Jean-Henri FABRE Bramble-Bees and others - Chap. III

 

THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE SEXES

 

Does the insect know beforehand the sex of the egg which it is about to lay? When examining the stock of food in the cells just now, we began to suspect that it does, for each little heap of provisions is carefully proportioned to the needs at one time of a male and at another of a female. What we have to do is to turn this suspicion into a certainty demonstrated by experiment. And first let us find out how the sexes are arranged.

It is not possible to ascertain the chronological order of a laying, except by going to suitably-chosen species. Digging up the burrows of Cerceris-, Bembex- or Philanthus-wasps will never tell us that this grub has taken precedence of that in point of time nor enable us to decide whether one cocoon in a colony belongs to the same family as another. To compile a register of births is absolutely impossible here. Fortunately there are a few species in which we do not find this difficulty: these are the Bees who keep to one gallery and build their cells in storeys. Among the number are the different inhabitants of the bramble-stumps, notably the Three-pronged Osmiae, who form an excellent subject for observation, partly because they are of imposing-size — bigger than any other bramble-dwellers in my neighbourhood — partly because they are so plentiful.

Let us briefly recall the Osmia's habits. Amid the tangle of a hedge, a bramble-stalk is selected, still standing, but a mere withered stump. In this the insect digs a more or less deep tunnel, an easy piece of work owing to the abundance of soft pith. Provisions are heaped up right at the bottom of the tunnel and an egg is laid on the surface of the food: that is the first-born of the family. At a height of some twelve millimetres (1), a partition is fixed, formed of bramble saw-dust and of a green paste obtained by masticating particles of the leaves of some plant that has not yet been identified. This gives a second storey, which in its turn receives provisions and an egg, the second in order of primogeniture. And so it goes on, storey by storey, until the cylinder is full. Then a thick plug of the same green material of which the partitions are formed closes the home and keeps out marauders.

In this common cradle, the chronological order of births is perfectly clear. The first-born of the family is at the bottom of the series; the last-born is at the top, near the closed door. The others follow from bottom to top in the same order in which they followed in point of time. The laying is numbered automatically; each cocoon tells us its respective age by the place which it occupies.

To know the sexes, we must wait for the month of June. But it would be unwise to postpone our investigations until that period. Osmia- nests are not so common that we can hope to pick one up each time that we go out with that object; besides, if we wait for the hatching-period before examining the brambles, it may happen that the order has been disturbed through some insects' having tried to make their escape as soon as possible after bursting their cocoons; it may happen that the male Osmiae, who are more forward than the females, are already gone. I therefore set to work a long time beforehand and devote my leisure in winter to these investigations.

The bramble-sticks are split and the cocoons taken out one by one and methodically transferred to glass tubes, of approximately the same diameter as the native cylinder. These cocoons are arranged one on top of the other in exactly the same order that they occupied in the bramble; they are separated from one another by a cotton plug, an insuperable obstacle to the future insect. There is thus no fear that the contents of the cells may become mixed or transposed; and I am saved the trouble of keeping a laborious watch. Each insect can hatch at its own time, in my presence or not: I am sure of always finding it in its place, in its proper order, held fast fore and aft by the cotton barrier. A cork or sorghum-pith partition would not fulfil the same purpose: the insect would perforate it and the register of births would be muddled by changes of position. Any reader wishing to undertake similar investigations will excuse these practical details, which may facilitate his work.

We do not often come upon complete series, comprising the whole laying, from the first-born to the youngest. As a rule, we find part of a laying, in which the number of cocoons varies greatly, sometimes falling as low as two, or even one. The mother has not deemed it advisable to confide her whole family to a single bramble-stump; in order to make the exit less toilsome, or else for reasons which escape me, she has left the first home and elected to make a second home, perhaps a third or more.

We also find series with breaks in them. Sometimes, in cells distributed at random, the egg has not developed and the provisions have remained untouched, but mildewed; sometimes, the larva has died before spinning its cocoon, or after spinning it. Lastly, there are parasites, such as the Unarmed Zonitis (2) and the Spotted Sapyga (3), who interrupt the series by substituting themselves for the original occupant. All these disturbing factors make it necessary to examine a large number of nests of the Three- pronged Osmia, if we would obtain a definite result.

