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- Bramble-bees and Others - 20/47 -
who conclude the laying. And yet these last eggs do not hatch: they wrinkle, fade and wither on the pile of food. In one case, I count three or four sterile eggs among the last lot laid; in another, I find two or only one. Elsewhere in the swarm, fertile eggs have been laid right up to the end.
Those sterile eggs, stricken with death at the moment of their birth, are too numerous to be ignored. Why do they not hatch like the other eggs, which outwardly they resemble in every respect? They have received the same attention from the mother and the same portion of food. The searching microscope shows me nothing in them to explain the fatal ending.
To the unprejudiced mind, the answer is obvious. Those eggs do not hatch because they have not been fertilized. Any animal or vegetable egg that had not received the life-giving impregnation would perish in the same way. No other answer is possible. It is no use talking of the distant period of the laying: eggs of the same period laid by other mothers, eggs of the same date and likewise the final ones of a laying, are perfectly fertile. Once more, they do not hatch because they were not fertilized.
And why were they not fertilized? Because the seminal receptacle, so tiny, so difficult to see that it sometimes escaped me despite all my scrutiny, had exhausted its contents. The mothers in whom this receptacle retained a remnant of sperm to the end had their last eggs as fertile as the first; the others, whose seminal reservoir was exhausted too soon, had their last-born stricken with death. All this seems to me as clear as daylight.
If the unfertilized eggs perish without hatching, those which hatch and produce males are therefore fertilized; and the German theory falls to the ground.
Then what explanation shall I give of the wonderful facts which I have set forth? Why, none, absolutely none. I do not explain facts, I relate them. Growing daily more sceptical of the interpretations suggested to me and more hesitating as to those which I may have to suggest myself, the more I observe and experiment, the more clearly I see rising out of the black mists of possibility an enormous note of interrogation.
Dear insects, my study of you has sustained me and continues to sustain me in my heaviest trials. I must take leave of you for to-day. The ranks are thinning around me and the long hopes have fled. Shall I be able to speak to you again? (This is the closing paragraph of Volume 3 of the "Souvenirs entomologiques," of which the author has lived to publish seven more volumes, containing over 2,500 pages and nearly 850,000 words.--Translator's Note.)
CHAPTER 6. INSTINCT AND DISCERNMENT.
The Pelopaeus (A Mason-wasp forming the subject of essays which have not yet been published in English.--Translator's Note.) gives us a very poor idea of her intellect when she plasters up the spot in the wall where the nest which I have removed used to stand, when she persists in cramming her cell with Spiders for the benefit of an egg no longer there and when she dutifully closes a cell which my forceps has left empty, extracting alike germ and provisions. The Mason-bees (Cf. "The Mason-bees": chapter 7.--Translator's Note.), the caterpillar of the Great Peacock Moth (Cf. "Social Life in the Insect World" by J.H. Fabre, translated by Bernard Miall: chapter 14.-- Translator's Note.) and many others, when subjected to similar tests, are guilty of the same illogical behaviour: they continue, in the normal order, their series of industrious actions, though an accident has now rendered them all useless. Just like millstones unable to cease revolving though there be no corn left to grind, let them once be given the compelling power and they will continue to perform their task despite its futility. Are they then machines? Far be it from me to think anything so foolish.
It is impossible to make definite progress on the shifting sands of contradictory facts: each step in our interpretation may find us embogged. And yet these facts speak so loudly that I do not hesitate to translate their evidence as I understand it. In insect mentality, we have to distinguish two very different domains. One of these is INSTINCT properly so called, the unconscious impulse that presides over the most wonderful part of what the creature achieves. Where experience and imitation are of absolutely no avail, instinct lays down its inflexible law. It is instinct and instinct alone that makes the mother build for a family which she will never see; that counsels the storing of provisions for the unknown offspring; that directs the sting towards the nerve-centres of the prey and skilfully paralyses it, so that the game may keep good; that instigates, in fine, a host of actions wherein shrewd reason and consummate science would have their part, were the creature acting through discernment.
This faculty is perfect of its kind from the outset, otherwise the insect would have no posterity. Time adds nothing to it and takes nothing from it. Such as it was for a definite species, such it is to-day and such it will remain, perhaps the most settled zoological characteristic of them all. It is not free nor conscious in its practice, any more than is the faculty of the stomach for digestion or that of the heart for pulsation. The phases of its operations are predetermined, necessarily entailed one by another; they suggest a system of clock-work wherein one wheel set in motion brings about the movement of the next. This is the mechanical side of the insect, the fatum, the only thing which is able to explain the monstrous illogicality of a Pelopaeus when misled by my artifices. Is the Lamb when it first grips the teat a free and conscious agent, capable of improvement in its difficult art of taking nourishment? The insect is no more capable of improvement in its art, more difficult still, of giving nourishment.
