IN THE springtime, old walls and dusty roads harbour a surprise for whoso has eyes to see. Tiny faggots, for no apparent reason, set themselves in motion and make their way along by sudden jerks. The inanimate comes to life, the immovable stirs. How does this come about? Look closer and the motive power will stand revealed.
Enclosed within the moving bundle is a fairly well-developed caterpillar, prettily striped in black and white. Seeking for food or perhaps for a spot where the transformation can be effected, he hurries along timidly, attired in a queer rig-out of twigs from which nothing emerges except the head and the front part of the body, which is furnished with six short legs. At the least alarm he goes right in and does not budge again. This is the whole secret of the little roaming bundle of sticks.
The faggot caterpillar belongs to the Psyche group, whose name conveys an allusion to the classic Psyche, symbolical of the soul. We must not allow this phrase to carry our thoughts to loftier heights than is fitting. The nomenclator, with his rather circumscribed view of the world, did not trouble about the soul when inventing his descriptive label. He simply wanted a pretty name; and certainly he could have hit on nothing better.
To protect himself from the weather, our chilly, bare-skinned Psyche builds himself a portable shelter, a travelling cottage which the owner never leaves until he becomes a Moth. It is something better than a hut on wheels with a thatched roof to it: it is a hermit's frock, made of an unusual sort of frieze. In the valley of the Danube the peasant wears a goatskin cloak fastened with a belt of rushes. The Psyche dons an even more rustic apparel. He makes himself a suit of clothes out of hop-poles. It is true that, beneath this rude conglomeration, which would be a regular hair-shirt to a skin as delicate as his, he puts a thick lining of silk. The Clythra Beetle garbs himself in pottery; this one dresses himself in a faggot.
In April, on the walls of my chief observatory, that famous pebbly acre with its wealth of insect life, I find the Psyche who is to furnish me with my most circumstantial and detailed records. [note 1] He is at this period in the torpor of the approaching metamorphosis. As we can ask him nothing else for the moment, let us look into the construction and composition of his faggot.
It is a not irregular structure, spindle-shaped and about an inch and a half long. The pieces that compose it are fixed in front and free at the back, are arranged anyhow and would form a rather ineffective shelter against the sun and rain if the recluse had no other protection than his thatched roof.
The word thatch is suggested to my mind by a summary inspection of what I see, but it is not an exact expression in this case. On the contrary, graminaceous straws are rare, to the great advantage of the future family, which, as we shall learn presently, would find nothing to suit them in jointed planks. What predominates is remnants of very small stalks, light, soft and rich in pith, such as are possessed by various Chicoriaceae. I recognize in particular the floral stems of the mouse-ear hawkweed and the Nimes pterotheca. Next come bits of grass-leaves, scaly twigs provided by the cypress-tree and all sorts of little sticks, coarse materials adopted for the lack of any-thing better. Lastly, if the favourite cylindrical pieces fall short, the mantle is sometimes finished off with an ample flounced tippet, that is to say, with fragments of dry leaves of any kind.
Incomplete as it is, this list shows us that the caterpillar apart from his preference for pithy morsels, has no very exclusive tastes. He employs indifferently anything that he comes upon, provided that it be light, very dry, softened by long exposure to the air and of suitable dimensions. All his finds, if they come anywhere near his estimates, are used just as they are, without any alterations or sawing to reduce them to the proper length. The Psyche does not trim the laths that go to form his roof; he gathers them as he finds them. His work is limited to imbricating them one after the other by fixing them at the fore-end.
In order to lend itself to the movements of the journeying caterpillar and in particular to facilitate the action of the head and legs when a new piece is to be placed in position, the front part of the sheath requires a special structure. Here a casing of beams is no longer allowable, for their length and stiffness would hamper the artisan and even make his work impossible; what is essential here is a flexible neck, able to bend in all directions. The assemblage of stakes does, in fact, end suddenly at some distance from. the fore-part and is there replaced by a collar in which the silken woof is merely hardened with very tiny ligneous particles, tending to strengthen the material without impairing its flexibility. This collar, which gives free movement, is so important that all the Psyches make equal use of it, however much the rest of the work may differ. All carry, in front of the faggot of sticks, a yielding neck, soft to the touch, formed inside of a web of pure silk and velveted outside with a fine sawdust which the caterpillar obtains by crushing with his mandibles any sort of dry straw.
