site logo


The laudator temperis acti is out of favour just now: the world is on

the move. Yes, but sometimes it moves backwards. When I was a boy, our

twopenny textbooks told us that man was a reasoning animal; nowadays,

there are learned volumes to prove to us that human reason is but a

higher rung in the ladder whose foot reaches down to the bottommost

depths of animal life. There is the greater and the lesser; there are

all t
e intermediary rounds; but nowhere does it break off and start

afresh. It begins with zero in the glair of a cell and ascends until

we come to the mighty brain of a Newton. The noble faculty of which we

were so proud is a zoological attribute. All have a larger or smaller

share of it, from the live atom to the anthropoid ape, that hideous

caricature of man.

It always struck me that those who held this levelling theory made

facts say more than they really meant; it struck me that, in order to

obtain their plain, they were lowering the mountain-peak, man, and

elevating the valley, the animal. Now this levelling of theirs needed

proofs, to my mind; and, as I found none in their books, or at any

rate only doubtful and highly debatable ones, I did my own observing,

in order to arrive at a definite conviction; I sought; I experimented.

To speak with any certainty, it behoves us not to go beyond what we

really know. I am beginning to have a passable acquaintance with

insects, after spending some forty years in their company. Let us

question the insect, then: not the first that comes along, but the

most gifted, the Hymenopteron. I am giving my opponents every

advantage. Where will they find a creature more richly endowed with

talent? It would seem as though, in creating it, nature had delighted

in bestowing the greatest amount of industry upon the smallest body of

matter. Can the bird, wonderful architect that it is, compare its work

with that masterpiece of higher geometry, the edifice of the Bee? The

Hymenopteron rivals man himself. We build towns, the Bee erects

cities; we have servants, the Ant has hers; we rear domestic animals,

she rears her sugar-yielding insects; we herd cattle, she herds her

milch-cows, the Aphides; we have abolished slavery, whereas she

continues her nigger-traffic.

Well, does this superior, this privileged being reason? Reader, do not

smile: this is a most serious matter, well worthy of our

consideration. To devote our attention to animals is to plunge at once

into the vexed question of who we are and whence we come. What, then,

passes in that little Hymenopteron brain? Has it faculties akin to

ours, has it the power of thought? What a problem, if we could only

solve it; what a chapter of psychology, if we could only write it!

But, at our very first questionings, the mysterious will rise up,

impenetrable: we may be convinced of that. We are incapable of knowing

ourselves; what will it be if we try to fathom the intellect of

others? Let us be content if we succeed in gleaning a few grains of


What is reason? Philosophy would give us learned definitions. Let us

be modest and keep to the simplest: we are only treating of animals.

Reason is the faculty that connects the effect with its cause and

directs the act by conforming it to the needs of the accidental.

Within these limits, are animals capable of reasoning? Are they able

to connect a 'because' with a 'why' and afterwards to regulate their

behaviour accordingly? Are they able to change their line of conduct

when faced with an emergency?

History has but few data likely to be of use to us here; and those

which we find scattered in various authors are seldom able to

withstand a severe examination. One of the most remarkable of which I

know is supplied by Erasmus Darwin, in his book entitled "Zoonomia."

It tells of a Wasp that has just caught and killed a big Fly. The wind

is blowing; and the huntress, hampered in her flight by the great area

presented by her prize, alights on the ground to amputate the abdomen,

the head and the wings; she flies away, carrying with her only the

thorax, which gives less hold to the wind. If we keep to the bald

facts, this does, I admit, give a semblance of reason. The Wasp

appears to grasp the relation between cause and effect. The effect is

the resistance experienced in the flight; the cause is the dimensions

of the prey contending with the air. Hence the logical conclusion:

