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THE POMPILI




The Ammophila's caterpillar (Cf. "The Hunting Wasps," by J. Henri Fabre,
translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos: chapters 13 and 18 to 20; and
Chapter 11 of the present volume.--Translator's Note.), the Bembex (Cf.
idem: chapter 14.--Translator's Note.), Gad-fly, the Cerceris (Cf. idem:
chapters 1 to 3.--Translator's Note.), Buprestis (A Beetle usually
remarkable for her brilliant colouring. Cf. idem: chapter 1.--Translator's
Note.) and Weevil, the Sphex (Cf. idem: chapter 4 to 10.--Translator's
Note.), Locust, Cricket and Ephippiger (Cf. "The Life of the Grasshopper,"
by J. Henri Fabre, translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos: chapters 13
and 14.--Translator's Note.): all these inoffensive peaceable victims are
like the silly Sheep of our slaughter-houses; they allow themselves to be
operated upon by the paralyser, submitting stupidly, without offering much
resistance. The mandibles gape, the legs kick and protest, the body
wriggles and twists; and that is all. They have no weapons capable of
contending with the assassin's dagger. I should like to see the huntress
grappling with an imposing adversary, one as crafty as herself, an expert
layer of ambushes and, like her, bearing a poisoned dirk. I should like to
see the bandit armed with her stiletto confronted by another bandit equally
familiar with the use of that weapon. Is such a duel possible? Yes, it is
quite possible and even quite common. On the one hand we have the Pompili,
the protagonists who are always victorious; on the other hand we have the
Spiders, the protagonists who are always overthrown.

Who that has diverted himself, however little, with the study of insects
does not know the Pompili? Against old walls, at the foot of the banks
beside unfrequented footpaths, in the stubble after the harvest, in the
tangles of dry grass, wherever the Spider spreads her nets, who has not
seen them busily at work, now running hither and thither, at random, their
wings raised and quivering above their backs, now moving from place to
place in flights long or short? They are hunting for a quarry which might
easily turn the tables and itself prey upon the trapper lying in wait for
it.

The Pompili feed their larvae solely on Spiders; and the Spiders feed on
any insect, commensurate with their size, that is caught in their nets.
While the first possess a sting, the second have two poisoned fangs. Often
their strength is equally matched; indeed the advantage is not seldom on
the Spider's side. The Wasp has her ruses of war, her cunningly
premeditated strokes: the Spider has her wiles and her set traps; the first
has the advantage of great rapidity of movement, while the second is able
to rely upon her perfidious web; the one has a sting which contrives to
penetrate the exact point to cause paralysis, the other has fangs which
bite the back of the neck and deal sudden death. We find the paralyser on
the one hand and the slaughterer on the other. Which of the two will become
the other's prey?

If we consider only the relative strength of the adversaries, the power of
their weapons, the virulence of their poisons and their different modes of
action, the scale would very often be weighted in favour of the Spider.
Since the Pompilus always emerges victorious from this contest, which
appears to be full of peril for her, she must have a special method, of
which I would fain learn the secret.

In our part of the country, the most powerful and courageous Spider-
huntress is the Ringed Pompilus (Calicurgus annulatus, FAB.), clad in black
and yellow. She stands high on her legs; and her wings have black tips, the
rest being yellow, as though exposed to smoke, like a bloater. Her size is
about that of the Hornet (Vespa crabro). She is rare. I see three or four
of her in the course of the year; and I never fail to halt in the presence
of the proud insect, rapidly striding through the dust of the fields when
the dog-days arrive. Its audacious air, its uncouth gait, its war-like
bearing long made me suspect that to obtain its prey it had to make some
impossible, terrible, unspeakable capture. And my guess was correct. By
dint of waiting and watching I beheld that victim; I saw it in the
huntress' mandibles. It is the Black-bellied Tarantula, the terrible Spider
who slays a Carpenter-bee or a Bumble-bee outright with one stroke of her
weapon; the Spider who kills a Sparrow or a Mole; the formidable creature
whose bite would perhaps not be without danger to ourselves. Yes, this is
the bill of fare which the proud Pompilus provides for her larva.

