THE HALICTI THE PORTRESS
Leaving our village is no very serious matter when we are children.
We even look on it as a sort of holiday. We are going to see
something new, those magic pictures of our dreams. With age come
regrets; and the close of life is spent in stirring up old memories.
Then the beloved village reappears, in the biograph of the mind,
embellished, transfigured by the glow of those first impressions; and
the mental image, superi
r to the reality, stands out in amazingly
clear relief. The past, the far-off past, was only yesterday; we see
it, we touch it.
For my part, after three-quarters of a century, I could walk with my
eyes closed straight to the flat stone where I first heard the soft
chiming note of the Midwife Toad; yes, I should find it to a
certainty, if time, which devastates all things, even the homes of
Toads, has not moved it or perhaps left it in ruins.
I see, on the margin of the brook, the exact position of the alder-
trees whose tangled roots, deep under the water, were a refuge for
the Crayfish. I should say:
'It is just at the foot of that tree that I had the unutterable bliss
of catching a beauty. She had horns so long...and enormous claws,
full of meat, for I got her just at the right time.'
I should go without faltering to the ash under whose shade my heart
beat so loudly one sunny spring morning. I had caught sight of a sort
of white, cottony ball among the branches. Peeping from the depths of
the wadding was an anxious little head with a red hood to it. O what
unparalleled luck! It was a Goldfinch, sitting on her eggs.
Compared with a find like this, lesser events do not count. Let us
leave them. In any case, they pale before the memory of the paternal
garden, a tiny hanging garden of some thirty paces by ten, situated
right at the top of the village. The only spot that overlooks it is a
little esplanade on which stands the old castle (The Chateau de
Saint-Leons standing just outside and above the village of Saint-
Leons, where the author was born in 1823. Cf. "The Life of the Fly":
chapters 6 and 7.--Translator's Note.) with the four turrets that
have now become dovecotes. A steep path takes you up to this open
space. From my house on, it is more like a precipice than a slope.
Gardens buttressed by walls are staged in terraces on the sides of
the funnel-shaped valley. Ours is the highest; it is also the
There are no trees. Even a solitary apple-tree would crowd it. There
is a patch of cabbages, with a border of sorrel, a patch of turnips
and another of lettuces. That is all we have in the way of garden-
stuff; there is no room for more. Against the upper supporting-wall,
facing due south, is a vine-arbour which, at intervals, when the sun
is generous, provides half a basketful of white muscatel grapes.
These are a luxury of our own, greatly envied by the neighbours, for
the vine is unknown outside this corner, the warmest in the village.
A hedge of currant-bushes, the only safeguard against a terrible
fall, forms a parapet above the next terrace. When our parents'
watchful eyes are off us, we lie flat on our stomachs, my brother and
I, and look into the abyss at the foot of the wall bulging under the
thrust of the land. It is the garden of monsieur le notaire.
There are beds with box-borders in that garden; there are pear-trees
reputed to give pears, real pears, more or less good to eat when they
have ripened on the straw all through the late autumn. In our
imagination, it is a spot of perpetual delight, a paradise, but a
paradise seen the wrong way up: instead of contemplating it from
below, we gaze at it from above. How happy they must be with so much
space and all those pears!
We look at the hives, around which the hovering Bees make a sort of
russet smoke. They stand under the shelter of a great hazel. The tree
has sprung up all of itself in a fissure of the wall, almost on the
level of our currant-bushes. While it spreads its mighty branches
over the notary's hives, its roots, at least, are on our land. It
belongs to us. The trouble is to gather the nuts.
I creep along astride the strong branches projecting horizontally
into space. If I slip or if the support breaks, I shall come to grief
in the midst of the angry Bees. I do not slip and the support does
not break. With the bent switch which my brother hands me, I bring
the finest clusters within my reach. I soon fill my pockets. Moving
backwards, still straddling my branch, I recover terra firma. O
wondrous days of litheness and assurance, when, for a few filberts,
on a perilous perch we braved the abyss!
