SOCIAL LIFE IN THE INSECT WORLD
BY J. H. FABRE
TRANSLATED BY BERNARD MIALL
WITH 14 ILLUSTRATIONS
LONDON T. FISHER UNWIN, LTD. ADELPHI TERRACE
First Edition 1911
Second Impression 1912
Third Impression 1912
Fourth Impression 1913
Fifth Impression 1913
Sixth Impression 1915
Seventh Impression 1916
Eighth Impression 1916
Ninth Impression 1917
Tenth Impression 1918
Eleventh Impression 1918
Twelfth Impression 1919
(All rights reserved)
CHAPTER I PAGE
THE FABLE OF THE CIGALE AND THE ANT 1
THE CIGALE LEAVES ITS BURROW 17
THE SONG OF THE CIGALE 31
THE CIGALE. THE EGGS AND THEIR HATCHING 45
THE MANTIS. THE CHASE 68
THE MANTIS. COURTSHIP 79
THE MANTIS. THE NEST 86
THE GOLDEN GARDENER. ITS NUTRIMENT 102
THE GOLDEN GARDENER. COURTSHIP 111
THE FIELD CRICKET 120
THE ITALIAN CRICKET 130
THE SISYPHUS BEETLE. THE INSTINCT OF PATERNITY 136
A BEE-HUNTER: THE PHILANTHUS AVIPORUS 150
THE GREAT PEACOCK, OR EMPEROR MOTH 179
THE OAK EGGAR, OR BANDED MONK 202
A TRUFFLE-HUNTER: THE BOLBOCERAS GALLICUS 217
THE ELEPHANT-BEETLE 238
THE PEA-WEEVIL 258
AN INVADER: THE HARICOT-WEEVIL 282
THE GREY LOCUST 300
THE PINE-CHAFER 317
THE MANTIS: A DUEL BETWEEN FEMALES; DEVOURING A CRICKET; DEVOURING HER MATE; IN HER ATTITUDE OF PRAYER; IN HER "SPECTRAL" ATTITUDE Frontispiece
DURING THE DROUGHTS OF SUMMER THIRSTING INSECTS, AND NOTABLY THE ANT, FLOCK TO THE DRINKING-PLACES OF THE CIGALE 8
THE CIGALE AND THE EMPTY PUPA-SKIN 28
THE ADULT CIGALE, FROM BELOW. THE CIGALE OF THE FLOWERING ASH, MALE AND FEMALE 36
THE CIGALE LAYING HER EGGS. THE GREEN GRASSHOPPER, THE FALSE CIGALE OF THE NORTH, DEVOURING THE TRUE CIGALE, A DWELLER IN THE SOUTH 48
THE NEST OF THE PRAYING MANTIS; TRANSVERSE SECTION OF THE SAME; NEST OF EMPUSA PAUPERATA; TRANSVERSE SECTION OF THE SAME; VERTICAL SECTION OF THE SAME; NEST OF THE GREY MANTIS; SCHEFFER'S SISYPHUS (see Chap. XII.); PELLET OF THE SISYPHUS; PELLET OF THE SISYPHUS, WITH DEJECTA OF THE LARVA FORCED THROUGH THE WALLS 88
THE MANTIS DEVOURING THE MALE IN THE ACT OF MATING; THE MANTIS COMPLETING HER NEST; GOLDEN SCARABAEI CUTTING UP A LOB-WORM 90
THE GOLDEN GARDENER: THE MATING SEASON OVER, THE MALES ARE EVISCERATED BY THE FEMALES 114
THE FIELD-CRICKET: A DUEL BETWEEN RIVALS; THE DEFEATED RIVAL RETIRES, INSULTED BY THE VICTOR 124
THE ITALIAN CRICKET 132
THE GREAT PEACOCK OR EMPEROR MOTH 180
THE GREAT PEACOCK MOTH. THE PILGRIMS DIVERTED BY THE LIGHT OF A LAMP 196
THE GREY LOCUST; THE NERVATURES OF THE WING; THE BALANINUS FALLEN A VICTIM TO THE LENGTH OF HER PROBOSCIS 244
THE PINE-CHAFER (MELOLONTHA FULLO) 318
SOCIAL LIFE IN THE INSECT WORLD
THE FABLE OF THE CIGALE AND THE ANT
Fame is the daughter of Legend. In the world of creatures, as in the world of men, the story precedes and outlives history. There are many instances of the fact that if an insect attract our attention for this reason or that, it is given a place in those legends of the people whose last care is truth.
For example, who is there that does not, at least by hearsay, know the Cigale? Where in the entomological world shall we find a more famous reputation? Her fame as an impassioned singer, careless of the future, was the subject of our earliest lessons in repetition. In short, easily remembered lines of verse, we learned how she was destitute when the winter winds arrived, and how she went begging for food to the Ant, her neighbour. A poor welcome she received, the would-be borrower!—a welcome that has become proverbial, and her chief title to celebrity. The petty malice of the two short lines—
Vous chantiez! j'en suis bien aise, Eh bien, dansez maintenant!
has done more to immortalise the insect than her skill as a musician. "You sang! I am very glad to hear it! Now you can dance!" The words lodge in the childish memory, never to be forgotten. To most Englishmen—to most Frenchmen even—the song of the Cigale is unknown, for she dwells in the country of the olive-tree; but we all know of the treatment she received at the hands of the Ant. On such trifles does Fame depend! A legend of very dubious value, its moral as bad as its natural history; a nurse's tale whose only merit is its brevity; such is the basis of a reputation which will survive the wreck of centuries no less surely than the tale of Puss-in-Boots and of Little Red Riding-Hood.
The child is the best guardian of tradition, the great conservative. Custom and tradition become indestructible when confided to the archives of his memory. To the child we owe the celebrity of the Cigale, of whose misfortunes he has babbled during his first lessons in recitation. It is he who will preserve for future generations the absurd nonsense of which the body of the fable is constructed; the Cigale will always be hungry when the cold comes, although there were never Cigales in winter; she will always beg alms in the shape of a few grains of wheat, a diet absolutely incompatible with her delicate capillary "tongue"; and in desperation she will hunt for flies and grubs, although she never eats.
Whom shall we hold responsible for these strange mistakes? La Fontaine, who in most of his fables charms us with his exquisite fineness of observation, has here been ill-inspired. His earlier subjects he knew down to the ground: the Fox, the Wolf, the Cat, the Stag, the Crow, the Rat, the Ferret, and so many others, whose actions and manners he describes with a delightful precision of detail. These are inhabitants of his own country; neighbours, fellow-parishioners. Their life, private and public, is lived under his eyes; but the Cigale is a stranger to the haunts of Jack Rabbit. La Fontaine had never seen nor heard her. For him the celebrated songstress was certainly a grasshopper.
Grandville, whose pencil rivals the author's pen, has fallen into the same error. In his illustration to the fable we see the Ant dressed like a busy housewife. On her threshold, beside her full sacks of wheat, she disdainfully turns her back upon the would-be borrower, who holds out her claw—pardon, her hand. With a wide coachman's hat, a guitar under her arm, and a skirt wrapped about her knees by the gale, there stands the second personage of the fable, the perfect portrait of a grasshopper. Grandville knew no more than La Fontaine of the true Cigale; he has beautifully expressed the general confusion.
But La Fontaine, in this abbreviated history, is only the echo of another fabulist. The legend of the Cigale and the cold welcome of the Ant is as old as selfishness: as old as the world. The children of Athens, going to school with their baskets of rush-work stuffed with figs and olives, were already repeating the story under their breath, as a lesson to be repeated to the teacher. "In winter," they used to say, "the Ants were putting their damp food to dry in the sun. There came a starving Cigale to beg from them. She begged for a few grains. The greedy misers replied: 'You sang in the summer, now dance in the winter.'" This, although somewhat more arid, is precisely La Fontaine's story, and is contrary to the facts.
Yet the story comes to us from Greece, which is, like the South of France, the home of the olive-tree and the Cigale. Was AEsop really its author, as tradition would have it? It is doubtful, and by no means a matter of importance; at all events, the author was a Greek, and a compatriot of the Cigale, which must have been perfectly familiar to him. There is not a single peasant in my village so blind as to be unaware of the total absence of Cigales in winter; and every tiller of the soil, every gardener, is familiar with the first phase of the insect, the larva, which his spade is perpetually discovering when he banks up the olives at the approach of the cold weather, and he knows, having seen it a thousand times by the edge of the country paths, how in summer this larva issues from the earth from a little round well of its own making; how it climbs a twig or a stem of grass, turns upon its back, climbs out of its skin, drier now than parchment, and becomes the Cigale; a creature of a fresh grass-green colour which is rapidly replaced by brown.
We cannot suppose that the Greek peasant was so much less intelligent than the Provencal that he can have failed to see what the least observant must have noticed. He knew what my rustic neighbours know so well. The scribe, whoever he may have been, who was responsible for the fable was in the best possible circumstances for correct knowledge of the subject. Whence, then, arose the errors of his tale?
