of 
the nest, removing lumps of earth, spilling the honey, 

[169] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

and crushing the Bees, without arousing anything worse 
than a louder hum. For the Anthophora is a pacific 
creature. When disturbed in the cells it leaves them 
hastily and escapes, sometimes even mortally wounded, 
without using its venomous sting except when it is 
seized and handled. 

Thanks to this unexpected lack of spirit in the Mason- 
bee, I was able for hours to investigate her cells at my 
leisure, seated on a stone in the midst of the murmuring 
and distracted swarm, without receiving a single sting, 
though I took no precautions whatever. Country folk, 
happening to pass and seeing me seated thus calmly 
amid the Bees, stopped aghast to ask me if I had be- 
witched them. 

In this way I examined the cells. Some were still 
open, and contained only a more or less complete store 
of honey. Others were closely sealed with an earthen 
lid. The contents of these varied greatly. Sometimes 
I found the larva of a Bee; sometimes another, fatter 
kind of larva; at other times honey with an egg floating 
on the surface. The egg was of a beautiful white, and 
was shaped like a cylinder with a slight curve, a fifth 
or sixth of an inch in length — the egg of the Anthophora. 

In a few cells I found this egg floating all alone on the 
surface of the honey : in others, very many others, I saw, 

[170] 



THE ADVENTURES OF A GRUB 

lying on the Bee's egg as though on a sort of raft, a young 
Sitaris-grub. Its shape and size were those of the crea- 
ture when it is hatched. Here, then, was the enemy 
within the gates. 

When and how did it get in? In none of the cells 
was I able to detect any chink by which it could have 
entered: they were all sealed quite tightly. The para- 
site must have established itself in the honey-warehouse 
before the warehouse was closed. On the other hand, 
the open cells, full of honey but as yet without an egg, 
never contain a Sitaris. The grub must therefore gain 
admittance either while the Bee is laying the egg, or 
else afterwards, while she is busy plastering up the door. 
My experiments 'have convinced me that the Sitaris 
enters the cell in the very second when the egg is laid 
on the surface of the honey. 

If I take a cell full of honey, with an egg floating in 
it, and place it in a glass tube with some Sitaris-grubs, 
they very rarely venture inside it. They cannot reach 
the raft in safety: the honey that surrounds it is too 
dangerous. If one of them by chance approaches the 
honey it tries to escape as soon as it sees the sticky nature 
of the stuff under its feet. It often ends by falling back 
into the cell, where it dies of suffocation. It is therefore 
certain that the grub does not leave the fleece of the Bee 

[171] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

when the latter is in her cell or near it, in order to make 
a rush for the honey; for this honey would inevitably 
cause its death, if it so much as touched the surface. 

We must remember that the young Sitaris which is 
found in a closed cell is always placed on the egg of the 
Bee. This egg not only serves as a raft for the tiny 
creature floating on a very treacherous lake, but also 
provides it with its first meal. To get at this egg, in 
the centre of the lake of honey, to reach this raft which 
is also its first food, the young grub must somehow con- 
trive to avoid the fatal touch of the honey. 

There is only one way in which this can be done. The 
clever grub, at the very moment when the Bee is laying 
her egg, slips off the Bee and on to the egg, and with 
it reaches the surface of the honey. The egg is too 
small to hold more than one grub, and that is why we 
never find more than one Sitaris in a cell. Such a per- 
formance on the part of a grub seems extraordinarily 
inspired — but then the study of insects constantly gives 
us examples of such inspiration. 

When dropping her egg upon the honey, then, the 
Anthophora at the same time drops into her cell the 
mortal enemy of her race. She carefully plasters the 
lid which closes the entrance to the cell, and all is done. 
A second cell is built beside it, probably to suffer the 
same fate; and so on until all the parasites sheltered by 

[172] 



THE ADVENTURES OF A GRUB 

her fleece are comfortably housed. Let us leave the 
unhappy mother to continue her fruitless task, and turn 
our attention to the young larva which has so cleverly 
secured for itself board and lodging. 

Let us suppose that we remove the lid from a cell in 
which the egg, recently laid, supports a Sitaris-grub. 
The egg is intact and in perfect condition. But now 
the work of destruction begins. The grub, a tiny black 
speck which we see running over the white surface of 
the egg, at last stops and balances itself firmly on its 
six legs; then, seizing the delicate skin of the egg with 
the sharp hooks of its mandibles, it tugs at it violently 
till it breaks and spills the contents. These contents 
the grub eagerly drinks up. Thus the first stroke of the 
parasite's mandibles is aimed at the destruction of the 
Bee's egg. 

This is a very wise precaution on the part of the 
Sitaris-grub I It will have to feed on the honey in the 
cell: the Bee's grub which would come out of the egg 
would also require the honey: there is not enough for 
two. So — quick I — a bite at the egg, and the difficulty 
is removed. 

Moreover, another reason for the destruction of the 
egg is that special tastes compel the young Sitaris to 
make its first meals of it. The tiny creature begins by 
greedily drinking the juices which the torn wrapper of 

[173] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

the egg allows to escape. For several days it continues 
to rip the envelope gradually open, and to feed on the 
liquid that trickles from it. Meanwhile it never touches 
the honey that surrounds it. The Bee's egg is abso- 
lutely necessary to the Sitaris-grub, not merely as a 
boat, but also as nourishment. 

At the end of a week the egg is nothing but a dry 
skin. The first meal is finished. The Sitaris-grub, 
which is now twice as large as before, splits open along 
the back, and through this slit the second form of this 
singular Beetle falls on the surface of the honey. Its 
cast skin remains on the raft, and will presently dis- 
appear with it beneath the waves of honey. 

Here ends the history of the first form adopted by the 
Sitaris. 



[174] 



CHAPTER XII 



THE CRICKET 



THE HOUSEHOLDER 

THE Field Cricket, the inhabitant of the 
meadows, is almost as famous as the Cicada, 
and figures among the limited but glorious 
number of the classic insects. He owes this honour to 
his song and his house. One thing alone is lacking to 
complete his renown. The master of the art of making 
animals talk. La Fontaine, gives him hardly two lines, 

Florian, the other French writer of fables, gives us a 
story of a Cricket, but it lacks the simplicity of truth 
and the saving salt of humour. Besides, it represents 
the Cricket as discontented, bewailing his condition! 
This is a preposterous idea, for all who have studied 
him know, on the contrary, that he is very well pleased 
with his own talent and his own burrow. And indeed, 
at the end of the story, Florian makes him admit : 

"My snug little home is a place of delight; 

If you want to live happy, live hidden from sight!" 

[175] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

I find more force and truth in some verses by a friend 
of mine, of which these are a translation: 

Among the beasts a talc is told 

How a poor Cricket ventured nigh 
His door to catch the sun's warm gold 

And saw a radiant Butterfly. 

She passed with tails thrown proudly back 

And long gay rows of crescents blue, 
Brave yellow stars and bands of black. 

The lordliest Fly that ever flew. 

"Ah, fly away," the hermit said, 

"Daylong among your flowers to roam; 
Nor daisies white nor roses red 

Will compensate my lowly home." 

True, all too true ! There came a storm 

And caught the Fly within its flood, 
Staining her broken velvet form 

And covering her wings with mud. 

The Cricket, sheltered from the rain. 

Chirped, and looked on with tranquil eye; 

For him the thunder pealed in vain. 
The gale and torrent passed him by. 

Then shun the world, nor take your fill 

Of any of its joys or flowers ; 
A lowly fire-side, calm and still, 

At least will grant you tearless hours! * 

> English transalation by Mr Stephen M'Kenna. 
[176] 



THE CRICKET 

There I recognise my Cricket. I see him curling his 
antennae on the threshold of his burrow, keeping him- 
self cool in front and warm at the back. He is not 
jealous of the Butterfly; on the contrary, he pities her, 
with that air of mocking commiseration we often see in 
those who have houses of their own when they are talk- 
ing to those who have none. Far from complaining, he 
is very well satisfied both with his house and his violin. 
He is a true philosopher : he knows the vanity of things 
and feels the charm of a modest retreat away from the 
riot of pleasure-seekers. 

Yes, the description is about right, as far as it goes. 
But the Cricket is still waiting for the few lines needed 
to bring his merits before the public; and since La Fon- 
taine neglected him, he will have to go on waiting a 
long time. 

To me, as a naturalist, the important point in the two 
fables is the burrow on which the moral is founded. 
Florian speaks of the snug retreat; the other praises his 
lowly home. It is the dwelling, therefore, that above 
all compels attention, even that of the poet, who as a 
rule cares little for realities. 

In this matter, indeed, the Cricket is extraordinary. 
Of all our insects he is the only one who, when full- 
grown, possesses a fixed home, the reward of his own 
industry. During the bad season of the year, most of 

[177] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

the others burrow or skulk in some temporary refuge, 
a refuge obtained free of cost and abandoned without 
regret. Several of them create marvels with a view to 
settling their family: cotton satchels, baskets made of 
leaves, towers of cement. Some live permanently in 
ambush, lying in wait for their prey. The Tiger-beetle, 
for instance, digs himself a perpendicular hole, which 
he stops up with his flat, bronze head. If any other 
insect steps on this deceptive trap-door it immediately 
tips up, and the unhappy wayfarer disappears into the 
gulf. The Ant-lion makes a slanting funnel in the 
sand. Its victim, the Ant, slides down the slant and 
is then stoned, from the bottom of the funnel, by the 
hunter, who turns his neck into a catapult. But these 
are all temporary refuges or traps. 

The laboriously constructed home, in which the insect 
settles down with no intention of moving, either in the 
happy spring or in the woeful winter season; the real 
manor-house, built for peace and comfort, and not as 
a hunting-box or a nursery- — this is known to the Cricket 
alone. On some sunny, grassy slope he is the owner of 
a hermitage. While all the others lead vagabond lives, 
sleeping in the open air or under the casual shelter of 
a dead leaf or a stone, or the pealing bark of an old tree, 
he is a privileged person with a permanent address. 

The making of a home is a serious problem. It has 

[178] 



THE CRICKET 

been solved by the Cricket, by the Rabbit, and lastly by 
man. In my neighbourhood the Fox and the Badger 
have holes, which are largely formed by the irregularities 
of the rock, A few repairs, and the dug-out is com- 
pleted. The Rabbit is cleverer than these, for he builds 
his house by burrowing wherever he pleases, when there 
is no natural passage that allows him to settle down free 
of all trouble. 

The Cricket is cleverer than any of them. He scorns 
chance refuges, and always chooses the site of his home 
carefully, in well-drained ground, with a pleasant sunny 
aspect. He refuses to make use of ready-made caves 
that are inconvenient and rough: he digs every bit of 
his villa, from the entrance-hall to the back-room. 

I see no one above him, in the art of house-building, 
except man; and even man, before mixing mortar to 
hold stones together, or kneading clay to coat his hut 
of branches, fought with wild beasts for a refuge in the 
rocks. Why is it that a special instinct is bestowed on 
one particular creature? Here is one of the humblest 
of creatures able to lodge himself to perfection. He 
has a home, an advantage unknown to many civilised 
beings; he has a peaceful retreat, the first condition of 
comfort; and no one around him is capable of settling 
down. He has no rivals but ourselves. 

Whence does he derive this gift? Is he favoured 

[179] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

with special tools'? No, the Cricket is not an expert 
in the art of digging; in fact, one is rather surprised at 
the result when one considers the feebleness of his means. 

Is a home a necessity to him, on account of an excep- 
tionally delicate skin? No, his near kinsmen have skins 
as sensitive as his, yet do not dread the open air at all. 

Is the house-building talent the result of his anatomy? 
Has he any special organ that suggests it? No: in my 
neighbourhood there are three other Crickets who are so 
much like the Field Cricket in appearance, colour, and 
structure, that at the first glance one would take them 
for him. Of these faithful copies, not one knows how 
to dig himself a burrow. The Double-spotted Cricket 
inhabits the heaps of grass that are left to rot in damp 
places; the Solitary Cricket roams about the dry clods 
turned up by the gardener's spade; the Bordeaux Cricket 
is not afraid to make his way into our houses, where he 
sings discreetly, during August and September, in some 
cool, dark spot. 

There is no object in continuing these questions: the 
answer would always be No. Instinct never tells us its 
causes. It depends so little on an insect's stock of tools 
that no detail of anatomy, nothing in the creature's 
formation, can explain it to us or make us foresee it. 
These four similar Crickets, of whom only one can 

[180] 



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 



U\\ 



«H<> TV 



, I «i J 1 1 J ^ 



THE CRICKET 

burrow, are enough to show us our ignorance of the 
origin of instinct. 

Who does not know the Cricket's house? Who has 
not, as a child playing in the fields, stopped in front of 
the hermit's cabin? However light your footfall, he 
has heard you coming, and has abruptly withdrawn to 
the very bottom of his hiding-place. When you arrive, 
the threshold of the house is deserted. 

Every one knows the way to bring out the skulker. 
You insert a straw and move it gently about the burrow. 
Surprised at what is happening above, the tickled and 
teased Cricket ascends from his back room; he stops in the 
passage, hesitates, and waves his delicate antennae inquir- 
ingly. He comes to the light, and, once outside, he is 
easy to catch, since these events have puzzled his poor 
head. Should he be missed at the first attempt he may be- 
come suspicious and refuse to appear. In that case he can 
be flooded out with a glass of water. 

Those were adorable times when we were children, and 
hunted Crickets along the grassy paths, and put them in 
cages, and fed them on a leaf of lettuce. They all come 
back to me to-day, those times, as I search the burrows for 
subjects to study. They seem like yesterday when my 
companion, little Paul, an expert in the use of the straw, 
springs up suddenly after a long trial of skill and 

[181] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

patience, and cries excitedly: "I've got him I I've got 
himi" 

Quick, here's a bag! In you go, my little Cricket I 
You shall be petted and pampered, but you must teach us 
something, and first of all you must show us your house. 

II 

HIS HOUSE 

It is a slanting gallery in the grass, on some sunny 
bank which soon dries after a shower. It is nine inches 
long at most, hardly as thick as one's finger, and straight 
or bent according to the nature of the ground. As a 
rule, a tuft of grass half conceals the home, serving as 
a porch and throwing the entrance discreetly into shadow. 
When the Cricket goes out to browse upon the surround- 
ing turf he does not touch this tuft. The gently 
sloping threshold, carefully raked and swept, extends 
for some distance; and this is the terrace on which, when 
everything is peaceful round about, the Cricket sits and 
scrapes his fiddle. 

The inside of the house is devoid of luxury, with 
bare and yet not coarse walls. The inhabitant has 
plenty of leisure to do away with any unpleasant rough- 
ness. At the end of the passage is the bedroom, a little 
more carefully smoothed than the rest, and slightly 
wider. All said, it is a very simple abode, exceedingly 

[182] 



THE CRICKET 

clean, free from damp, and conforming to the rules of 
hygiene. On the other hand, it is an enormous under- 
taking, a gigantic tunnel, when we consider the modest 
tools with which the Cricket has to dig. If we wish to 
know how he does it, and when he sets to work, we must 
go back to the time when the egg is laid. 

The Cricket lays her eggs singly in the soil, like the 
Decticus, at a depth of three-quarters of an inch. She 
arranges them in groups, and lays altogether about five 
or six hundred. The egg is a little marvel of mechan- 
ism. After the hatching it appears as an opaque white 
cylinder, with a round and very regular hole at the top. 
To the edge of this hole is fastened a cap, like a lid. In- 
stead of bursting open anyhow under the thrusts of the 
larva within, it opens of its own accord along a circular 
line — a specially prepared line of least resistance. 