Enough. These reminiscences, so dear to my dreams, do not interest
the reader. Why stir up more of them? I am content to have brought
this fact into prominence: the first glimmers of light penetrating
into the dark chambers of the mind leave an indelible impression,
which the years make fresher instead of dimmer.
Obscured by everyday worries, the present is much less familiar to
us, in its petty details, than the past, with childhood's glow upon
it. I see plainly in my memory what my prentice eyes saw; and I
should never succeed in reproducing with the same accuracy what I saw
last week. I know my village thoroughly, though I quitted it so long
ago; and I know hardly anything of the towns to which the
vicissitudes of life have brought me. An exquisitely sweet link binds
us to our native soil; we are like the plant that has to be torn away
from the spot where it put out its first roots. Poor though it be, I
should love to see my own village again; I should like to leave my
Does the insect in its turn receive a lasting impression of its
earliest visions? Has it pleasant memories of its first surroundings?
We will not speak of the majority, a world of wandering gipsies who
establish themselves anywhere provided that certain conditions be
fulfilled; but the others, the settlers, living in groups: do they
recall their native village? Have they, like ourselves, a special
affection for the place which saw their birth?
Yes, indeed they have: they remember, they recognize the maternal
abode, they come back to it, they restore it, they colonize it anew.
Among many other instances, let us quote that of the Zebra Halictus.
She will show us a splendid example of love for one's birthplace
translating itself into deeds.
The Halictus' spring family acquire the adult form in a couple of
months or so; they leave the cells about the end of June. What goes
on inside these neophytes as they cross the threshold of the burrow
for the first time? Something, apparently, that may be compared with
our own impressions of childhood. An exact and indelible image is
stamped on their virgin memories. Despite the years, I still see the
stone whence came the resonant notes of the little Toads, the parapet
of currant-bushes, the notary's garden of Eden. These trifles make
the best part of my life. The Halictus sees in the same way the blade
of grass whereon she rested in her first flight, the bit of gravel
which her claw touched in her first climb to the top of the shaft.
She knows her native abode by heart just as I know my village. The
locality has become familiar to her in one glad, sunny morning.
She flies off, seeks refreshment on the flowers near at hand and
visits the fields where the coming harvests will be gathered. The
distance does not lead her astray, so faithful are her impressions of
her first trip; she finds the encampment of her tribe; among the
burrows of the village, so numerous and so closely resembling one
another, she knows her own. It is the house where she was born, the
beloved house with its unforgettable memories.
But, on returning home, the Halictus is not the only mistress of the
house. The dwelling dug by the solitary Bee in early spring remains,
when summer comes, the joint inheritance of the members of the
family. There are ten cells, or thereabouts, underground. Now from
these cells there have issued none but females. This is the rule
among the three species of Halicti that concern us now and probably
also among many others, if not all. They have two generations in each
year. The spring one consists of females only; the summer one
comprises both males and females, in almost equal numbers. We shall
return to this curious subject in our next chapter.
The household, therefore, if not reduced by accidents, above all if
not starved by the usurping Gnat, would consist of half-a-score of
sisters, none but sisters, all equally industrious and all capable of
procreating without a nuptial partner. On the other hand, the
maternal dwelling is no hovel; far from it: the entrance-gallery, the
principal room of the house, will serve quite well, after a few odds
and ends of refuse have been swept away. This will be so much gained
in time, ever precious to the Bee. The cells at the bottom, the clay
cabins, are also nearly intact. To make use of them, it will be
enough for the Halictus to polish up the stucco with her tongue.
Well, which of the survivors, all equally entitled to the succession,
will inherit the house? There are six of them, seven, or more,
according to the chances of mortality. To whose share will the
maternal dwelling fall?