I have been studying the bramble-dwellers for seven or eight years and I could not say how many strings of cocoons have passed through my hands. During a recent winter, in view particularly of the distribution of the sexes, I collected some forty of this Osmia's nests, transferred their contents into glass tubes and made a careful summary of the sexes. I give some of my results. The figures start in their order from the bottom of the tunnel dug in the bramble and proceed upwards to the orifice. The figure 1 therefore denotes the first-born of the series, the oldest in date; the highest figure denotes the last-born. The letter M, placed under the corresponding figure, represents the male and the letter F the female sex.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
F F M F M F M M F F  F  F  M  F  M

This is the longest series that I have ever been able to procure. It is also complete, inasmuch as it comprises the entire laying of the Osmia. My statement requires explaining, otherwise it would seem impossible to know whether a mother whose acts one has not watched, nay more, whom one has never seen, has or has not finished laying her eggs. The bramble-stump under consideration leaves a free space of nearly four inches above the continuous string of cocoons. Beyond it, at the actual orifice, is the terminal stopper, the thick plug which closes the entrance to the gallery. In this empty portion of the tunnel there is ample accommodation for numerous cocoons. The fact that the mother has not made use of it proves that her ovaries were exhausted; for it is exceedingly unlikely that she has abandoned first-rate lodgings to go laboriously digging a new gallery elsewhere and there continue her laying.

You may say that, if the unoccupied space marks the end of the laying, nothing tells us that the beginning is actually at the bottom of the cul-de-sac, at the other end of the tunnel. You may also say that the laying is done in shifts, separated by intervals of rest. The space left empty in the channel would mean that one of these shifts was finished and not that there were no more eggs ripe for hatching. In answer to these very plausible explanations, I will say that, the sum of my observations — and they have been extremely numerous — is that the total number of eggs laid not only by the Osmiae but by a host of other Bees fluctuates round about fifteen.

Besides, when we consider that the active life of these insects lasts hardly a month; when we remember that this period of activity is disturbed by dark, rainy or very windy days, during which all work is suspended; when lastly we ascertain, as I have done ad nauseam in the case of the Three-horned Osmia, the time required for building and victualling a cell, it becomes obvious that the total laying must be kept within narrow bounds and that the mother has no time to lose if she wishes to get fifteen cells satisfactorily built in three or four weeks interrupted by compulsory rests. I shall give some facts later which will dispel your doubts, if any remain.

I assume, therefore, that a number of eggs bordering on fifteen represents the entire family of an Osmia, as it does of many other Bees.

Let us consult some other complete series. Here are two:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
F F M F M F M F F F  F  M  F
F M F F F M F F M F  M

In both cases, the laying is taken as complete, for the same reasons as above.

We will end with some series that appear to me incomplete, in view of the small number of cells and the absence of any free space above the pile of cocoons:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
M M F M M M M M
M M F M F M M M
F M F F M M
M M M F M
F F F F
M M   M
F M

These examples are more than sufficient. It is quite evident that the distribution of the sexes is not governed by any rule. All that I can say on consulting the whole of my notes, which contain a good many instances of complete layings — most of them, unfortunately, spoilt through gaps caused by parasites, the death of the larva, the failure of the egg to hatch and other accidents — all that I can say in general is that the complete series begins with females and nearly always ends with males. The incomplete series can teach us nothing in this respect, for they are only fragments starting we know not whence; and it is impossible to tell whether they should be ascribed to the beginning, to the end, or to an intermediate period of the laying. To sum up: in the laying of the Three-pronged Osmia, no order governs the succession of the sexes; only, the series has a marked tendency to begin with females and to finish with males.

The brambles, in my district, harbour two other Osmiae, both of much smaller size: O. detrita, PEREZ, and O. parvula, DUF. The first is very common, the second very rare; and until now I have found only one of her nests, placed above a nest of O. detrita, in the same bramble. Here, instead of the lack of order in the distribution of the sexes which we find with O. tridentata, we have an order remarkable for consistency and simplicity. I have before me the list of the series of O. detrita collected last winter. Here are some of them:

1. A series of twelve: seven females, beginning with the bottom of the tunnel, and then five males.

2. A series of nine: three females first, then six males.

3. A series of eight: five females followed by three males.

4. A series of eight: seven females followed by one male.

5. A series of eight: one female followed by seven males.

6. A series of seven: six females followed by one male.

The first series might very well be complete. The second and fifth appear to be the end of layings, of which the beginning has taken place elsewhere, in another bramble-stump. The males predominate and finish off the series. Nos. 3, 4 and 6, on the other hand, look like the beginnings of layings: the females predominate and are at the head of the series. Even if these interpretations should be open to doubt, one result at least is certain: with O. detrita, the laying is divided into two groups, with no intermingling of the sexes; the first group laid yields nothing but females, the second, or more recent, yields nothing but males.