Less excusably than La Fontaine, the Greek fabulist wrote of the Cigale of the books, instead of interrogating the living Cigale, whose cymbals were resounding on every side; careless of the real, he followed tradition. He himself echoed a more ancient narrative; he repeated some legend that had reached him from India, the venerable mother of civilisations. We do not know precisely what story the reed-pen of the Hindoo may have confided to writing, in order to show the perils of a life without foresight; but it is probable that the little animal drama was nearer the truth than the conversation between the Cigale and the Ant. India, the friend of animals, was incapable of such a mistake. Everything seems to suggest that the principal personage of the original fable was not the Cigale of the Midi, but some other creature, an insect if you will, whose manners corresponded to the adopted text.
Imported into Greece, after long centuries during which, on the banks of the Indus, it made the wise reflect and the children laugh, the ancient anecdote, perhaps as old as the first piece of advice that a father of a family ever gave in respect of economy, transmitted more or less faithfully from one memory to another, must have suffered alteration in its details, as is the fate of all such legends, which the passage of time adapts to the circumstance of time and place.
The Greek, not finding in his country the insect of which the Hindoo spoke, introduced the Cigale, as in Paris, the modern Athens, the Cigale has been replaced by the Grasshopper. The mistake was made; henceforth indelible. Entrusted as it is to the memory of childhood, error will prevail against the truth that lies before our eyes.
Let us seek to rehabilitate the songstress so calumniated by the fable. She is, I grant you, an importunate neighbour. Every summer she takes up her station in hundreds before my door, attracted thither by the verdure of two great plane-trees; and there, from sunrise to sunset, she hammers on my brain with her strident symphony. With this deafening concert thought is impossible; the mind is in a whirl, is seized with vertigo, unable to concentrate itself. If I have not profited by the early morning hours the day is lost.
Ah! Creature possessed, the plague of my dwelling, which I hoped would be so peaceful!—the Athenians, they say, used to hang you up in a little cage, the better to enjoy your song. One were well enough, during the drowsiness of digestion; but hundreds, roaring all at once, assaulting the hearing until thought recoils—this indeed is torture! You put forward, as excuse, your rights as the first occupant. Before my arrival the two plane-trees were yours without reserve; it is I who have intruded, have thrust myself into their shade. I confess it: yet muffle your cymbals, moderate your arpeggi, for the sake of your historian! The truth rejects what the fabulist tells us as an absurd invention. That there are sometimes dealings between the Cigale and the Ant is perfectly correct; but these dealings are the reverse of those described in the fable. They depend not upon the initiative of the former; for the Cigale never required the help of others in order to make her living: on the contrary, they are due to the Ant, the greedy exploiter of others, who fills her granaries with every edible she can find. At no time does the Cigale plead starvation at the doors of the ant-hills, faithfully promising a return of principal and interest; the Ant on the contrary, harassed by drought, begs of the songstress. Begs, do I say! Borrowing and repayment are no part of the manners of this land-pirate. She exploits the Cigale; she impudently robs her. Let us consider this theft; a curious point of history as yet unknown.
In July, during the stifling hours of the afternoon, when the insect peoples, frantic with drought, wander hither and thither, vainly seeking to quench their thirst at the faded, exhausted flowers, the Cigale makes light of the general aridity. With her rostrum, a delicate augur, she broaches a cask of her inexhaustible store. Crouching, always singing, on the twig of a suitable shrub or bush, she perforates the firm, glossy rind, distended by the sap which the sun has matured. Plunging her proboscis into the bung-hole, she drinks deliciously, motionless, and wrapt in meditation, abandoned to the charms of syrup and of song.
Let us watch her awhile. Perhaps we shall witness unlooked-for wretchedness and want. For there are many thirsty creatures wandering hither and thither; and at last they discover the Cigale's private well, betrayed by the oozing sap upon the brink. They gather round it, at first with a certain amount of constraint, confining themselves to lapping the extravasated liquor. I have seen, crowding around the honeyed perforation, wasps, flies, earwigs, Sphinx-moths, Pompilidae, rose-chafers, and, above all, ants.
The smallest, in order to reach the well, slip under the belly of the Cigale, who kindly raises herself on her claws, leaving room for the importunate ones to pass. The larger, stamping with impatience, quickly snatch a mouthful, withdraw, take a turn on the neighbouring twigs, and then return, this time more enterprising. Envy grows keener; those who but now were cautious become turbulent and aggressive, and would willingly drive from the spring the well-sinker who has caused it to flow.
In this crowd of brigands the most aggressive are the ants. I have seen them nibbling the ends of the Cigale's claws; I have caught them tugging the ends of her wings, climbing on her back, tickling her antennae. One audacious individual so far forgot himself under my eyes as to seize her proboscis, endeavouring to extract it from the well!
Thus hustled by these dwarfs, and at the end of her patience, the giantess finally abandons the well. She flies away, throwing a jet of liquid excrement over her tormentors as she goes. But what cares the Ant for this expression of sovereign contempt? She is left in possession of the spring—only too soon exhausted when the pump is removed that made it flow. There is little left, but that little is sweet. So much to the good; she can wait for another drink, attained in the same manner, as soon as the occasion presents itself.
As we see, reality completely reverses the action described by the fable. The shameless beggar, who does not hesitate at theft, is the Ant; the industrious worker, willingly sharing her goods with the suffering, is the Cigale. Yet another detail, and the reversal of the fable is further emphasised. After five or six weeks of gaiety, the songstress falls from the tree, exhausted by the fever of life. The sun shrivels her body; the feet of the passers-by crush it. A bandit always in search of booty, the Ant discovers the remains. She divides the rich find, dissects it, and cuts it up into tiny fragments, which go to swell her stock of provisions. It is not uncommon to see a dying Cigale, whose wings are still trembling in the dust, drawn and quartered by a gang of knackers. Her body is black with them. After this instance of cannibalism the truth of the relations between the two insects is obvious.
Antiquity held the Cigale in high esteem. The Greek Beranger, Anacreon, devoted an ode to her, in which his praise of her is singularly exaggerated. "Thou art almost like unto the Gods," he says. The reasons which he has given for this apotheosis are none of the best. They consist in these three privileges: [Greek: gegenes, apathes, hanaimosarke]; born of the earth, insensible to pain, bloodless. We will not reproach the poet for these mistakes; they were then generally believed, and were perpetuated long afterwards, until the exploring eye of scientific observation was directed upon them. And in minor poetry, whose principal merit lies in rhythm and harmony, we must not look at things too closely.
Even in our days, the Provencal poets, who know the Cigale as Anacreon never did, are scarcely more careful of the truth in celebrating the insect which they have taken for their emblem. A friend of mine, an eager observer and a scrupulous realist, does not deserve this reproach. He gives me permission to take from his pigeon-holes the following Provencal poem, in which the relations between the Cigale and the Ant are expounded with all the rigour of science. I leave to him the responsibility for his poetic images and his moral reflections, blossoms unknown to my naturalist's garden; but I can swear to the truth of all he says, for it corresponds with what I see each summer on the lilac-trees of my garden.
LA CIGALO E LA FOURNIGO.
Jour de Dieu, queto caud! Beu tems per la Cigalo, Que, trefoulido, se regalo D'uno raisso de fio; beu tems per la meissoun. Dins lis erso d'or, lou segaire, Ren plega, pitre au vent, rustico e canto gaire; Dins soun gousie, la set estranglo la cansoun.
Tems benesi per tu. Dounc, ardit! cigaleto, Fai-lei brusi, ti chimbaleto, E brandusso lou ventre a creba ti mirau. L'Ome enterin mando le daio, Que vai balin-balan de longo e que dardaio L'ulau de soun acie sus li rous espigau.
Plen d'aigo per la peiro e tampouna d'erbiho Lou coufie sus l'anco pendiho. Si la peiro es au fres dins soun estui de bos, E se de longo es abeurado, L'Ome barbelo au fio d'aqueli souleiado Que fan bouli de fes la mesoulo dis os.
Tu, Cigalo, as un biais per la set: dins la rusco Tendro e jutouso d'uno busco, L'aguio de toun be cabusso e cavo un pous. Lou siro monto per la draio. T'amourres a la fon melicouso que raio, E dou sourgent sucra beves lou teta-dous.
Mai pas toujour en pas. Oh! que nani; de laire, Vesin, vesino o barrulaire, T'an vist cava lou pous. An set; venon, doulent, Te prene un degout per si tasso. Mesfiso-te, ma bello: aqueli curo-biasso, Umble d'abord, soun leu de gusas insoulent.
Quiston un chicouloun di ren, piei de ti resto Soun plus countent, ausson la testo E volon tout: L'auran. Sis arpioun en rasteu Te gatihoun lou bout de l'alo. Sus tu larjo esquinasso es un mounto-davalo; T'aganton per lou be, li bano, lis arteu;
Tiron d'eici, d'eila. L'impacienci te gagno. Pst! pst! d'un giscle de pissagno Asperges l'assemblado e quites lou rameu. T'en vas ben liuen de la racaio, Que t'a rauba lou pous, e ris, e se gougaio, E se lipo li brego enviscado de meu.
Or d'aqueli boumian abeura sens fatigo, Lou mai tihous es la fournigo. Mousco, cabrian, guespo e tavan embana, Espeloufi de touto meno, Costo-en-long qu'a toun pous lou soulcias ameno, N'an pas soun testardige a te faire enana.
Per l'esquicha l'arteu, te coutiga lou mourre, Te pessuga lou nas, per courre A l'oumbro du toun ventre, osco! degun la vau. Lou marrit-peu prend per escalo Uno patto e te monto, ardido, sus lis alo, E s'espasso, insoulento, e vai d'amont, d'avau.
