Chapter XII. The Osmiae. Their Habits

Jean-Henri Fabre The Wonders of Instinct

Giant hornet

The Giant Hornet (Vespa Crabo)

February has its sunny days, heralding spring, to which rude winter will reluctantly yield place. In snug corners, among the rocks, the great spurge of our district, the characias of the Greeks, the jusclo of the Proven?als, begins to lift its drooping inflorescence and discreetly opens a few sombre flowers. Here the first midges of the year will come to slake their thirst. By the time that the tip of the stalks reaches the perpendicular, the worst of the cold weather will be over.

Another eager one, the almond-tree, risking the loss of its fruit, hastens to echo these preludes to the festival of the sun, preludes which are too often treacherous. A few days of soft skies and it becomes a glorious dome of white flowers, each twinkling with a roseate eye. The country, which still lacks green, seems dotted everywhere with white-satin pavilions. 'Twould be a callous heart indeed that could resist the magic of this awakening.

The insect nation is represented at these rites by a few of its more zealous members. There is first of all the Honey-bee, the sworn enemy of strikes, who profits by the least lull of winter to find out if some rosemary or other is not beginning to open somewhere near the hive. The droning of the busy swarms fills the flowery vault, while a snow of petals falls softly to the foot of the tree.

Together with the population of harvesters there mingles another, less numerous, of mere drinkers, whose nesting-time has not yet begun. This is the colony of the Osmiae, those exceedingly pretty solitary bees, with their copper-coloured skin and bright-red fleece. Two species have come hurrying up to take part in the joys of the almond-tree: first, the Horned Osmia, clad in black velvet on the head and breast, with red velvet on the abdomen; and, a little later, the Three-horned Osmia, whose livery must be red and red only. These are the first delegates despatched by the pollen-gleaners to ascertain the state of the season and attend the festival of the early blooms.

'Tis but a moment since they burst their cocoon, the winter abode: they have left their retreats in the crevices of the old walls; should the north wind blow and set the almond-tree shivering, they will hasten to return to them. Hail to you, O my dear Osmiae, who yearly, from the far end of the harmas, opposite snow-capped Ventoux (1), bring me the first tidings of the awakening of the insect world! I am one of your friends; let us talk about you a little.

Most of the Osmiae of my region do not themselves prepare the dwelling destined for the laying. They want ready-made lodgings, such as the old cells and old galleries of Anthophorae and Chalicodomae. If these favourite haunts are lacking, then a hiding-place in the wall, a round hole in some bit of wood, the tube of a reed, the spiral of a dead Snail under a heap of stones are adopted, according to the tastes of the several species. The retreat selected is divided into chambers by partition-walls, after which the entrance to the dwelling receives a massive seal. That is the sum-total of the building done.

For this plasterer's rather than mason's work, the Horned and the Three-horned Osmia employ soft earth. This material is a sort of dried mud, which turns to pap on the addition of a drop of water. The two Osmiae limit themselves to gathering natural soaked earth, mud in short, which they allow to dry without any special preparation on their part; and so they need deep and well-sheltered retreats, into which the rain cannot penetrate, or the work would fall to pieces.

Latreille's Osmia uses different materials for her partitions and her doors. She chews the leaves of some mucilaginous plant, some mallow perhaps, and then prepares a sort of green putty with which she builds her partitions and finally closes the entrance to the dwelling. When she settles in the spacious cells of the Masked Anthophora (Anthophora personata, Illig.), the entrance to the gallery, which is wide enough to admit a man's finger, is closed with a voluminous plug of this vegetable paste. On the earthy banks, hardened by the sun, the home is then betrayed by the gaudy colour of the lid. It is as though the authorities had closed the door and affixed to it their great seals of green wax.

So far then as their building-materials are concerned, the Osmiae whom I have been able to observe are divided into two classes: one building compartments with mud, the other with a green-tinted vegetable putty. To the latter belongs Latreille's Osmia. The first section includes the Horned Osmia and the Three-horned Osmia, both so remarkable for the horny tubercles on their faces.

The great reed of the south, Arundo donax, is often used, in the country, for making rough garden-shelters against the mistral or just for fences. These reeds, the ends of which are chopped off to make them all the same length, are planted perpendicularly in the earth. I have often explored them in the hope of finding Osmia-nests. My search has very seldom succeeded. The failure is easily explained. The partitions and the closing-plug of the Horned and of the Three-horned Osmia are made, as we have seen, of a sort of mud which water instantly reduces to pap. With the upright position of the reeds, the stopper of the opening would receive the rain and would become diluted; the ceilings of the storeys would fall in and the family would perish by drowning. Therefore the Osmia, who knew of these drawbacks before I did, refuses the reeds when they are placed perpendicularly.

The same reed is used for a second purpose. We make canisses of it, that is to say, hurdles, which, in spring, serve for the rearing of Silkworms and, in autumn, for the drying of figs. At the end of April and during May, which is the time when the Osmiae work, the canisses are indoors, in the Silkworm nurseries, where the Bee cannot take possession of them; in autumn, they are outside, exposing their layers of figs and peeled peaches to the sun; but by that time the Osmiae have long disappeared. If, however, during the spring, an old, disused hurdle is left out of doors, in a horizontal position, the Three-horned Osmia often takes possession of it and makes use of the two ends, where the reeds lie truncated and open.

There are other quarters that suit the Three-horned Osmia, who is not particular, it seems to me, and will make shift with any hiding-place, so long as it have the requisite conditions of diameter, solidity, sanitation and kindly darkness. The most original dwellings that I know her to occupy are disused Snail-shells, especially the house of the Common Snail (Helix aspersa). Let us go to the slope of the hills thick with olive-trees and inspect the little supporting-walls which are built of dry stones and face the south. In the crevices of this insecure masonry we shall reap a harvest of old Snail-shells, plugged with earth right up to the orifice. The family of the Three-horned Osmia is settled in the spiral of those shells, which is subdivided into chambers by mud partitions.

The Three-pronged Osmia (O. Tridentata, Duf. and Per.) alone creates a home of her own, digging herself a channel with her mandibles in dry bramble and sometimes in danewort.

The Osmia loves mystery. She wants a dark retreat, hidden from the eye. I would like, nevertheless, to watch her in the privacy of her home and to witness her work with the same facility as if she were nest-building in the open air. Perhaps there are some interesting characteristics to be picked up in the depths of her retreats. It remains to be seen whether my wish can be realized.

When studying the insect's mental capacity, especially its very retentive memory for places, I was led to ask myself whether it would not be possible to make a suitably-chosen Bee build in any place that I wished, even in my study. And I wanted, for an experiment of this sort, not an individual but a numerous colony. My preference lent towards the Three-horned Osmia, who is very plentiful in my neighbourhood, where, together with Latreille's Osmia, she frequents in particular the monstrous nests of the Chalicodoma of the Sheds. I therefore thought out a scheme for making the Three-horned Osmia accept my study as her settlement and build her nest in glass tubes, through which I could easily watch the progress. To these crystal galleries, which might well inspire a certain distrust, were to be added more natural retreats: reeds of every length and thickness and disused Chalicodoma-nests taken from among the biggest and the smallest. A scheme like this sounds mad. I admit it, while mentioning that perhaps none ever succeeded so well with me. We shall see as much presently.

