An Entymologist

by Mindy Gathman, 19 June, 1999

What was that jingling noise? It sounded like it was coming from over -- there, by that bush. "It sounds like a bird," Jean said softly to himself. "I could catch it and keep it for a pet."

Jean thought for a minute. "But what if a wolf jumps out at me?! Oh, I'll do it!" Jean exclaimed. "O.k., just a bit closer...Darn! I can't hear it any more."

"Jean, dear, come for supper!"

"Coming grandmother." Anyway, I'll come back tommorrow night. Maybe I'll hear it then.

Jean wasn't able to catch it the next night or the night after that. On the fourth night, Jean heard the noise, found the bush, and stuck his arm in. He felt it! He closed his fingers around it, and pulled his arm out. It was a grasshopper!

"Hey, I didn't know grasshoppers could sing!" Jean exclaimed.

This was 5 year old Jean Henri Fabre's first discovery made by observing. Jean studied insects for the rest of his life. He loved insects. Jean didn't study dead, dried insects, stuck on a pin; he watched live ones.

Jean discovered that insects rely on instinct to solve problems and live. He proved this by performing experiments. His children helped him. Here is a description of one of his experiments:

Jean wanted to know what wasps would do if an unexpected problem came up. He put a small glass dome over a wasps nest early one morning. The first wasp to come out of the nest, flew up, like it normally did, hit the top of the dome, fell down, picked itself up, and tried again.

Soon, more and more wasps came out of the nest. The jar was crawling with wasps. A few wasps who had spent the night outside came back. They flew around the dome, trying to get in. Finally, one of the wasps (hesitantly) dug under the dome and got into the nest. The other wasps outside followed.

Jean quickly filled the tunnel with dirt. He wanted to see if the wasps who dug the tunnel would teach the others how to escape by digging. They didn't. Some of the wasps fell to the ground from heat and exhaustion. The others just kep whirling around bumping their heads.

Jean had found out that wasps didn't have enough instinct to dig under the jar, enen though they dug tunnels every day in the nest. He also discovered that wasps don't know how to be teachers.

Jean thought the wasps had a stong urge to go toward the sun. They couldn't overcome that urge, so they couldn't fly down to dig a tunnel to escape in.

Jean carefully took the dome off the nest, and went home to breakfast.


Children of Summer: Henri Fabre's Insects
Margaret J. Anderson
Harper Collins, Canada 1997