Aro veici qu'es pas de creire. Ancian tems, nous dison li reire, Un jour d'iver; la fam te prengue. Lou front bas E d'escoundoun aneres veire, Dins si grand magasin, la fournigo, eilabas.
L'endrudido au souleu secavo, Avans de lis escoundre en cavo, Si blad qu'avie mousi l'eigagno de la niue. Quand eron lest lis ensacavo. Tu survenes alor, eme de plour is iue.
Ie dises: "Fai ben fre; l'aurasso D'un caire a l'autre me tirasso Avanido de fam. A toun riche mouloun Leisso-me prene per ma biasso. Te lou rendrai segur au beu tems di meloun.
"Presto-me un pan de gran." Mai, bouto, Se creses que l'autro t'escouto, T'enganes. Di gros sa, ren de ren sara tieu. "Vai-t'en plus liuen rascla de bouto; Crebo de fam l'iver, tu que cantes l'estieu."
Ansin charro la fablo antico Per nous counseia la pratico Di sarro-piastro, urous de nousa li cordoun De si bourso.—Que la coulico Rousigue la tripaio en aqueli coudoun!
Me fai susa, lou fabulisto, Quand dis que l'iver vas en quisto De mousco, verme, gran, tu que manges jamai. De blad! Que n'en faries, ma fisto! As ta fon melicouso e demandes ren mai.
Que t'enchau l'iver! Ta famiho A la sousto en terro soumiho, Et tu dormes la som que n'a ges de revei; Toun cadabre toumbo en douliho. Un jour, en tafurant, la fournigo lou vei,
De tu magro peu dessecado La marriasso fai becado; Te curo lou perus, te chapouto a mouceu, T'encafourno per car-salado, Requisto prouvisioun, l'iver, en tems de neu.
Vaqui l'istori veritablo Ben liuen dou conte de la fablo. Que n'en pensas, caneu de sort! —O rammaissaire de dardeno Det croucu, boumbudo bedeno Que gouvernas lou mounde eme lou coffre-fort,
Fases courre lou bru, canaio, Que l'artisto jamai travaio E deu pati, lou bedigas. Teisas-vous dounc: quand di lambrusco La Cigalo a cava la rusco, Raubas soun beure, e piei, morto, la rousigas.
So speaks my friend in the expressive Provencal idiom, rehabilitating the creature so libelled by the fabulist.
Translated with a little necessary freedom, the English of it is as follows:—
Fine weather for the Cigale! God, what heat! Half drunken with her joy, she feasts In a hail of fire. Pays for the harvest meet; A golden sea the reaper breasts, Loins bent, throat bare; silent, he labours long, For thirst within his throat has stilled the song.
A blessed time for thee, little Cigale. Thy little cymbals shake and sound, Shake, shake thy stomach till thy mirrors fall! Man meanwhile swings his scythe around; Continually back and forth it veers, Flashing its steel amidst the ruddy ears.
Grass-plugged, with water for the grinder full, A flask is hung upon his hip; The stone within its wooden trough is cool, Free all the day to sip and sip; But man is gasping in the fiery sun, That makes his very marrow melt and run.
Thou, Cigale, hast a cure for thirst: the bark, Tender and juicy, of the bough. Thy beak, a very needle, stabs it. Mark The narrow passage welling now; The sugared stream is flowing, thee beside, Who drinkest of the flood, the honeyed tide.
Not in peace always; nay, for thieves arrive, Neighbours and wives, or wanderers vile; They saw thee sink the well, and ill they thrive Thirsting; they seek to drink awhile; Beauty, beware! the wallet-snatcher's face, Humble at first, grows insolent apace.
They seek the merest drop; thy leavings take; Soon discontent, their heads they toss; They crave for all, and all will have. They rake Their claws thy folded wings across; Thy back a mountain, up and down each goes; They seize thee by the beak, the horns, the toes.
This way and that they pull. Impatient thou: Pst! Pst! a jet of nauseous taste O'er the assembly sprinklest. Leave the bough And fly the rascals thus disgraced, Who stole thy well, and with malicious pleasure Now lick their honey'd lips, and feed at leisure.
See these Bohemians without labour fed! The ant the worst of all the crew— Fly, drone, wasp, beetle too with horned head, All of them sharpers thro' and thro', Idlers the sun drew to thy well apace— None more than she was eager for thy place,
More apt thy face to tickle, toe to tread, Or nose to pinch, and then to run Under the shade thine ample belly spread; Or climb thy leg for ladder; sun Herself audacious on thy wings, and go Most insolently o'er thee to and fro.
Now comes a tale that no one should believe. In other times, the ancients say, The winter came, and hunger made thee grieve. Thou didst in secret see one day The ant below the ground her treasure store away.
The wealthy ant was drying in the sun Her corn the dew had wet by night, Ere storing it again; and one by one She filled her sacks as it dried aright. Thou camest then, and tears bedimmed thy sight,
Saying: "'Tis very cold; the bitter bise Blows me this way and that to-day. I die of hunger. Of your riches please Fill me my bag, and I'll repay, When summer and its melons come this way.
"Lend me a little corn." Go to, go to! Think you the ant will lend an ear? You are deceived. Great sacks, but nought for you! "Be off, and scrape some barrel clear! You sing of summer: starve, for winter's here!"
'Tis thus the ancient fable sings To teach us all the prudence ripe Of farthing-snatchers, glad to knot the string That tie their purses. May the gripe Of colic twist the guts of all such tripe!
He angers me, this fable-teller does, Saying in winter thou dost seek Flies, grubs, corn—thou dost never eat like us! —Corn! Couldst thou eat it, with thy beak? Thou hast thy fountain with its honey'd reek.
To thee what matters winter? Underground Slumber thy children, sheltered; thou The sleep that knows no waking sleepest sound. Thy body, fallen from the bough, Crumbles; the questing ant has found thee now.
The wicked ant of thy poor withered hide A banquet makes; in little bits She cuts thee up, and empties thine inside, And stores thee where in wealth she sits: Choice diet when the winter numbs the wits.
Here is the tale related duly, And little resembling the fable, truly! Hoarders of farthings, I know, deuce take it. It isn't the story as you would make it! Crook-fingers, big-bellies, what do you say, Who govern the world with the cash-box—hey?
You have spread the story, with shrug and smirk, That the artist ne'er does a stroke of work; And so let him suffer, the imbecile! Be you silent! 'Tis you, I think, When the Cigale pierces the vine to drink, Drive her away, her drink to steal; And when she is dead—you make your meal!
THE CIGALE LEAVES ITS BURROW
The first Cigales appear about the summer solstice. Along the beaten paths, calcined by the sun, hardened by the passage of frequent feet, we see little circular orifices almost large enough to admit the thumb. These are the holes by which the larvae of the Cigale have come up from the depths to undergo metamorphosis. We see them more or less everywhere, except in fields where the soil has been disturbed by ploughing. Their usual position is in the driest and hottest situations, especially by the sides of roads or the borders of footpaths. Powerfully equipped for the purpose, able at need to pierce the turf or sun-dried clay, the larva, upon leaving the earth, seems to prefer the hardest spots.
A garden alley, converted into a little Arabia Petraea by reflection from a wall facing the south, abounds in such holes. During the last days of June I have made an examination of these recently abandoned pits. The soil is so compact that I needed a pick to tackle it.
The orifices are round, and close upon an inch in diameter. There is absolutely no debris round them; no earth thrown up from within. This is always the case; the holes of the Cigales are never surrounded by dumping-heaps, as are the burrows of the Geotrupes, another notable excavator. The way in which the work is done is responsible for this difference. The dung-beetle works from without inwards; she begins to dig at the mouth of the burrow, and afterwards re-ascends and accumulates the excavated material on the surface. The larva of the Cigale, on the contrary, works outward from within, upward from below; it opens the door of exit at the last moment, so that it is not free for the discharge of excavated material until the work is done. The first enters and raises a little rubbish-heap at the threshold of her burrow; the second emerges, and cannot, while working, pile up its rubbish on a threshold which as yet has no existence.
The burrow of the Cigale descends about fifteen inches. It is cylindrical, slightly twisted, according to the exigencies of the soil, and always approaches the vertical, or the direction of the shortest passage. It is perfectly free along its entire length. We shall search in vain for the rubbish which such an excavation must apparently produce; we shall find nothing of the sort. The burrow terminates in a cul-de-sac, in a fairly roomy chamber with unbroken walls, which shows not the least vestige of communication with any other burrow or prolongation of the shaft.
Taking its length and diameter into account, we find the excavation has a total volume of about twelve cubic inches. What becomes of the earth which is removed?
Sunk in a very dry, crumbling soil, we should expect the shaft and the chamber at the bottom to have soft, powdery walls, subject to petty landslips, if no work were done but that of excavation. On the contrary, the walls are neatly daubed, plastered with a sort of clay-like mortar. They are not precisely smooth, indeed they are distinctly rough; but their irregularities are covered with a layer of plaster, and the crumbling material, soaked in some glutinous liquid and dried, is held firmly in place.
