A TRUFFLE-HUNTER THE BOLBOCERAS GALLICUS
In the matter of physics we hear of nothing to-day but the Roentgen rays,
which penetrate opaque bodies and photograph the invisible. A splendid
discovery; but nothing very remarkable as compared with the surprises
reserved for us by the future, when, better instructed as to the why and
wherefore of things than now, and supplementing our feeble senses by
means of science, we shall succeed in rivalling, however imperfectly,
the sensorial acuteness of the lower animals.
How enviable, in how many cases, is the superiority of the beasts! It
makes us realise the insufficiency of our impressions, and the very
indifferent efficacy of our sense-organs; it proclaims realities which
amaze us, so far are they beyond our own attributes.
A miserable caterpillar, the Processional caterpillar, found on the
pine-tree, has its back covered with meteorological spiracles which
sense the coming weather and foretell the storm; the bird of prey, that
incomparable watchman, sees the fallen mule from the heights of the
clouds; the blind bats guided their flight without collision through the
inextricable labyrinth of threads devised by Spallanzani; the carrier
pigeon, at a hundred leagues from home, infallibly regains its loft
across immensities which it has never known; and within the limits of
its more modest powers a bee, the Chalicodoma, also adventures into the
unknown, accomplishing its long journey and returning to its group of
Those who have never seen a dog seeking truffles have missed one of the
finest achievements of the olfactory sense. Absorbed in his duties, the
animal goes forward, scenting the wind, at a moderate pace. He stops,
questions the soil with his nostrils, and, without excitement, scratches
the earth a few times with one paw. "There it is, master!" his eyes seem
to say: "there it is! On the faith of a dog, there are truffles here!"
He says truly. The master digs at the point indicated. If the spade goes
astray the dog corrects the digger, sniffing at the bottom of the hole.
Have no fear that stones and roots will confuse him; in spite of depth
and obstacles, the truffle will be found. A dog's nose cannot lie.
I have referred to the dog's speciality as a subtle sense of smell. That
is certainly what I mean, if you will understand by that that the nasal
passages of the animal are the seat of the perceptive organ; but is the
thing perceived always a simple smell in the vulgar acceptation of the
term--an effluvium such as our own senses perceive? I have certain
reasons for doubting this, which I will proceed to relate.
On various occasions I have had the good fortune to accompany a
truffle-dog of first-class capacities on his rounds. Certainly there was
not much outside show about him, this artist that I so desired to see at
work; a dog of doubtful breed, placid and meditative; uncouth,
ungroomed, and quite inadmissible to the intimacies of the hearthrug.
Talent and poverty are often mated.
His master, a celebrated _rabassier_ of the village, being convinced
that my object was not to steal his professional secrets, and so sooner
or later to set up in business as a competitor, admitted me of his
company, a favour of which he was not prodigal. From the moment of his
regarding me not as an apprentice, but merely as a curious spectator,
who drew and wrote about subterranean vegetable affairs, but had no wish
to carry to market my bagful of these glories of the Christmas goose,
the excellent man lent himself generously to my designs.
It was agreed between us that the dog should act according to his own
instincts, receiving the customary reward, after each discovery, no
matter what its size, of a crust of bread the size of a finger-nail.
Every spot scratched by his paw should be excavated, and the object
indicated was to be extracted without reference to its marketable value.
In no case was the experience of the master to intervene in order to
divert the dog from a spot where the general aspect of things indicated
that no commercial results need be expected, for I was more concerned
with the miserable specimens unfit for the market than with the choice
specimens, though of course the latter were welcomed.
Thus conducted, this subterranean botanising was extremely fruitful.
With that perspicacious nose of his the dog obtained for me both large
and small, fresh and putrid, odorous and inodorous, fragrant and
offensive. I was amazed at my collection, which comprised the greater
number of the hypogenous fungi of the neighbourhood.