This spectacle, one of the most striking with which the Hunting Wasps have
ever provided me, has as yet been offered to my eyes but once; and that was
close beside my rural home, in the famous laboratory of the harmas. (The
enclosed piece of waste land on which the author studied his insects in
their native state. Cf. "The Life of the Fly," by J. Henri Fabre,
translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos: chapter 1.--Translator's Note.)
I can still see the intrepid poacher dragging by the leg, at the foot of a
wall, the monstrous prize which she had just secured, doubtless at no great
distance. At the base of the wall was a hole, an accidental chink between
some of the stones. The Wasp inspected the cavern, not for the first time:
she had already reconnoitred it and the premises had satisfied her. The
prey, deprived of the power of movement, was waiting somewhere, I know not
where; and the huntress had gone back to fetch it and store it away. It was
at this moment that I met her. The Pompilus gave a last glance at the cave,
removed a few small fragments of loose mortar; and with that her
preparations were completed. The Lycosa (The Spider in question is known
indifferently as the Black-bellied Tarantula and the Narbonne Lycosa.--
Translator's Note.) was introduced, dragged along, belly upwards, by one
leg. I did not interfere. Presently the Wasp reappeared on the surface and
carelessly pushed in front of the hole the bits of mortar which she had
just extracted from it. Then she flew away. It was all over. The egg was
laid; the insect had finished for better or for worse; and I was able to
proceed with my examination of the burrow and its contents.

The Pompilus has done no digging. It is really an accidental hole with
spacious winding passages, the result of the mason's negligence and not of
the Wasp's industry. The closing of the cavity is quite as rough and
summary. A few crumbs of mortar, heaped up before the doorway, form a
barricade rather than a door. A mighty hunter makes a poor architect. The
Tarantula's murderess does not know how to dig a cell for her larva; she
does not know how to fill up the entrance by sweeping dust into it. The
first hole encountered at the foot of a wall contents her, provided that it
be roomy enough; a little heap of rubbish will do for a door. Nothing could
be more expeditious.

I withdraw the game from the hole. The egg is stuck to the Spider, near the
beginning of the belly. A clumsy movement on my part makes it fall off at
the moment of extraction. It is all over: the thing will not hatch; I shall
not be able to observe the development of the larva. The Tarantula lies
motionless, flexible as in life, with not a trace of a wound. In short, we
have here life without movement. From time to time the tips of the tarsi
quiver a little; and that is all. Accustomed of old to these deceptive
corpses, I can see in my mind's eye what has happened: the Spider has been
stung in the region of the thorax, no doubt once only, in view of the
concentration of her nervous system. I place the victim in a box in which
it retains all the pliancy and all the freshness of life from the 2nd of
August to the 20th of September, that is to say, for seven weeks. These
miracles are familiar to us (Cf. "The Hunting Wasps": passim.--Translator's
Note.); there is no need to linger over them here.

The most important matter has escaped me. What I wanted, what I still want
to see is the Pompilus engaged in mortal combat with the Lycosa. What a
duel, in which the cunning of the one has to overcome the terrible weapons
of the other! Does the Wasp enter the burrow to surprise the Tarantula at
the bottom of her lair? Such temerity would be fatal to her. Where the big
Bumble-bee dies an instant death, the audacious visitor would perish the
moment she entered. Is not the other there, facing her, ready to snap at
the back of her head, inflicting a wound which would result in sudden
death? No, the Pompilus does not enter the Spider's parlour, that is
obvious. Does she surprise the Spider outside her fortress? But the Lycosa
is a stay-at-home animal; I do not see her straying abroad during the
summer. Later, in the autumn, when the Pompili have disappeared, She
wanders about; turning gipsy, she takes the open air with her numerous
family, which she carries on her back. Apart from these maternal strolls,
she does not appear to me to leave her castle; and the Pompilus, I should
think, has no great chance of meeting her outside. The problem, we
perceive, is becoming complicated: the huntress cannot make her way into
the burrow, where she would risk sudden death; and the Spider's sedentary
habits make an encounter outside the burrow improbable. Here is a riddle
which would be interesting to decipher. Let us endeavour to do so by
observing other Spider-hunters; analogy will enable us to draw a
conclusion.

