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THE RESIN-BEES




At the time when Fabricius (Johann Christian Fabricius (1745-1808), a
noted Danish entomologist, author of "Systema entomologiae" (1775).--
Translator's Note.) gave the genus Anthidium its name, a name still
used in our classifications, entomologists troubled very little about
the live animal; they worked on corpses, a dissecting-room method
which does not yet seem to be drawing to an end. They would examine
with a conscientious eye the antenna, the mandible, the wing, the
leg, without asking themselves what use the insect had made of those
organs in the exercise of its calling. The animal was classified very
nearly after the manner adopted in crystallography. Structure was
everything; life, with its highest prerogatives, intellect, instinct,
did not count, was not worthy of admission into the zoological
scheme.

It is true that an almost exclusively necrological study is
obligatory at first. To fill one's boxes with insects stuck on pins
is an operation within the reach of all; to watch those same insects
in their mode of life, their work, their habits and customs is quite
a different thing. The nomenclator who lacks the time--and sometimes
also the inclination--takes his magnifying-glass, analyzes the dead
body and names the worker without knowing its work. Hence the number
of appellations the least of whose faults is that they are unpleasant
to the ear, certain of them, indeed, being gross misnomers. Have we
not, for instance, seen the name of Lithurgus, or stone-worker, given
to a Bee who works in wood and nothing but wood? Such absurdities
will be inevitable until the animal's profession is sufficiently
familiar to lend its aid in the compiling of diagnoses. I trust that
the future will see this magnificent advance in entomological
science: men will reflect that the impaled specimens in our
collections once lived and followed a trade; and anatomy will be kept
in its proper place and made to leave due room for biology.

Fabricius did not commit himself with his expression Anthidium, which
alludes to the love of flowers, but neither did he mention anything
characteristic: as all Bees have the same passion in a very high
degree, I see no reason to treat the Anthidia as more zealous looters
than the others. If he had known their cotton nests, perhaps the
Scandinavian naturalist would have given them a more logical
denomination. As for me, in a language wherein technical parade is
out of place, I will call them the Cotton-bees.

The term requires some limiting. To judge by my finds, in fact, the
old genus Anthidium, that of the classifying entomologists, comprises
in my district two very different corporations. One is known to us
and works exclusively in wadding; the other, which we are about to
study, works in resin, without ever having recourse to cotton.
Faithful to my extremely simple principle of defining the worker, as
far as possible, by his work, I will call the members of this guild
the Resin-bees. Thus confining myself to the data supplied by my
observations, I divide the Anthidium group into equal sections, of
equal importance, for which I demand special generic titles; for it
is highly illogical to call the carders of wool and the kneaders of
resin by the same name. I surrender to those whom it concerns the
honour of effecting this reform in the orthodox fashion.

Good luck, the friend of the persevering, made me acquainted in
different parts of Vaucluse with four Resin-bees whose singular trade
no one had yet suspected. To-day, I find them all four again in my
own neighbourhood. They are the following: Anthidium septemdentatum,
LATR., A. bellicosum, LEP., A. quadrilobum, LEP., and A. Latreillii,
LEP. The first two make their nests in deserted Snail-shells; the
other two shelter their groups of cells sometimes in the ground,
sometimes under a large stone. We will first discuss the inhabitants
of the Snail-shell. I made a brief reference to them in an earlier
chapter, when speaking of the distribution of the sexes. This mere
allusion, suggested by a study of a different kind, must now be
amplified. I return to it with fuller particulars.

The stone-heaps in the Roman quarries near Serignan, which I have so
often visited in search of the nests of the Osmia who takes up her
abode in Snail-shells, supply me also with the two Resin-bees
installed in similar quarters. When the Field-mouse has left behind
him a rich collection of empty shells scattered all round his hay
mattress under the slab, there is always a hope of finding some
Snail-shells plugged with mud and, here and there, mixed with them, a
few Snail-shells closed with resin. The two Bees work next door to
each other, one using clay, the other gum. The excellence of the
locality is responsible for this frequent cohabitation, shelter being
provided by the broken stone from the quarry and lodgings by the
shells which the Mouse has left behind.