those dimensions must be lessened; the abdomen, the head and, above

all, the wings must be chopped off; and the resistance will be

decreased. (I would gladly, if I were able, cancel some rather hasty

lines which I allowed myself to pen in the first volume of these

"Souvenirs" but scripta manent. All that I can do is to make amends

now, in this note, for the error into which I fell. Relying on

Lacordaire, who quotes this instance from Erasmus Darwin in his own

"Introduction a l'entomologie", I believed that a Sphex was given as

the heroine of the story. How could I do otherwise, not having the

original text in front of me? How could I suspect that an entomologist

of Lacordaire's standing should be capable of such a blunder as to

substitute a Sphex for a Common Wasp? Great was my perplexity, in the

face of this evidence! A Sphex capturing a Fly was an impossibility;

and I blamed the British scientist accordingly. But what insect was it

that Erasmus Darwin saw? Calling logic to my aid, I declared that it

was a Wasp; and I could not have hit the mark more truly. Charles

Darwin, in fact, informed me afterwards that his grandfather wrote 'a

Wasp' in his "Zoonomia." Though the correction did credit to my

intelligence, I none the less deeply regretted my mistake, for I had

uttered suspicions of the observer's powers of discernment, unjust

suspicions which the translator's inaccuracy led me into entertaining.

May this note serve to mitigate the harshness of the strictures

provoked by my overtaxed credulity! I do not scruple to attack ideas

which I consider false; but Heaven forfend that I should ever attack

those who uphold them!--Author's Note.)

But does this concatenation of ideas, rudimentary though it be, really

take place within the insect's brain? I am convinced of the contrary;

and my proofs are unanswerable. In the first volume of these

"Souvenirs" (Cf. "Insect Life": chapter 9.--Translator's Note.), I

demonstrated by experiment that Erasmus Darwin's Wasp was but obeying

her instinct, which is to cut up the captured game and to keep only

the most nourishing part, the thorax. Whether the day be perfectly

calm or whether the wind blow, whether she be in the shelter of a

dense thicket or in the open, I see the Wasp proceed to separate the

succulent from the tough; I see her reject the legs, the wings, the

head and the abdomen, retaining only the breast as pap for her larvae.

Then what value has this dissection as an argument in favour of the

insect's reasoning-powers when the wind blows? It has no value at all,

for it would take place just the same in absolutely calm weather.

Erasmus Darwin jumped too quickly to his conclusion, which was the

outcome of his mental bias and not of the logic of things. If he had

first enquired into the Wasp's habits, he would not have brought

forward as a serious argument an incident which had no connection with

the important question of animal reason.

I have reverted to this case to show the difficulties that beset the

man who confines himself to casual observations, however carefully

carried out. One should never rely upon a lucky chance, which may not

occur again. We must multiply our observations, check them one with

the other; we must create incidents, looking into preceding ones,

finding out succeeding ones and working out the relation between them

all: then and not till then, with extreme caution, are we entitled to

express a few views worthy of credence. Nowhere do I find data

collected under such conditions; for which reason, however much I

might wish it, it is impossible for me to bring the evidence of others

in support of the few conclusions which I myself have formed.

My Mason-bees, with their nests hanging on the walls of the arch which

I have mentioned, lent themselves to continuous experiment better than

any other Hymenopteron. I had them there, at my house, under my eyes,

at all hours of the day, as long as I wished. I was free to follow

their actions in full detail and to carry out successfully any

experiment, however long. Moreover, their numbers allowed me to repeat

my attempts until I was perfectly convinced. The Mason-bees,

therefore, shall supply me with the materials for this chapter also.

A few words, before I begin, about the works. The Mason-bee of the

Sheds utilizes, first of all, the old galleries of the clay nest, a

part of which she good-naturedly abandons to two Osmiae, her free

tenants: the Three-horned Osmia and Latreille's Osmia. These old

corridors, which save labour, are in great demand; but there are not

many vacant, as the more precocious Osmiae have already taken

possession of most of them; and therefore the building of new cells

soon begins. These cells are cemented to the surface of the nest,

which thus increases in thickness every year. The edifice of cells is

not built all at once: mortar and honey alternate repeatedly. The

masonry starts with a sort of little swallow's nest, a half-cup or

thimble, whose circumference is completed by the wall against which it

rests. Picture the cup of an acorn cut in two and stuck to the surface

of the nest: there you have the receptacle in a stage sufficiently

advanced to take a first instalment of honey.