About a fortnight after the egg is laid, two large, 
round, rusty-black dots darken the front end. A little 
way above these two dots, right at the top of the cylinder, 
you see the outline of a thin circular swelling. This 
is the line where the shell is preparing to break open. 
Soon the transparency of the egg allows one to see the 
delicate markings of the tiny creature's segments. Now 
is the time to be on the watch, especially in the morning. 

Fortune loves the persevering, and if we pay constant 
visits to the eggs we shall be rewarded. All round the 
swelling, where the resistance of the shell has gradually 

[183] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

been overcome, the end of the egg becomes detached. 
Being pushed back by the forehead of the little creature 
within, it rises and falls to one side like the top of a tiny 
scent-bottle. The Cricket pops out like a Jack-in-the- 
box. 

When he is gone the shell remains distended, smooth, 
intact, pure white, with the cap or lid hanging from the 
opening. A bird's egg breaks clumsily under the blows 
of a wart that grows for the purpose at the end of the 
Chick's beak; the Cricket's egg is more ingeniously made, 
and opens like an ivory case. The thrust of the crea- 
ture's head is enough to work the hinge. 

I said above that, when the lid is lifted, a young 
Cricket pops out; but this is not quite accurate. What 
appears is the swaddled grub, as yet unrecognisable in 
a tight-fitting sheath. The Decticus, you will remember, 
who is hatched in the same way under the soil, wears a 
protective covering during his journey to the surface. 
The Cricket is related to the Decticus, and therefore 
wears the same livery, although in point of fact he does 
not need it. The egg of the Decticus remains under- 
ground for eight months, so the poor grub has to fight 
its way through soil that has grown hard, and it therefore 
needs a covering for its long shanks. But the Cricket 
is shorter and stouter, and since its egg is only in the 
ground for a few days it has nothing worse than a 
powdery layer of earth to pass through. For these 

[184] 



THE CRICKET 

reasons it requires no overall, and leaves it behind in 
the shell. 

As soon as he is rid of his swaddling-clothes the young 
Cricket, pale all over, almost white, begins to battle with 
the soil overhead. He hits out with his mandibles; he 
sweeps aside and kicks behind him the powdery earth, 
which offers no resistance. Very soon he is on the sur- 
face, amidst the joys of the sunlight and the perils of 
conflict with his fellow-creatures — poor feeble mite that 
he is, hardly larger than a Flea. 

By the end of twenty-four hours he has turned into 
a magnificent blackamoor, whose ebon hue vies with that 
of the full-grown insect. All that remains of his origi- 
nal pallor is a white sash that girds his chest. Very 
nimble and alert, he sounds the surrounding air with his 
long, quivering antennas, and runs and jumps about with 
great impetuosity. Some day he will be too fat to in- 
dulge is such antics. 

And now we see why the mother Cricket lays so many 
eggs. It is because most of the young ones are doomed 
to death. They are massacred in huge numbers by other 
insects, and especially by the little Grey Lizard and the 
Ant. The latter, loathsome freebooter that she is, 
hardly leaves me a Cricket in my garden. She snaps 
up the poor little creatures and gobbles them down at 
frantic speed. 

Oh, the execrable wretch! And to think that we 

[185] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

place the Ant in the front rank of insects I Books are 
written in her honour, and the stream of praise never 
runs dry. The naturalists hold her in great esteem; and 
add daily to her fame. It would seem that with animals, 
as with men, the surest way to attract attention is to 
do harm to others. 

Nobody asks about the Beetles who do such valuable 
work as scavengers, whereas everybody knows the Gnat, 
that drinker of men's blood ; the Wasp, that hot-tempered 
swashbuckler, with her poisoned dagger; and the Ant, 
that notorious evil-doer who, in our southern villages, 
saps and imperils the rafters of a dwelling as cheerfully 
as she eats a fig. 

The Ant massacres the Crickets in my garden so 
thoroughly that I am driven to look for them outside the 
enclosure. In August, among the fallen leaves, where 
the grass has not been wholly scorched by the sun, I 
find the young Cricket, already rather big, and now black 
all over, with not a vestige of his white girdle remaining. 
At this period of his life he is a vagabond : the shelter of 
a dead leaf or a flat stone is enough for him. 

Many of those who survived the raids of the Ants now 
fall victims to the Wasp, who hunts down the wanderers 
and stores them underground. If they would but dig 
their dwellings a few weeks before the usual time they 
would be saved; but they never think of it. They are 
faithful to their ancient customs. 

[186] 



THE CRICKET 

It is at the close of October, when the first cold weather 
threatens, that the burrow is taken in hand. The work 
is very simple, if I may judge by my observation of the 
caged insect. The digging is never done at a bare point 
in the pan, but always under the shelter of some withered 
lettuce-leaf, a remnant of the food provided. This 
takes the place of the grass tuft that seems indispensable 
to the secrecy of the home. 

The miner scrapes with his fore-legs, and uses the 
pincers of his mandibles to pull out the larger bits of 
gravel. I see him stamping with his powerful hind- 
legs, furnished with a double row of spikes; I see him 
raking the rubbish, sweeping it backwards and spreading 
it slantwise. There you have the whole process. 

The work proceeds pretty quickly at first. In the 
yielding soil of my cages the digger disappears under- 
ground after a spell that lasts a couple of hours. He 
returns to the entrance at intervals, always backwards 
and always sweeping. Should he be overcome with 
fatigue he takes a rest on the threshold of his half- 
finished home, with his head outside and his antennae 
waving feebly. He goes in again, and resumes work 
with pinchers and rakes. Soon the periods of rest be- 
come longer, and wear out my patience. 

The most urgent part of the work is done. Once 
the hole is a couple of inches deep, it suffices for the needs 
of the moment. The rest will be a long affair, carried 

[187] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

out in a leisurely way, a little one day and a little the 
next: the hole will be made deeper and wider as the 
weather grows colder and the insect larger. Even in 
winter, if the temperature be mild and the sun shining 
on the entrance to the dwelling, it is not unusual to see 
the Cricket shooting out rubbish. Amid the joys of 
spring the upkeep of the building still continues. It is 
constantly undergoing improvements and repairs until 
the owner's death. 

When April ends the Cricket's song begins; at first 
in rare and shy solos, but soon in a general symphony in 
which each clod of turf boasts its performer. I am more 
than inclined to place the Cricket at the head of the 
spring choristers. In our waste-lands, when the thyme 
and lavender are gaily flowering, the Crested Lark rises 
like a lyrical rocket, his throat swelling with notes, and 
from the sky sheds his sweet music upon the fallows. 
Down below the Crickets chant the responses. Their 
song is monotonous and artless, but well suited in its 
very lack of art to the simple gladness of reviving life. 
It is the hosanna of the awakening, the sacred alleluia 
understood by swelling seed and sprouting blade. In 
this duet I should award the palm to the Cricket. His 
numbers and his unceasing note deserve it. Were the 
Lark to fall silent, the fields blue-grey with lavender, 
swinging its fragrant censors before the sun, would still 

[188] 



THE CRICKET 

receive from this humble chorister a solemn hymn of 
praise. 

Ill 

HIS MUSICAL-BOX 

In Steps Science, and says to the Cricket bluntly: 

"Show us your musical-box," 

Like all things of real value, it is very simple. It is 
based on the same principle as that of the Grasshoppers : 
a bow with a hook to it, and a vibrating membrane. 
The right wing-case overlaps the left and covers it almost 
completely, except where it folds back sharply and en- 
cases the insect's side. It is the opposite arrangement to 
that which we find in the Green Grasshopper, the Decti- 
cus, and their kinsmen. The Cricket is right-handed, 
the others left-handed. 

The two wing-cases are made in exactly the same way. 
To know one is to know the other. They lie flat on the 
insect's back, and slant suddenly at the side in a right- 
angled fold, encircling the body with a delicately veined 
pinion. 

If you hold one of these wing-cases up to the light 
you will see that is it a very pale red, save for two large 
adjoining spaces; a larger, triangular one in front, and 
a smaller, oval one at the back. They are crossed by 

[189] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

faint wrinkles. These two spaces are the sounding- 
boards, or drums. The skin is finer here than elsewhere, 
and transparent, though of a somewhat smoky tint. 

At the hinder edge of the front part are two curved, 
parallel veins, with a cavity between them. This cavity 
contains five or six little black wrinkles that look like 
the rungs of a tiny ladder. They supply friction : they 
intensify the vibration by increasing the number of 
points touched by the bow. 

On the lower surface one of the two veins that sur- 
round the cavity of the rungs becomes a rib cut into the 
shape of a hook. This is the bow. It is provided with 
about a hundred and fifty triangular teeth of exquisite 
geometrical regularity. 

It is a fine instrument indeed. The hundred and 
fifty teeth of the bow, biting into the rungs of the oppo- 
site wing-case, set the four drums in motion at one and 
the same time, the lower pair by direct friction, the upper 
pair by the shaking of the friction-apparatus. What a 
rush of sound I The Cricket with his four drums throws 
his music to a distance of some hundreds of yards. 

He vies with the Cicada' in shrillness, without having 
the latter's disagreeable harshness. And; better still: 
this favoured creature knows how to modulate his song. 
The wing-cases, as I said, extend over each side in a wide 
fold. These are the dumpers which, lowered to a 
greater or less depth, alter the intensity of the sound. 

[190] 



THE CRICKET 

According to the extent of their contact with the soft 
body of the Cricket they allow him to sing gently at one 
time and fortissimo at another. 

The exact similarity of the two wing-cases is worthy 
of attention. I can see clearly the function of the upper 
bow, and the four sounding-spaces which sets it in 
motion ; but what is the good of the lower one, the bow 
on the left wing? Not resting on anything, it has 
nothing to strike with its hook, which is as carefully 
toothed as the other. It is absolutely useless, unless the 
apparatus can invert the order of its two parts, and place 
that above which is below. If that could be done, the 
perfect symmetry of the instrument is such that the 
mechanism would be the same as before, and the insect 
would be able to play with the bow that is at present 
useless. The lower fiddlestick would become the upper, 
and the tune would be the same. 

I suspected at first that the Cricket could use both 
bows, or at least that there were some who were per- 
manently left-handed. But observation has convinced 
me of the contrary. All the Crickets I have examined — 
and they are many — without a single exception carried 
the right wing-case above the left. 

I even tried to bring about by artificial means what 
Nature refused to show me. Using my forceps, very 
gently of course, and without straining the wing-cases, 
I made these overlap the opposite way. It is easily done 

[191] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

with a little skill and patience. Everything went well: 
there was no dislocation of the shoulders, the membranes 
were not creased. 

I almost expected the Cricket to sing, but I was soon 
undeceived. He submitted for a few moments; but 
then, finding himself uncomfortable, he made an effort 
and restored his instrument to its usual position. In 
vain I repeated the operation: the Cricket's obstinacy 
triumphed over mine. 

Then I thought I would make the attempt while the 
wing-cases were quite new and plastic, at the moment 
when the larva casts its skin. I secured one at the point 
of being transformed. At this stage the future wings 
and wing-cases form four tiny flaps, which, by their shape 
and scantiness, and by the way they stick out in different 
directions, remind me of the short jackets worn by the 
Auvergne cheesemakers. The larva cast off these gar- 
ments before my eyes. 

The wing-cases developed bit by bit, and opened out. 
There was no sign to tell me which would overlap the 
other. Then the edges touched : a few moments longer 
and the right would be over the left. This was the time 
to intervene. 

With a straw I gently changed the position, bringing 
the left edge over the right. In spite of some protest 
from the insect I was quite successful: the left wing- 
case pushed forward, though only very little. Then I 

[192] 



THE CRICKET 

left it alone, and gradually the wing-cases matured in 
the inverted position. The Cricket was left-handed. 
I expected soon to see him wield the fiddlestick which 
the members of his family never employ. 

On the third day he made a start. A few brief grating 
sounds were heard — the noise of a machine out of gear 
shifting its parts back into their proper order. Then the 
tune began, with its accustomed tone and rhythm. 

Alas, I had been over-confident in my mischievous 
straw! I thought I had created a new type of instru- 
mentalist, and I had obtained nothing at all! The 
Cricket was scraping with his right fiddlestick, and 
always would. With a painful effort he had dislocated 
his shoulders, which I had forced to harden in the wrong 
way. He had put back on top that which ought to be 
on top, and underneath that which ought to be under- 
neath. My sorry science tried to make a left-handed 
player of him. He laughed at my devices, and settled 
down to be right-handed for the rest of his life. 

Enough of the instrument; let us listen to the music. 
The Cricket sings on the threshold of his house, in the 
cheerful sunshine, never indoors. The wing-cases utter 
their cri-cri in a soft tremolo. It is full, sonorous, nicely 
cadenced, and lasts indefinitely. Thus are the leisures 
of solitude beguiled all through the spring. The hermit 
at first sings for his own pleasure. Glad to be alive, he 
chants the praises of the sun that shines upon him, the 

[193] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

grass that feeds him, the peaceful retreat that harbours 
him. The first object of his bow is to hymn the pleasures 
of life. 

Later on he plays to his mate. But, to tell the truth, 
his attention is rewarded with little gratitude; for in the 
end she quarrels with him ferociously, and unless he 
takes to flight she cripples him — and even eats him more 
or less. But indeed, in any case he soon dies. Even if 
he escapes his pugnacious mate, he perishes in June. 
We are told that the music-loving Greeks used to keep 
Cicadre in cages, the better to enjoy their singing. I 
venture to disbelieve the story. In the first place the 
harsh clicking of the Cicadae, when long continued at 
close quarters, is a torture to ears that are at all delicate. 
The Greeks' sense of hearing was too well trained to take 
pleasure in such raucous sounds away from the general 
concert of the fields, which is heard at a distance. 

In the second place it is absolutely impossible to bring 
up Cicadae in captivity, unless we cover over a whole 
olive-tree or plane-tree. A single day spent in a 
cramped enclosure would make the high-flying insect die 
of boredom. 

Is it not possible that people have confused the Cricket 
with the Cicada, as they also do the Green Grasshopper? 
With the Cricket they would be quite right. He is one 
who bears captivity gaily: his stay-at-home ways pre- 

[194] 



THE CRICKET 

dispose him to it. He lives happily and whirrs without 
ceasing in a cage no larger than a man's fist, provided 
that he has his lettuce-leaf every day. Was it not he 
whom the small boys of Athens reared in little wire cages 
hanging on a window-frame? 

The small boys of Provence, and all the South, have 
the same tastes. In the towns a Cricket becomes the 
child's treasured possession. The insect, petted and 
pampered, sings to him of the simple joys of the country. 
Its death throws the whole household into a sort of 
mourning. 

The three other Crickets of my neighbourhood all 
carry the same musical instrument as the Field Cricket, 
with slight variation of detail. Their song is much 
alike in all cases, allowing for differences of size. The 
smallest of the family, the Bordeaux Cricket, sometimes 
ventures into the dark corners of my kitchen, but his 
song is so faint that it takes a very attentive ear to hear 
it. 

The Field Cricket sings during the sunniest hours of 
the spring: during the still summer nights we have the 
Italian Cricket. He is a slender, feeble insect, quite 
pale, almost white, as beseems his nocturnal habits. 
You are afraid of crushing him, if you so much as take 
him in your fingers. He lives high in air, on shrubs of 
every kind, or on the taller grasses; and he rarely de- 

[195] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

scends to earth. His song, the sweet music of the still, 
hot evenings from July to October,- begins at sunset and 
continues for the best part of the night. 

