George Streynsham Master.

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may yet be discovered that there is no
silent creatiire in nature.



II.



THE SAND HORNET.

I TURNED another (to me) new page in
natural history, when, during the past season,
I made the acquaintance of the sand wasp or
hornet From boyhood I had known the
black hornet, with his large paper nest, and
the spiteful yellow-jacket, with his lesser dom-
icile, and had cherished proper contempt for
the various indolent wasps. But the sand
hornet was a new bird, in fact, the harpy eagle
among insects, and he made an impression.
While walking along the road about mid-sum-
mer, I noticed working in the tow-path, where
the ground was rather inclined to be dry and
sandy, a large yellow homet-like insect. It
made a hole the size of one's little finger in
the hard, gravelly path beside the road-bed.
When disturbed, it alighted on the dirt and
sand in the middle of the road. I had no-
ticed in my walks some small bullet-like
holes in the field that had piqued my
curiosity, and I determined to keep an eye
on these insects of the road-side. I ex-
plored their holes, and found them quite
shallow, and no mystery at the bottom of
them. One morning in the latter part of July,
walking that way, I was quickly attracted
by the sight of a row of little mounds
of fine freshly dug earth resting upon the
grass beside the road, a foot or more be-
neath the path. " What is this ?" I said.
*** Mice, or squirrels, or snakes," said my
neighbor. But I connected it at once with
the strange insect I had seen. Neither
mice nor squirrels work like that, and snakes
do not dig. Above each mound of earth
was a hole the size of one's largest finger,
leading into the bank. While speculating
about the phenomenon, I saw one of the
large yellow hornets I had observed, quickly
enter one of the holes. That settled the
query. While spade and hoe were being
brought to dig him out, another hornet
Vol. XIX.— 43-



appeared, heavy-laden with some prey, and
flew humming up and down and around the
place where I was standing. I withdrew a
little, when he quickly alighted upon one of
the mounds of earth, and I saw him carry-
ing into his den no less an insect than the
cicada or harvest fly. Then another came,
and after coursing up and down a few times,
disturbed by my presence, alighted upon
a tree, with his quarry, to rest. The black
hornet will capture a fly, or a small butter-
fly and after breaking and dismembering it,
will take it to his nest ; but here was this
hornet carrying an insect much larger than
himself, and flying with ease and swiftness.
It was as if a hawk should carry a hen, or an
eagle a turkey. I at once proceeded to dig
for one of the hornets, and after following
his hole about three feet under the foot-
path and to the edge of the road-bed, suc-
ceeded in capturing him, and recovering the
cicada. The hornet weighed fifteen grains,
and the cicada nineteen, but in bulk the
cicada exceeded the hornet by more than
half. In color the wings and thorax, or
waist, of the hornet, were a rich bronze ; the
abdomen was black, with three irregular yel-
low bands ; the legs were large and powerful,
especially the third, or hindmost pair, which
were much larger than the others, and
armed with many spurs and hooks. In dig-
ging its hole the hornet has been seen at work
very early in the morning. It backed
out with the loosened material like any
other animal imder the same circumstances,
holding and scraping back the dirt with its
legs. The preliminary prospecting upon
the foot-path, which I had observed, seems
to have been the work of the males, as it
was certainly of the smaller hornets, and the
object was doubtless to examine the groimd,
and ascertain if the place was suitable for
nesting. By digging two or three inches
through the hard, gravelly surface of the
road, a fine sandy loam was discovered,
which seemed to suit exactly, for in a few
days the main shafts were all started in the
greensward, evidently upon the strength of
the favorable report which the surveyors had
made. These were dug by the larger hor-
nets or females. But one bee inhabited each
hole, and the holes were two to three feet
apart. One that we examined had nine
chambers or galleries at the end of it, in
each of which were two locusts, or eighteen
in all. The locusts of the locality had suf-
fered great slaughter. Some of them in the
hole or den had been eaten to a mere shell by
the larvae of the bee. Under the wing of



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each insect an t%% is attached; the egg
soon hatches, and the grub at once pro-
ceeds to devour the food its thoughtful
parent has provided. As it grows it weaves
Itself a sort of shell or cocoon, into which,
after a time, it undergoes its metamorphosis,
and comes out, I think, a perfect bee to-
ward the end of summer.

I imderstood now the meaning of that
sudden cry of alarm I had so often heard

Eroceed from the locust or cicada, followed
y some object falling and rustling amid
the leaves ; the poor insect was doubtless in
the clutches of this arch enemy. A number
of locusts usually passed the night on the
under side of a large limb of a mulberry
tree near by ; early one morning a hornet was
seen to pounce suddenly upon one and drag
it over on the top of the limb; a strug-
gle ensued, but the locust was soon quieted
and carried off. It is said that the hornet
does not sting the insect, — for that would kill
it, and it would not keep fresh for its young, —
but stupefies it, or chloroforms it, or does
something of the sort, so that life remains
for some days.

My friend Van, who watched the hornets
in my absence, saw a fierce battle one day
over the right of possession of one of the
dens. An angry, humming sound was heard
to proceed from one of the holes ; gradually
it approached the surface, until the hornets
emerged locked in each other's embrace,
and rolled down the little embankment,
where the combat was continued. Finally,
one released his hold and took up his posi-
tion in the mouth of his den (of course I
should say sfu and hcr^ as these were the
queen bees), where she seemed to challenge
her antagonist to come on. The other bee
maneuvered about a while, but could not
draw her enemy out of her stronghold ; then
she clambered up the bank and began to
bite and tear off bits of grass and to loosen
gravel-stones and earth, and roll them down
into the mouth of the disputed passage.
This caused the besieged hornet to with-
draw farther into her hole, when the other
came down and thrust in her head, but
hesitated to enter. After more maneuvering,
the aggressor withdrew, and began to bore a
hole about a foot from the one she had tried
to possess herself of by force.

Besides the cicada, the sand hornet capt-
ures grasshoppers and other large insects.
I have never met with it before the present
summer (1879), but this year I have heard
of its appearance at several points along the
Hudson.



III.



THE SOLITARY BEE.

If you " leave no stone unturned " in yo«
walks through the fields, you may |>ercliance
discover the abode of another of our sdi-
tary bees. Indeed, I have often thougk
what a chapter of natural history migbt be
written on " Life undfer a Stone," so roanj
of our smaller creatures take refuge there,^
ants, crickets, spiders, wasps, bumble-bees,
the solitary bee, mice, toads, snakes, newts,
etc What do these things do in a country
where there are no stones ? A stone makes
a good roof, a good shield ; it is water-proof
and fire-proof, and, until the season becomes
too rigorous, firost-proof, too. The fieki- I
mouse wants no better place to nest than
beneath a large, flat stone, and the bumble-
bee is entirely satisfied if she can get pos-
session of his old or abandoned quarters.
I have even heard of a swarm of hive bees
going under a stone that was elevated a
little firom the ground. After that, I did not
marvel at Samson's bees going into the car-
cass or skeleton of the lion.

In the woods one day (it was in Novem-
ber), I turned over a stone that had a vciy
strange-looking creature under it, — a spedcs
of salamander I had never before se^, the
5. Fasciata, It was five or six inches k>D|^
and was black and white in alternate bands.
It looked like a creature of the night, —
darkness dappled with moonlight, — and so
it proved. 1 wrapped it up in some leaves
and took it home in my pocket By day it
would barely move, and could not be stim-
ulated or fiightened into any degree of life; \
but at night it was alert and active. Of
its habits I know little, but it is a pretty
and harmless creature. Under another stone
was still another species, the S, Subvioiaua^
larger, of a dark plum-color, with two rows
of bright yellow spots down its back. It
evinced more activity than its fellow of the
moon-bespattered garb. I have also found
the little musical red newt tmder stones, and
several small, dark species.

