THE GREAT PEACOCK OR EMPEROR MOTH





It was a memorable night! I will name it the Night of the Great Peacock.

Who does not know this superb moth, the largest of all our European

butterflies[3] with its livery of chestnut velvet and its collar of

white fur? The greys and browns of the wings are crossed by a paler

zig-zag, and bordered with smoky white; and in the centre of each wing

is a round spot, a great eye with a black pupil and variegated iris,

resolving into concentric arcs of black, white, chestnut, and purplish

red.



Not less remarkable is the caterpillar. Its colour is a vague yellow. On

the summit of thinly sown tubercles crowned with a palisade of black

hairs are set pearls of a turquoise-blue. The burly brown cocoon, which

is notable for its curious tunnel of exit, like an eel-pot, is always

found at the base of an old almond-tree, adhering to the bark. The

foliage of the same tree nourishes the caterpillar.



On the morning of the 6th of May a female emerged from her cocoon in my

presence on my laboratory table. I cloistered her immediately, all damp

with the moisture of metamorphosis, in a cover of wire gauze. I had no

particular intentions regarding her; I imprisoned her from mere habit;

the habit of an observer always on the alert for what may happen.



I was richly rewarded. About nine o'clock that evening, when the

household was going to bed, there was a sudden hubbub in the room next

to mine. Little Paul, half undressed, was rushing to and fro, running,

jumping, stamping, and overturning the chairs as if possessed. I heard

him call me. "Come quick!" he shrieked; "come and see these butterflies!

Big as birds! The room's full of them!"



I ran. There was that which justified the child's enthusiasm and his

hardly hyperbolical exclamation. It was an invasion of giant

butterflies; an invasion hitherto unexampled in our house. Four were

already caught and placed in a bird-cage. Others--numbers of them--were

flying across the ceiling.



This astonishing sight recalled the prisoner of the morning to my mind.

"Put on your togs, kiddy!" I told my son; "put down your cage, and come

with me. We shall see something worth seeing."



We had to go downstairs to reach my study, which occupies the right wing

of the house. In the kitchen we met the servant; she too was bewildered

by the state of affairs. She was pursuing the huge butterflies with her

apron, having taken them at first for bats.



It seemed as though the Great Peacock had taken possession of my whole

house, more or less. What would it be upstairs, where the prisoner was,

the cause of this invasion? Happily one of the two study windows had

been left ajar; the road was open.



Candle in hand, we entered the room. What we saw is unforgettable. With

a soft _flic-flac_ the great night-moths were flying round the

wire-gauze cover, alighting, taking flight, returning, mounting to the

ceiling, re-descending. They rushed at the candle and extinguished it

with a flap of the wing; they fluttered on our shoulders, clung to our

clothing, grazed our faces. My study had become a cave of a necromancer,

the darkness alive with creatures of the night! Little Paul, to reassure

himself, held my hand much tighter than usual.



How many were there? About twenty. To these add those which had strayed

into the kitchen, the nursery, and other rooms in the house, and the

total must have been nearly forty. It was a memorable sight--the Night

of the Great Peacock! Come from all points of the compass, warned I know

not how, here were forty lovers eager to do homage to the maiden

princess that morning born in the sacred precincts of my study.



For the time being I troubled the swarm of pretenders no further. The

flame of the candle endangered the visitors; they threw themselves into

it stupidly and singed themselves slightly. On the morrow we could

resume our study of them, and make certain carefully devised

experiments.



To clear the ground a little for what is to follow, let me speak of what

was repeated every night during the eight nights my observations lasted.

Every night, when it was quite dark, between eight and ten o'clock, the

butterflies arrived one by one. The weather was stormy; the sky heavily

clouded; the darkness was so profound that out of doors, in the garden

and away from the trees, one could scarcely see one's hand before one's

face.



In addition to such darkness as this there were certain difficulties of

access. The house is hidden by great plane-trees; an alley densely

bordered with lilacs and rose-trees make a kind of outer vestibule to

the entrance; it is protected from the _mistral_ by groups of pines and

screens of cypress. A thicket of evergreen shrubs forms a rampart at a

few paces from the door. It was across this maze of leafage, and in

absolute darkness, that the butterflies had to find their way in order

to attain the end of their pilgrimage.



