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Insect Behavior

Insect behavior generally appears to be explicable in terms of unconscious, inflexible stimulus-response mechanisms. For instance, a female sphex wasp leaves her egg sealed in a burrow alongside a paralyzed grasshopper, which her larvae can eat upon hatching. Before she deposits the grasshopper in the burrow, she inspects the burrow; if the inspection reveals no problems, she drags the grasshopper inside by its antennae.

Female Sphex Wasp

As thoughtful as this behavior appears, it reveals its mechanistic character upon interference. Darwin discovered that prior removal of the grasshopper’s antennae prevents the wasp from depositing the grasshopper, even though the legs or ovipositor could also serve as handles. Likewise, Fabre moved the grasshopper a few centimeters away from the burrow’s mouth while the wasp was inside inspecting. The wasp returned the grasshopper to the edge of the burrow and then began a new inspection. Fabre performed this disruptive maneuver forty times; the wasp’s response never changed.

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