There is no quarrel between the interested parties. The mansion is
recognized as common property without dispute. The sisters come and
go peacefully through the same door, attend to their business, pass
and let the others pass. Down at the bottom of the pit, each has her
little demesne, her group of cells dug at the cost of fresh toil,
when the old ones, now insufficient in number, are occupied. In these
recesses, which are private estates, each mother works by herself,
jealous of her property and of her privacy. Every elsewhere, traffic
is free to all.
The exits and entrances in the working fortress provide a spectacle
of the highest interest. A harvester arrives from the fields, the
feather-brushes of her legs powdered with pollen. If the door be
open, the Bee at once dives underground. To tarry on the threshold
would mean waste of time; and the business is urgent. Sometimes,
several appear upon the scene at almost the same moment. The passage
is too narrow for two, especially when they have to avoid any
untimely contact that would make the floury burden fall to the floor.
The nearest to the opening enters quickly. The others, drawn up on
the threshold in order of their arrival, respectful of one another's
rights, await their turn. As soon as the first disappears, the second
follows after her and is herself swiftly followed by the third and
then the others, one by one.
Sometimes, again, there is a meeting between a Bee about to come out
and a Bee about to go in. Then the latter draws back a little and
makes way for the former. The politeness is reciprocal. I see some
who, when on the point of emerging from the pit, go down again and
leave the passage free for the one who has just arrived. Thanks to
this mutual spirit of accommodation, the business of the house
proceeds without impediment.
Let us keep our eyes open. There is something better than the well-
preserved order of the entrances. When an Halictus appears, returning
from her round of the flowers, we see a sort of trap-door, which
closed the house, suddenly fall and give a free passage. As soon as
the new arrival has entered, the trap rises back into its place,
almost level with the ground, and closes the entrance anew. The same
thing happens when the insects go out. At a request from within, the
trap descends, the door opens and the Bee flies away. The outlet is
What can this valve be which, descending or ascending in the cylinder
of the pit, after the fashion of a piston, opens and closes the house
at each departure and at each arrival? It is an Halictus, who has
become the portress of the establishment. With her large head, she
makes an impassable barrier at the top of the entrance-hall. If any
one belonging to the house wants to go in or out, she 'pulls the
cord,' that is to say, she withdraws to a spot where the gallery
becomes wider and leaves room for two. The other passes. She then at
once returns to the orifice and blocks it with the top of her head.
Motionless, ever on the look-out, she does not leave her post save to
drive away importunate visitors.
Let us profit by her brief appearances outside to take a look at her.
We recognize in her an Halictus similar to the others, which are now
busy harvesting; but the top of her head is bald and her dress is
dingy and thread-bare. All the nap is gone; and one can hardly make
out the handsome stripes of red and brown which she used to have.
These tattered, work-worn garments make things clear to us.
This Bee who mounts guard and performs the office of a portress at
the entrance to the burrow is older than the others. She is the
foundress of the establishment, the mother of the actual workers, the
grandmother of the present grubs. In the springtime of her life,
three months ago, she wore herself out in solitary labours. Now that
her ovaries are dried up, she takes a well-earned rest. No, rest is
hardly the word. She still works, she assists the household to the
best of her power. Incapable of being a mother for a second time, she
becomes a portress, opens the door to the members of her family and
makes strangers keep their distance.
The suspicious Kid (In La Fontaine's fable, "Le Loup, la Chevre et le
Chevreau."--Translator's Note.), looking through the chink, said to
'Show me a white foot, or I shan't open the door.'
No less suspicious, the grandmother says to each comer:
'Show me the yellow foot of an Halictus, or you won't be let in.'
None is admitted to the dwelling unless she be recognized as a member
of the family.
See for yourselves. Near the burrow passes an Ant, an unscrupulous
adventuress, who would not be sorry to know the meaning of the
honeyed fragrance that rises from the bottom of the cellar.
"Be off, or you'll catch it!'says the portress, wagging her neck.