Under such conditions the screech-owl would not dare to forsake its

hollow in the olive-tree. The butterfly, better endowed with its faceted

eyes than the owl with its single pupils, goes forward without

hesitation, and threads the obstacles without contact. So well it

directs its tortuous flight that, in spite of all the obstacles to be

evaded, it arrives in a state of perfect freshness, its great wings

intact, without the slightest flaw. The darkness is light enough for the

butterfly.



Even if we suppose it to be sensitive to rays unknown to the ordinary

retina, this extraordinary sight could not be the sense that warns the

butterfly at a distance and brings it hastening to the bride. Distance

and the objects interposed make the suggestion absurd.



Moreover, apart from illusory refractions, of which there is no question

here, the indications of light are precise; one goes straight to the

object seen. But the butterfly was sometimes mistaken: not in the

general direction, but concerning the precise position of the attractive

object. I have mentioned that the nursery on the other side of the house

to my study, which was the actual goal of the visitors, was full of

butterflies before a light was taken into it. These were certainly

incorrectly informed. In the kitchen there was the same crowd of

seekers gone astray; but there the light of a lamp, an irresistible

attraction to nocturnal insects, might have diverted the pilgrims.



Let us consider only such areas as were in darkness. There the pilgrims

were numerous. I found them almost everywhere in the neighbourhood of

their goal. When the captive was in my study the butterflies did not all

enter by the open window, the direct and easy way, the captive being

only a few yards from the window. Several penetrated the house

downstairs, wandered through the hall, and reached the staircase, which

was barred at the top by a closed door.



These data show us that the visitors to the wedding-feast did not go

straight to their goal as they would have done were they attracted by

any kind of luminous radiations, whether known or unknown to our

physical science. Something other than radiant energy warned them at a

distance, led them to the neighbourhood of the precise spot, and left

the final discovery to be made after a vague and hesitating search. The

senses of hearing and smell warn us very much in this way; they are not

precise guides when we try to determine exactly the point of origin of a

sound or smell.



What sense is it that informs this great butterfly of the whereabouts of

his mate, and leads him wandering through the night? What organ does

this sense affect? One suspects the antennae; in the male butterfly they

actually seem to be sounding, interrogating empty space with their long

feathery plumes. Are these splendid plumes merely items of finery, or do

they really play a part in the perception of the effluvia which guide

the lover? It seemed easy, on the occasion I spoke of, to devise a

conclusive experiment.



On the morrow of the invasion I found in my study eight of my nocturnal

visitors. They were perched, motionless, upon the cross-mouldings of the

second window, which had remained closed. The others, having concluded

their ballet by about ten o'clock at night, had left as they had

entered, by the other window, which was left open night and day. These

eight persevering lovers were just what I required for my experiment.



With a sharp pair of scissors, and without otherwise touching the

butterflies, I cut off their antennae near the base. The victims barely

noticed the operation. None moved; there was scarcely a flutter of the

wings. Their condition was excellent; the wound did not seem to be in

the least serious. They were not perturbed by physical suffering, and

would therefore be all the better adapted to my designs. They passed the

rest of the day in placid immobility on the cross-bars of the window.



A few other arrangements were still to be made. In particular it was

necessary to change the scene; not to leave the female under the eyes of

the mutilated butterflies at the moment of resuming their nocturnal

flight; the difficulty of the search must not be lessened. I therefore

removed the cage and its captive, and placed it under a porch on the

other side of the house, at a distance of some fifty paces from my

study.



At nightfall I went for a last time to inspect my eight victims. Six had

left by the open window; two still remained, but they had fallen on the

floor, and no longer had the strength to recover themselves if turned

over on their backs. They were exhausted, dying. Do not accuse my

surgery, however. Such early decease was observed repeatedly, with no

intervention on my part.



Six, in better condition, had departed. Would they return to the call

that attracted them the night before? Deprived of their antennae, would

they be able to find the captive, now placed at a considerable distance

from her original position?



The cage was in darkness, almost in the open air. From time to time I

visited it with a net and lantern. The visitors were captured,

inspected, and immediately released in a neighbouring room, of which I

closed the door. This gradual elimination allowed me to count the

visitors exactly without danger of counting the same butterfly more than

once. Moreover, the provisional prison, large and bare, in no wise

harmed or endangered the prisoners; they found a quiet retreat there and

ample space. Similar precautions were taken during the rest of my

experiments.