What a variety of structure, and above all of odour, the primordial
quality in this question of scent! There were some that had no
appreciable scent beyond a vague fungoid flavour, more or less common to
all. Others smelt of turnips, of sour cabbage; some were fetid,
sufficiently so to make the house of the collector noisome. Only the
true truffle possessed the aroma dear to epicures. If odour, as we
understand it, is the dog's only guide, how does he manage to follow
that guide amidst all these totally different odours? Is he warned of
the contents of the subsoil by a general emanation, by that fungoid
effluvium common to all the species? Thus a somewhat embarrassing
I paid special attention to the ordinary toadstools and mushrooms, which
announced their near advent by cracking the surface of the soil. Now
these points, where my eyes divined the cryptogam pushing back the soil
with its button-like heads, these points, where the ordinary fungoid
odour was certainly very pronounced, were never selected by the dog. He
passed them disdainfully, without a sniff, without a stroke of the paw.
Yet the fungi were underground, and their odour was similar to that I
have already referred to.
I came back from my outings with the conviction that the truffle-finding
nose has some better guide than odour such as we with our sense-organs
conceive it. It must perceive effluvia of another order as well;
entirely mysterious to us, and therefore not utilised. Light has its
dark rays--rays without effect upon our retinas, but not apparently on
all. Why should not the domain of smell have its secret emanations,
unknown to our senses and perceptible to a different sense-organ?
If the scent of the dog leaves us perplexed in the sense that we cannot
possibly say precisely, cannot even suspect what it is that the dog
perceives, at least it is clear that it would be erroneous to refer
everything to human standards. The world of sensations is far larger
than the limits of our own sensibility. What numbers of facts relating
to the interplay of natural forces must escape us for want of
sufficiently sensitive organs!
The unknown--that inexhaustible field in which the men of the future
will try their strength--has harvests in store for us beside which our
present knowledge would show as no more than a wretched gleaning. Under
the sickle of science will one day fall the sheaves whose grain would
appear to-day as senseless paradoxes. Scientific dreams? No, if you
please, but undeniable positive realities, affirmed by the brute
creation, which in certain respects has so great an advantage over us.
Despite his long practice of his calling, despite the scent of the
object he was seeking, the _rabassier_ could not divine the presence of
the truffle, which ripens in winter under the soil, at a depth of a foot
or two; he must have the help of a dog or a pig, whose scent is able to
discover the secrets of the soil. These secrets are known to various
insects even better than to our two auxiliaries. They have in
exceptional perfection the power of discovering the tubers on which
their larvae are nourished.
From truffles dug up in a spoiled condition, peopled with vermin, and
placed in that condition, with a bed of fresh sand, in a glass jar, I
have in the past obtained a small red beetle, known as the
truffle-beetle (_Anisotoma cinnamomea_, Panz.), and various Diptera,
among which is a Sapromyzon which, by its sluggish flight and its
fragile form, recalls the _Scatophaga scybalaria_, the yellow velvety
fly which is found in human excrement in the autumn. The latter finds
its refuge on the surface of the soil, at the foot of a wall or hedge or
under a bush; but how does the former know just where the truffle lies
under the soil, or at what depth? To penetrate to that depth, or to seek
in the subsoil, is impossible. Its fragile limbs, barely able to move a
grain of sand, its extended wings, which would bar all progress in a
narrow passage, and its costume of bristling silken pile, which would
prevent it from slipping through crevices, all make such a task
impossible. The Sapromyzon is forced to lay its eggs on the surface of
the soil, but it does so on the precise spot which overlies the truffle,
for the grubs would perish if they had to wander at random in search of
their provender, the truffle being always thinly sown.
The truffle fly is informed by the sense of smell of the points
favourable to its maternal plans; it has the talents of the truffle-dog,
and doubtless in a higher degree, for it knows naturally, without having
been taught, what its rival only acquires through an artificial
It would be not uninteresting to follow the Sapromyzon in its search in
the open woods. Such a feat did not strike me as particularly possible;
the insect is rare, flies off quickly when alarmed, and is lost to
view. To observe it closely under such conditions would mean a loss of
time and an assiduity of which I do not feel capable. Another
truffle-hunter will show us what we could hardly learn from the fly.