My method is extremely simple. All I ask is that the birth of my insects, that is to say, their first seeing the light, their emerging from the cocoon, should take place on the spot where I propose to make them settle. Here there must be retreats of no matter what nature, but of a shape similar to that in which the Osmia delights. The first impressions of sight, which are the most long-lived of any, shall bring back my insects to the place of their birth. And not only will the Osmiae return, through the always open windows, but they will also nidify on the natal spot, if they find something like the necessary conditions.

And so, all through the winter, I collect Osmia-cocoons picked up in the nests of the Mason-bee of the Sheds; I go to Carpentras to glean a more plentiful supply in the nests of the Anthophora. I spread out my stock in a large open box on a table which receives a bright diffused light but not the direct rays of the sun. The table stands between two windows facing south and overlooking the garden. When the moment of hatching comes, those two windows will always remain open to give the swarm entire liberty to go in and out as it pleases. The glass tubes and reed-stumps are laid here and there, in fine disorder, close to the heaps of cocoons and all in a horizontal position, for the Osmia will have nothing to do with upright reeds. Although such a precaution is not indispensable, I take care to place some cocoons in each cylinder. The hatching of some of the Osmiae will therefore take place under cover of the galleries destined to be the building-yard later; and the site will be all the more deeply impressed on their memory. When I have made these comprehensive arrangements, there is nothing more to be done; and I wait patiently for the building-season to open.

My Osmiae leave their cocoons in the second half of April. Under the immediate rays of the sun, in well-sheltered nooks, the hatching would occur a month earlier, as we can see from the mixed population of the snowy almond-tree. The constant shade in my study has delayed the awakening, without, however, making any change in the nesting-period, which synchronizes with the flowering of the thyme. We now have, around my working-table, my books, my jars and my various appliances, a buzzing crowd that goes in and out of the windows at every moment. I enjoin the household henceforth not to touch a thing in the insects' laboratory, to do no more sweeping, no more dusting. They might disturb a swarm and make it think that my hospitality was not to be trusted. During four or five weeks I witness the work of a number of Osmiae which is much too large to allow my watching their individual operations. I content myself with a few, whom I mark with different-coloured spots to distinguish them; and I take no notice of the others, whose finished work will have my attention later.

The first to appear are the males. If the sun is bright, they flutter around the heap of tubes as if to take careful note of the locality; blows are exchanged and the rival swains indulge in mild skirmishing on the floor, then shake the dust off their wings. They fly assiduously from tube to tube, placing their heads in the orifices to see if some female will at last make up her mind to emerge.

One does, in point of fact. She is covered with dust and has the disordered toilet that is inseparable from the hard work of the deliverance. A lover has seen her, so has a second, likewise a third. All crowd round her. The lady responds to their advances by clashing her mandibles, which open and shut rapidly, several times in succession. The suitors forthwith fall back; and they also, no doubt to keep up their dignity, execute savage mandibular grimaces. Then the beauty retires into the arbour and her wooers resume their places on the threshold. A fresh appearance of the female, who repeats the play with her jaws; a fresh retreat of the males, who do the best they can to flourish their own pincers. The Osmiae have a strange way of declaring their passion: with that fearsome gnashing of their mandibles, the lovers look as though they meant to devour each other. It suggests the thumps affected by our yokels in their moments of gallantry.

The ingenuous idyll is soon over. The females, who grow more numerous from day to day, inspect the premises; they buzz outside the glass galleries and the reed dwellings; they go in, stay for a while, come out, go in again and then fly away briskly into the garden. They return, first one, then another. They halt outside, in the sun, or on the shutters fastened back against the wall; they hover in the window-recess, come inside, go to the reeds and give a glance at them, only to set off again and to return soon after. Thus do they learn to know their home, thus do they fix their birthplace in their memory. The village of our childhood is always a cherished spot, never to be effaced from our recollection. The Osmia's life endures for a month; and she acquires a lasting remembrance of her hamlet in a couple of days. 'Twas there that she was born; 'twas there that she loved; 'tis there that she will return. Dulces reminiscitur Argos.

(Now falling by another's wound, his eyes He casts to heaven, on Argos thinks and dies. --„Aeneid“ Book 10, Dryden's tran­slation.)

At last each has made her choice. The work of construction begins; and my expectations are fulfilled far beyond my wishes. The Osmiae build nests in all the retreats which I have placed at their disposal. And now, O my Osmiae, I leave you a free field!

The work begins with a thorough spring-cleaning of the home. Remnants of cocoons, dirt consisting of spoilt honey, bits of plaster from broken partitions, remains of dried Mollusc at the bottom of a shell: these and much other insanitary refuse must first of all disappear. Violently the Osmia tugs at the offending object and tears it out; and then off she goes in a desperate hurry, to dispose of it far away from the study. They are all alike, these ardent sweepers: in their excessive zeal, they fear lest they should block up the speck of dust which they might drop in front of the new house. The glass tubes, which I myself have rinsed under the tap, are not exempt from a scrupulous cleaning. The Osmia dusts them, brushes them thoroughly with her tarsi and then sweeps them out backwards. What does she pick up? Not a thing. It makes no difference: as a conscientious housewife, she gives the place a touch of the broom nevertheless.

Now for the provisions and the partition-walls. Here the order of the work changes according to the diameter of the cylinder. My glass tubes vary greatly in dimensions. The largest have an inner width of a dozen millimetres (2); the narrowest measure six or seven (3). In the latter, if the bottom suit her, the Osmia sets to work bringing pollen and honey. If the bottom do not suit her, if the sorghum-pith plug with which I have closed the rear-end of the tube be too irregular and badly-joined, the Bee coats it with a little mortar. When this small repair is made, the harvesting begins.

In the wider tubes, the work proceeds quite differently. At the moment when the Osmia disgorges her honey and especially at the moment when, with her hind-tarsi, she rubs the pollen-dust from her ventral brush, she needs a narrow aperture, just big enough to allow of her passage. I imagine that in a straitened gallery the rubbing of her whole body against the sides gives the harvester a support for her brushing-work. In a spacious cylinder this support fails her; and the Osmia starts with creating one for herself, which she does by narrowing the channel. Whether it be to facilitate the storing of the victuals or for any other reason, the fact remains that the Osmia housed in a wide tube begins with the partitioning.

Her division is made by a dab of clay placed at right angles to the axis of the cylinder, at a distance from the bottom determined by the ordinary length of a cell. The wad is not a complete round; it is more crescent-shaped, leaving a circular space between it and one side of the tube. Fresh layers are swiftly added to the dab of clay; and soon the tube is divided by a partition which has a circular opening at the side of it, a sort of dog-hole through which the Osmia will proceed to knead the Bee-bread. When the victualling is finished and the egg laid upon the heap, the whole is closed and the filled-up partition becomes the bottom of the next cell. Then the same method is repeated, that is to say, in front of the just completed ceiling a second partition is built, again with a side-passage, which is stouter, owing to its distance from the centre, and better able to withstand the numerous comings and goings of the housewife than a central orifice, deprived of the direct support of the wall, could hope to be. When this partition is ready, the provisioning of the second cell is effected; and so on until the wide cylinder is completely stocked.

