|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
NCE enclosed in its cocoon, the caterpillar withers and
shrivels up, as if dying. First, the skin splits on the
back; then, by repeated convulsions that pull it this way
and that, the worm with much difficulty tears off its skin.
With the skin comes everything: the case of the skull, jaws,
eyes, legs, stomach and the rest. It is a general
tearing-off. The ragged covering of the old body is finally
pushed into a corner of the cocoon.
"What do they find then in the cells of silk? Another
caterpillar, a butterfly? Neither. They find an almond
shaped body, rounded at one end, pointed at the other, of a
leathery appearance, and called a chrysalis. It is an
intermediate state between the caterpillar and the
butterfly. There can be seen certain projections which
already indicate the shape of the future insect: at the
large end can be distinguished the antennæ and the
wings tightly folded crosswise on the chrysalis.
"The larvæ of the June bug, capricorn, stag-beetle,
and other beetles pass through a similar state, but with
more accentuated forms. The different parts of the head,
wings, legs delicately folded at their sides, are very
recognizable. But all is immobile, soft, white, or even
transparent as crystal.
 This insect in outline is called a
nymph. The name of chrysalis used for butterflies and that
of nymph used for the other insects signify the same thing
under somewhat different appearances. Both the chrysalis and
the nymph are insects in process of formation—insects
closely wrapped in swaddling clothes, under which is
finished the mysterious operation that will change their
first structure front top to bottom.
"In a couple of weeks, if the temperature is favorable, the
chrysalis of the silkworm opens like a ripe fruit, and from
its burst shell the butterfly escapes, all ragged, moist,
scarcely able to stand on its trembling legs. Open air is
necessary for it to gain strength, to spread and dry its
wings. It must get out of the cocoon. But how? The
caterpillar has made the cocoon so solid and the butterfly
is so weak! Will it perish in its prison, the poor little
thing! It would not be worth the trouble of going through so
much to stifle miserably in the close cell, just as the end
"Could it not tear the cocoon open with its teeth?" asked
"But, my innocent child, it has none, nor anything like
them. It has only a proboscis, incapable of the slightest
"With its claws then?" suggested Jules.
"Yes, if it had any strong enough. The trouble is, it is not
provided with any."
"But it must be able to get out," persisted Jules.
"Doubtless it will get out. Has not every creature resources
in the difficult moments of life! To
 break the hen's egg
that imprisons it, the tiny little chicken has at the end of
its beak a little hard point made on purpose; and the
butterfly is to have nothing to open its cocoon? Oh, yes!
But you would never guess the singular tool that it will
use. It will use its eyes—"
"Its eyes!" interrupted Claire in amazement.
"Yes. Insects' eyes are covered with a cap of transparent
horn, hard and cut in facets. A magnifying glass is needed
in order to distinguish these facets, they are so fine; but,
fine as they are, they have sharp bones which all together
can, in time of need, be used as a grater. The butterfly
begins then by moistening with a drop of saliva the point of
the cocoon it wishes to attack, and then applying an eye to
the spot thus softened, it writhes, knocks, scratches,
files. One by one the threads of silk succumb to the
rasping. The hole is made, the butterfly comes out. What do
you think about it? Do not animals sometimes have
intelligence enough for four? Which of us would have thought
of forcing the prison walls by striking them with the eye?"
"The butterfly must have studied a long time to think of
that ingenious way?" queried Emile.
"The butterfly does not study, does not reflect; it knows at
once what to do and how to do well whatever concerns it.
Another has reflected for it."
"God himself! God, the great wise one. The silkworm
butterfly is not pretty. It is whitish, tun-bellied, heavy.
It does not fly like the others from flower to flower, for
it takes no nourishment. As
 soon as it is out of the cocoon,
it sets to work laying eggs; then it dies. Silkworm eggs are
commonly called seed, a very good term, for the egg is the
seed of the animal as the seed is the egg of the plant. Egg
and seed correspond. They do not stifle all the cocoons in
the vapor to wind them afterwards; they keep out a certain
number so as to obtain butterflies and consequently eggs or
seeds. These are the seeds which, the following year,
produce the fresh brood of worms.
"All insects that are metamorphosed pass through the four
states that I have just told you about: egg, larva,
chrysalis or nymph, perfect insect. The perfect insect lays
its eggs, and the series of transformations begins again."
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