Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/29

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19
INSTINCT IN INSECTS.

Huber did not clearly draw the distinction, nor could he do so in his time, between that which is instinct and that which is the share of intelligence in those acts which he witnessed. It is clear that these two orders of faculties are constantly combined. It is by reason of their perfection in instinct that intelligence appears so clearly in these little beings. The construction of the ant-hill is an act of instinct; the choice and distribution of its materials partake of intelligence. A thousand traits reveal the thought which perceives, deliberates, wills, executes. We may cite the observed fact of a crowd of ants dragging with great effort a beetle's wing toward their hole. The opening is too small, the wing will not go in. The workers drop it a moment, tear down a piece of the wall, and renew their attempt. Some push it from outside, others drag it from within. Fruitless effort! The superb spoil, which will make an entire ceiling, will not pass yet; they drop it once more; the breach is widened, and the wing at last is swallowed up in the cavern, where perhaps ten partitions must be torn down to carry it to the proper place. The wing once got in, they rebuild the wall, and restore its former dimensions to the entrance. We cannot cite, in the case of monkeys watched in captivity in menageries, a single instance so clearly showing deliberation and common judgment.

The social phenomena presented by the higher animals are unfortunately very little known. We know scarcely any thing of what goes on in a habitation of beavers; we know nothing of the habits of the republican sparrow, which builds a city for its nest; the insect communities are the most perfect ones that have been studied hitherto. So soon as a society exists, there are understanding and concurrence of all at every moment to reach a definite object. No zoologist now doubts that insects of the same species may communicate with each other, under certain circumstances, by a language of which the methods elude us. Blanchard says of the ant: "It has its ideas, and communicates them;" but a singular detail of the history of the sacred scarabee shows this still more clearly. The female, as we know, wraps up her newly-laid egg in a ball of manure, the nourishment for the coming grub. The point now is to transport the ball into a suitable place, where it may be buried. The insect rolls along, with its hind-claws, or, if necessary, hoists with its head, this little world, in which the Egyptians found an emblem for their myths. Sometimes the journey is pretty long; the ball, lifted to the ridge of a mole-hill, rolls down the other side, and so much is gained. But, if a rut or a crevice is encountered, the precious globe drops to the bottom, and would be hopelessly lost if the scarabee had only its own strength to depend on for mounting that steep wall. It struggles in vain, and begins again twenty times over; at last it seems to desert its load, and flies off. Wait and watch; after a little while you will see the insect coming back, but not alone now. It is followed by two, three, four, five com-