At places where dead Snail-shells are few and far between, as in the
crevices of rustic walls, each Bee occupies by herself the shells
which she has found. But here, in the quarries, our crop will
certainly be a double or even a treble one, for both Resin-bees
frequent the same heaps. Let us, therefore, lift the stones and dig
into the mound until the excessive dampness of the subsoil tells us
that it is useless to look lower down. Sometimes at the moment of
removing the first layer, sometimes at a depth of eighteen inches, we
shall find the Osmia's Snail-shell and, much more rarely, the Resin-
bee's. Above all, patience! The job is none of the most fruitful;
nor is it exactly an agreeable one. By dint of turning over
uncommonly jagged stones, our fingertips get hurt, lose their skin
and become as smooth as though we had held them on a grindstone.
After a whole afternoon of this work, our back will be aching, our
fingers will be itching and smarting and we shall possess a dozen
Osmia-nests and perhaps two or three Resin-bees' nests. Let us be
content with that.

The Osmia's shells can be recognized at once, as being closed at the
orifice with a clay cover. The Anthidium's call for a special
examination, without which we should run a great risk of filling our
pockets with cumbersome rubbish. We find a dead Snail-shell among the
stones. Is it inhabited by the Resin-bee or not? The outside tells us
nothing. The Anthidium's work comes at the bottom of the spiral, a
long way from the mouth; and, though this is wide open, the eye
cannot travel far enough along the winding stair. I hold up the
doubtful shell to the light. If it is completely transparent, I know
that it is empty and I put it back to serve for future nests. If the
second whorl is opaque, the spiral contains something. What does it
contain? Earth washed in by the rain? Remnants of the putrefied
Snail? That remains to be seen. With a little pocket-trowel, the
inquisitorial implement which always accompanies me, I make a wide
window in the middle of the final whorl. If I see a gleaming resin
floor, with incrustations of gravel, the thing is settled: I possess
an Anthidium's nest. But, oh the number of failures that go to one
success! The number of windows vainly opened in shells whose bottom
is stuffed with clay or with noisome corpses! Thus picking shells
among the overturned stone-heaps, inspecting them in the sun,
breaking into them with the trowel and nearly always rejecting them,
I manage, after repeated attempts, to obtain my materials for this
chapter.

The first to hatch is the Seven-pronged Resin-bee (Anthidium
septemdentatum). We see her, in the month of April, lumbering along
to the rubbish-heaps in the quarries and the low boundary-walls, in
search of her Snail-shell. She is a contemporary of the Three-horned
Osmia, who begins operations in the last week of April, and often
occupies the same stone-heap, settling in the next shell. She is
well-advised to start work early and to be on neighbourly terms with
the Osmia when the latter is building; in fact, we shall soon see the
terrible dangers to which that same proximity exposes her dilatory
rival in resin-work, Anthidium bellicosum.

The shell adopted in the great majority of cases is that of the
Common Snail, Helix aspersa. It is sometimes of full size, sometimes
half-developed. Helix nemoralis and H. caespitum, which are much
smaller, also supply suitable lodgings; and this would as surely
apply to any shell of sufficient capacity, if the places which I
explore possessed others, as witness a nest which my son Emile has
sent me from somewhere near Marseilles. This time, the Resin-bee is
settled in Helix algira, the most remarkable of our land-shells
because of the width and regularity of its spiral, which is copied
from that of the Ammonites. This magnificent nest, a perfect specimen
of both the Snail's work and the Bee's, deserves description before
any other.

For a distance of three centimetres (1.17 inches.--Translator's
Note.) from the mouth, the last spiral whorl contains nothing. At
this inconsiderable depth, a partition is clearly seen. The moderate
diameter of the passage accounts for the Anthidium's choice of this
site to which our eye can penetrate. In the common Snail-shell, whose
cavity widens rapidly, the insect establishes itself much farther
back, so that, in order to see the terminal partition, we must, as I
have said, make a lateral inlet. The position of this boundary-
ceiling, which may come farther forward or farther back, depends on
the variable diameter of the passage. The cells of the cocoons
require a certain length and a certain breadth, which the mother
finds by going higher up or lower down in the spiral, according to
the shape of the shell. When the diameter is suitable, the last whorl
is occupied up to the orifice, where the final lid appears,
absolutely exposed to view. This is the case with the adult Helix
nemoralis and H. caespitum, and also with the young Common Snail. We
will not linger at present over this peculiarity, the importance of
which will become manifest shortly.

Whether in the front or at the back of the spiral slope, the insect's
work ends in a facade of coarse mosaic, formed of small, angular bits
of gravel, firmly cemented with a gum the nature of which has to be
ascertained. It is an amber-coloured material, semi-transparent,
brittle, soluble in spirits of wine and burning with a sooty flame
and a strong smell of resin. From these characteristics it is evident
that the Bee prepares her gum with the resinous drops exuded by the
Coniferae.