This is a pretty little black beetle, with a pale, velvety abdomen; a
spherical insect, as large as a biggish cherry-stone. Its official title
is _Bolboceras gallicus_, Muls. By rubbing the end of the abdomen
against the edge of the wing-cases it produces a gentle chirping sound
like the cheeping of nestlings when the mother-bird returns to the nest
with food. The male wears a graceful horn on his head; a duplicate, in
little, of that of the _Copris hispanus_.
Deceived by this horn, I at first took the insect for a member of the
corporation of dung-beetles, and as such I reared it in captivity. I
offered it the kind of diet most appreciated by its supposed relatives,
but never, never would it touch such food. For whom did I take it? Fie
upon me! To offer ordure to an epicure! It required, if not precisely
the truffle known to our _chefs_ and _gourmets_, at least its
This characteristic I grasped only after patient investigation. At the
southern foot of the hills of Serignan, not far from the village, is a
wood of maritime pines alternating with rows of cypress. There, towards
Toussaint, after the autumnal rains, you may find an abundance of the
mushrooms or "toadstools" that affect the conifers; especially the
delicious Lactaris, which turns green if the points are rubbed and drips
blood if broken. In the warm days of autumn this is the favourite
promenade of the members of my household, being distant enough to
exercise their young legs, but near enough not to fatigue them.
There one finds and sees all manner of things: old magpies' nests, great
bundles of twigs; jays, wrangling after filling their crops with the
acorns of the neighbouring oaks; rabbits, whose little white upturned
scuts go bobbing away through the rosemary bushes; dung-beetles, which
are storing food for the winter and throwing up their rubbish on the
threshold of their burrows. And then the fine sand, soft to the touch,
easily tunnelled, easily excavated or built into tiny huts which we
thatch with moss and surmount with the end of a reed for a chimney; and
the delicious meal of apples, and the sound of the aeolian harps which
softly whisper among the boughs of the pines!
For the children it is a real paradise, where they can receive the
reward of well-learned lessons. The grown-ups also can share in the
enjoyment. As for myself, for long years I have watched two insects
which are found there without getting to the bottom of their domestic
secrets. One is the _Minotaurus typhaeus_, whose male carries on his
corselet three spines which point forward. The old writers called him
the Phalangist, on account of his armour, which is comparable to the
three ranks of lances of the Macedonian phalanx.
This is a robust creature, heedless of the winter. All during the cold
season, whenever the weather relents a little, it issues discreetly from
its lodging, at nightfall, and gathers, in the immediate neighbourhood
of its dwelling, a few fragments of sheep-dung and ancient olives which
the summer suns have dried. It stacks them in a row at the end of its
burrow, closes the door, and consumes them. When the food is broken up
and exhausted of its meagre juices it returns to the surface and renews
its store. Thus the winter passes, famine being unknown unless the
weather is exceptionally hard.
The second insect which I have observed for so long among the pines is
the Bolboceras. Its burrows, scattered here and there, higgledy-piggledy
with those of the Minotaur, are easy to recognise. The burrow of the
Phalangist is surmounted by a voluminous rubbish-dump, the materials of
which are piled in the form of a cylinder as long as the finger. Each of
these dumps is a load of refuse and rubbish pushed outward by the little
sapper, which shoulders it up from below. The orifice is closed whenever
the insect is at home, enlarging its tunnel or peacefully enjoying the
contents of its larder.
