Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything

Bride.Ru

Books Menu

Home
Author Catalog
Title Catalog
Sectioned Catalog

 

- THE MASON-BEES - 20/32 -


of its own motion, at its own risk and peril, reach the victuals which the mother knows to be close at hand. She has no strength to do more; and it is for the new-born grub to make its way into the refectory.

I am better acquainted with the manoeuvres of certain Tachinae, the tiniest of pale-grey Flies, who, cowering on the sand in the sun, in the neighbourhood of a burrow, patiently await the hour at which to strike the fell blow. Let a Bembex-wasp return from the chase, with her Gad-fly; a Philanthus, with her Bee; a Cerceris, with her Weevil; a Tachytes, with her Locust: straightway the parasites are there, coming and going, turning and twisting with the Wasp, always at her rear, without allowing themselves to be put off by any cautious feints. At the moment when the huntress goes indoors, with her captured game between her legs, they fling themselves on her prey, which is on the point of disappearing underground, and nimbly lay their eggs upon it. The thing is done in the twinkling of an eye: before the threshold is crossed, the carcase holds the germs of a new set of guests, who will feed on victuals not amassed for them and starve the children of the house to death.

This other, resting on the burning sand, is also a member of the Fly tribe; she is an Anthrax. (Cf. "The Life of the Fly": chapter 2.-- Translator's Note.) She has wide wings, spread horizontally, half smoked and half transparent. She wears a dress of velvet, like the Bombylius, her near neighbour in the official registers; but, though the soft down is similar in fineness, it is very different in colour. Anthrax is Greek for coal. It is a happy denomination, reminding us of the Fly's mourning livery, a coal-black livery with silver tears. The same deep mourning garbs those parasitic Bees, and these are the only instances known to me of that violent opposition of dead black and white.

Nowadays, when men interpret everything with glorious assurance, when they explain the Lion's tawny mane as due to the colour of the African desert, attribute the Tiger's dark stripes to the streaks of shadow cast by the bamboos and extricate any number of other magnificent things with the same facility from the mists of the unknown, I should not be sorry to hear what they have to say of the Melecta, the Crocisa and the Anthrax and of the origin of their exceptional costume.

The word 'mimesis' has been invented for the express purpose of designating the animal's supposed faculty of adapting itself to its environment by imitating the objects around it, at least in the matter of colouring. We are told that it uses this faculty to baffle its foes, or else to approach its prey without alarming it. Finding itself the better for this dissimulation, a source of prosperity indeed, each race, sifted by the struggle for life, is considered to have preserved those best-endowed with mimetic powers and to have allowed the others to become extinct, thus gradually converting into a fixed characteristic what at first was but a casual acquisition. The Lark became earth-coloured in order to hide himself from the eyes of the birds of prey when pecking in the fields; the Common Lizard adopted a grass-green tint in order to blend with the foliage of the thickets in which he lurks; the Cabbage-caterpillar guarded against the bird's beak by taking the colour of the plant on which it feeds. And so with the rest.

In my callow youth, these comparisons would have interested me: I was just ripe for that kind of science. In the evenings, on the straw of the threshing-floor, we used to talk of the Dragon, the monster which, to inveigle people and snap them up with greater certainty, became indistinguishable from a rock, the trunk of a tree, a bundle of twigs. Since those happy days of artless credulity, scepticism has chilled my imagination to some extent. By way of a parallel with the three examples which I have quoted, I ask myself why the White Wagtail, who seeks his food in the furrows as does the Lark, has a white shirt- front surmounted by a magnificent black stock. This dress is one of those most easily picked out at a distance against the rusty colour of the soil. Whence this neglect to practise mimesis, 'protective mimicry'? He has every need of it, poor fellow, quite as much as his companion in the fields!

Why is the Eyed Lizard of Provence as green as the Common Lizard, considering that he shuns verdure and chooses as his haunt, in the bright sunlight, some chink in the naked rocks where not so much as a tuft of moss grows? If, to capture his tiny prey, his brother in the copses and the hedges thought it necessary to dissemble and consequently to dye his pearl-embroidered coat, how comes it that the denizen of the sun-blistered rocks persists in his blue-and-green colouring, which at once betrays him against the whity-grey stone? Indifferent to mimicry, is he the less skilful Beetle-hunter on that account, is his race degenerating? I have studied him sufficiently to be able to declare with positive certainty that he continues to thrive both in numbers and in vigour.

Why has the Spurge-caterpillar adopted for its dress the gaudiest colours and those which contrast most with the green of the leaves which it frequents? Why does it flaunt its red, black and white in patches clashing violently with one another? Would it not be worth its while to follow the example of the Cabbage-caterpillar and imitate the verdure of the plant that feeds it? Has it no enemies? Of course it has: which of us, animals and men, has not?

A string of these whys could be extended indefinitely. It would give me amusement, did my time permit me, to counter each example of protective mimicry with a host of examples to the contrary. What manner of law is this which has at least ninety-nine exceptions in a hundred cases? Poor human nature! There is a deceptive agreement between a few actual facts and the theory which we are so foolishly ready to believe; and straightway we interpret the facts in the light of the theory. In a speck of the immense unknown we catch a glimpse of a phantom truth, a shadow, a will-o'-the-wisp; once the atom is explained, for better or worse, we imagine that we hold the explanation of the universe and all that it contains; and we forthwith shout:

'The great law of Nature! Behold the infallible law!'

