The Victoria Regia has one thing in common with a volcano—no amount of description or of colored plates prepares one for the plant itself. In analysis we recall its dimensions, colors, and form. Standing by a trench filled with its leaves and flowers, we discard the records of memory, and cleansing the senses of pre-impressions, begin anew. The marvel is for each of us, individually, an exception to evolution; it is a special creation, like all the rainbows seen in one's life—a thing to be reverently absorbed by sight, by scent, by touch, absorbed and realized without precedent or limit. Only ultimately do we find it necessary to adulterate this fine perception with definitive words and phrases, and so attempt to register it for ourselves or others.
I have seen many wonderful sights from an automobile,—such as my first Boche barrage and the tree ferns of Martinique,—but none to compare with the joys of vision from prehistoric tikka gharries, ancient victorias, and aged hacks. It was from the low curves of these equine rickshaws that I first learned to love Paris and Calcutta and the water-lilies of Georgetown. One of the first rites which I perform upon returning to New York is to go to the Lafayette and, after dinner, brush aside the taxi men and hail a victoria. The last time I did this, my driver was so old that two fellow drivers, younger than he and yet grandfatherly, assisted him, one holding the horse and the other helping him to his seat. Slowly ascending Fifth Avenue close to the curb and on through Central Park is like no other experience. The vehicle is so low and open that all resemblance to bus or taxi is lost. Everything is seen from a new angle. One learns incidentally that there is a guild of cab-drivers—proud, restrained, jealous. A hundred cars rush by without notice. Suddenly we see the whip brought up in salute to the dingy green top-hat, and across the avenue we perceive another victoria. And we are thrilled at the discovery, as if we had unearthed a new codex of some ancient ritual.
And so, initiated by such precedent, I have found it a worthy thing to spend hours in decrepit cabs loitering along side roads in the Botanical Gardens, watching herons and crocodiles, lilies and manatees, from the rusty leather seats. At first the driver looked at me in astonishment as I photographed or watched or wrote; but later he attended to his horse, whispering strange things into its ears, and finally deserted me. My writing was punctuated by graceful flourishes, resulting from an occasional lurch of the vehicle as the horse stepped from one to another patch of luscious grass.
Like Fujiyama, the Victoria Regia changes from hour to hour, color-shifted, wind-swung, and the mechanism of the blossoms never ceasing. In northern greenhouses it is nursed by skilled gardeners, kept in indifferent vitality by artificial heat and ventilation, with gaged light and selected water; here it was a rank growth, in its natural home, and here we knew of its antiquity from birds whose toes had been molded through scores of centuries to tread its great leaves.
In the cool fragrance of early morning, with the sun low across the water, the leaves appeared like huge, milky-white platters, with now and then little dancing silhouettes running over them. In another slant of light they seemed atolls scattered thickly through a dark, quiet sea, with new-blown flowers filling the whole air with slow-drifting perfume. Best of all, in late afternoon, the true colors came to the eye—six-foot circles of smooth emerald, with up-turned hem of rich wine-color. Each had a tell-tale cable lying along the surface, a score of leaves radiating from one deep hidden root.
Up through mud and black trench-water came the leaf, like a tiny fist of wrinkles, and day by day spread and uncurled, looking like the unwieldy paw of a kitten or cub. The keels and ribs covering the under-side increased in size and strength, and finally the great leaf was ironed out by the warm sun into a mighty sheet of smooth, emerald chlorophyll. Then, for a time,—no one has ever taken the trouble to find out how long,—it was at its best, swinging back and forth at its moorings with deep upright rim, a notch at one side revealing the almost invisible seam of the great lobes, and serving, also, as drainage outlet for excess of rain.
A young leaf occasionally came to grief by reaching the surface amid several large ones floating close together. Such a leaf expanded, as usual, but, like a beached boat, was gradually forced high and dry, hardening into a distorted shape and sinking only with the decay of the underlying leaves.
The deep crimson of the outside of the rim was merely a reflection tint, and vanished when the sun shone directly through; but the masses of sharp spines were very real, and quite efficient in repelling boarders. The leaf offered safe haven to any creature that could leap or fly to its surface; but its life would be short indeed if the casual whim of every baby crocodile or flipper of a young manatee met with no opposition.
Insects came from water and from air and called the floating leaf home, and, from now on, its surface was one of the most interesting and busy arenas in this tropical landscape.
In late September I spread my observation chair at the very edge of one of the dark tarns and watched the life on the leaves. Out at the center a fussy jacana was feeding with her two spindly-legged babies, while, still nearer, three scarlet-helmeted gallinules lumbered about, now and then tipping over a silvery and black infant which seemed puzzled as to which it should call parent. Here was a clear example, not only of the abundance of life in the tropics, but of the keen competition. The jacana invariably lays four eggs, and the gallinule, at this latitude, six or eight, yet only a fraction of the young had survived even to this tender age.
As I looked, a small crocodile rose, splashed, and sank, sending terror among the gallinules, but arousing the spur-wing jacana to a high pitch of anger. It left its young and flew directly to the widening circles and hovered, cackling loudly. These birds have ample ability to cope with the dangers which menace from beneath; but their fear was from above, and every passing heron, egret, or harmless hawk was given a quick scrutiny, with an instinctive crouch and half-spread wings.
But still the whole scene was peaceful; and as the sun grew warmer, young herons and egrets crawled out of their nests on the island a few yards away and preened their scanty plumage. Kiskadees splashed and dipped along the margin of the water. Everywhere this species seems seized with an aquatic fervor, and in localities hundreds of miles apart I have seen them gradually desert their fly-catching for surface feeding, or often plunging, kingfisher-like, bodily beneath, to emerge with a small wriggling fish—another certain reflection of overpopulation and competition.
As I sat I heard a rustle behind me, and there, not eight feet away, narrow snout held high, one tiny foot lifted, was that furry fiend, Rikki-tikki. He was too quick for me, and dived into a small clump of undergrowth and bamboos. But I wanted a specimen of mongoose, and the artist offered to beat one end of the bush. Soon I saw the gray form undulating along, and as the rustling came nearer, he shot forth, moving in great bounds. I waited until he had covered half the distance to the next clump and rolled him over. Going back to my chair, I found that neither jacana, nor gallinules, nor herons had been disturbed by my shot.
While the introduction of the mongoose into Guiana was a very reckless, foolish act, yet he seems to be having a rather hard time of it, and with islands and lily-pads as havens, and waterways in every direction, Rikki is reduced chiefly to grasshoppers and such small game. He has spread along the entire coast, through the cane-fields and around the rice-swamps, and it will not be his fault if he does not eventually get a foothold in the jungle itself.
No month or day or hour fails to bring vital changes—tragedies and comedies—to the network of life of these tropical gardens; but as we drive along the broad paths of an afternoon, the quiet vistas show only waving palms, weaving vultures, and swooping kiskadees, with bursts of color from bougainvillea, flamboyant, and queen of the flowers. At certain times, however, the tide of visible change swelled into a veritable bore of life, gently and gradually, as quiet waters become troubled and then pass into the seething uproar of rapids. In late afternoon, when the long shadows of palms stretched their blue-black bars across the terra-cotta roads, the foliage of the green bamboo islands was dotted here and there with a scattering of young herons, white and blue and parti-colored. Idly watching them through glasses, I saw them sleepily preening their sprouting feathers, making ineffectual attempts at pecking one another, or else hunched in silent heron-dream. They were scarcely more alive than the creeping, hour-hand tendrils about them, mere double-stemmed, fluffy petaled blossoms, no more strange than the nearest vegetable blooms—the cannon-ball mystery, the sand-box puzzle, sinister orchids, and the false color-alarms of the white-bracted silver-leaf. Compared with these, perching herons are right and seemly fruit.
As I watched them I suddenly stiffened in sympathy, as I saw all vegetable sloth drop away and each bird become a detached individual, plucked by an electric emotion from the appearance of a thing of sap and fiber to a vital being of tingling nerves. I followed their united glance, and overhead there vibrated, lightly as a thistledown, the first incoming adult heron, swinging in from a day's fishing along the coast. It went on and vanished among the fronds of a distant island; but the calm had been broken, and through all the stems there ran a restless sense of anticipation, a zeitgeist of prophetic import. One felt that memory of past things was dimming, and content with present comfort was no longer dominant. It was the future to which both the baby herons and I were looking, and for them realization came quickly. The sun had sunk still lower, and great clouds had begun to spread their robes and choose their tints for the coming pageant.
