A mother prepared an area for the baby she was about to deliver. She collected and placed enough food in the area for the baby to live on until she became an adult. After all preparations had been completed, she placed the baby in the midst of all of the food she had collected, then departed, sealing the space to protect the baby. She would never see the baby again. The baby would grow to adulthood in this sealed space before leaving to begin her own life. When she left her protected childhood space, she would possess all of the knowledge and skills her mother had, and would know where to find food, a mate, and how to prepare for her own babies.
Sounds like science fiction, some futuristic method of child rearing. How could a mother ever consent to this kind of scenario? Well, there are many mothers who follow this same pattern. I’ve had the privilege of observing and witnessing one part of the procreation of a motherless child.
I was sitting on a ground level pipe rack on a bright, summer day in a petrochemical plant site in Brownsville. My official duty at the time was “fire watch” for a group of maintenance men who were welding and fabricating new pipe in the rack.
As I was monitoring the work being done, I noticed a black ground wasp, about 2 inches in length, flying in what appeared to be a search pattern very low to the ground, near where I was seated. She finally landed between my feet and began circling in a random pattern as if she was intent on locating something. The texture of the ground was a dirt and caliche mixture. She soon stopped and began digging in a spot that was composed of more dirt than pebbles.
Her front legs were busily scraping at the ground in front of her, while her back legs were kicking the dirt and dust back and away from the hole she had begun. As the hole became deeper, she would dig a little, then back up kicking the dirt out of the hole and out of the way. Deeper and deeper she continued digging for approximately 20 minutes. During the process of excavation, she would emerge frequently to circle the immediate area of her mining site before continuing with her task.
After she had apparently prepared the hole to her satisfaction, she again circled around the entrance a few times, then selected a pebble and placed it over the entrance of the hole. She then flew off in the direction of about 10 acres of mesquite brush and tall grass and weeds just outside of the plant site perimeter fence, about 50 yards away.
She was gone for about 10 minutes before returning with a plump green caterpillar about half her size. She returned to almost the very spot of her excavation. She laid the caterpillar down and began circling the area in search of the hole she had dug. Within seconds, she located the pebble, removed it, then proceeded to carry the caterpillar down into the hole. She almost immediately exited the hole, circled the area for a second, picked up the same pebble and placed it over the hole, then flew off again.
I didn’t think she had remained inside with the caterpillar long enough to lay an egg, so after she left and while she was gone, I rearranged the appearance of the area around her soon to be nursery. I moved some stones around and scuffed up the area being careful to leave the pebble covering her nursery undisturbed.
About 15 minutes later she returned with a spider almost as large as she was. She laid it down near my feet and proceeded to survey the area. She made a few rounds of the space between my feet and soon located the pebble covering her den. She picked up the spider and carried it down the hole again, head first. She soon emerged, made a few circles around the entrance, then backed down into the hole. It was then that I realized that she was in the process of laying an egg. She had secured enough food for the baby to reach the pupa stage before emerging on its own as an adult.
When she emerged and left for the last time, she again placed the pebble over the entrance and began scraping and kicking dust and dirt over the pebble to secure it. She inspected the covered site for one last time, then flew off to repeat the process again for her next baby. She would do this for approximately a dozen babies before her life ended. She would never know any of her babies, nor would the babies ever know their mother. All of her babies would have inherited their mother’s instincts and knowledge of how to live without any instruction from her.
Many species of insects, birds, and animals have no relation with their prodigy. The young grow up with instincts that have been programmed into their genes without instruction from a parent or other adult.
As humans, we have trouble understanding this kind of relationship with offspring – then at times, wish child rearing were more like the wasp or butterfly. The offspring of many species as well as humans require a long period of child rearing to pass on instructions for not only survival, but for achieving some measure of quality of life. In this child rearing we find more delight and pleasure, than pain; more reward and fun, than work.
And these we call, grandchildren.