This song is known to everybody here in Provence, for 
the smallest clump of bushes has its orchestra. The 
soft, slow gri-i-i gri-i-i is made more expressive by a 
slight tremolo. If nothing happens to disturb the insect 
the sound remains unaltered; but at the least noise the 
musician becomes a ventriloquist. You hear him quite 
close, in front of you; and then, all of a sudden, you hear 
him fifteen yards away. You move towards the sound. 
It is not there: it comes from the original place. No, 
it doesn't after all. Is it over there on the left, or does 
it come from behind? One is absolutely at a loss, quite 
unable to tind the spot where the music is chirping. 

This illusion of varying distance is produced in two 
ways. The sounds become loud or soft, open or muffled, 
according to the exact part of the lower wing-case that 
is pressed by the bow. And they are also modified by 
the position of the wing-cases. For the loud sounds 
these are raised to their full height: for the muffled 
sounds they are lowered more or less. The pale Cricket 
misleads those who hunt for him by pressing the edges of 
his vibrating flaps against his soft body. 

I know no prettier or more limpid insect-song than 
his, heard in the deep stillness of an August evening. 
How often have I lain down on the ground among the 

[196] 



THE CRICKET 

rosemary bushes of my harmas, to listen to the delightful 
concert I 

The Italian Cricket swarms in my enclosure. Every 
tuft of red-flowering rock-rose has its chorister; so has 
every clump of lavender. The bushy arbutus-shrubs, 
the turpentine-trees, all become orchestras. And in its 
clear voice, so full of charm, the whole of this little 
world, from every shrub and every branch, sings of the 
gladness of life. 

High up above my head the Swan stretches its great 
cross along the Milky Way: below, all round me, the 
insect's symphony rises and falls. Infinitesimal life 
telling its joys makes me forget the pageant of the stars. 
Those celestial eyes look down upon me, placid and cold, 
but do not stir a fibre within me. Why? They lack 
the great secret — life. Our reason tells us, it is true, 
that those suns warm worlds like ours; but when all is 
said, this belief is no more than a guess, it is not a 
certainty. 

In your company, on the contrary, O my Cricket, I 
feel the throbbing of life, which is the soul of our lump 
of clay; and that is why, under my rosemary-hedge, I 
give but an absent glance at the constellation of the 
Swan and devote all my attention to your serenade I A 
living speck — the merest dab of life — capable of 
pleasure and pain, is far more interesting to me than all 
the immensities of mere matter. 

[197] 



CHAPTER XIII 



THE SISYPHUS 



YOU are not tired, I hope, of hearing about the 
Scavenger Beetles with a talent for making 
balls. I have told you of the Sacred Beetle 
and of the Spanish Copris, and now I wish to say a few 
words of yet another of these creatures. In the insect 
world we meet with a great many model mothers: it is 
only fair, for once to draw attention to a good father. 

Now a good father is rarely seen except among the 
higher animals. The bird is excellent in this respect, 
and the furred folk perform their duties honourably. 
Lower in the scale of living creatures the father is 
generally indifferent to his family. Very few insects 
are exceptions to this rule. This heartlessness, which 
would be detestable in the higher ranks of the animal 
kingdom, where the weakness of the young demands pro- 
longed care, is excusable among insect fathers. For the 
robustness of the new-born insect enables it to gather 
its food unaided, provided it be in a suitable place. 
When all that the Pieris need do for the safety of the 
race is to lay her eggs on the leaves of a cabbage, of what 
use would a father's care be"? The mother's botanical 

[198] 



THE SISYPHUS 

instinct needs no assistance. At laying-time the other 
parent would be in the way. 

Most insects adopt this simple method of upbringing. 
They merely choose a dining-room which will be the 
home of the family once it is hatched, or else a place that 
will allow the young ones to find suitable fare for them- 
selves. There is no need for the father in such cases. 
He generally dies without lending the least assistance 
in the work of setting up his offspring in life. 

Things do not always happen, however, in quite such 
a primitive fashion. There are tribes that provide a 
dowry for their families, that prepare board and lodging 
for them in advance. The Bees and Wasps in particu- 
lar are masters in the industry of making cellars, jars, 
and satchels, in which the ration of honey is hoarded: 
they are perfect in the art of creating burrows stocked 
with the game that forms the food of their grubs. 

Well, this enormous labour, which is one of building 
and provisioning combined, this toil in which the insect's 
whole life is spent, is done by the mother alone. It 
wears her out; it utterly exhausts her. The father drunk 
with sunlight, stands idle at the edge of the workyard, 
watching his plucky helpmate at her job. 

Why does he not lend the mother a helping hand? It 
is now or never. Why does he not follow the example 
of the Swallow couple, both of whom bring their bit of 
straw, their blob of mortar to the building and their 

[199] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

Midge to the young ones? He does nothing of the kind. 
Possibly he puts forward his comparative weakness as an 
excuse. It is a poor argument; for to cut a disk out of 
a leaf, to scrape some cotton from a downy plant, to 
collect a little bit of cement in muddy places would not 
overtax his strength. He could very easily help, at any 
rate as a labourer; he is quite fit to gather materials for 
the mother, with her greater intelligence, to fit in place. 
The real reason of his inactivity is sheer incapability. 

It is strange that the most gifted of the industrial 
insects should know nothing of a father's duties. One 
would expect the highest talents to be developed in him 
by the needs of the young; but he remains as dull-witted 
as a Butterfly, whose family is reared at so small a cost. 
We are baffled at every turn by the question: Why is 
a particular instinct given to one insect and denied to 
another? 

It baffles us so thoroughly that we are extremely sur- 
prised when we find in the scavenger the noble qualities 
that are denied to the honey-gatherer. Various Scaven- 
ger Beetles are accustomed to help in the burden of 
housekeeping, and know the value of working in double 
harness. The Geotrupes couple, for mstance, prepare 
their larva's food together: the father lends his mate the 
assistance of his powerful press in the manufacture of 
the tightly packed sausage-shaped ration. He is a splen- 

[200] 



THE SISYPHUS 

did example of domestic habits, and one extremely sur- 
prising amid the general egoism. 

To this example my constant studies of the subject 
have enabled me to add three others, all furnished by 
the Guild of Scavengers. 

One of them is the Sisyphus, the smallest and most 
zealous of all our pill-rollers. He is the liveliest and 
most agile of them all, and recks nothing of awkward 
somersaults and headlong falls on the impossible roads 
to which his obstinacy brings him back again and again. 
It was in reference to these wild gymnastics that La- 
treille gave him the name of Sisyphus. 

As you know, that unhappy wretch of classical fame 
had a terrible task. He was forced to roll a huge stone 
uphill; and each time he succeeded in toiling to the top 
of the mountain the stone slipped from his grasp and 
rolled to the bottom. I like this myth. It is the his- 
tory of a good many of us. So far as I am concerned, 
for half a century and more I have painfully climbed the 
steep ascent, spending my strength recklessly in the 
struggle to hoist up to safety that crushing burden, my 
daily bread. Hardly is the loaf balanced when it slips 
off, slides down, and is lost in the abyss. 

The Sisyphus with whom we are now concerned knows 
none of these bitter trials. Untroubled by the steep 
slopes he gaily trundles his load, at one time bread for 
himself, at another bread for his children. He is very 

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FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

scarce in these parts; and I should never have managed 
to secure a suitable number of subjects for my studies 
had it not been for an assistant whom I have already 
mentioned more than once. 

I speak of my little son Paul, aged seven. He is my 
enthusiastic companion on my hunting expeditions, and 
knows better than any one of his age the secrets of the 
Cicada, the Locust, the Cricket, and especially the 
Scavenger Beetle. Twenty paces away his sharp eyes 
will distinguish the real mound that marks a burrow 
from casual heaps of earth. His delicate ears catch 
the Grasshopper's faint song, which is quite unheard by 
me. He lends me his sight and hearing; and I, in ex- 
change, present him with ideas, which he receives 
attentively. 

Little Paul has his own insect-cages, in which the 
Sacred Beetle makes pears for him; his own little garden, 
no larger than a pocket-handkerchief, where he grows 
beans, often digging them up to see if the tiny roots are 
any longer; his forest plantation, in which stand four 
oaks a hand's-breadth high, still furnished on one side 
with the acorn that feeds them. It all makes a welcome 
change from grammar, which gets on none the worse for 
it. 

When the month of May is near at hand Paul and I 
get up early one morning — so early that we start without 
our breakfast — and we explore, at the foot of the moun- 

[202] 



THE SISYPHUS 

tain, the meadows where the flocks have been. Here 
we find the Sisyphus. Paul is so zealous in his search 
that we soon have a sufficient number of couples. 

All that is needed for their well-being is a wire-gauze 
cover, with a bed of sand and a supply of their food — 
to obtain which we too turn scavengers. These creatures 
are so small, hardly the size of a cherry-stone I And so 
curious in shape withal! A dumpy body, the hinder 
end of which is pointed, and very long legs, resembling 
a Spider's when outspread. The hind-legs are of amaz- 
ing length, and are curved, which is most useful for 
clasping and squeezing the pellet. 

Soon the time comes for establishing the family. 
With equal zeal father and mother alike take part in 
kneading, carting, and stowing away the provisions for 
the young ones. With the cleaver of the fore-legs a 
morsel of the right size is cut from the food placed at 
their disposal. The two insects work at the piece to- 
gether, giving it little pats, pressing it, and shaping it 
into a ball as large as a big pea. 

As in the Sacred Beetle's workshop, the accurately 
round shape is obtained without the mechanical trick 
of rolling the ball. The material is modelled into a 
sphere before it is moved, before it is even loosened from 
its support. Here, once more, we have an expert in 
geometry familiar with the best form for preserving 
food. 

[203] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

The ball is soon ready. It must now, by vigorous 
rolling, be given the crust which will protect the soft 
stuff within from becoming too dry. The mother, who 
can be recognised by her slightly larger size, harnesses 
herself in the place of honour, in front. With her long 
hind-legs on the ground and her fore-legs on the ball, 
she hauls it towards her, backwards. The father pushes 
behind in the reverse position, head downwards. It is 
precisely the same method as that of the Sacred Beetle 
when working in twos, but it has another object. The 
Sisyphus team conveys a store of food for the grubs, 
whereas the big pill-rollers trundle a banquet which they 
themselves will eat up underground. 

The couple start off along the ground. Tliey have 
no definite goal, but walk in a direct line, without regard 
to the obstacles that lie in the way. In this backward 
march the obstacles could not be avoided; but even if 
they were seen the Sisyphus would not try to go round 
them. For she even makes obstinate attempts to climb 
the wire-work of my cage. This is an arduous and im- 
possible task. Clawing the meshes of the gauze with 
her hind-legs the mother pulls the load towards her; 
then, putting her fore-legs round it, she holds it sus- 
pended in air. The father, finding nothing to stand 
upon, clings to the ball — encrusts himself in it, so to 
speak, thus adding his weight to that of the lump, and 
taking no further pains. The effort is too great to last. 



THE SISYPHUS 

The mother harnesses herself in the place of honour, in front. 

I he father pushes behind in the reverse position, 

head dozvmvards 



THE SISYPHUS 

The ball and its rider, forming one mass, fall to the floor. 
The mother, from above, looks down for a moment in 
surprise, and then drops to recover the load and renew 
her impossible attempt to scale the side. After repeated 
falls the climb is abandoned. 

Even on level ground the carting is not carried on 
without difficulty. At every moment the load swerves 
on some mound made by a bit of gravel; and the team 
topple over and kick about, upside down. This is a 
trifle, the merest trifle. These tumbles, which so often 
fling the Sisyphus on his back, cause him no concern ; one 
would even think he liked them. After all, the ball has 
to be hardened and made of the right consistency. And 
this being the case, bumps falls, and jolts are all part of 
the programme. This mad steeple-chasing goes on for 
hours. 

At last the mother, regarding the work as completed, 
goes off a little way in search of a suitable spot. The 
father mounts guard, squatting on the treasure. If his 
companion's absence be unduly long, he relieves his 
boredom by spinning the ball nimbly between his up- 
lifted hind legs. He treats his precious pellet as a 
juggler treats his ball. He tests its perfect shape with 
his curved legs, the branches of his compasses. No one 
who sees him frisking in that jubilant attitude can doubt 
his lively satisfaction — the satisfaction of a father as- 
sured of his children's future. 

[205] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

"It is I," he seems to say, "I who kneaded this round 
loaf, I who made this bread for my sons I" 

And he lifts on high, for all to see, this magnificent 
testimony to his industry. 

Meanwhile the mother has chosen a site for the bur- 
row. A shallow pit is made, a mere beginning of the 
work. The ball is rolled near it. The father, that vigi- 
lant guardian, does not let go, while the mother digs 
with her legs and forehead. Soon the hollow is big 
enough to hold the pellet. She insists on having it quite 
close to her; she must feel it bobbing up and down be- 
hind her, on her back, safe from parasites, before she 
decides to go farther. She is afraid of what might 
happen to it if it were left on the edge of the burrow 
until the home were completed. There are plenty of 
Midges and other such insects to grab it. One cannot 
be too careful. 

The ball therefore is inserted, half in and half out of 
the partly-formed basin. The mother, underneath, gets 
her legs round it and pulls: the father above, lets it 
down gently, and sees that the hole is not choked up with 
falling earth. All goes well. The digging is resumed 
and the descent continues, always with the same caution; 
one of the insects pulling the load, the other regulating 
the drop and clearing away anything that might hinder 
the operation. A few more efforts, and the ball dis- 
appears underground witli the two miners. What 

[206] 



THE SISYPHUS 

follows for some time to come can only be a repetition of 
what has already been done. We must wait half a day 
or so. 

If we keep careful watch we shall see the father come 
up again to the surface by himself, and crouch in the 
sand near the burrow. Detained below by duties in 
which her companion can be of no assistance to her, the 
mother usually postpones her appearance till the 
morrow. At last she shows herself. The father leaves 
the place where he was snoozing, and joins her. The re- 
united couple go back to the spot where their food-stuffs 
are to be found, and having refreshed themselves they 
gather up more materials. The two then set to work 
again. Once more they model, cart, and store the ball 
together. 

I am delighted with this constancy. That it is really 
the rule I dare not declare. There must, no doubt, be 
flighty, fickle Beetles. No matter : the little I have seen 
gives me a high opinion of the domestic habits of the 
Sisyphus. 

It IS time to inspect the burrow. At no great depth we 
find a tiny niche, just large enough to allow the mother 
to move round her work. The smallness of the chamber 
tells us that the father cannot remain there for long. 
When the studio is ready, he must go away to leave the 
sculptress room to turn. 

The contents of the cellar consist of a single ball, a 

[207] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

masterpiece of art. It is a copy of the Sacred Beetle's 
pear on a very much reduced scale, its smallness making 
the polish of the surface and the elegance of the curves 
all the more striking. Its diameter, at the broadest 
point, measures one-half to three-quarters of an inch. 

One more observation about the Sisyphus. Six 
couples under the wire-gauze cover gave me fifty-seven 
pears containing one egg each — an average of over nine 
grubs to each couple. The Sacred Beetle is far from 
reaching this figure. To what cause are we to attribute 
this large brood? I can see but one: the fact that the 
father works as well as the mother. Family burdens 
that would exceed the strength of one are not too heavy 
when there are two to bear them. 