But to return to the solitary bee. When
you go a-himting of the honey-bee, and are
in quest of a specimen among the asters or
golden-rod in some remote field to start a
line with, you shall see how much this little
native bee resembles her cousin of the social
hive. There appear to be several varieties,
but the one I have in mind is just the size
of the honey-bee, and of the same genenl
form and color, and its manner among the



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6ii



flowers is nearly the same. On dose inspec-
tion, its color proves to be lighter, while the
under side of its abdomen is of a rich bronze.
The body is also flatter and less tapering,
and the curve inclines upward, rather than
downward. You perceive it would be the
easiest thing in the world for the bee to sting
an enemy perched upon its back. One vari-
ety, with a bright buff abdomen, is called
"sweat-bee" by the laborers in the field,
because it alights upon their hands and bare
arms when they are sweaty, — doubtless in
quest of salt. It builds its nest in litde cav-
ities in rails and posts. But the one with
the bronze— or copper — ^bottom builds under
a stone. I discovered its nest one day in
this wise : I was lying upon the ground in a
field, watching a line of honey-bees to the
woods, when my attention was arrested by
one of these native bees flying about me in a
curious, inquiring way. When it returned
the third time, I said, "That bee wants
something of me," which proved to be the
case, for I was lying upon the entrance to
its nest. On my getting up, it alighted and
crawled quickly home. I turned over the
stone, which was less than a foot across,
when the nest was partially exposed. It
consisted of four cells, built in succession in
a little tunnel that had been excavated in
the ground. The cells, which were about
three-quarters of an inch long and half as
far through, were made of sections cut from
the leaf of the maple — cut with the mandi-
bles of the bee, which work precisely like
shears. I have seen the bee at work cut-
ting out these pieces. She moves through
the leaf like the hand of the tailor through a
piece of cloth. When the pattern is detached
she rolls it up, and embracing it with her
legs, flies home with it, oftei> appearing to
have a bundle disproportionately large.
Each cell is made up of a dozen or more
pieces ; the larger ones, those that form its
walls, like the walls of a paper bag, are ob-
long, and are turned down at one end, so as
to form the bottom : not one thickness of
leaf merely, but three or four thicknesses,
each fragment of leaf lapping over another.
When the cell is completed it is filled about
two- thirds full of bee-bread — the color of
that in the comb in the hive, but not so dry,
and having a sourish smell. Upon this the
egg is laid, and upon this the young feed
when hatched. Is the paper bag now tied up ?
No, it is headed up ; circular bits of leaves
are nicely fitted into it to the number of six
or seven. They are cut without pattern or
compass, and yet they are all alike, and all



exactly fit. Indeed, the construction of this
cell or receptacle shows great ingenuity and
skill. The bee was, of course, unable to
manage a single section of a leaf large
enough, when rolled up to form it, and so
was obliged to construct it of smaller pieces,
such as she could carry, lapping them one
over another.

A few days later I saw a smaller species
carrying fragments of a yellow autumn leaf
under a stone in a corn-field. On examin-
ing the place about sundown to see if the
bee lodged there, I foimd her snugly en-
sconced in a little rude cell that adhered to
the imder side of the stone. There was no
pollen in it, and I half suspected it was
merely a berth in which to pass the night.

These bees do not live even in pairs, but
absolutely alone. They have large baskets
on their legs in which to carry pollen, an
article they are very industrious in col-
lecting.

Why the larger species above described
should have waited till October to build its
nest is a mystery to me. Perhaps the pol-
len of the fall flowers is indispensable ; or
may be this was the second brood of the
season.

IV.
A WISE ARCHITECT.

I AM more than half persuaded that the
muskrat is a wise litde animal, and that on
the subject of the weather, especially, he
possesses some secret that I should be glad
to know. In the fall of '78 I noticed that
he built unusually high and massive nests. I
noticed them in several different localities.
In a shallow, sluggish pond by the road-
side, which I used to pass daily in my walk,
two nests were in process of construction
throughout the month of November. The
builders worked only at night, and I could
see each day that the work had visibly ad-
vanced. When there was a slight skim of
ice over the pond this was broken up about
the nests, with trails tiirough it in different
directions where the material had been
brought. The houses were placed a litde
to one side of the main channel and were
constructed entirely of a species of coarse
wild grass that grew all about. So far as I
could see from first to last they were solid
masses of grass, as if the interior cavity or
nest was to be excavated afterward, as
doubtiess it was. As they emerged from
the pond they gradually assumed the shape of
a miniature mountain, very bold and steep



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on the south side, and running down a long
gentle grade to the surface of the water on
the north. One could see that the little
architect hauled all his material up this easy
slope, and thrust it out boldly around the
other side. Every mouthful was distinctly
defined. After they were two feet or more
above the water, I expected each day to see
that the finishing stroke had been given and
the work brought to a close. But higher
yet, said the builder. December drew near,
the cold became threatening, and I was
apprehensive that winter would suddenly
shut down upon those unfinished nests.
But the wise rats knew better than I did;
they had received private advices from
head-quarters, that I knew not of. Finally,
about the 6th of December, the nests as-
sumed completion; the northern incline
was absorbed or carried up, and each struct-
ure became a strong massive cone, three
or four feet high, the largest nest of the
kind I had ever seen. Does it mean a
severe winter ? I inquired. An old farmer
said it meant " high water," and he was
right once, at least, for in a few days after-
ward we had the heaviest rain-fall known
in this section for half a century. The
creeks rose to an almost unprecedented
height. The sluggish pond became a seeth-
ing, turbulent water-course; gradually the
angry element crept up tlie sides of these
lake dwellings, till, when the rain ceased,
about four o'clock, they showed above the
flood no larger than a man's hat. During
the night the channel shifted till the main
current swept over them, and next day not a
vestige of the nests was to be seen ; they
had gone down-stream, as had many other
dwellings of a less temporary character.
The rats had built wisely, and would have
been perfectly secure against any ordinary
high water, but who can foresee a flood?
The oldest traditions of their race did not
run back to the time of such a visitation.

Nearly a week afterward another dwelling
was begun, well away from the treacherous
channel, but the architects did not work at
it with much heart ; the material was very
scarce, the ice hindered, and before the base-
ment-story was fairly finished, winter had the
pond under his lock and key.

In other localities I noticed that where
the nests were placed on the banks of
streams, they were made secure against the
floods by being built amid a small clump of
bushes. The present season the muskrats
are building a nest in the same pond, but
they began it later and have not planned it



on so large a scale. At the present writiDg
(December 15) it is not yet finished. The
fact would seem to indicate a later aod
milder winter and less high water. The
muskrat is not found in the Old Worid
which is a little singular, as other rats
abound there, and as those slow-going Eng-
lish streams especially, with their gras^
banks, are well suited to him. The water-
rat of Europe is smaller, but of sinailar
nature and habits. The muskrat does not
hibernate like some rodents, but is pretty
active all winter. In December I noticed
in my walk where they had made excursions
of a few yards to an orchard for frozen apples.
One day, along a little stream, I saw a mink
track amid those of the muskrat ; following
it up, I presently came to blood and other
marks of strife upon the snow beside a stone
wall. Looking in between the stones, I
found the carcass of the luckless rat, with its
head and neck eaten away. The mink had
made a meal off" him.



CHEATING THE SQUIRRELS.

For the largest and finest chestnuts I had
last fall I was indebted to the gray squirrels.
Walking through the early October woods
one day, I came upon a place where the
ground was thickly strewn with very large
unopened chestnut burs. On examination I
found that every bur had been cut square
off with about an inch of the stem adhering,
and not one had been left on the tree. It
was not accident, then, but design. Whose
design ? The squirrels'. The fruit was the
finest I had ever seen in the woods, and
some wise squirrel had marked it for his
own. The buts were ripe, and had just be-
gan to divide, not " threefold " but fourfold
" to show the fruit within." The squirrel
that had taken all this pains had evidently
reasoned with himself thus : " Now, these
are extremely fine chestnuts, and I want
them ; if I wait till the burs open on the
tree the crows and jays will be sure to carry
off" a great many of the nuts before they fall;
then, after the wind has ratded out what
remain, there are the mice, the chipmunks,
the red squirrels, the raccoons, the grouse,
to say nothing of the boys and the pigs, to
come in for their share ; so I will forestall
events a little ; I will cut off* the burs when
they have matured, and a few days of this
dry October weather will cause every one
of them to open on the ground ; I shall be



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613



oxi hand in the nick of time to gather up my

nuts." The squirrel, of course, had to take

tixe chances of a prowler like myself coming

along, but he had fairly stolen a march on

liis neighbors. As I proceeded to collect

a.rid open the burs, I was half prepared to

Hear an audible protest from the trees about,

for I constantly fancied myself watched by

sHy but jealous eyes. It is an interesting

inquiry how the squirrel knew the burs

Avould open if left to lie on the ground a

Tew days. Perhaps he did not know, but

thought the experiment worth trying.

