Chapter IV. Larval Dimorphism
Jean-Henri Fabre The Life of the Fly
Hairy Footed Flower Bee (Anthophora Plumipes)
If the reader has paid any attention to the story of the Anthrax, he must have perceived that my narrative is incomplete. The fox in the fable saw how the lion's visitors entered his den, but did not see how they went out. With us, it is the converse: we know the way out of the mason bee's fortress, but we do not know the way in. To leave the cell of which he has eaten the owner, the Anthrax becomes a perforating machine, a living tool from which our own industry might take a hint if it required new drills for boring rocks. When the exit tunnel is opened, this tool splits like a pod bursting in the sun; and from the stout framework there escapes a dainty fly, a velvety flake, a soft fluff that astounds us by its contrast with the roughness of the depths whence it ascends. On this point, we know pretty well what there is to know. There remains the entrance into the cell, a puzzle that has kept me on the alert for a quarter of a century.
To begin with, it is evident that the mother cannot lodge her egg in the cell of the mason bee, which has been long closed and barricaded with a cement wall by the time that the Anthrax makes her appearance. To penetrate it, she would have to become an excavating tool once more and resume the cast-off rags which she left behind in the exit window; she would have to retrace her steps, to be reborn a pupa; and life knows none of these retrogressions. The full grown insect, if endowed with claws, mandibles and plenty of perseverance, might at a pinch force the mortar casket; but the fly is not so endowed. Her slender legs would be strained and deformed by merely sweeping away a little dust; her mouth is a sucker for gathering the sugary exudations of the flowers and not the solid pincers needed for the crumbling of cement. There is no auger either, no bore copied from that of the Leucospis, no implement of any kind that can work its way into the thickness of the wall and dispatch the egg to its destination. In short, the mother is absolutely incapable of settling her eggs in the chamber of the Mason bee.
Can it be the grub that makes its own way into the storeroom, that same grub which we have seen draining the Chalicodoma with its leech-like kisses? Let us call the creature to mind: a little oily sausage, which stretches and curls up just where it lies, without being able to shift its position. Its body is a smooth cylinder; its mouth simply a circular lip. Not one ambulatory organ does it possess; not even hairs, protuberances or wrinkles to enable it to crawl. The animal is made for digestion and immobility. Its organization is incompatible with movement; everything tells us so in the clearest fashion. No, this grub is even less able than the mother to make its way unaided into the mason's dwelling. And yet the provisions are there; those provisions must be reached: it is a matter of life or death; to be or not to be. Then how does the fly set about it? It would be vain for me to question probabilities, too often illusory; to obtain a reply of any value, I have but one resource; I must attempt the nearly impossible and watch the Anthrax from the egg onwards.
Although Anthrax flies are fairly common, in the sense of there being several different species, they are not plentiful when it is a case of wanting a colony populous enough to admit of continuous observation. I see them, now here, now there, in the fiercely sun- scorched places, flitting hither and thither on the old walls, the slopes and the sand, sometimes in small platoons, most often singly. I can expect nothing of those vagabonds, who are here today and gone tomorrow, for I know nothing of their settlements. To keep a watch on them, one by one, in the blazing heat, is very painful and very unfruitful, as the swift-winged insect has a habit of disappearing one knows not whither just when a prospect of capturing its secret begins to offer. I have wasted many a patient hour at this pursuit, without the least result.
There might be some chance of success with Anthrax flies whose home was known to us beforehand, especially if insects of the same species formed a pretty numerous colony. The inquiries begun with one would be continued with a second and with more, until a complete verdict was forthcoming. Now, in the course of my long entomological career, I have met with but two species of Anthrax that fulfilled this condition and were to be found regularly: one at Carpentras; the other at S?rignan. The first, Anthrax sinuata, FALLEN, lives in the cocoons of Osmia tricornis, who herself builds her nest in the old galleries of the hairy-footed Anthophora; the second, Anthrax trifasciata, MEIGEN, exploits the Chalicodoma of the Sheds. I will consult both.