The lodging of the Bolboceras is open and surrounded simply by a mound
of sand. Its depth is not great; a foot or hardly more. It descends
vertically in an easily shifted soil. It is therefore easy to inspect
it, if we take care first of all to dig a trench so that the wall of the
burrow may be afterwards cut away, slice by slice, with the blade of a
knife. The burrow is thus laid bare along its whole extent, from the
surface to the bottom, until nothing remains of it but a
Often the violated dwelling is empty. The insect has departed in the
night, having finished its business there. It is a nomad, a
night-walker, which leaves its dwelling without regret and easily
acquires another. Often, on the other hand, the insect will be found at
the bottom of the burrow; sometimes a male, sometimes a female, but
always alone. The two sexes, equally zealous in excavating their
burrows, work apart without collaboration. This is no family mansion for
the rearing of offspring; it is a temporary dwelling, made by each
insect for its own benefit.
Sometimes the burrow contains nothing but the well-sinker surprised at
its work: sometimes--and not rarely--the hermit will be found embracing
a small subterranean fungus, entire or partly consumed. It presses it
convulsively to its bosom and will not be parted from it. This is the
insect's booty: its worldly wealth. Scattered crumbs inform us that we
have surprised the beetle at a feast.
Let us deprive the insect of its booty. We find a sort of irregular,
rugged, purse-like object, varying in size from the largeness of a pea
to that of a cherry. The exterior is reddish, covered with fine warts,
having an appearance not unlike shagreen; the interior, which has no
communication with the exterior, is smooth and white. The pores, ovoidal
and diaphanous, are contained, in groups of eight, in long capsules.
From these characteristics we recognise an underground cryptogam, known
to the botanists as _Hydnocystis arenaria_, and a relation of the
This discovery begins to throw a light on the habits of the Bolboceras
and the cause of its burrows, so frequently renewed. In the calm of the
twilight the little truffle-hunter goes abroad, chirping softly to
encourage itself. It explores the soil, and interrogates it as to its
contents, exactly as does the truffle-gatherer's dog. The sense of smell
warns it that the desired object is beneath it, covered by a few inches
of sand. Certain of the precise point where the treasure lies, it sinks
a well vertically downwards, and infallibly reaches it. So long as there
is food left it does not again leave the burrow. It feasts happily at
the bottom of its well, heedless of the open or imperfectly closed
When no more food is left it removes in search of further booty, which
becomes the occasion of another burrow, this too in its turn to be
abandoned. So many truffles eaten necessitate so many burrows, which are
mere dining-rooms or pilgrim's larders. Thus pass the autumn and the
spring, the seasons of the _Hydnocystis_, in the pleasures of the table
and removal from one house to another.
To study the insect _rabassier_ in my own house I had to obtain a small
store of its favourite food. To seek it myself, by digging at random,
would have resulted merely in waste of time; the little cryptogam is not
so common that I could hope to find it without a guide. The
truffle-hunter must have his dog; my guide should be the Bolboceras
itself. Behold me, then, a _rabassier_ of a kind hitherto unknown. I
have told my secret, although I fear my original teacher will laugh at
me if he ever hears of my singular form of competition.
The subterranean fungi grow only at certain points, but they are often
found in groups. Now, the beetle has passed this way; with its subtle
sense of smell it has recognised the ground as favourable; for its
burrows are numerous. Let us dig, then, in the neighbourhood of these
holes. The sign is reliable; in a few hours, thanks to the signs of the
Bolboceras, I obtain a handful of specimens of the _Hydnocystis_. It is
the first time I have ever found this fungus in the ground. Let us now
capture the insect--an easy matter, for we have only to excavate the
The same evening I begin my experiments. A wide earthen pan is filled
with fresh sand which has been passed through a sieve. With the aid of a
stick the thickness of a finger I make six vertical holes in the sand:
they are conveniently far apart, and are eight inches in depth. A
_Hydnocystis_ is placed at the bottom of each; a fine straw is then
inserted, to show me the precise position later. Finally the six holes
are filled with sand which is beaten down so that all is firm. When the
surface is perfectly level, and everywhere the same, except for the six
straws, which mean nothing to the insect, I release my beetles, covering
them with a wire-gauze cover. They are eight in number.
