THE GOLDEN GARDENER - COURTSHIP





It is generally recognized that the Carabus auratus is an active

exterminator of caterpillars; on this account in particular it deserves

its title of Gardener Beetle; it is the vigilant policeman of our

kitchen-gardens, our flower-beds and herbaceous borders. If my inquiries

add nothing to its established reputation in this respect, they will

nevertheless, in the following pages, show the insect in a light as yet

unsuspected. The ferocious beast of prey, the ogre who devours all

creatures that are not too strong for him, is himself killed and eaten:

by his fellows, and by many others.



Standing one day in the shadow of the plane-trees that grow before my

door, I see a Golden Gardener go by as if on pressing business. The

pilgrim is well met; he will go to swell the contents of my vivarium. In

capturing him I notice that the extremities of the wing-covers are

slightly damaged. Is this the result of a struggle between rivals? There

is nothing to tell me. The essential thing is that the insect should not

be handicapped by any serious injury. Inspected, and found to be without

any serious wound and fit for service, it is introduced into the glass

dwelling of its twenty-five future companions.



Next day I look for the new inmate. It is dead. Its comrades have

attacked it during the night and have cleaned out its abdomen,

insufficiently protected by the damaged wing-covers. The operation has

been performed very cleanly, without any dismemberment. Claws, head,

corselet, all are correctly in place; the abdomen only has a gaping

wound through which its contents have been removed. What remains is a

kind of golden shell, formed of the two conjoined elytra. The shell of

an oyster emptied of its inmate is not more empty.



This result astonishes me, for I have taken good care that the cage

should never be long without food. The snail, the pine-cockchafer, the

Praying Mantis, the lob-worm, the caterpillar, and other favourite

insects, have all been given in alternation and in sufficient

quantities. In devouring a brother whose damaged armour lent itself to

any easy attack my beetles had not the excuse of hunger.



Is it their custom to kill the wounded and to eviscerate such of their

fellows as suffer damage? Pity is unknown among insects. At the sight of

the desperate struggles of a crippled fellow-creature none of the same

family will cry a halt, none will attempt to come to its aid. Among the

carnivorous insects the matter may develop to a tragic termination. With

them, the passers-by will often run to the cripple. But do they do so in

order to help it? By no means: merely to taste its flesh, and, if they

find it agreeable, to perform the most radical cure of its ills by

devouring it.



It is possible, therefore, that the Gardener with the injured

wing-covers had tempted his fellows by the sight of his imperfectly

covered back. They saw in their defenceless comrade a permissible

subject for dissection. But do they respect one another when there is no

previous wound? At first there was every appearance that their relations

were perfectly pacific. During their sanguinary meals there is never a

scuffle between the feasters; nothing but mere mouth-to-mouth thefts.

There are no quarrels during the long siestas in the shelter of the

board. Half buried in the cool earth, my twenty-five subjects slumber

and digest their food in peace; they lie sociably near one another, each

in his little trench. If I raise the plank they awake and are off,

running hither and thither, constantly encountering one another without

hostilities.



The profoundest peace is reigning, and to all appearances will last for

ever, when in the early days of June I find a dead Gardener. Its limbs

are intact; it is reduced to the condition of a mere golden husk; like

the defenceless beetle I have already spoken of, it is as empty as an

oyster-shell. Let us examine the remains. All is intact, save the huge

breach in the abdomen. So the insect was sound and unhurt when the

others attacked it.



A few days pass, and another Gardener is killed and dealt with as

before, with no disorder in the component pieces of its armour. Let us

place the dead insect on its belly; it is to all appearances untouched.

Place it on its back; it is hollow, and has no trace of flesh left

beneath its carapace. A little later, and I find another empty relic;

then another, and yet another, until the population of my menagerie is

rapidly shrinking. If this insensate massacre continues I shall soon

find my cage depopulated.



Are my beetles hoary with age? Do they die a natural death, and do the

survivors then clean out the bodies? Or is the population being reduced

at the expense of sound and healthy insects? It is not easy to elucidate

the matter, since the atrocities are commonly perpetrated in the night.

But, finally, with vigilance, on two occasions, I surprise the beetles

at their work in the light of day.



Towards the middle of June a female attacks a male before my eyes. The

male is recognisable by his slightly smaller size. The operation

commences. Raising the ends of the wing-covers, the assailant seizes her

victim by the extremity of the abdomen, from the dorsal side. She pulls

at him furiously, eagerly munching with her mandibles. The victim, who

is in the prime of life, does not defend himself, nor turn upon his

assailant. He pulls his hardest in the opposite direction to free

himself from those terrible fangs; he advances and recoils as he is

overpowered by or overpowers the assassin; and there his resistance

ends. The struggle lasts a quarter of an hour. Other beetles, passing

by, call a halt, and seem to say "My turn next!" Finally, redoubling his

efforts, the male frees himself and flies. If he had not succeeded in

escaping the ferocious female would undoubtedly have eviscerated him.



A few days later I witness a similar scene, but this time the tragedy is

played to the end. Once more it is a female who seizes a male from

behind. With no other protest except his futile efforts to escape, the

victim is forced to submit. The skin finally yields; the wound

enlarges, and the viscera are removed and devoured by the matron, who

empties the carapace, her head buried in the body of her late companion.

The legs of the miserable victim tremble, announcing the end. The

murderess takes no notice; she continues to rummage as far as she can

reach for the narrowing of the thorax. Nothing is left but the closed

boat-shaped wing-covers and the fore parts of the body. The empty shell

is left lying on the scene of the tragedy.



