THE GOLDEN GARDENER - ITS NUTRIMENT


In writing the first lines of this chapter I am reminded of the

slaughter-pens of Chicago; of those horrible meat factories which in the

course of the year cut up one million and eighty thousand bullocks and

seventeen hundred thousand swine, which enter a train of machinery alive

and issue transformed into cans of preserved meat, sausages, lard, and

rolled hams. I am reminded of these establishments because the beetle I

am about to speak of will show us a compatible celerity of butchery.



In a spacious, glazed insectorium I have twenty-five Carabi aurati. At

present they are motionless, lying beneath a piece of board which I gave

them for shelter. Their bellies cooled by the sand, their backs warmed

by the board, which is visited by the sun, they slumber and digest their

food. By good luck I chance upon a procession of pine-caterpillars, in

process of descending from their tree in search of a spot suitable for

burial, the prelude to the phase of the subterranean chrysalis. Here is

an excellent flock for the slaughter-house of the Carabi.



I capture them and place them in the insectorium. The procession is

quickly re-formed; the caterpillars, to the number of perhaps a hundred

and fifty, move forward in an undulating line. They pass near the piece

of board, one following the other like the pigs at Chicago. The moment

is propitious. I cry Havoc! and let loose the dogs of war: that is to

say, I remove the plank.



The sleepers immediately awake, scenting the abundant prey. One of them

runs forward; three, four, follow; the whole assembly is aroused; those

who are buried emerge; the whole band of cut-throats falls upon the

passing flock. It is a sight never to be forgotten. The mandibles of the

beetles are at work in all directions; the procession is attacked in the

van, in the rear, in the centre; the victims are wounded on the back or

the belly at random. The furry skins are gaping with wounds; their

contents escape in knots of entrails, bright green with their aliment,

the needles of the pine-tree; the caterpillars writhe, struggling with

loop-like movements, gripping the sand with their feet, dribbling and

gnashing their mandibles. Those as yet unwounded are digging desperately

in the attempt to take refuge underground. Not one succeeds. They are

scarcely half buried before some beetle runs to them and destroys them

by an eviscerating wound.



If this massacre did not occur in a dumb world we should hear all the

horrible tumult of the slaughter-houses of Chicago. But only the ear of

the mind can hear the shrieks and lamentations of the eviscerated

victims. For myself, I possess this ear, and am full of remorse for

having provoked such sufferings.



Now the beetles are rummaging in all directions through the heap of

dead and dying, each tugging and tearing at a morsel which he carries

off to swallow in peace, away from the inquisitive eyes of his fellows.

This mouthful disposed of, another is hastily cut from the body of some

victim, and the process is repeated so long as there are bodies left. In

a few minutes the procession is reduced to a few shreds of still

palpitating flesh.



There were a hundred and fifty caterpillars; the butchers were

twenty-five. This amounts to six victims dispatched by each beetle. If

the insect had nothing to do but to kill, like the knackers in the meat

factories, and if the staff numbered a hundred--a very modest figure as

compared with the staff of a lard or bacon factory--then the total

number of victims, in a day of ten hours, would be thirty-six thousand.

No Chicago "cannery" ever rivalled such a result.



The speed of assassination is the more remarkable when we consider the

difficulties of attack. The beetle has no endless chain to seize its

victim by one leg, hoist it up, and swing it along to the butcher's

knife; it has no sliding plank to hold the victim's head beneath the

pole-axe of the knacker; it has to fall upon its prey, overpower it, and

avoid its feet and its mandibles. Moreover, the beetle eats its prey on

the spot as it kills. What slaughter there would be if the insect

confined itself to killing!



What do we learn from the slaughter-houses of Chicago and the fate of

the beetle's victims? This: That the man of elevated morality is so far

a very rare exception. Under the skin of the civilised being there lurks

almost always the ancestor, the savage contemporary of the cave-bear.

True humanity does not yet exist; it is growing, little by little,

created by the ferment of the centuries and the dictates of conscience;

but it progresses towards the highest with heartbreaking slowness.



It was only yesterday that slavery finally disappeared: the basis of the

ancient social organism; only yesterday was it realised that man, even

though black, is really man and deserves to be treated accordingly.



What formerly was woman? She was what she is to-day in the East: a

gentle animal without a soul. The question was long discussed by the

learned. The great divine of the seventeenth century, Bossuet himself,

regarded woman as the diminutive of man. The proof was in the origin of

Eve: she was the superfluous bone, the thirteenth rib which Adam

possessed in the beginning. It has at last been admitted that woman

possesses a soul like our own, but even superior in tenderness and

devotion. She has been allowed to educate herself, which she has done at

least as zealously as her coadjutor. But the law, that gloomy cavern

which is still the lurking-place of so many barbarities, continues to

regard her as an incapable and a minor. The law in turn will finally

surrender to the truth.



The abolition of slavery and the education of woman: these are two

enormous strides upon the path of moral progress. Our descendants will

go farther. They will see, with a lucidity capable of piercing every

obstacle, that war is the most hopeless of all absurdities. That our

conquerors, victors of battles and destroyers of nations, are detestable

scourges; that a clasp of the hand is preferable to a rifle-shot; that

the happiest people is not that which possesses the largest battalions,

but that which labours in peace and produces abundantly; and that the

amenities of existence do not necessitate the existence of frontiers,

beyond which we meet with all the annoyances of the custom-house, with

its officials who search our pockets and rifle our luggage.