Once more, here am I, somewhat late in life, at Carpentras, whose rude Gallic name sets the fool smiling and the scholar thinking. Dear little town where I spent my twentieth year and left the first bits of my fleece upon life's bushes, my visit of today is a pilgrimage; I have come to lay my eyes once more upon the place which saw the birth of the liveliest impressions of my early days. I bow, in passing, to the old college where I tried my prentice hand as a teacher. Its appearance is unchanged; it still looks like a penitentiary. Those were the views of our mediaeval educational system. To the gaiety and activity of boyhood, which were considered unwholesome, it applied the remedy of narrowness, melancholy and gloom. Its houses of instruction were, above all, houses of correction. The freshness of Virgil was interpreted in the stifling atmosphere of a prison. I catch a glimpse of a yard between four high walls, a sort of bear pit, where the scholars fought for room for their games under the spreading branches of a plane tree. All around were cells that looked like horse boxes, without light or air; those were the classrooms. I speak in the past tense, for doubtless the present day has seen the last of this academic destitution.
Here is the tobacco shop where, on Wednesday evening, coming out of the college, I would buy on credit the wherewithal to fill my pipe and thus to celebrate on the eve the joys of the morrow, that blessed Thursday (1) which I considered so well employed in solving hard equations, experimenting with new chemical reagents, collecting and identifying my plants. I would make my timid request, pretending to have come out without my money, for it is hard for a self- respecting man to admit that he is penniless. My candor appears to have inspired some little confidence; and I obtained credit, an unprecedented thing, with the representative of the revenue (2). Ah, why did not I open a shop and expose for sale some packets of candles, a dozen dried cod, a barrel of sardines and a few cakes of soap! I am no more of a fool nor any less industrious than another; and I should have made my way. But, as it was, what could I expect? As an accoucheur of brains, a molder of intellects, I had no claim even to bread and cheese.
Here is my former habitation, occupied since by droning monks. In the embrasure of that window, sheltered from profane hands, between the closed outer shutters and the panes, I used to keep my chemicals, bought for a few sous cheated out of the weekly budget in the early days of our housekeeping. The bowl of a pipe was my crucible, a sweet jar my retort, mustard pots my receptacles for oxides and sulfides. My experiments, harmless or dangerous, were made on a corner of the fire beside the simmering broth. How I should love to see that room again where I pored over differentials and integrals, where I calmed my poor burning head by gazing at Mont Ventoux, whose summit held in store for my coming expedition' those denizens of arctic climes, the saxifrage and the poppy! And to see my familiar friend, the blackboard which I hired at five francs a year from a crusty joiner, that board whose value I paid many times over, though I. could never buy it outright, for want of the necessary cash! The conic sections which I described on that blackboard, the learned hieroglyphics!
Though all my efforts, which were the more deserving because I had to work alone, led to almost nothing in that congenial calling, I would begin it all over again if I could. I should love to be conversing for the first time with Leibnitz and Newton, with Laplace and Lagrange, with Cuvier and Jussieu, even if I had afterwards to solve that other arduous problem: how to procure one's daily bread. Ah, young men, my successors, what an easy time you have of it today! If you don't know it, then let me tell you so by means of these few pages from the life of one of your elders.
But let us not forget our insects, while listening to the echoes of illusions and difficulties roused in my memories by the cupboard window and the hired blackboard. Let us go back to the sunken roads of the Legue, which have become classic, so they say, since the appearance of my notes on the Oil beetles. Ye illustrious ravines, with your sun-baked slopes, if I have contributed a little to your fame, you, in your turn, have given me many fair hours of forgetfulness in the happiness of learning. You, at least, did not lure me with vain hopes; all that you promised you gave me and often a hundredfold. You are my promised land, where I would have sought at the last to pitch my observer's tent. My wish was not to be realized. Let me, at least, in passing, greet my beloved animals of the old days.
I raise my hat to Cerceris tuberculata, whom I see engaged on that slant, storing her Cleonus (3). As I saw her then, so I see her now: the same staggering attempts to hoist the prey to the mouth of the burrow; the same brawls between males watching in the brushwood of the kermes oak. The sight of them sends a younger blood coursing through my veins; I receive as it were the breath of a new springtime of life. Time presses; let us pass on.
Another bow on this side. I hear buzzing up above, on that ledge, a colony of Sphex wasps, stabbing their crickets. We will give them a friendly glance, but no more. My acquaintances here are too numerous; I have not the leisure to renew my former relations with all of them. Without stopping, a wave of the hat to the Philanthi (4) who send the long avalanches of rubbish streaming down from their nests; and to Stizus ruficornis, (5) who stacks her praying mantises between two flakes of sandstone; and to the silky Ammophila (6) with the red legs, who collects an underground store of loopers (7) and to the Tachtyti (8), devourers of locusts; and to the Eumenes, builders of clay cupolas on a bough.