The larva can climb up and down, ascend nearly to the surface, and go down into its chamber of refuge, without bringing down, with his claws, the continual falls of material which would block the burrow, make ascent a matter of difficulty, and retreat impossible. The miner shores up his galleries with uprights and cross-timbers; the builder of underground railways supports the sides and roofs of his tunnels with a lining of brick or masonry or segments of iron tube; the larva of the Cigale, no less prudent an engineer, plasters the walls of its burrow with cement, so that the passage is always free and ready for use.
If I surprise the creature just as it is emerging from the soil in order to gain a neighbouring bough and there undergo transformation, I see it immediately make a prudent retreat, descending to the bottom of its burrow without the slightest difficulty—a proof that even when about to be abandoned for ever the refuge is not encumbered with rubbish.
The ascending shaft is not a hurried piece of work, scamped by a creature impatient to reach the sunlight. It is a true dwelling, in which the larva may make a long stay. The plastered walls betray as much. Such precautions would be useless in the case of a simple exit abandoned as soon as made. We cannot doubt that the burrow is a kind of meteorological observatory, and that its inhabitant takes note of the weather without. Buried underground at a depth of twelve or fifteen inches, the larva, when ripe for escape, could hardly judge whether the meteorological conditions were favourable. The subterranean climate varies too little, changes too slowly, and would not afford it the precise information required for the most important action of its life—the escape into the sunshine at the time of metamorphosis.
Patiently, for weeks, perhaps for months, it digs, clears, and strengthens a vertical shaft, leaving only a layer of earth a finger's breadth in thickness to isolate it from the outer world. At the bottom it prepares a carefully built recess. This is its refuge, its place of waiting, where it reposes in peace if its observations decide it to postpone its final departure. At the least sign of fine weather it climbs to the top of its burrow, sounds the outer world through the thin layer of earth which covers the shaft, and informs itself of the temperature and humidity of the outer air.
If things are not going well—if there are threats of a flood or the dreaded bise—events of mortal gravity when the delicate insect issues from its cerements—the prudent creature re-descends to the bottom of its burrow for a longer wait. If, on the contrary, the state of the atmosphere is favourable, the roof is broken through by a few strokes of its claws, and the larva emerges from its tunnel.
Everything seems to prove that the burrow of the Cigale is a waiting-room, a meteorological station, in which the larva makes a prolonged stay; sometimes hoisting itself to the neighbourhood of the surface in order to ascertain the external climate; sometimes retiring to the depths the better to shelter itself. This explains the chamber at the base of the shaft, and the necessity of a cement to hold the walls together, for otherwise the creature's continual comings and goings would result in a landslip.
A matter less easy of explanation is the complete disappearance of the material which originally filled the excavated space. Where are the twelve cubic inches of earth that represent the average volume of the original contents of the shaft? There is not a trace of this material outside, nor inside either. And how, in a soil as dry as a cinder, is the plaster made with which the walls are covered?
Larvae which burrow in wood, such as those of Capricornis and Buprestes, will apparently answer our first question. They make their way through the substance of a tree-trunk, boring their galleries by the simple method of eating the material in front of them. Detached by their mandibles, fragment by fragment, the material is digested. It passes from end to end through the body of the pioneer, yields during its passage its meagre nutritive principles, and accumulates behind it, obstructing the passage, by which the larva will never return. The work of extreme division, effected partly by the mandibles and partly by the stomach, makes the digested material more compact than the intact wood, from which it follows that there is always a little free space at the head of the gallery, in which the caterpillar works and lives; it is not of any great length, but just suffices for the movements of the prisoner.
Must not the larva of the Cigale bore its passage in some such fashion? I do not mean that the results of excavation pass through its body—for earth, even the softest mould, could form no possible part of its diet. But is not the material detached simply thrust back behind the excavator as the work progresses?
The Cigale passes four years under ground. This long life is not spent, of course, at the bottom of the well I have just described; that is merely a resting-place preparatory to its appearance on the face of the earth. The larva comes from elsewhere; doubtless from a considerable distance. It is a vagabond, roaming from one root to another and implanting its rostrum. When it moves, either to flee from the upper layers of the soil, which in winter become too cold, or to install itself upon a more juicy root, it makes a road by rejecting behind it the material broken up by the teeth of its picks. That this is its method is incontestable.
As with the larvae of Capricornis and Buprestes, it is enough for the traveller to have around it the small amount of free space necessitated by its movements. Moist, soft, and easily compressible soil is to the larva of the Cigale what digested wood-pulp is to the others. It is compressed without difficulty, and so leaves a vacant space.
The difficulty is that sometimes the burrow of exit from the waiting-place is driven through a very arid soil, which is extremely refractory to compression so long as it retains its aridity. That the larva, when commencing the excavation of its burrow, has already thrust part of the detached material into a previously made gallery, now filled up and disappeared, is probable enough, although nothing in the actual condition of things goes to support the theory; but if we consider the capacity of the shaft and the extreme difficulty of making room for such a volume of debris, we feel dubious once more; for to hide such a quantity of earth a considerable empty space would be necessary, which could only be obtained by the disposal of more debris. Thus we are caught in a vicious circle. The mere packing of the powdered earth rejected behind the excavator would not account for so large a void. The Cigale must have a special method of disposing of the waste earth. Let us see if we can discover the secret.
Let us examine a larva at the moment of emerging from the soil. It is almost always more or less smeared with mud, sometimes dried, sometimes moist. The implements of excavation, the claws of the fore-feet, have their points covered by little globules of mortar; the others bear leggings of mud; the back is spotted with clay. One is reminded of a scavenger who has been scooping up mud all day. This condition is the more striking in that the insect comes from an absolutely dry soil. We should expect to see it dusty; we find it muddy.
One more step, and the problem of the well is solved. I exhume a larva which is working at its gallery of exit. Chance postpones this piece of luck, which I cannot expect to achieve at once, since nothing on the surface guides my search. But at last I am rewarded, and the larva is just beginning its excavation. An inch of tunnel, free of all waste or rubbish, and at the bottom the chamber, the place of rest; so far has the work proceeded. And the worker—in what condition is it? Let us see.
The larva is much paler in colour than those which I have caught as they emerged. The large eyes in particular are whitish, cloudy, blurred, and apparently blind. What would be the use of sight underground? The eyes of the larvae leaving their burrows are black and shining, and evidently capable of sight. When it issues into the sunlight the future Cigale must find, often at some distance from its burrow, a suitable twig from which to hang during its metamorphosis, so that sight is obviously of the greatest utility. The maturity of the eyes, attained during the time of preparation before deliverance, proves that the larva, far from boring its tunnel in haste, has spent a long time labouring at it.
What else do we notice? The blind, pale larva is far more voluminous than in the mature state; it is swollen with liquid as though it had dropsy. Taken in the fingers, a limpid serum oozes from the hinder part of the body, which moistens the whole surface. Is this fluid, evacuated by the intestine, a product of urinary secretion—simply the contents of a stomach nourished entirely upon sap? I will not attempt to decide, but for convenience will content myself with calling it urine.
Well, this fountain of urine is the key to the enigma. As it digs and advances the larva waters the powdery debris and converts it into a paste, which is immediately applied to the walls by the pressure of the abdomen. Aridity is followed by plasticity. The mud thus obtained penetrates the interstices of the rough soil; the more liquid portion enters the substance of the soil by infiltration; the remainder becomes tightly packed and fills up the inequalities of the walls. Thus the insect obtains an empty tunnel, with no loose waste, as all the loosened soil is utilised on the spot, converted into a mortar which is more compact and homogeneous than the soil through which the shaft is driven.
Thus the larva works in the midst of a coating of mud, which is the cause of its dirtiness, so astonishing when we see it issue from an excessively dry soil. The perfect insect, although henceforth liberated from the work of a sapper and miner, does not entirely abandon the use of urine as a weapon, employing it as a means of defence. Too closely observed it throws a jet of liquid upon the importunate enemy and flies away. In both its forms the Cigale, in spite of its dry temperament, is a famous irrigator.
Dropsical as it is, the larva cannot contain sufficient liquid to moisten and convert into easily compressible mud the long column of earth which must be removed from the burrow. The reservoir becomes exhausted, and the provision must be renewed. Where, and how? I think I can answer the question.
The few burrows uncovered along their entirety, with the meticulous care such a task demands, have revealed at the bottom, encrusted in the wall of the terminal chamber, a living root, sometimes of the thickness of a pencil, sometimes no bigger than a straw. The visible portion of this root is only a fraction of an inch in length; the rest is hidden by the surrounding earth. Is the presence of this source of sap fortuitous? Or is it the result of deliberate choice on the part of the larva? I incline towards the second alternative, so repeatedly was the presence of a root verified, at least when my search was skilfully conducted.
Yes, the Cigale, digging its chamber, the nucleus of the future shaft, seeks out the immediate neighbourhood of a small living root; it lays bare a certain portion, which forms part of the wall, without projecting. This living spot in the wall is the fountain where the supply of moisture is renewed. When its reservoir is exhausted by the conversion of dry dust into mud the miner descends to its chamber, thrusts its proboscis into the root, and drinks deep from the vat built into the wall. Its organs well filled, it re-ascends. It resumes work, damping the hard soil the better to remove it with its talons, reducing the debris to mud, in order to pack it tightly around it and obtain a free passage. In this manner the shaft is driven upwards; logic and the facts of the case, in the absence of direct observation, justify the assertion.