[208] 



CHAPTER XIV 



THE CAPRICORN 



THE GRUB S HOME 



AN eighteenth-century philosopher, Condillac, 
describes an imaginary statue, organised like a 
man, but with none of a man's senses. He 
then pictures the effect of endowing it with the five 
senses, one by one, and the first sense he gives it is that 
of smell. The statue, having no sense but smell, in- 
hales the scent of a rose, and out of that single impression 
creates a whole world of ideas. In my youth I owed 
some happy moments to that statue. I seemed to see it 
come to life in that action of the nostrils, acquiring 
memory, concentration, judgment, and other mental 
qualities, even as still waters are aroused and rippled 
by the impact of a grain of sand. I recovered from my 
illusion under the teaching of my abler master the animal. 
The Capricorn taught me that the problem is more ob- 
scure than the Abbe Condillac led me to suppose. 

When my winter supply of firewood is being prepared 
for me with wedge and mallet, the woodman selects, by 
my express orders, the oldest and most ravaged trunks 

[209] 



FABKE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

in his stack. My tastes bring a smile to his lips; he 
wonders by what whimsy I prefer wood that is worm- 
eaten to sound wood, which burns so much better. I 
liave my views on the subject, and the wortliy man 
submits to them. 

A fine oak-trunk, seamed with scars and gashed with 
wounds, contains many treasures for my studies. The 
mallet drives home, the wedges bite, the wood splits; 
and within, in the dry and hollow parts, are revealed 
groups of various insects who are capable of living 
through the cold season, and have here taken up their 
winter quarters. In the low-roofed galleries built by 
some Beetle the Osmia Bee has piled her cells one above 
the other. In the deserted chambers and vestibules 
Megachiles have arranged their leafy jars. In the live 
wood, filled with juicy sap, the larva of the Capricorn, 
the chief author of the oak's undoing, has set up its home. 
Truly they are strange creatures, these grubs: bits of 
intestines crawling about! In the middle of Autumn 
I find them of two different ages. The older are almost 
as thick as one's finger; the others hardly attain the 
diameter of a pencil. I find, in addition, the pupa or 
nymph more or less fully coloured, and the perfect insect 
ready to leave the trunk when the hot weather comes 
again. Life inside the wood, therefore, lasts for three 
years. 
How is this longperiod of solitude and captivity spent? 

[210] 



THE CAPRICORN 

In wandering lazily through the thickness of the oak, in 
making roads whose rubbish serves as food. The horse 
in the book of Job "swallows the ground" in a figure of 
speech: the Capricorn's grub eats its way literally. 
With its carpenter's-gouge — a strong black mandible, 
short and without notches, but scooped into a sharp- 
edged spoon — it digs the opening of its tunnel. From 
the piece cut out the grub extracts the scanty juices, while 
the refuse accumulates behind him in heaps. The path 
is devoured as it is made; it is blocked behind as it makes 
way ahead. 

Since this harsh work is done with the two gouges, the 
two curved chisels of the mandibles, the Capricorn-grub 
requires much strength in the front part of its body, 
which therefore swells into a sort of pestle. The Bu- 
prestis-grub, that other industrious carpenter, adopts a 
similar form, and even exaggerates its pestle. The part 
that toils and carves hard wood requires to be robust ; the 
rest of the body, which has but to follow after, continues 
slim. The essential thing is that the implement of the 
jaws should possess a solid support and powerful ma- 
chinery. The Capricorn larva strengthens its chisels 
with a stout, black, horny armour that surrounds the 
mouth; yet, apart from its skull and its equipment of 
tools, this grub has a skin as fine as satin and as white 
as ivory. This dead white is caused by a thick layer of 
grease, which one would not expect a diet of wood to 

[211] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

produce in the animal. True, it has nothing to do, at 
every hour of the day and night, but gnaw. The quan- 
tity of wood that passes into its stomach makes up for the 
lack of nourishing qualities. 

The grub's legs can hardly be called legs at all ; they 
are mere suggestions of the legs the full-grown insect 
will have by and by. They are infinitesimal in size, 
and of no use whatever for walking. They do not even 
touch the supporting surface, being kept off it by the 
plumpness of the chest. The organs by means of which 
the animal progresses are something altogether different. 

The grub of the Rose-chafer, with the aid of the hairs 
and pad-like projections upon its spine, manages to 
reverse the usual method of walking, and to wriggle 
along on its back. The grub of the Capricorn is even 
more ingenious : it moves at the same time on its back 
and its stomach. To take the place of its useless legs it 
has a walking apparatus almost like feet, which appear, 
contrary to every rule, on the surface of its back. 

On the middle part of its body, both above and below, 
there is a row of seven four-sided pads, which the grub 
can either expand or contract, making them stick out or 
lie flat at will. It is by means of these pads that it 
walks. When it wishes to move forwards it expands 
the hinder pads, those on the back as well as those on the 
stomach, and contracts its front pads. The swelling of 
the hind pads in the narrow gallery fills up the space, and 

[212] 



THE CAPRICORN 

gives the grub something to push against. At the same 
time the flattening of the front pads, by decreasing the 
size of the grub, allows it to slip forward and take half 
a step. Then, to complete the step, the hind-quarters 
must be brought up the same distance. With this object 
the front pads fill out and provide support, while those 
behind shrink and leave room for the grub to draw up 
its hind-quarters. 

With the double support of its back and stomach, with 
alternate swellings and shrinkings, the animal easily 
advances or retreats along its gallery, a sort of mould 
which the contents fill without a gap. But if the pads 
grip only on one side progress becomes impossible. 
When placed on the smooth wood of my table the animal 
wriggles slowly; it lengthens and shortens without pro- 
gressing by a hair's breadth. Laid on the surface of a 
piece of split oak, a rough, uneven surface due to the 
gash made by the wedge, it twists and writhes, moves 
the front part of its body very slowly from left to right 
and right to left, lifts it a little, lowers it, and begins 
again. This is all it can do. The rudimentary legs 
remain inert and absolutely useless. 

II 

THE grub's sensations 

Though the Capricorn-grub possesses these useless 
legs, the -germs of future limbs, there is no sign of the 

[213] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

eyes with which the fully-developed insect will be richly 
gifted. The larva has not the least trace of any organs 
of sight. What would it do with sight, in the murky 
thickness of a tree-trunk'? Hearing is likewise absent. 
In the untroubled silence of the oak's inmost heart the 
sense of hearing would be superfluous. Where sounds 
are lacking, of what use is the faculty of discerning 
them? 

To make the matter certain I carried out some ex- 
periments. If split lengthwise the grub's abode becomes 
a half-tunnel, in which I can watch the occupant's 
doings. When left alone it alternately works for 
a while, gnawing at its gallery, and rests for awhile, 
fixed by its pads to the two sides of the tunnel. I took 
advantage of these moments of rest to inquire into its 
power of hearing. The banging of hard bodies, the ring 
of metallic objects, the grating of a file upon a saw, were 
tried in vain. The animal remained impassive: not a 
wince, not a movement of the skin, no sign of awakened 
attention. I succeeded no better when I scratched the 
wood near it with a hard point, to imitate the sound of 
some other grub at work in its neighbourhood. The in- 
difference to my noisy tricks could be no greater in a 
lifeless object. The animal is deaf. 

Can it smeir? Everything tells us that it cannot. 
Scent is of assistance in the search for food. But the 
Capricorn-grub need not go in quest of eatables. It 



THE CAPRICORN 

feeds on its home; it lives on the wood that gives it shel- 
ter. Nevertheless I tested it. In a log of fresh cypress 
wood I made a groove of the same width as that of the 
natural galleries, and I placed the grub inside it. Cy- 
press wood is strongly scented; it has the smell charac- 
teristic of most of the pine family. This resinous scent, 
so strange to a grub that lives always in oak, ought to 
vex it, to trouble it; and it should show its displeasure 
by some kind of commotion, some attempt to get away. 
It did nothing of the kind : once it had found the right 
position in the groove it went to the end, as far as it 
could go, and made no further movement. Then I set 
before it, in its usual channel, a piece of camphor. 
Again no effect. Camphor was followed by naphtha- 
line. Still no result. I do not think I am going too far 
when I deny the creature a sense of smell. 

Taste is there no doubt. But such taste! The food 
is without variety : oak, for three years at a stretch, and 
nothing else. What can the grub's palate find to enjoy 
in this monotonous fare? The agreeable sensation of 
a fresh piece, oozing with sap ; the uninteresting flavour 
of an over-dry piece. These, probably, are the only 
changes in the meal. 

There remains the sense of touch, the universal pas- 
sive sense common to all live flesh that quivers under the 
goad of pain. The Capricorn-grub, therefore, is limited 
to two senses, those of taste and touch, and both of these 

[215] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

it possesses only in a very small degree. It is very little 
better oif than Condillac's statue. The imaginary being 
created by the philosopher had one sense only, that of 
smell, equal in delicacy to our own; the real being, the 
oak-eater has two, which are inferior even when put to- 
gether to the one sense of the statue. The latter plainly 
perceived the scent of a rose, and clearly distinguished 
it from any other. 

A vain wish has often come to me in my dreams : to 
be able to think, for a few minutes, with the brain of 
my Dog, or to see the world with the eyes of a Gnat. 
How things would change in appearance! But they 
would change much more if understood only with the 
intellect of the grub. What has that incomplete crea- 
ture learnt through its senses of touch and taste*? \'ery 
little; almost nothing. It knows that the best bits of 
wood have a special kind of flavour, and that the sides 
of a passage, when not carefully smoothed, are painful 
to the skin. This is the limit of its wisdom. In com- 
parison with this, the statue with the sensitive nostrils 
was a marvel of knowledge. It remembered, compared, 
judged, and reasoned. Can the Capricorn-grub remem- 
ber'? Can it reason'? I described it a little time ago 
as a bit of intestine that crawls about. This descrip- 
tion gives an answer to these questions. The grub has 
the sensations of a bit of intestine, no more and no less. 

[216] 



THE CAPRICORN 

III 

THE grub's foresight 

And this half-alive object, this nothing-at-all, is cap- 
able of marvellous foresight. It knows hardly anything 
of the present, but it sees very clearly into the future. 

For three years on end the larva wanders about in the 
heart of the trunk. It goes up, goes down, turns to this 
side and that; it leaves one vein for another of better 
flavour, but without ever going too far from the inner 
depths, where the temperature is milder than near the 
surface, and greater safety reigns. But a day is at hand 
when the hermit must leave its safe retreat and face the 
perils of the outer world. Eating is not everything, 
after all; we have to get out of this. 

But how? For the grub, before leaving the trunk, 
must turn into a long-horned Beetle. And though the 
grub, being well equipped with tools and muscular 
strength, finds no difficulty in boring through the wood 
and going where it pleases, it by no means follows that 
the coming Capricorn has the same powers. The 
Beetle's short spell of life must be spent in the open air. 
Will it be able to clear itself a way of escape? 

It is quite plain, at all events, that the Capricorn will 
be absolutely unable to make use of the tunnel bored 
by the grub. This tunnel is a very long and very irregu- 

[217] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

lar maze, blocked with great heaps of wormed wood. 
It grows constantly smaller and smaller as it approaches 
the starting-point, because the larva entered the trunk 
as slim as a tiny bit of straw, whereas to-day it is as 
thick as one's finger. In its three years* wanderings it 
always dug its gallery to fit the size of its body. Evi- 
dently the road of the larva cannot be the Capricorn's 
way out. His overgrown antennae, his long legs, his 
inflexible armour-plates would find the narrow, winding 
corridor impassable. The passage would have to be 
cleared of its wormed wood, and, moreover, greatly en- 
larged. It would be easier to attack the untouched 
timber and dig straight ahead. Is the insect capable of 
doing so? I determined to find out. 

I made some cavities of suitable size in some oak logs 
that had been chopped in two, and in each of these cells 
I placed a Capricorn that had just been transformed 
from the grub. I then joined the two sides of the logs, 
fastening them together with wire. When June came 
I heard a sound of scraping inside the logs, and waited 
anxiously to see if the Capricorns would appear. They 
had hardly three-quarters of an inch to pierce. Yet not 
one came out. On opening the logs I found all my cap- 
tives dead. A pinch of sawdust represented all they 
had done. 

I had expected more from their sturdy mandibles. 
In spite of their boring-tools the hermits died for lack of 

[218] 



THE CAPRICORN 

skill. I tried enclosing some in reed-stumps, but even 
this comparatively easy work was too much for them. 
Some freed themselves, but others failed. 

Notwithstanding his stalwart appearance the Capri- 
corn cannot leave the tree-trunk by his own unaided 
efforts. The truth is that his way is prepared for him by 
the grub — that bit of intestine. 

Some presentiment — to us an unfathomable mystery 
' — causes the Capricorn-grub to leave its peaceful strong- 
hold in the very heart of the oak and wriggle towards 
the outside, where its foe the Woodpecker is quite likely 
to gobble it up. At the risk of its life it stubbornly digs 
and gnaws to the very bark. It leaves only the thinnest 
film, the slenderest screen, between itself and the world 
at large. Sometimes, even, the rash one opens the door- 
way wide. 

This is the Capricorn's way out. The insect has but 
to file the screen a little with his mandibles, to bump 
against it with his forehead, in order to bring it down. 
He will even have nothing at all to do when the door- 
way is open, as often happens. The unskilled car- 
penter, burdened with his extravagant head-dress, will 
come out from the darkness through this opening when 
the summer heat arrives. 

As soon as the grub has attended to the important 
business of making a doorway into the world, it begins 
to busy itself with its transformation into a Beetle. 

[219] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

First, it requires space for the purpose. So it retreats 
some distance down its gallery, and in the side of the 
passage digs itself a trairsformation-chamber more sump- 
tuously furnished and barricaded than any I have ever 
seen. It is a riximy hollow with curved walls, three to 
four inches in length and wider than it is high. The 
width of the cell gives the insect a certain degree of 
freedom of movement when the time comes for forcing 
the barricade, which is more than a close-fitting case 
would do. 

The barricade — a door which the larva builds as a 
protection from danger — is twofold, and often three- 
fold. Outside, it is a stack of woody refuse, of particles 
of chopped timber; inside, a mineral lid, a concave cover, 
all in one piece, of a chalky white. Pretty often, but 
not always, there is added to these two layers an inner 
casing of shavings. 

Behind this threefold door the larva makes its arrange- 
ments for its transformation. The sides of the chamber 
are scraped, thus providing a sort of down formed of 
ravelled woody fibres, broken into tiny shreds. This 
velvety stuff is fixed on the wall, in a thick coating, as 
fast as it is made. The chamber is thus padded through- 
out with a fine swan's-down, a delicate precaution taken 
by the rough grub out of kindness for the tender creature 
it will become when it has cast its skin. 

Let us now go back to the most curious part ot the 

[220] 



THE CAPRICORN 

furnishing, the cover or inner door of the entrance. It 
is like an oval skull-cap, white and hard as chalk, smooth 
within and rough without, with some resemblance to 
an acorn-cup. The rough knots show that the material 
is supplied in small, pasty mouthfuls, which become solid 
outside in little lumps. The animal does not remove 
them, because it is unable to get at them; but the inside 
surface is polished, being within the grub's reach. This 
singular lid is as hard and brittle as a flake of limestone. 
It IS, as a matter of fact, composed solely of carbonate 
of hme, and a sort of cement which gives consistency to 
the chalky paste. 

I am convinced that this stony deposit comes from a 
particular part of the grub's stomach, called the chylific 
ventricle. The chalk is kept separate from the food, 
and is held in reserve until the right time comes to dis- 
charge it. This freestone factory causes me no astonish- 
ment. It serves for various chemical works in different 
grubs when undergoing transformation. Certain Oil- 
beetles keep refuse in it, and several kinds of Wasps use 
it to manufacture the shellac with which they varnish the 
silk of their cocoons. 