I think that I am even able to name the particular plant, though I
have never caught the insect in the act of gathering its materials.
Hard by the stone-heaps which I turn over for my collections there is
a plentiful supply of brown-berried junipers. Pines are totally
absent; and the cypress only appears occasionally near the houses.
Moreover, among the vegetable remains which we shall see assisting in
the protection of the nest, we often find the juniper's catkins and
needles. As the resin-insect is economical of its time and does not
fly far from the quarters familiar to it, the gum must have been
collected on the shrub at whose foot the materials for the barricade
have been gathered. Nor is this merely a local circumstance, for the
Marseilles nest abounds in similar remnants. I therefore regard the
juniper as the regular resin-purveyor, without, however, excluding
the pine, the cypress and other Coniferae when the favourite shrub is
absent.

The bits of gravel in the lid are angular and chalky in the
Marseilles nest; they are round and flinty in most of the Serignan
nests. In making her mosaic, the worker pays no heed to the form or
colour of its component parts; she collects indiscriminately anything
that is hard enough and not too large. Sometimes she lights upon
treasures that give her work a more original character. The
Marseilles nest shows me, neatly encrusted amid the bits of gravel, a
tiny whole landshell, Pupa cineres. A nest in my own neighbourhood
provides me with a pretty Snail-shell, Helix striata, forming a rose-
pattern in the middle of the mosaic. These little artistic details
remind me of a certain nest of Eumenes Amadei (A Mason-wasp, forming
the subject of an essay which has not yet been published in English.-
-Translator's Note.) which abounds in small shells. Ornamental shell-
work appears to number its lovers among the insects.

After the lid of resin and gravel, an entire whorl of the spiral is
occupied by a barricade of incongruous remnants, similar to that
which, in the reeds, protects the row of cocoons of the Manicate
Cotton-bee. It is curious to see exactly the same defensive methods
employed by two builders of such different talents, one of whom
handles flock, the other gum. The nest from Marseilles has for its
barricade bits of chalky gravel, particles of earth, fragments of
sticks, a few scraps of moss and especially juniper-catkins and
needles. The Serignan nests, installed in Helix aspersa, have almost
the same protective materials. I see bits of gravel, the size of a
lentil, and the catkins and needles of the brown-berried juniper
predominating. Next come the dry excretions of the Snail and a few
rare little land-shells. A similar jumble of more or less everything
found near the nest forms, as we know, the barricade of the Manicate
Cotton-bee, who is also an adept at using the Snail's stercoral
droppings after these have been dried in the sun. Let us observe
finally that these dissimilar materials are heaped together without
any cementing, just as the insect has picked them up. Resin plays no
part in the mass; and we have only to pierce the lid and turn the
shell upside down for the barricade to come dribbling to the ground.
To glue the whole thing together does not enter into the Resin-bee's
scheme. Perhaps such an expenditure of gum is beyond her means;
perhaps the barricade, if hardened into a solid block, would
afterwards form an invincible obstacle to the escape of the
youngsters; perhaps again the mass of gravel is an accessory rampart,
run up roughly as a work of secondary importance.

Amid these doubtful matters, I see at least that the insect does not
look upon its barricade as indispensable. It employs it regularly in
the large shells, whose last whorl, too spacious to be used, forms an
unoccupied vestibule; it neglects it in the moderate shells, such as
Helix nemoralis, in which the resin lid is level with the orifice. My
excavations in the stone-heaps supply me with an almost equal number
of nests with and without defensive embankments. Among the Cotton-
bees, the Manicate Anthidium is not faithful either to her fort of
little sticks and stones; I know some of her nests in which cotton
serves every purpose. With both of them, the gravel rampart seems
useful only in certain circumstances, which I am unable to specify.

On the other side of the outworks of the fortification, the lid and
barricade, are the cells set more or less far down in the spiral,
according to the diameter of the shell. They are bounded back and
front by partitions of pure resin, without any encrustations of
mineral particles. Their number is exceedingly restricted and is
usually limited to two. The front room, which is larger because the
width of the passage goes on increasing, is the abode of a male,
superior in size to the other sex; the less spacious back room
contains a female. I have already drawn attention in an earlier
chapter to the wonderful problem submitted for our consideration by
this breaking up of the laying into couples and this alternation of
the males and females. Without calling for other work than the
transverse partitions, the broadening stairway of the Snail-shell
thus furnishes both sexes with house-room suited to their size.