And now the vanguard of the homing host appeared,—black dots against blue and white and salmon,—thin, gaunt forms with slow-moving wings which cut the air through half the sky. The little herons and I watched them come—first a single white egret, which spiralled down, just as I had many times seen the first returning Spad eddy downward to a cluster of great hump-backed hangars; then a trio of tricolored herons, and six little blues, and after that I lost count. It seemed as if these tiny islands were magnets drawing all the herons in the world.
Parrakeets whirl roostwards with machine-like synchronism of flight; geese wheel down in more or less regular formation; but these herons concentrated along straight lines, each describing its individual radius from the spot where it caught its last fish or shrimp to its nest or the particular branch on which it will spend the night. With a hemicircle of sufficient size, one might plot all of the hundreds upon hundreds of these radii, and each would represent a distinct line, if only a heron's width apart.
At the height of the evening's flight there were sometimes fifty herons in sight at once, beating steadily onward until almost overhead, when they put on brakes and dropped. Some, as the little egrets, were rather awkward; while the tricolors were the most skilful, sometimes nose-diving, with a sudden flattening out just in time to reach out and grasp a branch. Once or twice, when a fitful breeze blew at sunset, I had a magnificent exhibition of aeronautics. The birds came upwind slowly, beating their way obliquely but steadily, long legs stretched out far behind the tail and swinging pendulum-like whenever a shift of ballast was needed. They apparently did not realize the unevenness of the wind, for when they backed air, ready to descend, a sudden gust would often undercut them and over they would go, legs, wings, and neck sprawling in mid-air. After one or two somersaults or a short, swift dive, they would right themselves, feathers on end, and frantically grasp at the first leaf or twig within reach. Panting, they looked helplessly around, reorientation coming gradually.
At each arrival, a hoarse chorus went up from hungry throats, and every youngster within reach scrambled wildly forward, hopeful of a fish course. They received but scant courtesy and usually a vicious peck tumbled them off the branch. I saw a young bird fall to the water, and this mishap was from no attack, but due to his tripping over his own feet, the claws of one foot gripping those of the other in an insane clasp, which overbalanced him. He fell through a thin screen of vines and splashed half onto a small Regia leaf. With neck and wings he struggled to pull himself up, and had almost succeeded when heron and leaf sank slowly, and only the bare stem swung up again. A few bubbles led off in a silvery path toward deeper water, showing where a crocodile swam slowly off with his prey.
For a time the birds remained still, and then crept within the tangles, to their mates or nests, or quieted the clamor of the young with warm-storage fish. How each one knew its own offspring was beyond my ken, but on three separate evenings scattered through one week, I observed an individual, marked by a wing-gap of two lost feathers, come, within a quarter-hour of six o'clock, and feed a great awkward youngster which had lost a single feather from each wing. So there was no hit-or-miss method—no luck in the strongest birds taking toll from more than two of the returning parents.
Observing this vesper migration in different places, I began to see orderly segregation on a large scale. All the smaller herons dwelt together on certain islands in more or less social tolerance; and on adjoining trees, separated by only a few yards, scores of hawks concentrated and roosted, content with their snail diet, and wholly ignoring their neighbors. On the other side of the gardens, in aristocratic isolation, was a colony of stately American egrets, dainty and graceful. Their circumference of radiation was almost or quite a circle, for they preferred the ricefields for their daily hunting. Here the great birds, snowy white, with flowing aigrettes, and long, curving necks, settled with dignity, and here they slept and sat on their rough nests of sticks.
When the height of homing flight of the host of herons had passed, I noticed a new element of restlessness, and here and there among the foliage appeared dull-brown figures. There occurred the comic explanation of white herons who had crept deep among the branches, again emerging in house coat of drab! These were not the same, however, and the first glance through binoculars showed the thick-set, humped figures and huge, staring eyes of night herons.
As the last rays of the sun left the summit of the royal palms, something like the shadow of a heron flashed out and away, and then the import of these facts was impressed upon me. The egret, the night heron, the vampire—here were three types of organisms, characterizing the actions and reactions in nature. The islands were receiving and giving up. Their heart was becoming filled with the many day-feeding birds, and now the night-shift was leaving, and the very branch on which a night heron might have been dozing all day was now occupied, perhaps, by a sleeping egret. With eyes enlarged to gather together the scanty rays of light, the night herons were slipping away in the path of the vampires—both nocturnal, but unlike in all other ways. And I wondered if, in the very early morning, infant night herons would greet their returning parents; and if their callow young ever fell into the dark waters, what awful deathly alternates would night reveal; or were the slow-living crocodiles sleepless, with cruel eyes which never closed so soundly but that the splash of a young night heron brought instant response?
THE BAY OF BUTTERFLIES
Butterflies doing strange things in very beautiful ways were in my mind when I sat down, but by the time my pen was uncapped my thoughts had shifted to rocks. The ink was refractory and a vigorous flick sent a shower of green drops over the sand on which I was sitting, and as I watched the ink settle into the absorbent quartz—the inversions of our grandmothers' blotters—I thought of what jolly things the lost ink might have been made to say about butterflies and rocks, if it could have flowed out slowly in curves and angles and dots over paper—for the things we might have done are always so much more worthy than those which we actually accomplish. When at last I began to write, a song came to my ears and my mind again looped backward. At least, there came from the very deeps of the water beyond the mangroves a low, metallic murmur; and my Stormouth says that in Icelandic sangra means to murmur. So what is a murmur in Iceland may very well be a song in Guiana. At any rate, my pen would have to do only with words of singing catfish; yet from butterflies to rock, to fish, all was logical looping—mental giant-swings which came as relaxation after hours of observation of unrelated sheer facts.
The singing cats, so my pen consented to write, had serenaded me while I crossed the Cuyuni in a canoe. There arose deep, liquid, vibrating sounds, such as those I now heard, deep and penetrating, as if from some submarine gong—a gong which could not be thought of as wet, for it had never been dry. As I stopped paddling the sound became absolute vibration, the canoe itself seemed to tremble, the paddle tingled in my hands. It was wholly detached; it came from whatever direction the ear sought it. Then, without dying out, it was reinforced by another sound, rhythmical, abrupt, twanging, filling the water and air with a slow measure on four notes. The water swirled beside the canoe, and a face appeared—a monstrous, complacent face, such as Bocklin would love—a face inhuman in possessing the quality of supreme contentment. Framed in the brown waters, the head of the great, grinning catfish rose, and slowly sank, leaving outlines discernible in ripples and bubbles with almost Cheshire persistency. One of my Indians, passing in his dugout, smiled at my peering down after the fish, and murmured, "Boom-boom."
Then came a day when one of these huge, amiable, living smiles blundered into our net, a smile a foot wide and six feet long, and even as he lay quietly awaiting what fate brought to great catfish, he sang, both theme and accompaniment. His whole being throbbed with the continuous deep drumming as the thin, silky walls of his swim-bladder vibrated in the depths of his body. The oxygen in the air was slowly killing him, and yet his swan song was possible because of an inner atmosphere so rich in this gas that it would be unbreathable by a creature of the land. Nerve and muscle, special expanse of circling bones, swim-bladder and its tenuous gas—all these combined to produce the aquatic harmony. But as if to load this contented being with largesse of apparently useless abilities, the two widespreading fin spines—the fins which correspond to our arms—were swiveled in rough-ridged cups at what might have been shoulders, and when moved back and forth the stridulation troubled all the water, and the air, too, with the muffled, twanging, rip, rip, rip, rip. The two spines were tuned separately, the right being a full tone lower, and the backward drawing of the bow gave a higher note than its forward reach. So, alternately, at a full second tempo, the four tones rose and fell, carrying out some strange Silurian theme: a muffled cadence of undertones, which, thrilled with the mystery of their author and cause, yet merged smoothly with the cosmic orchestra of wind and ripples and distant rain.
