Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/25

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15
INSTINCT IN INSECTS.

those in which instinct is most developed; we except neither birds with their nests, nor beavers with their dams. Among insects, those in which the highest expression of instinct is noted are bees, that build cells like the work of profound geometry; and particularly ants, acting with instincts yet higher, which seem to approach those perhaps smothered by education in man. A Genevese, Peter Huber, made these known to us. His book (1810) crowns a period of remarkable studies upon insects. Before his time, as far back as 1705, a woman, Mlle. Sybille de Merian, crossed the ocean and made a voyage to Surinam, to paint the caterpillars of the tropics; then after her come Réaumur, Da Geer, Bonnet, who watches night and day his flea, the daughter of five virgin generations, and, when it dies, writes to all Europe to disclaim any responsibility for the event. The pursuit grows a passion. Lyonnet passes his life in describing, drawing, and engraving the anatomy of the willow-caterpillar. Enthusiasm works miracles; Francis Huber, the father of the man of ants, although blind, performs the marvel of making wonderful discoveries as to things taking place in the inner darkness of beehives. Peter Huber, the son, is lost and absorbed in those societies of the ants to which he devotes his studies. While all Europe is agitated by coalitions, nothing from without reaches him.

Peter Huber observes and experiments with rare sagacity. No fact escapes him; he may remark upon it or explain it ill, but he notes it most accurately. His observations have not been contradicted; his experiments still remain patterns of care and patience. He peopled with ants, his garden, the terrace of his house, his study, his tables, which were turned into a kind of hives, and, lest this new dwelling might be unsatisfactory to the ants, and in order that they might keep at work in it, he made rain and fair weather for them; his rain-making consisting in rubbing his hand for hours at a time over a wet brush. In brief, he supplied them so richly with tempting dainties and weather-contrivances, that at last they wanted nothing better than their chance home, a bureau-drawer. Did he not even one day cherish the fantastic notion of bringing up the larvas of his ants by feeding by hand ? We cannot resist loving him for his attachment to these little, thinking beings. He meditated long over one decisive experiment nothing less than the question of setting two colonies of ants at war on the floor of his study. He hesitated and lingered to awake the casus belli which should be the signal of slaughter; he devised pretexts to adjourn the dreadful scene. "I thought over this experiment for a long time," he says, "and I constantly postponed it, because I had grown to be very fond of my captives." This recalls one of Réaumur's sayings. He observes with what celerity humble-bees rebuild their nest of moss after it has been opened to examine the inside, an intrusion which these insects allow much more patiently than honey-bees do, and he adds: "If the moss from above is thrown down