A similar velvet, but lustreless and faded, apparently through age, finishes the sheath at the back, in the form of a rather long, bare appendix, open at the end.
Let us now remove the outside of the straw envelope, shredding it piecemeal. The demolition gives us a varying number of joists: I have counted as many as eighty and more. The ruin that remains is a cylindrical sheath wherein we discover, from one end to the other, the structure which we perceived at the front and rear, the two parts which are naturally bare. The tissue everywhere is of very stout silk, which resists without breaking when pulled by the fingers, a smooth tissue, beautifully white inside, drab and wrinkled outside, where it bristles with encrusted woody particles.
There will be an opportunity later to discover by what means the caterpillar makes himself so complicated a garment, in which are laid one upon the other, in a definite order, first, the extremely fine satin which is in direct contact with the skin; next, the mixed stuff, a sort of frieze dusted with ligneous matter, which saves the silk and gives consistency to the work; lastly, the surtout of overlapping laths.
While retaining this general threefold arrangement, the scabbard offers notable variations of structural detail in the different species. Here, for instance, is a second Psyche, [note 2] the most belated of the three which I have chanced to come upon. I meet him towards the end of June, hurrying across some dusty path near the houses. His cases surpass those of the previous species both in size and in regularity of arrangement. They form a thick coverlet, of many pieces, in which I recognize here fragments of hollow stalks, there bits of fine straw, with perhaps straps formed of blades of grass. In front there is never any mantilla of dead leaves, a troublesome piece of finery which, without being in regular use, is pretty frequent in the costume of the first-named species. At the back, no long, denuded vestibule. Save for the indispensable collar at the aperture, all the rest is cased in logs. There is not much variety about the thing, but, when all is said, there is a certain elegance in its stern faultlessness.
The smallest in size and simplest in dress is the third, [note 3] who is very common at the end of winter on the walls, as well as in the furrows of the barks of gnarled old trees, be they olive-trees, holm-oaks, elms or almost any other. His case, a modest little bundle, is hardly more than two-fifths of an inch in length. A dozen rotten straws, gleaned at random and fixed close to one another in a parallel direction, represent, with the silk sheath, his whole outlay on dress. It would be difficult to clothe one's self more economically.
This pigmy, apparently so uninteresting, shall supply us with our first records of the curious life-story of the Psyches. I gather him in profusion in April and instal him in a wire bell-jar. What he eats I know not. My ignorance would be grievous under other conditions; but at present I need not trouble about provisions. Taken from their walls and trees, where they had suspended themselves for their transformation, most of my little Psyches are in the chrysalis state. A few of them are still active. They hasten to clamber to the top of the trellis-work; they fix themselves there perpendicularly by means of a little silk cushion; then everything is still.
June comes to an end; and the male Moths are hatched, leaving the chrysalid wrapper half caught in the case, which remains fixed where it is and will remain there indefinitely until dismantled by the weather. The emergence is effected through the hinder end of the bundle of sticks, the only way by which it can be effected. Having permanently closed the top opening, the real door of the house, by fastening it to the support which he has chosen, the caterpillar therefore has turned the other way round and undergone his transformation in a reversed position, which enables the adult insect to emerge through the outlet made at the back, the only one now free.
For that matter, this is the method followed by all the Psyches. The case has two apertures. The front one, which is more regular and more carefully constructed, is at the caterpillar's service so long as larval activity lasts. It is closed and firmly fastened to its support at the time of the nymphosis. The hinder one, which is faulty and even hidden by the sagging of the sides, is at the Moth's service. It does not really open until right at the end, when pushed by the chrysalis or the adult insect.
