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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/353

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347
THE SOCIAL WASPS.

refuse to perform any of the reflexes it may have shown prior to this time. If at liberty, the impulse usually carries it a short distance, perhaps two or three feet from the nest, where it spends a considerable amount of time running about in an inquiring way. This alternation of short flights and strolls may last for an hour or more, and the wasp extends its examination of surrounding objects to some distance, before it returns leisurely and as if by accident to the nest. There is no such apparent purposefulness in the procedure as has been described for the solitary wasps.

The social wasps seem to fly because they feel like it, and the flight is not long because at first it is exhausting. Then follows rest and a stroll, because strolling is easier than flying; then, after another period of repose, perhaps another flight, until a period of this aimless wandering brings it back within reach of the distinctive odor of the nest, whereupon it returns to the accustomed place. Occasionally, the little wasp gets lost in these first casual ventures, and it is not improbable that some wasps become wanderers from the very beginning.

Unquestionably, being on the nest brings about a state of satisfaction analogous to that evinced by Mr. Thorndike's chicks when they had rejoined their mates. I have several times put a nest in a glass jar where wasps were confined, and when, after fifteen or twenty minutes' wild buzzing and running about, they accidentally came in contact with it, their behavior was, at once, entirely changed. They became quiet and observant, and soon showed a disposition to go on with their usual activities.

It is somewhat difficult to suggest to what this may be due. The nest has a faint characteristic aroma resembling that of wild honey, which becomes very perceptible when it is confined in a small space. Both the manner of using the antennæ and the behavior of wasps in which one or both of these organs have been excised indicate that sense perception by means of them is an important factor in orientation. Within certain limits, the odor of the nest may then serve to guide the wasp and modify its activities when it reaches home.

It may be profitable here to reflect on the factors of the extremely useful feeding habit. The whole appears to be a complex of reactions which are at first quite separate and distinct. The first step is the perfection of the process of malaxation and distribution of the food, and is taken before the wasp feels the impulse to leave the nest, or has had any opportunity of finding food for itself. Next comes the familiarizing with surroundings. This at first has apparently no relation to food-seeking, yet in course of time, and aided probably by the olfactory sense, the wasp naturally comes upon something edible, and, after extracting the juices, it may well be that it tries to distribute the food on the spot. This being impossible, there is a second alternative,