The building of this preliminary party-wall, with a narrow, round dog-hole, for a chamber to which the victuals will not be brought until later is not restricted to the Three-horned Osmia; it is also frequently found in the case of the Horned Osmia and of Latreille's Osmia. Nothing could be prettier than the work of the last-named, who goes to the plants for her material and fashions a delicate sheet in which she cuts a graceful arch. The Chinaman partitions his house with paper screens; Latreille's Osmia divides hers with disks of thin green cardboard perforated with a serving-hatch which remains until the room is completely furnished. When we have no glass houses at our disposal, we can see these little architectural refinements in the reeds of the hurdles, if we open them at the right season.

By splitting the bramble-stumps in the course of July, we perceive also that the Three-pronged Osmia notwithstanding her narrow gallery, follows the same practice as Latreille's Osmia, with a difference. She does not build a party-wall, which the diameter of the cylinder would not permit; she confines herself to putting up a frail circular pad of green putty, as though to limit, before any attempt at harvesting, the space to be occupied by the Bee-bread, whose depth could not be calculated afterwards if the insect did not first mark out its confines.

If, in order to see the Osmia's nest as a whole, we split a reed lengthwise, taking care not to disturb its contents; or, better still, if we select for examination the string of cells built in a glass tube, we are forthwith struck by one detail, namely, the uneven distances between the partitions, which are placed almost at right angles to the axis of the cylinder. It is these distances which fix the size of the chambers, which, with a similar base, have different heights and consequently unequal holding-capacities. The bottom partitions, the oldest, are farther apart; those of the front part, near the orifice, are closer together. Moreover, the provisions are plentiful in the loftier cells, whereas they are niggardly and reduced to one-half or even one-third in the cells of lesser height. Let me say at once that the large cells are destined for the females and the small ones for the males.


Does the insect which stores up provisions proportionate to the needs of the egg which it is about to lay know beforehand the sex of that egg? Or is the truth even more paradoxical? What we have to do is to turn this suspicion into a certainty demonstrated by experiment. And first let us find out how the sexes are arranged.

It is not possible to ascertain the chronological order of a laying, except by going to suitably-chosen species. Fortunately there are a few species in which we do not find this difficulty: these are the Bees who keep to one gallery and build their cells in storeys. Among the number are the different inhabitants of the bramble-stumps, notably the Three-pronged Osmiae, who form an excellent subject for observation, partly because they are of imposing size--bigger than any other bramble-dwellers in my neighbourhood--partly because they are so plentiful.

Let us briefly recall the Osmia's habits. Amid the tangle of a hedge, a bramble-stalk is selected, still standing, but a mere withered stump. In this the insect digs a more or less deep tunnel, an easy piece of work owing to the abundance of soft pith. Provisions are heaped up right at the bottom of the tunnel and an egg is laid on the surface of the food: that is the first-born of the family. At a height of some twelve millimetres (4), a partition is fixed. This gives a second storey, which in its turn receives provisions and an egg, the second in order of primogeniture. And so it goes on, storey by storey, until the cylinder is full. Then the thick plug of the same green material of which the partitions are formed closes the home and keeps out marauders.

In this common cradle, the chronological order of births is perfectly clear. The first-born of the family is at the bottom of the series; the last-born is at the top, near the closed door. The others follow from bottom to top in the same order in which they followed in point of time. The laying is numbered automatically; each cocoon tells us its respective age by the place which it occupies.

A number of eggs bordering on fifteen represents the entire family of an Osmia, and my observations enable me to state that the distribution of the sexes is not governed by any rule. All that I can say in general is that the complete series begins with females and nearly always ends with males. The incomplete series--those which the insect has laid in various places--can teach us nothing in this respect, for they are only fragments starting we know not whence; and it is impossible to tell whether they should be ascribed to the beginning, to the end, or to an intermediate period of the laying. To sum up: in the laying of the Three-pronged Osmia, no order governs the succession of the sexes; only, the series has a marked tendency to begin with females and to finish with males.

The mother occupies herself at the start with the stronger sex, the more necessary, the better-gifted, the female sex, to which she devotes the first flush of her laying and the fullness of her vigour; later, when she is perhaps already at the end of her strength, she bestows what remains of her maternal solicitude upon the weaker sex, the less-gifted, almost negligible male sex. There are, however, other species where this law becomes absolute, constant and regular.

In order to go more deeply into this curious question I installed some hives of a new kind on the sunniest walls of my enclosure. They consisted of stumps of the great reed of the south, open at one end, closed at the other by the natural knot and gathered into a sort of enormous pan-pipe, such as Polyphemus might have employed. The invitation was accepted: Osmiae came in fairly large numbers, to benefit by the queer installation.

Three Osmiae especially (O. Tricornis, Latr., O. cornuta, Latr., O. Latreillii, Spin.) gave me splendid results, with reed-stumps arranged either against the wall of my garden, as I have just said, or near their customary abode, the huge nests of the Mason-bee of the Sheds. One of them, the Three-horned Osmia, did better still: as I have described, she built her nests in my study, as plentifully as I could wish.

We will consult this last, who has furnished me with documents beyond my fondest hopes, and begin by asking her of how many eggs her average laying consists. Of the whole heap of colonized tubes in my study, or else out of doors, in the hurdle-reeds and the pan-pipe appliances, the best-filled contains fifteen cells, with a free space above the series, a space showing that the laying is ended, for, if the mother had any more eggs available, she would have lodged them in the room which she leaves unoccupied. This string of fifteen appears to be rare; it was the only one that I found. My attempts at indoor rearing, pursued during two years with glass tubes or reeds, taught me that the Three-horned Osmia is not much addicted to long series. As though to decrease the difficulties of the coming deliverance, she prefers short galleries, in which only a part of the laying is stacked. We must then follow the same mother in her migration from one dwelling to the next if we would obtain a complete census of her family. A spot of colour, dropped on the Bee's thorax with a paint-brush while she is absorbed in closing up the mouth of the tunnel, enables us to recognize the Osmia in her various homes.

In this way, the swarm that resided in my study furnished me, in the first year, with an average of twelve cells. Next year, the summer appeared to be more favourable and the average became rather higher, reaching fifteen. The most numerous laying performed under my eyes, not in a tube, but in a succession of Snail-shells, reached the figure of twenty-six. On the other hand, layings of between eight and ten are not uncommon. Lastly, taking all my records together, the result is that the family of the Osmia fluctuates roundabout fifteen in number.