In their modest pearl-grey dress, with their insignificant wing-equipment, hardly exceeding that of a Common Fly, our little Moths are still not without elegance. They have handsome feathery plumes for antennæ their wings are edged with delicate fringes. They whirl very fussily inside the bell-jar; they skim the ground, fluttering their wings; they crowd eagerly around certain sheaths which nothing on the outside distinguishes from the others. They alight upon them and sound them with their plumes.
This feverish agitation marks them as lovers in search of their brides. This one here, that one there, each of them finds his mate. But the coy one does not leave her home. Things happen very discreetly through the wicket left open at the free end of the case. The male stands on the threshold of this back-door for a little while; and then it is over: the wedding is finished. There is no need for us to linger over these nuptials in which the parties concerned do not know, do not see each other.
I hasten to place in a glass tube the few cases in which the mysterious events have happened. Some days later, the recluse comes out of the sheath and shows herself in all her wretchedness. Call that little fright a Moth! One cannot easily get used to the idea of such poverty. The caterpillar of the start was no humbler-looking. There are no wings, none at all; no silky fur either. At the tip of the abdomen, a round, tufty pad, a crown of dirty-white velvet; on each segment, in the middle of the back, a large rectangular dark patch: these are the sole attempts at ornament. The mother Psyche renounces all the beauty which her name of Moth promised.
From the centre of the hairy coronet a long ovipositor stands out, consisting of two parts, one stiff, forming the base of the implement, the other soft and flexible, sheathed in the first just as a telescope fits in its tube. The laying mother bends herself into a hook, grips the lower end of her case with her six feet and drives her probe into the back-window, a window which serves manifold purposes, allowing of the consummation of the clandestine marriage, the emergence of the fertilized bride, the installation of the eggs and, lastly, the exodus of the young family.
There, at the free end of her case, the mother remains for a long time, bowed and motionless. What can she be doing in this contemplative attitude? She is lodging her eggs in the house which she has just left; she is bequeathing the maternal cottage to her heirs. Some thirty hours pass and the ovipositor is at last withdrawn. The laying is finished.
A little wadding, supplied by the coronet on the hind-quarters, closes the door and allays the dangers of invasion. The fond mother makes a barricade for her brood of the sole ornament which, in her extreme indigence, she possesses. Better still, she makes a rampart of her body. Bracing herself convulsively on the threshold of her home, she dies there, dries up there, devoted to her family even after death. It needs an accident, a breath of air, to make her fall from her post.
Let us now open the case. It contains the chrysalid wrapper, intact except for the front breach through which the Psyche emerged. The male, because of his wings and his plumes, very cumbersome articles when he is about to make his way through the narrow pass, takes advantage of his chrysalis state to make a start for the door and come out half-way. Then, bursting his amber tunic, the delicate Moth finds an open space, where flight is possible, right in front of him. The mother, unprovided with wings and plumes, is not compelled to observe any such precautions. Her cylindrical form, bare and differing but little from that of the caterpillar, allows her to crawl, to slip into the narrow passage and to come forth without obstac1e. Her cast chrysalid skin is, therefore, left right at the back of the case, well covered by the thatched roof.
And this is an act of prudence marked by exquisite tenderness. The eggs, in fact, are packed in the barrel, in the parchmentlike wallet formed by the slough. The mother has thrust her telescopic ovipositor to the bottom of that receptacle and has methodically gone on laying until it is full. Not satisfied with bequeathing her home and her velvet coronet to her offspring, as a last sacrifice she leaves them her skin.
With a view to observing at my ease the events which are soon to happen, I extract one of these chrysalid bags, stuffed with eggs, from its faggot and place it by itself, beside its case, in a glass tube. I have not long to wait. In the first week of July, I find myself all of a sudden in possession of a large family.
The quickness of the hatching balked my watchfulness. The new-born caterpillars, about forty in number, have already had time to garb themselves.
They wear a Persian head-dress, a mage's tiara in dazzling white plush. Or, to abandon high-flown language, let us say a cotton night-cap without a tassel; only the cap does not stand up from the head: it covers the hind-quarters. Great animation reigns in the tube, which is a spacious residence for such vermin. They roam about gaily, with their caps sticking up almost perpendicular to the floor. With a tiara like that and things to eat, life must be sweet indeed.
