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- The Life of the Fly - 10/49 -


in the distance; and that is all. It is impossible to be present at the laying of the egg. I know the little that I learnt from the cliffs in the Legue and nothing more.

As soon as I recognize the difficulty, I hasten to enlist assistants. Shepherds--mere small boys--keep the sheep in these stony meadows, where the flocks graze, to the greater glory of our local mutton, on the camphor saturated badafo, that is to say, spike lavender. I explain as well as I can the object of my search; I talk to them of a big black Fly and the nests on which she ought to settle, the clay nests so well known to those who have learnt how to extract the honey with a straw in springtime and spread it on a crust of bread. They are to watch that fly and take good note of the nests on which they may see her alight; and, on the same evening, when they bring their flocks back to the village, they are to tell me the result of their day's work. On receiving their favorable report, I will go with them, next day, to continue the observations. They shall be paid for their trouble, of course. These latter day Corydons have not the manners of antiquity: they reck little of the seven holed flute cemented with wax, or of the beechen bowl, preferring the coppers that will take them to the village inn on Sunday. A reward in ready money is promised for each nest that fulfils the desired conditions; and the bargain is enthusiastically accepted.

There are three of them; and I make a fourth. Shall we manage it, among us all? I thought so. By the end of August, however, 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.

Our failure, it seems to me, can be explained thus: outside the spacious front of the Anthophora's settlement, the Anthrax is in permanent residence. She visits, on the wing, every nook and corner, without moving away from the native cliff, because it would be useless to go farther. There is board and lodging here, indefinitely, for all her family. When some spot is deemed favorable, she hovers round inspecting it, then comes up suddenly and strikes it with the tip of her abdomen. The thing is done, the egg is laid. So I picture it, at least. Within a radius of a few yards and in a flight broken by short intervals of rest in the sun, she carries on her search of likely places for the laying and dissemination of her eggs. The insect's assiduous attendance upon the same slope is caused by the inexhaustible wealth of the locality exploited.

The Anthrax of the Chalicodoma labors under very different conditions. Stay-at-home habits would be detrimental to her. With her rushing flight, made easy by the long and powerful spread of her wings, she must travel far and wide if she would found a colony. The bee's nests are not discovered in groups, but occur singly on their pebbles, scattered more or less everywhere over acres of ground. To find a single one is not enough for the fly: on account of the many parasites, not all the cells, by a long way, contain the desired larva; others, too well protected, would not allow of access to the provisions. Very many nests are necessary, perhaps, for the eggs of one alone; and the finding of them calls for long journeys.

I therefore picture the Anthrax coming and going in every direction across the stony plain. Her practiced eye requires no slackened flight to distinguish the earthen dome which she is seeking. Having found it, she inspects it from above, still on the wing; she taps it once and yet once again with the tip of her ovipositor and forthwith makes off, without having set foot on the ground. Should she take a rest, it will be elsewhere, no matter where, on the soil, on a stone, on a tuft of lavender or thyme. Given these habits--and my observations in the Carpentras roads make them seem exceedingly probable--it is small wonder that the perspicacity of my young shepherds and myself should have come to naught. I was expecting the impossible: the Anthrax does not halt on the mason bee's nest to proceed with her laying in a methodical fashion; she merely pays a flying visit.

And so I develop my theory of a primary larval form, differing in every way from the one which I know. The organization of the Anthrax must be such, at the beginning, as to permit of its moving on the surface of the dome where the egg has been dropped so carelessly; the nascent grub must be supplied with tools to pierce the concrete wall and enter the Bee's cell through some cranny. The fly grub, perhaps dragging the remnants of the egg behind it, must set out in quest of board and lodging almost as soon as it is born. It will succeed under the guidance of instinct, that faculty which waits not to number the days and which is as far seeing at the moment of hatching as after the trials of a busy life. This primary grub does not seem to me outside the limits of possibility; I see it, if not in the body, at least in its actions, as plainly as though it were really under the lens. It exists, if reason be not a vain and empty guide; I must find it; I shall find it. Never in the history of my investigations has the logic of things been more insistent; never has it directed me with greater certainty towards a magnificent biological theory.