When the exit way is prepared, and the cell uphol- 
stered in velvet and closed with a threefold barricade, 
the industrious grub has finished its task. It lays aside 
its tools, sheds its skin, and becomes a pupa — weakness 
personified, in the swaddling-clothes of a cocoon. The 

[221] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

head is always turned towards the door. This is a 
triHing detail in appearance; but in reality it is every- 
thing. To lie this way or that in the long cell is a matter 
of great indifference to the grub, which is very supple, 
turning easily in its narrow lodging and adopting what- 
ever position it pleases. The coming Capricorn will not 
enjoy the same privileges. Stiffly encased in his horny 
armour, he will not be able to turn from end to end; he 
will not even be capable of bending, if some sudden 
curve should make the passage difficult. He must, 
without fail, find the door in front of him, or he 
will perish in the transformation-room. If the grub 
should forget this little matter, and lie down to sleep 
with its head at the back of the cell, the Capricorn would 
be infallibly lost. His cradle would become a hopeless 
dungeon. 

But there is no fear of this danger. The "bit of in- 
testine" knows too much about the future to neglect the 
formality of keeping its head at the door. At the end 
of spring the Capricorn, now in possession of his full 
strength, dreams of the joys of the sun, of the festivals 
of light. He wants to get out. 

What does he find before him'? First, a heap of 
filings easily dispersed with his claws; next, a stone lid 
which he need not even break into fragments, for it comes 
undone in one piece. It is removed from its frame with 
a few pushes of the forehead, a few tugs of the claws. 

r222"| 



THE CAPRICORN 

In fact, I find the lid intact on the threshold of the 
abandoned cell. Last comes a second mass of woody 
remnants as easy to scatter as the first. The road is now 
free : the Capricorn has but to follow the wide vestibule, 
which will lead him, without any possibility of mistake, 
to the outer exit. Should the doorway not be open, all 
that he has to do is to gnaw through a thin screen, an 
easy task. Behold him outside, his long antennae quiver- 
ing with excitement. 

What have we learnt from him? Nothing from him, 
but much from his grub. This grub, so poor in organs 
of sensation, gives us much to think about. It knows 
that the coming Beetle will not be able to cut himself 
a road through the oak, and it therefore opens one for 
him at its own risk and peril. It knows that the Capri- 
corn, in his stiif armour, will never be able to turn round 
and make for the opening of the cell; and it takes care to 
fall into its sleep of transformation with its head towards 
the door. It knows how soft the pupa's flesh will be, 
and it upholsters the bedroom with velvet. It knows 
that the enemy is likely to break in during the slow work 
of the transformation, and so, to make a protection 
against attack, it stores lime inside its stomach. It 
knows the future with a clear vision, or, to be accurate, 
it behaves as if it knew the future. 

What makes it act in this way? It is certainly not 
taught by the experiences of its senses. What does it 

[223] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

know of the outside world? I repeat — as much as a 
bit of intestine can know. And this senseless creature 
astounds us I I regret that the philosopher Cbndillac, 
instead of creating a statue that could smell a rose, did 
not gift it with an instinct. How soon he would have 
seen that the animals — including man — have powers 
quite apart from the senses; inspirations that are born 
with them, and are not the result of learning. 

This curious life and this marvellous foresight are not 
confined to one kind of grub. Besides the Capricorn of 
the Oak there is the Capricorn of the Cherry-tree. In 
appearance the latter is an exact copy of the former, on 
a much smaller scale; but the little Capricorn has dif- 
ferent tastes from its large kinsman's. If we search the 
heart of the cherry-tree it does not show us a single grub 
anywhere: the entire population lives between the bark 
and the wood. This habit is only varied when trans- 
formation is at hand. Then the grub of the cherry-tree 
leaves the surface, and scoops out a cavity at a depth of 
about two inches. Here the walls are bare: they are 
not lined with the velvety fibres dear to the Cap- 
ricorn of the Oak. The entrance is blocked, however, 
by sawdust, and a chalky lid similar to the other except 
in point of size. Need I add that the grub lies down 
and goes to sleep with his head against the door'? Not 
one forgets to take this precaution. 

Tiicre is also a Saperda of the Poplar and a Saperda 

[224] 



THE CAPRICORN 

of the Cherry-tree. They have the same organisation 
and the same tools ; but the former follows the methods 
of the Capricorn of the Oak, while the latter imitates the 
Capricorn of the Cherry-tree. 

The poplar-tree is also inhabited by the Bronze Bu- 
prestis, which takes no defensive measures before going 
to sleep. It makes no barricade, no heap of shavings. 
And in the apricot-tree the Nine-spotted Buprestis be- 
haves in the same way. In this case the grub is inspired 
by its intuitions to alter its plan of work to suit the 
coming Beetle. The perfect insect is a cylinder; the 
grub is a strap, a ribbon. The former, which wears 
unyielding armour, needs a cylindrical passage; the 
latter needs a very low tunnel, with a roof that it can 
reach with the pads on its back. The grub therefore 
changes its manner of boring: yesterday the gallery, 
suited to a wandering life in the thickness of the wood, 
was a wide burrow with a very low ceiling, almost a slot; 
to-day the passage is cylindrical. A gimlet could not 
bore it more accurately. This sudden change in the 
system of roadmaking on behalf of the coming insect 
once more shows us the foresight of this "bit of intes- 
tme. 

I could tell you of many other wood-eaters. Their 
tools are the same; yet each species displays special 
methods, tricks of the trade that have nothing to do with 
the tools. These grubs, then, like so many insects, show 

[225] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

us riiat instinct is not made by the tools, so to speak, 
but that the same tools may be used in various ways. 

To continue the subject would be monotonous. The 
general rule stands out very clearly from these facts: 
the wood-eating grubs prepare the path of deliverance 
for the perfect insect, which will merely have to pass 
a barricade of shavings or pierce a screen of bark. By 
a curious reversal of the usual state of things, infancy 
is here the season of energy, of strong tools, of stubborn 
work; mature age is the season of leisure, of indus- 
trial ignorance, of idle diversions, without trade or pro- 
fession. The providence of the human infant is the 
mother; here the baby grub is the mother's providence. 
With its patient tooth, which neither the peril of the 
outside world nor the difficult task of boring through 
hard wood is able to discourage, it clears away for her 
to the supreme delights of the sun. 



[226] 



CHAPTER Xy 



LOCUSTS 



THEIR VALUE 

MIND you're ready, children, to-morrow morn- 
ing before the sun gets too hot. We're 
going Locust-hunting." 
This announcement throws the household into great 
excitement at bed-time. What do my little helpers see 
in their dreams? Blue wings, red wings, suddenly 
flung out like fans; long saw-toothed legs, pale blue or 
pink, which kick out when we hold their owners in our 
fingers; great shanks that act like springs, and make 
the insect leap forward as though shot from a catapult. 

If there be one peaceful and safe form of hunting, 
one in which both old age and childhood can share, it 
is Locust-hunting. What delicious mornings we owe to 
it I How delightful, when the mulberries are ripe, to 
pick them from the bushes! What excursions we have 
had, on the slopes covered with thin, tough grass, burnt 
yellow by the sun! I have vivid memories of such 
mornings, and my children will have them too. 

[227] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

Little Paul has nimble legs, a ready hand, and a 
piercing eye. He inspects the clumps of everlastings, 
and peers closely into the bushes. Suddenly a big Grey 
Locust flies out like a little bird. The hunter first makes 
off at full speed, then stops and gazes in wonder at this 
mock Swallow flying far away. He will have better 
luck another time. We shall not go home without a few 
of those magnificent prizes. 

Marie Pauline, who is younger than her brother, 
watches patiently for the Italian Locust, with his pink 
wings and carmine hind-legs; but she really prefers an- 
other, the most ornamented of them' all. Her favourite 
wears a St. Andrew's cross on the small of his back, which 
is marked by four white, slanting stripes. He wears, 
too, patches of green, the colour of verdigris on bronze. 
With her hand raised in the air, ready to swoop down, 
she approaches very softly, stooping low. Whoosh! 
That's done it! The treasure is quickly thrust head- 
first into a paper funnel, and plunges with one bound 
to the bottom of it. 

One by one our boxes are filled. Before the heat be- 
comes too great to bear we are in possession of a number 
of specimens. Imprisoned in my cages, perhaps they 
will teach us something. In any case the Locusts have 
given pleasure to three people at a small cost. 

Locusts have a bad reputation, I know. The text- 
books describe them as noxious. I take the liberty of 

[228] 



LOCUSTS 

doubting whether they deserve this reproach, except, of 
course, in the case of the terrible ravagers who are the 
scourge of Africa and the East. Their ill repute has 
been fastened on all Locusts, though they are, I consider, 
more useful than harmful. As far as I know, our 
peasants have never complained of them. What dam- 
age do they do? 

They nibble the tops of the tough grasses which the 
Sheep refuses to touch; they prefer the thin, poor grass 
to the fat pastures; they browse on barren land that can 
support none but them ; they live on food that no stomach 
but theirs could use. 

Besides, by the time they frequent the fields the green 
wheat — the only thing that might tempt them — has 
long ago yielded its grain and disappeared. If they 
happen to get into the kitchen-gardens and take a few 
bites, it is not a crime. A man can console himself for 
a piece bitten out of a leaf or two of salad. 

To measure the importance of things by one's own 
turnip-patch is a horrible method. The short-sighted 
man would upset the order of the universe rather than 
sacrifice a dozen plums. If he thinks of the insect at all, 
it is only to kill it. 

And yet, think what the consequences would be if all 
the Locusts were killed. In September and October the 
Turkeys are driven into the stubble, under charge of a 
child armed with two long reeds. The expanse over 

[229] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

which the gobbling flock slowly spreads is bare, dry, and 
burnt by the sun. At the most, a few ragged thistles 
raise their heads. What do the birds do in this famine- 
stricken desert? They cram themselves, that they may 
do honour to the Christmas table; they wax fat; their 
flesh becomes firm and good to eat. And pray, what do 
they cram themselves with? With Locusts. They 
snap them up, one here one there, till their greedy crops 
are filled with the delicious stuffing, which costs nothing, 
though its rich flavour will greatly improve the Christ- 
mas Turkey. 

When the Guinea-fowl roams about the farm, uttering 
her rasping cry, what is it she seeks? Seeds, no doubt; 
but above all Locusts, which puff her out under the wings 
with a pad of fat, and give a better flavour to her flesh. 
The Hen, too, much to our advantage, is just as fond of 
them. She well knows the virtues of that dainty dish, 
which acts as a tonic and makes her lay more eggs. 
When left at liberty she rarely fails to lead her family 
to the stubble-fields, so that they may learn to snap up 
the nice mouthful skilfully. In fact, every bird in the 
poultry-yard finds the Locust a valuable addition to his 
bill of fare. 

It is still more important outside the poultry-yard. 
Any who is a sportsman, and knows the value of the Red- 
legged Patridge, the glory of our southern hills, should 
open the crop of the bird he has just shot. He will find 

[230] 



LOCUSTS 

it, nine times out of ten, more or less crammed with 
Locusts. The Partridge dotes on them, preferring them 
to seeds as long as he can catch them. This highly- 
flavoured, nourishing fare would almost make him forget 
the existence of seeds, if it were only there all the year 
round. 

The Wheat-ear, too, who is so good to eat, prefers the 
Locust to any other food. And all the little birds of 
passage which, when autumn comes, call a halt in 
Provence before their great pilgrimage, fatten them- 
selves with Locusts as a preparation for the journey. 

Nor does man himself scorn them. An Arab author 
tells us : 

"Grasshoppers" — (he means Locusts) — "are of good 
nourishment for men and Camels. Their claws, wings, 
and head are taken away, and they are eaten fresh or 
dried, either roast or boiled, and served with flesh, flour, 
and herbs. 

". . . Camels eat them greedily, and are given them 
dried or roast, heaped in a hollow between two layers of 
charcoal. Thus also do the Nubians eat them. . . . 

"Once, when the Caliph Omar was asked if it were 
lawful to eat Grasshoppers, he made answer: 

" 'Would that I had a basket of them to eat.' " 

"Wherefore, from this testimony, it is very sure that, 
by the Grace of God, Grasshoppers were given to man 
for his nourishment." 

[231] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

Without going as far as the Arab I feel prepared to say 
that the Locust is a gift of God to a multitude of birds. 
Reptiles also hold him in esteem. I have found him in 
the stomach of the Eyed Lizard, and have often caught 
the little Grey Lizard of the walls in the act of carrying 
him off. 

Even the fish revel in him, when good fortune brings 
him to them. The Locust leaps blindly, and without 
definite aim: he comes down wherever he is shot by the 
springs in his legs. If the place where he falls happens 
to be water, a fish gobbles him up at once. Anglers 
sometimes bait their hooks with a specially attractive 
Locust. 

As for his being fit nourishment for man, except in the 
form of Partridge and young Turkey, I am a little 
doubtful. Omar, the mighty Caliph who destroyed the 
library of Alexandria, wished for a basket of Locusts, it 
is true, but his digestion was evidently better than his 
brains. Long before his day St. John the Baptist lived 
in the desert on Locusts and wild honey; but in his case 
they were not eaten because they were good. 

Wild honey from the pots of the Mason-bees is very 
agreeable food, I know. Wishing to taste the Locust 
also I once caught some, and had them cooked as the Arab 
author advised. We all of us, big and little, tried the 
queer dish at dinner. It was much nicer than the Cicad;£ 
praised by Aristotle. I would go to the length of saying 



LOCUSTS 

it is good — without, however, feeling any desire for 
more. 

II 

THEIR MUSICAL TALENT 

The Locust possesses musical powers wherewith to 
express his joys. Consider him at rest, blissfully digest- 
ing his meal and enjoying the sunshine. With sharp 
strokes of the bow, three or four times repeated with a 
pause between, he plays his tune. He scrapes his sides 
with his great hind-legs, using now one, now the other, 
and now both at a time. 

The result is very poor, so slight indeed that I am 
obliged to make use of little Paul's sharp ear to make 
sure that there is a sound at all. Such as it is, it is like 
the squeaking of a needle-point pushed across a sheet of 
paper. Their you have the whole song, which is very 
nearly silence. 

We can expect no more than this from the Locust's 
very unfinished instrument. There is nothing here like 
the Cricket's toothed bow and sounding-board. The 
lower edge of the wing-cases is rubbed by the thighs, but 
though both wing-cases and thighs are powerful they have 
no roughnesses to supply friction, and there is no sign of 
teeth. 

This artless attempt at a musical instrument can pro- 

[233] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

duce no more sound than a dry membrane will emit when 
you rub it yourself. And for the sake of this small result 
the insect lifts and lowers its thigh in sharp jerks, and 
appears perfectly satisfied. It rubs its sides very much 
as we rub our hands together in sign of contentment, 
with no intention of making a sound. That is its own 
particular way of expressing its joy in life. 

Observe the Locust when the sky is partly covered with 
clouds, and the sun shines only at times. There comes a 
rift in the clouds. At once the thighs begin to scrape, be- 
coming more and more active as the sun grows hotter. 
The strains are brief, but they are repeated as long as the 
sunshine continues. The sky becomes overcast. Then 
and there the song ceases; but is renewed with the next 
gleam of sunlight, always in brief outburst. There is no 
mistaking it: here, in these fond lovers of the light, we 
have a mere expression of happiness. The Locust has his 
moments of gaiety when his crop is full and the sun is 
kind. 

Not all the Locusts indulge in this joyous rubbing. 