I have often watched Pompili of every species on their hunting-expeditions,
but I have never surprised them entering the Spider's lodging when the
latter was at home. Whether this lodging be a funnel plunging its neck into
a hole in some wall, an awning stretched amid the stubble, a tent modelled
upon the Arab's, a sheath formed of a few leaves bound together, or a net
with a guard-room attached, whenever the owner is indoors the suspicious
Pompilus holds aloof. When the dwelling is vacant, it is another matter:
the Wasp moves with arrogant ease over those webs, springes and cables in
which so many other insects would remain ensnared. The silken threads do
not seem to have any hold upon her. What is she doing, exploring those
empty webs? She is watching to see what is happening on the adjacent webs
where the Spider is ambushed. The Pompilus therefore feels an insuperable
reluctance to make straight for the Spider when the latter is at home in
the midst of her snares. And she is right, a hundred times over. If the
Tarantula understands the practice of the dagger-thrust in the neck, which
is immediately fatal, the other cannot be unacquainted with it. Woe then to
the imprudent Wasp who presents herself upon the threshold of a Spider of
approximately equal strength!

Of the various instances which I have collected of this cautious reserve on
the Spider-huntress' part I will confine myself to the following, which
will be sufficient to prove my point. By joining, with silken strands, the
three folioles which form the leaf of Virgil's cytisus, a Spider has built
herself a green arbour, a horizontal sheath, open at either end. A questing
Pompilus comes upon the scene, finds the game to her liking and pops in her
head at the entrance of the cell. The Spider immediately retreats to the
other end. The huntress goes round the Spider's dwelling and reappears at
the other door. Again the Spider retreats, returning to the first entrance.
The Wasp also returns to it, but always by the outside. Scarcely has she
done so, when the Spider rushes for the opposite opening; and so on for
fully a quarter of an hour, both of them coming and going from one end of
the cylinder to the other, the Spider inside and the Pompilus outside.

The quarry was a valuable one, it seems, since the Wasp persisted for a
long time in her attempts, which were invariably defeated; however, the
huntress had to abandon them, baffled by this perpetual running to and fro.
The Pompilus made off; and the Spider, once more on the watch, patiently
awaited the heedless Midges. What should the Wasp have done to capture this
much-coveted game? She should have entered the verdant cylinder, the
Spider's dwelling, and pursued the Spider direct, in her own house, instead
of remaining outside, going from one door to the other. With such swiftness
and dexterity as hers, it seemed to me impossible that the stroke should
fail: the quarry moved clumsily, a little sideways, like a Crab. I judged
it to be an easy matter; the Pompilus thought it highly dangerous. To-day I
am of her opinion: if she had entered the leafy tube, the mistress of the
house would have operated on her neck and the huntress would have become
the quarry.

Years passed and the paralyser of the Spiders still refused to reveal her
secret; I was badly served by circumstances, could find no leisure, was
absorbed in unrelenting preoccupations. At length, during my last year at
Orange, the light dawned upon me. My garden was enclosed by an old wall,
blackened and ruined by time, where, in the chinks between the stones,
lived a population of Spiders, represented more particularly by Segestria
perfidia. This is the common Black Spider, or Cellar Spider. She is deep
black all over, excepting the mandibles, which are a splendid metallic
green. Her two poisoned daggers look like a product of the metal-worker's
art, like the finest bronze. In any mass of abandoned masonry there is not
a quiet corner, not a hole the size of one's finger, in which the Segestria
does not set up house. Her web is a widely flaring funnel, whose open end,
at most a span across, lies spread upon the surface of the wall, where it
is held in place by radiating threads. This conical surface is continued by
a tube which runs into a hole in the wall. At the end is the dining-room to
which the Spider retires to devour at her ease her captured prey.

With her two hind-legs stuck into the tube to obtain a purchase and the six
others spread around the orifice, the better to perceive on every side the
quiver which gives the signal of a capture, the Segestria waits motionless,
at the entrance of her funnel, for an insect to become entangled in the
snare. Large Flies, Drone-flies, dizzily grazing some thread of the snare
with their wings, are her usual victims. At the first flutter of the netted
Fly, the Spider runs or even leaps forward, but she is now secured by a
cord which escapes from the spinnerets and which has its end fastened to
the silken tube. This prevents her from falling as she darts along a
vertical surface. Bitten at the back of the head, the Drone-fly is dead in
a moment; and the Segestria carries him into her lair.

Thanks to this method and these hunting-appliances--an ambush at the bottom
of a silken whirlpool, radiating snares, a life-line which holds her from
behind and allows her to take a sudden rush without risking a fall--the
Segestria is able to catch game less inoffensive than the Drone-fly. A
Common Wasp, they tell me, does not daunt her. Though I have not tested
this, I readily believe it, for I well know the Spider's boldness.