What was only a sort of attempt with the Three-pronged Osmia — who, it is true, begins with females and ends with males, but muddles up the order and mixes the two sexes anyhow between the extreme points — becomes a regular law with her kinswoman. The mother occupies herself at the start with the stronger sex, the more necessary, the better- gifted, the female sex, to which she devotes the first flush of her laying and the fullness of her vigour; later, when she is perhaps already at the end of her strength, she bestows what remains of her maternal solicitude upon the weaker sex, the less-gifted, almost negligible male sex.

O. parvula, of whom I unfortunately possess but one series, repeats what the previous witness has just shown us. This series, one of nine cocoons, comprises five females followed by four males, without any mixing of the sexes.

Next to these disgorgers of honey and gleaners of pollen-dust, it would be well to consult other Hymenoptera, Wasps who devote themselves to the chase and pile their cells one after the other, in a row, showing the relative age of the cocoons. The brambles house several of these: Solenius vagus, who stores up Flies; Psen atratus, who provides her grubs with a heap of Plant-lice; Trypoxylon figulus, who feeds them with Spiders.

Solenius vagus digs her gallery in a bramble-stick that is lopped short, but still fresh and green. The house of this Fly-huntress, therefore, suffers from damp, as the sap enters, especially on the lower floors. This seems to me rather insanitary. To avoid the humidity, or for other reasons which escape me, the Solenius does not dig very far into her bramble-stump and consequently can stack but a small number of cells in it. A series of five cocoons gives me first four females and then one male; another series, also of five, contains first three females, with two males following. These are the most complete that I have for the moment.

I reckoned on the Black Psen, or Psen atratus, whose series are pretty long; it is a pity that they are nearly always greatly interfered with by a parasite called Ephialtes mediator (4). I obtained only three series free from gaps: one of eight cocoons, comprising only females; one of six, likewise consisting wholly of females; lastly, one of eight, formed exclusively of males. These instances seem to show that the Psen arranges her laying in a succession of females and a succession of males; but they tell us nothing of the relative order of the two series.

From the Spider-huntress, Trypoxylon figulus, I learnt nothing decisive. She appeared to me to rove about from one bramble to the next, utilizing galleries which she has not dug herself. Not troubling to be economical with a lodging which it has cost her nothing to acquire, she carelessly builds a few partitions at very unequal heights, stuffs three or four compartments with Spiders and passes on to another bramble-stump, with no reason, so far as I know, for abandoning the first. Her cells, therefore, occur in series that are too short to give us any useful information.

This is all that the bramble-dwellers have to tell us; I have enumerated the list of the principal ones in my district. We will now look into some other Bees who arrange their cocoons in single files: the Megachiles (5), who cut disks out of leaves and fashion the disks into thimble-shaped receptacles; the Anthidia (6), who weave their honey- wallets out of cotton-wool and arrange their cells one after the other in some cylindrical gallery. In most cases, the home is the produce of neither the one nor the other. A tunnel in the upright, earthy banks, the old work of some Anthophora, is the usual dwelling. There is no great depth to these retreats; and all my searches, zealously prosecuted during a number of winters, procured me only series containing a small number of cocoons, four or five at most, often one alone. And, what is quite as serious, nearly all these series are spoilt by parasites and allow me to draw no well-founded deductions.

I remembered finding, at rare intervals, nests of both the Anthidium and the Megachile in the hollows of cut reeds. I thereupon installed some hives of a new kind on the sunniest walls of my enclosure. They consisted of stumps of the great reed of the south, open at one end, closed at the other by the natural knot and gathered into a sort of enormous pan-pipe, such as Polyphemus might have employed. The invitation was accepted: Osmiae, Anthidia and Megachiles came in fairly large numbers, especially the first, to benefit by the queer installation.

In this way I obtained some magnificent series of Anthidia and Megachiles, running up to a dozen. There was a melancholy side to this success. All my series, with not one exception, were ravaged by parasites. Those of the Megachile (7); those of the Anthidium (A. florentinum, LATR.) were occupied by a Leucopsis. Both kinds were swarming with a colony of pigmy parasites whose name I have not yet been able to discover. In short, my pan-pipe hives, though very useful to me from other points of view, taught me nothing about the order of the sexes among the Leaf- cutters and the cotton-weavers.