As a rule the threat suffices. The Ant decamps. Should she insist,
the watcher leaves her sentry-box, flings herself upon the saucy
jade, buffets her and drives her away. The moment the punishment has
been administered, she returns to her post.
Next comes the turn of a Leaf-cutter (Megachile albocincta, PEREZ),
which, unskilled in the art of burrowing, utilizes, after the manner
of her kin, the old galleries dug by others. Those of the Zebra
Halictus suit her very well, when the terrible Gnat has left them
vacant for lack of heirs. Seeking for a home wherein to stack her
robinia-leaf honey-pots, she often makes a flying inspection of my
colonies of Halicti. A burrow seems to take her fancy; but, before
she sets foot on earth, her buzzing is noticed by the sentry, who
suddenly darts out and makes a few gestures on the threshold of her
door. That is all. The Leaf-cutter has understood. She moves on.
Sometimes, the Megachile has time to alight and insert her head into
the mouth of the pit. In a moment, the portress is there, comes a
little higher and bars the way. Follows a not very serious contest.
The stranger quickly recognizes the rights of the first occupant and,
without insisting, goes to seek an abode elsewhere.
An accomplished marauder (Caelioxys caudata, SPIN.), a parasite of
the Megachile, receives a sound drubbing under my eyes. She thought,
the feather-brain, that she was entering the Leaf-Cutter's
establishment! She soon finds out her mistake; she meets the door-
keeping Halictus, who administers a sharp correction. She makes off
at full speed. And so with the others which, through inadvertence or
ambition, seek to enter the burrow.
The same intolerance exists among the different grandmothers. About
the middle of July, when the animation of the colony is at its
height, two sets of Halicti are easily distinguishable: the young
mothers and the old. The former, much more numerous, brisk of
movement and smartly arrayed, come and go unceasingly from the
burrows to the fields and from the fields to the burrows. The latter,
faded and dispirited, wander idly from hole to hole. They look as
though they had lost their way and were incapable of finding their
homes. Who are these vagabonds? I see in them afflicted ones bereft
of a family through the act of the odious Gnat. Many burrows have
been altogether exterminated. At the awakening of summer, the mother
found herself alone. She left her empty house and went off in search
of a dwelling where there were cradles to defend, a guard to mount.
But those fortunate nests already have their overseer, the foundress,
who, jealous of her rights, gives her unemployed neighbour a cold
reception. One sentry is enough; two would merely block the narrow
I am privileged at times to witness a fight between two grandmothers.
When the tramp in quest of employment appears outside the door, the
lawful occupant does not move from her post, does not withdraw into
the passage, as she would before an Halictus returning from the
fields. Far from making way, she threatens the intruder with her feet
and mandibles. The other retaliates and tries to force her way in
notwithstanding. Blows are exchanged. The fray ends by the defeat of
the stranger, who goes off to pick a quarrel elsewhere.
These little scenes afford us a glimpse of certain details of the
highest interest in the habits of the Zebra Halictus. The mother who
builds her nest in the spring no longer leaves her home, once her
works are finished. Shut up at the bottom of the burrow, busied with
the thousand cares of housekeeping, or else drowsing, she waits for
her daughters to come out. When, in the summer heats, the life of the
village recommences, having nought to do outside as a harvester, she
stands sentry at the entrance to the hall, so as to let none in save
the workers of the home, her own daughters. She wards off evilly-
disposed visitors. None can enter without the door-keeper's consent.
There is nothing to tell us that the watcher ever deserts her post.