The second Resin-bee that inhabits shells, Anthidium bellicosum,
hatches in July and works during the fierce heat of August. Her
architecture differs in no wise from that of her kinswoman of the
springtime, so much so that, when we find a tenanted Snail-shell in a
hole in the wall or under the stones, it is impossible to decide to
which of the two species the nest belongs. The only way to obtain
exact information is to break the shell and split the cocoons in
February, at which time the nests of the summer Resin-bee are
occupied by larvae and those of the spring Resin-bee by the perfect
insect. If we shrink from this brutal method, we are still in doubt
until the cocoons open, so great is the resemblance between the two
pieces of work.

In both cases, we find the same lodging, Snail-shells of every size
and every kind, just as they happen to come; the same resin lid, the
inside gritty with tiny bits of stone, the outside almost smooth and
sometimes ornamented with little shells; the same barricade--not
always present--of various kinds of rubbish; the same division into
two rooms of unequal size occupied by the two sexes. Everything is
identical, down to the purveyor of the gum, the brown-berried
juniper. To say more about the nest of the summer Resin-bee would be
to repeat oneself.

There is only one thing that requires further investigation. I do not
see the reason that prompts the two insects to leave the greater part
of their shell empty in front, instead of occupying it entirely up to
the orifice as the Osmia habitually does. As the mother's laying is
broken up into intermittent shifts of a couple of eggs apiece, is it
necessary that there should be a new home for each shift? Is the
half-fluid resin unsuitable for the wide-spanned roofs which would
have to be constructed when the diameter of the helical passage
exceeded certain limits? Is the gathering of the cement too wearisome
a task to leave the Bee any strength for making the numerous
partitions which she would need if she utilized the spacious final
whorl? I find no answer to these questions. I note the fact without
interpreting it: when the shell is a large one, the front part,
almost the whole of the last whorl, remains an empty vestibule.

To the spring Resin-bee, Anthidium septemdentatum, this less than
half occupied lodging presents no drawbacks. A contemporary of the
Osmia, often her neighbour under the same stone, the gum-worker
builds her nest at the same period as the mud-worker; but there is no
fear of mutual encroachments, for the two Bees, working next door to
each other, watch their respective properties with a jealous eye. If
attempts at usurpation were to be made, the owner of the Snail-shell
would know how to enforce her rights as the first occupant.

For the summer Resin-bee, A. bellicosum, the conditions are very
different. At the moment when the Osmia is building, she is still in
the larval, or at most in the nymphal stage. Her abode, which would
not be more absolutely silent if deserted, her shell, with its vast
untenanted porch, will not tempt the earlier Resin-bee, who herself
wants apartments right at the far end of the spiral, but it might
suit the Osmia, who knows how to fill the shell with cells up to the
mouth. The last whorl left vacant by the Anthidium is a magnificent
lodging which nothing prevents the mason from occupying. The Osmia
does seize upon it, in fact, and does so too often for the welfare of
the unfortunate late-comer. The final resin lid takes the place, for
the Osmia, of the mud stopper with which she cuts off at the back the
portion of the spiral too narrow for her labours. Upon this lid she
builds her mass of cells in so many storeys, after which she covers
the whole with a thick defensive plug. In short, the work is
conducted as though the Snail-shell contained nothing.

When July arrives, this doubly-tenanted house becomes the scene of a
tragic conflict. Those below, on attaining the adult state, burst
their swaddling-bands, demolish their resin partitions, pass through
the gravel barricade and try to release themselves; those above,
larvae still or budding pupae, prisoners in their shells until the
following spring, completely block the way. To force a passage from
the far-end of those catacombs is beyond the strength of the Resin-
bee, already weakened by the effort of breaking out of her own nest.
A few of the Osmia's partitions are damaged, a few cocoons receive
slight injuries; and then, worn out with vain struggles, the captives
abandon hope and perish behind the impregnable wall of earth. And
with them perish also certain parasites, even less fit for the
prodigious work of clearance: Zonites and Chryses (Chrysis flammea),
of whom the first are consumers of provisions and the second of
grubs.

This lamentable ending of the Resin-bee, buried alive under the
Osmia's walls, is not a rare accident to be passed over in silence or
mentioned in a few words; on the contrary, it happens very often; and
its frequency suggests this thought: the school which sees in
instinct an acquired habit treats the slightest favourable occurrence
in the course of animal industry as the starting-point of an
improvement which, transmitted by heredity and becoming in time more
and more accentuated, at last grows into a settled characteristic
common to the whole race. There is, it is true, a total absence of
positive proofs in support of this theory; but it is stated with a
wealth of hypothesis that leaves a thousand loopholes: 'Granting
that...Supposing that...It may be...nothing need prevent us from
believing... It is quite possible...' Thus argued the master; and the
disciples have not yet hit upon anything better.

'If the sky were to fall,' said Rabelais, 'the larks would all be
caught.'