The gray squirrel is peculiarly an Amer-
ican product, and might serve very well as
a. national emblem. The Old World can
Heat us on rats and mice, but we are far
ahead on squirrels, having five or six species
to Europe*s one.

VI.
A FORLORN QUEEN.

Once, while walking in the woods, I saw
quite a large nest in the top of a pine-tree.
On climbing up to it, I found that two or
three years before it had been a crow's nest.
The next season a red squirrel had appro-
priated it ; he had filled up the cavity with
the fine inner bark of the red cedar, and
made himself a dome-shaped nest, upon the
crow's foundation of coarse twigs. It is
probable that the flying squirrel, or the
white-footed mouse, had been the next
tenants, for the finish of the interior sug-
gested their dainty taste. But when I found
it, its sole occupant was a bumble-bee — the
mother or queen bee, just planting her
colony. She buzzed very loud and com-
plainingly, and stuck up her legs in protest
against my rude inquisitiveness, but reftised
to vacate the premises. . She had only one
sack or cell constructed, in which she had



deposited her first egg, and beside that a
large loaf of bread, probably to feed the
young brood with, as they should be hatched.
It looked like Boston brown bread, biit I
examined it, and found it to be a mass of
dark-brown pollen, quite soft and pasty. In
fact, it was unleavened bread, and had not
been got at the baker's. A few weeks later,
if no accident befell her, she had a good
workmg colony of a dozen or more bees.

This was not an unusual incident. Our
bumble-bee, so far as I have observed, in-
variably appropriates a mouse-nest for the
site of its colony, never excavating a place
in the ground, nor conveying materials for
a nest, to be lined with wax, like the Euro-
pean species. Many other of our wild
creatures take up with the leavings of their
betters or strongers. Neither the skunk
nor the rabbit digs his own hole, but takes
up with that of a woodchuck, or else hunts
out a natural den among the rocks. In
England the rabbit burrows in the ground
to such an extent that in places the earth
is honey-combed by them, and the walker
steps through the surface into their galleries.
Oiu* white-footed mouse has been known to
take up his abode in a hornet's nest, furnish-
ing the interior to suit his taste. A few of
our birds also avail themselves of the work
of others, as the tit-mouse, the brown
creeper, the blue-bird, and the house wren.
But in every case they re-furnish the tene-
ment : the wren carries feathers into the
cavity excavated by the woodpeckers, the
blue-bird carries in fine straws, and the
chickadee lays down a fine wool mat upon
the floors. When the high -hole occupies
^he same cavity another year, he deepens
and enlarges it; ihe phoebe-bird in taking
up her old nest puts in a new lining; so
does the robin ; but cases of re-occupancy of
an old nest by the last named birds are rare.



(1*0 be condnued)



THE POLITICAL OUTLOOK.



In a few months we shall be plunged
once more in the excitement of a Presiden-
tial canvass, and this time the excitement
promises to be unusually great, owing to the
prevailing belief that the contest will be
very close, and that neither candidate will be
willing to acknowledge his defeat. It is,
of course, possible that Congress may in
the meantime agree on some mode of
counting the vote, which will make the



counting a simple process as far as Con-
gress is concerned, or, in other words, make
it easy for the majority to dispose of all
doubtful or disputed retiuns in the way
most agreeable to itself. But it is not
probable that anything will be done which
will make the decision of the majority mor-
ally satisfactory to the minority. As long
as the two great parties are as evenly bal-
anced as they are now, the result is likely



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to turn on the vote of one or two states, and
this, of course, exposes the returns from all
states to greater or less suspicion, and
makes the temptation to doctor them
in every state very powerful. In most of
the states, however, the condition of public
opinion, or the arrangement of the canvass-
ing machinery, makes it easy to overcome
this suspicion, but there are probably half
. a dozen, if not more, in which fraud may
be reasonably anticipated, if the strength of
the candidates in the other states should ap-
pear to be nearly equal. Unluckily, too,
these states in which fraud may be reasona-
bly anticipated are those in which, owing to
the sparseness of population, and defective-
ness of railroad or other communication, it is
easiest to find excuses for holding back the



Online LibraryGeorge Streynsham MasterThe Century, Volume 19 → online text (page 103 of 160)