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- THE MASON-BEES - 4/32 -


population, which increases rapidly from year to year. Then, on the surface of the nest, whose chambers are hidden under the old general mortar covering, new cells are built, as the needs of the laying-time call for them. They are placed horizontally, or nearly so, side by side, with no attempt at orderly arrangement. Each architect has plenty of elbow-room and builds as and where she pleases, on the one condition that she does not hamper her neighbours' work; otherwise she can look out for rough handling from the parties interested. The cells, therefore, accumulate at random in this workyard where there is no organization. Their shape is that of a thimble divided down the middle; and their walls are completed either by the adjoining cells or by the surface of the old nest. Outside, they are rough and display successive layers of knotted cords corresponding with the different courses of mortar. Inside, the walls are flat without being smooth; later on, the grub's cocoon will make up for any lack of polish.

Each cell, as built, is stocked and walled up immediately, as we have seen with the Mason-bee of the Walls. This work goes on throughout the best part of May. All the eggs are laid at last; and then the Bees, without drawing distinctions between what does and what does not belong to them, set to work in common on a general protection for the colony. This is a thick coat of mortar, which fills up the gaps and covers all the cells. In the end, the common nest presents the appearance of a wide expanse of dry mud, with very irregular protuberances, thicker in the middle, the original nucleus of the establishment, thinner at the edges, where as yet there are only newly built cells, and varying greatly in dimensions according to the number of workers and therefore to the age of the nest first founded. Some of these nests are hardly larger than one's hand, while others occupy the greater part of the projecting edge of a roof and are measured by square yards.

When working alone, which is not unusual, on the shutter of a disused window, on a stone, or on a twig in some hedge, the Sicilian Chalicodoma behaves in just the same way. For instance, should she settle on a twig, the Bee begins by solidly cementing the base of her cell to the slight foundation. Next, the building rises, taking the form of a little upright turret. This first cell, when victualled and sealed, is followed by another, having as its support, in addition to the twig, the cells already built. From six to ten chambers are thus grouped side by side. Lastly, one coat of mortar covers everything, including the twig itself, which provides a firm mainstay for the whole.

CHAPTER 2. EXPERIMENTS.

As the nests of the Mason-bee of the Walls are erected on small-sized pebbles, which can be easily carried wherever you like and moved about from one place to another, without disturbing either the work of the builder or the repose of the occupants of the cells, they lend themselves readily to practical experiment, the only method that can throw a little light on the nature of instinct. To study the insect's mental faculties to any purpose, it is not enough for the observer to be able to profit by some happy combination of circumstances: he must know how to produce other combinations, vary them as much as possible and test them by substitution and interchange. Lastly, to provide science with a solid basis of facts, he must experiment. In this way, the evidence of formal records will one day dispel the fantastic legends with which our books are crowded: the Sacred Beetle (A Dung- beetle who rolls the manure of cattle into balls for his own consumption and that of his young. Cf. "Insect Life", by J.H. Fabre, translated by the author of "Mademoiselle Mori": chapters 1 and 2; and "The Life and Love of the Insect", by J. Henri Fabre, translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos: chapters 1 to 4.--Translator's Note.) calling on his comrades to lend a helping hand in dragging his pellet out of a rut; the Sphex (A species of Hunting Wasp. Cf. "Insect Life": chapters 6 to 12.--Translator's Note.) cutting up her Fly so as to be able to carry him despite the obstacle of the wind; and all the other fallacies which are the stock-in-trade of those who wish to see in the animal world what is not really there. In this way, again, materials will be prepared which will one day be worked up by the hand of a master and consign hasty and unfounded theories to oblivion.

Reaumur, as a rule, confines himself to stating facts as he sees them in the normal course of events and does not try to probe deeper into the insect's ingenuity by means of artificially produced conditions. In his time, everything had yet to be done; and the harvest was so great that the illustrious harvester went straight to what was most urgent, the gathering of the crop, and left his successors to examine the grain and the ear in detail. Nevertheless, in connection with the Chalicodoma of the Walls, he mentions an experiment made by his friend, Duhamel. (Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau (1700-1781), a distinguished writer on botany and agriculture.--Translator's Note.) He tells us how a Mason-bee's nest was enclosed in a glass funnel, the mouth of which was covered merely with a bit of gauze. From it there issued three males, who, after vanquishing mortar as hard as stone, either never thought of piercing the flimsy gauze or else deemed the work beyond their strength. The three Bees died under the funnel. Reaumur adds that insects generally know only how to do what they have to do in the ordinary course of nature.

The experiment does not satisfy me, for two reasons: first, to ask workers equipped with tools for cutting clay as hard as granite to cut a piece of gauze does not strike me as a happy inspiration; you cannot expect a navvy's pick-axe to do the same work as a dressmaker's scissors. Secondly, the transparent glass prison seems to me ill- chosen. As soon as the insect has made a passage through the thickness of its earthen dome, it finds itself in broad daylight; and to it daylight means the final deliverance, means liberty. It strikes against an invisible obstacle, the glass; and to it glass is nothing at all and yet an obstruction. On the far side, it sees free space, bathed in sunshine. It wears itself out in efforts to fly there, unable to understand the futile nature of its attempts against that strange barrier which it cannot see. It perishes, at last, of exhaustion, without, in its obstinacy, giving a glance at the gauze closing the conical chimney. The experiment must be renewed under better conditions.

