The early subterranean life of the Cigale escapes us. That of the maturer larva is no better known. Nothing is more common, while digging in the fields to any depth, to find these impetuous excavators under the spade; but to surprise them fixed upon the roots which incontestably nourish them is quite another matter. The disturbance of the soil warns the larva of danger. It withdraws its proboscis in order to retreat along its galleries, and when the spade uncovers it has ceased to feed.
If the hazards of field-work, with its inevitable disturbance of the larvae, cannot teach us anything of their subterranean habits, we can at least learn something of the duration of the larval stage. Some obliging farmers, who were making some deep excavations in March, were good enough to collect for me all the larvae, large and small, unearthed in the course of their labour. The total collection amounted to several hundreds. They were divided, by very clearly marked differences of size, into three categories: the large larvae, with rudiments of wings, such as those larvae caught upon leaving the earth possess; the medium-sized, and the small. Each of these stages must correspond to a different age. To these we may add the larvae produced by the last hatching of eggs, creatures too minute to be noticed by my rustic helpers, and we obtain four years as the probable term of the larvae underground.
The length of their aerial existence is more easily computed. I hear the first Cigales about the summer solstice. A month later the orchestra has attained its full power. A very few late singers execute their feeble solos until the middle of September. This is the end of the concert. As all the larvae do not issue from the ground at the same time, it is evident that the singers of September are not contemporary with those that began to sing at the solstice. Taking the average between these two dates, we get five weeks as the probable duration of the Cigales’ life on earth.
Four years of hard labour underground, and a month of feasting in the sun; such is the life of the Cigale. Do not let us again reproach the adult insect with his triumphant delirium. For four years, in the darkness he has worn a dirty parchment overall; for four years he has mined the soil with his talons, and now the mud-stained sapper is suddenly clad in the finest raiment, and provided with wings that rival the bird’s; moreover, he is drunken with heat and flooded with light, the supreme terrestrial joy. His cymbals will never suffice to celebrate such felicity, so well earned although so ephemeral.
THE MANTIS.—THE CHASE
There is another creature of the Midi which is quite as curious and interesting as the Cigale, but much less famous, as it is voiceless. If Providence had provided it with cymbals, which are a prime element of popularity, it would soon have eclipsed the renown of the celebrated singer, so strange is its shape, and so peculiar its manners. It is called by the Provencals lou Prego-Dieu, the creature which prays to God. Its official name is the Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa, Lin.).