The Tryxalis, who has a pair of immensely long hind- 
legs, keeps up a gloomy silence when even the sunshine is 
brightest. I have never seen him move his shanks like 
a bow ; he seems unable to use them — so long are they — 
for anything but hopping. 

The big Grey Locust, who often visits me in the en- 
closure, even in the depth of winter, is also dumb in 

[234] 



LOCUSTS 

consequence of the excessive length of his legs. But he 
has a peculiar way of diverting himself. In calm 
weather, when the sun is hot, I surprise him in the rose- 
mary bushes with his wings unfurled and fluttering 
rapidly, as though for flight. He keeps up this per- 
formance for a quarter of an hour at a time. His flutter- 
ing is so gentle, in spite of its extreme speed, that it 
creates hardly any rustling sound. 

Others are still worse off. One of these is the 
Pedestrian Locust, who strolls on foot on the ridges of 
the Ventoux amid sheets of Alpine flowers, silvery, 
white, and rosy. His colouring is as fresh as that of the 
flowers. The sunlight, which is clearer on those heights 
than it is below, has made him a costume combining 
beauty with simplicity. His body is pale brown above 
and yellow below, his big thighs are coral red, his hind- 
legs a glorious azure-blue, with an ivory anklet in front. 
But in spite of being such a dandy he wears too short a 
coat. 

His wing-cases are merely wrinkled slips, and his 
wings no more than stumps. He is hardly covered as far 
as the waist. Any one seeing him for the first time takes 
him for a larva, but he is indeed the full-grown insect, 
and he will wear this incomplete garment to the end. 

With this skimpy jacket of course, music is impossible 
to him. The big thighs are there; but there are no 
wing-cases, no grating edge for the bow to rub upon. 

[235] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

The other Locusts cannot be described as noisy, but this 
one is absolutely dumb. In vain have the most delicate 
ears listened with all their might. This silent one must 
have other means of expressing his joys. What they 
are I do not know. 

Nor do I know why the insect remains wthout wings, 
a plodding wayfarer, when his near kinsmen on the same 
Alpine slopes have excellent means of flying. He 
possesses the beginnings of wings and wing-cases, gifts 
inherited by the larva; but he does not develop these 
beginnings and make use of them. He persists in 
hopping, with no further ambition: he is satisfied to go 
on foot, to remain -a Pedestrian Locust, when he might, 
one would think, acquire wings. To flit rapidly from 
crest to crest, over valleys deep in snow, to fly from one 
pasture to another, would certainly be great advantages 
to him. His fellow-dwellers on the mountain-tops 
possess wings and are all the better for them. It would 
be very profitable to extract from their sheaths the sails 
he keeps packed away in useless stumps; and he does 
not do it. Why? 

No one knows why. Anatomy has these puzzles, these 
surprises, these sudden leaps, which defy our curiosity. 
In the presence of such profound problems the best thing 
is to bow in all humility, and pass on. 

[236] 



LOCUSTS 

III 

THELR EARLY DAYS 

The Locust mother Is not, in all cases, a model of 
affection. The Italian Locust, having laboriously half- 
buried herself in the sand, lays her eggs there and 
immediately bounds away. She gives not a look at the 
eggs, nor makes the least attempt to cover the hole where 
they lie. It closes of its own accord, as best it can, by the 
natural falling-in of the sand. It is an extremely casual 
performance, marked by an utter absence of maternal 
care. 

Others do not forsake their eggs so recklessly. The 
ordinary Locust with the blue-and-black wings, for in- 
stance, after leaving her eggs in the sand, lifts her hind- 
legs high, sweeps some sand into the hole, and presses it 
down by stamping it rapidly. It is a pretty sight to 
watch the swift action of her slender legs, giving alter- 
nate kicks to the opening they are plugging. With 
this lively trampling the entrance to the home is closed 
and hidden away. The hole that contains the eggs 
completely disappears, so that no ill-intentioned creature 
could find it by sight alone. 

Nor is this all. The power that works the two 
rammers lies in the hinder thighs, which, as they rise and 

[237] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

fall, scrape lightly against the edge of the wing-cases. 
This scraping produces a faint sound, similar to that 
with which the insect placidly lulls itself to sleep in the 
sun. 

The Hen salutes with a song of gladness the egg she 
just laid; she announces her performance to the whole 
neighbourhood. The Locust celebrates the same event 
with her thin scraper. "I have buried underground," 
she says, "the treasure of the future." 

Having made the nest safe she leaves the spot, 
refreshes herself after her exertions with a few mouth- 
fuls of green stuff, and prepares to begin again. 

The Grey Locust mother is armed at the tip of her 
body — and so are other female Locusts in varying 
degrees — with four short tools, arranged in pairs and 
shaped like a hooked fingernail. On the upper pair, 
which are larger than the others, these hooks are turned 
upwards; on the lower and smaller pair they are turned 
downwards. They form a sort of claw, and are scooped 
out slightly, like a spoon. These are the pick-axes, the 
boring-tools with which the Grey Locust works. With 
these she bites into the soil, lifting the dry earth a little, 
as quietly as if she were digging in soft mould. She 
might be working in butter; and yet what the bore digs 
into is hard, unyielding earth. 

The best site for laying the eggs is not always found 
at the first attempt. I have seen the mother make five 

[238] 



ITALIAN LOCUSTS 
7 have buried underground," she says, "the treasure of the 

future" 



LOCUSTS 

wells one after the other before finding a suitable place. 
When at last the business is over, and the insect begins 
to rise from the hole in which she is partly buried, one 
can see that she is covering her eggs with milk-white 
foam, similar to that of the Mantis. 

This foamy matter often forms a button at the en- 
trance to the well, a knot which stands up and attracts 
the eye by its whiteness against the grey background of 
the soil. It is soft and sticky, but hardens pretty soon. 
When this closing button is finished the mother moves 
away and troubles no more about her eggs, of which she 
lays a fresh batch elsewhere after a few days. 

Sometimes the foamy paste does not reach the sur- 
face; it stops some way down, and before long is covered 
with the sand that slips from the edge. But in the case 
of my Locusts in captivity I always know, even when 
it is concealed, exactly where the barrel of eggs lies. 
Its structure is always the same, though there are varia- 
tions in detail. It is always a sheath of solidified foam. 
Inside, there is nothing but foam and eggs. The eggs 
all lie in the lower portion, packed one on top of 
another; and the upper part consists only of soft, yield- 
ing foam. This portion plays an important part when 
the young larvae are hatched. I will call it the ascend- 
ing-shaft. 

The wonderful egg-casket of the Mantis is not the 
result of any special talent which the mother can ex- 

[239] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

crcise at will. It is due to mechanism. It happens 
of itself. In the same way the Locusts have no in- 
dustry of their own, especially devised for laying eggs 
in a keg of froth. The foam is produced with the eggs, 
and the arrangement of eggs at the bottom and centre, 
and froth on the outside and the top, is purely 
mechanical. 

There are many Locusts whose egg-cases have to 
last through the winter, since they do not open until 
the fine weather returns. Though the soil is loose and 
dusty at first, it becomes caked together by the winter 
rains. Supposing that the hatching takes place a couple 
of inches below the surface, how is this crust, this hard 
ceiling, to be broken'? How is the larva to come up 
from below? The mother's unconscious art has ar- 
ranged for that. 

The young Locust finds above him, when he comes 
out of the egg, not rough sand and hardened earth, but 
a straight tunnel, with solid walls that keep all difficul- 
ties away. This ascending-shaft is full of foam, which 
the larva can easily penetrate, and which will bring 
him quite close to the surface. Here only a finger's- 
breadth of serious work remains to be done. 

The greater part of the journey, therefore, is ac- 
complished without effort. Though the Locust's build- 
ing is done quite mechanically, without the least in- 
telligence, it is certainly singularly well devised. 

1^40 J 



LOCUSTS 

The little creature has now to complete his deliv- 
erance. On leaving his shell he is of a whitish colour, 
clouded with light red. His progress is made by worm- 
like movements; and, so that it may be as easy as pos- 
sible, he is hatched, like the young Grasshopper, in a 
temporary jacket which keeps his antennae and legs 
closely fixed to his body. Like the White-faced 
Decticus he keeps his boring-tool at his neck. Here 
there is a kind of tumour that swells and subsides 
alternately, and strikes the obstacle before it as regularly 
as a piston. When I see this soft bladder trying to 
overcome the hardness of the earth I come to the un- 
happy creature's aid, and damp the layer of soil. 

Even then the work is terribly hard. How it must 
labour, the poor little thing, how it must persevere with 
its throbbing head and writhing loins, before it can clear 
a passage for itself! The wee mite's eiforts show us 
plainly that the journey to the light of day is an enor- 
mous undertaking, in which the greater number would 
die but for the help of the exit-tunnel, the mother's 
work. 

When the tiny insect reaches the surface at last, it 
rests for a moment to recover from all that fatigue. 
Then suddenly the blister swells and throbs, and the 
temporary jacket splits. The rags are pushed back 
by the hind-legs, which are the last to be stripped. The 

[241] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

thing is done: the creature is free, pale in colouring as 
yet, but possessing its final form as a larva. 

Immediately the hind-legs, hitherto stretched in a 
straight line, fall into the correct position. The legs 
fold under the great thighs, and the spring is ready to 
work. It works. Little Locust makes his entrance into 
the world, and hops for the first time. I offer him a 
bit of lettuce the size of my fingernail. He refuses 
it. Before taking nourishment he must first mature 
and grow in the sun. 

IV 
THEIR FINAL CHANGE 

I have just beheld a stirring sight: the last change 
of a Locust, the full-grown insect emerging from his 
larval skin. It is magnificent. The object of my 
enthusiasm is the Grey Locust, the giant who is so 
common on the vines at vintage-time, in September. 
On account of his size — he is as long as my finger — he 
is easier to observe than any other of his tribe. The 
event took place in one of my cages. 

The fat, ungraceful larva, a rough sketch of the per- 
fect insect, is usually pale green; but some are blue- 
green, dirty yellow, red-brown, or even ashen-grey, like 
the grey of the full-grown Locust. The hind-legs, 
which are as powerful as those of mature age, have a 

[242] 



LOCUSTS 

great haunch striped with red and a long shank shaped 
like a two-edged saw. 

The wing-cases are at present two skimpy, trian- 
gular pinions, of which the free ends stand up like 
pointed gables. These two coat-tails, of which the 
material seems to have been clipped short with ridiculous 
meanness, just cover the creature's nakedness at the 
small of the back, and shelter two lean strips, the germs 
of the wings. In brief, the sumptuous slender sails 
of the near future are at present sheer rags, of such 
meagre size as to be grotesque. From these miserable 
envelopes there will come a marvel of stately elegance. 

The first thing to be done is to burst the old tunic. 
All along the corselet of the insect there is a line that 
is weaker than the rest of the skin. Waves of blood 
can be seen throbbing within, rising and falling alter- 
nately, distending the skin until at last it splits at the 
line of least resistance, and opens as though the two 
symmetrical halves had been soldered. The split is 
continued some little way back, and runs between the 
fastenings of the wings: it goes up the head as far as 
the base of the antennae, where it sends a short branch 
to right and left. 

Through this break the back is seen, quite soft, pale, 
hardly tinged with grey. Slowly it swells into a larger 
and larger hunch. At last it is wholly released. The 
head follows, pulled out of its mask, which remains 

[243] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

In its place, intact in the smallest particular, but look- 
ing strange with its great eyes that do not see. The 
sheaths of the antennie, without a wrinkle, with nothing 
out of order, and with their usual position unchanged, 
hang over this dead face, which is now half transparent. 

This means that the antennre within, although fitted 
into narrow sheaths that enclose them as precisely as 
gloves, are able to withdraw without disturbing the 
covers in the smallest degree, or even wrinkling them. 
The contents manage to slip out as easily as a smooth, 
straight object could slip from a loose sheath. This 
mechanism is even more remarkable in the case of the 
hind-legs. 

Now it is the turn of the fore-legs and intermediary 
legs to shed their armlets and gauntlets, always without 
the least rent, however small, without a crease of rumpled 
material, or a trace of any change in the natural position. 
The insect is now fixed to the top of the cage only by the 
claws of the long hind-legs. It hangs perpendicularly 
by four tiny hooks, head downwards, and it swings like a 
pendulum if I touch the wire-gauze. 

The wing-cases and wings now emerge. These are 
four narrow strips, faintly grooved and looking like bits 
of paper ribbon. At this stage they are scarcely a quarter 
of their final length. They are so limp that they bend 
under their own weight and sprawl along the insect's sides 
in the wrong direction, with their points towards the head 

[244] 



LOCUSTS 

of the Locust. Imagine four blades of thick grass, bent 
and battered by a rain-storm, and you will have a fair 
picture of the pitiable bunch formed by the future wings. 

The hind-legs are next released. The great thighs 
appear, tinted on their inner surface with pale pink, 
which will soon turn into a streak of bright crimson. 
They come out of the sheath quite easily, for the thick 
haunch makes way for the tapering knuckle. 

The shank is a different matter. The shank of the 
full-grown insect bristles throughout its length with a 
double row of hard, pointed spikes. Moreover, the lower 
extremity ends in four large spurs. It is a genuine saw, 
but with two parallel sets of teeth. 

Now this awkwardly shaped skin is enclosed in a sheath 
that is formed in exactly the same way. Each spur is 
fitted into a similar spur, each tooth into the hollow of a 
similar tooth. And the sheath is as close and as thin as a 
coat of varnish. 

Nevertheless the saw-like skin slips out of its long 
narrow case without catching in it at any point whatever. 
If I had not seen this happen over and over again I could 
never have believed it. The saw does no injury to the 
dainty scabbard which a puff of my breath is enough to 
tear; the formidable rake slips through without leaving 
the least scratch behind it. 

One would expect that, because of the spiked armour, 
the envelope of the leg would strip off in scales coming 

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FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

loose of themselves, or would be rubbed off like dead 
skin. But the reality exceeds all possible expectation. 
From the spurs and spikes of the infinitely thin envelope 
there are drawn spurs and spikes so strong that they 
can cut soft wood. This is done without violence, the 
discarded skin remains where it was, hanging by the 
claws to the top of the cage, uncreased and untorn. The 
magnifying-glass shows not a trace of rough usage. 

If it were suggested that one should draw out a saw 
from some sort of gold-beater's skin sheath which had 
been exactly moulded on the steel, and that one should 
perform the operation without making the least tear, 
one would simply laugh. The thing would be im- 
possible. Yet Nature makes light of such im- 
possibilities; she can realise the absurd, in case of need. 

The difficulty is overcome in this way. While the leg 
is being liberated it is not rigid, as it will presently be. 
It is soft and highly flexible. Where it is exposed to 
view I see it bending and curving: it is as supple as 
elastic cord. And farther on, where it is hidden, it is 
certainly still softer, it is almost fluid. The teeth of the 
saw are there, but have none of their future sharpness. 
The spikes lie backwards when the leg is about to be 
drawn back: as it emerges they stand up and become 
solid. A few minutes later the leg has attained the 
proper state of stiffness. 

And now the fine tunic is wrinkled and rumpled, and 

[246] 



LOCUSTS 

pushed back along the body towards the tip. Except at 
this point the Locust is bare. After a rest of twenty 
minutes he makes a supreme effort; he raises himself as 
he hangs, and grabs hold of his cast skin. Then he 
climbs higher, and fixes himself to the wire of the cage 
with his four front feet. He loosens the empty husk 
with one last shake, and it falls to the ground. The 
Locust's transformation is conducted in much the same 
way as the Cicada's. 