The Bee thereupon leaves the mortar and busies herself with

harvesting. After a few foraging-trips, the work of building is

resumed; and some new rows of bricks raise the edge of the basin,

which becomes capable of receiving a larger stock of provisions. Then

comes another change of business: the mason once more becomes a

harvester. A little later, the harvester is again a mason; and these

alternations continue until the cell is of the regulation height and

holds the amount of honey required for the larva's food. Thus come,

turn and turn about, more or less numerous according to the occupation

in hand, journeys to the dry and barren path, where the cement is

gathered and mixed, and journeys to the flowers, where the Bee's crop

is crammed with honey and her belly powdered with pollen.

At last comes the time for laying. We see the Bee arrive with a pellet

of mortar. She gives a glance at the cell to enquire if everything is

in order; she inserts her abdomen; and the egg is laid. Then and there

the mother seals up the home: with her pellet of cement she closes the

orifice and manages so well with the material that the lid receives

its permanent form at this first sitting; it has only to be thickened

and strengthened with fresh layers, a work which is less urgent and

will be done by and by. What does appear to be an urgent necessity is

the closing of the cell immediately after the egg has been religiously

deposited therein, so that there may be no danger from evilly-disposed

visitors during the mother's absence. The Bee must have serious

reasons for thus hurrying on the closing of the cell. What would

happen if, after laying her egg, she left the house open and went to

the cement-pit to fetch the wherewithal to block the door? Some thief

might drop in and substitute her own egg for the Mason-bee's. We shall

see that our suspicions are not uncalled-for. One thing is certain,

that the Mason never lays without having in her mandibles the pellet

of mortar required for the immediate construction of the lid of the

nest. The precious egg must not for a single instant remain exposed to

the cupidity of marauders.

To these particulars I will add a few general observations which will

make what follows easier to understand. So long as its circumstances

are normal, the insect's actions are calculated most rationally in

view of the object to be attained. What could be more logical, for

instance, than the devices employed by the Hunting Wasp when

paralysing her prey (Cf. "Insect Life": chapters 3 to 12 and 15 to

17.--Translator's Note.) so that it may keep fresh for her larva,

while in no wise imperilling that larva's safety? It is preeminently

rational; we ourselves could think of nothing better; and yet the

Wasp's action is not prompted by reason. If she thought out her

surgery, she would be our superior. It will never occur to anybody

that the creature is able, in the smallest degree, to account for its

skilful vivisections. Therefore, so long as it does not depart from

the path mapped out for it, the insect can perform the most sagacious

actions without entitling us in the least to attribute these to the

dictates of reason.

What would happen in an emergency? Here we must distinguish carefully

between two classes of emergency, or we shall be liable to grievous

error. First, in accidents occurring in the course of the insect's

occupation at the moment. In these circumstances, the creature is

capable of remedying the accident; it continues, under a similar form,

its actual task; it remains, in short; in the same psychic condition.

In the second case, the accident is connected with a more remote

occupation; it relates to a completed task with which, under normal

conditions, the insect is no longer concerned. To meet this emergency,

the creature would have to retrace its psychic course; it would have

to do all over again what it has just finished, before turning its

attention to anything else. Is the insect capable of this? Will it be

able to leave the present and return to the past? Will it decide to

hark back to a task that is much more pressing than the one on which

it was engaged? If it did all this, then we should really have

evidence of a modicum of reason. The question shall be settled by


We will begin by taking a few incidents that come under the first

heading. A Mason-bee has finished the initial layer of the covering of

the cell. She has gone in search of a second pellet of mortar

wherewith to strengthen her work. In her absence, I prick the lid with

a needle and widen the hole thus made, until it is half the size of

the opening. The insect returns and repairs the damage. It was

originally engaged on the lid and is merely continuing its work in

mending that lid.