Yes, but the sky stays up; and the larks go on flying.

'If things happened in such and such a way,' says our friend,
'instinct may have undergone variations and modifications.'

Yes, but are you quite sure that things happened as you say?

I banish the word 'if' from my vocabulary. I suppose nothing, I take
nothing for granted; I pluck the brutal fact, the only thing that can
be trusted; I record it and then ask myself what conclusion rests
upon its solid framework. From the fact which I have related we may
draw the following inference:

'You say that any modification profitable to the animal is
transmitted throughout a series of favoured ones who, better equipped
with tools, better endowed with aptitudes, abandon the ancient usages
and replace the primitive species, the victim of the struggle for
life. You declare that once, in the dim distance of the ages, a Bee
found herself by accident in possession of a dead Snail-shell. The
safe and peaceful lodging pleased her fancy. On and on went the
hereditary liking; and the Snail-shell proved more and more agreeable
to the insect's descendants, who began to look for it under the
stones, so that later generations, with the aid of habit, ended by
adopting it as the ancestral dwelling. Again by accident, the Bee
happened upon a drop of resin. It was soft, plastic, well-suited for
the partitioning of the Snail-shell; it soon hardened into a solid
ceiling. The Bee tried the resinous gum and benefited by it. Her
successors also benefited by it, especially after improving it.
Little by little, the rubble-work of the lid and of the gravel
barricade was invented: an enormous improvement, of which the race
did not fail to take advantage. The defensive fortification was the
finishing-touch to the original structure. Here we have the origin
and development of the instinct of the Resin-bees who make their home
in Snail-shells.'

This glorious genesis of insect ways and means lacks just one little
thing: probability. Life everywhere, even among the humble, has two
phases: its share of good and its share of evil. Avoiding the latter
and seeking the former is the rough balance-sheet of life's actions.
Animals, like ourselves, have their portion of the sweet and the
bitter: they are just as anxious to reduce the second as to increase
the first; for, with them as with us,

De malheurs evites le bonheur se compose.
(Bad luck missed is good luck gained.)

If the Bee has so faithfully handed down her casual invention of a
resin nest built inside a Snail-shell, then there is no denying that
she must have just as faithfully handed down the means of averting
the terrible danger of belated hatchings. A few mothers, escaping at
rare intervals from the catacombs blocked by the Osmiae, must have
retained a lively memory, a powerful impression of their desperate
struggle through the mass of earth; they must have inspired their
descendants with a dread of those vast dwellings where the stranger
comes afterwards and builds; they must have taught them by habit the
means of safety, the use of the medium-sized shell, which the nest
fills to the mouth. So far as the prosperity of the race was
concerned, the discontinuance of the system of empty vestibules was
far more important than the invention of the barricade, which is not
altogether indispensable: it would have saved them from perishing
miserably, behind impenetrable walls, and would have considerably
increased the numbers of their posterity.

Thousands and thousands of experiments have been made throughout the
ages with Snail-shells of average dimensions: the thing is certain,
because I find many of them to-day. Well, have these life-saving
experiments, with their immense importance to the race, become
general by hereditary bequest? Not at all: the Resin-bee persists in
using big Snail-shells just as though her ancestors had never known
the danger of the Osmia-blocked vestibule. Once these facts are duly
recognized, the conclusion is irresistible: it is obvious that, as
the insect does not hand down the casual modification tending towards
the avoidance of what is to its disadvantage, neither does it hand
down the modification leading to the adoption of what is to its
advantage. However lively the impression made upon the mother, the
accidental leaves no trace in the offspring. Chance plays no part in
the genesis of the instincts.

Next to these tenants of the Snail-shells we have two other Resin-
bees who never come to the shells for a cabin for their nests. They
are Anthidium quadrilobum, LEP., and A. Latreillii, LEP., both
exceedingly uncommon in my district. If we meet them very rarely,
however, this may well be due to the difficulty of seeing them; for
they lead extremely solitary and wary lives. A warm nook under some
stone or other; the deserted streets of an Ant-hill in a sun-baked
bank; a Beetle's vacant burrow a few inches below the ground; in
short, a cavity of some sort, perhaps arranged by the Bee's own care:
these are the only establishments which I know them to occupy. And
here, with no other shelter than the cover of the refuge, they build
a mass of cells joined together and grouped into a sphere, which, in
the case of the Four-lobed Resin-bee, attains the size of a man's
fist and, in that of Latreille's Resin-bee, the size of a small
apple.