If the root were to fail, and the reservoir of the intestine were exhausted, what would happen? The following experiment will inform us: a larva is caught as it leaves the earth. I place it at the bottom of a test-tube, and cover it with a column of dry earth, which is rather lightly packed. This column is about six inches in height. The larva has just left an excavation three times as deep, made in soil of the same kind, but offering a far greater resistance. Buried under this short column of powdery earth, will it be able to gain the surface? If its strength hold out the issue should be certain; having but lately made its way through the hard earth, this obstacle should be easily removed.
But I am not so sure. In removing the stopper which divided it from the outside world, the larva has expended its final store of liquid. The cistern is dry, and in default of a living root there is no means of replenishing it. My suspicions are well founded. For three days the prisoner struggles desperately, but cannot ascend by so much as an inch. It is impossible to fix the material removed in the absence of moisture; as soon as it is thrust aside it slips back again. The labour has no visible result; it is a labour of Sisyphus, always to be commenced anew. On the fourth day the creature succumbs.
With the intestines full the result is very different.
I make the same experiment with an insect which is only beginning its work of liberation. It is swollen with fluid, which oozes from it and moistens the whole body. Its task is easy; the overlying earth offers little resistance. A small quantity of liquid from the intestines converts it into mud; forms a sticky paste which can be thrust aside with the assurance that it will remain where it is placed. The shaft is gradually opened; very unevenly, to be sure, and it is almost choked up behind the insect as it climbs upwards. It seems as though the creature recognises the impossibility of renewing its store of liquid, and so economises the little it possesses, using only just so much as is necessary in order to escape as quickly as possible from surroundings which are strange to its inherited instincts. This parsimony is so well judged that the insect gains the surface at the end of twelve days.
The gate of issue is opened and left gaping, like a hole made with an augur. For some little time the larva wanders about the neighbourhood of its burrow, seeking an eyrie on some low-growing bush or tuft of thyme, on a stem of grass or grain, or the twig of a shrub. Once found, it climbs and firmly clasps its support, the head upwards, while the talons of the fore feet close with an unyielding grip. The other claws, if the direction of the twig is convenient, assist in supporting it; otherwise the claws of the two fore legs will suffice. There follows a moment of repose, while the supporting limbs stiffen in an unbreakable hold. Then the thorax splits along the back, and through the fissure the insect slowly emerges. The whole process lasts perhaps half an hour.
There is the adult insect, freed of its mask, and how different from what it was but how! The wings are heavy, moist, transparent, with nervures of a tender green. The thorax is barely clouded with brown. All the rest of the body is a pale green, whitish in places. Heat and a prolonged air-bath are necessary to harden and colour the fragile creature. Some two hours pass without any perceptible change. Hanging to its deserted shell by the two fore limbs, the Cigale sways to the least breath of air, still feeble and still green. Finally, the brown colour appears and rapidly covers the whole body; the change of colour is completed in half an hour. Fastening upon its chosen twig at nine o'clock in the morning, the Cigale flies away under my eyes at half-past twelve.
The empty shell remains, intact except for the fissure in the back; clasping the twig so firmly that the winds of autumn do not always succeed in detaching it. For some months yet and even during the winter you will often find these forsaken skins hanging from the twigs in the precise attitude assumed by the larva at the moment of metamorphosis. They are of a horny texture, not unlike dry parchment, and do not readily decay.
I could gather some wonderful information regarding the Cigale were I to listen to all that my neighbours, the peasants, tell me. I will give one instance of rustic natural history.
Are you afflicted with any kidney trouble, or are you swollen with dropsy, or have you need of some powerful diuretic? The village pharmacopoeia is unanimous in recommending the Cigale as a sovereign remedy. The insects in the adult form are collected in summer. They are strung into necklaces which are dried in the sun and carefully preserved in some cupboard or drawer. A good housewife would consider it imprudent to allow July to pass without threading a few of these insects.
Do you suffer from any nephritic irritation or from stricture? Drink an infusion of Cigales. Nothing, they say, is more effectual. I must take this opportunity of thanking the good soul who once upon a time, so I was afterwards informed, made me drink such a concoction unawares for the cure of some such trouble; but I still remain incredulous. I have been greatly struck by the fact that the ancient physician of Anazarbus used to recommend the same remedy. Dioscorides tells us: Cicadae, quae inassatae manduntur, vesicae doloribus prosunt. Since the distant days of this patriarch of materia medica the Provencal peasant has retained his faith in the remedy revealed to him by the Greeks, who came from Phocaea with the olive, the fig, and the vine. Only one thing is changed: Dioscorides advises us to eat the Cigales roasted, but now they are boiled, and the decoction is administered as medicine. The explanation which is given of the diuretic properties of the insect is a marvel of ingenuousness. The Cigale, as every one knows who has tried to catch it, throws a jet of liquid excrement in one's face as it flies away. It therefore endows us with its faculties of evacuation. Thus Dioscorides and his contemporaries must have reasoned; so reasons the peasant of Provence to-day.
What would you say, worthy neighbours, if you knew of the virtues of the larva, which is able to mix sufficient mortar with its urine to build a meteorological station and a shaft connecting with the outer world? Your powers should equal those of Rabelais' Gargantua, who, seated upon the towers of Notre Dame, drowned so many thousands of the inquisitive Parisians.
THE SONG OF THE CIGALE
Where I live I can capture five species of Cigale, the two principal species being the common Cigale and the variety which lives on the flowering ash. Both of these are widely distributed and are the only species known to the country folk. The larger of the two is the common Cigale. Let me briefly describe the mechanism with which it produces its familiar note.
On the under side of the body of the male, immediately behind the posterior limbs, are two wide semicircular plates which slightly overlap one another, the right hand lying over the left hand plate. These are the shutters, the lids, the dampers of the musical-box. Let us remove them. To the right and left lie two spacious cavities which are known in Provencal as the chapels (li capello). Together they form the church (la gleiso). Their forward limit is formed by a creamy yellow membrane, soft and thin; the hinder limit by a dry membrane coloured like a soap bubble and known in Provencal as the mirror (mirau).
The church, the mirrors, and the dampers are commonly regarded as the organs which produce the cry of the Cigale. Of a singer out of breath one says that he has broken his mirrors (a li mirau creba). The same phrase is used of a poet without inspiration. Acoustics give the lie to the popular belief. You may break the mirrors, remove the covers with a snip of the scissors, and tear the yellow anterior membrane, but these mutilations do not silence the song of the Cigale; they merely change its quality and weaken it. The chapels are resonators; they do not produce the sound, but merely reinforce it by the vibration of their anterior and posterior membranes; while the sound is modified by the dampers as they are opened more or less widely.
The actual source of the sound is elsewhere, and is somewhat difficult for a novice to find. On the outer wall of either chapel, at the ridge formed by the junction of back and belly, is a tiny aperture with a horny circumference masked by the overlapping damper. We will call this the window. This opening gives access to a cavity or sound-chamber, deeper than the "chapels," but of much smaller capacity. Immediately behind the attachment of the posterior wings is a slight protuberance, almost egg-shaped, which is distinguishable, on account of its dull black colour, from the neighbouring integuments, which are covered with a silvery down. This protuberance is the outer wall of the sound-chamber.
Let us cut it boldly away. We shall then lay bare the mechanism which produces the sound, the cymbal. This is a small dry, white membrane, oval in shape, convex on the outer side, and crossed along its larger diameter by a bundle of three or four brown nervures, which give it elasticity. Its entire circumference is rigidly fixed. Let us suppose that this convex scale is pulled out of shape from the interior, so that it is slightly flattened and as quickly released; it will immediately regain its original convexity owing to the elasticity of the nervures. From this oscillation a ticking sound will result.
Twenty years ago all Paris was buying a silly toy, called, I think, the cricket or cri-cri. It was a short slip of steel fixed by one end to a metallic base. Pressed out of shape by the thumb and released, it yielded a very distressing, tinkling click. Nothing else was needed to take the popular mind by storm. The "cricket" had its day of glory. Oblivion has executed justice upon it so effectually that I fear I shall not be understood when I recall this celebrated device.
The membranous cymbal and the steel cricket are analogous instruments. Both produce a sound by reason of the rapid deformation and recovery of an elastic substance—in one case a convex membrane; in the other a slip of steel. The "cricket" was bent out of shape by the thumb. How is the convexity of the cymbals altered? Let us return to the "church" and break down the yellow curtain which closes the front of each chapel. Two thick muscular pillars are visible, of a pale orange colour; they join at an angle, forming a V, of which the point lies on the median line of the insect, against the lower face of the thorax. Each of these pillars of flesh terminates suddenly at its upper extremity, as though cut short, and from the truncated portion rises a short, slender tendon, which is attached laterally to the corresponding cymbal.
There is the whole mechanism, no less simple than that of the steel "cricket." The two muscular columns contract and relax, shorten and lengthen. By means of its terminal thread each sounds its cymbal, by depressing it and immediately releasing it, when its own elasticity makes it spring back into shape. These two vibrating scales are the source of the Cigale's cry.