A second is still at her first row of bricks. The cell as yet is no

more than a shallow cup, containing no provisions. I make a big hole

in the bottom of the cup and the Bee hastens to stop the breach. She

was busy building and turned aside a moment to do more building. Her

repairs are the continuation of the work on which she was engaged.

A third has laid her egg and closed the cell. While she is gone in

search of a fresh supply of cement to strengthen the door, I make a

large aperture immediately below the lid, too high up to allow the

honey to escape. The insect, on arriving with its mortar intended for

a different task, sees its broken jar and soon puts the damage right.

I have rarely witnessed such a sensible performance. Nevertheless, all

things considered, let us not be too lavish of our praises. The insect

was busy closing up. On its return, it sees a crack, representing in

its eyes a bad join which it had overlooked; it completes its actual

task by improving the join.

The conclusion to be drawn from these three instances, which I select

from a large number of others, more or less similar, is that the

insect is able to cope with emergencies, provided that the new action

be not outside the course of its actual work at the moment. Shall we

say then that reason directs it? Why should we? The insect persists in

the same psychic course, it continues its action, it does what it was

doing before, it corrects what to it appears but a careless flaw in

the work of the moment.

Here, moreover, is something which would change our estimate entirely,

if it ever occurred to us to look upon these repaired breaches as a

work dictated by reason. Let us turn to the second class of emergency

referred to above: let us imagine, first, cells similar to those in

the second experiment, that is to say, only half-finished, in the form

of a shallow cup, but already containing honey. I make a hole in the

bottom, through which the provisions ooze and run to waste. Their

owners are harvesting. Let us imagine, on the other hand, cells very

nearly finished and almost completely provisioned. I perforate the

bottom in the same way and let out the honey, which drips through

gradually. The owners of these are building.

Judging by what has gone before, the reader will perhaps expect to see

immediate repairs, urgent repairs, for the safety of the future larva

is at stake. Let him dismiss any such illusion: more and more journeys

are undertaken, now in quest of food, now in quest of mortar; but not

one of the Mason-bees troubles about the disastrous breach. The

harvester goes on harvesting; the busy bricklayer proceeds with her

next row of bricks, as though nothing out of the way had happened.

Lastly, if the injured cells are high enough and contain enough

provisions, the Bee lays her eggs, puts a door to the house and passes

on to another house, without doing aught to remedy the leakage of the

honey. Two or three days later, those cells have lost all their

contents, which now form a long trail on the surface of the nest.

Is it through lack of intelligence that the Bee allows her honey to go

to waste? May it not rather be through helplessness? It might happen

that the sort of mortar which the Mason has at her disposal will not

set on the edges of a hole that is sticky with honey. The honey may

prevent the cement from adjusting itself to the orifice, in which case

the insect's inertness would merely be resignation to an irreparable

evil. Let us look into the matter before drawing inferences. With my

forceps, I deprive the Bee of her pellet of mortar and apply it to the

hole whence the honey is escaping. My attempt at repairing meets with

the fullest success, though I do not pretend to compete with the Mason

in dexterity. For a piece of work done by a man's hand it is quite

creditable. My dab of mortar fits nicely into the mutilated wall; it

hardens as usual; and the escape of honey ceases. This is quite

satisfactory. What would it be had the work been done by the insect,

equipped with its tools of exquisite precision? When the Mason-bee

refrains, therefore, this is not due to helplessness on her part, nor

to any defect in the material employed.