I was more fortunate with three Osmiae (O. tricornis, LATR., O. cornuta, LATR., and O. Latreillii, SPIN.), all of whom gave me splendid results, with reed-stumps arranged either against the walls of my garden, as I have just said, or near their customary abode, the huge nests of the Mason-bee of the Sheds. One of them, the Three- horned Osmia, did better still: as I have described, she built her nests in my study, as plentifully as I could wish, using reeds, glass tubes and other retreats of my selecting for her galleries.

We will consult this last, who has furnished me with documents beyond my fondest hopes, and begin by asking her of how many eggs her average laying consists. Of the whole heap of colonized tubes in my study, or else out of doors, in the hurdle-reeds and the pan-pipe appliances, the best-filled contains fifteen cells, with a free space above the series, a space showing that the laying is ended, for, if the mother had any more eggs available, she would have lodged them in the room which she leaves unoccupied. This string of fifteen appears to be rare; it was the only one that I found. My attempts at indoor rearing, pursued during two years with glass tubes or reeds, taught me that the Three-horned Osmia is not much addicted to long series. As though to decrease the difficulties of the coming deliverance, she prefers short galleries, in which only a part of the laying is stacked. We must then follow the same mother in her migration from one dwelling to the next if we would obtain a complete census of her family. A spot of colour, dropped on the Bee's thorax with a paint- brush while she is absorbed in closing up the mouth of the tunnel, enables us to recognize the Osmia in her various homes.

In this way, the swarm that resided in my study furnished me, in the first year, with an average of twelve cells. Next year, the summer appeared to be more favourable and the average became rather higher, reaching fifteen. The most numerous laying performed under my eyes, not in a tube, but in a succession of Snail-shells, reached the figure of twenty-six. On the other hand, layings of between eight and ten are not uncommon. Lastly, taking all my records together, the result is that the family of the Osmia fluctuates round about fifteen in number.

I have already spoken of the great differences in size apparent in the cells of one and the same series. The partitions, at first widely spaced, draw gradually nearer to one another as they come closer to the aperture, which implies roomy cells at the back and narrow cells in front. The contents of these compartments are no less uneven between one portion and another of the string. Without any exception known to me, the large cells, those with which the series starts, have more abundant provisions than the straitened cells with which the series ends. The heap of honey and pollen in the first is twice or even thrice as large as that in the second. In the last cells, the most recent in date, the victuals are but a pinch of pollen, so niggardly in amount that we wonder what will become of the larva with that meagre ration.

One would think that the Osmia, when nearing the end of the laying, attaches no importance to her last-born, to whom she doles out space and food so sparingly. The first-born receive the benefit of her early enthusiasm: theirs is the well-spread table, theirs the spacious apartments. The work has begun to pall by the time that the last eggs are laid; and the last-comers have to put up with a scurvy portion of food and a tiny corner.

The difference shows itself in another way after the cocoons are spun. The large cells, those at the back, receive the bulky cocoons; the small ones, those in front, have cocoons only a half or a third as big. Before opening them and ascertaining the sex of the Osmia inside, let us wait for the transformation into the perfect insect, which will take place towards the end of summer. If impatience gets the better of us, we can open them at the end of July or in August. The insect is then in the nymphal stage; and it is easy, under this form, to distinguish the two sexes by the length of the antennae, which are larger in the males, and by the glassy protuberances on the forehead, the sign of the future armour of the females. Well, the small cocoons, those in the narrow front cells, with their scanty store of provisions, all belong to males; the big cocoons, those in the spacious and well-stocked cells at the back, all belong to females.

The conclusion is definite: the laying of the Three-horned Osmia consists of two distinct groups, first a group of females and then a group of males.

With my pan-pipe apparatus displayed on the walls of my enclosure and with old hurdle-reeds left lying flat out of doors, I obtained the Horned Osmia in fair quantities. I persuaded Latreille's Osmia to build her nest in reeds, which she did with a zeal which I was far from expecting. All that I had to do was to lay some reed-stumps horizontally within her reach, in the immediate neighbourhood of her usual haunts, namely, the nests of the Mason-bee of the Sheds. Lastly, I succeeded without difficulty in making her build her nests in the privacy of my study, with glass tubes for a house. The result surpassed my hopes.