At first I see nothing but the inevitable fatigue due to the incidents
of exhumation, transport, and confinement in a strange place. My exiles
try to escape: they climb the wire walls, and finally all take to earth
at the edge of their enclosure. Night comes, and all is quiet. Two hours
later I pay my prisoners a last visit. Three are still buried under a
thin layer of sand. The other five have sunk each a vertical well at the
very foot of the straws which indicate the position of the buried fungi.
Next morning the sixth straw has its burrow like the rest.
It is time to see what is happening underground. The sand is
methodically removed in vertical slices. At the bottom of each burrow is
a Bolboceras engaged in eating its truffle.
Let us repeat the experiment with the partly eaten fungi. The result is
the same. In one short night the food is divined under its covering of
sand and attained by means of a burrow which descends as straight as a
plumb-line to the point where the fungus lies. There has been no
hesitation, no trial excavations which have nearly discovered the object
of search. This is proved by the surface of the soil, which is
everywhere just as I left it when smoothing it down. The insect could
not make more directly for the objective if guided by the sense of
sight; it digs always at the foot of the straw, my private sign. The
truffle-dog, sniffing the ground in search of truffles, hardly attains
this degree of precision.
Does the _Hydnocystis_ possess a very keen odour, such as we should
expect to give an unmistakable warning to the senses of the consumer? By
no means. To our own sense of smell it is a neutral sort of object, with
no appreciable scent whatever. A little pebble taken from the soil would
affect our senses quite as strongly with its vague savour of fresh
earth. As a finder of underground fungi the Bolboceras is the rival of
the dog. It would be the superior of the dog if it could generalise; it
is, however, a rigid specialist, recognising nothing but the
_Hydnocystis_. No other fungus, to my knowledge, either attracts it or
induces it to dig.
Both dog and beetle are very near the subsoil which they scrutinise; the
object they seek is at no great depth. At a greater depth neither dog
nor insect could perceive such subtle effluvia, nor even the odour of
the truffle. To attract insect or animal at a great distance powerful
odours are necessary, such as our grosser senses can perceive. Then the
exploiters of the odorous substance hasten from afar off and from all
If for purposes of study I require specimens of such insects as dissect
dead bodies I expose a dead mole to the sunlight in a distant corner of
my orchard. As soon as the creature is swollen with the gases of
putrefaction, and the fur commences to fall from the greenish skin, a
host of insects arrive--Silphidae, Dermestes, Horn-beetles, and
Necrophori--of which not a single specimen could ever be obtained in my
garden or even in the neighbourhood without the use of such a bait.
They have been warned by the sense of smell, although far away in all
directions, while I myself can escape from the stench by recoiling a few
paces. In comparison with their sense of smell mine is miserable; but in
this case, both for me and for them, there is really what our language
calls an odour.
I can do still better with the flower of the Serpent Arum (_Arum
dracunculus_), so noteworthy both for its form and its incomparable
stench. Imagine a wide lanceolated blade of a vinous purple, some twenty
inches in length, which is twisted at the base into an ovoid purse about
the size of a hen's egg. Through the opening of this capsule rises the
central column, a long club of a livid green, surrounded at the base by
two rings, one of ovaries and the other of stamens. Such, briefly, is
the flower or rather the inflorescence of the Serpent Arum.
For two days it exhales a horrible stench of putrid flesh; a dead dog
could not produce such a terrible odour. Set free by the sun and the
wind, it is odious, intolerable. Let us brave the infected atmosphere
and approach; we shall witness a curious spectacle.
Warned by the stench, which travels far and wide, a host of insects are
flying hither; such insects as dissect the corpses of frogs, adders,
lizards, hedgehogs, moles and field-mice--creatures that the peasant
finds beneath his spade and throws disembowelled on the path. They fall
upon the great leaf, whose livid purple gives it the appearance of a
strip of putrid flesh; they dance with impatience, intoxicated by the
corpse-like odour which to them is so delicious; they roll down its
steep face and are engulfed in the capsule. After a few hours of hot
sunlight the receptacle is full.