So the great, smooth, arching lift of granite rocks at our bungalow's shore, where the giant catfish sang, was ever afterward Boom-boom Point. And now I sat close by on the sand and strove to think anew of my butterflies, for they were the reason of my being there that brilliant October afternoon. But still my pen refused, hovering about the thing of ultimate interest as one leaves the most desired book to the last. For again the ear claimed dominance, and I listened to a new little refrain over my shoulder. I pictured a tiny sawhorse, and a midget who labored with might and main to cut through a never-ending stint of twigs. I chose to keep my image to the last, and did not move or look around, until there came the slightest of tugs at my knee, and into view clambered one of those beings who are so beautiful and bizarre that one almost thinks they should not be. My second singer was a beetle—an awkward, enormous, serious, brilliant beetle, with six-inch antennae and great wing covers, which combined the hues of the royal robes of Queen Thi, tempered by thousands of years of silent darkness in the underground tombs at Sakhara, with the grace of curve and angle of equally ancient characters on the hill tombs of Fokien. On a background of olive ochre there blazed great splashes and characters of the red of jasper framed in black. Toward the front Nature had tried heavy black stippling, but it clouded the pattern and she had given it up in order that I might think of Egypt and Cathay.
But the thing which took the beetle quite out of a world of reasonable things was his forelegs. They were outrageous, and he seemed to think so, too, for they got in his way, and caught in wrong things and pulled him to one side. They were three times the length of his other limbs, spreading sideways a full thirteen inches, long, slender, beautifully sculptured, and forever reaching out in front for whatever long-armed beetles most desire. And his song, as he climbed over me, was squeaky and sawlike, and as he walked he doddered, head trembling as an old man's shakes in final acquiescence in the futility of life.
But in this great-armed beetle it was a nodding of necessity, a doddering of desire, the drawing of the bow across the strings in a hymn of hope which had begun in past time with the first stridulation of ancient insects. To-day the fiddling vibrations, the Song of the Beetle, reached out in all directions. To the majority of jungle ears it was only another note in the day's chorus: I saw it attract a flycatcher's attention, hold it a moment, and then lose it. To me it came as a vitally interesting tone of deep significance, for whatever emotions it might arouse in casual ears, its goal was another Great-armed Beetle, who might or might not come within its radius. With unquestioning search the fiddler clambered on and on, over me and over flowers and rocks, skirting the ripples and vanishing into a maelstrom of waving grass. Long after the last awkward lurch, there came back zizzing squeaks of perfect faith, and I hoped, as I passed beyond the periphery of sound, that instinct and desire might direct their rolling ball of vibrations toward the one whose ear, whether in antenna, or thorax or femoral tympanum had, through untold numbers of past lives, been attuned to its rhythm.
Two thousand miles north of where I sat, or ten million, five hundred and sixty thousand feet (for, like Bunker Bean's book-keeper, I sometimes like to think of things that way), I would look out of the window one morning in days to come, and thrill at the sight of falling flakes. The emotion would very probably be sentiment—the memory of wonderful northland snowstorms, of huge fires, of evenings with Roosevelt, when discussions always led to unknowable fields, when book after book yielded its phrase or sentence of pure gold thought. On one of the last of such evenings I found a forgotten joy-of-battle-speech of Huxley's, which stimulated two full days and four books re-read—while flakes swirled and invisible winds came swiftly around the eaves over the great trophies—poussant des soupirs,—we longing with our whole souls for an hour of talk with that splendid old fighting scientist.
These are thoughts which come at first-snow, thoughts humanly narrow and personal compared to the later delights of snow itself—crystals and tracks, the strangeness of freezing and the mystery of melting. And they recurred now because for days past I had idly watched scattered flurries of lemon-yellow and of orange butterflies drift past Kartabo. Down the two great Guiana rivers they came, steadily progressing, yet never hurrying; with zigzag flickering flight they barely cleared the trees and shrubs, and then skimmed the surface, vanishing when ripples caught the light, redoubled by reflection when the water lay quiet and polished. For month after month they passed, sometimes absent for days or weeks, but soon to be counted at earliest sunup, always arousing renewed curiosity, always bringing to mind the first flurry of winter.
We watch the autumn passing of birds with regret, but when the bluebirds warble their way southward we are cheered with the hope and the knowledge that some, at least, will return. Here, vast stretches of country, perhaps all Guiana, and how much of Brazil and Venezuela no one knows, poured forth a steady stream of yellow and orange butterflies. They were very beautiful and they danced and flickered in the sunlight, but this was no temporary shifting to a pleasanter clime or a land of more abundant flowers, but a migration in the grim old sense which Cicero loved, non dubitat ... migrare de vita. No butterfly ever turned back, or circled again to the glade, with its yellow cassia blooms where he had spent his caterpillarhood. Nor did he fly toward the north star or the sunset, but between the two. Twelve years before, as I passed up the Essequibo and the Cuyuni, I noticed hundreds of yellow butterflies each true to his little compass variation of NNW.
There are times and places in Guiana where emigrating butterflies turn to the north or the south; sometimes for days at a time, but sooner or later the eddies straighten out, their little flotillas cease tacking, and all swing again NNW.
To-day the last of the migration stragglers of the year—perhaps the fiftieth great-grandsons of those others—held true to the Catopsilian lodestone.
My masculine pronouns are intentional, for of all the thousands and tens of thousands of migrants, all, as far as I know, were males. Catch a dozen yellows in a jungle glade and the sexes may be equal. But the irresistible maelstrom impels only the males. Whence they come or why they go is as utterly unknown to us as why the females are immune.
Once, from the deck of a steamer, far off the Guiana coast, I saw hosts of these same great saffron-wings flying well above the water, headed for the open sea. Behind them were sheltering fronds, nectar, soft winds, mates; before were corroding salt, rising waves, lowering clouds, a storm imminent. Their course was NNW, they sailed under sealed orders, their port was Death.
Looking out over the great expanse of the Mazaruni, the fluttering insects were usually rather evenly distributed, each with a few yards of clear space about it, but very rarely—I have seen it only twice—a new force became operative. Not only were the little volant beings siphoned up in untold numbers from their normal life of sleeping, feeding, dancing about their mates, but they were blindly poured into an invisible artery, down which they flowed in close association, veritables corpuscules de papillons, almost touching, forming a bending ribbon, winding its way seaward, with here and there a temporary fraying out of eddying wings. It seemed like a wayward cloud still stained with last night's sunset yellow, which had set out on its own path over rivers and jungles to join the sea mists beyond the uttermost trees.
Such a swarm seemed imbued with an ecstasy of travel which surpassed discomfort. Deep cloud shadows might settle down, but only dimmed the painted wings; under raindrops the ribbon sagged, the insects flying closer to the water. On the other hand, the scattered hosts of the more ordinary migrations, while they turned neither to the north nor to the west, yet fled at the advent of clouds and rain, seeking shelter under the nearest foliage. So much loitering was permitted, but with the coming of the sun again they must desert the pleasant feel of velvet leaves, the rain-washed odors of streaming blossoms, and set their antennae unquestioningly upon the strange last turn of their wheel of life.
What crime of ancestors are they expiating? In some forgotten caterpillardom was an act committed, so terrible that it can never be known, except through the working out of the karma upon millions of butterflies? Or does there linger in the innumerable little ganglion minds a memory of long-lost Atlantis, so compelling to masculine Catopsilias that the supreme effort of their lives is an attempt to envisage it? "Absurd fancies, all," says our conscious entomological sense, and we agree and sweep them aside. And then quite as readily, more reasonable scientific theories fall asunder, and we are left at last alone with the butterflies, a vast ignorance, and a great unfulfilled desire to know what it all means.
On this October day the migration of the year had ceased. To my coarse senses the sunlight was of equal intensity, the breeze unchanged, the whole aspect the same—and yet something as intangible as thought, as impelling as gravitation, had ceased to operate. The tension once slackened, the butterflies took up their more usual lives. But what could I know of the meaning of "normal" in the life of a butterfly—I who boasted a miserable single pair of eyes and no greater number of legs, whose shoulders supported only shoulder blades, and whose youth was barren of caterpillarian memories!
As I have said, migration was at an end, yet here I had stumbled upon a Bay of Butterflies. No matter whether one's interest in life lay chiefly with ornithology, teetotalism, arrowheads, politics, botany, or finance, in this bay one's thoughts would be sure to be concentrated on butterflies. And no less interesting than the butterflies were their immediate surroundings. The day before, I had sat close by on a low boulder at the head of the tiny bay, with not a butterfly in sight. It occurred to me that my ancestor, Eryops, would have been perfectly at home, for in front of me were clumps of strange, carboniferous rushes, lacking leaves and grace, and sedges such as might be fashioned in an attempt to make plants out of green straw. Here and there an ancient jointed stem was in blossom, a pinnacle of white filaments, and hour after hour there came little brown trigonid visitors, sting-less bees, whose nests were veritable museums of flower extracts—tubs of honey, hampers of pollen, barrels of ambrosia, hoarded in castles of wax. Scirpus-sedge or orchid, all was the same to them.