With both these Osmiae, the division of the gallery is the same as with the Three-horned Osmia. At the back are large cells with plentiful provisions and widely-spaced partitions; in front, small cells, with scanty provisions and partitions close together. Also, the larger cells supplied me with big cocoons and females; the smaller cells gave me little cocoons and males. The conclusion therefore is exactly the same in the case of all three Osmiae.

Before dismissing the Osmiae, let us devote a moment to their cocoons, a comparison of which, in the matter of bulk, will furnish us with fairly accurate evidence as to the relative size of the two sexes, for the thing contained, the perfect insect, is evidently proportionate to the silken wrapper in which it is enclosed. These cocoons are oval-shaped and may be regarded as ellipsoids formed by a revolution around the major axis. The volume of one of these solids is expressed in the following formula:

4 / 3 x pi x a x (b squared),

in which 2a is the major axis and 2b the minor axis.

Now, the average dimensions of the cocoons of the Three-horned Osmia are as follows:

2a = 13 mm. (8), 2b = 7 mm. (9) in the females;

2a = 9 mm. (10), 2b = 5 mm. (11) in the males.

The ratio therefore between 13 x 7 x 7 = 637 and 9 x 5 x 5 = 225 will be more or less the ratio between the sizes of the two sexes. This ratio is somewhere between 2 to 1 and 3 to 1. The females therefore are two or three times larger than the males, a proportion already suggested by a comparison of the mass of provisions, estimated simply by the eye.

The Horned Osmia gives us the following average dimensions:

2a = 15 mm. (12), 2b = 9 mm. (13) in the females;

2a = 12 mm. (14), 2b = 7 mm. (.273 inch. (15) in the males.

Once again, the ratio between 15 x 9 x 9 = 1215 and 12 x 7 x 7 = 588 lies between 2 to 1 and 3 to 1.

Besides the Bees who arrange their laying in a row, I have consulted others whose cells are grouped in a way that makes it possible to ascertain the relative order of the two sexes, though not quite so precisely. One of these is the Mason-bee of the Walls. I need not describe again her dome-shaped nest, built on a pebble, which is now so well-known to us (16).

Each mother chooses her stone and works on it in solitude. She is an ungracious landowner and guards her site jealously, driving away any Mason who even looks as though she might alight on it. The inhabitants of the same nest are therefore always brothers and sisters; they are the family of one mother. Moreover, if the stone presents a large enough surface — a condition easily fulfilled — the Mason-bee has no reason to leave the support on which she began her laying and go in search of another whereon to deposit the rest of her eggs. She is too thrifty of her time and of her mortar to involve herself in such expenditure except for grave reasons. Consequently, each nest, at least when it is new, when the Bee herself has laid the first foundations, contains the entire laying. It is a different thing when an old nest is restored and made into a place for depositing the eggs. I shall come back later to such houses.

A newly-built nest then, with rare exceptions, contains the entire laying of one female. Count the cells and we shall have the total list of the family. Their maximum number fluctuates round about fifteen. The most luxuriant series will occasionally reach as many as eighteen, though these are very scarce.

When the surface of the stone is regular all around the site of the first cell, when the mason can add to her building with the same facility in every direction, it is obvious that the groups of cells, when finished, will have the oldest in the central portion and the more recent in the surrounding portion. Because of this juxtaposition of the cells, which serve partly as a wall to those which come next, it is possible to form some estimate of the chronological order of the cells in the Chalicodoma's nest and thus to discover the sequence of the two sexes.

In winter, by which time the Bee has long been in the perfect state, I collect Chalicodoma-nests, removing them bodily from their support with a few smart sideward taps of the hammer on the pebbles. At the base of the mortar dome the cells are wide agape and display their contents. I take the cocoon from its box, open it and take note of the sex of the insect enclosed.

I should probably be accused of exaggeration if I mentioned the total number of the nests which I have gathered and the cells which I have inspected by this method during the last six or seven years. I will content myself with saying that the harvest of a single morning sometimes consisted of as many as sixty nests of the Mason-bee. I had to have help in carrying home my spoils, even though the nests were removed from their stones on the spot.

From the enormous number of nests which I have examined, I am able to state that, when the cluster is regular, the female cells occupy the centre and the male cells the edges. Where the irregularity of the pebble has prevented an even distribution around the initial point, the same rule has been observed. A male cell is never surrounded on every side by female cells: either it occupies the edges of the nest, or else it adjoins, at least on some sides, other male cells, of which the last form part of the exterior of the cluster. As the surrounding cells are obviously of a later date than the inner cells, it follows that the Mason-bee acts like the Osmiae: she begins her laying with females and ends it with males, each of the sexes forming a series of its own, independent of the other.