This boldness is reinforced by the activity of the venom. It is enough to
have seen the Segestria capture some large Fly to be convinced of the
overwhelming effect of her fangs upon the insects bitten in the neck. The
death of the Drone-fly, entangled in the silken funnel, is reproduced by
the sudden death of the Bumble-bee on entering the Tarantula's burrow. We
know the effect of the poison on man, thanks to Antoine Duges'
investigations. (Antoine Louis Duges (1797-1838), a French physician and
physiologist, author of a "Traite de physiologie comparee de l'homme et des
animaux" and other scientific works.--Translator's Note.) Let us listen to
the brave experimenter:

"The treacherous Segestria, or Great Cellar Spider, reputed poisonous in
our part of the country, was chosen for the principal subject of our
experiments. She was three-quarters of an inch long, measured from the
mandibles to the spinnerets. Taking her in my fingers from behind, by the
legs, which were folded and gathered together (this is the way to catch
hold of live Spiders, if you would avoid their bite and master them without
mutilating them), I placed her on various objects and on my clothes,
without her manifesting the least desire to do any harm; but hardly was she
laid on the bare skin of my fore-arm when she seized a fold of the
epidermis in her powerful mandibles, which are of a metallic green, and
drove her fangs deep into it. For a few moments she remained hanging,
although left free; then she released herself, fell and fled, leaving two
tiny wounds, a sixth of an inch apart, red, but hardly bleeding, with a
slight extravasation round the edge and resembling the wounds produced by a
large pin.

"At the moment of the bite, the sensation was sharp enough to deserve the
name of pain; and this continued for five or six minutes more, but not so
forcibly. I might compare it with the sensation produced by the stinging-
nettle. A whitish tumefaction almost immediately surrounded the two pricks;
and the circumference, within a radius of about an inch, was coloured an
erysipelas red, accompanied by a very slight swelling. In an hour and a
half, it had all disappeared, except the mark of the pricks, which
persisted for several days, as any other small wound would have done. This
was in September, in rather cool weather. Perhaps the symptoms would have
displayed somewhat greater severity at a warmer season."

Without being serious, the effect of the Segestria's poison is plainly
marked. A sting causing sharp pain and swelling, with the redness of
erysipelas, is no trifling matter. While Duges' experiment reassures us in
so far as we ourselves are concerned, it is none the less the fact that the
Cellar Spider's poison is a terrible thing for insects, whether because of
the small size of the victim, or because it acts with special efficacy upon
an organization which differs widely from our own. One Pompilus, though
greatly inferior to the Segestria in size and strength, nevertheless makes
war upon the Black Spider and succeeds in overpowering this formidable
quarry. This is Pompilus apicalis, VAN DER LIND, who is hardly larger than
the Hive-bee, but very much slenderer. She is of a uniform black; her wings
are a cloudy brown, with transparent tips. Let us follow her in her
expeditions to the old wall inhabited by the Segestria: we will track her
for whole afternoons during the July heats; and we will arm ourselves with
patience, for the perilous capture of the game must take the Wasp a long
time.

The Spider-huntress explores the wall minutely; she runs, leaps and flies;
she comes and goes, flitting to and fro. The antennae quiver; the wings,
raised above the back, continually beat one against the other. Ah, here she
is, close to a Segestria's funnel! The Spider, who has hitherto remained
invisible, instantly appears at the entrance to the tube; she spreads her
six fore-legs outside, ready to receive the huntress. Far from fleeing
before the terrible apparition, she watches the watcher, fully prepared to
prey upon her enemy. Before this intrepid demeanour the Pompilus draws
back. She examines the coveted game, walks round it for a moment, then goes
away without attempting anything. When she has gone, the Segestria retires
indoors, backwards. For the second time the Wasp passes near an inhabited
funnel. The Spider on the lookout at once shows herself on the threshold of
her dwelling, half out of her tube, ready for defence and perhaps also for
attack. The Pompilus moves away and the Segestria reenters her tube. A
fresh alarm: the Pompilus returns; another threatening demonstration on the
part of the Spider. Her neighbour, a little later, does better than this:
while the huntress is prowling about in the neighbourhood of the funnel,
she suddenly leaps out of the tube, with the lifeline which will save her
from falling, should she miss her footing, attached to her spinnerets; she
rushes forward and hurls herself in front of the Pompilus, at a distance of
some eight inches from her burrow. The Wasp, as though terrified,
immediately decamps; and the Segestria no less suddenly retreats indoors.

