Insects are creatures which seem to defy the imagination with the strangeness of their form and their extraordinary habits. In the "War of the Worlds," Wells the novelist surprises us with his belligerent Tripods which descend as conquer-ers upon our planet, where they terrify and exterminate poor humanity. This fiction appears bizarre, but it falls far short of what Nature herself shows us in the world of the articulates! Among them, it is true, we do not meet with Tripods, but the hexapods or insects have invaded the entire terrestrial domain, where they make their power terribly felt; the octopods or arachnids share this domain with them and with the myriapods, which have more than a hundred pairs of legs; while the waters swarm with crustaceans which rival the myriapods in the number of their appendages. And what are the organs with which Wells endows his Tripods compared with those which serve as arms or ornaments to a host of articulates,-the enormous pincers of the lobster and the crab, the toothed saber-like beak which projects from the forehead of shrimps, the wonderful sting at the end of the abdomen in female Hymenoptera, the great horns on the head and thorax of many scarabs, the numerous spines on the body of the thorny spiders, or the extremely elongate legs which give the house centipedes their swift gait and terrifying appearance!
And the habits of these animals are not less disconcerting than their forms. What is the meaning of the atrocious courtship of the spiders and the mantids, when the female responds with cannibalism to the loving advances of the male ? And what can we think of the predatory wasps which paralyze with dagger thrusts the victims intended for their larvae; of the braconids and ichneumons which place their eggs either on or in the body of other insects? What, above all, can we think of the larvae that hatch from these eggs and scientifically devour their host, leaving its most vital organs untouched until the last? The orb-weaving spiders have no peers in the art of weaving. They know how to fasten marvelously regular webs to the branches of trees, how to cross rivers on bridges of floating threads, and, when young, how to utilize similar threads to take flight through the air like aeronauts. The sacred scarab fashions the oily sheep dung into a pear-shaped ball and the coarse excrement of horses into a perfeet sphere of food; and certain wasps of the genus Eumenes mold earth into pottery of the most charming design. In the presence of these phenomena which are beyond him, man wonders and tries to understand, but especially does he try to guard himself against these strange creatures among which he finds more enemies than aids; prolific and multiform, the minute phylloxera has destroyed his vineyards; voracious and migratory, the multitudinous locusts advance in innumerable legions to ravage his crops; clouds of flies and gnats sting and infect his cattle. And he himself does not escape the virus secreted by these terrible stingers; mosquitos menace him with malaria in the vicinity of marshes, tse-tse flies with sleeping sickness in the damp and shady jungles of the African tropics; fleas transmit to him the germs of plague, and filthy lice the typhus fever which claimed so many victims at the beginning of the great war.
What a contrast to the vertebrates, which form the other culminating point of the animal kingdom! No doubt there are cruel and voracious species among the higher animals; some of them are frankly hostile to us, and many are remarkable for their instincts and their industry. But where do we find the forms and the singularity of habits which are the appanage of the articulates!
Georges Maeterlinck 1 gives this striking contrast in poetic words :