Some further circumstances add their testimony to that of the surrounded and surrounding cells. When the pebble projects sharply and forms a sort of dihedral angle, one of whose faces is more or less vertical and the other horizontal, this angle is a favourite site with the Mason, who thus finds greater stability for her edifice in the support given her by the double plane. These sites appear to me to be in great request with the Chalicodoma, considering the number of nests which I find thus doubly supported. In nests of this kind, all the cells, as usual, have their foundations fixed to the horizontal surface; but the first row, the row of cells first built, stands with its back against the vertical surface.

Well, these older cells, which occupy the actual edge of the dihedral angle, are always female, with the exception of those at either end of the row, which, as they belong to the outside, may be male cells. In front of this first row come others. The female cells occupy the middle portion and the male the ends. Finally, the last row, closing in the remainder, contains only male cells. The progress of the work is very visible here: the Mason has begun by attending to the central group of female cells, the first row of which occupies the dihedral angle, and has finished her task by distributing the male cells round the outside.

If the perpendicular face of the dihedral angle be high enough, it sometimes happens that a second row of cells is placed above the first row backing on to that plane; a third row occurs less often. The nest is then one of several storeys. The lower storeys, the older, contain only females; the upper, the more recent storey, contains none but males. It goes without saying that the surface layer, even of the lower storeys, can contain males without invalidating the rule, for this layer may always be looked upon as the Chalicodoma's last work.

Everything therefore contributes to show that, in the Mason-bee, the females take the lead in the order of primogeniture. Theirs is the central and best-protected part of the clay fortress; the outer part, that most exposed to the inclemencies of the weather and to accidents, is for the males.

The males' cells do not differ from the females' only by being placed at the outside of the cluster; they differ also in their capacity, which is much smaller. To estimate the respective capacities of the two sorts of cells, I go to work as follows: I fill the empty cell with very fine sand and pour this sand back into a glass tube measuring 5 millimetres (17) in diameter.

From the height of the column of sand we can estimate the comparative capacity of the two kinds of cells. I will take one at random among my numerous examples of cells thus gauged.

It comprises thirteen cells and occupies a dihedral angle. The female cells give me the following figures, in millimetres, as the height of the columns of sand:

40, 44, 43, 48, 48, 46, 47 (18),

averaging 45 (19).

The male cells give me:

32, 35, 28, 30, 30, 31 (20),

averaging 31 (21).

The ratio of the capacity of the cells for the two sexes is therefore roughly a ratio of 4 to 3. The actual contents of the cell being proportionate to its capacity, the above ratio must also be more or less the ratio of provisions and sizes between females and males. These figures will assist us presently to tell whether an old cell, occupied for a second or third time, belonged originally to a female or a male.

The Chalicodoma of the Sheds cannot give us any information on this matter. She builds under the same eaves, in excessively populous colonies; and it is impossible to follow the labours of any single Mason, whose cells, distributed here and there, are soon covered up with the work of her neighbours. All is muddle and confusion in the individual output of the swarming throng.

I have not watched the work of the Chalicodoma of the Shrubs with close enough attention to be able to state definitely that this Bee is a solitary builder. Her nest is a ball of clay hanging from a bough. Sometimes, this nest is the size of a large walnut and then appears to be the work of one alone; sometimes, it is the size of a man's fist, in which case I have no doubt that it is the work of several. Those bulky nests, comprising more than fifty cells, can tell us nothing exact, as a number of workers must certainly have collaborated to produce them.

The walnut-sized nests are more trustworthy, for everything seems to indicate that they were built by a single Bee. Here females are found in the centre of the group and males at the circumference, in somewhat smaller cells, thus repeating what the Mason-bee of the Pebbles has told us.

One clear and simple rule stands out from this collection of facts. Apart from the strange exception of the Three-pronged Osmia, who mixes the sexes without any order, the Bees whom I studied and probably a crowd of others produce first a continuous series of females and then a continuous series of males, the latter with less provisions and smaller cells. This distribution of the sexes agrees with what we have long known of the Hive-bee, who begins her laying with a long sequence of workers, or sterile females, and ends it with a long sequence of males. The analogy continues down to the capacity of the cells and the quantities of provisions. The real females, the Queen-bees, have wax cells incomparably more spacious than the cells of the males and receive a much larger amount of food. Everything therefore demonstrates that we are here in the presence of a general rule.

