National Geographic : 1929 Jul
EXPLORING THE WONDERS OF THE INSECT WORLD this article, has written at length on the strange intermingling of blank ignorance and surpassing foresight among the winged hosts. SKILLED INSECT SURGEON HAS A MENTAL "BLIND SPOT" The Pelopaeus wasp, a splendid potter and an exquisite surgeon, able, with equal facility, to build an ideal cell for her un hatched young and to paralyze, without killing, the spiders with which she pro visions it, was unable to detect the removal of the first spider, with its attached egg, when she brought in the second one. Fur thermore, she was unable to detect even the removal of the cell itself, and pro ceeded to plaster the bare spot where it had been, even as if it were there. Likewise, the familiar Sphex wasp, one of the most highly skilled huntresses of the insect world, knows exactly what spe cies to capture for her future babies, where to sting them so as to produce paralysis instead of death-meat preservation with out salt or cold storage-but she seems to display utter stupidity at times. It is her practice to leave her cricket at the entrance while she goes below to see that all is well before she takes it down. Forty times Fabre moved the cricket back from the entrance no more than six inches. Forty times Mrs. Sphex dragged it up to the en trance again, going down each time for another needless inspection. Some species of Bembex (see Color Plate X) wasps do not provision their burrows, but bring the prey to their young as they need food, after the fashion of the birds. The entrance to their burrows is always in the sand. After getting down a little distance in more substantial soil, the gallery runs approximately parallel to the surface. On the surface there is no mark by which even a Fabre can detect the en trance. Whether Mother Bembex comes in or goes out, the door of sand always closes For a discussion of specific species and see pages behind her. She wanders far in search of prey, but always finds her doorpost as easily and definitely as if it were so plain that those who run might see it. Yet if one excavates the gallery, leaving the en trance intact, she will go through the door, come out of the open gallery, go through the door again, and repeat the perform ance again and again. At the end of the gallery lies the grub that was the object of her maternal solicitude, the baby for whom she worked day in and day out. She does not recognize it now. She tram ples upon it, ignores its presence as if it were only so much clay. It is not recog nized for itself; she knows it only when it lies at the end of the gallery to which her doorway leads. Even when the doorway is obliterated, with the gallery left intact, she recognizes neither the gallery nor the grub at its terminus. Her baby may starve before she will feed it, if either door or hallway is disturbed. She recognizes her offspring only as the grub that lies at the end of an undisturbed gallery leading from a door through which she passes. COUNTLESS WONDER STORIES One might wander indefinitely in the realms of insectdom, discovering at every step things that make the most blase among us pause and ponder. Parasitism, in which members of one species lay their eggs upon the bodies of other species, or even inject their living young into the bodies of other species; parthenogenesis, in which as many as 94 generations have been produced with out the interposition or birth of a single male (page 3); ability to hibernate, in which some individuals have been known to sleep more than forty years and wake up-ten thousand wonder stories might be told of these strange creatures in whose lives is more romance than all the fiction writers in Christendom have been able to conjure up. families of insects and their habitats, ?8 to 87.