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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
At the orifice of the egg-chamber, among the torn fibres of the bark, a
little cone-shaped body is visible, with two black eye-spots; in
appearance it is precisely like the fore portion of the butter-coloured
egg; or, as I have said, like the fore portion of a tiny fish. You would
think that an egg had been somehow displaced, had been removed from the
bottom of the chamber to its aperture. An egg to move in this narrow
passage! a walking egg! No, that is impossible; eggs "do not do such
things!" This is some mistake. We will break open the twig, and the
mystery is unveiled. The actual eggs are where they always were, though
they are slightly disarranged. They are empty, reduced to the condition
of transparent skins, split wide open at the upper end. From them has
issued the singular organism whose most notable characteristics are as
In its general form, the configuration of the head and the great black
eyes, the creature, still more than the egg, has the appearance of an
extremely minute fish. A simulacrum of a ventral fin increases the
resemblance. This apparent fin in reality consists of the two
fore-limbs, which, packed in a special sheath, are bent backwards,
stretched out against one another in a straight line. Its small degree
of mobility must enable the grub to escape from the egg-shell and, with
greater difficulty, from the woody tunnel leading to the open air.
Moving outwards a little from the body, and then moving back again, this
lever serves as a means of progression, its terminal hooks being already
fairly strong. The four other feet are still covered by the common
envelope, and are absolutely inert. It is the same with the antennae,
which can scarcely be seen through the magnifying-glass. The organism
which has issued from the egg is a boat-shaped body with a fin-shaped
limb pointing backwards on the ventral face, formed by the junction of
the two fore-limbs. The segmentation of the body is very clear,
especially on the abdomen. The whole body is perfectly smooth, without
the least suspicion of hair.
What name are we to give to this initial phase of the Cigale--a phase so
strange, so unforeseen, and hitherto unsuspected? Must I amalgamate some
more or less appropriate words of Greek and fabricate a portentous
nomenclature? No, for I feel sure that barbarous alien phrases are only
a hindrance to science. I will call it simply the _primary larva_, as I
have done in the case of the Meloides, the Leucospis, and the Anthrax.
The form of the primary larva of the Cigale is eminently adapted to its
conditions and facilitates its escape. The tunnel in which the egg is
hatched is very narrow, leaving only just room for passage. Moreover,
the eggs are arranged in a row, not end to end, but partially
overlapping. The larva escaping from the hinder ranks has to squeeze
past the empty shells, still in position, of the eggs which have already
hatched, so that the narrowness of the passage is increased by the empty
egg-shells. Under these conditions the larva as it will be presently,
when it has torn its temporary wrappings, would be unable to effect the
difficult passage. With the encumbrance of antennae, with long limbs
spreading far out from the axis of the body, with curved, pointed talons
which hook themselves into their medium of support, everything would
militate against a prompt liberation. The eggs in one chamber hatch
almost simultaneously. It is therefore essential that the first-born
larvae should hurry out of their shelter as quickly as possible, leaving
the passage free for those behind them. Hence the boat-like shape, the
smooth hairless body without projections, which easily squeezes its way
past obstructions. The primary larva, with its various appendages
closely wrapped against its body by a common sheath, with its fish-like
form and its single and only partially movable limb, is perfectly
adapted to make the difficult passage to the outer air.
This phase is of short duration. Here, for instance, a migrating larva
shows its head, with its big black eyes, and raises the broken fibres of
the entrance. It gradually works itself forward, but so slowly that the
magnifying-glass scarcely reveals its progress. At the end of half an
hour at the shortest we see the entire body of the creature; but the
orifice by which it is escaping still holds it by the hinder end of the
Then, without further delay, the coat which it wears for this rough
piece of work begins to split, and the larva skins itself, coming out of
its wrappings head first. It is then the normal larva; the only form
known to Reaumur. The rejected coat forms a suspensory thread, expanding
at its free end to form a little cup. In this cup is inserted the end of
the abdomen of the larva, which, before allowing itself to fall to
earth, takes a sun-bath, grows harder, stretches itself, and tries its
strength, lightly swinging at the end of its life-line.
This little flea, as Reaumur calls it, first white, then amber-coloured,
is precisely the larva which will delve in the earth. The antennae, of
fair length, are free and waving to and fro; the limbs are bending at
their articulations; the fore-limbs, which are relatively powerful, open
and shut their talons. I can scarcely think of any more curious
spectacle than that of this tiny gymnast hanging by its tail, swinging
to the faintest breath, and preparing in the air for its entry into the
world. It hangs there for a variable period; some larvae let themselves
fall at the end of half an hour; others spend hours in their
long-stemmed cup; some even remain suspended until the following day.
Whether soon or late, the fall of the larva leaves suspended the thread
by which it hung, the wrappings of the primary larva. When all the brood
have disappeared, the aperture of the nest is thus hung with a branch of
fine, short threads, twisted and knotted together, like dried white of
egg. Each thread is expanded into a tiny cup at its free end. These are
very delicate and ephemeral relics, which perish at a touch. The least
wind quickly blows them away.