Here we are at last. This high, perpendicular rock, facing the south to a length of some hundreds of yards and riddled with holes like a monstrous sponge, is the time-honored dwelling place of the hairy-footed Anthophora and of her rent free tenant, the three- horned Osmia. Here also swarm their exterminators: the Sitaris beetle, the parasite of the Anthophora; the Anthrax fly, the murderer of the Osmia. Ill informed as to the proper period, I have come rather late, on the 10th of September. I should have been here a month ago, or even by the end of July, to watch the fly's operations. My journey threatens to be fruitless: I see but a few rare Anthrax flies, hovering round the face of the cliff. We will not despair, however, and we will begin by consulting the locality.
The Anthophora's cells contain this bee in the larval stage. Some of them provide me with the oil beetle and the Sitaris, rare finds at one time, today of no use to me. Others contain the Melecta (9) in the form of a highly colored pupa, or even in that of the full grown insect. The Osmia, still more precocious, though dating from the same period, shows herself exclusively in the adult form, a bad omen for my investigations, for what the Anthrax demands is the larva and not the perfect insect. The fly's grub doubles my apprehensions. Its development is complete, the larva on which it feeds is consumed, perhaps several weeks ago. I no longer doubt but that I have come too late to see what happens in the Osmia's cocoons.
Is the game lost? Not yet. My notes contain evidence of Anthrax flies hatching in the latter half of September. Besides, those whom I now see exploring the rock are not there to take exercise: their preoccupation is the settling of the family. These belated ones cannot tackle the Osmia, who, with her firm, adult flesh, would not suit the nursling's delicate needs and who, moreover, powerful as she is, would offer resistance. But in autumn a less numerous colony of honey gatherers takes the place, upon the slope, of the spring colony, from which it differs in species. In particular, I see the Diadem Anthidium (10) at work, entering her galleries at one time with her harvest of pollen dust and at another with her little bale of cotton. Might not these autumnal Bees be themselves exploited by the Anthrax, the same that selected the Osmia as her victim a couple of months earlier? This would explain the presence of the Anthrax flies whom I now see fussing about.
A little reassured by this conjecture, I take my stand at the foot of the rock, under a broiling sun; and, for half a day, I follow the evolutions of my flies. They flit quietly in front of the slope, at a few inches from the earthy covering. They go from one orifice to the next, but without even penetrating. For that matter, their big wings, extended crosswise even when at rest, would resist their entrance into a gallery, which is too narrow to admit those spreading sails. And so they explore the cliff, going to and fro and up and down, with a flight that is now sudden, now smooth and slow. From time to time, I see the Anthrax quickly approach the wall and lower her abdomen as though to touch the earth with the end of her ovipositor. This proceeding takes no longer than the twinkling of an eye. When it is done, the insect alights elsewhere and rests. Then it resumes its sober flight, its long investigations and its sudden blows with the tip of its belly against the layer of earth. The Bombylii (11) observe similar tactics when soaring at a short height above the ground.
I at once rushed to the spot touched, lens in hand, in the hope of finding the egg which everything told me was laid during that tap of the abdomen. I could distinguish nothing, in spite of the closest attention. It is true that my exhaustion, together with the blinding light and scorching heat, made examination very difficult. Afterwards, when I made the acquaintance of the tiny thing that issues from that egg, my failure no longer surprised me. In the leisure of my study, with my eyes rested and with my most powerful glasses held in a hand no longer shaking with excitement and fatigue, I have the very greatest difficulty in finding the infinitesimal creature, though I know exactly where it lies. Then how could I see the egg, worn out as I was under the sun-baked cliff, how discover the precise spot of a laying performed in a moment by an insect seen only at a distance? In the painful conditions wherein I found myself, failure was inevitable.
Despite my negative attempts, therefore, I remain convinced that the Anthrax flies strew their eggs one by one, on the spots frequented by those bees who suit their grubs. Each of their sudden strokes with the tip of the abdomen represents a laying. They take no precaution to place the germ under cover; for that matter, any such precaution would be rendered impossible by the mother's structure. The egg, that delicate object, is laid roughly in the blazing sun, between grains of sand, in some wrinkle of the calcined chalk. That summary installation is sufficient, provided the coveted larva be near at hand. It is for the young grub now to manage as best it can at its own risk and peril.
Though the sunken roads of the Legue did not tell me all that I wished to know, they at least made it very probable that the coming grub must reach the victualled cell by its own efforts. But the grub which we know, the one that drains the bag of fat which may be a Chalicodoma larva or an Osmia larva, cannot move from its place, still less indulge in journeys of discovery through the thickness of a wall and the web of a cocoon. So an imperative necessity presents itself: there must perforce be an initial larva form, capable of moving and organized for searching, a form under which the grub would attain its end. The Anthrax would thus possess two larval states: one to penetrate to the provisions; the other to consume them. I allow myself to be convinced by the logic of it all; I already see in my mind's eye the wee animal coming out of the egg, endowed with sufficient power of motion not to dread a walk and with sufficient slenderness to glide into the smallest crevices. Once in the presence of the larva on which it is to feed, it doffs its travelling dress and becomes the obese animal whose one duty it is to grow big and fat in immobility. This is all very coherent; it is all deduced like a geometrical proposition. But to the wings of imagination, however smooth their flight, we must prefer the sandals of observed facts, the slow sandals with the leaden soles. Thus shod, I proceed.
Next year, I resume my investigations, this time on the Anthrax of the Chalicodoma, who is my neighbor in the surrounding wastelands and will allow me to repeat my visits daily, morning and evening if need be. Taught by my earlier studies, I now know the exact period of the Bee's hatching and therefore of the Anthrax' laying, which must take place soon after. Anthrax trifasciata settles her family in July, or in August at latest. Every morning, at nine o'clock, when the heat begins to be unendurable and when, to use (12) Favier's expression, an extra log is flung on the bonfire of the sun, I take the field, prepared to come back with my head aching from the glare, provided that I bring home the solution of my puzzle. A man must have the devil in him to leave the shade at this time of the year. And what for, pray? To write the story of a fly! The greater the heat, the better my chance of success. What causes me to suffer torture fills the insect with delight; what prostrates me braces the fly. Come along!
The road shimmers like a sheet of molten steel. From the dusty and melancholy olive trees rises a mighty, throbbing hum, a great andante whose executants have the whole sweep of woods for their orchestra. 'Tis the concert of the Cicada, whose bellies sway and rustle with increasing frenzy as the temperature rises. The strident scrapings of the Cicada of the Ash, the Carcan of the district, lend their rhythm to the one note symphony of the common cicada. This is the moment: come along! And, for five or six weeks, oftenest in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, I set myself to explore the flinty plateau.
The Chalicodoma's nests abound, but I cannot see a single Anthrax make a black speck upon their surface. Not one, busy with her laying, settles in front of me. At most, from time to time, I can just see one passing far away, with an impetuous rush. I lose her 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 (13). 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, first tried, then abandoned, then tried again. It is a very difficult task, even for this most slender worm, for the bee's masonry is exceedingly compact. There are no chinks due to bad building; no fissures due to the weather; nothing but an apparently impenetrable homogeneity. I see but one weak part and that only in a few nests: it is the line where the dome joins the surface of the stone. An imperfect soldering between two materials of different nature, cement and flint, may leave a breach wide enough to admit besiegers as thin as a hair. Nevertheless, the lens is far from always finding an inlet of this kind on the nests occupied by Anthrax flies.
And so I am ready to allow that the animalcule wandering in search of its cell has the whole area of the dome at its disposal when selecting an entrance. Where the line auger of the Leucospis can enter, is there not room enough for the even slimmer Anthrax grub? True, the Leucospis possesses muscular force and a hard boring tool. The Anthrax is extremely weak and has nothing but invincible patience. It does at great length of time what the other, furnished with superior implements, accomplishes in three hours. This explains the fortnight spent by the Anthrax under the initial form, the object of which is to overcome the obstacle of the mason's wall, to pierce through the texture of the cocoon and to reach the victuals.
I even believe that it takes longer. The work is so laborious and the worker so feeble! I cannot tell how long it is since my bantlings attained their object. Perhaps, aided by easy roads, they had reached their fostering larvae long before the completion of their first babyhood, the end of which they were spending before my eyes, with no apparent purpose, in exploring their provisions. The time had not yet come for them to change their skins and take their seats at the table. Their fellows must still, for the most part, be wandering through the pores of the masonry; and this was what made my search so vain at the start.