Here, we must admit, is a strange quarry: it does not hide, but is eager to
show itself; it does not run away, but flings itself in front of the
hunter. If our observations were to cease here, could we say which of the
two is the hunter and which the hunted? Should we not feel sorry for the
imprudent Pompilus? Let a thread of the trap entangle her leg; and it is
all up with her. The other will be there, stabbing her in the throat. What
then is the method which she employs against the Segestria, always on the
alert, ready for defence, audacious to the point of aggression? Shall I
surprise the reader if I tell him that this problem filled me with the most
eager interest, that it held me for weeks in contemplation before that
cheerless wall? Nevertheless, my tale will be a short one.

On several occasions I see the Pompilus suddenly fling herself on one of
the Spider's legs, seize it with her mandibles and endeavour to draw the
animal from its tube. It is a sudden rush, a surprise attack, too quick to
permit the Spider to parry it. Fortunately, the latter's two hind-legs are
firmly hooked to the dwelling; and the Segestria escapes with a jerk, for
the other, having delivered her shock attack, hastens to release her hold;
if she persisted, the affair might end badly for her. Having failed in this
assault, the Wasp repeats the procedure at other funnels; she will even
return to the first when the alarm is somewhat assuaged. Still hopping and
fluttering, she prowls around the mouth, whence the Segestria watches her,
with her legs outspread. She waits for the propitious moment; she leaps
forward, seizes a leg, tugs at it and springs out of reach. More often than
not, the Spider holds fast; sometimes she is dragged out of the tube, to a
distance of a few inches, but immediately returns, no doubt with the aid of
her unbroken lifeline.

The Pompilus' intention is plain: she wants to eject the Spider from her
fortress and fling her some distance away. So much perseverance leads to
success. This time all goes well: with a vigorous and well-timed tug the
Wasp has pulled the Segestria out and at once lets her drop to the ground.
Bewildered by her fall and even more demoralized by being wrested from her
ambush, the Spider is no longer the bold adversary that she was. She draws
her legs together and cowers into a depression in the soil. The huntress is
there on the instant to operate on the evicted animal. I have barely time
to draw near to watch the tragedy when the victim is paralysed by a thrust
of the sting in the thorax.

Here at last, in all its Machiavellian cunning, is the shrewd method of the
Pompilus. She would be risking her life if she attacked the Segestria in
her home; the Wasp is so convinced of it that she takes good care not to
commit this imprudence; but she knows also that, once dislodged from her
dwelling, the Spider is as timid, as cowardly as she was bold at the centre
of her funnel. The whole point of her tactics, therefore, lies in
dislodging the creature. This done, the rest is nothing.

The Tarantula-huntress must behave in the same manner. Enlightened by her
kinswoman, Pompilus apicalis, my mind pictures her wandering stealthily
around the Lycosa's rampart. The Lycosa hurries up from the bottom of her
burrow, believing that a victim is approaching; she ascends her vertical
tube, spreading her fore-legs outside, ready to leap. But it is the Ringed
Pompilus who leaps, seizes a leg, tugs and hurls the Lycosa from her
burrow. The Spider is henceforth a craven victim, who will let herself be
stabbed without dreaming of employing her venomous fangs. Here craft
triumphs over strength; and this craft is not inferior to mine, when,
wishing to capture the Tarantula, I make her bite a spike of grass which I
dip into the burrow, lead her gently to the surface and then with a sudden
jerk throw her outside. For the entomologist as for the Pompilus, the
essential thing is to make the Spider leave her stronghold. After this
there is no difficulty in catching her, thanks to the utter bewilderment of
the evicted animal.