Our descendants will see this and many other marvels which to-day are

extravagant dreams. To what ideal height will the process of evolution

lead mankind? To no very magnificent height, it is to be feared. We are

afflicted by an indelible taint, a kind of original sin, if we may call

sin a state of things with which our will has nothing to do. We are made

after a certain pattern and we can do nothing to change ourselves. We

are marked with the mark of the beast, the taint of the belly, the

inexhaustible source of bestiality.



The intestine rules the world. In the midst of our most serious affairs

there intrudes the imperious question of bread and butter. So long as

there are stomachs to digest--and as yet we are unable to dispense with

them--we must find the wherewithal to fill them, and the powerful will

live by the sufferings of the weak. Life is a void that only death can

fill. Hence the endless butchery by which man nourishes himself, no less

than beetles and other creatures; hence the perpetual holocausts which

make of this earth a knacker's yard, beside which the slaughter-houses

of Chicago are as nothing.



But the feasters are legion, and the feast is not abundant in

proportion. Those that have not are envious of those that have; the

hungry bare their teeth at the satisfied. Then follows the battle for

the right of possession. Man raises armies; to defend his harvests, his

granaries, and his cellars, he resorts to warfare. When shall we see the

end of it? Alas, and many times alas! As long as there are wolves in the

world there must be watch-dogs to defend the flock.



This train of thought has led us far away from our beetles. Let us

return to them. What was my motive in provoking the massacre of this

peaceful procession of caterpillars who were on the point of self-burial

when I gave them over to the butchers? Was it to enjoy the spectacle of

a frenzied massacre? By no means; I have always pitied the sufferings of

animals, and the smallest life is worthy of respect. To overcome this

pity there needed the exigencies of scientific research--exigencies

which are often cruel.



In this case the subject of research was the habits of the Carabus

auratus, the little vermin-killer of our gardens, who is therefore

vulgarly known as the Gardener Beetle. How far is this title deserved?

What game does the Gardener Beetle hunt? From what vermin does he free

our beds and borders? His dealings with the procession of

pine-caterpillars promise much. Let us continue our inquiry.



On various occasions about the end of April the gardens afford me the

sight of such processions, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. I

capture them and place them in the vivarium. Bloodshed commences the

moment the banquet is served. The caterpillars are eviscerated; each by

a single beetle, or by several simultaneously. In less than fifteen

minutes the flock is completely exterminated. Nothing remains but a few

shapeless fragments, which are carried hither and thither, to be

consumed at leisure under the shelter of the wooden board. One well-fed

beetle decamps, his booty in his jaws, hoping to finish his feast in

peace. He is met by companions who are attracted by the morsel hanging

from the mandibles of the fugitive, and audaciously attempt to rob him.

First two, then three, they all endeavour to deprive the legitimate

owner of his prize. Each seizes the fragment, tugs at it, commences to

swallow it without further ado. There is no actual battle; no violent

assaults, as in the case of dogs disputing a bone. Their efforts are

confined to the attempted theft. If the legitimate owner retains his

hold they consume his booty in common, mandibles to mandibles, until the

fragment is torn or bitten through, and each retires with his mouthful.



As I found to my cost in bygone experiments, the pine-caterpillar wields

a violently corrosive poison, which produces a painful rash upon the

hands. It must therefore, one would think, form a somewhat highly

seasoned diet. The beetles, however, delight in it. No matter how many

flocks I provide them with, they are all consumed. But no one, that I

know of, has ever found the Golden Gardener and its larva in the silken

cocoons of the Bombyx. I do not expect ever to make such a discovery.

These cocoons are inhabited only in winter, when the Gardener is

indifferent to food, and lies torpid in the earth. In April, however,

when the processions of larvae are seeking a suitable site for burial and

metamorphosis, the Gardener should profit largely by its good fortune

should it by any chance encounter them.



The furry nature of the victim does not in the least incommode the

beetle; but the hairiest of all our caterpillars, the Hedgehog

Caterpillar, with its undulating mane, partly red and partly black, does

seem to be too much for the beetle. Day after day it wanders about the

vivarium in company with the assassins. The latter apparently ignore its

presence. From time to time one of them will halt, stroll round the

hairy creature, examine it, and try to penetrate the tangled fleece.

Immediately repulsed by the long, dense palisade of hairs, he retires

without inflicting a wound, and the caterpillar proceeds upon its way

with undulating mane, in pride and security.



But this state of things cannot last. In a hungry moment, emboldened

moreover by the presence of his fellows, the cowardly creature decides

upon a serious attack. There are four of them; they industriously attack

the caterpillar, which finally succumbs, assaulted before and behind. It

is eviscerated and swallowed as greedily as though it were a defenceless

grub.



According to the hazard of discovery, I provision my menagerie with

various caterpillars, some smooth and others hairy. All are accepted

with the utmost eagerness, so long as they are of average size as

compared with the beetles themselves. If too small they are despised, as

they would not yield a sufficient mouthful. If they are too large the

beetle is unable to handle them. The caterpillars of the Sphinx moth and

the Great Peacock moth, for example, would fall an easy prey to the

beetle were it not that at the first bite of the assailant the intended

victim, by a contortion of its powerful flanks, sends the former

flying. After several attacks, all of which end by the beetle being

flung back to some considerable distance, the insect regretfully

abandons his prey. I have kept two strong and lively caterpillars for a

fortnight in the cage of my golden beetles, and nothing more serious

occurred. The trick of the suddenly extended posterior was too much for

the ferocious mandibles.



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.



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