A few facts seem to suggest that the entrance into the cell may be delayed for several months by the difficulty of the passages. There are a few Anthrax grubs beside the remains of pupae not far removed from the final metamorphosis; there are others, but very rarely, on Mason bees already in the perfect state. These grubs are sickly and appear to be ailing; the provisions are too solid and do not lend themselves to the delicate suckling of the worms. Who can these laggards be but animalcules that have roamed too long in the walls of the nest? Failing to make their entrance at the proper time, they no longer find viands to suit them. The primary larva of the Sitaris continues from the autumn to the following spring. Even so the initial form of the Anthrax might well continue, not in inactivity, but in stubborn attempts to overcome the thick bulwark.
My young worms, when transferred with their provisions into tubes, remained stationary, on the average, for a couple of weeks. At last, I saw them shrink and then rid themselves of their epidermis and become the grub which I was so anxiously expecting as the final reply to all my doubts. It was indeed, from the first, the grub of the Anthrax, the cream-colored cylinder with the little button of a head, followed by a hump. Applying its cupping glass to the mason bee, the worm, without delay, began its meal, which lasts another fortnight. The reader knows the rest.
Before taking leave of the animalcule, let us devote a few lines to its instinct. It has just awakened to life under the fierce kisses of the sun. The bare stone is its cradle, the rough clay its welcomer, as it makes its entrance into the world, a poor thread of scarce cohering albumen. But safety lies within; and behold the atom of animated glair embarking on its struggle with the flint. Obstinately, it sounds each pore; it slips in, crawls on, retreats, begins again. The radical of the germinating seed is no more persevering in its efforts to descend into the cool earth than is the Anthrax grub in creeping into the lump of mortar. What inspiration urges it towards its food at the bottom of the clod, what compass guides it? What does it know of those depths, of what lies therein or where? Nothing. What does the root know of the earth's fruitfulness? Again nothing. Yet both make for the nourishing spot. Theories are put forward, most learned theories, introducing capillary action, osmosis and cellular imbibition, to explain why the caulicle ascends and the radical descends. Shall physical or chemical forces explain why the animalcule digs into the hard clay? I bow profoundly, without understanding or even trying to understand. The question is far above, our inane means.
The biography of the Anthrax is now complete, save for the details relating to the egg, as yet unknown. In the vast majority of insects subject to metamorphoses, the hatching yields the larval form which will remain unchanged until the nymphosis. By virtue of a remarkable variation, revealing a new vein of observation to the entomologist, the Anthrax flies, in the larval state, assume two successive shapes, differing greatly one from the other, both in structure and in the part which they are called upon to play. I will describe this double stage of the organism by the phrase ‚larval dimorphism.‘ The initial form, that issuing from the egg, I will call ‚the primary larva;‘ the second form shall be ‚the secondary larva.‘ Among the Anthrax flies, the function of the primary larva is to reach the provisions, on which the mother is unable to lay her egg. It is capable of moving and endowed with ambulatory bristles, which allow the slim creature to glide through the smallest interstices in the wall of a Bee's nest, to slip through the woof of the cocoon and to make its way to the larva intended for its successor's food. When this object is attained, its part is played. Then appears the secondary larva, deprived of any means of progression. Relegated to the inside of the invaded cell, as incapable of leaving it by its own efforts as it was of entering, this one has no mission in life but that of eating. It is a stomach that loads itself, digests and goes on adding to its reserves. Next comes the pupa, armed for the exit even as the primary larva was equipped for entering. When the deliverance is accomplished, the perfect insect appears, busy with its laying. The Anthrax cycle is thus divided into four periods, each of which corresponds with special forms and functions. The primary larva enters the casket containing provisions; the secondary larva consumes these provisions; the pupa brings the insect to light by boring through the enclosing wall; the perfect insect strews its eggs; and the cycle starts afresh.
1. The weekly half-holiday in French schools.
2. The government in France has the sole control of the tobacco trade, which forms an important branch of the inland revenue.
3. A large species of weevil.
4. Bee-hunting wasps.
5. A hunting wasp.
6. A digger wasp.
7. Also known as measuring worms, the larvae or caterpillars of the geometrid moth.
8. Hunting wasps.
9. A parasitic bee.
10. A clothier bee who lines her nest with wool and cotton.
11. Bee flies.
12. The Author's gardener and factotum.
13. A Parasitic Beetle noted for the multiplicity of transformations undergone by the grub.