I have already spoken of the great differences in size apparent in the cells of one and the same series. The partitions, at first widely spaced, draw gradually nearer to one another as they come closer to the aperture, which implies roomy cells at the back and narrow cells in front. The contents of these compartments are no less uneven between one portion and another of the string. Without any exception known to me, the large cells, those with which the series starts, have more abundant provisions than the straitened cells with which the series ends. The heap of honey and pollen in the first is twice or even thrice as large as that in the second. In the last cells, the most recent in date, the victuals are but a pinch of pollen, so niggardly in amount that we wonder what will become of the larva with that meagre ration.

One would think that the Osmia, when nearing the end of the laying, attaches no importance to her last-born, to whom she doles out space and food so sparingly. The first-born receive the benefit of her early enthusiasm: theirs is the well-spread table, theirs the spacious apartments. The work has begun to pall by the time that the last eggs are laid; and the last-comers have to put up with a scurvy portion of food and a tiny corner.

The difference shows itself in another way after the cocoons are spun. The large cells, those at the back, receive the bulky cocoons; the small ones, those in front, have cocoons only half or a third as big. Before opening them and ascertaining the sex of the Osmia inside, let us wait for the transformation into the perfect insect, which will take place towards the end of summer. If impatience get the better of us, we can open them at the end of July or in August. The insect is then in the nymphal stage; and it is easy, under this form, to distinguish the two sexes by the length of the antennae, which are larger in the males, and by the glassy protuberances on the forehead, the sign of the future armour of the females. Well, the small cocoons, those in the narrow front cells, with their scanty store of provisions, all belong to males; the big cocoons, those in the spacious and well-stocked cells at the back, all belong to females.

The conclusion is definite: the laying of the Three-horned Osmia consists of two distinct groups, first a group of females and then a group of males.

With my pan-pipe apparatus displayed on the walls of my enclosure and with old hurdle-reeds left lying flat out of doors, I obtained the Horned Osmia in fair quantities. I persuaded Latreille's Osmia to build her nest in reeds, which she did with a zeal which I was far from expecting. All that I had to do was to lay some reed-stumps horizontally within her reach, in the immediate neighbourhood of her usual haunts, namely, the nests of the Mason-bee of the Sheds. Lastly, I succeeded without difficulty in making her build her nests in the privacy of my study, with glass tubes for a house. The result surpassed my hopes.

With both these Osmiae, the division of the gallery is the same as with the Three-horned Osmia. At the back are large cells with plentiful provisions and widely-spaced partitions; in front, small cells, with scanty provisions and partitions close together. Also, the larger cells supplied me with big cocoons and females; the smaller cells gave me little cocoons and males. The conclusion therefore is exactly the same in the case of all three Osmiae.

These conclusions, as my notes show, apply likewise, in every respect, to the various species of Mason-bees; and one clear and simple rule stands out from this collection of facts. Apart from the strange exception of the Three-pronged Osmia, who mixes the sexes without any order, the Bees whom I studied and probably a crowd of others produce first a continuous series of females and then a continuous series of males, the latter with less provisions and smaller cells. This distribution of the sexes agrees with what we have long known of the Hive-bee, who begins her laying with a long sequence of workers, or sterile females, and ends it with a long sequence of males. The analogy continues down to the capacity of the cells and the quantities of provisions. The real females, the Queen-bees, have wax cells incomparably more spacious than the cells of the males and receive a much larger amount of food. Everything therefore demonstrates that we are here in the presence of a general rule.


But does this rule express the whole truth? Is there nothing beyond a laying in two series? Are the Osmiae, the Chalicodomae and the rest of them fatally bound by this distribution of the sexes into two distinct groups, the male group following upon the female group, without any mixing of the two? Is the mother absolutely powerless to make a change in this arrangement, should circumstances require it?

The Three-pronged Osmia already shows us that the problem is far from being solved. In the same bramble-stump, the two sexes occur very irregularly, as though at random. Why this mixture in the series of cocoons of a Bee closely related to the Horned Osmia and the Three-horned Osmia, who stack theirs methodically by separate sexes in the hollow of a reed? What the Bee of the brambles does cannot her kinswomen of the reeds do too? Nothing, so far as I know, explains this fundamental difference in a physiological act of primary importance. The three Bees belong to the same genus; they resemble one another in general outline, internal structure and habits; and, with this close similarity, we suddenly find a strange dissimilarity.

There is just one thing that might possibly arouse a suspicion of the cause of this irregularity in the Three-pronged Osmia's laying. If I open a bramble-stump in the winter to examine the Osmia's nest, I find it impossible, in the vast majority of cases, to distinguish positively between a female and a male cocoon: the difference in size is so small. The cells, moreover, have the same capacity: the diameter of the cylinder is the same throughout and the partitions are almost always the same distance apart. If I open it in July, the victualling-period, it is impossible for me to distinguish between the provisions destined for the males and those destined for the females. The measurement of the column of honey gives practically the same depth in all the cells. We find an equal quantity of space and food for both sexes.

This result makes us foresee what a direct examination of the two sexes in the adult form tells us. The male does not differ materially from the female in respect of size. If he is a trifle smaller, it is scarcely noticeable, whereas, in the Horned Osmia and the Three-horned Osmia, the male is only half or a third the size of the female, as we have seen from the respective bulk of their cocoons. In the Mason-bee of the Walls there is also a difference in size, though less pronounced.

The Three-pronged Osmia has not therefore to trouble about adjusting the dimensions of the dwelling and the quantity of the food to the sex of the egg which she is about to lay; the measure is the same from one end of the series to the other. It does not matter if the sexes alternate without order: one and all will find what they need, whatever their position in the row. The two other Osmiae, with their great disparity in size between the two sexes, have to be careful about the twofold consideration of board and lodging.

The more I thought about this curious question, the more probable it appeared to me that the irregular series of the Three-pronged Osmia and the regular series of the other Osmiae and of the Bees in general were all traceable to a common law. It seemed to me that the arrangement in a succession first of females and then of males did not account for everything. There must be something more. And I was right: that arrangement in series is only a tiny fraction of the reality, which is remarkable in a very different way. This is what I am going to prove by experiment.

The succession first of females and then of males is not, in fact, invariable. Thus, the Chalicodoma, whose nests serve for two or three generations, ALWAYS lays male eggs in the old male cells, which can be recognized by their lesser capacity, and female eggs in the old female cells of more spacious dimensions.

This presence of both sexes at a time, even when there are but two cells free, one spacious and the other small, proves in the plainest fashion that the regular distribution observed in the complete nests of recent production is here replaced by an irregular distribution, harmonizing with the number and holding-capacity of the chambers to be stocked. The Mason-bee has before her, let me suppose, only five vacant cells: two larger and three smaller. The total space at her disposal would do for about a third of the laying. Well, in the two large cells, she puts females; in the three small cells she puts males.

As we find the same sort of thing in all the old nests, we must needs admit that the mother knows the sex of the eggs which she is going to lay, because that egg is placed in a cell of the proper capacity. We can go further, and admit that the mother alters the order of succession of the sexes at her pleasure, because her layings, between one old nest and another, are broken up into small groups of males and females according to the exigencies of space in the actual nest which she happens to be occupying.