Meanwhile, the discordant facts, an innumerable host, clamour at the gates of the law, being unable to gain admittance.

At the door of that infinitely restricted law clamour the great tribe of Golden Wasps, whose dazzling splendour, worthy of the wealth of Golconda, clashes with the dingy colour of their haunts. To deceive the eyes of their bird-tyrants, the Swift, the Swallow, the Chat and the others, these Chrysis-wasps, who glow like a carbuncle, like a nugget in the midst of its dark veinstone, certainly do not adapt themselves to the sand and the clay of their downs. The Green Grasshopper, we are told, thought out a plan for gulling his enemies by identifying himself in colour with the grass in which he dwells, whereas the Wasp, so rich in instinct and strategy, allowed herself to be distanced in the race by the dull-witted Locust! Rather than adapt herself as the other does, she persists in her incredible splendour, which betrays her from afar to every insect-eater and in particular to the little Grey Lizard, who lies hungrily in wait for her on the old sun-tapestried walls. She remains ruby, emerald and turquoise amidst her grey environment; and her race thrives none the worse.

The enemy that eats you is not the only one to be deceived; mimesis must also play its colour-tricks on him whom you have to eat. See the Tiger in his jungle, see the Praying Mantis on her green branch. (For the Praying Mantis, cf. "Social Life in the Insect World", by J.H. Fabre, translated by Bernard Miall: chapters 5 to 7.--Translator's Note.) Astute mimicry is even more necessary when the one to be duped is an amphitryon at whose cost the parasite's family is to be established. The Tachinae seem to declare as much: they are grey or greyish, of a colour as undecided as the dusty soil on which they cower while waiting for the arrival of the huntress laden with her capture. But they dissemble in vain: the Bembex, the Philanthus and the others see them from above, before touching ground; they recognize them perfectly at a distance, despite their grey costume. And so they hover prudently above the burrow and strive, by sudden feints, to mislead the traitorous little Fly, who, on her side, knows her business too well to allow herself to be enticed away or to leave the spot where the other is bound to return. No, a thousand times no: clay-coloured though they be, the Tachinae have no better chance of attaining their ends than a host of other parasites whose clothing is not of grey frieze to match the locality frequented, as witness the glittering Chrysis, or the Melecta and the Crocisa, with their white spots on a black ground.

We are also told that, the better to cozen his amphitryon, the parasite adopts more or less the same shape and colouring; he turns himself, in appearance, into a harmless neighbour, a worker belonging to the same guild. Instance the Psithyrus, who lives at the expense of the Bumble-bee. But in what, if you please, does Parnopes carnea resemble the Bembex into whose home she penetrates in her presence? In what does the Melecta resemble the Anthophora, who stands aside on her threshold to let her pass? The difference of costume is most striking. The Melecta's deep mourning has naught in common with the Anthophora's russet coat. The Parnopes' emerald-and-carmine thorax possesses not the least feature of resemblance with the black-and-yellow livery of the Bembex. And this Chrysis also is a dwarf in comparison with the ardent Nimrod who goes hunting Gad-flies.

Besides, what a curious idea, to make the parasite's success depend upon a more or less faithful likeness with the insect to be robbed! Why, the imitation would have exactly the opposite effect! With the exception of the Social Bees, who work at a common task, failure would be certain, for here, as among mankind, two of a trade never agree. An Osmia, an Anthophora, a Chalicodoma had better be careful not to poke an indiscreet head in at her neighbour's door: a sound drubbing would soon recall her to a sense of the proprieties. She might easily find herself with a dislocated shoulder or a mangled leg in return for a simple visit which was perhaps prompted by no evil intention. Each for herself in her own stronghold. But let a parasite appear, meditating foul play: that's a very different thing. She can wear the trappings of Harlequin or of a church-beadle; she can be the Clerus-beetle, in wing-cases of vermilion with blue trimmings, or the Dioxys-bee, with a red scarf across her black abdomen, and the mistress of the house will let her have her way, or, if she become too pressing, will drive her off with a mere flick of her wing. With her, there is no serious fray, no fierce fight. The Bludgeon is reserved for the friend of the family. Now go and practice your mimesis in order to receive a welcome from the Anthophora or the Chalicodoma! A few hours spent with the insects themselves will turn any one into a hardened scoffer at these artless theories.

To sum up, mimesis, in my eyes, is a piece of childishness. Were I not anxious to remain polite, I should say that it is sheer stupidity; and the word would express my meaning better. The variety of combinations in the domain of possible things is infinite. It is undeniable that, here and there, cases occur in which the animal harmonizes with surrounding objects. It would even be very strange if such cases were excluded from actuality, since everything is possible. But these rare coincidences are faced, under exactly similar conditions, by inconsistencies so strongly marked and so numerous that, having frequency on their side, they ought, in all logic, to serve as the basis of the law. Here, one fact says yes; there, a thousand facts say no. To which evidence shall we lend an ear? If we only wish to bolster


THE MASON-BEES - 20/32

Previous Page     Next Page

  1   10   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   30   32 

Schulers Books Home



 Games Menu

Home
Balls
Battleship
Buzzy
Dice Poker
Memory
Mine
Peg
Poker
Tetris
Tic Tac Toe

Google
 
Web schulers.com
 

Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything