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A DANGEROUS DIET




The Scolia's egg is in no way exceptional in shape. It is white,
cylindrical, straight and about four millimetres long by one millimetre
thick. (About .156 x .039 inch.--Translator's Note.) It is fixed, by its
fore-end, upon the median line of the victim's abdomen, well to the rear of
the legs, near the beginning of the brown patch formed by the mass of food
under the skin.

I watch the hatching. The grub, still wearing upon its hinder parts the
delicate pellicle which it has just shed, is fixed to the spot to which the
egg itself adhered by its cephalic extremity. A striking spectacle, that of
the feeble creature, only this moment hatched, boring, for its first
mouthful, into the paunch of its enormous prey, which lies stretched upon
its back. The nascent tooth takes a day over the difficult task. Next
morning the skin has yielded; and I find the new-born larva with its head
plunged into a small, round, bleeding wound.

In size the grub is the same as the egg, whose dimensions I have just
given. Now the Cetonia-larva, to meet the Scolia's requirements, averages
thirty millimetres in length by nine in thickness (1.17 x .35 inch.--
Translator's Note.), whence follows that its bulk is six or seven hundred
times as great as that of the newly-hatched grub of the Scolia. Here
certainly is a quarry which, were it active and capable of wriggling and
biting, would expose the nurseling to terrible attacks. The danger has been
averted by the mother's stiletto; and the fragile grub attacks the
monster's paunch with as little hesitation as though it were sucking the
breast.

Day by day the young Scolia's head penetrates farther into the Cetonia's
belly. To pass through the narrow orifice made in the skin, the fore-part
of the body contracts and lengthens out, as though drawn through a die-
plate. The larva thus assumes a rather strange form. Its hinder half, which
is constantly outside the victim's belly, has the shape and fulness usual
in the larvae of the Digger-wasps, whereas the front half, which, once it
has dived under the skin of the exploited victim, does not come out again
until the time arrives for spinning the cocoon, tapers off suddenly into a
snake-like neck. This front part is moulded, so to speak, by the narrow
entrance-hole made in the skin and henceforth retains its slender
formation. As a matter of fact, a similar configuration recurs, in varying
degrees, in the larvae of the Digger-wasps whose ration consists of a bulky
quarry which takes a long time to consume. These include the Languedocian
Sphex, with her Ephippiger, and the Hairy Ammophila, with her Grey Worm.
There is none of this sudden constriction, dividing the creature into two
disparate halves, when the victuals consist of numerous and comparatively
small items. The larva then retains its usual shape, being obliged to pass,
at brief intervals, from one joint in its larder to the next.

>From the first bite of the mandibles, until the whole head of game is
consumed, the Scolia-larva is never seen to withdraw its head and its long
neck from inside the creature which it is devouring. I suspect the reason
of this persistence in attacking a single point; I even seem to perceive
the need for a special art in the manner of eating. The Cetonia-larva is a
square meal in itself, one large dish, which has to retain a suitable
freshness until the end. The young Scolia, therefore, must attack with
discretion, at the unvarying point chosen by the mother on the ventral
surface, for the entrance-hole is at the exact point where the egg was
fixed. As the nurseling's neck lengthens and dives deeper, the victim's
entrails are nibbled gradually and methodically: first, the least
essential; next, those whose removal leaves yet a remnant of life; lastly,
those whose loss inevitably entails death, followed very soon by
putrefaction.

At the first bites we see the victim's blood oozing through the wound. It
is a highly-elaborated fluid, easy of digestion, and forms a sort of milk-
diet for the new-born grub. The little ogre's teat is the bleeding paunch
of the Cetonia-larva. The latter will not die of the wound, at least not
for some time. The next thing to be tackled is the fatty substance which
wraps the internal organs in its delicate folds. This again is a loss which
the Cetonia can suffer without dying then and there. Now comes the turn of
the muscular layer which lines the skin; now, that of the essential organs;
now, that of the nerve-centres and the trachean network, whereupon the last
gleam of light is extinguished and the Cetonia reduced to a mere bag, empty
but intact, save for the entrance-hole made in the middle of the belly.
>From now onwards, these remains may rot if they will: the Scolia, by its
methodical fashion of consuming its victuals, has succeeded in keeping them
fresh to the very last; and now you may see it, replete, shining with
health, withdraw its long neck from the bag of skin and prepare to weave
the cocoon in which its development will be completed.

It is possible that I may not be quite accurate as to the precise order in
which the organs are consumed, for it is not easy to perceive what happens
inside the exploited larva's body. The ruling feature in this scientific
method of eating, which proceeds from the parts less to the parts more
necessary to preserve a remnant of life, is none the less obvious. If
direct observation did not already to some degree confirm it, a mere
examination of the half-eaten larva would do so in the most positive
fashion.

The Cetonia-larva is at first a plump grub. Drained by the Scolia's tooth,
it gradually becomes limp and wrinkled. In a few days' time it resembles a
shrivelled bit of bacon-fat and then a bag whose two sides have fallen in.
Yet this bit of bacon and this bag have the same characteristic look of
fresh meat as had the grub before it was bitten into. Despite the
persistent nibbling of the Scolia, life continues, holding at bay the
inroads of putrefaction until the mandibles have given their last bites.
Does not this remnant of tenacious vitality in itself show that the organs
of primary importance are the last to be attacked? Does it not prove that
there is a progressive dismemberment passing from the less essential to the
indispensable?

Would you like to see what becomes of a Cetonia-larva when the organism is
wounded in its vital centres at the very beginning? The experiment is an
easy one; and I made a point of trying it. A sewing-needle, first softened
and flattened into a blade, then retempered and sharpened, gives me a most
delicate scalpel. With this instrument I make a fine incision, through
which I remove the mass of nerves whose remarkable structure we shall soon
have occasion to study. The thing is done: the wound, which does not look
serious, has left the creature a corpse, a real corpse. I lay my victim on
a bed of moist earth, in a jar with a glass lid; in fact, I establish it in
the same conditions as those of the larvae on which the Scoliae feed. By
the next day, without changing shape, it has turned a repulsive brown;
presently it dissolves into noisome putrescence. On the same bed of earth,
under the same glass cover, in the same moist, warm atmosphere, the larvae
three-quarters eaten by the Scoliae retain, on the contrary, the appearance
of healthy flesh.

If a single stroke of my dagger, fashioned from the point of a needle,
results in immediate death and early putrefaction; if the repeated bites of
the Scolia gut the creature's body and reduce it almost to a skin without
completely killing it, the striking contrast between these two results must
be due to the relative importance of the organs injured. I destroy the
nerve-centres and inevitably kill my larva, which is putrid by the
following day; the Scolia attacks the reserves of fat, the blood, the
muscles and does not kill its victim, which will provide it with wholesome
food until the end. But it is clear that, if the Scolia were to set to work
as I did, there would be nothing left, after the first few bites, but an
actual corpse, discharging fluids which would be fatal to it within twenty-
four hours. The mother, it is true, in order to assure the immobility of
her prey, has injected the poison of her sting into the nerve-centres. Her
operation cannot be compared with mine in any respect. She practises the
method of the skilful physiologist who induces anaesthesia; I go to work
like the butcher who chops, cuts and disembowels. The sting leaves the
nerve-centres intact. Deprived of sensibility by the poison, they have lost
the power of provoking muscular contractions; but who can say that, numbed
as they are, they no longer serve to maintain a faint vitality? The flame
is extinguished, but there is still a glowing speck upon the wick. I, a
rough blunderer, do more than blow out the lamp: I throw away the wick and
all is over. The grub would do the same if it bit straight into the mass of
nerves.

Everything confirms the fact: the Scolia and the other Hunting Wasps whose
provisions consist of bulky heads of game are gifted with a special art of
eating, an exquisitely delicate art which saves a remnant of life in the
prey devoured, until it is all consumed. When the prey is a small one, this
precaution is superfluous. Consider, for instance, the Bembex-grubs in the
midst of their heap of Flies. The prey seized upon is broached on the back,
the belly, the head, the thorax, indifferently. The larva munches a given
spot, which it leaves to munch a second, passing to a third and a fourth,
at the bidding of its changing whims. It seems to taste and select, by
repeated trials, the mouthfuls most to its liking. Thus bitton at several
points, covered with wounds, the Fly is soon a shapeless mass which would
putrefy very quickly if the meagre dish were not devoured at a single meal.
Allow the Scolia-grub the same unlicensed gluttony: it would perish beside
its corpulent victim, which should have kept fresh for a fortnight, but
which almost from the beginning would be no more than a filthy putrescence.

This art of careful eating does not seem easy to practise: at least, the
larva, if ever so little diverted from its usual courses, is no longer able
to apply its talent as a capable trencherman. This will be proved by
experiment. I must begin by observing that, when I spoke of my larva which
turned putrid within twenty-four hours, I adopted an extreme case for the
sake of greater clearness. The Scolia, taking its first bite, does not and
cannot go to such lengths. Nevertheless it behooves us to enquire whether,
in the consumption of the victuals, the initial point of attack is a matter
of indifference and whether the rummaging through the entrails of the
victim entails a determined order, without which success is uncertain or
even impossible. To these delicate questions no one, I think, can reply.
Where science is silent, perhaps the grub will speak. We will try.

I move from its position a Scolia-grub which has attained a quarter or a
third of its full growth. The long neck plunged into the victim's belly is
rather difficult to extract, because of the need of molesting the creature
as little as possible. I succeed, by means of a little patience and
repeated strokes with the tip of a paint-brush. I now turn the Cetonia-
larva over, back uppermost, at the bottom of the little hollow made by
pressing my finger in the layer of mould. Lastly, I place the Scolia on its
victim's back. Here is my grub under the same conditions as just now, with
this difference, that the back and not the belly of its victim is presented
to its mandibles.

I watch it for a whole afternoon. It writhes about; it moves its little
head now in this direction, now in that, frequently laying it on the
Cetonia, but without fixing it anywhere. The day draws to a close; and
still it has accomplished nothing. There are restless movements, nothing
more. Hunger, I tell myself, will eventually induce it to bite. I am wrong.
Next morning I find it more anxious than the day before and still groping
about, without resolving to fix its mandibles anywhere. I leave it alone
for half a day longer without obtaining any result. Yet twenty-four hours
of abstinence must have awakened a good appetite, above all in a creature
which, if left undisturbed, would not have ceased eating.

Excessive hunger cannot induce it to nibble at an unlawful spot. Is this
due to feebleness of the teeth? By no means: the Cetonia's skin is no
tougher on the back than on the belly; moreover, the grub is capable of
perforating the skin when it leaves the egg; a fortiori, it must be more
capable of doing so now that it has attained a sturdy growth. Thus we see
no lack of ability, but an obstinate refusal to nibble at a point which
ought to be respected. Who knows? On this side perhaps the grub's dorsal
vessel would be wounded, its heart, an organ indispensable to life. The
fact remains that my attempts to make the grub tackle its victim from the
back have failed. Does this mean that it entertains the least suspicion of
the danger which it might incur were it to produce putrefaction by
awkwardly carving its victuals from the back? It would be absurd to give
such an idea a moment's consideration. Its refusal is dictated by a
preordained decree which it is bound to obey.

My Scolia-grubs would die of starvation if I left them on their victim's
back. I therefore restore matters as they were, with the Cetonia-larva
belly uppermost and the young Scolia on top. I might utilise the subjects
of my previous experiments; but, as I have to take precautions against the
disturbance which may have been caused by the test already undergone, I
prefer to operate on new patients, a luxury in which the richness of my
menagerie allows me to indulge. I move the Scolia from its position,
extract its head from the entrails of the Cetonia-larva and leave it to its
own resources on its victim's belly. Betraying every symptom of uneasiness,
the grub gropes, hesitates, casts about and does not insert its mandibles
anywhere, though it is now the ventral surface which it is exploring. It
would not display greater hesitation if placed on the back of the larva. I
repeat, who knows? On this side it might perhaps injure the nervous plexus,
which is even more essential than the dorsal vessel. The inexperienced grub
must not drive in its mandibles at random; its future is jeopardized if it
gives a single ill-judged bite. If it gnaws at the spot where I myself
operated with my needle wrought into a scalpel, its victuals will very soon
turn putrid. Once more, then, we witness an absolute refusal to perforate
the skin of the victim elsewhere than at the very point where the egg was
fixed.

The mother selects this point, which is undoubtedly that most favourable to
the future prosperity of the larva, though I am not able clearly to discern
the reasons for her choice; she fixes the egg to it; and the place where
the opening is to be made is henceforth determined. It is here that the
grub must bite: only here, never elsewhere. Its invincible refusal to
tackle the Cetonia in any other part, even though it should die of
starvation, shews us how rigorous is the rule of conduct with which its
instinct is inspired.

As it gropes about, the grub laid on the victim's ventral surface sooner or
later rediscovers the gaping wound from which I have removed it. If this
takes too long for my patience, I can myself guide its head to the place
with the point of a paint-brush. The grub then recognizes the hole of its
own making, slips its neck into it and little by little dives into the
Cetonia's belly, so that the original state of affairs appears to be
exactly restored. And yet its successful rearing is henceforth highly
problematical. It is possible that the larva will prosper, complete its
development and spin its cocoon; it is also possible--and the case is not
unusual--that the Cetonia-larva will soon turn brown and putrid. We then
see the Scolia itself turn brown, distended as it is with putrescent
foodstuffs, and then cease all movement, without attempting to withdraw
from the sanies. It dies on the spot, poisoned by its excessively high
game.

What can be the meaning of this sudden corruption of the victuals, followed
by the death of the Scolia, when everything appeared to have returned to
its normal condition? I see only one explanation. Disturbed in its
activities and diverted from its usual courses by my interference, the
grub, when replaced on the wound from which I extracted it, was unable to
rediscover the lode at which it was working a few minutes earlier; it
thrust its way at random into the victim's entrails; and a few untimely
bites extinguished the last sparks of vitality. Its confusion rendered it
clumsy; and the mistake cost it its life. It dies poisoned by the rich food
which, if consumed according to the rules, should have made it grow plump
and lusty.

I was anxious to observe the deadly effects of a disturbed meal in another
fashion. This time the victim itself shall disorder the grub's activities.
The Cetonia-larva, as served up to the young Scolia by its mother, is
profoundly paralysed. Its inertia is complete and so striking that it
constitutes one of the leading features of this narrative. But we will not
anticipate. For the moment, the thing is to substitute for this inert larva
a similar larva, but one not paralysed, one very much alive. To ensure that
it shall not double up and crush the grub, I confine myself to reducing it
to helplessness, leaving it otherwise just as I extracted it from its
burrow. I must also be careful of its legs and mandibles, the least touch
of which would rip open the nurseling. With a few turns of the finest wire
I fix it to a little slab of cork, with its belly in the air. Next, to
provide the grub with a ready-made hole, knowing that it will refuse to
make one for itself, I contrive a slight incision in the skin, at the point
where the Scolia lays her egg. I now place the grub upon the larva, with
its head touching the bleeding wound, and lay the whole on a bed of mould
in a transparent beaker protected by a pane of glass.

Unable to move, to wriggle, to scratch with its legs or snap with its
mandibles, the Cetonia-larva, a new Prometheus bound, offers its
defenceless flanks to the little Vulture destined to devour its entrails.
Without too much hesitation, the young Scolia settles down to the wound
made by my scalpel, which to the grub represents the wound whence I have
just removed it. It thrusts its neck into the belly of its prey; and for a
couple of days all seems to go well. Then, lo and behold, the Cetonia turns
putrid and the Scolia dies, poisoned by the ptomaines of the decomposing
game! As before, I see it turn brown and die on the spot, still half inside
the toxic corpse.

The fatal issue of my experiment is easily explained. The Cetonia-larva is
alive in every sense. True, I have, by means of bonds, suppressed its
outward movements, in order to provide the nurseling with a quiet meal,
devoid of danger; but it was not in my power to subdue its internal
movements, the quivering of the viscera and muscles irritated by its forced
immobility and by the Scolia's bites. The victim is in possession of its
full power of sensation; and it expresses the pain experienced as best it
may, by contractions. Embarrassed by these tremors, these twitches of
suffering flesh, incommoded at every mouthful, the grub chews away at
random and kills the larva almost as soon as it has started on it. In a
victim paralysed by the regulation sting, the conditions would be very
different. There are no external movements, nor any internal movements
either, when the mandibles bite, because the victim is insensible. The
grub, undisturbed in any way, is then able, with an unfaltering tooth, to
pursue its scientific method of eating.

These marvellous results interested me too much not to inspire me with
fresh devices when I pursued my investigations. Earlier enquiries had
taught me that the larvae of the Digger-wasps are fairly indifferent to the
nature of the game, though the mother always supplies them with the same
diet. I had succeeded in rearing them on a great variety of prey, without
paying regard to their normal fare. I shall return to this subject later,
when I hope to demonstrate its great philosophical significance. Let us
profit by these data and try to discover what happens when we give the
Scolia food which is not properly its own.

I select from my heap of garden-mould, that inexhaustible mine, two larvae
of the Rhinoceros Beetle, Oryctes nasicornis, about one-third full-grown,
so that their size may not be out of proportion to the Scolia's. It is in
fact almost identical with the size of the Cetonia. I paralyse one of them
by giving an injection of ammonia in the nerve-centres. I make a fine
incision in its belly and I place the Scolia on the opening. The dish
pleases my charge; and it would be strange indeed if this were not so,
considering that another Scolia-grub, the larva of the Garden Scolia, feeds
on the Oryctes. The dish suits it, for before long it has burrowed half-way
into the succulent paunch. This time all goes well. Will the rearing be
successful? Not a bit of it! On the third day, the Oryctes decomposes and
the Scolia dies. Which shall we hold responsible for the failure, myself or
the grub? Myself who, perhaps too unskilfully, administered the injection
of ammonia, or the grub which, a novice at dissecting a prey differing from
its own, did not know how to practise its craft upon a changed victim and
began to bite before the proper time?

In my uncertainty, I try again. This time I shall not interfere, so that my
clumsiness cannot be to blame. As I described when speaking of the Cetonia-
larva, the Oryctes-larva now lies bound, quite alive, on a strip of cork.
As usual, I make a small opening in the belly, to entice the grub by means
of a bleeding wound and facilitate its access. I obtain the same negative
result. In a little while, the Oryctes is a noisome mass on which the
nurseling lies poisoned. The failure was foreseen: to the difficulties
presented by a prey unknown to my charge was added the commotion caused by
the wriggling of an unparalysed animal.

We will try once more, this time with a victim paralysed not by me, an
unskilled operator, but by an adept whose ability ranks so high that it is
beyond discussion. Chance favours me to perfection: yesterday, in a warm
sheltered corner, at the foot of a sandy bank, I discovered three cells of
the Languedocian Sphex, each with its Ephippiger and the recently laid egg.
This is the game I want, a corpulent prey, of a size suited to the Scolia
and, what is more, in splendid condition, artistically paralysed according
to rule by a master among masters.

As usual, I install my three Ephippigers in a glass jar, on a bed of mould;
I remove the egg of the Sphex and on each victim, after slightly incising
the skin of the belly, I place a young Scolia-grub. For three or four days
my charges feed upon this game, so novel to them, without any sign of
repugnance or hesitation. By the fluctuations of the digestive canal I
perceive that the work of nutrition is proceeding as it should; things are
happening just as if the dish were a Cetonia-larva. The change of diet,
complete though it is, has in no way affected the appetite of the Scolia-
grubs. But this prosperous condition does not last long. About the fourth
day, a little sooner in one case, a little later in another, the three
Ephippigers become putrid and the Scoliae die at the same time.

This result is eloquent. Had I left the egg of the Sphex to hatch, the
larva coming out of it would have fed upon the Ephippiger; and for the
hundredth time I should have witnessed an incomprehensible spectacle, that
of an animal which, devoured piecemeal for nearly a fortnight, grows thin
and empty, shrivels up and yet retains to the very end the freshness
peculiar to living flesh. Substitute for this Sphex-larva a Scolia-larva of
almost the same size; let the dish be the same though the guest is
different; and healthy live flesh is promptly replaced by pestilent rotten
flesh. That which under the mandibles of the Sphex would for a long while
have remained wholesome food promptly becomes a poisonous liquescence under
the mandibles of the Scolia.

It is impossible to explain the preservation of the victuals until finally
consumed by supposing that the venom injected by the Wasp when she delivers
her paralysing stings possesses antiseptic properties. The three
Ephippigers were operated on by the Sphex. Able to keep fresh under the
mandibles of the Sphex-larvae, why did they promptly go bad under the
mandibles of the Scolia-larvae? Any idea of an antiseptic must needs be
rejected: a liquid preservative which would act in the first case could not
fail to act in the second, as its virtues would not depend on the teeth of
the consumer.

Those of you who are versed in the knowledge attaching to this problem,
investigate, I beg you, search, sift, see if you can discover the reason
why the victuals keep fresh when consumed by a Sphex, whereas they promptly
become putrid when consumed by a Scolia. For me, I see only one reason; and
I very much doubt whether any one can suggest another.

Both larvae practise a special art of eating, which is determined by the
nature of the game. The Sphex, when sitting down to an Ephippiger, the food
that has fallen to its lot, knows thoroughly how to consume it and how to
preserve, to the very end, the glimmer of life which keeps it fresh; but,
if it has to browse upon a Cetonia-grub, whose different structure would
confuse its talents as a dissector, it would soon have nothing before it
but a heap of putrescence. The Scolia, in its turn, is familiar with the
method of eating the Cetonia-grub, its invariable portion; but it does not
understand the art of eating the Ephippiger, though the dish is to its
taste. Unable to dissect this unknown species of game, its mandibles slash
away at random, killing the creature outright as soon as they take their
first bites of the deeper tissues of the victim. That is the whole secret.

One more word, on which I shall enlarge in another chapter. I observe that
the Scoliae to which I give Ephippigers paralysed by the Sphex keep in
excellent condition, despite the change of diet, so long as the provisions
retain their freshness. They languish when the game goes high; and they die
when putridity supervenes. Their death, therefore, is due not to an
unaccustomed diet, but to poisoning by one or other of those terrible
toxins which are engendered by animal corruption and which chemistry calls
by the name of ptomaines. Therefore, notwithstanding the fatal outcome of
my three attempts, I remain persuaded that the unfamiliar method of rearing
would have been perfectly successful had the Ephippigers not gone bad, that
is, if the Scoliae had known how to eat them according to the rules.

What a delicate and dangerous thing is the art of eating in these
carnivorous larvae supplied with a single victim, which they have to spend
a fortnight in consuming, on the express condition of not killing it until
the very end! Could our physiological science, of which, with good reason,

we are so proud, describe, without blundering, the method to be followed in
the successive mouthfuls? How has a miserable grub learnt what our
knowledge cannot tell us? By habit, the Darwinians will reply, who see in
instinct an acquired habit.

Before deciding this serious matter, I will ask you to reflect that the
first Wasp, of whatever kind, that thought of feeding her progeny on a
Cetonia-grub or on any other large piece of game demanding long
preservation could necessarily have left no descendants unless the art of
consuming food without causing putrescence had been practised, with all its
scrupulous caution, from the first generation onwards. Having as yet learnt
nothing by habit or by atavistic transmission, since it was making a first
beginning, the nurseling would bite into its provender at random. It would
be starving, it would have no respect for its prey. It would carve its
joint at random; and we have just seen the fatal consequence of an ill-
directed bite. It would perish--I have just proved this in the most
positive manner--it would perish, poisoned by its victim, already dead and
putrid.

To prosper, it would have, although a novice, to know what was permitted
and what forbidden in ransacking the creature's entrails; nor would it be
enough for the larva to be approximately in possession of this difficult
secret: it would be indispensable that it should possess the secret
completely, for a single bite, if delivered before the right moment, would
inevitably involve its own demise. The Scoliae of my experiments are not
novices, far from it: they are the descendants of carvers that have
practised their art since Scoliae first came into the world; nevertheless
they all perish from the decomposition of the rations supplied, when I try
to feed them on Ephippigers paralysed by the Sphex. Very expert in the
method of attacking the Cetonia, they do not know how to set about the
business of discreetly consuming a species of game new to them. All that
escapes them is a few details, for the trade of an ogre fed on live flesh
is familiar to them in its general features; and these unheeded details are
enough to turn their food into poison. What, then, happened in the
beginning, when the larva bit for the first time into a luscious victim?
The inexperienced creature perished; of that there is not a shadow of
doubt, unless we admit an absurdity and imagine the larva of antiquity
feeding upon those terrible ptomaines which so swiftly kill its descendants
to-day.

Nothing will ever make me admit and no unprejudiced mind can admit that
what was once food has become a horrible poison. What the larva of
antiquity ate was live flesh and not putrescence. Nor can it be admitted
that the chances of fortune can have led at the first trial to success in a
system of nourishment so full of pit-falls: fortuitous results are
preposterous amid so many complications. Either the feeding is strictly
methodical at the beginning, in conformity with the organic exigencies of
the prey devoured, and the Wasp established her race; or else it was
hesitating, without determined rules, and the Wasp left no successor. In
the first case we behold innate instinct; in the second acquired habit.

A strange acquisition, truly! An acquisition presumed to be made by an
impossible creature; an acquisition supposed to develop in no less
impossible successors! Though the snow-ball, slowly rolling, at last
becomes an enormous sphere, it is still necessary that the starting-point
shall not have been NIL. The big ball implies the little ball, as small as
you please. Now, in harking back to the origin of these acquired habits, if
I interrogate the possibilities I obtain zero as the only answer. If the
animal does not know its trade thoroughly, if it has to acquire something,
all the more if it has to acquire everything, it perishes: that is
inevitable; without the little snow-ball the big snow-ball cannot be
rolled. If it has nothing to acquire, if it knows all that it needs to
know, it flourishes and leaves descendants behind it. But then it possesses
innate instinct, the instinct which learns nothing and forgets nothing, the
instinct which is steadfast throughout time.

The building up of theories has never appealed to me: I suspect them one
and all. To argue nebulously upon dubious premises likes me no better. I
observe, I experiment and I let the facts speak for themselves. We have
just heard these facts. Let each now decide for himself whether instinct is
an innate faculty or an acquired habit.





Next: THE CETONIA-LARVA

Previous: THE SCOLIAE



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