The obstacle which I select is ordinary brown paper, stout enough to keep the insect in the dark and thin enough not to offer serious resistance to the prisoner's efforts. As there is a great difference, in so far as the actual nature of the barrier is concerned, between a paper partition and a clay ceiling, let us begin by enquiring if the Mason-bee of the Walls knows how or rather is able to make her way through one of these partitions. The mandibles are pickaxes suitable for breaking through hard mortar: are they also scissors capable of cutting a thin membrane? This is the point to look into first of all.

In February, by which time the insect is in its perfect state, I take a certain number of cocoons, without damaging them, from their cells and insert them each in a separate stump of reed, closed at one end by the natural wall of the node and open at the other. These pieces of reed represent the cells of the nest. The cocoons are introduced with the insect's head turned towards the opening. Lastly, my artificial cells are closed in different ways. Some receive a stopper of kneaded clay, which, when dry, will correspond in thickness and consistency with the mortar ceiling of the natural nest. Others are plugged with a cylinder of sorghum, at least a centimetre (.39 inch--Translator's Note.) thick; and the remainder with a disk of brown paper solidly fastened by the edge. All these bits of reed are placed side by side in a box, standing upright, with the roof of my making at the top. The insects, therefore, are in the exact position which they occupied in the nest. To open a passage, they must do what they would have done without my interference, they must break through the wall situated above their heads. I shelter the whole under a wide bell-glass and wait for the month of May, the period of the deliverance.

The results far exceed my anticipations. The clay stopper, the work of my fingers, is perforated with a round hole, differing in no wise from that which the Mason-bee contrives through her native mortar dome. The vegetable barrier, new to my prisoners, namely, the sorghum cylinder, also opens with a neat orifice, which might have been the work of a punch. Lastly, the brown-paper cover allows the Bee to make her exit not by bursting through, by making a violent rent, but once more by a clearly defined round hole. My Bees therefore are capable of a task for which they were not born; to come out of their reed cells they do what probably none of their race did before them; they perforate the wall of sorghum-pith, they make a hole in the paper barrier, just as they would have pierced their natural clay ceiling. When the moment comes to free themselves, the nature of the impediment does not stop them, provided that it be not beyond their strength; and henceforth the argument of incapacity cannot be raised when a mere paper barrier is in question.

In addition to the cells made out of bits of reed, I put under the bell-glass, at the same time, two nests which are intact and still resting on their pebbles. To one of them I have attached a sheet of brown paper pressed close against the mortar dome. In order to come out, the insect will have to pierce first the dome and then the paper, which follows without any intervening space. Over the other, I have placed a little brown paper cone, gummed to the pebble. There is here, therefore, as in the first case, a double wall--a clay partition and a paper partition--with this difference, that the two walls do not come immediately after each other, but are separated by an empty space of about a centimetre at the bottom, increasing as the cone rises.

The results of these two experiments are quite different. The Bees in the nest to which a sheet of paper was tightly stuck come out by piercing the two enclosures, of which the outer wall, the paper wrapper, is perforated with a very clean round hole, as we have already seen in the reed cells closed with a lid of the same material. We thus become aware, for the second time, that, when the Mason-bee is stopped by a paper barrier, the reason is not her incapacity to overcome the obstacle. On the other hand, the occupants of the nest covered with the cone, after making their way through the earthen dome, finding the sheet of paper at some distance, do not even try to perforate this obstacle, which they would have conquered so easily had it been fastened to the nest. They die under the cover without making any attempt to escape. Even so did Reaumur's Bees perish in the glass funnel, where their liberty depended only upon their cutting through a bit of gauze.

This fact strikes me as rich in inferences. What! Here are sturdy insects, to whom boring through granite is mere play, to whom a stopper of soft wood and a paper partition are walls quite easy to perforate despite the novelty of the material; and yet these vigorous housebreakers allow themselves to perish stupidly in the prison of a paper bag, which they could have torn open with one stroke of their mandibles! They are capable of tearing it, but they do not dream of doing so! There can be only one explanation of this suicidal inaction. The insect is well-endowed with tools and instinctive faculties for accomplishing the final act of its metamorphosis, namely, the act of emerging from the cocoon and from the cell. Its mandibles provide it with scissors, file, pick-axe and lever wherewith to cut, gnaw through and demolish either its cocoon and its mortar enclosure or any other not too obstinate barrier substituted for the natural covering of the nest. Moreover--and this is an important proviso, except for which the outfit would be useless--it has, I will not say the will to use those tools, but a secret stimulus inviting it to employ them. When the hour


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