Here then is the Chalicodoma, when mistress of an old nest of which she has not the power to alter the arrangement, breaking up her laying into sections comprising both sexes just as required by the conditions imposed upon her. She therefore decides the sex of the egg at will, for, without this prerogative, she could not, in the chambers of the nest which she owes to chance, deposit unerringly the sex for which those chambers were originally built; and this happens however small the number of chambers to be filled.

When the mother herself founds the dwelling, when she lays the first rows of bricks, the females come first and the males at the finish. But, when she is in the presence of an old nest, of which she is quite unable to alter the general arrangement, how is she to make use of a few vacant rooms, the large and small alike, if the sex of the egg be already irrevocably fixed? She can only do so by abandoning the arrangement in two consecutive rows and accommodating her laying to the varied exigencies of the home. Either she finds it impossible to make an economical use of the old nest, a theory refuted by the evidence, or else she determines at will the sex of the egg which she is about to lay.

The Osmiae themselves will furnish the most conclusive evidence on the latter point. We have seen that these Bees are not generally miners, who themselves dig out the foundation of their cells. They make use of the old structures of others, or else of natural retreats, such as hollow stems, the spirals of empty shells and various hiding-places in walls, clay or wood. Their work is confined to repairs to the house, such as partitions and covers. There are plenty of these retreats; and the insects would always find first-class ones if it thought of going any distance to look for them. But the Osmia is a stay-at-home: she returns to her birthplace and clings to it with a patience extremely difficult to exhaust. It is here, in this little familiar corner, that she prefers to settle her progeny. But then the apartments are few in number and of all shapes and sizes. There are long and short ones, spacious ones and narrow. Short of expatriating herself, a Spartan course, she has to use them all, from first to last, for she has no choice. Guided by these considerations, I embarked on the experiments which I will now describe.

I have said how my study became a populous hive, in which the Three-horned Osmia built her nests in the various appliances which I had prepared for her. Among these appliances, tubes, either of glass or reed, predominated. There were tubes of all lengths and widths. In the long tubes, entire or almost entire layings, with a series of females followed by a series of males, were deposited. As I have already referred to this result, I will not discuss it again. The short tubes were sufficiently varied in length to lodge one or other portion of the total laying. Basing my calculations on the respective lengths of the cocoons of the two sexes, on the thickness of the partitions and the final lid, I shortened some of these to the exact dimensions required for two cocoons only, of different sexes.

Well, these short tubes, whether of glass or reed, were seized upon as eagerly as the long tubes. Moreover, they yielded this splendid result: their contents, only a part of the total laying, always began with female and ended with male cocoons. This order was invariable; what varied was the number of cells in the long tubes and the proportion between the two sorts of cocoons, sometimes males predominating and sometimes females.

When confronted with tubes too small to receive all her family, the Osmia is in the same plight as the Mason-bee in the presence of an old nest. She thereupon acts exactly as the Chalicodoma does. She breaks up her laying, divides it into series as short as the room at her disposal demands; and each series begins with females and ends with males. This breaking up, on the one hand, into sections in all of which both sexes are represented and the division, on the other hand, of the entire laying into just two groups, one female, the other male, when the length of the tube permits, surely provide us with ample evidence of the insect's power to regulate the sex of the egg according to the exigencies of space.

And besides the exigencies of space one might perhaps venture to add those connected with the earlier development of the males. These burst their cocoons a couple of weeks or more before the females; they are the first who hasten to the sweets of the almond-tree. In order to release themselves and emerge into the glad sunlight without disturbing the string of cocoons wherein their sisters are still sleeping, they must occupy the upper end of the row; and this, no doubt, is the reason that makes the Osmia end each of her broken layings with males. Being next to the door, these impatient ones will leave the home without upsetting the shells that are slower in hatching.

I had offered at the same time to the Osmiae in my study some old nests of the Mason-bee of the Shrubs, which are clay spheroids with cylindrical cavities in them. These cavities are formed, as in the old nests of the Mason-bee of the Pebbles, of the cell properly so-called and of the exit-way which the perfect insect cut through the outer coating at the time of its deliverance. The diameter is about 7 millimetres (5); their depth at the centre of the heap is 23 millimetres (6) and at the edge averages 14 millimetres (7).

The deep central cells receive only the females of the Osmia; sometimes even the two sexes together, with a partition in the middle, the female occupying the lower and the male the upper storey. Lastly, the deeper cavities on the circumference are allotted to females and the shallower to males.

We know that the Three-horned Osmia prefers to haunt the habitations of the Bees who nidify in populous colonies, such as the Mason-bee of the Sheds and the Hairy-footed Anthophora, in whose nests I have noted similar facts.

Thus the sex of the egg is optional. The choice rests with the mother, who is guided by considerations of space and, according to the accommodation at her disposal, which is frequently fortuitous and incapable of modification, places a female in this cell and a male in that, so that both may have a dwelling of a size suited to their unequal development. This is the unimpeachable evidence of the numerous and varied facts which I have set forth. People unfamiliar with insect anatomy--the public for whom I write--would probably give the following explanation of this marvellous prerogative of the Bee: the mother has at her disposal a certain number of eggs, some of which are irrevocably female and the others irrevocably male: she is able to pick out of either group the one which she wants at the actual moment; and her choice is decided by the holding capacity of the cell that has to be stocked. Everything would then be limited to a judicious selection from the heap of eggs.

Should this idea occur to him, the reader must hasten to reject it. Nothing could be more false, as the most casual reference to anatomy will show. The female reproductive apparatus of the Hymenoptera consists generally of six ovarian tubes, something like glove-fingers, divided into bunches of three and ending in a common canal, the oviduct, which carries the eggs outside. Each of these glove-fingers is fairly wide at the base, but tapers sharply towards the tip, which is closed. It contains, arranged in a row, one after the other, like beads on a string, a certain number of eggs, five or six for instance, of which the lower ones are more or less developed, the middle ones halfway towards maturity, and the upper ones very rudimentary. Every stage of evolution is here represented, distributed regularly from bottom to top, from the verge of maturity to the vague outlines of the embryo. The sheath clasps its string of ovules so closely that any inversion of the order is impossible. Besides, an inversion would result in a gross absurdity: the replacing of a riper egg by another in an earlier stage of development.

Therefore, in each ovarian tube, in each glove-finger, the emergence of the eggs occurs according to the order governing their arrangement in the common sheath; and any other sequence is absolutely impossible. Moreover, at the nesting-period, the six ovarian sheaths, one by one and each in its turn, have at their base an egg which in a very short time swells enormously. Some hours or even a day before the laying, that egg by itself represents or even exceeds in bulk the whole of the ovigerous apparatus. This is the egg which is on the point of being laid. It is about to descend into the oviduct, in its proper order, at its proper time; and the mother has no power to make another take its place. It is this egg, necessarily this egg and no other, that will presently be laid upon the provisions, whether these be a mess of honey or a live prey; it alone is ripe, it alone lies at the entrance to the oviduct; none of the others, since they are farther back in the row and not at the right stage of development, can be substituted at this crisis. Its birth is inevitable.