But, with its hide-bound science ignorant of itself, pure insect, if it stood alone, would leave the insect unarmed in the perpetual conflict of circumstances. No two moments in time are identical; though the background remain the same, the details change; the unexpected rises on every side. In this bewildering confusion, a guide is needed to seek, accept, refuse and select; to show preference for this and indifference to that; to turn to account, in short, anything useful that occasion may offer. This guide the insect undoubtedly possesses, to a very manifest degree. It is the second province of its mentality. Here it is conscious and capable of improvement by experience. I dare not speak of this rudimentary faculty as intelligence, which is too exalted a title: I will call it DISCERNMENT. The insect, in exercising its highest gifts, discerns, differentiates between one thing and another, within the sphere of its business, of course; and that is about all.
As long as we confound acts of pure instinct and acts of discernment under the same head, we shall fall back into those endless discussions which embitter controversy without bringing us one step nearer to the solution of the problem. Is the insect conscious of what it does? Yes and no. No, if its action is in the province of instinct; yes, if the action is in that of discernment. Are the habits of an insect capable of modification? No, decidedly not, if the habit in question belongs to the province of instinct; yes, if it belongs to that of discernment. Let us state this fundamental distinction more precisely by the aid of a few examples.
The Pelopaeus builds her cells with earth already softened, with mud. Here we have instinct, the unalterable characteristic of the worker. She has always built in this way and always will. The passing ages will never teach her, neither the struggle for life nor the law of selection will ever induce her to imitate the Mason-bee and collect dry dust for her mortar. This mud nest needs a shelter against the rain. The hiding-place under a stone suffices at first. But should she find something better, the potter takes possession of that something better and instals herself in the home of man. (The Pelopaeus builds in the fire-places of houses.--Translator's Note.) There we have discernment, the source of some sort of capacity for improvement.
The Pelopaeus supplies her larvae with provisions in the form of Spiders. There you have instinct. The climate, the longitude or latitude, the changing seasons, the abundance or scarcity of game introduce no modification into this diet, though the larva shows itself satisfied with other fare provided by myself. Its forebears were brought up on Spiders; their descendants consumed similar food; and their posterity again will know no other. Not a single circumstance, however favourable, will ever persuade the Pelopaeus that young Crickets, for instance, are as good as Spiders and that her family would accept them gladly. Instinct binds her down to the national diet.
But, should the Epeira (The Weaving or Garden Spider. Cf. "The Life of the Spider" by J. Henri Fabre translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos; chapters 9 to 14 and appendix.--Translator's Note.), the favourite prey, be lacking, must the Pelopaeus therefore give up foraging? She will stock her warehouses all the same, because any Spider suits her. There you have discernment, whose elasticity makes up, in certain circumstances, for the too-great rigidity of instinct. Amid the innumerable variety of game, the huntress is able to discern between what is Spider and what is not; and, in this way, she is always prepared to supply her family, without quitting the domain of her instinct.
The Hairy Ammophila gives her larva a single caterpillar, a large one, paralysed by as many pricks of her sting as it has nervous centres in its thorax and abdomen. Her surgical skill in subduing the monster is instinct displayed in a form which makes short work of any inclination to see in it an acquired habit. In an art that can leave no one to practise it in the future unless that one be perfect at the outset, of what avail are happy chances, atavistic tendencies, the mellowing hand of time? But the grey caterpillar, sacrificed one day, may be succeeded on another day by a green, yellow or striped caterpillar. There you have discernment, which is quite capable of recognizing the regulation prey under very diverse garbs.
The Megachiles build their honey-jars with disks cut out of leaves; certain Anthidia make felted cotton wallets; others fashion pots out of resin. There you have instinct. Will any rash mind ever conceive the singular idea that the Leaf-cutter might very well have started working in cotton, that the cotton-wool-worker once thought or will one day think of cutting disks out of the leaves of the lilac- and the rose-tree, that the resin-kneader began with clay? Who would dare to indulge in any such theories? Each Bee has her art, her medium, to which she strictly confines herself. The first has her leaves; the second her wadding; the third her resin. None of these guilds has ever changed trades with another; and none ever will. There you have instinct, keeping the workers to their specialities. There are no innovations in their workshops, no recipes resulting from experiment, no ingenious devices, no progress from indifferent to good, from good to excellent. To-day's method is the facsimile of yesterday's; and to-morrow will know no other.
But, though the manufacturing-process is invariable, the raw material is subject to change. The plant that supplies the cotton differs in
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