Another objection presents itself. We are going too far perhaps in

admitting this concatenation of ideas in the insect's mind, in

expecting it to argue that the honey is running away because the cell

has a hole in it and that to save it from being wasted the hole must

be stopped. So much logic perhaps exceeds the powers of its poor

little brain. Then, again, the hole is not seen; it is hidden by the

honey trickling through. The cause of that stream of honey is an

unknown cause; and to trace the loss of the liquid home to that cause,

to the hole in the receptacle, is too lofty a piece of reasoning for

the insect.

A cell in the rudimentary cup-stage and containing no provisions has a

hole, three or four millimetres (.11 to .15 inch.--Translator's Note.)

wide, made in it at the bottom. A few moments later, this orifice is

stopped by the Mason. We have already witnessed a similar patching.

The insect, having finished, starts foraging. I reopen the hole at the

same place. The pollen runs through the aperture and falls to the

ground as the Bee is rubbing off her first load in the cell. The

damage is undoubtedly observed. When plunging her head into the cup to

take stock of what she has stored, the Bee puts her antennae into the

artificial hole: she sounds it, she explores it, she cannot fail to

perceive it.

I see the two feelers quivering outside the hole. The insect notices

the breach in the wall: that is certain. It flies off. Will it bring

back mortar from its present journey to repair the injured jar as it

did just now?

Not at all. It returns with provisions, it disgorges its honey, it

rubs off its pollen, it mixes the material. The sticky and almost

solid mass fills up the opening and oozes through with difficulty. I

roll a spill of paper and free the hole, which remains open and shows

daylight distinctly in both directions. I sweep the place clear over

and over again, whenever this becomes necessary because new provisions

are brought; I clean the opening sometimes in the Bee's absence,

sometimes in her presence, while she is busy mixing her paste. The

unusual happenings in the warehouse plundered from below cannot escape

her any more than the ever-open breach at the bottom of the cell.

Nevertheless, for three consecutive hours, I witness this strange

sight: the Bee, full of active zeal for the task in hand, omits to

plug this vessel of the Danaides. She persists in trying to fill her

cracked receptacle, whence the provisions disappear as soon as stored

away. She constantly alternates between builder's and harvester's

work; she raises the edges of the cell with fresh rows of bricks; she

brings provisions which I continue to abstract, so as to leave the

breach always visible. She makes thirty-two journeys before my eyes,

now for mortar, now for honey, and not once does she bethink herself

of stopping the leakage at the bottom of her jar.

At five o'clock in the evening, the works cease. They are resumed on

the morrow. This time, I neglect to clean out my artificial orifice

and leave the victuals gradually to ooze out by themselves. At length,

the egg is laid and the door sealed up, without anything being done by

the Bee in the matter of the disastrous breach. And yet to plug the

hole were an easy matter for her: a pellet of her mortar would

suffice. Besides, while the cup was still empty, did she not instantly

close the hole which I had made? Why are not those early repairs of

hers repeated? It clearly shows the creature's inability to retrace

the course of its actions, however slightly. At the time of the first

breach, the cup was empty and the insect was laying the first rows of

bricks. The accident produced through my agency concerned the part of

the work which occupied the Bee at the actual moment; it was a flaw in

the building, such as can occur naturally in new courses of masonry,

which have not had time to harden. In correcting that flaw, the Mason

did not go outside her usual work.

But, once the provisioning begins, the cup is finished for good and

all; and, come what may, the insect will not touch it again. The

harvester will go on harvesting, though the pollen trickle to the

ground through the drain. To plug the hole would imply a change of

occupation of which the insect is incapable for the moment. It is the

honey's turn and not the mortar's. The rule upon this point is

invariable. A moment comes, presently, when the harvesting is

interrupted and the masoning resumed. The edifice must be raised a

storey higher. Will the Bee, once more a builder, mixing fresh cement,

now attend to the leakage at the bottom? No more than before. What

occupies her at present is the new floor, whose brickwork would be

repaired at once, if it sustained a damage; but the bottom storey is

too old a part of the business, it is ancient history; and the worker

will not put a further touch to it, even though it be in serious


For the rest, the present and the following storeys will all have the

same fate. Carefully watched by the insect as long as they are in

process of building, they are forgotten and allowed to go to ruin once

they are actually built. Here is a striking instance: in a cell which

has attained its full height, I make a window, almost as large as the

natural opening, and place it about half-way up, above the honey. The

Bee brings provisions for some time longer and then lays her egg.