What will it yield, a male or a female? No lodging has been prepared, no food collected for it; and yet both food and lodging have to be in keeping with the sex that will proceed from it. And here is a much more puzzling condition: the sex of that egg, whose advent is predestined, has to correspond with the space which the mother happens to have found for a cell. There is therefore no room for hesitation, strange though the statement may appear: the egg, as it descends from its ovarian tube, has no determined sex. It is perhaps during the few hours of its rapid development at the base of its ovarian sheath, it is perhaps on its passage through the oviduct that it receives, at the mother's pleasure, the final impress that will produce, to match the cradle which it has to fill, either a female or a male.


Thereupon the following question presents itself. Let us admit that, when the normal conditions remain, a laying would have yielded m females and n males. Then, if my conclusions are correct, it must be in the mother's power, when the conditions are different, to take from the m group and increase the n group to the same extent; it must be possible for her laying to be represented as m – 1, m – 2, m – 3, etc. females and by n + 1, n + 2, n + 3, etc. males, the sum of m + n remaining constant, but one of the sexes being partly permuted into the other. The ultimate conclusion even cannot be disregarded: we must admit a set of eggs represented by m – m, or zero, females and of n + m males, one of the sexes being completely replaced by the other. Conversely, it must be possible for the feminine series to be augmented from the masculine series to the extent of absorbing it entirely. It was to solve this question and some others connected with it that I undertook, for the second time, to rear the Three-horned Osmia in my study.

The problem on this occasion is a more delicate one; but I am also better-equipped. My apparatus consists of two small closed packing-cases, with the front side of each pierced with forty holes, in which I can insert my glass tubes and keep them in a horizontal position. I thus obtain for the Bees the darkness and mystery which suit their work and for myself the power of withdrawing from my hive, at any time, any tube that I wish, with the Osmia inside, so as to carry it to the light and follow, if need be with the aid of the lens, the operations of the busy worker. My investigations, however frequent and minute, in no way hinder the peaceable Bee, who remains absorbed in her maternal duties.

I mark a plentiful number of my guests with a variety of dots on the thorax, which enables me to follow any one Osmia from the beginning to the end of her laying. The tubes and their respective holes are numbered; a list, always lying open on my desk, enables me to note from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour, what happens in each tube and particularly the actions of the Osmiae whose backs bear distinguishing marks. As soon as one tube is filled, I replace it by another. Moreover, I have scattered in front of either hive a few handfuls of empty Snail-shells, specially chosen for the object which I have in view. Reasons which I will explain later led me to prefer the shells of Helix caespitum. Each of the shells, as and when stocked, received the date of the laying and the alphabetical sign corresponding with the Osmia to whom it belonged. In this way, I spent five or six weeks in continual observation. To succeed in an enquiry, the first and foremost condition is patience. This condition I fulfilled; and it was rewarded with the success which I was justified in expecting.

The tubes employed are of two kinds. The first, which are cylindrical and of the same width throughout, will be of use for confirming the facts observed in the first year of my experiments in indoor rearing. The others, the majority, consist of two cylinders which are of very different diameters, set end to end. The front cylinder, the one which projects a little way outside the hive and forms the entrance-hole, varies in width between 8 and 12 millimetres (8). he second, the back one, contained entirely within my packing-case, is closed at its far end and is 5 to 6 millimetres in diameter (9).Each of the two parts of the double-galleried tunnel, one narrow and one wide, measures at most a decimetre in length (10).I thought it advisable to have these short tubes, as the Osmia is thus compelled to select different lodgings, each of them being insufficient in itself to accommodate the total laying. In this way I shall obtain a greater variety in the distribution of the sexes. Lastly, at the mouth of each tube, which projects slightly outside the case, there is a little paper tongue, forming a sort of perch on which the Osmia alights on her arrival and giving easy access to the house. With these facilities, the swarm colonized fifty-two double-galleried tubes, thirty-seven cylindrical tubes, seventy-eight Snail-shells and a few old nests of the Mason-bee of the Shrubs. From this rich mine of material I will take what I want to prove my case.

Every series, even when incomplete, begins with females and ends with males. To this rule I have not yet found an exception, at least in galleries of normal diameter. In each new abode the mother busies herself first of all with the more important sex. Bearing this point in mind, would it be possible for me, by manoeuvring, to obtain an inversion of this order and make the laying begin with males? I think so, from the results already ascertained and the irresistible conclusions to be drawn from them. The double-galleried tubes are installed in order to put my conjectures to the proof.

The back gallery, 5 or 6 millimetres wide (11), is too narrow to serve as a lodging for normally developed females. If, therefore, the Osmia, who is very economical of her space, wishes to occupy them, she will be obliged to establish males there. And her laying must necessarily begin here, because this corner is the rear-most part of the tube. The foremost gallery is wide, with an entrance-door on the front of the hive. Here, finding the conditions to which she is accustomed, the mother will go on with her laying in the order which she prefers.

Let us now see what has happened. Of the fifty-two double-galleried tubes, about a third did not have their narrow passage colonized. The Osmia closed its aperture communicating with the large passage; and the latter alone received the eggs. This waste of space was inevitable. The female Osmiae, though nearly always larger than the males, present marked differences among one another: some are bigger, some are smaller. I had to adjust the width of the narrow galleries to Bees of average dimensions. It may happen therefore that a gallery is too small to admit the large-sized mothers to whom chance allots it. When the Osmia is unable to enter the tube, obviously she will not colonize it. She then closes the entrance to this space which she cannot use and does her laying beyond it, in the wide tube. Had I tried to avoid these useless apparatus by choosing tubes of larger calibre, I should have encountered another drawback: the medium-sized mothers, finding themselves almost comfortable, would have decided to lodge females there. I had to be prepared for it: as each mother selected her house at will and as I was unable to interfere in her choice, a narrow tube would be colonized or not, according as the Osmia who owned it was or was not able to make her way inside.

There remain some forty pairs of tubes with both galleries colonized. In these there are two things to take into consideration. The narrow rear tubes of 5 or 5 1/2 millimetres (12)--and these are the most numerous--contain males and males only, but in short series, between one and five. The mother is here so much hampered in her work that they are rarely occupied from end to end; the Osmia seems in a hurry to leave them and to go and colonize the front tube, whose ample space will leave her the liberty of movement necessary for her operations. The other rear tubes, the minority, whose diameter is about 6 millimetres (13), contain sometimes only females and sometimes females at the back and males towards the opening. One can see that a tube a trifle wider and a mother slightly smaller would account for this difference in the results. Nevertheless, as the necessary space for a female is barely provided in this case, we see that the mother avoids as far as she can a two-sex arrangement beginning with males and that she adopts it only in the last extremity. Finally, whatever the contents of the small tube may be, those of the large one, following upon it, never vary and consist of females at the back and males in front.