But does this rule express the whole truth? Is there nothing beyond a laying in two series? Are the Osmiae, the Chalicodomae and the rest of them fatally bound by this distribution of the sexes into two distinct groups, the male group following upon the female group, without any mixing of the two? Is the mother absolutely powerless to make a change in this arrangement, should circumstances require it?

The Three-pronged Osmia already shows us that the problem is far from being solved. In the same bramble-stump, the two sexes occur very irregularly, as though at random. Why this mixture in the series of cocoons of a Bee closely related to the Horned Osmia and the Three- horned Osmia, who stack theirs methodically by separate sexes in the hollow of a reed? What the Bee of the brambles does cannot her kinswomen of the reeds do too? Nothing, so far as I know, can explain this difference in a physiological act of primary importance. The three Bees belong to the same genus; they resemble one another in general outline, internal structure and habits; and, with this close similarity, we suddenly find a strange dissimilarity.

There is just one thing that might possibly arouse a suspicion of the cause of this irregularity in the Three-pronged Osmia's laying. If I open a bramble-stump in the winter to examine the Osmia's nest, I find it impossible, in the vast majority of cases, to distinguish positively between a female and a male cocoon: the difference in size is so small. The cells, moreover, have the same capacity: the diameter of the cylinder is the same throughout and the partitions are almost always the same distance apart. If I open it in July, the victualling-period, it is impossible for me to distinguish between the provisions destined for the males and those destined for the females. The measurement of the column of honey gives practically the same depth in all the cells. We find an equal quantity of space and food for both sexes.

This result makes us foresee what a direct examination of the two sexes in the adult form tells us. The male does not differ materially from the female in respect of size. If he is a trifle smaller, it is scarcely noticeable, whereas, in the Horned Osmia and the Three- horned Osmia, the male is only half or a third the size of the female, as we have seen from the respective bulk of their cocoons. In the Mason-bee of the Walls there is also a difference in size, though less pronounced.

The Three-pronged Osmia has not therefore to trouble about adjusting the dimensions of the dwelling and the quantity of the food to the sex of the egg which she is about to lay; the measure is the same from one end of the series to the other. It does not matter if the sexes alternate without order: one and all will find what they need, whatever their position in the row. The two other Osmiae, with their great disparity in size between the two sexes, have to be careful about the twofold consideration of board and lodging. And that, I think, is why they begin with spacious cells and generous rations for the homes of the females and end with narrow, scantily-provisioned cells, the homes of the males. With this sequence, sharply defined for the two sexes, there is less fear of mistakes which might give to one what belongs to another. If this is not the explanation of the facts, I see no other.

The more I thought about this curious question, the more probable it appeared to me that the irregular series of the Three-pronged Osmia and the regular series of the other Osmiae, of the Chalicodomae and of the Bees in general were all traceable to a common law. It seemed to me that the arrangement in a succession first of females and then of males did not account for everything. There must be something more. And I was right: that arrangement in series is only a tiny fraction of the reality, which is remarkable in a very different way. This is what I am going to prove by experiment.

 

Translator's Notes:

  1. About half an inch.
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  2. About half an inch.
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  3. A Digger-wasp.
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  4. Cf. "The Life of the Fly": chapter 2.
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  5. Cf. Chapter 8 of the present volume.
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  6. Cf. Chapters 9 and 10 of the present volume.
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  7. M. sericans, FONSCOL), who fashions her goblets with robinia-, holm-, and terebinth-leaves, were inhabited by Coelioxys octodentata
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  8. .507 inch.
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  9. .273 inch.
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  10. .351 inch.
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  11. .195 inch.
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  12. .585 inch.
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  13. .351 inch.
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  14. .468 inch.
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  15. .273 inch.
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  16. Cf. "The Mason-bees": chapter 1.
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  17. .195 inch.
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  18. 1.56, 1.71, 1.67, 1.87, 1.87, 1.79, 1.83 inches.
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  19. 1.75 inches.
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  20. 1.75 inches.
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  21. 1.24, 1.36, 1.09, 1.17, 1.17, 1.21 inches.
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  22. 1.21 inches.
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Jean-Henri Fabre, Virgil of insects



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Chapter 5