Two contrasting points impress me in the facts which I have just set forth:
the shrewdness of the Pompilus and the folly of the Spider. I will admit
that the Wasp may gradually have acquired, as being highly beneficial to
her posterity, the instinct by which she first of all so judiciously drags
the victim from its refuge, in order there to paralyse it without incurring
danger, provided that you will explain why the Segestria, possessing an
intellect no less gifted than that of the Pompilus, does not yet know how
to counteract the trick of which she has so long been the victim. What
would the Black Spider need to do to escape her exterminator? Practically
nothing: it would be enough for her to withdraw into her tube, instead of
coming up to post herself at the entrance, like a sentry, whenever the
enemy is in the neighbourhood. It is very brave of her, I agree, but also
very risky. The Pompilus will pounce upon one of the legs spread outside
the burrow for defence and attack; and the besieged Spider will perish,
betrayed by her own boldness. This posture is excellent when waiting for
prey. But the Wasp is not a quarry; she is an enemy and one of the most
dreaded of enemies. The Spider knows this. At the sight of the Wasp,
instead of placing herself fearlessly but foolishly on her threshold, why
does she not retreat into her fortress, where the other would not attack
her? The accumulated experience of generations should have taught her this
elementary tactical device, which is of the greatest value to the
prosperity of her race. If the Pompilus has perfected her method of attack,
why has not the Segestria perfected her method of defence? Is it possible
that centuries upon centuries should have modified the one to its advantage
without succeeding in modifying the other? Here I am utterly at a loss. And
I say to myself, in all simplicity: since the Pompili must have Spiders,
the former have possessed their patient cunning and the other their foolish
audacity from all time. This may be puerile, if you like to think it so,
and not in keeping with the transcendental aims of our fashionable
theorists; the argument contains neither the subjective nor the objective
point of view, neither adaptation nor differentiation, neither atavism nor
evolutionism. Very well, but at least I understand it.

Let us return to the habits of Pompilus apicalis. Without expecting results
of any particular interest, for in captivity the respective talents of the
huntress and the quarry seem to slumber, I place together, in a wide jar, a
Wasp and a Segestria. The Spider and her enemy mutually avoid each other,
both being equally timid. A judicious shake or two brings them into
contact. The Segestria, from time to time, catches hold of the Pompilus,
who gathers herself up as best she can, without attempting to use her
sting; the Spider rolls the insect between her legs and even between her
mandibles, but appears to dislike doing it. Once I see her lie on her back
and hold the Pompilus above her, as far away as possible, while turning her
over in her fore-legs and munching at her with her mandibles. The Wasp,
whether by her own adroitness or owing to the Spider's dread of her,
promptly escapes from the terrible fangs, moves to a short distance and
does not seem to trouble unduly about the buffeting which she has received.
She quietly polishes her wings and curls her antennae by pulling them while
standing on them with her fore-tarsi. The attack of the Segestria,
stimulated by my shakes, is repeated ten times over; and the Pompilus
always escapes from the venomous fangs unscathed, as though she were
invulnerable.

Is she really invulnerable? By no means, as we shall soon have proved to
us; if she retires safe and sound, it is because the Spider does not use
her fangs. What we see is a sort of truce, a tacit convention forbidding
deadly strokes, or rather the demoralization due to captivity; and the two
adversaries are no longer in a sufficiently warlike mood to make play with
their daggers. The tranquillity of the Pompilus, who keeps on jauntily
curling her antennae in face of the Segestria, reassures me as to my
prisoner's fate; for greater security, however, I throw her a scrap of
paper, in the folds of which she will find a refuge during the night. She
instals herself there, out of the Spider's reach. Next morning I find her
dead. During the night the Segestria, whose habits are nocturnal, has
recovered her daring and stabbed her enemy. I had my suspicions that the
parts played might be reversed! The butcher of yesterday is the victim of
to-day.

I replace the Pompilus by a Hive-bee. The interview is not protracted. Two
hours later, the Bee is dead, bitten by the Spider. A Drone-fly suffers the
same fate. The Segestria, however, does not touch either of the two
corpses, any more than she touched the corpse of the Pompilus. In these
murders the captive seems to have no other object than to rid herself of a
turbulent neighbour. When appetite awakes, perhaps the victims will be
turned to account. They were not; and the fault was mine. I placed in the
jar a Bumble-bee of average size. A day later the Spider was dead; the rude
sharer of her captivity had done the deed.