Though incomplete, because of circumstances very difficult to control, the result of the experiment is none the less very remarkable. Twenty-five apparatus contain only males in their narrow gallery, in numbers varying from a minimum of one to a maximum of five. After these comes the colony of the large gallery, beginning with females and ending with males. And the layings in these apparatus do not always belong to late summer or even to the intermediate period: a few small tubes contain the earliest eggs of the entire swarm. A couple of Osmiae, more forward than the others, set to work on the 23rd of April. Both of them started their laying by placing males in the narrow tubes. The meagre supply of provisions was enough in itself to show the sex, which proved later to be in accordance with my anticipations. We see then that, by my artifices, the whole swarm starts with the converse of the normal order. This inversion is continued, at no matter what period, from the beginning to the end of the operations. The series which, according to rule, would begin with females now begins with males. Once the larger gallery is reached, the laying is pursued in the usual order.

We have advanced one step and that no small one: we have seen that the Osmia, when circumstances require it, is capable of reversing the sequence of the sexes. Would it be possible, provided that the tube were long enough, to obtain a complete inversion, in which the entire series of the males should occupy the narrow gallery at the back and the entire series of the females the roomy gallery in front? I think not; and I will tell you why.

Long and narrow cylinders are by no means to the Osmia's taste, not because of their narrowness but because of their length. Observe that for each load of honey brought the worker is obliged to move backwards twice. She enters, head first, to begin by disgorging the honey-syrup from her crop. Unable to turn in a passage which she blocks entirely, she goes out backwards, crawling rather than walking, a laborious performance on the polished surface of the glass and a performance which, with any other surface, would still be very awkward, as the wings are bound to rub against the wall with their free end and are liable to get rumpled or bent. She goes out backwards, reaches the outside, turns round and goes in again, but this time the opposite way, so as to brush off the load of pollen from her abdomen on to the heap. If the gallery is at all long, this crawling backwards becomes troublesome after a time; and the Osmia soon abandons a passage that is too small to allow of free movement. I have said that the narrow tubes of my apparatus are, for the most part, only very incompletely colonized. The Bee, after lodging a small number of males in them, hastens to leave them. In the wide front gallery she can stay where she is and still be able to turn round easily for her different manipulations; she will avoid those two long journeys backwards, which are so exhausting and so bad for her wings.

Another reason no doubt prompts her not to make too great a use of the narrow passage, in which she would establish males, followed by females in the part where the gallery widens. The males have to leave their cells a couple of weeks or more before the females. If they occupy the back of the house they will die prisoners or else they will overturn everything on their way out. This risk is avoided by the order which the Osmia adopts.

In my tubes, with their unusual arrangement, the mother might well find the dilemma perplexing: there is the narrowness of the space at her disposal and there is the emergence later on. In the narrow tubes, the width is insufficient for the females; on the other hand, if she lodges males there, they are liable to perish, since they will be prevented from issuing at the proper moment. This would perhaps explain the mother's hesitation and her obstinacy in settling females in some of my apparatus which looked as if they could suit none but males.

A suspicion occurs to me, a suspicion aroused by my attentive examination of the narrow tubes. All, whatever the number of their inmates, are carefully plugged at the opening, just as separate tubes would be. It might therefore be the case that the narrow gallery at the back was looked upon by the Osmia not as the prolongation of the large front gallery, but as an independent tube. The facility with which the worker turns as soon as she reaches the wide tube, her liberty of action, which is now as great as in a doorway communicating with the outer air, might well be misleading and cause the Osmia to treat the narrow passage at the back as though the wide passage in front did not exist. This would account for the placing of the female in the large tube above the males in the small tube, an arrangement contrary to her custom.

I will not undertake to decide whether the mother really appreciates the danger of my snares, or whether she makes a mistake in considering only the space at her disposal and beginning with males, who are liable to remain imprisoned. At any rate, I perceive a tendency to deviate as little as possible from the order which safeguards the emergence of both sexes. This tendency is demonstrated by her repugnance to colonizing my narrow tubes with long series of males. However, so far as we are concerned, it does not matter much what passes at such times in the Osmia's little brain. Enough for us to know that she dislikes narrow and long tubes, not because they are narrow, but because they are at the same time long.

And, in fact, she does very well with a short tube of the same diameter. Such are the cells in the old nests of the Mason-bee of the Shrubs and the empty shells of the Garden Snail. With the short tube the two disadvantages of the long tube are avoided. She has very little of that crawling backwards to do when she has a Snail-shell for the home of her eggs and scarcely any when the home is the cell of the Mason-bee. Moreover, as the stack of cocoons numbers two or three at most, the deliverance will be exempt from the difficulties attached to a long series. To persuade the Osmia to nidify in a single tube long enough to receive the whole of her laying and at the same time narrow enough to leave her only just the possibility of admittance appears to me a project without the slightest chance of success: the Bee would stubbornly refuse such a dwelling or would content herself with entrusting only a very small portion of her eggs to it. On the other hand, with narrow but short cavities, success, without being easy, seems to me at least quite possible. Guided by these considerations, I embarked upon the most arduous part of my problem: to obtain the complete or almost complete permutation of one sex with the other; to produce a laying consisting only of males by offering the mother a series of lodgings suited only to males.

Let us in the first place consult the old nests of the Mason-bee of the Shrubs. I have said that these mortar spheroids, pierced all over with little cylindrical cavities, are a adopted pretty eagerly by the Three-horned Osmia, who colonizes them before my eyes with females in the deep cells and males in the shallow cells. That is how things go when the old nest remains in its natural state. With a grater, however, I scrape the outside of another nest so as to reduce the depth of the cavities to some ten millimetres (14). his leaves in each cell just room for one cocoon, surmounted by the closing stopper. Of the fourteen cavities in the nests, I leave two intact, measuring fifteen millimetres in depth (15). Nothing could be more striking than the result of this experiment, made in the first year of my home rearing. The twelve cavities whose depth had been reduced all received males; the two cavities left untouched received females.

A year passes and I repeat the experiment with a nest of fifteen cells; but this time all the cells are reduced to the minimum depth with the grater. Well, the fifteen cells, from first to last, are occupied by males. It must be quite understood that, in each case, all the offspring belonged to one mother, marked with her distinguishing dot and kept in sight as long as her laying lasted. He would indeed be difficult to please who refused to bow before the results of these two experiments. If, however, he is not yet convinced, here is something to remove his last doubts.

The Three-horned Osmia often settles her family in old shells, especially those of the Common Snail (Helix aspersa), who is so common under the stone-heaps and in the crevices of the little unmortared walls that support our terraces. In this species the spiral is wide open, so that the Osmia, penetrating as far down as the helical passage permits, finds, immediately above the point which is too narrow to pass, the space necessary for the cell of a female. This cell is succeeded by others, wider still, always for females, arranged in a line in the same way as in a straight tube. In the last whorl of the spiral, the diameter would be too great for a single row. Then longitudinal partitions are added to the transverse partitions, the whole resulting in cells of unequal dimensions in which males predominate, mixed with a few females in the lower storeys. The sequence of the sexes is therefore what it would be in a straight tube and especially in a tube with a wide bore, where the partitioning is complicated by subdivisions on the same level. A single Snail-shell contains room for six or eight cells. A large, rough earthen stopper finishes the nest at the entrance to the shell.