At first sight, we remain very uncertain as to the nature of the
strange ball. It is brown, rather hard, slightly sticky, with a
bituminous smell. Outside are encrusted a few bits of gravel,
particles of earth, heads of large-sized Ants. This cannibal trophy
is not a sign of barbarous customs: the Bee does not decapitate Ants
to adorn her hut. An inlayer, like her colleagues of the Snail-shell,
she gathers any hard granule near at hand capable of strengthening
her work; and the dried skulls of Ants, which are frequent around
about her abode, are in her eyes building-stones of equal value to
the pebbles. One and all employ whatever they can find without much
seeking. The inhabitant of the shell, in order to construct her
barricade, makes shift with the dry excrement of the nearest Snail;
the denizen of the flat stones and of the roadside banks frequented
by the Ants does what she can with the heads of the defunct and,
should these be lacking, is ready to replace them with something
else. Moreover, the defensive inlaying is slight; we see that the
insect attaches no great importance to it and has every confidence in
the stout wall of the home.

The material of which the work is made at first suggests some rustic
wax, much coarser than that of the Bumble-bees, or rather some tar of
unknown origin. We think again and then recognize in the puzzling
substance the semitransparent fracture, the quality of becoming soft
when exposed to heat and of burning with a smoky flame, the
solubility in spirits of wine--in short, all the distinguishing
characteristics of resin. Here then are two more collectors of the
exudations of the Coniferae. At the points where I find their nests
are Aleppo pines, cypresses, brown-berried junipers and common
junipers. Which of the four supplies the mastic? There is nothing to
tell us. Nor is there anything to explain how the native amber-colour
of the resin is replaced in the work of both Bees by a dark-brown hue
resembling that of pitch. Does the insect collect resin impaired by
the weather, soiled by the sanies of rotten wood? When kneading it,
does it mix some dark ingredient with it? I look upon this as
possible, but not as proved, since I have never seen the Bee
collecting her resin.

While this point escapes me, another of higher interest appears most
plainly; and that is the large amount of resinous material used in a
single nest, especially in that of Anthidium quadrilobum, in which I
have counted as many as twelve cells. The nest of the Mason-bee of
the Pebbles is hardly more massive. For so costly an establishment,
therefore, the Resin-bee collects her pitch on the dead pine as
copiously as the Mason-bee collects her mortar on the macadamized
road. Her workshop no longer shows us the niggardly partitioning of a
Snail-shell with two or three drops of resin; what we see is the
whole building of the house, from the basement to the roof, from the
thick outer walls to the partitions of the rooms. The cement expended
would be enough to divide hundreds of Snail-shells, wherefore the
title of Resin-bee is due first and foremost to this master-builder
in pitch. Honourable mention should be awarded to A. Latreillii, who
rivals her fellow-worker as far as her smaller stature permits. The
other manipulators of resin, those who build partitions in Snail-
shells, come third, a very long way behind.

And now, with the facts to support us, let us philosophize a little.
We have here, recognized as of excellent standard by all the expert
classifiers, so fastidious in the arrangement of their lists, a
generic group, called Anthidium, containing two guilds of workers
entirely dissimilar in character: the cotton-fullers and the resin-
kneaders. It is even possible that other species, when their habits
are better known, will come and increase this variety of
manufactures. I confine myself to the little that I know and ask
myself in what the manipulator of cotton differs from the manipulator
of resin as regards tools, that is to say, organs. Certainly, when
the genus Anthidium was set down by the classifiers, they were not
wanting in scientific precision: they consulted, under the lens of
the microscope, the wings, the mandibles, the legs, the harvesting-
brush, in short, all the details calculated to assist the proper
delimitation of the group. After this minute examination by the
experts, if no organic differences stand revealed, the reason is that
they do not exist. Any dissimilarity of structure could not escape
the accurate eyes of our learned taxonomists. The genus, therefore,
is indeed organically homogeneous; but industrially it is thoroughly
heterogeneous. The implements are the same and the work is different.

That eminent Bordeaux entomologist, Professor Jean Perez, to whom I
communicated the misgivings aroused in my mind by the contradictory
nature of my discoveries, thinks that he has found the solution of
the difficulty in the conformation of the mandibles. I extract the
following passage from his volume, "Les Abeilles":

'The cotton-pressing females have the edge of their mandibles cut out
into five or six little teeth, which make an instrument admirably
suited for scraping and removing the hairs from the epidermis of the
plants. It is a sort of comb or teasel. The resin-kneading females
have the edge of the mandible not toothed, but simply curved; the tip
alone, preceded by a notch which is pretty clearly marked in some
species, forms a real tooth; but this tooth is blunt and does not
project. The mandible, in short, is a kind of spoon perfectly fitted
to remove the sticky matter and to shape it into a ball.'

