Social Life in the Insect World eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 270 pages of information about Social Life in the Insect World.

The chief utility of the Golden Gardener lies in its extermination of all caterpillars that are not too powerful to attack.  It has one limitation, however:  it is not a climber.  It hunts on the ground; never in the foliage overhead.  I have never seen it exploring the twigs of even the smallest of bushes.  When caged it pays no attention to the most enticing caterpillars if the latter take refuge in a tuft of thyme, at a few inches above the ground.  This is a great pity.  If only the beetle could climb how rapidly three or four would rid our cabbages of that grievous pest, the larva of the white cabbage butterfly!  Alas! the best have always some failing, some vice.

To exterminate caterpillars:  that is the true vocation of the Golden Gardener.  It is annoying that it can give us but little or no assistance in ridding us of another plague of the kitchen-garden:  the snail.  The slime of the snail is offensive to the beetle; it is safe from the latter unless crippled, half crushed, or projecting from the shell.  Its relatives, however, do not share this dislike.  The horny Procrustes, the great Scarabicus, entirely black and larger than the Carabus, attacks the snail most valiantly, and empties its shell to the bottom, in spite of the desperate secretion of slime.  It is a pity that the Procrustes is not more frequently found in our gardens; it would be an excellent gardener’s assistant.

CHAPTER IX

THE GOLDEN GARDENER—­COURTSHIP

It is generally recognized that the Carabus auratus is an active exterminator of caterpillars; on this account in particular it deserves its title of Gardener Beetle; it is the vigilant policeman of our kitchen-gardens, our flower-beds and herbaceous borders.  If my inquiries add nothing to its established reputation in this respect, they will nevertheless, in the following pages, show the insect in a light as yet unsuspected.  The ferocious beast of prey, the ogre who devours all creatures that are not too strong for him, is himself killed and eaten:  by his fellows, and by many others.

Standing one day in the shadow of the plane-trees that grow before my door, I see a Golden Gardener go by as if on pressing business.  The pilgrim is well met; he will go to swell the contents of my vivarium.  In capturing him I notice that the extremities of the wing-covers are slightly damaged.  Is this the result of a struggle between rivals?  There is nothing to tell me.  The essential thing is that the insect should not be handicapped by any serious injury.  Inspected, and found to be without any serious wound and fit for service, it is introduced into the glass dwelling of its twenty-five future companions.

Next day I look for the new inmate.  It is dead.  Its comrades have attacked it during the night and have cleaned out its abdomen, insufficiently protected by the damaged wing-covers.  The operation has been performed very cleanly, without any dismemberment.  Claws, head, corselet, all are correctly in place; the abdomen only has a gaping wound through which its contents have been removed.  What remains is a kind of golden shell, formed of the two conjoined elytra.  The shell of an oyster emptied of its inmate is not more empty.

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Social Life in the Insect World from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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