While vainly trying to witness the laying of the eggs, I inquire, at the same time, into the contents of the Mason bee's nests, in quest of the grub just issued from the egg. My own harvest and that of my young shepherds, whose zeal I employ in a task less difficult than the first, procure me heaps of nests, enough to fill baskets and baskets. These are all inspected at leisure, on my work table, with the excitement which the certainty of an approaching fine discovery never fails to give. The Mason's cocoons are taken from the cells, inspected without, opened and inspected within. My lens explores their innermost recesses; speck by speck, it explores the Chalicodoma's slumbering larva; it explores the inner walls of the cells. Nothing, nothing, nothing! For a fortnight and more, nests were rejected and heaped up in a corner; my study was crammed with them. What hecatombs of unfortunate sleepers removed from their silken bags and doomed, for the most part, to a wretched end, despite the care which I took to put them in a place of safety, where the work of the transformation might be pursued! Curiosity makes us cruel. I continue to rip up cocoons. And nothing, nothing! It needed the sturdiest faith to make me persevere. That faith I possessed; and well for me that I did.

On the 25th of July--the date deserves to be recorded--I saw, or rather seemed to see, something move on the Chalicodoma's larva. Was it an illusion born of my hopes? Was it a bit of diaphanous down stirred by my breath? It was not an illusion, it was not a bit of down, it was really and truly a grub. What a moment, followed by what perplexities! The thing has nothing in common with the larva of the Anthrax, it suggests rather some microscopic Thread worm that, by accident, has made its way through the skin of its host and come to enjoy itself outside. I do not reckon my discovery as of much value, because I am so greatly puzzled by the creature's appearance. No matter: we will take a small glass tube and place inside it the Chalicodoma grub and the mysterious thing wriggling on the surface. Suppose it should be what I am looking for? Who knows?

Once warned of the probable difficulty of seeing the animalcule for which I am hunting, I redouble my attention, so much so that, in a couple of days, I am the owner of half a score of tiny worms similar to the one which caused me such excitement. Each of them is lodged in a glass tube with its Chalicodoma grub. The infinitesimal thing is so small, so diaphanous, blends to such good purpose with its host that the least fold of skin conceals it from my view. After watching it one day through the lens, I sometimes fail to find it again on the morrow. I think that I have lost it, that it has perished under the weight of the overturned larva and returned to that nothing to which it was so closely akin. Then it moves and I see it again. For a whole fortnight, there was no limit to my perplexity. Was it really the original larva of the Anthrax? Yes, for I at last saw my bantlings transform themselves into the larva previously described and make their first start at draining their victims with kisses. A few moments of satisfaction like those which I then enjoyed make up for many a weary hour.

Let us resume the story of the wee animal, now recognized as the genuine origin of the Anthrax. It is a tiny worm about a millimeter long and almost as slender as a hair. It is very difficult to see because of its transparency. When tucked away in a fold of the skin of its fostering larva, an excessively fine skin, it remains undiscoverable to the lens. But the feeble creature is very active: it tramps over the sides of the rich morsel, walks all round it. It covers the ground pretty quickly, buckling and unbuckling by turns, very much after the manner of the looper caterpillar. Its two extremities are its chief points of support. When at a standstill, it moves its front half in every direction, as though to explore the space around it; when walking, it swells out, magnifies its segments and then looks like a bit of knotted string.

The microscope shows us thirteen rings, including the head. This head is small, slightly horny, as is proved by its amber color, and bristles in front with a small number of short, stiff hairs. On each of the three segments of the thorax there are two long hairs, fixed to the lower surface; and there are two similar and still longer hairs at the end of the terminal ring. These four pairs of bristles, three in front and one behind, are the locomotory organs, to which we must add the hairy edge of the head and also the anal button, a sustaining base which might very well work with the aid of a certain stickiness, as happens with the primary larva of the Sitaris [a Parasitic Beetle noted for the multiplicity of transformations undergone by the grub]. We see, through the transparent skin, two long air tubes running parallel to each other from the first thoracic segment to the last abdominal segment but one. They ought to end in two pairs of breathing holes which I have not succeeded in distinguishing quite plainly. Those two big respiratory vessels are characteristic of the grubs of flies. Their mouths correspond exactly with the points at which the two sets of stigmata open in the Anthrax larva in its second form.

For a fortnight, the feeble grub remains in the condition which I have described, without growing and very probably also without nourishment. Assiduous though my visits be, I never perceive it taking any refreshment. Besides, what would it eat? In the cocoon invaded there is nothing but the larva of the mason bee; and the worm cannot make use of this before acquiring the sucker that comes with the second form. Nevertheless, this life of abstinence is not a life of idleness. The animalcule explores its dish, now here, now elsewhere; it runs all over it with looper strides; it pries into the neighborhood by lifting and shaking its head.

I see a need for this long wait under a transitory form that requires no feeding. The egg is laid by the mother on the surface of the nest, somewhere near a suitable cell, I dare say, but still at a distance from the fostering larva, which is protected by a thick rampart. It is for the new born grub to make its own way to the provisions, not by violence and house breaking, of which it is incapable, but by patiently slipping through a maze of cracks,


The Life of the Fly - 10/49

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