All odor evaded me until I had recourse to my usual olfactory crutch, placing the flower in a vial in the sunlight. Delicate indeed was the fragrance which did not yield itself to a few minutes of this distillation. As I removed the cork there gently arose the scent of thyme, and of rose petals long pressed between the leaves of old, old books—a scent memorable of days ancient to us, which in past lives of sedges would count but a moment. In an instant it passed, drowned in the following smell of bruised stem. But I had surprised the odor of this age-old growth, as evanescent as the faint sound of the breeze sifting through the cluster of leafless stalks. I felt certain that Eryops, although living among horserushes and ancient sedges, never smelled or listened to them, and a glow of satisfaction came over me at the thought that perhaps I represented an advance on this funny old forebear of mine; but then I thought of the little bees, drawn from afar by the scent, and I returned to my usual sense of human futility, which is always dominant in the presence of insect activities.
I leaned back, crowding into a crevice of rock, and strove to realize more deeply the kinship of these fine earth neighbors. Bone of my bone indeed they were, but their quiet dignity, their calmness in storm and sun, their poise, their disregard of all small, petty things, whether of mechanics, whether chemical or emotional—these were attributes to which I could only aspire, being the prerogatives of superiors.
These rocks, in particular, seemed of the very essence of earth. Three elements fought over them. The sand and soil from which they lifted their splendid heads sifted down, or was washed up, in vain effort to cover them. More subtly dead tree trunks fell upon them, returned to earth, and strove to encloak them. For six hours at a time the water claimed them, enveloping them slowly in a mantle of quicksilver, or surging over with rough waves. Algal spores took hold, desmids and diatoms swam in and settled down, little fish wandered in and out of the crevices, while large ones nosed at the entrances.
Then Mother Earth turned slowly onward; the moon, reaching down, beckoned with invisible fingers, and the air again entered this no man's land. Breezes whispered where a few moments before ripples had lapped; with the sun as ally, the last remaining pool vanished and there began the hours of aerial dominion. The most envied character of our lesser brethren is their faith. No matter how many hundreds of thousands of tides had ebbed and flowed, yet to-day every pinch of life which was blown or walked or fell or flew to the rocks during their brief respite from the waves, accepted the good dry surface without question.
Seeds and berries fell, and rolled into hollows rich in mulcted earth; parachutes, buoyed on thistle silk, sailed from distant jungle plants; every swirl of breeze brought spores of lichens and moss, and even the retreating water unwittingly aided, having transported hither and dropped a cargo of living things, from tiniest plant to seeds of mightiest mora. Though in the few allotted hours these might not sprout, but only quicken in their heart, yet blue-winged wasps made their faith more manifest, and worked with feverish haste to gather pellets of clay and fashion cells. I once saw even the beginning of storage—a green spider, which an hour later was swallowed by a passing fish instead of nourishing an infant wasp.
Spiders raised their meshes where shrimps had skipped, and flies hummed and were caught by singing jungle vireos, where armored catfish had passed an hour or two before.
So the elements struggled and the creatures of each strove to fulfil their destiny, and for a little time the rocks and I wondered at it together.
In this little arena, floored with sand, dotted with rushes and balconied with boulders, many hundreds of butterflies were gathered. There were five species, all of the genius Catopsilia, but only three were easily distinguishable in life, the smaller, lemon yellow statira, and the larger, orange argente and philea. There was also eubele, the migrant, keeping rather to itself.
I took some pictures, then crept closer; more pictures and a nearer approach. Then suddenly all rose, and I felt as if I had shattered a wonderful painting. But the sand was a lodestone and drew them down. I slipped within a yard, squatted, and mentally became one of them. Silently, by dozens and scores, they flew around me, and soon they eclipsed the sand. They were so closely packed that their outstretched legs touched. There were two large patches, and a smaller area outlined by no boundary that I could detect. Yet when these were occupied the last comers alighted on top of the wings of their comrades, who resented neither the disturbance nor the weight. Two layers of butterflies crammed into small areas of sand in the midst of more sand, bounded by walls of empty air—this was a strange thing.
A little later, when I enthusiastically reported it to a professional lepidopterist he brushed it aside. "A common occurrence the world over, Rhopalocera gathered in damp places to drink." I, too, had observed apparently similar phenomena along icy streams in Sikkim, and around muddy buffalo-wallows in steaming Malay jungles. And I can recall many years ago, leaning far out of a New England buggy to watch clouds of little sulphurs flutter up from puddles beneath the creaking wheels.
The very fact that butterflies chose to drink in company is of intense interest, and to be envied as well by us humans who are temporarily denied that privilege. But in the Bay of Butterflies they were not drinking, nor during the several days when I watched them. One of the chosen patches of sand was close to the tide when I first saw them, and damp enough to appease the thirst of any butterfly. The other two were upon sand, parched by hours of direct tropical sun, and here the two layers were massed.
The insects alighted, facing in any direction, but veered at once, heading upbreeze. Along the riverside of markets of tropical cities I have seen fleets of fishing boats crowded close together, their gay sails drying, while great ebony Neptunes brought ashore baskets of angel fish. This came to mind as I watched my flotillas of butterflies.
I leaned forward until my face was hardly a foot from the outliers, and these I learned to know as individuals. One sulphur had lost a bit of hind wing, and three times he flew away and returned to the same spot. Like most cripples, he was unamiable, and resented a close approach, pushing at the trespasser with a foreleg in a most unbutterfly-like way. Although I watched closely, I did not see a single tongue uncoiled for drinking. Only when a dense group became uneasy and pushed one another about were the tongue springs slightly loosened. Even the nervous antennae were quiet after the insects had settled. They seemed to have achieved a Rhopaloceran Nirvana, content to rest motionless until caught up in the temporary whirlwinds of restlessness which now and then possessed them.
They came from all directions, swirling over the rocks, twisting through nearby brambles, and settling without a moment's hesitation. It was as though they had all been here many times before, a rendezvous which brooked not an instant's delay. From time to time some mass spirit troubled them, and, as one butterfly, the whole company took to wing. Close as they were when resting, they fairly buffeted one another in mid-air. Their wings, striking one another and my camera and face, made a strange little rustling, crisp and crackling whispers of sounds. As if a pile of Northern autumn leaves, fallen to earth, suddenly remembered days of greenness and humming bees, and strove to raise themselves again to the bare branches overhead.
Down came the butterflies again, brushing against my clothes and eyes and hands. All that I captured later were males, and most were fresh and newly emerged, with a scattering of dimmed wings, frayed at edges, who flew more slowly, with less vigor. Finally the lower patch was washed out by the rising tide, but not until the water actually reached them did the insects leave. I could trace with accuracy the exact reach of the last ripple to roll over the flat sand by the contour of the remaining outermost rank of insects.
On and on came the water, and soon I was forced to move, and the hundreds of butterflies in front of me. When the last one had left I went away, returning two hours later. It was then that I witnessed the most significant happening in the Bay of Butterflies—one which shook to the bottom the theory of my lepidopterist friend, together with my thoughtless use of the word normal. Over two feet of restless brown water covered the sand patches and rocked the scouring rushes. A few feet farther up the little bay the remaining sand was still exposed. Here were damp sand, sand dotted with rushes, and sand dry and white in the sun. About a hundred butterflies were in sight, some continually leaving, and others arriving. Individuals still dashed into sight and swooped downward. But not one attempted to alight on the exposed sand. There was fine, dry sand, warm to a butterfly's feet, or wet sand soaked with draughts of good Mazaruni water. But they passed this unheeding, and circled and fluttered in two swarms, as low as they dared, close to the surface of the water, exactly over the two patches of sand which had so drawn and held them or their brethren two hours before. Whatever the ultimate satisfaction may have been, the attraction was something transcending humidity, aridity, or immediate possibility of attainment. It was a definite cosmic point, a geographical focus, which, to my eyes and understanding, was unreasonable, unsuitable, and inexplicable.
As I watched the restless water and the butterflies striving to find a way down through it to the only desired patches of sand in the world, there arose a fine, thin humming, seeping up through the very waves, and I knew the singing catfish were following the tide shoreward. And as I considered my vast ignorance of what it all meant, of how little I could ever convey of the significance of the happenings in the Bay of Butterflies, I felt that it would have been far better for all of my green ink to have trickled down through the grains of sand.