Do you wish to convince yourself of the efficiency of this mechanism? Take a Cigale but newly dead and make it sing. Nothing is simpler. Seize one of these muscular columns with the forceps and pull it in a series of careful jerks. The extinct cri-cri comes to life again; at each jerk there is a clash of the cymbal. The sound is feeble, to be sure, deprived of the amplitude which the living performer is able to give it by means of his resonating chambers; none the less, the fundamental element of the song is produced by this anatomist's trick.
Would you, on the other hand, silence a living Cigale?—that obstinate melomaniac, who, seized in the fingers, deplores his misfortune as loquaciously as ever he sang the joys of freedom in his tree? It is useless to violate his chapels, to break his mirrors; the atrocious mutilation would not quiet him. But introduce a needle by the lateral aperture which we have named the "window" and prick the cymbal at the bottom of the sound-box. A little touch and the perforated cymbal is silent. A similar operation on the other side of the insect and the insect is dumb, though otherwise as vigorous as before and without any perceptible wound. Any one not in the secret would be amazed at the result of my pin-prick, when the destruction of the mirrors and the other dependencies of the "church" do not cause silence. A tiny perforation of no importance to the insect is more effectual than evisceration.
The dampers, which are rigid and solidly built, are motionless. It is the abdomen itself which, by rising and falling, opens or closes the doors of the "church." When the abdomen is lowered the dampers exactly cover the chapels as well as the windows of the sound-boxes. The sound is then muted, muffled, diminished. When the abdomen rises the chapels are open, the windows unobstructed, and the sound acquires its full volume. The rapid oscillations of the abdomen, synchronising with the contractions of the motor muscles of the cymbals, determine the changing volume of the sound, which seems to be caused by rapidly repeated strokes of a fiddlestick.
If the weather is calm and hot, towards mid-day the song of the Cigale is divided into strophes of several seconds' duration, which are separated by brief intervals of silence. The strophe begins suddenly. In a rapid crescendo, the abdomen oscillating with increasing rapidity, it acquires its maximum volume; it remains for a few seconds at the same degree of intensity, then becomes weaker by degrees, and degenerates into a shake, which decreases as the abdomen returns to rest. With the last pulsations of the belly comes silence; the length of the silent interval varies according to the state of the atmosphere. Then, of a sudden, begins a new strophe, a monotonous repetition of the first; and so on indefinitely.
It often happens, especially during the hours of the sultry afternoons, that the insect, intoxicated with sunlight, shortens and even suppresses the intervals of silence. The song is then continuous, but always with an alternation of crescendo and diminuendo. The first notes are heard about seven or eight o'clock in the morning, and the orchestra ceases only when the twilight fails, about eight o'clock at night. The concert lasts a whole round of the clock. But if the sky is grey and the wind chilly the Cigale is silent.
The second species, only half the size of the common Cigale, is known in Provence as the Cacan; the name, being a fairly exact imitation of the sound emitted by the insect. This is the Cigale of the flowering ash, far more alert and far more suspicious than the common species. Its harsh, loud song consists of a series of cries—can! can! can! can!—with no intervals of silence subdividing the poem into stanzas. Thanks to its monotony and its harsh shrillness, it is a most odious sound, especially when the orchestra consists of hundreds of performers, as is often the case in my two plane-trees during the dog-days. It is as though a heap of dry walnuts were being shaken up in a bag until the shells broke. This painful concert, which is a real torment, offers only one compensation: the Cigale of the flowering ash does not begin his song so early as the common Cigale, and does not sing so late in the evening.
Although constructed on the same fundamental principles, the vocal organs exhibit a number of peculiarities which give the song its special character. The sound-box is lacking, which suppresses the entrance to it, or the window. The cymbal is uncovered, and is visible just behind the attachment of the hinder wing. It is, as before, a dry white scale, convex on the outside, and crossed by a bundle of fine reddish-brown nervures.
From the forward side of the first segment of the abdomen project two short, wide, tongue-shaped projections, the free extremities of which rest on the cymbals. These tongues may be compared to the blade of a watchman's rattle, only instead of engaging with the teeth of a rotating wheel they touch the nervures of the vibrating cymbal. From this fact, I imagine, results the harsh, grating quality of the cry. It is hardly possible to verify the fact by holding the insect in the fingers; the terrified Cacan does not go on singing his usual song.
The dampers do not overlap; on the contrary, they are separated by a fairly wide interval. With the rigid tongues, appendages of the abdomen, they half shelter the cymbals, half of which is completely bare. Under the pressure of the finger the abdomen opens a little at its articulation with the thorax. But the insect is motionless when it sings; there is nothing of the rapid vibrations of the belly which modulate the song of the common Cigale. The chapels are very small; almost negligible as resonators. There are mirrors, as in the common Cigale, but they are very small; scarcely a twenty-fifth of an inch in diameter. In short, the resonating mechanism, so highly developed in the common Cigale, is here extremely rudimentary. How then is the feeble vibration of the cymbals re-enforced until it becomes intolerable?
This species of Cigale is a ventriloquist. If we examine the abdomen by transmitted light, we shall see that the anterior two-thirds of the abdomen are translucent. With a snip of the scissors we will cut off the posterior third, to which are relegated, reduced to the strictly indispensable, the organs necessary to the propagation of the species and the preservation of the individual. The rest of the abdomen presents a spacious cavity, and consists simply of the integuments of the walls, except on the dorsal side, which is lined with a thin muscular layer, and supports a fine digestive canal, almost a thread. This large cavity, equal to nearly half the total volume of the insect, is thus almost absolutely empty. At the back are seen the two motor muscles of the cymbals, two muscular columns arranged like the limbs of a V. To right and left of the point of this V shine the tiny mirrors; and between the two branches of muscle the empty cavity is prolonged into the depths of the thorax.
This empty abdomen with its thoracic annex forms an enormous resonator, such as no other performer in our countryside can boast of. If I close with my finger the orifice of the truncated abdomen the sound becomes flatter, in conformity with the laws affecting musical resonators; if I fit into the aperture of the open body a tube or trumpet of paper the sound grows louder as well as deeper. With a paper cone corresponding to the pitch of the note, with its large end held in the mouth of a test-tube acting as a resonator, we have no longer the cry of the Cigale, but almost the bellowing of a bull. My little children, coming up to me by chance at the moment of this acoustic experiment, fled in terror.
The grating quality of the sound appears to be due to the little tongues which press on the nervures of the vibrating cymbals; the cause of its intensity is of course the ample resonator in the abdomen. We must admit that one must truly have a real passion for song before one would empty one's chest and stomach in order to make room for a musical-box. The necessary vital organs are extremely small, confined to a mere corner of the body, in order to increase the amplitude of the resonating cavity. Song comes first of all; other matters take the second rank.
It is lucky that the Cacan does not follow the laws of evolution. If, more enthusiastic in each generation, it could acquire, in the course of progress, a ventral resonator comparable to my paper trumpets, the South of France would sooner or later become uninhabitable, and the Cacan would have Provence to itself.
After the details already given concerning the common Cigale it is hardly needful to tell you how the insupportable Cacan can be reduced to silence. The cymbals are plainly visible on the exterior. Pierce them with the point of a needle, and immediately you have perfect silence. If only there were, in my plane-trees, among the insects which carry gimlets, some friends of silence like myself, who would devote themselves to such a task! But no: a note would be lacking in the majestic symphony of harvest-tide.
We are now familiar with the structure of the musical organ of the Cigale. Now the question arises: What is the object of these musical orgies? The reply seems obvious: they are the call of the males inviting their mates; they constitute a lovers' cantata.
I am going to consider this reply, which is certainly a very natural one. For thirty years the common Cigale and his unmusical friend the Cacan have thrust their society upon me. For two months every summer I have them under my eyes, and their voice in my ears. If I do not listen to them very willingly I observe them with considerable zeal. I see them ranged in rows on the smooth rind of the plane-trees, all with their heads uppermost, the two sexes mingled, and only a few inches apart.
The proboscis thrust into the bark, they drink, motionless. As the sun moves, and with it the shadow, they also move round the branch with slow lateral steps, so as to keep upon that side which is most brilliantly illuminated, most fiercely heated. Whether the proboscis is at work or not the song is never interrupted.
Now are we to take their interminable chant for a passionate love-song? I hesitate. In this gathering the two sexes are side by side. One does not spend months in calling a person who is at one's elbow. Moreover, I have never seen a female rush into the midst of even the most deafening orchestra. Sight is a sufficient prelude to marriage, for their sight is excellent. There is no need for the lover to make an everlasting declaration, for his mistress is his next-door neighbour.
Is the song a means of charming, of touching the hard of heart? I doubt it. I observe no sign of satisfaction in the females; I have never seen them tremble or sway upon their feet, though their lovers have clashed their cymbals with the most deafening vigour.
My neighbours the peasants say that at harvest-time the Cigale sings to them: Sego, sego, sego! (Reap, reap, reap!) to encourage them in their work. Harvesters of ideas and of ears of grain, we follow the same calling; the latter produce food for the stomach, the former food for the mind. Thus I understand their explanation and welcome it as an example of gracious simplicity.
Science asks for a better explanation, but finds in the insect a world which is closed to us. There is no possibility of foreseeing, or even of suggesting the impression produced by this clashing of cymbals upon those who inspire it. The most I can say is that their impassive exterior seems to denote a complete indifference. I do not insist that this is so; the intimate feelings of the insect are an insoluble mystery.
Another reason for doubt is this: all creatures affected by song have acute hearing, and this sense of hearing, a vigilant sentinel, should give warning of danger at the slightest sound. The birds have an exquisite delicacy of hearing. If a leaf stirs among the branches, if two passers-by exchange a word, they are suddenly silent, anxious, and on their guard. But the Cigale is far from sharing in such emotions. It has excellent sight. Its great faceted eyes inform it of all that happens to right and left; its three stemmata, like little ruby telescopes, explore the sky above its head. If it sees us coming it is silent at once, and flies away. But let us get behind the branch on which it is singing; let us manoeuvre so as to avoid the five centres of vision, and then let us speak, whistle, clap the hands, beat two stones together. For far less a bird which could not see you would stop its song and fly away terrified. The Cigale imperturbably continues to sing as if nothing had occurred.
Of my experiences of this kind I will mention only one, the most remarkable of many.
I borrowed the municipal artillery; that is, the iron boxes which are charged with gunpowder on the day of the patron saint. The artilleryman was delighted to load them for the benefit of the Cigales, and to fire them off for me before my house. There were two of these boxes stuffed full of powder as though for the most solemn rejoicing. Never was politician making his electoral progress favoured with a bigger charge. To prevent damage to my windows the sashes were all left open. The two engines of detonation were placed at the foot of the plane-trees before my door, no precautions being taken to mask them. The Cigales singing in the branches above could not see what was happening below.
There were six of us, spectators and auditors. We waited for a moment of relative quiet. The number of singers was counted by each of us, as well as the volume and rhythm of the song. We stood ready, our ears attentive to the aerial orchestra. The box exploded with a clap of thunder.
No disturbance ensued above. The number of performers was the same, the rhythm the same, the volume the same. The six witnesses were unanimous: the loud explosion had not modified the song of the Cigales in the least. The second box gave an identical result.
What are we to conclude from this persistence of the orchestra, its lack of surprise or alarm at the firing of a charge? Shall we conclude that the Cigale is deaf? I am not going to venture so far as that; but if any one bolder than myself were to make the assertion I really do not know what reasons I could invoke to disprove it. I should at least be forced to admit that it is very hard of hearing, and that we may well apply to it the homely and familiar phrase: to shout like a deaf man.
When the blue-winged cricket, basking on the pebbles of some country footpath, grows deliciously intoxicated with the heat of the sun and rubs its great posterior thighs against the roughened edge of its wing-covers; when the green tree-frog swells its throat in the foliage of the bushes, distending it to form a resonant cavity when the rain is imminent, is it calling to its absent mate? By no means. The efforts of the former produce a scarcely perceptible stridulation; the palpitating throat of the latter is as ineffectual; and the desired one does not come.
Does the insect really require to emit these resounding effusions, these vociferous avowals, in order to declare its passion? Consult the immense majority whom the conjunction of the sexes leaves silent. In the violin of the grasshopper, the bagpipe of the tree-frog, and the cymbals of the Cacan I see only their peculiar means of expressing the joy of living, the universal joy which every species of animal expresses after its kind.
If you were to tell me that the Cigales play on their noisy instruments careless of the sound produced, and merely for the pleasure of feeling themselves alive, just as we rub our hands in a moment of satisfaction, I should not be particularly shocked. That there is a secondary object in their conceit, in which the silent sex is interested, is very possible and very natural, but it is not as yet proven.
THE CIGALE. THE EGGS AND THEIR HATCHING
The Cigale confides its eggs to dry, slender twigs. All the branches examined by Reaumur which bore such eggs were branches of the mulberry: a proof that the person entrusted with the search for these eggs in the neighbourhood of Avignon did not bring much variety to his quest. I find these eggs not only on the mulberry-tree, but on the peach, the cherry, the willow, the Japanese privet, and other trees. But these are exceptions; what the Cigale really prefers is a slender twig of a thickness varying from that of a straw to that of a pencil. It should have a thin woody layer and plenty of pith. If these conditions are fulfilled the species matters little. I should pass in review all the semi-ligneous plants of the country were I to catalogue the various supports which are utilised by the gravid female.
Its chosen twig never lies along the ground; it is always in a more or less vertical position. It is usually growing in its natural position, but is sometimes detached; in the latter case it will by chance have fallen so that it retains its upright position. The insect prefers a long, smooth, regular twig which can receive the whole of its eggs. The best batches of eggs which I have found have been laid upon twigs of the Spartium junceum, which are like straws stuffed with pith, and especially on the upper twigs of the Asphodelus cerasiferus, which rises nearly a yard from the ground before ramifying.
It is essential that the support, no matter what its nature, should be dead and perfectly dry.
The first operation performed by the Cigale consists in making a series of slight lacerations, such as one might make with the point of a pin, which, if plunged obliquely downwards into the twig, would tear the woody fibres and would compress them so as to form a slight protuberance.
If the twig is irregular in shape, or if several Cigales have been working successively at the same point, the distribution of the punctures is confused; the eye wanders, incapable of recognising the order of their succession or the work of the individual. One characteristic is always present, namely, the oblique direction of the woody fragment which is raised by the perforation, showing that the Cigale always works in an upright position and plunges its rostrum downwards in the direction of the twig.
If the twig is regular, smooth, and conveniently long the perforations are almost equidistant and lie very nearly in a straight line. Their number varies; it is small when the mother, disturbed in her operations, has flown away to continue her work elsewhere; but they number thirty or forty, more or less, when they contain the whole of her eggs.
Each one of the perforations is the entrance to an oblique tunnel, which is bored in the medullary sheath of the twig. The aperture is not closed, except by the bunch of woody fibres, which, parted at the moment when the eggs are laid, recover themselves when the double saw of the oviduct is removed. Sometimes, but by no means always, you may see between the fibres a tiny glistening patch like a touch of dried white of egg. This is only an insignificant trace of some albuminous secretion accompanying the egg or facilitating the work of the double saw of the oviduct.
Immediately below the aperture of the perforation is the egg chamber: a short, tunnel-shaped cavity which occupies almost the whole distance between one opening and that lying below it. Sometimes the separating partition is lacking, and the various chambers run into one another, so that the eggs, although introduced by the various apertures, are arranged in an uninterrupted row. This arrangement, however, is not the most usual.
The contents of the chambers vary greatly. I find in each from six to fifteen eggs. The average is ten. The total number of chambers varying from thirty to forty, it follows that the Cigale lays from three to four hundred eggs. Reaumur arrived at the same figures from an examination of the ovaries.
This is truly a fine family, capable by sheer force of numbers of surviving the most serious dangers. I do not see that the adult Cigale is exposed to greater dangers than any other insect: its eye is vigilant, its departure sudden, and its flight rapid; and it inhabits heights at which the prowling brigands of the turf are not to be feared. The sparrow, it is true, will greedily devour it. From time to time he will deliberately and meditatively descend upon the plane-trees from the neighbouring roof and snatch up the singer, who squeaks despairingly. A few blows of the beak and the Cigale is cut into quarters, delicious morsels for the nestlings. But how often does the bird return without his prey! The Cigale, foreseeing his attack, empties its intestine in the eyes of its assailant and flies away.
But the Cigale has a far more terrible enemy than the sparrow. This is the green grasshopper. It is late, and the Cigales are silent. Drowsy with light and heat, they have exhausted themselves in producing their symphonies all day long. Night has come, and with it repose; but a repose frequently troubled. In the thick foliage of the plane-trees there is a sudden sound like a cry of anguish, short and strident. It is the despairing lamentation of the Cigale surprised in the silence by the grasshopper, that ardent hunter of the night, which leaps upon the Cigale, seizes it by the flank, tears it open, and devours the contents of the stomach. After the orgy of music comes night and assassination.
I obtained an insight into this tragedy in the following manner: I was walking up and down before my door at daybreak when something fell from the neighbouring plane-tree uttering shrill squeaks. I ran to see what it was. I found a green grasshopper eviscerating a struggling Cigale. In vain did the latter squeak and gesticulate; the other never loosed its hold, but plunged its head into the entrails of the victim and removed them by little mouthfuls.
This was instructive. The attack was delivered high up above my head, in the early morning, while the Cigale was resting; and the struggles of the unfortunate creature as it was dissected alive had resulted in the fall of assailant and assailed together. Since then I have often been the witness of similar assassinations.
I have even seen the grasshopper, full of audacity, launch itself in pursuit of the Cigale, who fled in terror. So the sparrow-hawk pursues the skylark in the open sky. But the bird of prey is less ferocious than the insect; it pursues a creature smaller than itself. The locust, on the contrary, assails a colossus, far larger and far more vigorous than its enemy; yet the result is a foregone conclusion, in spite of this disproportion. With its powerful mandibles, like pincers of steel, the grasshopper rarely fails to eviscerate its captive, which, being weaponless, can only shriek and struggle.
The Cigale is an easy prey during its hours of somnolence. Every Cigale encountered by the ferocious grasshopper on its nocturnal round must miserably perish. Thus are explained those sudden squeaks of anguish which are sometimes heard in the boughs during the hours of the night and early morning, although the cymbals have long been silent. The sea-green bandit has fallen upon some slumbering Cigale. When I wished to rear some green grasshoppers I had not far to seek for the diet of my pensioners; I fed them on Cigales, of which enormous numbers were consumed in my breeding-cages. It is therefore an established fact that the green grasshopper, the false Cigale of the North, will eagerly devour the true Cigale, the inhabitant of the Midi.