Through my big window, I see the egg deposited on the victuals. The

insect next works at the cover, to which it gives the finishing

touches with a series of little taps, administered with infinite care,

while the breach remains yawning. On the lid, it scrupulously stops up

every pore that could admit so much as an atom; but it leaves the

great opening that places the house at the mercy of the first-comer.

It goes to that breach repeatedly, puts in its head, examines it,

explores it with its antennae, nibbles the edges of it. And that is

all. The mutilated cell shall stay as it is, with never a dab of

mortar. The threatened part dates too far back for the Bee to think of

troubling about it.

I have said enough, I think, to show the insect's mental incapacity in

the presence of the accidental. This incapacity is confirmed by

renewing the test, an essential condition of all good experiments;

therefore my notes are full of examples similar to the one which I

have just described. To relate them would be mere repetition; I pass

them over for the sake of brevity.

The renewal of a test is not sufficient: we must also vary our test.

Let us, then, examine the insect's intelligence from another point of

view, that of the introduction of foreign bodies into the cell. The

Mason-bee is a housekeeper of scrupulous cleanliness, as indeed are

all the Hymenoptera. Not a spot of dirt is suffered in her honey-pot;

not a grain of dust is permitted on the surface of her mixture. And

yet, while the jar is open, the precious Bee-bread is exposed to

accidents. The workers in the cells above may inadvertently drop a

little mortar into the lower cells; the owner herself, when working at

enlarging the jar, runs the risk of letting a speck of cement fall

into the provisions. A Gnat, attracted by the smell, may come and be

caught in the honey; brawls between neighbours who are getting into

each other's way may send some dust flying thither. All this refuse

has to disappear and that quickly, lest afterwards the larva should

find coarse fare under its delicate mandibles. Therefore the Mason-

bees must be able to cleanse the cell of any foreign body. And, in

point of fact, they are well able to do so.

I place on the surface of the honey five or six bits of straw a

millimetre in length. (.039 inch.--Translator's Note.) Great

astonishment on the part of the returning insect. Never before have so

many sweepings accumulated in its warehouse. The Bee picks out the

bits of straw, one by one, to the very last, and each time goes and

gets rid of them at a distance. The effort is out of all proportion to

the work: I see the Bee soar above the nearest plane-tree, to a height

of thirty feet, and fly away beyond it to rid herself of her burden, a

mere atom. She fears lest she should litter the place by dropping her

bit of straw on the ground, under the nest. A thing like that must be

carried very far away.

I place upon the honey-paste a Mason-bee's egg which I myself saw laid

in an adjacent cell. The Bee picks it out and throws it away at a

distance, as she did with the straws just now. There are two

inferences to be drawn from this, both extremely interesting. In the

first place, that precious egg, for whose future the Bee labours so

indefatigably, becomes a valueless, cumbersome, hateful thing when it

belongs to another. Her own egg is everything; the egg of her next

door neighbour is nothing. It is flung on the dust-heap like any bit

of rubbish. The individual, so zealous on behalf of her family,

displays an abominable indifference for the rest of her kind. Each one

for himself. In the second place, I ask myself, without as yet being

able to find an answer to my question, how certain parasites go to

work to give their larva the benefit of the provisions accumulated by

the Mason-bee. If they decide to lay their egg on the victuals in the

open cell, the Bee, when she sees it, will not fail to cast it out; if

they decide to lay after the owner, they cannot do so, for she blocks

up the door as soon as her laying is done. This curious problem must

be reserved for future investigation. (Cf. "The Life of the Fly":

chapters 2 to 4; also later chapters in the present volume.--

Translator's Note.)