Not once do I see her leave her house to go and seek some refreshment
from the flowers. Her age and her sedentary occupation, which
involves no great fatigue, perhaps relieve her of the need of
nourishment. Perhaps, also, the young ones returning from their
plundering may from time to time disgorge a drop of the contents of
their crops for her benefit. Fed or unfed, the old one no longer goes
But what she does need is the joys of an active family. Many are
deprived of these. The Gnat's burglary has destroyed the busy
household. The sorely-tried Bees abandon the deserted burrow. It is
they who, ragged and careworn, wander through the village. When they
move, their flight is only a short one; more often they remain
motionless. It is they who, soured in their tempers, attack their
fellows and seek to dislodge them. They grow rarer and more languid
from day to day; then they disappear for good. What has become of
them? The little Grey Lizard had his eye on them: they are easily
Those settled in their own demesne, those who guard the honey-factory
wherein their daughters, the heiresses of the maternal establishment,
are at work, display wonderful vigilance. The more I see of them, the
more I admire them. In the cool hours of the early morning, when the
pollen-flour is not sufficiently ripened by the sun and while the
harvesters are still indoors, I see them at their posts, at the top
of the gallery. Here, motionless, their heads flush with the earth,
they bar the door to all invaders. If I look at them closely, they
retreat a little and, in the shadow, await the indiscreet observer's
I return when the harvesting is in full swing, between eight o'clock
and twelve. There is now, as the Halicti go in or out, a succession
of prompt withdrawals to open the door and of ascents to close it.
The portress is in the full exercise of her functions.
In the afternoon, the heat is too great and the workers do not go to
the fields. Retiring to the bottom of the house, they varnish the
new cells, they make the round loaf that is to receive the egg. The
grandmother is still upstairs, stopping the door with her bald head.
For her, there is no siesta during the stifling hours: the safety of
the household requires her to forgo it.
I come back again at nightfall, or even later. By the light of a
lantern, I again behold the overseer, as zealous and assiduous as in
the day-time. The others are resting, but not she, for fear,
apparently, of nocturnal dangers known to herself alone. Does she
nevertheless end by descending to the quiet of the floor below? It
seems probable, so essential must rest be, after the fatigue of such
It is evident that, guarded in this manner, the burrow is exempt from
calamities similar to those which, too often, depopulate it in May.
Let the Gnat come now, if she dare, to steal the Halictus' loaves!
Let her lie in wait as long as she will! Neither her audacity nor her
slyness will make her escape the lynx eyes of the sentinel, who will
put her to flight with a threatening gesture or, if she persist,
crush her with her nippers. She will not come; and we know the
reason: until spring returns, she is underground in the pupa state.
But, in her absence, there is no lack, among the Fly rabble, of other
batteners on the toil of their fellow insects. Whatever the job,
whatever the plunder, you will find parasites there. And yet, for all
my daily visits, I never catch one of these in the neighbourhood of
the summer burrows. How cleverly the rascals ply their trade! How
well aware are they of the guard who keeps watch at the Halictus'
door! There is no foul deed possible nowadays; and the result is that
no Fly puts in an appearance and the tribulations of last spring are
The grandmother who, dispensed by age from maternal bothers, mounts
guard at the entrance of the home and watches over the safety of the
family, tells us that in the genesis of the instincts sudden births
occur; she shows us the existence of a spontaneous aptitude which
nothing, either in her own past conduct or in the actions of her
daughters, could have led us to suspect. Timorous in her prime, in
the month of May, when she lived alone in the burrow of her making,
she has become gifted, in her decline, with a superb contempt of
danger and dares in her impotence what she never dared do in her
Formerly, when her tyrant, the Gnat, entered the house in her
presence, or, more often, stood face to face with her at the
entrance, the silly Bee did not stir, did not even threaten the red-
eyed bandit, the dwarf whose doom she could so easily have sealed.
Was it terror on her part? No, for she attended to her duties with
her usual punctiliousness; no, for the strong do not allow themselves
to be thus paralysed by the weak. It was ignorance of the danger, it
was sheer fecklessness.
And behold, to-day, the ignoramus of three months ago knows the
peril, knows it well, without serving any apprenticeship. Every
stranger who appears is kept at a distance, without distinction of
size or race. If the threatening gesture be not enough, the keeper
sallies forth and flings herself upon the persistent one. Cowardice
has developed into courage.