As a dwelling of this sort could show us nothing new, I chose for my swarm the Garden Snail (Helix caespitum), whose shell, shaped like a small swollen Ammonite, widens by slow degrees, the diameter of the usable portion, right up to the mouth, being hardly greater than that required by a male Osmia-cocoon. Moreover, the widest part, in which a female might find room, has to receive a thick stopping-plug, below which there will often be a free space. Under all these conditions, the house will hardly suit any but males arranged one after the other.

The collection of shells placed at the foot of each hive includes specimens of different sizes. The smallest are 18 millimetres (16) in diameter and the largest 24 millimetres (17). There is room for two cocoons, or three at most, according to their dimensions.

Now these shells were used by my visitors without any hesitation, perhaps even with more eagerness than the glass tubes, whose slippery sides might easily be a little annoying to the Bee. Some of them were occupied on the first few days of the laying; and the Osmia who had started with a home of this sort would pass next to a second Snail-shell, in the immediate neighbourhood of the first, to a third, a fourth and others still, always close together, until her ovaries were emptied. The whole family of one mother would thus be lodged in Snail-shells which were duly marked with the date of the laying and a description of the worker. The faithful adherents of the Snail-shell were in the minority. The greater number left the tubes to come to the shells and then went back from the shells to the tubes. All, after filling the spiral staircase with two or three cells, closed the house with a thick earthen stopper on a level with the opening. It was a long and troublesome task, in which the Osmia displayed all her patience as a mother and all her talents as a plasterer.

When the pupae are sufficiently matured, I proceed to examine these elegant abodes. The contents fill me with joy: they fulfil my anticipations to the letter. The great, the very great majority of the cocoons turn out to be males; here and there, in the bigger cells, a few rare females appear. The smallness of the space has almost done away with the stronger sex. This result is demonstrated by the sixty-eight Snail-shells colonized. But, of this total number, I must use only those series which received an entire laying and were occupied by the same Osmia from the beginning to the end of the egg-season. Here are a few examples, taken from among the most conclusive.

From the 6th of May, when she started operations, to the 25th of May, the date at which her laying ceased, one Osmia occupied seven Snail-shells in succession. Her family consists of fourteen cocoons, a number very near the average; and, of these fourteen cocoons, twelve belong to males and only two to females.

Another, between the 9th and 27th of May, stocked six Snail-shells with a family of thirteen, including ten males and three females.

A third, between the 2nd and 29th of May colonized eleven Snail-shells, a prodigious task. This industrious one was also exceedingly prolific. She supplied me with a family of twenty-six, the largest which I have ever obtained from one Osmia. Well, this abnormal progeny consisted of twenty-five males and one female.

There is no need to go on, after this magnificent example, especially as the other series would all, without exception, give us the same result. Two facts are immediately obvious: the Osmia is able to reverse the order of her laying and to start with a more or less long series of males before producing any females. There is something better still; and this is the proposition which I was particularly anxious to prove: the female sex can be permuted with the male sex and can be permuted to the point of disappearing altogether. We see this especially in the third case, where the presence of a solitary female in a family of twenty-six is due to the somewhat larger diameter of the corresponding Snail-shell.

There would still remain the inverse permutation: to obtain only females and no males, or very few. The first permutation makes the second seem very probable, although I cannot as yet conceive a means of realizing it. The only condition which I can regulate is the dimensions of the home. When the rooms are small, the males abound and the females tend to disappear. With generous quarters, the converse would not take place. I should obtain females and afterwards an equal number of males, confined in small cells which, in case of need, would be bounded by numerous partitions. The factor of space does not enter into the question here. What artifice can we then employ to provoke this second permutation? So far, I can think of nothing that is worth attempting.

It is time to conclude. Leading a retired life, in the solitude of a village, having quite enough to do with patiently and obscurely ploughing my humble furrow, I know little about modern scientific views. In my young days I had a passionate longing for books and found it difficult to procure them; to-day, when I could almost have them if I wanted, I am ceasing to wish for them. It is what usually happens as life goes on. I do not therefore know what may have been done in the direction whither this study of the sexes has led me. If I am stating propositions that are really new or at least more comprehensive than the propositions already known, my words will perhaps sound heretical. No matter: as a simple translator of facts, I do not hesitate to make my statement, being fully persuaded that time will turn my heresy into orthodoxy. I will therefore recapitulate my conclusions.

Bees lay their eggs in series of first females and then males, when the two sexes are of different sizes and demand an unequal quantity of nourishment. When the two sexes are alike in size, as in the case of Latreille's Osmia, the same sequence may occur, but less regularly.

This dual arrangement disappears when the place chosen for the nest is not large enough to contain the entire laying. We then see broken layings, beginning with females and ending with males.

The egg, as it issues from the ovary, has not yet a fixed sex. The final impress that produces the sex is given at the moment of laying, or a little before.

So as to be able to give each larva the amount of space and food that suits it according as it is male or female, the mother can choose the sex of the egg which she is about to lay. To meet the conditions of the building, which is often the work of another or else a natural retreat that admits of little or no alteration, she lays either a male egg or a female egg AS SHE PLEASES. The distribution of the sexes depends upon herself. Should circumstances require it, the order of the laying can be reversed and begin with males; lastly, the entire laying can contain only one sex.

The same privilege is possessed by the predatory Hymenoptera, the Wasps, at least by those in whom the two sexes are of a different size and consequently require an amount of nourishment that is larger in the one case than in the other. The mother must know the sex of the egg which she is going to lay; she must be able to choose the sex of that egg so that each larva may obtain its proper portion of food.

Generally speaking, when the sexes are of different sizes, every insect that collects food and prepares or selects a dwelling for its offspring must be able to choose the sex of the egg in order to satisfy without mistake the conditions imposed upon it.

The question remains how this optional assessment of the sexes is effected. I know absolutely nothing about it. If I should ever learn anything about this delicate point, I shall owe it to some happy chance for which I must wait, or rather watch, patiently.

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 myself may have to suggest, 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 of you again (18)?

Translator's No­tes:

1. A mountain in the Proven?al Alps, near Carpentras and S?rignan 6,271 feet.

2. Nearly half an inch.

3. About a quarter of an inch.

4. About half an inch.

5. .273 inch.

6. .897 inch.

7. .546 inch.

8. Between .312 and .468 inch.

9. .195 to .234 inch.

10. 3.9 inches.

11. .195 to .234 inch.

12. .195 to .214 inch.

13. .234 inch.

14. About two-fifths of an inch.

15. .585 inch.

16. .7 inch.

17. .936 inch.

18. This forms the closing paragraph of Volume 3 of the „Souvenirs entomologiques,“ of which the author lived to publish seven more volumes, containing over 2,500 pages and nearly 850,000 words.

Links from Google

Social Statistics

Spread the word...