Lastly, I stick into the paste a bit of straw nearly an inch long and

standing well out above the rim of the cell. The insect extracts it by

dint of great efforts, dragging it away from one side; or else, with

the help of its wings, it drags it from above. It darts away with the

honey-smeared straw and gets rid of it at a distance, after flying

over the plane-tree.

This is where things begin to get complicated. I have said that, when

the time comes for laying, the Mason-bee arrives with a pellet of

mortar wherewith immediately to make a door to the house. The insect,

with its front legs resting on the rim, inserts its abdomen in the

cell; it has the mortar ready in its mouth. Having laid the egg, it

comes out and turns round to block the door. I wave it away for a

second, at the same time planting my straw as before, a straw sticking

out nearly a centimetre. (.39 inch.--Translator's Note.) What will the

Bee do? Will she, who is scrupulous in ridding the home of the least

mote of dust, extract this beam, which would certainly prove the

larva's undoing by interfering with its growth? She could, for just

now we saw her drag out and throw away, at a distance, a similar beam.

She could and she doesn't. She closes the cell, cements the lid, seals

up the straw in the thickness of the mortar. More journeys are taken,

not a few, in search of the cement required to strengthen the cover.

Each time, the mason applies the material with the most minute care,

while giving the straw not a thought. In this way, I obtain, one after

the other, eight closed cells whose lids are surmounted by my mast, a

bit of protruding straw. What evidence of obtuse intelligence!

This result is deserving of attentive consideration. At the moment

when I am inserting my beam, the insect has its mandibles engaged:

they are holding the pellet of mortar intended for the blocking-

operation. As the extracting-tool is not free, the extraction does not

take place. I expected to see the Bee relinquish her mortar and then

proceed to remove the encumbrance. A dab of mortar more or less is not

a serious business. I had already noticed that it takes my Mason-bees

a journey of three or four minutes to collect one. The pollen-

expeditions last longer, a matter of ten or fifteen minutes. To drop

her pellet, grab the straw with her mandibles, now disengaged, remove

it and gather a fresh supply of cement would entail a loss of five

minutes at most. The Bee decides differently. She will not, she cannot

relinquish her pellet; and she uses it. No matter that the larva will

perish by this untimely trowelling: the moment has come to wall up the

door; the door is walled up. Once the mandibles are free, the

extraction could be attempted, at the risk of wrecking the lid. But

the Bee does nothing of the sort: she keeps on fetching mortar; and

the lid is religiously finished.

We might go on to say that, if the Bee were obliged to depart in quest

of fresh mortar after dropping the first to withdraw the straw, she

would leave the egg unguarded and that this would be an extreme

measure which the mother cannot bring herself to adopt. Then why does

she not place the pellet on the rim of the cell? The mandibles, now

free, would remove the beam; the pellet would be taken up again at

once; and everything would go to perfection. But no: the insect has

its mortar and, come what may, employs it on the work for which it was


If any one sees a rudiment of reason in this Hymenopteron

intelligence, he has eyes that are more penetrating than mine. I see

nothing in it all but an invincible persistence in the act once begun.

The cogs have gripped; and the rest of the wheels must follow. The

mandibles are fastened on the pellet of mortar; and the idea, the wish

to unfasten them will never occur to the insect until the pellet has

fulfilled its purpose. And here is a still greater absurdity: the

plugging once begun is very carefully finished with fresh relays of

mortar! Exquisite attention is paid to a closing-up which is

henceforth useless; no attention at all to the dangerous beam. O

little gleams of reason that are said to enlighten the animal, you are

very near the darkness, you are naught!