The insect is now standing erect, and therefore the 
flexible wings are in the right position. They are no 
longer curved backwards like the petals of a flower, they 
are no longer upside down; but they still look shabby 
and insignificant. All that we see is a few wrinkles, a 
few winding furrows, which tell us that the stumps are 
bundles of cunningly folded material, arranged so as 
to take up as little space as possible. 

Very gradually they expand, so gradually that their 
unfolding cannot be seen even under the microscope. 
The process continues for three hours. Then the wings 
and wing-cases stand up on the Locust's back like a huge 
set of sails, sometimes colourless, sometimes pale-green, 
like the Cicada's wings at the beginning. One is amazed 
at their size when one thinks of the paltry bundles that 
represented them at first. How could so much stuff find 
room there? 

The fairy tale tells us of a grain of hempseed that 

[247] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

contained the under-linen of a princess. Here is a grain 
that is even more astonishing. The one in the story 
took years and years to sprout and multiply, till at last 
it yielded the hemp required for the trousseau: the 
Locust's tiny bundle supplies a sumptuous set of sails 
in three hours. They are formed of exquisitely fine 
gauze, a network of innumerable tiny bars. 

In the wing of the larva we can see only a few un- 
certain outlines of the future lace-work. There is no- 
thing to suggest the marvellous fabric whose every mesh 
will have its form and place arranged for it, 'with 
absolute exactness. Yet it is there, as the oak is inside 
the acorn. 

There must be something to make the matter of the 
wing shape itself into a sheet of gauze, into a labyrinth 
of meshes. There must be an original plan, an ideal 
pattern which gives each atom its proper place. The 
stones of our buildings are arranged in accordance with 
the architect's plan; they form an imaginary building be- 
fore they exist as a real one. In the same way a Locust's 
wing, that sumptuous piece of lace emerging from a 
miserable sheath, speaks to us of another Architect, the 
Author of the plans which Nature must follow in her 
labours. 



[248] 



CHAPTER XVI 

THE ANTHRAX FLY 

I 

A STRANGE MEAL 

I MADE the acquaintance of the Anthrax in 1855 at 
Carpentras, when I was searching the slopes of 
which I have already told you, the slopes beloved 
of the Anthophora-bees. Her curious pupa, so power- 
fully equipped to force an outlet for the perfect insect, 
which is incapable of the least effort, seemed worthy of 
investigation. For that pupa is armed with a plough- 
share in front, a trident at its tail, and rows of harpoons 
on its back, with which to rip open the Osmia-bee's cocoon 
and break through the hard crust of the hill-side. 

Let us, some day in July, knock away the pebbles that 
fasten the nests of the Mason-bees to the sloping ground 
on which they are built. Loosened by the shock, the 
dome comes off cleanly, all in one piece. Moreover — 
and this is a great advantage — the cells are all exposed 
at the base of the nest, for at this point they have no other 
wall than the surface of the pebble. Without any scrap- 
ing, which would be wearisome work for us and danger- 
ous to the Bees, we have all the cells before our eyes, to- 

[249] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

gethcr with their contents — a silky, amber-yellow cocoon, 
as delicate and transparent as the skin of an onion. Let 
us split the dainty wrappers with the scissors, cell by cell, 
one after another. If fortune be at all kind, as it always 
is to the persevering, we shall end by finding cocoons 
harbouring two larvje together, one more or less faded 
in appearance, the other fresh and plump. We shall also 
find some, no less plentiful, in which the withered larva 
is accompanied by a family of little grubs wriggling un- 
easily round it. 

It is easy to see that a tragedy is happening under the 
cover of the cocoon. The flabby, faded larva is the 
Mason-bee's. A month ago, in June, having finished 
its ration of honey, it wove itself a silken sheath in which 
to take the long sleep that precedes its transformation. 
It was bulging with fat, and was a rich and a defenceless 
morsel for any enemy that could reach it. And enemies 
did reach it. In spite of obstacles that might well seem 
insurmountable, the wall of mortar and dome-shaped 
cover, the enemy grubs appeared in the secret retreat, and 
began to eat the sleeper. Three different species take 
part in this murderous work, often in the same nest, in 
adjoining cells. We will concern ourselves only with 
the Anthrax Fly. 

The grub, when it has eaten its victim and is left alone 
in the Mason-bee's cocoon, is a naked worm, smooth, leg- 
less, and blind. It is creamy-white, and each of its 



THE ANTHRAX FLY 

segments or divisions forms a perfect ring, very much 
curved when at rest, but almost straight when disturbed. 
Including the head I can count thirteen segments, well- 
marked in the middle of the body, but in the fore-part 
difficult to distinguish. The white, soft head shows no 
sign of any mouth, and is no bigger than a tiny pin's 
head. The grub has four pale red stigmata, or openings 
through which to breathe, two in front and two behind, 
as is the rule among Flies. It has no walking-apparatus 
whatever; it is absolutely incapable of shifting its 
position. If I disturb its rest, it curves and straightens 
itself alternately, tossing about violently where it lies; 
but it does not manage to progress. 

But the most interesting point about the grub of the 
Anthrax is its manner of eating. A most unexpected 
fact attracts our attention : the curious ease with which 
this larva leaves and returns to the Bee-grub on which it 
is feeding. After watching flesh-eating grubs at 
hundreds and hundreds of meals, I suddenly find myself 
confronted with a manner of eating that is entirely un- 
like anything I ever saw before. 

This, for instance, is the Amophila-grub's way of de- 
vouring its caterpillar. A hole is made in the victim's 
side, and the head and neck of the grub dives deep into 
the wound. It never withdraws its head, never pauses 
to take breath. The voracious animal always goes for- 
ward, chewing, swallowing, digesting, until the cater- 

[251] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

pillar's skin is empty. Once the meal is begun, the 
creature does not budge as long as the food lasts. If 
moved by force it hesitates, and hunts about for the 
exact spot where it left off eating; for if the caterpillar 
be attacked at a fresh point it is liable to go bad. 

In the case of the Anthrax-grub there is none of this 
mangling, none of this persistent clinging to the original 
wound. If I tease it with the tip of a pointed brush it at 
once retires, and there is no wound to be seen on the 
victim, no sign of broken skin. Soon the grub once more 
applies its pimple-head to its meal, at any point, no 
matter where, and keeps itself fixed there without any 
effort. If I repeat the touch with the brush I see the 
same sudden retreat and the same calm return to the 
meal. 

The ease with which this larva grips, leaves, and re- 
grips its victim, now here, now there, and always with- 
out a wound, shows that the mouth of the Anthrax is not 
armed with fangs that can dig into the skin and tear it. 
If the flesh were gashed by pincers of any kind, one or 
two attempts would be necessary before they could leave 
go or take hold again; and besides, the skin would be 
broken. There is nothing of the kind: the grub simply 
glues its mouth to its prey, and withdraws it. It does 
not chew its food like the other flesh-eating grub: it 
does not eat, it inhales. 

This remarkable fact led me to examine the mouth 



THE ANTHRAX FLY 

under the microscope. It is a small conical crater, with 
yellowish-red sides and very faint lines running round 
it. At the bottom of this funnel is the opening of the 
throat. There is not the slightest trace of mandibles or 
jaws, or any object capable of seizing and grinding food. 
There is nothing at all but the bowl-shaped opening. I 
know of no other example of a mouth like this, which 
I can only compare to a cupping-glass. Its attack is a 
mere kiss, but what a cruel kiss I 

To observe the working of this curious machine I 
placed a new-born Anthrax-grub, together with its prey, 
in a glass tube. Here I was able to watch the strange re- 
past from beginning to end. 

The Anthrax-grub — the Bee's uninvited guest — is 
fixed by its mouth or sucker to any convenient part of 
the plump Bee-grub. It is ready to break off its kiss 
suddenly, should anything disturb it, and to resume it as 
easily when it wishes. After three or four days of this 
curious contact the Bee-grub, formerly so fat, glossy, and 
healthy, begins to look withered. Her sides fall in, her 
fresh colour fades, her skin becomes covered with little 
folds, and she is evidently shrinking. A week is hardly 
passed when these signs of exhaustion increase to a 
startling degree. The victim is flabby and wrinkled, as 
though borne down by her own weight. If I move her 
from her place she flops and sprawls like a half-filled 
indiarubber bottle. But the kiss of the Anthrax goes on 

[253] 



FABRE'S BCXIK OF INSECTS 

emptying her : soon she is but a sort of shrivelled bladder, 
growing smaller and smaller from hour to hour. At 
length, between the twelfth and fifteenth day, all that re- 
mains of the Mason-bee's larva is a little white grain, 
hardly as large as a pin's head. 

If I soften this small remnant in water, and then blow 
into it through a very fine glass tube, the skin fills out 
and resumes the shape of the larva. There is no outlet 
anywhere for the compressed air. It is intact : it is no- 
where broken. This proves that, under the cupping- 
glass of the Anthrax, the skin has been drained through 
its pores. 

The devouring grub, in making its attack, chooses its 
moment very cunningly. It is but an atom. Its mother, 
a feeble Fly, has done nothing to help it. She has no 
weapons; and she is quite incapable of penetrating the 
Mason-bee's fortress. The future meal of the Anthrax 
has not been paralysed, nor injured in any way. The 
parasite arrives — we shall presently see how; it arrives, 
scarcely visible, and having made its preparations it in- 
stalls itself upon its monstrous victim, whom it is going 
to drain to the very husk. And the victim, though not 
paralysed nor in any way lacking in vitality, lets it have 
its way, and is sucked dry without a tremor or a quiver of 
resistance. No corpse could show greater indiiference 
to a bite. 

Had the Anthrax-grub appeared upon the scene 

[254] 



THE ANTHRAX FLY 

earlier, when the Bee-grub was eating her store of honey, 
things would surely have gone badly with it. The 
victim, feeling herself bled to death by that ravenous 
kiss, would have protested with much wriggling of body 
and grinding of mandibles. The intruder would have 
perished. But at the hour chosen so wisely by it all 
danger is over. Enclosed in her silken sheath, the larva 
is in the torpid state that precedes her transformation 
into a Bee. Her condition is not death, but neither is it 
life. So there is no sign of irritation when I stir her with 
a needle, nor when the Anthrax-grub attacks her. 

There is another marvellous point about the meal of 
the Anthrax-grub. The Bee-grub remains alive until the 
very end. Were she really dead it would, in less than 
twenty-four hours, turn a dirty-brown colour and de- 
compose. But during the whole fortnight that the meal 
lasts, the butter-colour of the victim continues unaltered, 
and there is no sign of putrefaction. Life persists un- 
til the body is reduced to nothing. And yet, if I myself 
give her a wound, the whole body turns brown and soon 
begins to rot. The prick of a needle makes her decom- 
pose. A mere nothing kills it; the atrocious draining of 
its strength does not. 

The only explanation I can suggest is this, and it is no 
more than a suggestion. Nothing but fluids can be 
drawn by the sucker of the Anthrax through the unpierced 
skin of the Bee-grub : no part of the breathing-apparatus 

[255] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

or the nervous system can pass. As these two essentials 
remain uninjured, life goes on until the fluid contents of 
the skin are entirely exhausted. On the other hand, if 
I myself injure the larva of the Bee, I disturb the nervous 
or the air-conducting system, and the bruised part 
spreads a taint all over the body. 

Liberty is a noble possession, even in an insignificant 
grub; but it has its dangers everj'where. The Anthrax 
escapes these dangers only on the condition of being, so 
to speak, muzzled. It finds its own way into the Bee's 
dwelling, quite independently of its mother. Unlike 
most of the other flesh-eating larvae it is not fixed by its 
mother's care at the most suitable spot for its meal. It 
is perfectly free to attack its prey where it chooses. If it 
had a set of carving-tools, of jaws and mandibles, it 
would meet with a speedy death. It would split open 
its victim and bite it at random, and its food would rot. 
Its freedom of action would kill it. 

n 

THE WAY OUT 

There are other grub-eaters which drain their victims 
without wounding them, but not one, among those I 
know, reaches such perfection in this art as the Anthrax- 
grub. Nor can any be compared with the Anthrax as re- 
gards the means brought into play in order to leave the 

[256] 



THE ANTHRAX FLY 

cell. The others, when they become perfect insects, have 
implements for mining and demolishing. They have 
stout mandibles, capable of digging the ground, of 
pulling down clay partition-walls, and even of grinding 
the Mason-bee's tough cement to powder. The Anthrax, 
in her final form, has nothing like this. Her mouth is 
a short, soft proboscis, good at most for soberly licking 
the sugary fluid from the flowers. Her slim legs are so 
feeble that to move a grain of sand would be too heavy a 
task for them, enough to strain every joint. Her great 
stiff wings, which must remain full-spread, do not allow 
her to slip through a narrow passage. 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. She is unable to enter the Mason- 
bee's cells to lay her egg, and equally unable to leave it 
when the time comes to free herself and appear in broad 
daylight. 

And the grub, for its part, is powerless to prepare the 
way for the coming flight. That buttery little cylinder, 
owning no tools but a sucker so flimsy and small that it 
is barely visible through the magnifying-glass, is even 
weaker than the full-grown insect, which at least flies 
and walks. The Mason-bee's cell seems to this creature 
like a granite cave. How can it get out ? The problems 
would be insoluble to these two incapables, if nothing 
else played its part. 

[257] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

Among insects the pupa — the transition stage, when 
the creature is no longer a grub but is not yet a perfect 
insect — is generally a striking picture of complete weak- 
ness. A sort of mummy, tightly bound in swaddling- 
clothes, motionless and unconscious, it awaits its trans- 
formation. Its tender flesh is hardly solid; its limbs are 
transparent as crystals, and are held fixed in their place, 
lest a movement should disturb the work of development. 
In the same way, to secure his recovery, a patient whose 
bones are broken is held bound in the surgeon's bandages. 

Well, here, by a strange reversal of the usual state of 
things, a stupendous task is laid upon the pupa of the 
Anthrax. It is the pupa that has to toil, to strive, to ex- 
haust itself in efforts to burst the wall and open the way 
out. To the pupa falls the desperate duty, to the full- 
grown insect the joy of resting in the sun. The result of 
these unusual conditions is that the pupa possesses a 
strange and complicated set of tools that is in no way 
suggested by the grub nor recalled by the perfect Fly. 
This set of tools includes a collection of ploughshares, 
gimlets, hooks, spears, and other implements that are not 
found in our trades nor named in our dictionaries. I 
will do my best to describe the strange gear. 

By the time that July is nearly over the Anthrax has 
finished eating the Bee-grub. From that time until the 
following May it lies motionless in the Mason-bee's 
cocoon, beside the remains of its victim. When the fine 

[258] 



THE ANTHRAX FLY 

Her delicate suit of cknvny velvet, from which you take the 

bloom by merely breathing on it, could not withstand 

the contact of rough tunnels 



i.v V /.v .v\\\ V /.I . aw \ 



THE ANTHRAX FLY 

days of May arrive it shrivels, and casts its skin; and it is 
then that the pupa appears, fully clad in a stout, reddish, 
horny hide. 

The head is round and large, and is crowned on top and 
in front with a sort of diadem of six hard, sharp, black 
spikes, arranged in semi-circle. This sixfold plough- 
share is the chief digging-implement. Lower down the 
instrument is finished off with a separate group of two 
small black spikes, placed close together. 