Tropical midges of sorts live less than a day—sequoias have felt their sap quicken at the warmth of fifteen hundred springs. Somewhere between these extremes, we open our eyes, look about us for a time and close them again. Modern political geography and shifts of government give us Methusalistic feelings—but a glance at rocks or stars sends us shuddering among the other motes which glisten for a moment in the sunlight and then vanish.
We who strive for a little insight into evolution and the meaning of things as they are, forever long for a glimpse of things as they were. Here at my laboratory I wonder what the land was like before the dense mat of vegetation came to cover every rock and grain of sand, or how the rivers looked when first their waters trickled to the sea.
All our stories are of the middles of things,—without beginning or end; we scientists are plunged suddenly upon a cosmos in the full uproar of eons of precedent, unable to look ahead, while to look backward we must look down.
Exactly a year ago I spent two hours in a clearing in the jungle back of Kartabo laboratory, and let my eyes and ears have full swing. Now in August of the succeeding year I came again to this clearing, and found it no more a clearing. Indeed so changed was it, that for weeks I had passed close by without a thought of the jungle meadow of the previous year, and now, what finally turned me aside from my usual trail, was a sound. Twelve months ago I wrote, "From the monotone of under-world sounds a strange little rasping detached itself, a reiterated, subdued scraping or picking. It carried my mind instantly to the throbbing theme of the Niebelungs, onomatopoetic of the little hammers forever busy in their underground work. I circled a small bush at my side, and found that the sound came from one of the branches near the top; so with my glasses I began a systematic search." This was as far as I ever got, for a flock of parrakeets exploded close at hand and blew the lesser sound out of mind. If I had stopped to guess I would probably have considered the author a longicorn beetle or some fiddling orthopter.
[Footnote 2: See page 34.]
Now, a year later, I suddenly stopped twenty yards away, for at the end of the silvery cadence of a woodhewer, I heard the low, measured, toneless rhythm which instantly revived to mind every detail of the clearing. I was headed toward a distant palm frond beneath whose tip was a nest of Rufous Hermits, for I wished to see the two atoms of hummingbirds at the moment when they rolled from their petit pois egg-shells. I gave this up for the day and turned up the hill, where fifty feet away was the stump and bush near which I had sat and watched. Three times I went past the place before I could be certain, and even at the last I identified it only by the relative position of the giant tauroneero tree, in which I had shot many cotingas. The stump was there, a bit lower and more worn at the crevices, leaking sawdust like an overloved doll—but the low shrub had become a tall sapling, the weeds—vervain, boneset, velvet-leaf—all had been topped and killed off by dense-foliaged bushes and shrubs, which a year before had not raised a leaf above the meadow level. The old vistas were gone, the landscape had closed in, the wilderness was shutting down. Nature herself was "letting in the jungle." I felt like Rip Van Winkle, or even more alien, as if the passing of time had been accelerated and my longed-for leap had been accomplished, beyond the usual ken of mankind's earthly lease of senses.
All these astounding changes had come to pass through the heat and moisture of a tropical year, and under deliberate scientific calculation there was nothing unusual in the alteration. I remembered the remarkable growth of one of the laboratory bamboo shoots during the rainy season—twelve and a half feet in sixteen days, but that was a single stem like a blade of grass, whereas here the whole landscape was altered—new birds, new insects, branches, foliage, flowers, where twelve short months past, was open sky above low weeds.
In the hollow root on the beach, my band of crane-flies had danced for a thousand hours, but here was a sound which had apparently never ceased for more than a year—perhaps five thousand hours of daylight. It was a low, penetrating, abruptly reiterated beat, occurring about once every second and a half, and distinctly audible a hundred feet away. The "low bush" from which it proceeded last year, was now a respectable sapling, and the source far out of reach overhead. I discovered a roundish mass among the leaves, and the first stroke of the ax sent the rhythm up to once a second, but did not alter the timbre. A few blows and the small trunk gave way and I fled for my life. But there was no angry buzzing and I came close. After a cessation of ten or fifteen seconds the sound began again, weaker but steady. The foliage was alive with small Azteca ants, but these were tenants of several small nests near by, and at the catastrophe overran everything.
The largest structure was the smooth carton nest of a wasp, a beautiful species, pale yellowish-red with wine-colored wings. Only once did an individual make an attempt to sting and even when my head was within six inches, the wasps rested quietly on the broken combs. By careful watching, I observed that many of the insects jerked the abdomen sharply downward, butting the comb or shell of smooth paper a forceful blow, and producing a very distinct noise. I could not at first see the mass of wasps which were giving forth the major rhythm, as they were hidden deep in the nest, but the fifty-odd wasps in sight kept perfect time, or occasionally an individual skipped one or two beats, coming in regularly on every alternate or every third beat. Where they were two or three deep, the uppermost wasps struck the insects below them with their abdomens in perfect rhythm with the nest beat. For half an hour the sound continued, then died down and was not heard again. The wasps dispersed during the night and the nest was deserted.
It reminded me of the telegraphing ants which I have often heard in Borneo, a remarkable sweeping roll, caused by the host of insects striking the leaves with their heads, and produced only when they are disturbed. It appeared to be of the nature of a warning signal, giving me opportunity to back away from the stinging legions which filled the thicket against which I pushed.
The rhythm of these wasps was very different. They were peaceable, not even resenting the devastation of their home, but always and always must the inexplicable beat, beat, beat, be kept up, serving some purpose quite hidden from me. During succeeding months I found two more nests, with similar fetish of sound vibrations, which led to their discovery. From one small nest, which fairly shook with the strength of their beats, I extracted a single wasp and placed him in a glass-topped, metal box. For three minutes he kept up the rhythmic beat. Then I began a more rapid tattoo on the bottom of the box, and the changed tempo confused him, so that he stopped at once, and would not tap again.
A few little Mazaruni daisies survived here and there, blossoming bravely, trying to believe that the shade was lessening, and not daily becoming more dense. But their leaves were losing heart, and paling in the scant light. Another six months and dead leaves and moss would have obliterated them, and the zone of brilliant flowers and gorgeous butterflies and birds would shift many feet into the air, with the tops of the trees as a new level.
As long as I remained by my stump my visitors were of the jungle. A yellow-bellied trogon came quite close, and sat as trogons do, very straight and stiff like a poorly mounted bird, watching passing flycatchers and me and the glimpses of sky. At first he rolled his little cuckoo-like notes, and his brown mate swooped up, saw me, shifted a few feet farther off and perched full of curiosity, craning her neck and looking first with one eye, then the other. Now the male began a content song. With all possible variations of his few and simple tones, on a low and very sweet timbre, he belied his unoscine perch in the tree of bird life, and sang to himself. Now and then he was drowned out by the shrilling of cicadas, but it was a delightful serenade, and he seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. A few days before, I had made a careful study of the syrinx of this bird, whom we may call rather euphoniously Trogonurus curucui, and had been struck by the simplicity both of muscles and bones. Now, having summoned his mate in regular accents, there followed this unexpected whisper song. It recalled similar melodies sung by pheasants and Himalayan partridges, usually after they had gone to roost.
Once the female swooped after an insect, and in the midst of one of the sweetest passages of the male trogon, a green grasshopper shifted his position. He was only two inches away from the singer, and all this time had been hidden by his chlorophyll-hued veil. And now the trogon fairly fell off the branch, seizing the insect almost before the tone died away. Swallowing it with considerable difficulty, the harmony was taken up again, a bit throaty for a few notes. Then the pair talked together in the usual trogon fashion, and the sudden shadow of a passing vulture, drew forth discordant cat calls, as both birds swooped from sight to avoid the fancied hawk.
A few minutes later the vocal seal of the jungle was uttered by a quadrille bird. When the notes of this wren are heard, I can never imagine open, blazing sunshine, or unobstructed blue sky. Like the call of the wood pewee, the wren's radiates coolness and shadowy quiet. No matter how tropic or breathless the jungle, when the flute-like notes arise they bring a feeling of freshness, they arouse a mental breeze, which cools one's thoughts, and, although there may be no water for miles, yet we can fairly hear the drip of cool drops falling from thick moss to pools below. First an octave of two notes of purest silver, then a varying strain of eight or ten notes, so sweet and powerful, so individual and meaningful that it might stand for some wonderful motif in a great opera. I shut my eyes, and I was deaf to all other sounds while the wren sang. And as it dwelt on the last note of its phrase, a cicada took it up on the exact tone, and blended the two final notes into a slow vibration, beginning gently and rising with the crescendo of which only an insect, and especially a cicada, is master. Here was the eternal, hypnotic tom-tom rhythm of the East, grafted upon supreme Western opera. For a time my changed clearing became merely a sounding box for the most thrilling of jungle songs. I called the wren as well as I could, and he came nearer and nearer. The music rang out only a few yards away. Then he became suspicious, and after that each phrase was prefaced by typical wren scolding. He could not help but voice his emotions, and the harsh notes told plainly what he thought of my poor imitation. Then another feeling would dominate, and out of the maelstrom of harshness, of tumbled, volcanic vocalization would rise the pure silver stream of single notes.
The wren slipped away through the masses of fragrant Davilla blossoms, but his songs remained and are with me to this moment. And now I leaned back, lost my balance, and grasping the old stump for support, loosened a big piece of soft, mealy wood. In the hollow beneath, I saw a rainbow in the heart of the dead tree.
This rainbow was caused by a bug, and when we stop to think of it, this shows how little there is in a name. For when we say bug, or for that matter bogy or bugbear, we are garbling the sound which our very, very forefathers uttered when they saw a specter or hobgoblin. They said it bugge or even bwg, but then they were more afraid of specters in those days than we, who imprison will-o'-the-wisps in Very lights, and rub fox-fire on our watch faces. At any rate here was a bug who seemed to ill-deserve his name, although if the Niblelungs could fashion the Rheingold, why could not a bug conceive a rainbow?
Whenever a human, and especially a house-human thinks of bugs, she thinks unpleasantly and in superlatives. And it chances that evolution, or natural selection, or life's mechanism, or fate or a creator, has wrought them into form and function also in superlatives. Cicadas are supreme in longevity and noise. One of our northern species sucks in silent darkness for seventeen years, and then, for a single summer, breaks all American long-distance records for insect voices. To another group, known as Fulgorids, gigantic heads and streamers of wax have been allotted. Those possessing the former rejoice in the name of Lantern Flies, but they are at present unfaithful vestal bugs, though it is extremely doubtful if their wicks were ever trimmed or lighted. To see a big wax bug flying with trailing ribbons slowly from tree to tree in the jungle is to recall the streaming trains of a flock of peacocks on the wing.
The membracids must of all deserve the name of "bugges" for no elf or hobgoblin was ever more bizarre. Their legs and heads and bodies are small and aphid-like, but aloft there spring minarets and handles and towers and thorns and groups of hairy balls, out of all reason and sense. Only Stegosaurus and Triceratops bear comparison. Another group of five-sided bugs are the skunks and civet-cats among insects, guarding themselves from danger by an aura of obnoxious scent.
Not the least strange of this assemblage is the author of our rainbow in the stump. My awkwardness had broken into a hollow which opened to the light on the other side of the rotten bole. A vine had tendriled its way into the crevice where the little weaver of rainbows had found board and lodging. We may call him toad-hopper or spittle-bug, or as Fabre says, "Contentons-nous de Cicadelle, qui respecte le tympan." Like all of its kindred, the Bubble Bug finds Nirvana in a sappy green stem. It has neither strong flight, nor sticky wax, thorny armature nor gas barrage, so it proceeds to fashion an armor of bubbles, a cuirass of liquid film. This, in brief, was the rainbow which caught my eye when I broke open the stump. Up to that moment no rainbow had existed, only a little light sifting through from the vine-clad side. But now a ray of sun shattered itself on the pile of bubbles, and sprayed itself out into a curved glory.
Bubble Bugs blow their froth only when immature, and their bodies are a distillery or home-brew of sorts. No matter what the color, or viscosity or chemical properties of sap, regardless of whether it flows in liana, shrub, or vine, yet the Bug's artesian product is clear, tasteless and wholly without the possibility of being blown into bubbles. When a large drop has collected, the tip of the abdomen encloses a retort of air, inserts this in the drop and forces it out. In some way an imponderable amount of oil or dissolved wax is extruded and mixed with the drop, an invisible shellac which toughens the bubble and gives it an astounding glutinous endurance. As long as the abdominal air-pump can be extended into the atmosphere, so long does the pile of bubbles grow until the insect is deep buried, and to penetrate this is as unpleasant an achievement for small marauders as to force a cobweb entanglement. I have draped a big pile of bubbles around the beak of an insect-eating bird, and watched it shake its head and wipe its beak in evident disgust at the clinging oily films. In the north we have the bits of fine white foam which we characteristically call frog-spittle, but these tropic relatives have bigger bellows and their covering is like the interfering mass of films which emerges from the soap-bubble bowl when a pipe is thrust beneath the surface and that delicious gurgling sound produced.
The most marvelous part of the whole thing is that the undistilled well which the Bubble Bug taps would often overwhelm it in an instant, either by the burning acidity of its composition, or the rubber coating of death into which it hardens in the air. Yet with this current of lava or vitriol, our Bug does three wonderful things, it distills sweet water for its present protective cell of bubbles, it draws purest nourishment for continual energy to run its bellows and pump, and simultaneously it fills its blood and tissues with a pungent flavor, which in the future will be a safeguard against the attacks of birds and lizards. Little by little its wings swell to full spread and strength, muscles are fashioned in its hind legs, which in time will shoot it through great distances of space, and pigment of the most brilliant yellow and black forms on its wing covers. When at last it shuts down its little still and creeps forth through the filmy veil, it is immature no longer, but a brilliant frog-hopper, sitting on the most conspicuous leaves, trusting by pigmental warning to advertise its inedibility, and watchful for a mate, so that the future may hold no dearth of Bubble Bugs.
On my first tramp each season in the tropical jungle, I see the legionary army ants hastening on their way to battle, and the leaf-cutters plodding along, with chlorophyll hods over their shoulders, exactly as they did last year, and the year preceding, and probably a hundred thousand years before that. The Colony Egos of army and leaf-cutters may quite reasonably be classified according to Kingdom. The former, with carnivorous, voracious, nervous, vitally active members, seems an intangible, animal-like organism; while the stolid, vegetarian, unemotional, weather-swung Attas, resemble the flowing sap of the food on which they subsist—vegetable.
Yet, whatever the simile, the net of unconscious precedent is too closely drawn, the mesh of instinct is too fine to hope for any initiative. This was manifested by the most significant and spectacular occurrence I have ever observed in the world of insects. One year and a half ago I studied and reported upon, a nest of Ecitons or army ants. Now, eighteen months later, apparently the same army appeared and made a similar nest of their own bodies, in the identical spot near the door of the outhouse, where I had found them before. Again we had to break up the temporary colony, and killed about three-quarters of the colony with various deadly chemicals.
[Footnote 3: See page 58.]
In spite of all the tremendous slaughter, the Ecitons, in late afternoon, raided a small colony of Wasps-of-the-Painted-Nest. These little chaps construct a round, sub-leaf carton-home, as large as a golf ball, which carries out all the requirements of counter shading and of ruptive markings. The flattened, shadowed under surface was white, and most of the sloping walls dark brown, down which extended eight white lines, following the veins of the leaf overhead. The side close to the stem of the leaf, and consequently always in deep shadow, was pure white. The eaves catching high lights were black. All this marvelous merging with leaf tones went for naught when once an advance Eciton scout located the nest.
As the deadly mob approached, the wasplets themselves seemed to realize the futility of offering battle, and the entire colony of forty-four gathered in a forlorn group on a neighboring leaf, while their little castle was rifled—larvae and pupae torn from their cells and rushed down the stems to the chaos which was raging in Eciton's own home. The wasps could guard against optical discovery, but the blind Ecitons had senses which transcended vision, if not even scent.
Late that night, our lanterns showed the remnants of the Eciton army wandering aimlessly about, making near approach impossible, but apparently lacking any definite concerted action.
At six o'clock the following morning I started out for a swim, when at the foot of the laboratory steps I saw a swiftly-moving, broad line of army ants on safari, passing through the compound to the beach. I traced them back under the servants' quarters, through two clumps of bamboos to the outhouse. Later I followed along the column down to the river sand, through a dense mass of underbrush, through a hollow log, up the bank, back through light jungle—to the outhouse again, and on a large fallen log, a few feet beyond the spot where their nest had been, the ends of the circle actually came together! It was the most astonishing thing, and I had to verify it again and again before I could believe the evidence of my eyes. It was a strong column, six lines wide in many places, and the ants fully believed that they were on their way to a new home, for most were carrying eggs or larvae, although many had food, including the larvae of the Painted Nest Wasplets. For an hour at noon during heavy rain, the column weakened and almost disappeared, but when the sun returned, the lines rejoined, and the revolution of the vicious circle continued.