Let us look into the capsule through the narrow opening. Nowhere else
could you see such a mob of insects. It is a delirious mixture of backs
and bellies, wing-covers and legs, which swarms and rolls upon itself,
rising and falling, seething and boiling, shaken by continual
convulsions, clicking and squeaking with a sound of entangled
articulations. It is a bacchanal, a general access of delirium tremens.
A few, but only a few, emerge from the mass. By the central mast or the
walls of the purse they climb to the opening. Do they wish to take
flight and escape? By no means. On the threshold of the cavity, while
already almost at liberty, they allow themselves to fall into the
whirlpool, retaken by their madness. The lure is irresistible. None will
break free from the swarm until the evening, or perhaps the next day,
when the heady fumes will have evaporated. Then the units of the swarm
disengage themselves from their mutual embraces, and slowly, as though
regretfully, take flight and depart. At the bottom of this devil's purse
remains a heap of the dead and dying, of severed limbs and wing-covers
torn off; the inevitable sequels of the frantic orgy. Soon the woodlice,
earwigs, and ants will appear to prey upon the injured.
What are these insects doing? Were they the prisoners of the flower,
converted into a trap which allowed them to enter but prevented their
escape by means of a palisade of converging hairs? No, they were not
prisoners; they had full liberty to escape, as is proved by the final
exodus, which is in no way impeded. Deceived by a fallacious odour, were
they endeavouring to lay and establish their eggs as they would have
done under the shelter of a corpse? No; there is no trace of eggs in the
purse of the Arum. They came convoked by the odour of a decaying body,
their supreme delight; an intoxication seized them, and they rushed into
the eddying swarm to take part in a festival of carrion-eaters.
I was anxious to count the number of those attracted. At the height of
the bacchanal I emptied the purse into a bottle. Intoxicated as they
were, many would escape my census, and I wished to ensure its accuracy.
A few drops of carbon bisulphide quieted the swarm. The census proved
that there were more than four hundred insects in the purse of the Arum.
The collection consisted entirely of two species--Dermestes and
Saprinidae--both eager prospectors of carrion and animal detritus during
My friend Bull, an honest dog all his lifetime if ever there was one,
amongst other eccentricities had the following: finding in the dust of
the road the shrivelled body of a mole, flattened by the feet of
pedestrians, mummified by the heat of the sun, he would slide himself
over it, from the tip of his nose to the root of his tail, he would rub
himself against it deliciously over and over again, shaken with nervous
spasms, and roll upon it first in one direction, then in the other.
It was his sachet of musk, his flask of eau-de-Cologne. Perfumed to his
liking, he would rise, shake himself, and proceed on his way, delighted
with his toilet. Do not let us scold him, and above all do not let us
discuss the matter. There are all kinds of tastes in a world.
Why should there not be insects with similar habits among the amateurs
of corpse-like savours? We see Dermestes and Saprinidae hastening to the
arum-flower. All day long they writhe and wriggle in a swarm, although
perfectly free to escape; numbers perish in the tumultuous orgy. They
are not retained by the desire of food, for the arum provides them with
nothing eatable; they do not come to breed, for they take care not to
establish their grubs in that place of famine. What are these frenzied
creatures doing? Apparently they are intoxicated with fetidity, as was
Bull when he rolled on the putrid body of a mole.
This intoxication draws them from all parts of the neighbourhood,
perhaps over considerable distances; how far we do not know. The
Necrophori, in quest of a place where to establish their family, travel
great distances to find the corpses of small animals, informed by such
odours as offend our own senses at a considerable distance.