Let us return to the larva. Sooner or later, as we have seen, it falls
to the ground, either by accident or intention. The tiny creature, no
bigger than a flea, has preserved its tender newly-hatched flesh from
contact with the rough earth by hanging in the air until its tissues
have hardened. Now it plunges into the troubles of life.
I foresee a thousand dangers ahead. A mere breath of wind may carry this
atom away, and cast it on that inaccessible rock in the midst of a rut
in the road which still contains a little water; or on the sand, the
region of famine where nothing grows; or upon a soil of clay, too
tenacious to be tunnelled. These mortal accidents are frequent, for
gusts of wind are frequent in the windy and already severe weather of
the end of October.
This delicate organism requires a very soft soil, which can easily be
entered, so that it may immediately obtain a suitable shelter. The cold
days are coming; soon the frosts will be here. To wander on the surface
would expose it to grave perils. It must contrive without delay to
descend into the earth, and that to no trivial depth. This is the unique
and imperative condition of safety, and in many cases it is impossible
of realisation. What use are the claws of this tiny flea against rock,
sandstone, or hardened clay? The creature must perish if it cannot find
a subterranean refuge in good time.
Everything goes to show that the necessity of this first foothold on the
soil, subject as it is to so many accidents, is the cause of the great
mortality in the Cigale family. The little black parasite, the destroyer
of eggs, in itself evokes the necessity of a large batch of eggs; and
the difficulty which the larva experiences in effecting a safe lodgment
in the earth is yet another explanation of the fact that the maintenance
of the race at its proper strength requires a batch of three or four
hundred eggs from each mother. Subject to many accidents, the Cigale is
fertile to excess. By the prodigality of her ovaries she conjures the
host of perils which threaten her offspring.
During the rest of my experiment I can at least spare the larvae the
worst difficulties of their first establishment underground. I take some
soil from the heath, which is very soft and almost black, and I pass it
through a fine sieve. Its colour will enable me more easily to find the
tiny fair-skinned larvae when I wish to inform myself of passing events;
its lightness makes it a suitable refuge for such weak and fragile
beings. I pack it Pretty firmly in a glass vase; I plant in it a little
tuft of thyme; I sow in it a few grains of wheat. There is no hole at
the bottom of the vase, although there should be one for the benefit of
the thyme and the corn; but the captives would find it and escape by it.
The plantation and the crop will suffer from this lack of drainage, but
at least I am sure of recovering my larvae with the help of patience and
a magnifying-glass. Moreover, I shall go gently in the matter of
irrigation, giving only just enough water to save the plants from
When all is in order, and when the wheat is beginning to shoot, I place
six young larvae of the Cigale on the surface of the soil. The tiny
creatures begin to pace hither and thither; they soon explore the
surface of their world, and some try vainly to climb the sides of the
vase. Not one of them seems inclined to bury itself; so that I ask
myself anxiously what can be the object of their prolonged and active
explorations. Two hours go by, but their wanderings continue.
What do they want? Food? I offer them some tiny bulbs with bundles of
sprouting roots, a few fragments of leaves and some fresh blades of
grass. Nothing tempts them; nothing brings them to a standstill.
Apparently they are seeking for a favourable point before descending
into the earth. But there is no need for this hesitating exploration on
the soil I have prepared for them; the whole area, or so it seems to me,
lends itself excellently to the operations which I am expecting to see
them commence. Yet apparently it will not answer the purpose.
Under natural conditions a little wandering might well be indispensable.
Spots as soft as my bed of earth from the roots of the briar-heather,
purged of all hard bodies and finely sifted, are rare in nature. Coarse
soils are more usual, on which the tiny creatures could make no
impression. The larva must wander at hazard, must make a pilgrimage of
indefinite duration before finding a favourable place. Very many, no
doubt, perish, exhausted by their fruitless search. A voyage of
exploration in a country a few inches wide evidently forms part of the
curriculum of young Cigales. In my glass prison, so luxuriously
furnished, this pilgrimage is useless. Never mind: it must be
accomplished according to the consecrated rites.
At last my wanderers grow less excited. I see them attack the earth with
the curved talons of their fore-limbs, digging their claws into it and
making such an excavation as the point of a thick needle would enter.
With a magnifying-glass I watch their picks at work. I see their talons
raking atom after atom of earth to the surface. In a few minutes there
is a little gaping well. The larva climbs downwards and buries itself,
On the morrow I turn out the contents of the vase without breaking the
mould, which is held together by the roots of the thyme and the wheat. I
find all my larvae at the bottom, arrested by the glass. In twenty-four
hours they had sunk themselves through the entire thickness of the
earth--a matter of some four inches. But for obstacle at the bottom they
would have sunk even further.