How has this change been brought about? I should like to picture the
Halictus gaining wisdom from the misfortunes of the spring and
capable thenceforth of looking out for danger; I would gladly credit
her with having learnt in the stern school of experience the
advantages of a patrol. I must give up the idea. If, by dint of
gradual little acts of progress, the Bee has achieved the glorious
invention of a janitress, how comes it that the fear of thieves is
intermittent? It is true that, being by herself in May, she cannot
stand permanently at her door: the business of the house takes
precedence of everything else. But she ought, at any rate as soon as
her offspring are victimized, to know the parasite and give chase
when, at every moment, she finds her almost under her feet and even
in her house. Yet she pays no attention to her.
The bitter experience of her ancestors, therefore, has bequeathed
nothing to her of a nature to alter her placid character; nor have
her own tribulations aught to do with the sudden awakening of her
vigilance in July. Like ourselves, animals have their joys and their
sorrows. They eagerly make the most of the former; they fret but
little about the latter, which, when all is said, is the best way of
achieving a purely animal enjoyment of life. To mitigate these
troubles and protect the progeny there is the inspiration of
instinct, which is able without the counsels of experience to give
the Halicti a portress.
When the victualling is finished, when the Halicti no longer sally
forth on harvesting intent nor return all befloured with their
spoils, the old Bee is still at her post, vigilant as ever. The final
preparations for the brood are made below; the cells are closed. The
door will be kept until everything is finished. Then grandmother and
mothers leave the house. Exhausted by the performance of their duty,
they go, somewhere or other, to die.
In September appears the second generation, comprising both males and
females. I find both sexes wassailing on the flowers, especially the
Compositae, the centauries and thistles. They are not harvesting now:
they are refreshing themselves, holding high holiday, teasing one
another. It is the wedding-time. Yet another fortnight and the males
will disappear, henceforth useless. The part of the idlers is played.
Only the industrious ones remain, the impregnated females, who go
through the winter and set to work in April.
I do not know their exact haunt during the inclement season. I
expected them to return to their native burrow, an excellent dwelling
for the winter, one would think. Excavations made in January showed
me my mistake. The old homes are empty, are falling to pieces owing
to the prolonged effect of the rains. The Zebra Halictus has
something better than these muddy hovels: she has snug corners in the
stone-heaps, hiding-places in the sunny walls and many other
convenient habitations. And so the natives of a village become
scattered far and wide.
In April, the scattered ones reassemble from all directions. On the
well-flattened garden-paths a choice is made of the site for their
common labours. Operations soon begin. Close to the first who bores
her shaft there is soon a second one busy with hers; a third arrives,
followed by another and others yet, until the little mounds often
touch one another, while at times they number as many as fifty on a
surface of less than a square yard.
One would be inclined, at first sight, to say that these groups are
accounted for by the insect's recollection of its birthplace, by the
fact that the villagers, after dispersing during the winter, return
to their hamlet. But it is not thus that things happen: the Halictus
scorns to-day the place that once suited her. I never see her occupy
the same patch of ground for two years in succession. Each spring she
needs new quarters. And there are plenty of them.
Can this mustering of the Halicti be due to a wish to resume the old
intercourse with their friends and relations? Do the natives of the
same burrow, of the same hamlet, recognize one another? Are they
inclined to do their work among themselves rather than in the company
of strangers? There is nothing to prove it, nor is there anything to
disprove it. Either for this reason or for others, the Halictus likes
to keep with her neighbours.
This propensity is pretty frequent among peace-lovers, who, needing
little nourishment, have no cause to fear competition. The others,
the big eaters, take possession of estates, of hunting-grounds from
which their fellows are excluded. Ask a Wolf his opinion of a brother
Wolf poaching on his preserves. Man himself, the chief of consumers,
makes for himself frontiers armed with artillery; he sets up posts at
the foot of which one says to the other:
'Here's my side, there's yours. That's enough: now we'll pepper each
And the rattle of the latest explosives ends the colloquy.