After half-past ten no more arrived. The reception was over. Total,

twenty-five males captured, of which one only was deprived of its

antennae. So of the six operated on earlier in the day, which were strong

enough to leave my study and fly back to the fields, only one had

returned to the cage. A poor result, in which I could place no

confidence as proving whether the antennae did or did not play a

directing part. It was necessary to begin again upon a larger scale.



Next morning I visited the prisoners of the day before. What I saw was

not encouraging. A large number were scattered on the ground, almost

inert. Taken between the fingers, several of them gave scarcely a sign

of life. Little was to be hoped from these, it would seem. Still, I

determined to try; perhaps they would regain their vigour at the lover's

hour.



The twenty-four prisoners were all subjected to the amputation of their

antennae. The one operated on the day before was put aside as dying or

nearly so. Finally the door of the prison was left open for the rest of

the day. Those might leave who could; those could join in the carnival

who were able. In order to put those that might leave the room to the

test of a search, the cage, which they must otherwise have encountered

at the threshold, was again removed, and placed in a room of the

opposite wing, on the ground floor. There was of course free access to

this room.



Of the twenty-four lacking their antennae sixteen only left the room.

Eight were powerless to do so; they were dying. Of the sixteen, how many

returned to the cage that night? Not one. My captives that night were

only seven, all new-comers, all wearing antennae. This result seemed to

prove that the amputation of the antennae was a matter of serious

significance. But it would not do to conclude as yet: one doubt

remained.



"A fine state I am in! How shall I dare to appear before the other

dogs?" said Mouflard, the puppy whose ears had been pitilessly docked.

Had my butterflies apprehensions similar to Master Mouflard's? Deprived

of their beautiful plumes, were they ashamed to appear in the midst of

their rivals, and to prefer their suits? Was it confusion on their part,

or want of guidance? Was it not rather exhaustion after an attempt

exceeding the duration of an ephemeral passion? Experience would show

me.



On the fourth night I took fourteen new-comers and set them apart as

they came in a room in which they spent the night. On the morrow,

profiting by their diurnal immobility, I removed a little of the hair

from the centre of the corselet or neck. This slight tonsure did not

inconvenience the insects, so easily was the silky fur removed, nor did

it deprive them of any organ which might later on be necessary in the

search for the female. To them it was nothing; for me it was the

unmistakable sign of a repeated visit.



This time there were none incapable of flight. At night the fourteen

shavelings escaped into the open air. The cage, of course, was again in

a new place. In two hours I captured twenty butterflies, of whom two

were tonsured; no more. As for those whose antennae I had amputated the

night before, not one reappeared. Their nuptial period was over.



Of fourteen marked by the tonsure two only returned. Why did the other

twelve fail to appear, although furnished with their supposed guides,

their antennae? To this I can see only one reply: that the Great Peacock

is promptly exhausted by the ardours of the mating season.



With a view to mating, the sole end of its life, the great moth is

endowed with a marvellous prerogative. It has the power to discover the

object of its desire in spite of distance, in spite of obstacles. A few

hours, for two or three nights, are given to its search, its nuptial

flights. If it cannot profit by them, all is ended; the compass fails,

the lamp expires. What profit could life hold henceforth? Stoically the

creature withdraws into a corner and sleeps the last sleep, the end of

illusions and the end of suffering.



The Great Peacock exists as a butterfly only to perpetuate itself. It

knows nothing of food. While so many others, joyful banqueters, fly from

flower to flower, unrolling their spiral trunks to plunge them into

honeyed blossoms, this incomparable ascetic, completely freed from the

servitude of the stomach, has no means of restoring its strength. Its

buccal members are mere vestiges, useless simulacra, not real organs

able to perform their duties. Not a sip of honey can ever enter its

stomach; a magnificent prerogative, if it is not long enjoyed. If the

lamp is to burn it must be filled with oil. The Great Peacock renounces

the joys of the palate; but with them it surrenders long life. Two or

three nights--just long enough to allow the couple to meet and mate--and

all is over; the great butterfly is dead.