But what do they eat? I try a little of everything that grows on the bare stone and the gnarled old trees. Nothing is welcomed. More eager to dress than to feed themselves, the Psyches scorn what I set before them. My ignorance as an insect-breeder will not matter, provided that I succeed in seeing with what materials and in what manner the first outlines of the cap are woven.
I may fairly hope to achieve this ambition, as the chrysalid bag is far from having exhausted its contents. I find in it, teeming amid the rumpled wrapper of the eggs, an additional family as numerous as the swarm that is already out. The total laying must therefore amount to five or six dozen. I transfer to another receptacle the precocious band which is already dressed and keep only the naked laggards in the tube. They have bright red heads, with the rest of their bodies dirty white; and they measure hardly a twenty-fifth of an inch in length.
My patience is not long put to the test. Next day, little by little, singly or in groups, the belated grubs quit the chrysalid bag. They come out without breaking the frail wallet, through the front breach made by the liberation of the mother. Not one of them utilizes it as a dress-material, though it has the delicacy and amber colouring of an onionskin; nor do any of them make use of a fine quilting which lines the inside of the bag and forms an exquisitely soft bed for the eggs. This down, whose origin we shall have to investigate presently, ought, one would say, to make an excellent blanket for these chilly ones, impatient to cover themselves up. Not a single one uses it; there would not be enough to go round.
All go straight to the coarse faggot, which I left in contact with the wallet that was the chrysalis. Time presses. Before making your entrance into the world and going agrazing, you must first be clad. All therefore, with equal fury, attack the old sheath and hastily dress themselves in the mother's cast clothes. Some turn their attention to bits that happen to be open lengthwise and scrape the soft, white inner layer; others, greatly daring, penetrate into the tunnel of a hollow stalk and go and collect their cotton goods in the dark. At such times the materials are first-class; and the garment woven is of a dazzling white. Others bite deep into the piece which they select and make themselves a motley garment, in which dark-coloured particles mar the snowy whiteness of the rest.
The tool which they use for their gleaning consists of the mandibles, shaped like wide shears with five strong teeth apiece. The two planes fit into each other and form an implement capable of seizing and slicing any fibre, however small. Seen under the microscope, it is a wonderful specimen of mechanical precision and power. Were the Sheep similarly equipped in proportion to her size, she would browse upon the bottom of the trees instead of cropping the grass.
A very instructive workshop is that of the Psyche-vermin toiling to make themselves a cotton night-cap. There are numbers of things to remark in both the finish of the work and the ingenuity of the methods employed. To avoid repeating ourselves, we will say nothing about these yet, but wait for a little and return to the subject when setting forth the talents of a second Psyche, of larger stature and easier to observe. The two weavers observe exactly the same procedure.
Nevertheless let us take a glance at the bottom of the egg-cup, a general workyard in which I instal my dwarfs as the cases turn them out. There are some hundreds of them, with the sheaths from which they came and an assortment of clipped stalks, chosen from among the driest and richest in pith. What a whirl! What bewildering animation!
In order to see man, Micromégas cut himself a lens out of a diamond of his necklace; he held his breath lest the storm from his nostrils should blow the mite away. I in my turn will be the good giant, newly arriving from Sirius; I screw a magnifying-glass into my eye and am careful not to breathe for fear of overturning and sweeping out of existence my cotton-workers. If I need one of them, to focus him under a stronger glass, I lime him as it were, seizing him with the fine point of a needle which I have passed over my lips. Taken away from his work, the tiny caterpillar struggles at the end of the needle, shrivels up, makes himself, small as he is, still smaller; he strives to withdraw as far as possible into his clothing, which as yet is incomplete, the merest flannel vest or even a narrow scarf, covering nothing but the top of his shoulders. Let us leave him to complete his coat. I give a puff; and the creature is swallowed up in the crater of the egg-cup.