In this way must have perished the beetles--always males--whose remains

I find in the cage from time to time; thus the survivors also will

perish. Between the middle of June and the 1st of August the inhabitants

of the cage, twenty-five in number at the outset, are reduced to five,

all of whom are females. All the males, to the number of twenty, have

disappeared, eviscerated and completely emptied. And by whom? Apparently

by the females.



That this is the case is attested in the first place by the two assaults

of which I was perchance the witness; on two occasions, in broad

daylight, I saw the female devouring the male, having opened the abdomen

under the wing-covers, or having at least attempted to do so. As for the

rest of the massacres, although direct observation was lacking, I had

one very valuable piece of evidence. As we have seen, the victim does

not retaliate, does not defend himself, but simply tries to escape by

pulling himself away.



If it were a matter of an ordinary fight, a conflict such as might arise

in the struggle for life, the creature attacked would obviously

retaliate, since he is perfectly well able to do so; in an ordinary

conflict he would meet force by force, and return bite for bite. His

strength would enable him to come well out of a struggle, but the

foolish creature allows himself to be devoured without retaliating. It

seems as though an invincible repugnance prevents him from offering

resistance and in turn devouring the devourer. This tolerance reminds

one of the scorpion of Languedoc, which on the termination of the

hymeneal rites allows the female to devour him without attempting to

employ his weapon, the venomous dagger which would form a formidable

defence; it reminds us also of the male of the Praying Mantis, which

still embraces the female though reduced to a headless trunk, while the

latter devours him by small mouthfuls, with no rebellion or defence on

his part. There are other examples of hymeneal rites to which the male

offers no resistance.



The males of my menagerie of Gardeners, one and all eviscerated, speak

of similar customs. They are the victims of the females when the latter

have no further use for them. For four months, from April to August, the

insects pair off continually; sometimes tentatively, but usually the

mating is effective. The business of mating is all but endless for these

fiery spirits.



The Gardener is prompt and businesslike in his affairs of the heart. In

the midst of the crowd, with no preliminary courtship, the male throws

himself upon the female. The female thus embraced raises her head a

trifle as a sign of acquiescence, while the cavalier beats the back of

her neck with his antennae. The embrace is brief, and they abruptly

separate; after a little refreshment the two parties are ready for other

adventures, and yet others, so long as there are males available. After

the feast, a brief and primitive wooing; after the wooing, the feast; in

such delights the life of the Gardener passes.



The females of my collection were in no proper ratio to the number of

aspiring lovers; there were five females to twenty males. No matter;

there was no rivalry, no hustling; all went peacefully and sooner or

later each was satisfied.



I should have preferred a better proportioned assembly. Chance, not

choice, had given me that at my disposal. In the early spring I had

collected all the Gardeners I could find under the stones of the

neighbourhood, without distinguishing the sexes, for they are not easy

to recognise merely by external characteristics. Later on I learned by

watching them that a slight excess of size was the distinctive sign of

the female. My menagerie, so ill-proportioned in the matter of sex, was

therefore the result of chance. I do not suppose this preponderance of

males exists in natural conditions. On the other hand, one never sees

such numerous groups at liberty, in the shelter of the same stone. The

Gardener lives an almost solitary life; it is rarely that one finds two

or three beneath the same object of shelter. The gathering in my

menagerie was thus exceptional, although it did not lead to confusion.

There is plenty of room in the glass cage for excursions to a distance

and for all their habitual manoeuvres. Those who wish for solitude can

obtain it; those who wish for company need not seek it.



For the rest, captivity cannot lie heavily on them; that is proved by

their frequent feasts, their constant mating. They could not thrive

better in the open; perhaps not so well, for food is less abundant under

natural conditions. In the matter of well-being the prisoners are in a

normal condition, favourable to the maintenance of their usual habits.



It is true that encounters of beetle with beetle are more frequent here

than in the open. Hence, no doubt, arise more opportunities for the

females to persecute the males whom they no longer require; to fall upon

them from the rear and eviscerate them. This pursuit of their onetime

lovers is aggravated by their confined quarters; but it certainly is not

caused thereby, for such customs are not suddenly originated.



The mating season over, the female encountering a male in the open must

evidently regard him as fair game, and devour him as the termination of

the matrimonial rites. I have turned over many stones, but have never

chanced upon this spectacle, but what has occurred in my menagerie is

sufficient to convince me. What a world these beetles live in, where the

matron devours her mate so soon as her fertility delivers her from the

need of him! And how lightly the males must be regarded by custom, to be

served in this manner!



Is this practice of post-matrimonial cannibalism a general custom in the

insect world? For the moment, I can recollect only three characteristic

examples: those of the Praying Mantis, the Golden Gardener, and the

scorpion of Languedoc. An analogous yet less brutal practice--for the

victim is defunct before he is eaten--is a characteristic of the Locust

family. The female of the white-faced Decticus will eagerly devour the

body of her dead mate, as will the Green Grasshopper.



To a certain extent this custom is excused by the nature of the insect's

diet; the Decticus and the Grasshopper are essentially carnivorous.

Encountering a dead body of their own species, a female will devour it,

even if it be the body of her latest mate.



But what are we to say in palliation of the vegetarians? At the approach

of the breeding season, before the eggs are laid, the Ephippigera turns

upon her still living mate, disembowels him, and eats as much of him as

her appetite will allow.



The cheerful Cricket shows herself in a new light at this season; she

attacks the mate who lately wooed her with such impassioned serenades;

she tears his wings, breaks his musical thighs, and even swallows a few

mouthfuls of the instrumentalist. It is probable that this deadly

aversion of the female for the male at the end of the mating season is

fairly common, especially among the carnivorous insects. But what is the

object of this atrocious custom? That is a question I shall not fail to

answer when circumstances permit.





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