What, then, is meant by the non-appearance of those whose antennae I

removed? Did they prove that the lack of antennae rendered them incapable

of finding the cage in which the prisoner waited? By no means. Like

those marked with the tonsure, which had undergone no damaging

operation, they proved only that their time was finished. Mutilated or

intact, they could do no more on account of age, and their absence meant

nothing. Owing to the delay inseparable from the experiment, the part

played by the antennae escaped me. It was doubtful before; it remained

doubtful.



My prisoner under the wire-gauze cover lived for eight days. Every night

she attracted a swarm of visitors, now to one part of the house, now to

another. I caught them with the net and released them as soon as

captured in a closed room, where they passed the night. On the next day

they were marked, by means of a slight tonsure on the thorax.



The total number of butterflies attracted on these eight nights amounted

to a hundred and fifty; a stupendous number when I consider what

searches I had to undertake during the two following years in order to

collect the specimens necessary to the continuation of my investigation.

Without being absolutely undiscoverable, in my immediate neighbourhood

the cocoons of the Great Peacock are at least extremely rare, as the

trees on which they are found are not common. For two winters I visited

all the decrepit almond-trees at hand, inspected them all at the base of

the trunk, under the jungle of stubborn grasses and undergrowth that

surrounded them; and how often I returned with empty hands! Thus my

hundred and fifty butterflies had come from some little distance;

perhaps from a radius of a mile and a quarter or more. How did they

learn of what was happening in my study?



Three agents of information affect the senses at a distance: sight,

sound, and smell. Can we speak of vision in this connection? Sight could

very well guide the arrivals once they had entered the open window; but

how could it help them out of doors, among unfamiliar surroundings? Even

the fabulous eye of the lynx, which could see through walls, would not

be sufficient; we should have to imagine a keenness of vision capable of

annihilating leagues of space. It is needless to discuss the matter

further; sight cannot be the guiding sense.



Sound is equally out of the question. The big-bodied creature capable of

calling her mates from such a distance is absolutely mute, even to the

most sensitive ear. Does she perhaps emit vibrations of such delicacy or

rapidity that only the most sensitive microphone could appreciate them?

The idea is barely possible; but let us remember that the visitors must

have been warned at distances of some thousands of yards. Under these

conditions it is useless to think of acoustics.



Smell remains. Scent, better than any other impression in the domain of

our senses, would explain the invasion of butterflies, and their

difficulty at the very last in immediately finding the object of their

search. Are there effluvia analogous to what we call odour: effluvia of

extreme subtlety, absolutely imperceptible to us, yet capable of

stimulating a sense-organ far more sensitive than our own? A simple

experiment suggested itself. I would mask these effluvia, stifle them

under a powerful, tenacious odour, which would take complete possession

of the sense-organ and neutralise the less powerful impression.



I began by sprinkling naphthaline in the room intended for the reception

of the males that evening. Beside the female, inside the wire-gauze

cover, I placed a large capsule full of the same substance. When the

hour of the nocturnal visit arrived I had only to stand at the door of

the room to smell a smell as of a gas-works. Well, my artifice failed.

The butterflies arrived as usual, entered the room, traversed its

gas-laden atmosphere, and made for the wire-gauze cover with the same

certainty as in a room full of fresh air.



My confidence in the olfactory theory was shaken. Moreover, I could not

continue my experiments. On the ninth day, exhausted by her fruitless

period of waiting, the female died, having first deposited her barren

eggs upon the woven wire of her cage. Lacking a female, nothing could be

done until the following year.



I determined next time to take suitable precautions and to make all

preparations for repeating at will the experiments already made and

others which I had in mind. I set to work at once, without delay.



In the summer I began to buy caterpillars at a halfpenny apiece.



The market was in the hands of some neighbouring urchins, my habitual

providers. On Friday, free of the terrors of grammar, they scoured the

fields, finding from time to time the Great Peacock caterpillar, and

bringing it to me clinging to the end of a stick. They did not dare to

touch it, poor little imps! They were thunderstruck at my audacity when

I seized it in my fingers as they would the familiar silkworm.



Reared upon twigs of the almond-tree, my menagerie soon provided me with

magnificent cocoons. In winter assiduous search at the base of the

native trees completed my collection. Friends interested in my

researches came to my aid. Finally, after some trouble, what with an

open market, commercial negotiations, and searching, at the cost of many

scratches, in the undergrowth, I became the owner of an assortment of

cocoons of which twelve, larger and heavier than the rest, announced

that they were those of females.