There were several places which made excellent points of observation, and here we watched and marveled. Careful measurement of the great circle showed a circumference of twelve hundred feet. We timed the laden Ecitons and found that they averaged two to two and three-quarter inches a second. So a given individual would complete the round in about two hours and a half. Many guests were plodding along with the ants, mostly staphylinids of which we secured five species, a brown histerid beetle, a tiny chalcid, and several Phorid flies, one of which was winged.
The fat Histerid beetle was most amusing, getting out of breath every few feet, and abruptly stopping to rest, turning around in its tracks, standing almost on its head, and allowing the swarm of ants to run up over it and jump off. Then on it would go again, keeping up the terrific speed of two and a half inches a second for another yard. Its color was identical with the Ecitons' armor, and when it folded up, nothing could harm it. Once a worker stopped and antennaed it suspiciously, but aside from this, it was accepted as one of the line of marchers. Along the same route came the tiny Phorid flies, wingless but swift as shadows, rushing from side to side, over ants, leaves, debris, impatient only at the slowness of the army.
All the afternoon the insane circle revolved; at midnight the hosts were still moving, the second morning many had weakened and dropped their burdens, and the general pace had very appreciably slackened. But still the blind grip of instinct held them. On, on, on they must go! Always before in their nomadic life there had been a goal—a sanctuary of hollow tree, snug heart of bamboos—surely this terrible grind must end somehow. In this crisis, even the Spirit of the Army was helpless. Along the normal paths of Eciton life he could inspire endless enthusiasm, illimitable energy, but here his material units were bound upon the wheel of their perfection of instinct. Through sun and cloud, day and night, hour after hour there was found no Eciton with individual initiative enough to turn aside an ant's breadth from the circle which he had traversed perhaps fifteen times: the masters of the jungle had become their own mental prey.
Fewer and fewer now came along the well worn path; burdens littered the line of march, like the arms and accoutrements thrown down by a retreating army. At last a scanty single line struggled past—tired, hopeless, bewildered, idiotic and thoughtless to the last. Then some half dead Eciton straggled from the circle along the beach, and threw the line behind him into confusion. The desperation of total exhaustion had accomplished what necessity and opportunity and normal life could not. Several others followed his scent instead of that leading back toward the outhouse, and as an amoeba gradually flows into one of its own pseudopodia, so the forlorn hope of the great Eciton army passed slowly down the beach and on into the jungle. Would they die singly and in bewildered groups, or would the remnant draw together, and again guided by the super-mind of its Mentor lay the foundation of another army, and again come to nest in my outhouse?
Thus was the ending still unfinished, the finale buried in the future—and in this we find the fascination of Nature and of Science. Who can be bored for a moment in the short existence vouchsafed us here; with dramatic beginnings barely hidden in the dust, with the excitement of every moment of the present, and with all of cosmic possibility lying just concealed in the future, whether of Betelgeuze, of Amoeba or—of ourselves? Vogue la galere!
APPENDIX OF SCIENTIFIC NAMES
4 26 Moriche Oriole; Icterus chrysocephalus (Linne)
8 10 Toad; Bufo guttatus Schneid.
18 3 Bat; Furipterus horrens (F. Cuv.)
4 Large Bats; Vampyrus spectrum (Linne)
6 Vampire Bats; Desmodus rotundus (Geoff.)
22 5 Giant Catfish, Boom-boom; Doras granulosus Valen.
23 5 Kiskadee; Pitangus s. sulphuratus (Linne)
25 26 Parrakeets; Touit batavica (Bodd.)
26 Great Black Orioles; Ostinops d. decumanus (Pall.)
26 5 House Wrens; Troglodytes musculus clarus Berl. and Hart
29 5 Coati-mundi; Nasua n. nasua (Linne)
32 2 Frog; Phyllomedusa sp.
34 18 Mazaruni Daisies; Sipanea pratensis Aubl.
20 Button Weed; Spermacoce sp.
36 23 Melancholy Tyrant; Tyrannus melancholicus satrapa (Cab. and Hein.)
37 2 Monarch; Anosia plexippus (Linne)
38 7 Red-breasted Blue Chatterer; Cotinga cotinga Linne
18 Yellow Papilio; Papilio thoas Linne
49 26 Parrakeets; Touit batavica (Bodd.)
52 3 Purple-throated Cotinga; Cotinga cayana (Linne)
53 15 Dark-breasted Mourner; Lipaugus simplex Licht.
54 26 Toucans; Ramphastus vitellinus Licht.
59 6 White-fronted Ant-bird; Pithys albifrons (Linne)
60 16 Army Ants; Eciton burchelli Westwood
97 10 Great Green Kingfisher; Chloroceryle amazona (Lath.)
11 Tiny Emerald Kingfisher; Chloroceryle americana (Gmel.)
103 25 Gecko; Thecadactylus rapicaudus (Houtt.)
109 8 Howling Monkeys; Alouatta seniculus macconnelli Elliot
113 7 Bower Bird; Ptilonorhynchus violaceus (Vieill.)
116 24 Cassava; Janipha manihot Kth.
126 20 Frog, Gawain; Phyllomedusa sp.
132 17 Marine Toad; Bufo marinus (Linne)
133 8 Scarlet-thighed Leaf-walker; Phyllobates inguinalis.
149 2 Attas, Leaf-cutting Ants; Atta cephalotes (Fab.)
151 12 Fruit Bats; Vampyrus spectrum (Linne)
152 11 King Vulture; Gypagus papa (Linne)
11 Harpy Eagle; Harpia harpyja (Linne)
163 3 Ani; Crotophaga ani Linne
7 Marine Toad; Bufo marinus (Linne)
164 19 White-faced Opossum; Metachirus o. opossum (Linne)
173 1 Attas, Leaf-cutting Ants; Atta cephalotes (Fab.)
5 Hummingbird; Phoethornis r. ruber (Linne)
174 7 Tamandua; Tamandua t. tetradactyla (Linne)
175 1 Trogon; Trogon s. strigilatus (Linne)
9 Tarantula Hawks; Pepsis sp.
181 17 Cicada larvae; Quesada gigas Oliv.
182 5 Roaches; Attaphila sp.
231 26 Manatee; Trichechus manatus Linne
232 24 Crocodile; Caiman sclerops (Schneid.)
233 6 Jacana; Jacana j. jacana (Linne)
8 Gallinule; Ionornis martinicus (Linne)
9 Green Herons; Butorides striata Linne
10 Egrets; Leucophoyx t. thula (Molina)
233 17 Kiskadees; Pitangus sulphuratus (Linne)
19 Black Witch; Crotophaga ani (Linne)
19 House Wren; Troglodytes musculus clarus Berl. and Hart
22 Manatee; Trichechus manatus (Linne)
242 1 Jacana; Jacana j. jacana (Linne)
3 Gallinule; Ionornis martinicus (Linne)
243 15 Mongoose; Mungos mungo (Gmel.)
246 11 Little Egret; Leucophoyx t. thula (Molina)
14 Tri-colored Heron; Hydranassa tricolor (P. L. S. Mull.)
15 Little Blue Heron; Florida c. caerulea (Linne)
249 14 White Egret; Casmerodius egretta (Gmel.)
250 10 Night Heron; Nyctanassa violacea cayennensis (Linne)
254 1 Giant Catfish, Boom-boom; Doras granulosus Valen.
256 6 Long-armed Beetle; Acrocinus longimanus (Linne)
276 10 Rufus Hummingbird; Phoethornis r. ruber (Linne)
278 16 Tapping Wasp; Synoeca irina Spinola
280 10 Mazaruni Daisy; Sipanea pratensis Aubl.
21 Trogons; Trogonurus c. curucui (Linne)
282 10 Quadrille Bird; Leucolepis musica musica (Bodd.)
