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Wild Life In Winter
by [?]

To many forms of life of our northern lands, winter means a long sleep; to others it means what it means to many fortunate human beings–travels in warm climes; to still others, who again have their human prototypes, it means a struggle, more or less fierce, to keep soul and body together; while to many insect forms it means death.

Most of the flies and beetles, wasps and hornets, moths, butterflies, and bumblebees die. The grasshoppers all die, with eggs for next season’s crop deposited in the ground. Some of the butterflies winter over. The mourning cloak, the first butterfly to be seen in spring, has passed the winter in my “Slabsides.” The monarch migrates, probably the only one of our butterflies that does. It is a great flyer. I have seen it in the fall sailing serenely along over the inferno of New York streets. It has crossed the ocean and is spreading over the world. The yellow and black hornets lose heart as autumn comes on, desert their paper nests and die–all but the queen or mother hornet; she hunts out a retreat in the ground and passes the winter beyond the reach of frost. In the spring she comes forth and begins life anew, starting a little cone-shaped paper nest, building a few paper cells, laying an egg in each, and thus starting the new colony.

The same is true of the bumblebees; they are the creatures of a summer. In August, when the flowers fail, the colony breaks up, they desert the nest and pick up a precarious subsistence on asters and thistles till the frosts of October cut them off. You may often see, in late September or early October, these tramp bees passing the night or a cold rain-storm on the lee side of a thistle-head. The queen bee alone survives. You never see her playing the vagabond in the fall. At least I never have. She hunts out a retreat in the ground and passes the winter there, doubtless in a torpid state, as she stores no food against the inclement season. Emerson has put this fact into his poem on “The Humble-Bee”:–

“When the fierce northwestern blast
Cools sea and land so far and fast,
Thou already slumberest deep;
Woe and want thou canst outsleep;
Want and woe, which torture us,
Thy sleep makes ridiculous.”

In early August of the past year I saw a queen bumblebee quickly enter a small hole on the edge of the road where there was no nest. It was probably her winter quarters.

If one could take the cover off the ground in the fields and woods in winter, or have some magic ointment put upon his eyes that would enable him to see through opaque substances, how many curious and interesting forms of life he would behold in the ground beneath his feet as he took his winter walk–life with the fires banked, so to speak, and just keeping till spring. He would see the field crickets in their galleries in the ground in a dormant state, all their machinery of life brought to a standstill by the cold. He would see the ants in their hills and in their tunnels in decaying trees and logs, as inert as the soil or the wood they inhabit. I have chopped many a handful of the big black ants out of a log upon my woodpile in winter, stiff, but not dead, with the frost, and brought them in by the fire to see their vital forces set going again by the heat. I have brought in the grubs of borers and the big fat grubs of beetles, turned out of their winter beds in old logs by my axe and frozen like ice-cream, and have seen the spark of life rekindle in them on the hearth.