And this speck is alive. It is industrious; it is versed in the art of blanket-making. An orphan, born that moment, it knows how to cut itself out of its dead mother's old clothes the wherewithal to clothe itself in its turn. Soon it will become a carpenter, an assembler of timber, to make a defensive covering for its delicate fabric. What must instinct be, to be capable of awakening such industries in an atom!
It is at the end of June also that I obtain, in his adult shape, the Psyche whose scabbard is continued underneath by a long, naked vestibule. Most of the cases are fastened by a silk pad to the trelliswork of the cage and hang vertically, like stalactites. Some few of them have never left the ground. Half immersed in the sand, they stand erect, with their rear in the air and their fore-part buried and firmly anchored to the side of the pan by means of a silky paste.
This inverted position excludes any idea of weight as a guide in the caterpillar's preparations. An adept at turning round in his cabin, he is careful, before he sinks into the immobility of pupadom, to turn his head now upwards, now downwards, towards the opening, so that the adult insect, which is much less free than the larva in its movements, may reach the outside without obstacle.
Moreover, it is the pupa itself, the unbending chrysalis, incapable of turning and obliged to move all in one piece, which, stubbornly crawling, carries the male to the threshold of the case. It emerges half way at the end of the uncovered silky vestibule and there breaks, obstructing the opening with its slough as it does so. For a time the Moth stands still on the roof of the cottage, allowing his humours to evaporate, his wings to spread and gather strength; then at last the gallant takes flight, in search of her for whose sake he has made himself so spruce.
He wears a costume of deepest black, all except the edges of the wings, which, having no scales, remain diaphanous. His antennæ, likewise black, are wide and graceful plumes. Were they on a larger scale, they would throw the feathered beauty of the Marabou and Ostrich into the shade. The bravely be-plumed one visits case after case in his tortuous flight, prying into the secrets of those alcoves. If things go as he wishes, he settles, with a quick flutter of his wings, on the extremity of the denuded vestibule. Comes the wedding, as discreet as that of the smaller Psyche. Here is yet another who does not see or at most catches a fleeting glimpse of her for whose sake he has donned Marabou feathers and a black-velvet cloak.
The recluse on her side is equally impatient. The lovers are short-lived; they die in my cages within three or four days, so that, for long intervals, until the hatching of some late-comer, the female population is short of suitors. So, when the morning sun, already hot, strikes the cage, a very singular spectacle is repeated many times before my eyes. The entrance to the vestibule swells imperceptibly, opens and emits a mass of infinitely delicate down. A Spider's web, carded and made into wadding, would give nothing of such gossamer fineness. It is a vaporous cloud. Then, from out of this incomparable eiderdown, appear the head and fore-part of a very different sort of caterpillar from the original collector of straws.
It is the mistress of the house, the marriageable Moth, who, feeling her hour about to come and failing to receive the expected visit, herself makes the advances and goes, as far as she can, to meet her plumed swain. He does not come hastening up and for good reason: there is not a male left in the establishment. For two or three hours the poor forsaken one leans, without moving, from her window. Then, tired of waiting, very gently she goes indoors again, backwards, and returns to her cell.
Next day, the day after and later still, as long as her strength permits, she reappears on her balcony, always in the morning, in the soft rays of a warm sun and always on a sofa of that incomparable down, which disperses and turns to vapour if I merely fan it with my hand. Again no one comes. For the last time the disappointed Moth goes back to her boudoir, never to leave it again. She dies in it, dries up, a useless thing. I hold my bell-jars responsible for this crime against motherhood. In the open fields, without a doubt, sooner or later wooers would have appeared, coming from the four winds.
The said bell-jars have an even more pitiful catastrophe on their conscience. Sometimes, leaning too far from her window, miscalculating the balance between the front of the body, which is at liberty, and the back, which remains sheathed in its case, the Moth allows herself to drop to the ground. It is all up now with the fallen one and her lineage. Still, there is one good thing about it. Accidents such as this lay bare the mother Psyche, without our having to break into her house.