Nothing better could be said to explain the two sorts of industry: in
the one case, a rake which gathers the wool; in the other, a spoon
which scoops up the resin. I should have left it at that and felt
quite content without further investigation, if I had not had the
curiosity to open my boxes and, in my turn, to take a good look, side
by side, at the workers in cement and the workers in cotton. Allow
me, my learned master, to whisper in your ear what I saw.

The first that I examine is Anthidium septemdentatum. A spoon: yes,
it is just that. Powerful mandibles, shaped like an isosceles
triangle, flat above, hollowed out below; and no indentations, none
whatsoever. A splendid tool, as you say, for gathering the viscous
pellet; quite as efficacious in its kind of work as is the rake of
the toothed mandibles for gathering cotton. Here certainly is a
creature potently-gifted, even though it be for a poor little task,
the scooping up of two or three drops of glue.

Things are not quite so satisfactory with the second Resin-bee of the
Snail-shells, A. bellicosum. I find that she has three teeth to her
mandibles. Still, they are slight and project very little. Let us say
that this does not count, even though the work is exactly the same.
With A. quadrilobum the whole thing breaks down. She, the queen of
Resin-bees; she, who collects a lump of mastic the size of one's
fist, enough to subdivide hundreds of her kinswomen's Snail-shells:
well, she, by way of a spoon, carries a rake! On the wide edges of
her mandibles stand four teeth, as long and pointed as those of the
most zealous cotton-gleaner. A. florentinum, that mighty manufacturer
of cotton-goods, can hardly rival her in respect of combing-tools.
And nevertheless, with her toothed implement, a sort of saw, the
Resin-bee collects her great heap of pitch, load by load; and the
material is carried not rigid, but sticky, half-fluid, so that it may
amalgamate with the previous lots and be fashioned into cells.

A. Latreillii, without having a very large implement, also bears
witness to the possibility of heaping up soft resin with a rake; she
arms her mandibles with three or four sharply-cut teeth. In short,
out of four Resin-bees, the only four that I know, one is armed with
a spoon, if this expression be really suited to the tool's function;
the three others are armed with a rake; and it so happens that the
most copious heap of resin is just the work of the rake with the most
teeth to it, a tool suited to the cotton-reapers, according to the
views of the Bordeaux entomological expert.

No, the explanation that appealed to me so much at first is not
admissible. The mandible, whether supplied with teeth or not, does
not account at all for the two manufactures. May we, in this
predicament, have recourse to the general structure of the insect,
although this is not distinctive enough to be of much use to us? Not
so either; for, in the same stone-heaps where the Osmia and the two
Resin-bees of the Snail-shells work, I find from time to time another
manipulator of mastic who bears no structural relationship whatever
to the genus Anthidium. It is a small-sized Mason-wasp, Odynerus
alpestris, SAUSS. She builds a very pretty nest with resin and gravel
in the shells of the young Common Snail, of Helix nemoralis and
sometimes of Bulimulus radiatus. I will describe her masterpiece on
some other occasion. To one acquainted with the genus Odynerus, any
comparison with the Anthidia would be an inexcusable error. In larval
diet, in shape, in habits, they form two dissimilar groups, very far
removed one from the other. The Anthidia feed their offspring on
honey-bread; the Odyneri feed it on live prey. Well, with her slender
form, her weakly frame, in which the most clear-seeing eye would seek
in vain for a clue to the trade practised, the Alpine Odynerus, the
game-lover, uses pitch in the same way as the stout and massive
Resin-bee, the honey-lover. She even uses it better, for her mosaic
of tiny pebbles is much prettier than the Bee's and no less solid.
With her mandibles, this time neither spoon nor rake, but rather a
long forceps slightly notched at the tip, she gathers her drop of
sticky matter as dexterously as do her rivals with their very
different outfit. Her case will, I think, persuade us that neither
the shape of the tool nor the shape of the worker can explain the
work done.

I will go further: I ask myself in vain the reason of this or that
trade in the case of a fixed species. The Osmiae make their
partitions with mud or with a paste of chewed leaves; the Mason-bees
build with cement; the Pelopaeus-wasps fashion clay pots; the
Megachiles made disks cut from leaves into urns; the Anthidia felt
cotton into purses; the Resin-bees cement together little bits of
gravel with gum; the Carpenter-bees and the Lithurgi bore holes in
timber; the Anthophorae tunnel the roadside slopes. Why all these
different trades, to say nothing of the others? How are they
prescribed for the insect, this one rather than that?

