NOT long since I wrote to a friend, a nature lover, as follows: “The most charming monograph in any department of our natural history that I have read in many a year is on our solitary wasps, by George W. Peckham and his wife, of Wisconsin,—a work so delightful and instructive that it is a great pity it is not published in some popular series of nature books, where it could reach its fit audience, instead of being handicapped as a State publication.” This end has now been brought about, and the book—revised and enlarged with much new material and many new illustrations—placed within easy reach of all nature lovers, to whom it gives me pleasure to commend it. It is a wonderful record of patient, exact, and loving observation, which has all the interest of a romance. It opens up a world of Lilliput right at our feet, wherein the little people amuse and delight us with their curious human foibles and whimsicalities, and surprise us with their intelligence and individuality. Here I had been saying in print that I looked upon insects as perfect automata, and all of the same class as nearly alike as the leaves of the trees or the sands upon the beach. I had not reckoned with the Peckhams and their solitary wasps. The solitary ways of these insects seem to bring out their individual traits, and they differ one from another, more than any other wild creatures known to me. It has been thought that man is the only tool-using animal, yet here is one of these wasps, Ammophila, that uses a little pebble to pound down the earth over her nest. She takes the pebble in her mandibles, as you or I would take a stone in our hand, and uses it as a hammer to pound down the soil above the cavity that holds her egg. This is a remarkable fact; so far as I know there is no other animal on this continent that makes any mechanical use of an object or substance foreign to its own body in this way. The act stamps Ammophila as a tool-using animal.
I am free to confess that I have had more delight in reading this book than in reading any other nature book in a long time. Such a queer little people as it reveals to us, so whimsical, so fickle, so fussy, so forgetful, so wise and yet so foolish, such victims of routine and yet so individual, with such apparent foresight and yet such thoughtlessness, finding their way back to the same square inch of earth in the monotonous expanse of a wide plowed field with unfailing accuracy, and then at times finishing their cell and sealing it up without the spider and the egg; hardly any two alike; one nervous and excitable, another calm and unhurried; one careless in her work, another neat and thorough; this one suspicious, that one confiding; one species digging its burrow before it captures its game, others capturing the game and then digging the hole; one wasp hanging its spider up in the fork of a weed to keep it away from the ants while it works at its nest, and then running to it every moment or two to see that it is safe; another laying the insect on the ground while it digs,—verily a queer little people, with a lot of wild nature about them, and of human nature, too.