What a miserable creature she is, a great deal uglier than the original caterpillar! Here transfiguration spells disfigurement, progress means retrogression. What we have before our eyes is a wrinkled satchel, an earthy-yellow sausage; and this horror, worse than a maggot, is a Moth in the full bloom of life, a genuine adult Moth. She is the betrothed of the elegant black Bombyx, all plumed with Marabou-feathers, and represents to him the last word in beauty. As the proverb says, beauty lies in lovers' eyes: a profound truth which the Psyche confirms in striking fashion.
Let us describe the ugly little sausage. A very small head, a paltry globule, disappearing almost entirely in the folds of the first segment. What need is there of cranium and brains for a germ-bag! And so the tiny creature almost does without them, reduces them to the simplest expression. Nevertheless, there are two black ocular specks. Do these vestigial eyes see their way about? Not very clearly, we may be sure. The pleasures of light must be very small for this stay-at-home, who appears at her window only on rare occasions, when the male Moth is late in arriving.
The legs are well-shaped, but so short and weak that they are of no use at all for locomotion. The whole body is a pale yellow, semitransparent in front, opaque and stuffed with eggs behind. Underneath the first segments is a sort of neck-band, that is to say, a dark stain, the vestige of a crop showing through the skin. A pad of short down ends the oviferous part at the back. It is all that remains of a fleece, of a thin velvet which the insect rubs off as it moves backwards and forwards in its narrow lodging. This forms the flaky mass which whitens the trysting-window at the wedding-time and also lines the inside of the sheath with down. In short, the creature is little more than a bag swollen with eggs for the best part of its length. I know nothing lower in the scale of wretchedness.
The germ-bag moves, but not, of course, with those vestiges of legs which form too short and feeble supports; it gets about in a way that allows it to progress on its back, belly or side indifferently. A groove is hollowed out at the hinder end of the bag, a deep, dividing groove which cuts the insect into two. It runs to the front part, spreading like a wave, and gently and slowly reaches the head. This undulation constitutes a step. When it is done, the animal has advanced about a twenty-fifth part of an inch.
To go from one end to the other of a box two inches long and filled with fine sand, the living sausage takes nearly an hour. It is by crawling like this that it moves about in its case, when it comes to the threshold to meet its visitor and goes in again.
For three or four days, exposed to the roughness of the soil, the oviferous bag leads a wretched life, creeping about at random, or, more often, standing still. No Moth pays attention to the poor thing, who possesses no attractions outside her home; the lovers pass by with an indifferent air. This coolness is logical enough. Why should she become a mother, if her family is to be abandoned to the inclemencies of the public way? And so, after falling by accident from her case, which would have been the cradle of the youngsters, the wanderer withers in a few days and dies childless.
The fertilized ones--and these are the more numerous--the prudent ones who have saved themselves from a fall by being less lavish with their appearances at the window, reenter the sheath and do not show themselves again once the Moth's visit to the threshold is over. Let us wait a fortnight and then open the case lengthwise with our scissors. At the end, in the widest part, opposite the vestibule, is the slough of the chrysalis, a long, fragile, amber-coloured sack, open at the end that contains the head, the end facing the exit-passage. In this sack, which she fills like a mould, lies the mother, the egg-bladder, now giving no sign of life.
From this amber sheath, which presents all the usual characteristics of a chrysalis, the adult Psyche emerged, in the guise of a shapeless Moth, looking like a big maggot: at the present time, she has slipped back into her old jacket, moulding herself into it in such a way that it becomes difficult to separate the container from the contents. One would take the whole thing for a single body.
It seems very likely that this cast skin, which occupies the best place in the home, formed the Psyche's refuge when, weary of waiting on the threshold of her hall, she retired to the back room. She has therefore gone in and out repeatedly. This constant going and coming, this continual rubbing against the sides of a narrow corridor, just wide enough for her to pass through ended by stripping her of her down. She had a fleece to start with, a very light and scanty fleece, it is true, but still a vestige of the costume which Moths are wont to wear. This fluff she has lost. What has she done with it?
