Rated R for Butterfly Torture

Continued from posts: Discovering Jean-Henri Fabre and On Scorpion Dwellings.

And so, I continue reading Jean-Henri Fabre’s book, The Life of the Scorpion.  Fabre is observing and experimenting on scorpions that reside in aquariums and cages he’s installed at his house.  He seems to feel that scorpions are timid and cautious creatures, and he is clearly disappointed by this.  Fabre himself admits to the reader, that due to their hideous appearance, he was expecting a vicious fighting creature with an appetite for death by stinger.  When in fact, his observations fall far short of this.  Instead of lairs filled with mounds of insect carcasses, he finds only wings and bits of left over tree bug bits and pieces of locust.  He then goads the scorpions with live prey, expecting epic and gruesome battles, but the scorpions either ignore or are too dumb to even notice the prey in front of them.  These observations lead him to become entirely disappointed and he (humorously) calls them cowards.

“I expected something better: ‘A brute like that,’ I said to myself, ‘so well armed for battle, cannot be content with trifles. We do not load our pea-shooters with a charge of dynamite to bring down a Sparrow… The Scorpion’s food must be some powerful quarry.’ I was wrong.” (31)

Fabre tries and tries again to see what the little monsters will accept as food. Most sacrificed insect morsels are sparred, the scorpion either uninterested or frightened away by the harmless newcomers.  Fabre offers the scorpions the plumpest of locusts he can find. They are rejected, the locusts to big and awkward to handle, with powerful kicks straight to the mandibles.

“I try a Field Cricket, with a belly as plump and luscious as a pat of butter. I drop half-a-dozen into the glazed enclosure, with a leaf of lettuce which will console them for the horrors of the lions’ den.” (32-33)

Fabre’s true nature, that of a curious scientist, continues on the pages before me as he tests again and again, sacrificing a variety of poor prey to the scorpions.  A centipede?  Sure, let’s see what happens, *tosses centipede to Scorpion*  A locust you say?  Sure, here Scorpion!  *centipede cries mercy, as Fabre throws centipede at scorpion*  Most of the time, the scorpion is not interested in attacking and so Fabre forces the scorpion to attack by teasing it, tricking it into thinking the innocent locust is harassing it:

Scorpion:  What’s this that bothers me?
*Fabre pokes at scorpion with straw*
*Scorpion spies centipede*
Scorpion: Aha! It is you! I will hurt you!
Centipede: No! It’s not me you idiot!

I realize that his crude scientific testing was probably not questioned in 1923, but now seems pretty cruel.  Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  Leave that peaceful, shy book alone!  And yet, we still conduct these “bug war” type countdowns you might see online these days.  This video below completely show what Fabre describes doing, except that Fabre cuts off pieces of the beetle’s wing to allow the scorpion easier access to the tender beetle flesh.  The action starts at 1:45.

Sorry Fabre, you’re starting to disappoint me.  My heart goes out to these poor victims and even the scorpions, forced to entertain Fabre.  He even entices the scorpions to attack innocent larva!  Do you here me?  Baby insects!  Jeez Fabre.  In the name of science…  But Fabre doesn’t stop there.  He partly amputates the wings of butterflies and leaves them to writhe at the entrances of the beasts. As he watches, the scorpions wander about through the crowd of butterfly cripples, completely oblivious to them at their feet.  A butterfly even manages to get on the back of a scorpion, riding it and laughing back up at Fabre, I imagine.  Another suicidal butterfly throws herself to the ground directly under the mouth of a scorpion, but the scorpion doesn’t even seem to notice.

If torturing butterflies and baby bugs wasn’t enough to convince you that Fabre was an evil scientist, how about this.  Fabre finds out that the scorpion is dormant October through April.  It does not eat at all for those seven months, but is still very aware and active.  Fabre is impressed and puzzled by this, how can such a creature be sustained for so long without sustenance?  So, he sets up a horrible experiment. He starves four scorpions to see how long it takes them to die. It takes nine months.

In Conclusion:  Ah, mutilating butterflies, sacrificing baby bugs, and starving scorpions, the curiosity of the human brain…  and science in the early 1900s…

Source: Fabre, J.H. The Scorpion. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1923. Print.