Happy are the peace-lovers. What do they gain by their mustering?
With them it is not a defensive system, a concerted effort to ward
off the common foe. The Halictus does not care about her neighbour's
affairs. She does not visit another's burrow; she does not allow
others to visit hers. She has her tribulations, which she endures
alone; she is indifferent to the tribulations of her kind. She stands
aloof from the strife of her fellows. Let each mind her own business
and leave things at that.
But company has its attractions. He lives twice who watches the life
of others. Individual activity gains by the sight of the general
activity; the animation of each one derives fresh warmth from the
fire of the universal animation. To see one's neighbours at work
stimulates one's rivalry. And work is the great delight, the real
satisfaction that gives some value to life. The Halictus knows this
well and assembles in her numbers that she may work all the better.
Sometimes she assembles in such multitudes and over such extents of
ground as to suggest our own colossal swarms. Babylon and Memphis,
Rome and Carthage, London and Paris, those frantic hives, occur to
our mind if we can manage to forget comparative dimensions and see a
Cyclopean pile in a pinch of earth.
It was in February. The almond-tree was in blossom. A sudden rush of
sap had given the tree new life; its boughs, all black and desolate,
seemingly dead, were becoming a glorious dome of snowy satin. I have
always loved this magic of the awakening spring, this smile of the
first flowers against the gloomy bareness of the bark.
And so I was walking across the fields, gazing at the almond-trees'
carnival. Others were before me. An Osmia in a black velvet bodice
and a red woollen skirt, the Horned Osmia, was visiting the flowers,
dipping into each pink eye in search of a honeyed tear. A very small
and very modestly-dressed Halictus, much busier and in far greater
numbers, was flitting silently from blossom to blossom. Official
science calls her Halictus malachurus, K. The pretty little Bee's
godfather strikes me as ill-inspired. What has malachurus, calling
attention to the softness of the rump, to do in this connection? The
name of Early Halictus would better describe the almond-tree's little
None of the melliferous clan, in my neighbourhood at least, is
stirring as early as she is. She digs her burrows in February, an
inclement month, subject to sudden returns of frost. When none as
yet, even among her near kinswomen, dares to sally forth from winter-
quarters, she pluckily goes to work, shine the sun ever so little.
Like the Zebra Halictus, she has two generations a year, one in
spring and one in summer; like her, too, she settles by preference in
the hard ruts of the country roads.
Her mole-hills, those humble mounds any two of which would go easily
into a Hen's egg, rise innumerous in my path, the path by the almond-
trees which is the happy hunting-ground of my curiosity to-day. This
path is a ribbon of road three paces wide, worn into ruts by the
Mule's hoofs and the wheels of the farm-carts. A coppice of holm-oaks
shelters it from the north wind. In this Eden with its well-caked
soil, its warmth and quiet, the little Halictus has multiplied her
mole-hills to such a degree that I cannot take a step without
crushing some of them. The accident is not serious: the miner, safe
underground, will be able to scramble up the crumbling sides of the
mine and repair the threshold of the trampled home.
I make a point of measuring the density of the population. I count
from forty to sixty mole-hills on a surface of one square yard. The
encampment is three paces wide and stretches over nearly three-
quarters of a mile. How many Halicti are there in this Babylon? I do
not venture to make the calculation.
Speaking of the Zebra Halictus, I used the words hamlet, village,
township; and the expressions were appropriate. Here the term city
hardly meets the case. And what reason can we allege for these
innumerable clusters? I can see but one: the charm of living
together, which is the origin of society. Like mingles with like,
without the rendering of any mutual service; and this is enough to
summon the Early Halictus to the same way-side, even as the Herring
and the Sardine assemble in the same waters.