The Eider robs herself of her down to make a luxurious bed for her brood; the newborn Rabbits lie on a mattress which their mother cards for them with the softest part of her fur, shorn from the belly and neck, wherever the shears of her front teeth can reach it. This fond tenderness is shared by the Psyche, as you will see.
In front of the chrysalid bag is an abundant mass of extra-fine wadding, similar to that of which a few flocks used to fall outside on the occasions when the recluse went to her window. Is it silk? Is it spun muslin? No; but it is something of incomparable delicacy. The microscope recognizes it as the scaly dust, the impalpable down in which every Moth is clad. To give a snug shelter to the little caterpillars who will soon be swarming in the case, to provide them with a refuge in which they can play about and gather strength before entering the wide world, the Psyche has stripped herself of her fur like the mother Rabbit.
This denudation may be a mere mechanical result, an unintentional effect of repeated rubbing against the low-roofed walls: but there is nothing to tell us so. Maternity has its foresight, even among the humblest. I therefore picture the hairy Moth twisting about, going to and fro in the narrow passage in order to get rid of the fleece and prepare beading for her offspring. It is even possible that she manages to use her lips, that vestige of a mouth, in order to pull out the down that refuses to come away of itself.
No matter what the method of shearing may be, a mound of scales and hairs fills up the case in front of the chrysalid bag. For the moment, it is a barricade preventing access to the house, which is open at the hinder end; soon, it will be a downy couch on which the little caterpillars will rest for a while after leaving the egg. Here, warmly ensconced in a rug of extreme softness, they call a halt as a preparation for the emergence and the work that follows it.
Not that silk is lacking: on the contrary, it abounds. The caterpillar lavished it during his time as a spinner and a picker-up of straws. The whole interior of the case is padded with thick white satin. But how greatly preferable to this too-compact and luxurious upholstery is the delightful eiderdown bedding of the new-born youngsters!
We know the preparations made for the coming family. Now, where are the eggs? At what spot are they laid? The smallest of my three Psyches, who is less misshapen than the others and freer in her movements, leaves her case altogether. She possesses a long ovipositor and inserts it, through the exit-hole, right into the chrysalid slough, which is left where it was in the form of a bag. This slough receives the laying. When the operation is finished and the bag of eggs is full, the mother dies outside, hanging on to the case.
The two other Psyches, who do not carry telescopic ovipositors and whose only method of changing their position is a dubious sort of crawling, have more singular customs to show us. One might quote with regard to them what used to be said of the Roman matrons, those model mothers:
"Domi mansit, lanam fecit."
Yes, lanam fecit. The Psyche does not really work the wool on the distaff; but at least she bequeathes to her sons her own fleece converted into a heap of wadding. Yes, domi mansit. She never leaves her house, not even for her wedding, not even for the purpose of laying her eggs.
We have seen how, after receiving the visit of the male, the shapeless Moth, that uncouth sausage, retreats to the back of her case and withdraws into her chrysalid slough, which she fills exactly, just as though she had never left it. The eggs are in their place then and there; they occupy the regulation sack favoured by the various Psyches. Of what use would a laying be now? Strictly speaking, there is none, in fact; that is to say, the eggs do not leave the mother's womb. The living pouch which has engendered them keeps them within itself.
Soon this bag loses its moisture by evaporation; it dries up and at the same time remains sticking to the chrysalid wrapper, that firm support. Let us open the thing. What does the magnifying.glass show us? A few trachean threads, lean bundles of muscles, nervous ramifications, in short, the relics of a form of vitality reduced to its simplest expression. Taken all around, very nearly nothing. The rest of the contents is a mass of eggs, an agglomeration of germs numbering close upon three hundred. In a word, the insect is one enormous ovary, assisted by just so much as enables it to perform its functions.
[note 1]: Psyche unicolor, HUFN.; P. graminella, SCHIFFER-MÜLLER.--Author's Note.
[note 2]: As far as can be judged from the case only, Psyche febretta, BOYER DE FONSCOLOMBE.--Author's Note.
[note 3]: Fumea comitella and F. intermediella, BRUAND.--Author's Note.
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