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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/145

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139
INSTINCT.

cable. Take, not the most remarkable, but the best authenticated example of this class—the frequently alleged fact of dogs and other animals returning in a straight line, or by the most direct routes, through districts they had never before traversed, to places from which they had been taken by devious tracks, and even shut up in close boxes. To most people this is a phenomenon sufficiently incomprehensible. They are certain they themselves could do nothing at all like it. But there is in some men what may be just a hint of this faculty. Most people that have lived only in cities are very soon lost in a strange and trackless district, and still sooner in a pathless wood; in the one case, after wandering this way and that for a few hours, in the other, after merely turning round a few times, they can tell nothing of the direction whence they came. But all men are not so easily lost; some, without consciously making notes, retain, after long wandering in such situations, a strong and often accurate impression, not of the ground they have gone over, but of the direction in which lies the place whence they started. Without attempting to throw any light on the mental chemistry of this perception, we would submit that in it may perhaps be found a clue to the mystery of those astonishing home-journeys of dogs, sheep, cats, pigeons, bees, etc., of which hundreds are on record.

It is, however, with the other dark enigma that we are more specially concerned. We do not think it necessary to examine the proof of the actuality of such marvelous instincts as those of bees and wasps. But for the too fond love of a theory we venture to think none would doubt the reality, or the instinctive character, of their "far-sighted," or, more correctly, blind provisions for the future. The problem before us is not whether, for example, the male of the fish Arius does, and by instinct, hatch the eggs of the female in his mouth, but how such a singular mode of incubation ever had a beginning? Perhaps the most widely known instance of this class of instincts is the provision of the solitary wasp for the worm that will issue from her egg after her own death. She brings grubs—food that as a wasp she never tasted—and deposits them over the egg, ready for the larva she will never see. The life history of every insect exhibits instincts of this perplexing description. Witness the caterpillar, how at the proper time it selects a suitable situation and spins for itself a silken cocoon. It may be admitted at once that the creatures, as we behold them, never could have lived to acquire such instincts by any process of experience and inheritance of which we can conceive. Nor let it be supposed that it is only in the insect world, where all is so strange, that instincts are to be met with so essential to lives of the individuals or their progeny that without them the creatures in their present shape could never have existed. Of this kind are the first movements observable in the life of a bird, and which take place within the shell. I have often observed the self-delivery