On the way they have probably encountered the rootlets of my little
plantation. Did they halt in order to take a little nourishment by
implanting their proboscis? This is hardly probable, for a few rootlets
were pressed against the bottom of the glass, but none of my prisoners
were feeding. Perhaps the shock of reversing the pot detached them.
It is obvious that underground there is no other nourishment for them
than the sap of roots. Adult or larva, the Cigale is a strict
vegetarian. As an adult insect it drinks the sap of twigs and branches;
as a larva it sucks the sap of roots. But at what stage does it take the
first sip? That I do not know as yet, but the foregoing experiment seems
to show that the newly hatched larva is in greater haste to burrow deep
into the soil, so as to obtain shelter from the coming winter, than to
station itself at the roots encountered in its passage downwards.
I replace the mass of soil in the vase, and the six exhumed larvae are
once more placed on the surface of the soil. This time they commence to
dig at once, and have soon disappeared. Finally the vase is placed in my
study window, where it will be subject to the influences, good and ill,
of the outer air.
A month later, at the end of November, I pay the young Cigales a second
visit. They are crouching, isolated at the bottom of the mould. They do
not adhere to the roots; they have not grown; their appearance has not
altered. Such as they were at the beginning of the experiment, such they
are now, but rather less active. Does not this lack of growth during
November, the mildest month of winter, prove that no nourishment is
taken until the spring?
The young Sitares, which are also very minute, directly they issue from
the egg at the entrance of the tubes of the Anthrophorus, remain
motionless, assembled in a heap, and pass the whole of the winter in a
state of complete abstinence. The young Cigales apparently behave in a
very similar fashion. Once they have burrowed to such depths as will
safeguard them from the frosts they sleep in solitude in their winter
quarters, and await the return of spring before piercing some
neighbouring root and taking their first repast.
I have tried unsuccessfully to confirm these deductions by observation.
In April I unpotted my plant of thyme for the third time. I broke up the
mould and spread it under the magnifying-glass. It was like looking for
needles in a haystack; but at last I recovered my little Cigales. They
were dead, perhaps of cold, in spite of the bell-glass with which I had
covered the pot, or perhaps of starvation, if the thyme was not a
suitable food-plant. I give up the problem as too difficult of solution.
To rear such larvae successfully one would require a deep, extensive bed
of earth which would shelter them from the winter cold; and, as I do not
know what roots they prefer, a varied vegetation, so that the little
creatures could choose according to their taste. These conditions are by
no means impracticable, but how, in the large earthy mass, containing at
least a cubic yard of soil, should we recover the atoms I had so much
trouble to find in a handful of black soil from the heath? Moreover,
such a laborious search would certainly detach the larva from its root.
The early subterranean life of the Cigale escapes us. That of the
maturer larva is no better known. Nothing is more common, while digging
in the fields to any depth, to find these impetuous excavators under the
spade; but to surprise them fixed upon the roots which incontestably
nourish them is quite another matter. The disturbance of the soil warns
the larva of danger. It withdraws its proboscis in order to retreat
along its galleries, and when the spade uncovers it has ceased to feed.
If the hazards of field-work, with its inevitable disturbance of the
larvae, cannot teach us anything of their subterranean habits, we can at
least learn something of the duration of the larval stage. Some obliging
farmers, who were making some deep excavations in March, were good
enough to collect for me all the larvae, large and small, unearthed in
the course of their labour. The total collection amounted to several
hundreds. They were divided, by very clearly marked differences of size,
into three categories: the large larvae, with rudiments of wings, such as
those larvae caught upon leaving the earth possess; the medium-sized, and
the small. Each of these stages must correspond to a different age. To
these we may add the larvae produced by the last hatching of eggs,
creatures too minute to be noticed by my rustic helpers, and we obtain
four years as the probable term of the larvae underground.
The length of their aerial existence is more easily computed. I hear the
first Cigales about the summer solstice. A month later the orchestra has
attained its full power. A very few late singers execute their feeble
solos until the middle of September. This is the end of the concert. As
all the larvae do not issue from the ground at the same time, it is
evident that the singers of September are not contemporary with those
that began to sing at the solstice. Taking the average between these two
dates, we get five weeks as the probable duration of the Cigales' life
Four years of hard labour underground, and a month of feasting in the
sun; such is the life of the Cigale. Do not let us again reproach the
adult insect with his triumphant delirium. For four years, in the
darkness he has worn a dirty parchment overall; for four years he has
mined the soil with his talons, and now the mud-stained sapper is
suddenly clad in the finest raiment, and provided with wings that rival
the bird's; moreover, he is drunken with heat and flooded with light,
the supreme terrestrial joy. His cymbals will never suffice to celebrate
such felicity, so well earned although so ephemeral.
Next: THE MANTIS - THE CHASE
Previous: THE SONG OF THE CIGALE