If we accept the hypothesis of a special nerve-centre for the mandibles, the difficulty would be a little less, without detracting from the operator's talent. The sting would then have to reach a barely visible speck, an atom in which we should hardly find room for the point of a needle. This is the difficulty which the various paralysers solve in ordinary practice.
Her posture of attack, which is very different to that of the paralysers, is infallibly fatal to the victim. Whether she delivers the attack in the erect position or prone, she holds the bee before her, head to head and thorax to thorax. In this position it suffices to flex the abdomen in order to reach the joint of the neck, and to plunge the sting obliquely upwards into the head of the captive.
This being so, we must agree that her operating-method is supremely well-inspired: our human murderers could achieve nothing more thorough or immediate. We must also agree that her attitude when attacking, an attitude very different from that of the paralysers, is infallible in its death-dealing efficacy.
Although they have acquired such prodigious deftness, these master paralysers are not, in fact, always infallible. Occasionally the Sphex blunders and gropes, "operates clumsily"; the cricket revives, gets upon its feet, turns round and round, and tries to walk.
No, for the difficulty of movement under ground prohibits so complicated an operation. Only the tactics of the paralysers of armour-clad insects are practicable now, for, since there is but one thrust of the dagger, the feat of surgery is reduced to its simplest terms, a necessary consequence of the difficulties of an underground operation.
Beside these master paralysers, so expert in the art of dealing slow death, there are those which, with a precision no less scholarly, kill and wither their victims at a single stroke, and without leaving a trace: "true practitioners in crime."
Of the three genera of paralysers, two have allowed me to witness their surgical methods, which the third, I feel certain, will confirm. In both cases, a single thrust of the lancet; in both cases, injection of the venom at a predetermined point. A calculator in an observatory could not compute the position of his planet with greater accuracy.
The meal lasts quite twenty-four hours, if the joint be large; and to the very end the butchered insect retains a remnant of life, a favourable condition for the exhausting of the juices. Once again, we see a skilful method of slaughter, very different from the tactics in use among the expert paralysers or slayers. Here there is no display of anatomical science.
To the marvels of the paralysers' talent we must add one more: their wonderful poison, the strength of which is regulated by delicate doses. The Bee revenging herself intensifies the virulence of her poison; the Sphex putting her grubs' provender to sleep weakens it, reduces it to what is strictly necessary. One more instance of nearly the same kind.
A corpse is not more inert. Never, since my remotest investigations, have I witnessed so profound a paralysis. I have seen many wonders due to the surgical talent of the Wasp; but to-day's marvel surpasses them all. I am doubly surprised when I consider the unfavourable conditions under which the Scolia operates. The other paralysers work in the open air, in the full light of day.