I foresee the answer: they are prescribed by the organization. An
insect excellently equipped for gathering and felting cotton is ill-
equipped for cutting leaves, kneading mud or mixing resin. The tool
in its possession decides its trade.

This is a very simple explanation, I admit, and one within the scope
of everybody: in itself a sufficient recommendation for any one who
has neither the inclination nor the time to undertake a more thorough
investigation. The popularity of certain speculative views is due
entirely to the easy food which they provide for our curiosity. They
save us much long and often irksome study; they impart a veneer of
general knowledge. There is nothing that achieves such immediate
success as an explanation of the riddle of the universe in a word or
two. The thinker does not travel so fast: content to know little so
that he may know something, he limits his field of search and is
satisfied with a scanty harvest, provided that the grain be of good
quality. Before agreeing that the tool determines the trade, he wants
to see things with his own eyes; and what he observes is far from
confirming the sweeping statement. Let us share his doubts for a
moment and look into matters more closely.

Franklin left us a maxim which is much to the point here. He said
that a good workman should be able to plane with a saw and to saw
with a plane. The insect is too good a workman not to follow the
advice of the sage of Boston. Its industry abounds in instances where
the plane takes the place of the saw, or the saw of the plane; its
dexterity makes good the inadequacy of the implement. To go no
further, have we not just seen different artisans collecting and
using pitch, some with spoons, others with rakes, others again with
pincers? Therefore, with such equipment as it possesses, the insect
would be capable of abandoning cotton for leaves, leaves for resin,
resin for mortar, if some predisposition of talent did not make it
keep to its speciality.

These few lines, which are the outcome not of a heedless pen but of
mature reflection, will set people talking of hateful paradoxes. We
will let them talk and we will submit the following proposition to
our adversaries: take an entomologist of the highest merit, a
Latreille (Pierre Andre Latreille (1762-1833), one of the founders of
modern entomological science.--Translator's Note.), for instance,
versed in all the details of the structure of insects but utterly
unacquainted with their habits. He knows the dead insect better than
anybody, but he has never occupied himself with the living insect. As
a classifier, he is beyond compare; and that is all. We ask him to
examine a Bee, the first that comes to hand, and to name her trade
from her tools.

Come, be honest: could he? Who would dare put him to such a test? Has
personal experience not fully convinced us that the mere examination
of the insect can tell us nothing about its particular industry? The
baskets on its legs and the brush on its abdomen will certainly
inform us that it collects honey and pollen; but its special art will
remain an utter secret, notwithstanding all the scrutiny of the
microscope. In our own industries, the plane denotes the joiner, the
trowel the mason, the scissors the tailor, the needle the seamstress.
Are things the same in animal industry? Just show us, if you please,
the trowel that is a certain sign of the mason-insect, the chisel
that is a positive characteristic of the carpenter-insect, the iron
that is an authentic mark of the pinking-insect; and as you show
them, say:

'This one cuts leaves; that one bores wood; that other mixes cement.'

And so on, specifying the trade from the tool.

You cannot do it, no one can; the worker's speciality remains an
impenetrable secret until direct observation intervenes. Does not
this incapacity, even of the most expert, proclaim loudly that animal
industry, in its infinite variety, is due to other causes besides the
possession of tools? Certainly, each of those specialists requires
implements; but they are rough and ready implements, good for all
sorts of purposes, like the tool of Franklin's workman. The same
notched mandible that reaps cotton, cuts leaves and moulds pitch also
kneads mud, scrapes decayed wood and mixes mortar; the same tarsus
that manufactures cotton and disks cut out of leaves is no less
clever at the art of making earthen partitions, clay turrets and
gravel mosaics.

What then is the reason of these thousand industries? In the light of
facts, I can see but one: imagination governing matter. A primordial
inspiration, a talent antecedent to the actual form, directs the tool
instead of being subordinate to it. The instrument does not determine
the manner of industry; the tool does not make the workman. At the
beginning there is an object, a plan, in view of which the animal
acts, unconsciously. Have we eyes to see with, or do we see because
we have eyes? Does the function create the organ, or the organ the
function? Of the two alternatives, the insect proclaims the first. It
says:

'My industry is not imposed upon me by the implement which I possess;
what I do is to use the implement, such as it is, for the talent with
which I am gifted.'

It says to us, in its own way:

'The function has determined the organ; vision is the reason of the
eye.'

In short, it repeats to us Virgil's profound reflection:

'Mens agitat molem'; 'Mind moves matter.'





Next: THE POISON OF THE BEE

Previous: THE COTTON-BEES



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