The _Hydnocystis_, the food of the Bolboceras, emits no such brutal
emanations as these, which readily diffuse themselves through space; it
is inodorous, at least to our senses. The insect which seeks it does not
come from a distance; it inhabits the places wherein the cryptogam is
found. Faint as are the effluvia of this subterranean fungus, the
prospecting epicure, being specially equipped, perceives them with the
greatest ease; but then he operates at close range, from the surface of
the soil. The truffle-dog is in the same case; he searches with his nose
to the ground. The true truffle, however, the essential object of his
search, possesses a fairly vivid odour.
But what are we to say of the Great Peacock moth and the Oak Eggar, both
of which find their captive female? They come from the confines of the
horizon. What do they perceive at that distance? Is it really an odour
such as we perceive and understand? I cannot bring myself to believe it.
The dog finds the truffle by smelling the earth quite close to the
tuber; but he finds his master at great distances by following his
footsteps, which he recognises by their scent. Yet can he find the
truffle at a hundred yards? or his master, in the complete absence of a
trail? No. With all his fineness of scent, the dog is incapable of such
feats as are realised by the moth, which is embarrassed neither by
distance nor the absence of a trail.
It is admitted that odour, such as affects our olfactory sense, consists
of molecules emanating from the body whose odour is perceived. The
odorous material becomes diffused through the air to which it
communicates its agreeable or disagreeable aroma. Odour and taste are to
a certain extent the same; in both there is contact between the material
particles causing the impression and the sensitive papillae affected by
That the Serpent Arum should elaborate a powerful essence which
impregnates the atmosphere and makes it noisome is perfectly simple and
comprehensible. Thus the Dermestes and Saprinidae, those lovers of
corpse-like odours, are warned by molecular diffusion. In the same way
the putrid frog emits and disseminates around it atoms of putrescence
which travel to a considerable distance and so attract and delight the
Necrophorus, the carrion-beetle.
But in the case of the Great Peacock or the Oak Eggar, what molecules
are actually disengaged? None, according to our sense of smell. And yet
this lure, to which the males hasten so speedily, must saturate with its
molecules an enormous hemisphere of air--a hemisphere some miles in
diameter! What the atrocious fetor of the Arum cannot do the absence of
odour accomplishes! However divisible matter may be, the mind refuses
such conclusions. It would be to redden a lake with a grain of carmine;
to fill space with a mere nothing.
Moreover, where my laboratory was previously saturated with powerful
odours which should have overcome and annihilated any particularly
delicate effluvium, the male moths arrived without the least indication
of confusion or delay.
A loud noise stifles a feeble note and prevents it from being heard; a
brilliant light eclipses a feeble glimmer. Heavy waves overcome and
obliterate ripples. In the two cases cited we have waves of the same
nature. But a clap of thunder does not diminish the feeblest jet of
light; the dazzling glory of the sun will not muffle the slightest
sound. Of different natures, light and sound do not mutually interact.
My experiment with spike-lavender, naphthaline, and other odours seems
to prove that odour proceeds from two sources. For emission substitute
undulation, and the problem of the Great Peacock moth is explained.
Without any material emanation a luminous point shakes the ether with
its vibrations and fills with light a sphere of indefinite magnitude.
So, or in some such manner, must the warning effluvium of the mother Oak
Eggar operate. The moth does not emit molecules; but something about it
vibrates, causing waves capable of propagation to distances incompatible
with an actual diffusion of matter.
From this point of view, smell would have two domains--that of particles
dissolved in the air and that of etheric waves. The former domain
alone is known to us. It is also known to the insect. It is this that
warns the Saprinidae of the fetid arum, the Silphidae and the Necrophori
of the putrid mole.
The second category of odour, far superior in its action through space,
escapes us completely, because we lack the essential sensory equipment.
The Great Peacock moth and the Oak Eggar know it at the time of their
nuptial festivities. Many others must share it in differing degrees,
according to the exigencies of their way of life.
Like light, odour has its X-rays. Let science, instructed by the insect,
one day give us a radiograph sensitive to odours, and this artificial
nose will open a new world of marvels.
Next: THE ELEPHANT - BEETLE
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