Social Life in the Insect World
IN THE INSECT WORLD
J. H. FABRE
WITH 14 ILLUSTRATIONS
T. FISHER UNWIN, LTD.
(All rights reserved)
|1. THE MANTIS. A DUEL BETWEEN FEMALES.|
|2. THE MANTIS DEVOURING A CRICKET.|
|3. THE MANTIS DEVOURING HER MATE.|
|4. THE MANTIS IN HER ATTITUDE OF PRAYER.|
|5. THE MANTIS IN HER "SPECTRAL" ATTITUDE.|
|(See p. 76.)|
|THE MANTIS: A DUEL BETWEEN FEMALES; DEVOURING|
|A CRICKET; DEVOURING HER MATE; IN HER ATTITUDE|
|OF PRAYER; IN HER "SPECTRAL" ATTITUDE||Frontispiece|
|DURING THE DROUGHTS OF SUMMER THIRSTING INSECTS,|
|AND NOTABLY THE ANT, FLOCK TO THE DRINKING-PLACES|
|OF THE CIGALE||8|
|THE CIGALE AND THE EMPTY PUPA-SKIN||28|
|THE ADULT CIGALE, FROM BELOW. THE CIGALE OF|
|THE FLOWERING ASH, MALE AND FEMALE||36|
|THE CIGALE LAYING HER EGGS. THE GREEN GRASSHOPPER,|
|THE FALSE CIGALE OF THE NORTH,|
|DEVOURING THE TRUE CIGALE, A DWELLER IN|
|THE NEST OF THE PRAYING MANTIS; TRANSVERSE SECTION|
|OF THE SAME; NEST OF EMPUSA PAUPERATA;|
|TRANSVERSE SECTION OF THE SAME; VERTICAL|
|SECTION OF THE SAME; NEST OF THE GREY MANTIS;|
|SCHEFFER'S SISYPHUS (see Chap. XII.); PELLET OF|
|THE SISYPHUS; PELLET OF THE SISYPHUS, WITH|
|DEJECTA OF THE LARVA FORCED THROUGH THE|
|THE MANTIS DEVOURING THE MALE IN THE ACT OF|
|MATING; THE MANTIS COMPLETING HER NEST;|
|GOLDEN SCARABÆI CUTTING UP A LOB-WORM||90|
|THE GOLDEN GARDENER: THE MATING SEASON OVER,|
|THE MALES ARE EVISCERATED BY THE FEMALES||114|
|THE FIELD-CRICKET: A DUEL BETWEEN RIVALS; THE|
|DEFEATED RIVAL RETIRES, INSULTED BY THE|
|THE ITALIAN CRICKET||132|
|THE GREAT PEACOCK OR EMPEROR MOTH||180|
|THE GREAT PEACOCK MOTH. THE PILGRIMS DIVERTED|
|BY THE LIGHT OF A LAMP||196|
|THE GREY LOCUST; THE NERVATURES OF THE WING;|
|THE BALANINUS FALLEN A VICTIM TO THE LENGTH|
|OF HER PROBOSCIS||244|
|THE PINE-CHAFER (MELOLONTHA FULLO)||318|
SOCIAL LIFE IN THE INSECT WORLD
THE FABLE OF THE CIGALE AND THE ANT
Fame is the daughter of Legend. In the world of creatures, as in theworld of men, the story precedes and outlives history. There are manyinstances of the fact that if an insect attract our attention for thisreason or that, it is given a place in those legends of the people whoselast care is truth.
For example, who is there that does not, at least by hearsay, know theCigale? Where in the entomological world shall we find a more famousreputation? Her fame as an impassioned singer, careless of the future,was the subject of our earliest lessons in repetition. In short, easilyremembered lines of verse, we learned how she was destitute when thewinter winds arrived, and how she went begging for food to the Ant, herneighbour. A poor welcome she received, the would-be borrower!—awelcome that has become proverbial, and her chief title to celebrity.The petty malice of the two short lines—
|Vous chantiez! j'en suis bien aise,|
|Eh bien, dansez maintenant!|
has done more to immortalise the insect than her skill as a musician."You sang! I am very glad to hear it! Now you can dance!" The wordslodge in the childish memory, never to be forgotten. To mostEnglishmen—to most Frenchmen even—the song of the Cigale is unknown,[Pg 2]for she dwells in the country of the olive-tree; but we all know of thetreatment she received at the hands of the Ant. On such trifles doesFame depend! A legend of very dubious value, its moral as bad as itsnatural history; a nurse's tale whose only merit is its brevity; such isthe basis of a reputation which will survive the wreck of centuries noless surely than the tale of Puss-in-Boots and of Little RedRiding-Hood.
The child is the best guardian of tradition, the great conservative.Custom and tradition become indestructible when confided to the archivesof his memory. To the child we owe the celebrity of the Cigale, of whosemisfortunes he has babbled during his first lessons in recitation. It ishe who will preserve for future generations the absurd nonsense of whichthe body of the fable is constructed; the Cigale will always be hungrywhen the cold comes, although there were never Cigales in winter; shewill always beg alms in the shape of a few grains of wheat, a dietabsolutely incompatible with her delicate capillary "tongue"; and indesperation she will hunt for flies and grubs, although she never eats.
Whom shall we hold responsible for these strange mistakes? La Fontaine,who in most of his fables charms us with his exquisite fineness ofobservation, has here been ill-inspired. His earlier subjects he knewdown to the ground: the Fox, the Wolf, the Cat, the Stag, the Crow, theRat, the Ferret, and so many others, whose actions and manners hedescribes with a delightful precision of detail. These are inhabitantsof his own country; neighbours, fellow-parishioners. Their life, privateand public, is lived under his eyes; but the Cigale is a stranger to thehaunts of Jack Rabbit. La Fontaine had never seen nor heard her. For himthe celebrated songstress was certainly a grasshopper.
Grandville, whose pencil rivals the author's pen, has fallen into thesame error. In his illustration to the fable we see the Ant dressed likea busy housewife. On her threshold, beside her full sacks of wheat, shedisdainfully turns her back upon the would-be borrower, who holds outher claw—pardon, her hand. With a wide coachman's hat, a guitar underher arm, and a skirt wrapped about her knees by the gale, there standsthe second personage of the fable, the perfect portrait of a[Pg 3]grasshopper. Grandville knew no more than La Fontaine of the trueCigale; he has beautifully expressed the general confusion.
But La Fontaine, in this abbreviated history, is only the echo ofanother fabulist. The legend of the Cigale and the cold welcome of theAnt is as old as selfishness: as old as the world. The children ofAthens, going to school with their baskets of rush-work stuffed withfigs and olives, were already repeating the story under their breath, asa lesson to be repeated to the teacher. "In winter," they used to say,"the Ants were putting their damp food to dry in the sun. There came astarving Cigale to beg from them. She begged for a few grains. Thegreedy misers replied: 'You sang in the summer, now dance in thewinter.'" This, although somewhat more arid, is precisely La Fontaine'sstory, and is contrary to the facts.
Yet the story comes to us from Greece, which is, like the South ofFrance, the home of the olive-tree and the Cigale. Was Æsop really itsauthor, as tradition would have it? It is doubtful, and by no means amatter of importance; at all events, the author was a Greek, and acompatriot of the Cigale, which must have been perfectly familiar tohim. There is not a single peasant in my village so blind as to beunaware of the total absence of Cigales in winter; and every tiller ofthe soil, every gardener, is familiar with the first phase of theinsect, the larva, which his spade is perpetually discovering when hebanks up the olives at the approach of the cold weather, and he knows,[Pg 4]having seen it a thousand times by the edge of the country paths, how insummer this larva issues from the earth from a little round well of itsown making; how it climbs a twig or a stem of grass, turns upon itsback, climbs out of its skin, drier now than parchment, and becomes theCigale; a creature of a fresh grass-green colour which is rapidlyreplaced by brown.
We cannot suppose that the Greek peasant was so much less intelligentthan the Provençal that he can have failed to see what the leastobservant must have noticed. He knew what my rustic neighbours know sowell. The scribe, whoever he may have been, who was responsible for thefable was in the best possible circumstances for correct knowledge ofthe subject. Whence, then, arose the errors of his tale?
Less excusably than La Fontaine, the Greek fabulist wrote of the Cigaleof the books, instead of interrogating the living Cigale, whose cymbalswere resounding on every side; careless of the real, he followedtradition. He himself echoed a more ancient narrative; he repeated somelegend that had reached him from India, the venerable mother ofcivilisations. We do not know precisely what story the reed-pen of theHindoo may have confided to writing, in order to show the perils of alife without foresight; but it is probable that the little animal dramawas nearer the truth than the conversation between the Cigale and theAnt. India, the friend of animals, was incapable of such a mistake.Everything seems to suggest that the principal personage of the originalfable was not the Cigale of the Midi, but some other creature, an insectif you will, whose manners corresponded[Pg 5] to the adopted text.
Imported into Greece, after long centuries during which, on the banks ofthe Indus, it made the wise reflect and the children laugh, the ancientanecdote, perhaps as old as the first piece of advice that a father of afamily ever gave in respect of economy, transmitted more or lessfaithfully from one memory to another, must have suffered alteration inits details, as is the fate of all such legends, which the passage oftime adapts to the circumstance of time and place.
The Greek, not finding in his country the insect of which the Hindoospoke, introduced the Cigale, as in Paris, the modern Athens, the Cigalehas been replaced by the Grasshopper. The mistake was made; henceforthindelible. Entrusted as it is to the memory of childhood, error willprevail against the truth that lies before our eyes.
Let us seek to rehabilitate the songstress so calumniated by the fable.She is, I grant you, an importunate neighbour. Every summer she takes upher station in hundreds before my door, attracted thither by the verdureof two great plane-trees; and there, from sunrise to sunset, she hammerson my brain with her strident symphony. With this deafening concertthought is impossible; the mind is in a whirl, is seized with vertigo,unable to concentrate itself. If I have not profited by the earlymorning hours the day is lost.
Ah! Creature possessed, the plague of my dwelling, which I hoped wouldbe so peaceful!—the Athenians, they say, used to hang you up in alittle cage, the better to enjoy your song. One were well enough, duringthe drowsiness of digestion; but hundreds, roaring all at once,assaulting the hearing until thought recoils—this indeed is torture!You put forward, as excuse, your rights as the first occupant. Before myarrival the two plane-trees were yours without reserve;[Pg 6] it