Four segments in the middle of the body are armed on 
the back with a belt of little horny arches, set in the skin 
upside down. They are arranged parallel to one an- 
other, and are finished at both ends with a hard, black 
point. The belt forms a double row of little thorns, 
with a hollow in between. There are about two 
hundred spikes on the four segments. The use of this 
rasp, or grater, is obvious : it helps the pupa to steady it- 
self on the wall of the gallery as the work proceeds. 
Thus anchored on a host of points the brave pioneer is 
able to hit the obstacle harder with its crown of awls. 
Moreover, to make it more difficult for the instrument to 
recoil, there are long, stiff bristles, pointing backwards, 
scattered here and there among the rows of spikes. 
There are some also on other segments, and on the sides 
they are arranged in clusters. Two more belts of thorns, 
less powerful than the others, and a sheaf of eight spikes 
at the tip of the body — two of which are longer than the 

[259] 



FABRES BOOK OF INSECTS 

rest — completes the strange boring-machine that pre- 
pares an outlet for the feeble Anthrax, 

About the end of May the colouring of the pupa alters, 
and shows that the transformation is close at hand. The 
head and fore-part of the creature become a handsome, 
shiny black, prophetic of the black livery worn by the 
coming insect. I was anxious to see the boring-tools in 
action, and, since this could not be done in natural con- 
ditions, I confined the Anthrax in a glass tube, between 
two thick stoppers of sorghum-pith. The space between 
the stoppers was about the same size as the Bee's cell, 
and the partitions, though not so strong as the Bee's 
masonry, were firm enough to withstand considerable 
effort. On the other hand the side-walls, being of glass, 
could not be gripped by the toothed belts, which made 
matters much harder for the worker. 

No matter: in the space of a single day the pupa 
pierced the front partition, three-quarters of an inch 
thick, I saw it fixing its double ploughshare against the 
back partition, arching itself into a bow, and then 
suddenly releasing itself and striking the stopper in front 
of it with its barbed forehead. Under the blows of the 
spikes the pith slowly crumbled to pieces, atom by atom. 
At long intervals the method of work changed. The 
animal drove its crown of awls into the pith, and fidgeted 
and swayed about for a time ; then the blows began again. 

[260] 



THE ANTHRAX FLY 

Now and then there were intervals of rest. At last the 
hole was made. The pupa slipped into it, but did not 
pass through entirely. The head and chest appeared be- 
yond the hole, but the rest of the body remained held in 
the tunnel. 

The glass cell certainly puzzled my Anthrax. The 
hole through the pith was wide and irregular : it was a 
clumsy breach and not a gallery. When made through 
the Mason-bee's walls it is fairly neat, and exactly of the 
animal's diameter. For narrowness and evenness in the 
exit-tunnel are necessary. The pupa always remains 
half-caught in it, and even pretty securely fixed by the 
graters on its back. Only the head and chest emerge 
into the outer air. A fixed support is indispensable, for 
without it the Anthrax could not issue from her horny 
sheath, unfurling her great wings and drawing out her 
slender legs. 

She therefore remains steadily fixed by the graters on 
her back, in the narrow exit-gallery. All is now ready. 
The transformation begins. Two slits appear on the 
head : one along the forehead, and a second, crossing it, 
dividing the skull in two and extending down the chest. 
Through this cross-shaped opening the Anthrax Fly 
suddenly appears. She steadies herself upon her trem- 
bling legs, dries her wings and takes to flight, leaving her 
cast skin at the doorway of the gallery. The sad- 

[261] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

coloured Fly has five or six weeks before her wherein to 
explore the clay nests amid the thyme and to take her 
small share of the joys of life. 

Ill 

THE WAY IN 

IF you have paid attention to this story of the Anthrax 
Fly, you must have noticed that it is incomplete. 
The Fox in the fable saw how the Lion's visitors en- 
tered his den, but did not see how they went out. With 
us the case is reversed: we know the way out of the 
Mason-bee's fortress, but we do not know the way in. To 
leave the cell whose owner it has eaten, the Anthrax be- 
comes a boring-tool. When the exit-tunnel is opened 
this tool splits like a pod bursting in the sun, and from 
the strong framework there escapes a dainty Fly. A soft 
bit of fluif that contrasts strangely with the roughness of 
the prison whence it comes. On this point we know 
pretty well what there is to know. But the entrance of 
the grub into the cell puzzled me for a quarter of a cen- 
tury. 

It is plain that the mother cannot place her egg in the 
Bee's cell, which is closed and barricaded with a cement 
wall. To pierce it she would have to become a boring- 
tool once more, and get into the cast-off rags which she 
left at the doorway of the exit-tunnel. She would have 

[262] 



THE ANTHRAX FLY 

to become a pupa again. For the full-grown Fly has no 
claws, nor mandibles, nor any implement capable of 
working its way through the wall. 

Can it be, then, the grub that makes its own way into 
the storeroom, that same grub that we have seen sucking 
the life out of the Bee's larva? Let us call the creature 
to mind : a little oily sausage, which stretches and curls 
up just where it lies, without being able to shift its 
position. Its body is a smooth cylinder, its mouth a 
circular lip. It has no means whatever of moving; not 
even a hair or a wrinkle to enable it to crawl. It can do 
nothing but digest its food. It is even less able than the 
mother to make its way into the Mason-bee's dwelling. 
And yet its provisions are there: they must be reached: 
it is a matter of life and death. How does the Fly set 
about it? In the face of this puzzle I resolved to 
attempt an almost impossible task and watch the 
Anthrax from the moment it left the egg. 

Since these Flies are not really plentiful in my own 
neighbourhood I made an expedition to Carpentras, the 
dear little town where I spent my twentieth year. The 
old college where I made my first attempts as a teacher 
was unchanged in appearance. It still looked like a 
penitentiary. In my early days it was considered un- 
wholesome for boys to be gay and active, so our system 
of education applied the remedy of melancholy and 
gloom. Our houses of instruction were above all houses 

[263] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

of correction. In a yard between four walls, a sort of 
bear-pit, the boys fought to make room for their games 
under a spreading plane-tree. All round it were cells 
like horseboxes, without light or air: those were the 
class-rooms. 

I saw, too, the shop where I used to buy tobacco as I 
came out of the college; and also my former dwelling, 
now occupied by monks. There, in the embrasure of a 
window, sheltered from profane hands, between the 
closed outer shutters and the panes, I kept my chemicals — 
bought for a few sous saved out of the housekeeping 
money. My experiments, harmless or dangerous, were 
made on a corner of the fire, beside the simmering broth. 
How I should love to see that room again, where I pored 
over mathematical problems; and my familiar friend the 
blackboard, which I hired for five francs a year, and 
could never buy outright for want of the necessary cash I 

But I must return to my insects. My visit to 
Carpentras, unfortunately, was made too late in the 
year to be very profitable. I saw only a few Anthrax 
Flies hovering round the face of the cliff. Yet I did not 
despair, because it was plain that these few were not 
there to take exercise, but to settle their families. 

So I took my stand at the foot of the rock, under a 
broiling sun, and for half a day I followed the move- 
ments of my Flies. They flitted quietly in front of the 
slope, a few inches away from the earthly covering. 

['264] 



THE ANTHRAX FLY 

They went from one Bee's nest to another, but without 
attempting to enter. For that matter, the attempt would 
be useless, for the galleries are too narrow to admit their 
spreading wings. So they simply explore the cliff, going 
to and fro, and up and down, with a flight that was now 
sudden, now smooth and slow. From time to time I 
saw one of them approach the wall and touch the earth 
suddenly with the tip of her body. The proceeding 
took no longer than the twinkling of an eye. When it 
was over the insect rested a moment, and then resumed 
flight. 

I was certain that, at the moment when the Fly tapped 
the earth, she laid her eggs on the spot. Yet, though I 
rushed forward and examined the place with my lens, I 
could see no egg. In spite of the closest attention I 
could distinguish nothing. The truth is that my state 
of exhaustion, together with the blinding light and 
scorching heat, made it difficult for me to see anything. 
Afterwards, when I made the acquaintance of the tiny 
thing that comes out of that egg, my failure no longer sur- 
prised me : for even in the leisure and peace of my study 
I have the greatest difficulty in finding the infinitesimal 
creature. How then could I see the egg, worn out as I 
was under the sun-baked cliff? 

None the less I was convinced that I had seen the 
Anthrax Flies strewing their eggs, one by one, on the 
spots frequented by the Bees who suit their grubs. They 

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FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

take no precaution to place the egg under cover, and in- 
deed the structure of the mother makes any such pre- 
caution impossible. The egg, that delicate object, is 
laid roughly in the blazing sun, among grains of sand, 
in some wrinkle of the chalk. It is the business of the 
young grub to manage as best it can. 

The next year I continued my investigations, this time 
on the Anthrax of the Chalicodoma, a Bee that abounds 
in my own neighbourhood. Every morning I took the 
field at nine o'clock, when the sun begins to be unendur- 
able. I was prepared to c'ome back with my head aching 
from the glare, if only I could bring home the solution of 
my puzzle. The greater the heat, the better my chances 
of success. What gives me torture fills the insect with 
delight; what prostrates me braces the Fly. 

The road shimmers like a sheet of molten steel. From 
the dusty, melancholy olive-trees rises a mighty, throb- 
bing hum, the concert of the Cicadae, who sway and 
rustle with increasing frenzy as the temperature in- 
creases. The Cicada of the Ash adds its strident scrap- 
ings to the single note of the Common Cicada. This is 
the moment I For five or six weeks, of tenest in the morn- 
ing, sometimes in the afternoon, I set myself to explore 
the rocky waste. 

There were plenty of the nests I wanted, but I could 
not see a single Anthrax on their surface. Not one 
settled in front of me to lay her egg. At most, from time 

[266] 



THE ANTHRAX FLY 

to time, I could see one passing far away, with an im- 
petuous rush. I would lose her in the distance ; and that 
was all. It was impossible to be present at the laying 
of the egg. In vain I enlisted the services of the small 
boys who keep the sheep in our meadows, and talked 
to them of a big black Fly and the nests on which 
she ought to settle. By the end of August my last 
illusions were dispelled. Not one of us had succeeded 
in seeing the big black Fly perching on the dome of 
the Mason-bee. 

The reason is, I believe, that she never perches there. 
She comes and goes in every direction across the stony 
plain. Her practised eye can detect, as she flies, the 
earthen dome which she is seeking, and having found it 
she swoops down, leaves her egg on it, and makes off 
without setting foot on the ground. Should she take a 
rest it will be elsewhere, on the soil, on a stone, on 
a tuft of lavender or thyme. It is no wonder that 
neither I nor my young shepherds could find her egg. 

Meanwhile I searched the Mason-bees' nests for grubs 
just out of the egg. My shepherds procured me heaps 
of the nests, enough to fill baskets and baskets; and 
these I inspected at leisure on my work-table. I took 
the cocoons from the cells, and examined them within 
and without: my lens explored their innermost recesses, 
the sleeping larva, and the walls. Nothing, nothing, 
nothing I For a fortnight and more nests were searched 

[267] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

and rejected, and heaped up in a corner. My study 
was crammed with them. In vain I ripped up the 
cocoons; I found nothing. It needed the sturdiest faith 
to make me persevere. 

At last I saw, or seemed to see, something move on 
the Bee's larva. "Was it an illusion? Was it a bit 
of down stirred by my breath? It was not an illusion; 
it was not a bit of down; it was really and truly a 
grub I But at first I thought the discovery unimportant, 
because I was so greatly puzzled by the little creature's 
appearance. 

In a couple of days I was the owner of ten such worms 
and had placed each of them in a glass tube, together 
with the Bee-grub on which it wriggled. It was so tiny 
that the least fold of skin concealed it from my sight. 
After watching it one day through the lens I sometimes 
failed to find it again on the morrow. I would think 
it was lost: then it would move, and become visible once 
more. 

For some time the belief had been growing in me that 
the Anthrax had tivo larval forms, a first and a second, 
the second being the form I knew, the grub we have al- 
ready seen at its meals. Was this new discovery, I 
asked myself, the first form? Time showed me that 
it was. For at last I saw my little worms transform 
themselves into the grub I have already described, and 
make their first start at draining their victims with kisses. 

[268] 



THE ANTHRAX FLY 

A few moments of satisfaction like those I then enjoyed 
make up for many a weary hour. 

This tiny worm, the first form or "primary larva" of 
the Anthrax, is very active. It tramps over the fat 
sides of its victim, walking all round it. It covers the 
ground pretty quickly, buckling and unbuckling by 
turns, very much after the manner of the Looper-cater- 
pillar. Its two ends are its chief points of support. 
When walking it swells out, and then looks like a bit 
of knotted string. It has thirteen rings or segments, 
including its tiny head, which bristles in front with 
short, stiff hairs. There are four other pairs of bristles 
on the lower surface, and with the help of these it walks. 

For a fortnight the feeble grub remains in this 
condition, without growing, and apparently without eat- 
ing. Indeed, what could it eat? In the cocoon there 
is nothing but the larva of the Mason-bee, and the worm 
cannot eat this before it has the sucker or mouth that 
comes with the second form. Nevertheless, as I said 
before, though it does not eat it is far from idle. It ex- 
plores its future dish, and runs all over the neighbor- 
hood. 

Now, there is a very good reason for this long fast. 
In the natural state of the Anthrax-grub it is necessary. 
The egg is laid by the mother on the surface of the nest, 
at a distance from the Bee's larva, which is protected 
by a thick rampart. It is the business of the new-born 

[269] 



FABRE'S BOOK OF INSECTS 

grub to make its way to its provisions, not by violence, 
of which it is incapable, but by patiently slipping 
through a maze of cracks. It is a very difficult task, 
even for this slender worm, for the Bee's masonry is 
exceedingly compact. There are no chinks due to bad 
building, no cracks due to the weather. I see but one 
weak point, and that only in a few nests: it is the line 
where the dome joins the surface of the stone. This 
weakness so seldom occurs that I believe the Anthrax- 
grub is able to find an entrance at any spot on the dome 
of the Bee's nest. 

The grub is extremely weak, and has nothing but 
invincible patience. How long it takes to work its way 
through the masonry I cannot say. The work is so 
laborious and the worker so feeble I In some cases I 
believe it may be months before the slow journey is ac- 
complished. So it is very fortunate, you see, that this 
first form of the Anthrax, which exists only in order to 
pierce the walls of the Bees' nest, should be able to live 
without food. 

At last I saw my young worms shrink, and rid them- 
selves of their outer skin. They then appeared as the 
grub I knew and was so anxiously expecting, the grub 
of the Anthrax, the cream-colored cylinder with the little 
button of a head. Fastening its round sucker to the 
Bee-grub, it began its meal. You know the rest. 

Before taking leave of this tiny animal let us dwell 

[270] 



THE ANTHRAX FLY 

for a moment on its marvellous instinct. Picture it as 
having just left the egg, just awakened to life under 
the fierce rays of the sun. The bare stone is its cradle; 
there is no one to welcome it as it enters the world, a 
mere thread of half-solid substance. Instantly it starts 
on its struggle with the flint. Obstinately it sounds 
each pore of the stone; it slips in, crawls on, retreats, 
begins again. What inspiration urges it towards its 
food, what compass guides it? What does it know of 
those depths, or of what lies in them? Nothing. What 
does the root of a plant know of the earth's fruitfulness? 
Again, nothing. Yet both the root and the worm make 
for the nourishing spot, Why? I do not understand. 
I do not even try to understand. The question is far 
above us. 

We have now followed the complete history of the 
Anthrax. Its life is divided into four periods, each of 
which has its special form and its special work. The 
primary larva enters the Bees' nest, which contains pro- 
visions; the secondary larva eats those provisions; the 
pupa brings the insect to light by boring through the 
enclosing wall ; the perfect insect strews its eggs. Then 
the story starts afresh. 



[271] 



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