Let us say no more of these unequal duels in the glass prison and complete
the story of the Pompilus whom we left at the foot of the wall with the
paralysed Segestria. She abandons her prey on the ground and returns to the
wall. She visits the Spider's funnels one by one, walking on them as freely
as on the stones; she inspects the silken tubes, dipping her antennae into
them, sounding and exploring them; she enters without the least hesitation.
Whence does she now derive the temerity thus to enter the Segestria's
haunts? But a little while ago, she was displaying extreme caution; at this
moment, she seems heedless of danger. The fact is that there is no danger
really. The Wasp is inspecting uninhabited houses. When she dives down a
silken tunnel, she very well knows that there is no one in, for, had the
Segestria been there, she would by this time have appeared on the
threshold. The fact that the householder does not show herself at the first
vibration of the neighbouring threads is a certain proof that the tube is
vacant; and the Pompilus enters in full security. I would recommend future
observers not to take the present investigations for hunting-tactics. I
have already remarked and I repeat: the Pompilus never enters the silken
ambush while the Spider is there.

Among the funnels inspected one appears to suit her better than the others;
she returns to it frequently in the course of her investigations, which
last for nearly an hour. From time to time she hastens back to the Spider
lying on the ground; she examines her, tugs at her, drags her a little
closer to the wall, then leaves her the better to reconnoitre the tunnel
which is the object of her preference. Lastly she returns to the Segestria
and takes her by the tip of the abdomen. The quarry is so heavy that she
has great difficulty in moving it along the level ground. Two inches divide
it from the wall. She gets to the wall, not without effort; nevertheless,
once the wall is reached, the job is quickly done. We learn that Antaeus,
the son of Mother Earth, in his struggle with Hercules, received new
strength as often as his feet touched the ground; the Pompilus, the
daughter of the wall, seems to increase her powers tenfold once she has set
foot on the masonry.

For here is the Wasp hoisting her prey backwards, her enormous prey, which
dangles beneath her. She climbs now a vertical plane, now a slope,
according to the uneven surface of the stones. She crosses gaps where she
has to go belly uppermost, while the quarry swings to and fro in the air.
Nothing stops her; she keeps on climbing, to a height of six feet or more,
without selecting her path, without seeing her goal, since she goes
backwards. A lodge appears no doubt reconnoitred beforehand and reached,
despite the difficulties of an ascent which did not allow her to see it.
The Pompilus lays her prey on it. The silken tube which she inspected so
lovingly is only some eight inches distant. She goes to it, examines it
rapidly and returns to the Spider, whom she at length lowers down the tube.

Shortly afterwards I see her come out again. She searches here and there on
the wall for a few scraps of mortar, two or three fairly large pieces,
which she carries to the tube, to close it up. The task is done. She flies
away.

Next day I inspect this strange burrow. The Spider is at the bottom of the
silken tube, isolated on every side, as though in a hammock. The Wasp's egg
is glued not to the ventral surface of the victim but to the back, about
the middle, near the beginning of the abdomen. It is white, cylindrical and
about a twelfth of an inch long. The few bits of mortar which I saw carried
have but very roughly blocked the silken chamber at the end. Thus Pompilus
apicalis lays her quarry and her eggs not in a burrow of her own making,
but in the Spider's actual house. Perhaps the silken tube belongs to this
very victim, which in that event provides both board and lodging. What a
shelter for the larva of this Pompilus: the warm retreat and downy hammock
of the Segestria!

Here then, already, we have two Spider-huntresses, the Ringed Pompilus and
P. apicalis, who, unversed in the miner's craft, establish their offspring
inexpensively in accidental chinks in the walls, or even in the lair of the
Spider on whom the larva feeds. In these cells, acquired without exertion,
they build only an attempt at a wall with a few fragments of mortar. But we
must beware of generalizing about this expeditious method of establishment.
Other Pompili are true diggers, valiantly sinking a burrow in the soil, to
a depth of a couple of inches. These include the Eight-spotted Pompilus (P.
octopunctatus, PANZ.), with her black-and-yellow livery and her amber
wings, a little darker at the tips. For her game she chooses the Epeirae
(E. fasciata, E. sericea) (For the Garden-spiders known as the Banded
Epeira and the Silky Epeira cf. "The Life of the Spider": chapters 11, 13,
14 et passim.--Translator's Note.), those fat Spiders, magnificently
adorned, who lie in wait at the centre of their large, vertical webs. I am
not sufficiently acquainted with her habits to describe them; above all, I
know nothing of her hunting-tactics. But her dwelling is familiar to me: it
is a burrow, which I have seen her begin, complete and close according to
the customary method of the Digger-wasps.





Next: THE SCOLIAE




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