Disappointment awaited me. May arrived; a capricious month which set my

preparations at naught, troublesome as these had been. Winter returned.

The _mistral_ shrieked, tore the budding leaves of the plane-trees, and

scattered them over the ground. It was cold as December. We had to

light fires in the evening, and resume the heavy clothes we had begun to

leave off.



My butterflies were too sorely tried. They emerged late and were torpid.

Around my cages, in which the females waited--to-day one, to-morrow

another, according to the order of their birth--few males or none came

from without. Yet there were some in the neighbourhood, for those with

large antennae which issued from my collection of cocoons were placed in

the garden directly they had emerged, and were recognised. Whether

neighbours or strangers, very few came, and those without enthusiasm.

For a moment they entered, then disappeared and did not reappear. The

lovers were as cold as the season.



Perhaps, too, the low temperature was unfavourable to the informing

effluvia, which might well be increased by heat and lessened by cold as

is the case with many odours. My year was lost. Research is

disappointing work when the experimenter is the slave of the return and

the caprices of a brief season of the year.



For the third time I began again. I reared caterpillars; I scoured the

country in search of cocoons. When May returned I was tolerably

provided. The season was fine, responding to my hopes. I foresaw the

affluence of butterflies which had so impressed me at the outset, when

the famous invasion occurred which was the origin of my experiments.



Every night, by squadrons of twelve, twenty, or more, the visitors

appeared. The female, a strapping, big-bellied matron, clung to the

woven wire of the cover. There was no movement on her part; not even a

flutter of the wings. One would have thought her indifferent to all

that occurred. No odour was emitted that was perceptible to the most

sensitive nostrils of the household; no sound that the keenest ears of

the household could perceive. Motionless, recollected, she waited.



The males, by twos, by threes and more, fluttered upon the dome of the

cover, scouring over it quickly in all directions, beating it

continually with the ends of their wings. There were no conflicts

between rivals. Each did his best to penetrate the enclosure, without

betraying any sign of jealousy of the others. Tiring of their fruitless

attempts, they would fly away and join the dance of the gyrating crowd.

Some, in despair, would escape by the open window: new-comers would

replace them: and until ten o'clock or thereabouts the wire dome of the

cover would be the scene of continual attempts at approach, incessantly

commencing, quickly wearying, quickly resumed.



Every night the position of the cage was changed. I placed it north of

the house and south; on the ground-floor and the first floor; in the

right wing of the house, or fifty yards away in the left wing; in the

open air, or hidden in some distant room. All these sudden removals,

devised to put the seekers off the scent, troubled them not at all. My

time and my pains were wasted, so far as deceiving them was concerned.



The memory of places has no part in the finding of the female. For

instance, the day before the cage was installed in a certain room. The

males visited the room and fluttered about the cage for a couple of

hours, and some even passed the night there. On the following day, at

sunset, when I moved the cage, all were out of doors. Although their

lives are so ephemeral, the youngest were ready to resume their

nocturnal expeditions a second and even a third time. Where did they

first go, these veterans of a day?



They knew precisely where the cage had been the night before. One would

have expected them to return to it, guided by memory; and that not

finding it they would go out to continue their search elsewhere. No;

contrary to my expectation, nothing of the kind appeared. None came to

the spot which had been so crowded the night before; none paid even a

passing visit. The room was recognised as an empty room, with no

previous examination, such as would apparently be necessary to

contradict the memory of the place. A more positive guide than memory

called them elsewhere.



Hitherto the female was always visible, behind the meshes of the

wire-gauze cover. The visitors, seeing plainly in the dark night, must

have been able to see her by the vague luminosity of what for us is the

dark. What would happen if I imprisoned her in an opaque receptacle?

Would not such a receptacle arrest or set free the informing effluvia

according to its nature?



Practical physics has given us wireless telegraphy by means of the

Hertzian vibrations of the ether. Had the Great Peacock butterfly

outstripped and anticipated mankind in this direction? In order to

disturb the whole surrounding neighbourhood, to warn pretenders at a

distance of a mile or more, does the newly emerged female make use of

electric or magnetic waves, known or unknown, that a screen of one

material would arrest while another would allow them to pass? In a word,

does she, after her fashion, employ a system of wireless telegraphy? I

see nothing impossible in this; insects are responsible for many

inventions equally marvellous.