But it is neither the sparrow nor the green grasshopper that has forced the Cigale to produce such a vast number of offspring. The real danger is elsewhere, as we shall see. The risk is enormous at the moment of hatching and also when the egg is laid.
Two or three weeks after its escape from the earth—that is, about the middle of July—the Cigale begins to lay. In order to observe the process without trusting too much to chance, I took certain precautions which would, I felt sure, prove successful. The dry Asphodelus is the support preferred by the insect, as previous observations had assured me. It was also the plant which best lent itself to my experiments, on account of its long, smooth stems. Now, during the first years of my residence in the South I replaced the thistles in my paddock by other native plants of a less stubborn and prickly species. Among the new occupants was the asphodel. This was precisely what I needed for my experiments. I left the dry stems of the preceding year in place, and when the breeding season arrived I inspected them daily.
I had not long to wait. As early as July 15th I found as many Cigales as I could wish on the stems of the asphodel, all in process of laying. The gravid female is always solitary. Each mother has her twig to herself, and is in no danger of being disturbed during the delicate operation of laying. When the first occupant has departed another may take her place, and so on indefinitely. There is abundance of room for all; but each prefers to be alone as her turn arrives. There is, however, no unpleasantness of any kind; everything passes most peacefully. If a female Cigale finds a place which has been already taken she flies away and seeks another twig directly she discovers her mistake.
The gravid female always retains an upright position at this time, as indeed she does at other times. She is so absorbed in her task that she may readily be watched, even through a magnifying glass. The ovipositor, which is about four-tenths of an inch in length, is plunged obliquely and up to the hilt into the twig. So perfect is the tool that the operation is by no means troublesome. We see the Cigale tremble slightly, dilating and contracting the extremity of the abdomen in frequent palpitations. This is all that can be seen. The boring instrument, consisting of a double saw, alternately rises and sinks in the rind of the twig with a gentle, almost imperceptible movement. Nothing in particular occurs during the process of laying the eggs. The insect is motionless, and hardly ten minutes elapse between the first cut of the ovipositor and the filling of the egg-chamber with eggs.
The ovipositor is then withdrawn with methodical deliberation, in order that it may not be strained or bent. The egg-chamber closes of its own accord as the woody fibres which have been displaced return to their position, and the Cigale climbs a little higher, moving upwards in a straight line, by about the length of its ovipositor. It then makes another puncture and a fresh chamber for another ten or twelve eggs. In this way it scales the twig from bottom to top.
These facts being understood, we are able to explain the remarkable arrangement of the eggs. The openings in the rind of the twig are practically equidistant, since each time the Cigale moves upward it is by a given length, namely, that of the ovipositor. Very rapid in flight, she is a very idle walker. At the most you may see her, on the living twig from which she is drinking, moving at a slow, almost solemn pace, to gain a more sunny point close at hand. On the dry twig in which she deposits her eggs she observes the same formal habits, and even exaggerates them, in view of the importance of the operation. She moves as little as possible, just so far as she must in order to avoid running two adjacent egg-chambers into one. The extent of each movement upwards is approximately determined by the depth of the perforation.
The apertures are arranged in a straight line when their number is not very large. Why, indeed, should the insect wander to right or to left upon a twig which presents the same surface all over? A lover of the sun, she chooses that side of the twig which is most exposed to it. So long as she feels the heat, her supreme joy, upon her back, she will take good care not to change the position which she finds so delightful for another in which the sun would fall upon her less directly.
The process of depositing the eggs is a lengthy one when it is carried out entirely on the same twig. Counting ten minutes for each egg-chamber, the full series of forty would represent a period of six or seven hours. The sun will of course move through a considerable distance before the Cigale can finish her work. In such cases the series of apertures follows a spiral curve. The insect turns round the stalk as the sun turns.
Very often as the Cigale is absorbed in her maternal task a diminutive fly, also full of eggs, busily exterminates the Cigale's eggs as fast as they are laid.
This insect was known to Reaumur. In nearly all the twigs examined he found its grub, the cause of a misunderstanding at the beginning of his researches. But he did not, could not see the audacious insect at work. It is one of the Chalcididae, about one-fifth or one-sixth of an inch in length; entirely black, with knotty antennae, which are slightly thicker towards their extremities. The unsheathed ovipositor is implanted in the under portion of the abdomen, about the middle, and at right angles to the axis of the body, as in the case of the Leucospis, the pest of the apiary. Not having taken the precaution to capture it, I do not know what name the entomologists have bestowed upon it, or even if this dwarf exterminator of the Cigale has as yet been catalogued. What I am familiar with is its calm temerity, its impudent audacity in the presence of the colossus who could crush it with a foot. I have seen as many as three at once exploiting the unfortunate female. They keep close behind the Cigale, working busily with their probes, or waiting until their victim deposits her eggs.
The Cigale fills one of her egg-chambers and climbs a little higher in order to bore another hole. One of the bandits runs to the abandoned station, and there, almost under the claws of the giant, and without the least nervousness, as if it were accomplishing some meritorious action, it unsheathes its probe and thrusts it into the column of eggs, not by the open aperture, which is bristling with broken fibres, but by a lateral fissure. The probes works slowly, as the wood is almost intact. The Cigale has time to fill the adjacent chamber.
As soon as she has finished one of these midges, the very same that has been performing its task below her, replaces her and introduces its disastrous egg. By the time the Cigale departs, her ovaries empty, the majority of the egg-chambers have thus received the alien egg which will work the destruction of their contents. A small, quick-hatching grub, richly nourished on a dozen eggs, will replace the family of the Cigale.
The experience of centuries has taught the Cigale nothing. With her excellent eyesight she must be able to perceive these terrible sappers as they hover about her, meditating their crime. Too peaceable giantess! if you see them why do you not seize them in your talons, crush the pigmies at their work, so that you may proceed with your travail in security? But no, you will leave them untouched; you cannot modify your instincts, even to alleviate your maternal misfortunes.
The eggs of the common Cigale are of a shining ivory white. Conical at the ends, and elongated in form, they might be compared in shape to the weaver's shuttle. Their length is about one-tenth of an inch, their diameter about one-fiftieth. They are packed in a row, slightly overlapping one another. The eggs of the Cacan are slightly smaller, and are assembled in regular groups which remind one of microscopical bundles of cigars. We will consider the eggs of the common Cigale to the exclusion of the others, as their history is the history of all.
September is not yet over when the shining white as of ivory gives way to the yellow hue of cheese. During the first days of October you may see, at the forward end of the egg, two tiny points of chestnut brown, which are the eyes of the embryo in formation. These two shining eyes, which almost seem to gaze at one, and the cone-shaped head of the egg, give it the look of a tiny fish without fins—a fish for whom half a nut-shell would make a capacious aquarium.
About the same time I notice frequently, on the asphodels in the paddock and on those of the neighbouring hills, certain indications that the eggs have recently hatched out. There are certain cast-off articles of clothing, certain rags and tatters, left on the threshold of the egg-chamber by the new-born grubs as they leave it and hurry in search of a new lodging. We shall see in a moment what these vestiges mean.
But in spite of my visits, which were so assiduous as to deserve success, I had never contrived to see the young Cigales emerge from their egg-chambers. My domestic researches had been pursued in vain. Two years running I had collected, in boxes, tubes, and bottles, a hundred twigs of every kind which were peopled by the eggs of the Cigale; but not one had shown me what I so desired to witness: the issue of the new-born Cigales.
Reaumur experienced the same disappointment. He tells us how all the eggs supplied by his friends were abortive, even when he placed them in a glass tube thrust under his armpit, in order to keep them at a high temperature. No, venerable master! neither the temperate shelter of our studies and laboratories, nor the incubating warmth of our bodies is sufficient here; we need the supreme stimulant, the kiss of the sun; after the cool of the mornings, which are already sharp, the sudden blaze of the superb autumn weather, the last endearments of summer.
It was under such circumstances, when a blazing sun followed a cold night, that I found the signs of completed incubation; but I always came too late; the young Cigales had departed. At most I sometimes found one hanging by a thread to its natal stem and struggling in the air. I supposed it to be caught in a thread of gossamer, or some shred of cobweb.
At last, on the 27th of October, despairing of success, I gathered some asphodels from the orchard, and the armful of dry twigs in which the Cigales had laid their eggs was taken up to my study. Before giving up all hope I proposed once more to examine the egg-chambers and their contents. The morning was cold, and the first fire of the season had been lit in my room. I placed my little bundle on a chair before the fire, but without any intention of testing the effect of the heat of the flames upon the concealed eggs. The twigs, which I was about to cut open, one by one, were placed there to be within easy reach of my hand, and for no other reason.
Then, while I was examining a split twig with my magnifying-glass, the phenomenon which I had given up all hope of observing took place under my eyes. My bundle of twigs was suddenly alive; scores and scores of the young larvae were emerging from their egg-chambers. Their numbers were such that my ambition as observer was amply satisfied. The eggs were ripe, on the point of hatching, and the warmth of the fire, bright and penetrating, had the effect of sunlight in the open. I was quick to profit by the unexpected piece of good fortune.