Gateway to the Classics: Will o' the Wasps by Margaret Warner Morley
Will o' the Wasps by  Margaret Warner Morley

Eyes and Other Matters Concerning Pelopaeus

"I S there more than one kind of Pelopaeus, Uncle Will?" Theodore asked after a pause.

"Oh, yes; don't you remember that deep-blue wasp we saw the other day?"

"I guess I do remember!" said Theodore. "It was bluer than indigo, and how it did shine! And it had a slender waist too."

"The Pelopaeus people all have slender waists," said Uncle Will. "That is one way we know them when we meet them. But it is also the wings that decide to which family the different wasps belong. Peopaeus has flat wings that lie close along her back; but the true wasps, as they are called, can fold their wings up long and narrow, like little fans."

"My!" said Theodore, "where can we find some? I want to see little wings fold up like fans."

"So you shall, all in good time, but just now we will devote ourselves to Madam Pelopaeus, who has not yet told us all about herself. There are her eyes, you know. Have you looked at them?"

"They are big, bulging eyes." answered Theodore. "I have seen that much. And they are brown, and on the sides of her face, just like a bee's eyes. Oh, say, Uncle Will, has she three little eyes on top of her head?"

"That she has," assented Uncle Will.

"And are the big eyes compound, made of three thousand six hundred facets?"

Uncle Will laughed. "I am sure I do not know the exact number, but the two big eyes are compound and are made of many facets."

"And the three little eyes are simple, like the eyes on the top of the bee's head," added Theodore.

"Exactly right," said Uncle Will. "You will find that the wasps are made very much like the bees, and yet are very different in their habits."

"I wish you would draw me a picture of an insect's eye, the way you did when we were talking about bees," begged Theodore. And so Uncle Will took out his pencil and drew the following picture on the back of an envelope.

"The long hairs on it are to keep out the dust," said Theodore, looking at it. Then he added, "It does seem strange that a wasp can see out of a whole cluster of eyes. I should think things would look awfully mixed up."

"No more than they do with our two eyes," said Uncle Will.

"Everything has eyes," mused Theodore, "lions and grasshoppers and toads and wasps and people."

"Yes, everything needs to see."

"All excepting the fishes that live in dark caves," said Theodore; "they have no eyes."

"And moles that burrow under the ground," added Uncle Will. "They have no eyes because they do not need them."

"If people lived in caves, would they have no eyes?"

"If they lived for a great many generations where sunlight never came to them, I think they would in time lose their sight," said Uncle Will. "And if people do not use their eyes well and think about what they see, they are almost as badly off as if they had not eyes, for after a while they lose the power to see and think well."

"I know," said Theodore, "you must work your eyes and your thoughts and everything you have if you want them to be strong."

"Just so," said Uncle Will. "Here comes Pelopaeus; see how hard she has to work! There, the wind has blown her away! There she comes again! She cannot get in at the shed door, the wind is so strong."

"See, she is trying again!" screamed Theodore excitedly. "And back she goes. Poor Pelopaeus! come and sit in the sun by us here, out of the wind."

"She won't do that," said Uncle Will. "She is too intent on nest-building. Ah! there she goes, in at last."

"She bites out her ball of clay and chews it up and makes it into plaster," said Theodore, musingly. "She must have strong jaws. Do they work sideways, like the bee's jaws?"

"Oh, yes indeed; their jaws are very much like bee's jaws. All insects have jaws very much alike, you know."

"Yes, I remember," said Theodore; "but I thought some jaws were more alike than others."

"That's true too," agreed Uncle Will, laughing. "And the wasp's jaws are very much like the bee's jaws. You remember how they look, don't you?" and Uncle Will drew a piece of paper from his pocket and made a little picture. "There, that is how it is—hard little cutters that cut out clay and bite meat and other food."

"I should think they would suck up honey like the bees, Uncle Will; why don't they?"

"Oh, they like nectar too, but they are not satisfied to live on sweets alone. Some kinds of wasps are very fond of meat, as you will doubtless discover before long."

"But don't they ever make honey, Uncle Will?"

"Not as a rule, though there are wasps in parts of the world that make a little. Wasps, however, are not honey-makers, although adult wasps like honey and plum juice and all such good things and are quick enough to smell them out. You see the wasps have no separate honey sac, such as the bees have, to carry their sweets in, and they have no bread baskets on their legs. Because they preferred another kind of life they came to be provided with other tools; and so some of them have strong legs for digging holes in the ground, and some have strong jaws for biting wood, but none of them have long mouth tubes to put into flowers to suck out the honey as the bees have."

"Tongues they have to taste with," said Theodore, "and smellers they have to find their food, but no noses—Ah! I know how you manage, little Mrs. Pelopaeus, you smell with your antennae, like the bees!"

"Yes, that is it!" assented Uncle Will.

"What long antennae Pelopaeus has!" and Theodore got very close to the wasp, that had flown out of the shed and lighted on the stone where he was sitting. She seemed to know him and to have no fear of his coming close. "See!" he suddenly added, "she is drawing one of them through the bend of her elbow to clean it! Oh, Uncle Will, has she a little cleaner such as the bees have on their fore legs?"

"Judge for yourself"; and Uncle Will pulled a dead wasp out of his pocket and handed it to Theodore. Then he took out his magnifying glass, and Theodore, who knew just where to look, applied the glass. After looking for a few minutes he handed both to his uncle.

"Oh," he said, "see how cunning it is! The pretty little comb drops down when the leg is bent over the feeler—"

"And when Madam Wasp pulls her feeler through the comb-girt hole—lo, it must be cleaned, willy nilly," finished Uncle Will, as he looked through the glass and saw the enlarged joint where the little cleaner was attached. "She is a very handsome little lady," he went on, as he slowly moved the magnifying glass over the whole wasp, "a very handsome little lady with the yellow stripe around her brown body and her little slender wings."

"I should think her waist would break in two when the wind blows," said Theodore. "Why is it so slender?"

"I don't know why," replied Uncle Will. "I have often wondered. It must be easier for her to fly with those little wings of hers than if her waist were thick and heavy. Besides, what an elegant wasp figure she cuts with that long slender waist like a stiff hair connecting the two parts of the body. And yet, small as it is, through that little waist go nerves and the tiny food tube, and everything necessary to connect the head end with the tail end. If you doubt it, just touch her head and see how quickly the sting in the end of the tail will respond!"

"If I were a spider, I suppose I should feel her pretty quickly without touching her."

"Yes, but that is only another proof of the connection between the parts of the body. She sees the spider with her eyes—the message is at once sent along the nerves into the sting that at once works—but the order to work must come from the head, you know."

"She doesn't sting first and think afterwards, then?" asked Theodore, mischievously.

"Sometimes it seems so, she acts so quickly," answered Uncle Will, laughing.

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