Accordingly I lodged the female in boxes of various materials; boxes of

tin-plate, wood, and cardboard. All were hermetically closed, even

sealed with a greasy paste. I also used a glass bell resting upon a

base-plate of glass.



Under these conditions not a male arrived; not one, though the warmth

and quiet of the evening were propitious. Whatever its nature, whether

of glass, metal, card, or wood, the closed receptacle was evidently an

insuperable obstacle to the warning effluvia.



A layer of cotton-wool two fingers in thickness had the same result. I

placed the female in a large glass jar, and laced a piece of thin cotton

batting over the mouth for a cover; this again guarded the secret of my

laboratory. Not a male appeared.



But when I placed the females in boxes which were imperfectly closed, or

which had chinks in their sides, or even hid them in a drawer or a

cupboard, I found the males arrived in numbers as great as when the

object of their search lay in the cage of open wire-work freely exposed

on a table. I have a vivid memory of one evening when the recluse was

hidden in a hat-box at the bottom of a wall-cupboard. The arrivals went

straight to the closed doors, and beat them with their wings, _toc-toc_,

trying to enter. Wandering pilgrims, come from I know not where, across

fields and meadows, they knew perfectly what was behind the doors of the

cupboard.



So we must abandon the idea that the butterfly has any means of

communication comparable to our wireless telegraphy, as any kind of

screen, whether a good or a bad conductor, completely stops the signals

of the female. To give them free passage and allow them to penetrate to

a distance one condition is indispensable: the enclosure in which the

captive is confined must not be hermetically sealed; there must be a

communication between it and the outer air. This again points to the

probability of an odour, although this is contradicted by my experiment

with the naphthaline.



My cocoons were all hatched, and the problem was still obscure. Should I

begin all over again in the fourth year? I did not do so, for the reason

that it is difficult to observe a nocturnal butterfly if one wishes to

follow it in all its intimate actions. The lover needs no light to

attain his ends; but my imperfect human vision cannot penetrate the

darkness. I should require a candle at least, and a candle would be

constantly extinguished by the revolving swarm. A lantern would obviate

these eclipses, but its doubtful light, interspersed with heavy shadows,

by no means commends it to the scruples of an observer, who must see,

and see well.



Moreover, the light of a lamp diverts the butterflies from their object,

distracts them from their affairs, and seriously compromises the success

of the observer. The moment they enter, they rush frantically at the

flame, singe their down, and thereupon, terrified by the heat, are of no

profit to the observer. If, instead of being roasted, they are held at a

distance by an envelope of glass, they press as closely as they can to

the flame, and remain motionless, hypnotised.



One night, the female being in the dining-room, on the table, facing the

open window, a petroleum lamp, furnished with a large reflector in

opaline glass, was hanging from the ceiling. The arrivals alighted on

the dome of the wire-gauze cover, crowding eagerly about the

prisoner; others, saluting her in passing, flew to the lamp, circled

round it a few times, and then, fascinated by the luminous splendour

radiating from the opal cone of light, clung there motionless under the

reflector. Already the children were raising their hands to seize them.

"Leave them," I said, "leave them. Let us be hospitable: do not disturb

the pilgrims who have come to the tabernacle of the light."



During the whole evening not one of them moved. Next day they were still

there. The intoxication of the light had made them forget the

intoxication of love.



With creatures so madly in love with the light precise and prolonged

experimentation is impracticable the moment the observer requires

artificial light. I renounced the Great Peacock and its nocturnal

habits. I required a butterfly with different habits; equally notable as

a lover, but seeking out the beloved by day.



Before going on to speak of my experiments with a subject fulfilling

these conditions, let me break the chronological order of my record in

order to say a few words concerning another insect, which appeared after

I had completed these inquiries. I refer to the Lesser Peacock (_Attacus

pavonia minor_, Lin.).



Some one brought me, from what locality I do not know, a superb cocoon

enveloped in an ample wrapping of white silk. From this covering, which

lay in large irregular folds, the chrysalis was easily detached; in

shape like that of the Great Peacock, but considerably less in size. The

anterior extremity, which is defended by an arrangement of fine twigs,

converging, and free at the converging ends, forming a device not unlike

an eel-pot, which presents access to the chrysalis while allowing the

butterfly to emerge without breaking the defence, indicated a relative

of the great nocturnal butterfly; the silk-work denoted a spinning

caterpillar.