Another and still more eloquent fact will finally convince whoso may

yet be doubting. The ration of honey stored up in a cell is evidently

measured by the needs of the coming larva. There is neither too much

nor too little. How does the Bee know when the proper quantity is

reached? The cells are more or less constant in dimension, but they

are not filled completely, only to about two-thirds of their height. A

large space is therefore left empty; and the victualler has to judge

of the moment when the surface of the mess has attained the right

level. The honey being perfectly opaque, its depth is not apparent. I

have to use a sounding-rod when I want to gauge the contents of the

jar; and I find, on the average, that the honey reaches a depth of ten

millimetres. (.39 inch.--Translator's Note.) The Bee has not this

resource; she has sight, which may enable her to estimate the full

section from the empty section. This presupposes the possession of a

somewhat geometric eye, capable of measuring the third of a distance.

If the insect did it by Euclid, that would be very brilliant of it.

What a magnificent proof in favour of its little intellect: a

Chalicodoma with a geometrician's eye, able to divide a straight line

into three equal parts! This is worth looking into seriously.

I take five cells, which are only partly provisioned, and empty them

of their honey with a wad of cotton held in my forceps. From time to

time, as the Bee brings new provisions, I repeat the cleansing-

process, sometimes clearing out the cell entirely, sometimes leaving a

thin layer at the bottom. I do not observe any pronounced hesitation

on the part of my plundered victims, even though they surprise me at

the moment when I am draining the jar; they continue their work with

quiet industry. Sometimes, two or three threads of cotton remain

clinging to the walls of the cells: the Bees remove them carefully and

dart away to a distance, as usual, to get rid of them. At last, a

little sooner or a little later, the egg is laid and the lid fastened


I break open the five closed cells. In one, the egg has been laid on

three millimetres of honey (.117 inch.--Translator's Note.); in two,

on one millimetre (.039 inch.--Translator's Note.); and, in the two

others, it is placed on the side of the receptacle drained of all its

contents, or, to be more accurate, having only the glaze, the varnish

left by the friction of the honey-covered cotton.

The inference is obvious: the Bee does not judge of the quantity of

honey by the elevation of the surface; she does not reason like a

geometrician, she does not reason at all. She accumulates so long as

she feels within her the secret impulse that prompts her to go on

collecting until the victualling is completed; she ceases to

accumulate when that impulse is satisfied, irrespective of the result,

which in this case happens to be worthless. No mental faculty,

assisted by sight, informs her when she has enough, or when she has

too little. An instinctive predisposition is her only guide, an

infallible guide under normal conditions, but hopelessly lost when

subjected to the wiles of the experimenter. Had the Bee the least

glimmer of reason would she lay her egg on the third, on the tenth

part of the necessary provender? Would she lay it in an empty cell?

Would she be guilty of such inconceivable maternal aberration as to

leave her nurseling without nourishment? I have told the story; let

the reader decide.

This instinctive predisposition, which does not leave the insect free

to act and, through that very fact, saves it from error, bursts forth

under yet another aspect. Let us grant the Bee as much judgment as you

please. Thus endowed, will she be capable of meting out the future's

larva's portion? By no means. The Bee does not know what that portion

is. There is nothing to tell the materfamilias; and yet, at her first

attempt, she fills the honey-pot to the requisite depth. True, in her

childhood she received a similar ration, but she consumed it in the

darkness of a cell; and besides, as a grub, she was blind. Sight was

not her informant: it did not tell her the quantity of the provisions.

Did memory, the memory of the stomach that once digested them? But

digestion took place a year ago; and since that distant epoch, the

nurseling, now an adult insect, has changed its shape, its dwelling,

its mode of life. It was a grub; it is a Bee. Does the actual insect

remember that childhood's meal? No more than we remember the sups of

milk drawn from our mother's breast. The Bee, therefore, knows nothing

of the quantity of provisions needed by her larva, whether from

memory, from example or from acquired experience. Then what guides her

when she makes her estimate with such precision? Judgment and sight

would leave the mother greatly perplexed, liable to provide too much

or not enough. To instruct her beyond the possibility of a mistake

demands a special tendency, an unconscious impulse, an instinct, an

inward voice that dictates the measure to be apportioned.