284 3 Bubble Bugs; Cercopis ruber
289 16 Army Ants; Eciton burchelli Westwood
Acrocinus longimanus, 255-258
Alouatta seniculus macconnelli, 109
Ani, 163, 233
Anosia plexippus, 37
Antbirds, white-fronted, 59, 227
Antlions, 27, 28
Ants, Army, 58, 60, 154, 282, 289; attack on wasps, 290; circular marching of, 291-294; cleaning of, 79-81; cleaning of ground, 77; crippled, 70, 71, 81, 82; enemies, 72; foraging lines, 64; guests, 88, 292; labor, division of, 67; larvae, 87; nest, 59-61, 74, 83, 289; nest entrance, 74; observing, methods of, 63; odor, 62, 64; parasites, 292; prey of, 67; rain, reaction to, 65, 66; refuse heaps, 77, 78; scavengers of nest piles, 78; speed of, 68, 69, 292; spinning, 84-86; vitality, 69
Ants, Azteca, 278
Ants, Borneo telegraph, 279
Ants, Leaf-cutting, 7, 152, 173, 289; at home, 172, 194; attack, method of guarding against, 177; attack, method of, 177-179; battle of giant soldiers, 168-171; castes, 166; enemies, 162-163; flight of kings and queens, 185-188; fungus, 180, 181; gardens, fungus, 179-181, 189; instinct, 190-192; leaf-chewing in nest, 180; leaves, carrying, 158-162; leaves, method of cutting, 158; name, origin of, 156; nest, 172; nest, foundation of, 152, 153, 189, 190; parasites, external, 176; paths, 163-165; queen, 152, 153; queens, young, in nest, 185; raids on garden, 154-155; scavengers of nest, 176; speed of, 165-166; soldier, description of, 177-178; trails, 163-165; visitors at nest, 174-176; worker, description of, 156, 157
Attas. See Ants, Leaf-cutting.
Atta cephalotes, 155, 173
Bamboos, 9, 13, 23-25
Bats, fruit, 151
Bats, vampire, 4, 18-21, 111, 208
Beach, Jungle, 90-111
Bees, 35-37, 175
Beetle, Histerid, 292
Beetle, long-armed, 256-258
Beetle, rove, 72-73
Beetle, Staphylinid, 292
Beetle, water, in roots, 103
Boom-boom, 22, 252-255
Botanical Gardens, 122
Bower Bird, Purple, 113
Boviander, flowers of, 120
Bufo guttatus, 8
Bufo marinus, 132, 163
Bugs, bubble, 284-288
Bugs, doodle, 28
Butorides striata, 233
Butterfly, 37, 125
Butterfly, beryl and jasper, 42
Butterfly, migrating, 259-263
Butterfly, Monarch, 37
Butterfly, Morpho, 51
Butterfly, Social gathering of, 268-273
Butterfly, Yellow papilio, 38
Button weed, 34
Caiman sclerops, 232
Cashew trees, 4
Casmerodius egretta, 249
Catfish, Giant. See Boom-boom, 22, 253, 254, 273
Catopsilia, species of, 268
Cercopis ruber, 284
Cereus, night blooming, 218
Chatterer, Red-breasted Blue, 38
Chloroceryle amazona, 97
Chloroceryle americana, 97
Cicada, 36, 37
Cicada, song of, 283
Cicada, larvae. See Quesada gigas.
Clearing, Jungle, 34-57, 275
Clearing, after interval of year, 276
Color, 53, 54
Convicts, 5, 7
Convicts, singing hymns, 109
Cotinga cayana, 52, 53
Cotinga cotinga, 38
Cotinga, Purple-throated, 52, 53
Cotton, Indian, 117
Cotton, Sea Island, 117
Crabs, in roots, 103
Crotophaga ani, 163, 233
Cuyuni River, 9
Daisies, Mazaruni, 34, 280
Devilla blossoms, 283
Doras granulosus, 22, 254
Eagle, Harpy, 152
Eciton. See Army Ants
Eciton burchelli, 60, 289
Eggs, Butterfly, 41-43
Egrets, 233, 246, 249
Ereops, 264, 265
Flies, Chalcid, 292
Flies, Crane, in roots, 104-106
Flies, Phorid, 292
Flies, as scavengers, 78
Florida c. caerulea, 246
Flowers of boviander, 120
Flycatcher, Kiskadee, 23, 233
Flycatcher, Melancholy Tyrant, 36
Frog, Scarlet-thighed Leaf-walker, 133
Frog, Tree, 32, 132
Furipterus horrens, 17, 18
Gallinule, 233, 242
Garden, Akawai Indian, 115-119
Garden, Boviander, 120
Garden, Coolie and Negro, 120
Garden, Georgetown Botanical, 122, 230
Garden, Tropic, 230-251
Gawain, 31-33, 126
Gecko, 103, 104
Ghost, Kartabo, 25
Guests, Army Ant, 72
Gypagus papa, 152
Hammocks, 195 accident in, 204; capturing bats from, 218-220; Carib, 197, 198; environment and dangers, 200, 201; hummingbirds on, 223, 224; slinging of, 198, 199, 203, 209, 210; sounds and scents, 213-215; trapping from, 205, 206; watching army ants from, 225, 228; weaver-birds nesting on, 224
Harpia harpyja, 152
Herons, green, 233
Herons, little blue, 246
Herons, night, 250
Herons, rookery, 244-251
Herons, tricolored, 246
Hummingbirds, 97, 174, 223, 276
Hyacinth, water, 121
Hydranassa tricolor, 246
Icterus chrysocephalus, 4
Ionornis martinicus, 233, 242
Jacana, 233, 242
Jacana j. jacana, 233, 242
Janipha manihot, 116
Kartabo, history, 10-12
Kartabo, inmates, 21
Kartabo, morning at, 23
Kingfisher, Great Green, 97
Kingfisher, Tiny Emerald, 97
Kiskadee, 23, 233, 243
Kyk-over-al, 11, 12
Leucolepis m. musica, 282
Leucophoyx t. thula, 233, 246
Lilies, water, 121
Lipaugus simplex, 58
"Mazacuni" River, 107
Mazaruni River, 9
Metachirus o. opossum, 164
Monarch Butterfly, 37
Monkeys, Howling, 109
Mosquitoes, 202, 211
Mourner, Dark-breasted, 53
Mungos mungo, 243
Nasua n. nasua, 29
Orchid, Toko-nook, 119
Oriole, Great Black, 25
Oriole, Moriche, 4
Ostinops d. decumanus, 25
Palm, Cocoanut, 121
Papilio thoas, 38
Parasite, egg, 43, 44
Parrakeets, 25, 49-51
Pepsis, sp., 175
Phoethornis r. ruber, 174, 276
Phyllomedusa, 32, 126
Phyllomedusa bicolor, 145
Phyllobates inguinalis, 133
Pitangus s. sulphuratus, 23, 233, 243
Pithys albifrons, 59
Pool, Jungle Rain, 126-132
Ptilonorhynchus violaceus, 113
Quadrille Bird, 282, 283
Quesada gigas, 181
Ramphastus vitellinus, 54, 55
Rocks, tidal, 265, 266
Roots, 98-106, 236
Rozites gongylophora, 181
Sedges, Scirpus, 264, 265
Servants, negro, 14, 15
Sipanea pratensis, 34, 280
Snake, tree, in hammock, 201
Spermacoce sp., 34
Springtails, in army ants' nest, 88
Striders, water, 129, 130
Sunrise, 107, 108
Swimming at night, 108-111
Synoeca irina, 278-280
Tadpoles, 127, 130-148
Tadpoles, colors of, 146, 147
Tadpoles, red-fins, 132, 133, 136, 139, 141, 144
Tadpoles, short-tailed blacks, 132, 138
Tamandua t. tetradactyla, 174
Tanager, Blue, 111
Tarantula Hawks, 175
Termites, 154, 162
Thecadactylus rapicauda, 103
Thraupis episcopus, 111
Tidal, area, ecology of, 266-268
Toad, 7, 8
Toad, Marine, 132, 163
Toko-nook, Orchid, 119
Toucans, 25, 54, 55, 56
Touit batavica, 25, 49
Tree, Fallen, 95
Tree, Prostrate, reactions of, 96, 97
Treetop, Fauna of, 95
Trichechus manatus, 231, 233
Troglodytes musculus clarus, 26, 233
Trogon, 175, 280-282
Trogan s. strigilatus, 175
Trogonurus c. curucui, 280
Tyrant, Melancholy, 36
Tyrannus melancholicus satrapa, 36
Vampyrus spectrum, 18
Victoria regia, 231, 237, 240, 241
Vulture, King, 152
Wasps, Ebony, 175
Wasps, Painted Nest, 289-291
Wasps, Tapping, 278-280
Wind, Voice of, 21
Witch, Black, 233
Wrens, House, 26, 27, 233
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