Towards the end of March this curious cocoon yielded up a female of the

Lesser Peacock, which was immediately sequestered under a wire-gauze

cover in my study. I opened the window to allow news of the event to

reach the surrounding country, and left it open so that such visitors as

presented themselves should find free access to the cage. The captive

clung to the wire gauze and did not move for a week.



She was a superb creature, this prisoner of mine, with her suit of brown

velvet, crossed by undulating lines. The neck was surrounded by white

fur; there was a carmine spot at the extremity of the upper wings, and

four great eyes in which were grouped, in concentric crescents, black,

white, red, and yellow ochre: almost the colouring of the Great Peacock,

but more vivid. Three or four times in my life I had encountered this

butterfly, so remarkable for its size and its costume. The cocoon I had

recently seen for the first time; the male I had never seen. I only knew

that, according to the books, it was half the size of the female, and

less vividly coloured, with orange-yellow on the lower wings.



Would he appear, the elegant unknown, with waving plumes; the butterfly

I had never yet seen, so rare does the Lesser Peacock seem to be in our

country? Would he, in some distant hedge, receive warning of the bride

who waited on my study table? I dared to hope it, and I was right. He

arrived even sooner than I had hoped.



Noon struck as we were sitting down to table, when little Paul, delayed

by his absorption in the expected event, suddenly ran to rejoin us, his

cheeks glowing. Between his fingers we saw the fluttering wings of a

handsome butterfly, caught but a moment before, while it was hovering in

front of my study. He showed it me, questioning me with his eyes.



"Aha!" I cried, "this is precisely the pilgrim we are waiting for. Fold

your napkin and come and see what happens. We will dine later."



Dinner was forgotten before the marvels that came to pass. With

inconceivable punctuality the butterflies hastened to meet the magical

call of the captive. With tortuous flight they arrived one by one. All

came from the north. This detail is significant. A week earlier there

had been a savage return of the winter. The _bise_ blew tempestuously,

killing the early almond blossom. It was one of those ferocious storms

which in the South commonly serve as a prelude to the spring. But the

temperature had now suddenly softened, although the wind still blew from

the north.



Now on this first occasion all the butterflies hastening to the prisoner

entered the garden from the north. They followed the direction of the

wind; not one flew against it. If their guide was a sense of smell like

ours, if they were guided by fragrant atoms suspended in the air, they

should have arrived in the opposite direction. Coming from the south, we

might believe them to be warned by effluvia carried on the wind; coming

from the north in time of _mistral_, that resistless sweeper of earth

and air, how can we suppose that they had perceived, at a remote

distance, what we will call an odour? The idea of a flow of odoriferous

atoms in a direction contrary to that of the aerial torrent seems to me

inadmissible.



For two hours, under a radiant sun, the visitors came and went before

the outer wall of the study. Most of them sought for a long time,

exploring the wall, flying on a level with the ground. To see them thus

hesitating you would say that they were puzzled to find the exact

position of the lure which called them. Although they had come from such

a distance without a mistake, they seemed imperfectly informed once they

were on the spot. Nevertheless, sooner or later they entered the room

and saluted the captive, without showing any great ardour. At two

o'clock all was over. Ten butterflies had arrived.



During the whole week, and always about noon, at the hour of the

brightest sunlight, the butterflies arrived, but in decreasing numbers.

The total approached forty. I thought it useless to repeat experiments

which would add nothing to what I had already learned. I will confine

myself to stating two facts. In the first place, the Lesser Peacock is

diurnal; that is to say, it celebrates its mating under the dazzling

brilliance of noon. It needs the full force of the sunlight. The Great

Peacock, on the contrary, which it so closely resembles both in its

adult form and the work of its caterpillar, requires the darkness of the

first hours of the night. Who can explain this strange contrast in

habits?



In the second place, a powerful current of air, sweeping away in a

contrary direction all particles that might inform the sense of smell,

does not prevent the butterflies from arriving from a direction opposite

to that taken by the effluvial stream, as we understand such matters.



To continue: I needed a diurnal moth or butterfly: not the Lesser

Peacock, which came too late, when I had nothing to ask of it, but

another, no matter what, provided it was a prompt guest at the wedding

feast. Was I to find such an insect?





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