D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

The Popular science monthly (Volume 19) online

. (page 63 of 110)
Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 63 of 110)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

used for feeding unless liquid food is poured into them from the mouth
of a slave.

Ants do not appear to be the only animals of which ants make
slaves ; for there is at least one case in which these wonderful in-
sects enslave insects of another species, which may therefore be said
to stand to them in the relation of beasts of burden. The case to
which I allude stands upon the authority of Audubon, who says that
ho has seen certain leaf-bugs used as slaves bv ants in the forests of

Wlan llicse ants want to l)ring home the leaves which they have bitten ott'
the trees, they do it hy means of a column of these bu<js, whicli go in pairs,
kept in order on either side by accompanying ants. They compel stragglers to
reenter the ranks, and laggards to keep up by biting them. After tho work is
done, the bugs are ;;hut up witliin the colony and scantily fed.


Wars. — On the wars of ants a great deal might be said, as the facts
of interest in this connection are very numerous ; but for the sake of
brevity I shall confine myself to giving only a somewhat meager ac-
count. One great cause of war is the plundering of ants' nests by the
slave-making species. Observers all agree that, in the case of the so-
called Amazon slave-making ant, this plundering is effected by a united
march of the whole army composing a nest, directed against some
particular nest of the species which they enslave. According to Lespes
and Forel, single scouts or small companies are first sent out from the
nest to explore in various directions for a suitable nest to attack. These
scouts afterward serve as guides to the marauding excursion. When
the scouts have been successful in discerning a suitable nest to plunder,
and have completed their strategical investigations of the locality to
their satisfaction — the latter process being often a laborious one, as it
has special reference to the entrances of the nest, which are purposely
made difficult to find by their architects — they return to their own
fortress. Forel has seen them then walk about on the surface of this
underground fortress for a long time, as if in consultation, after which
some of them entered and again came out leading the host of warriors ;
these streamed from all the gateways, and ran about tapping each other
with their heads and antenna?. They then formed into a column, com-
posed of between one and two thousand individuals, and set out in
orderly march to pillage the nest which had been examined by the
scouts. According to Lespes, the column is about five metres long
and fifty centimetres wide, marches at the rate of a metre per minute,
and, on account of the distance which may have to be traversed, the
march sometimes lasts for moi-e than an hour. When they arrive at
their destination a fierce battle begins, which, after raging for a time
with much slaughter on both sides, generally, though not invariably,
ends in the robbers gaining an entry. A barricade conflict then takes
place below-ground, and, if the attack proves successful, the slave-
making ants again stream out of the plundered nest, each ant carrying
a stolen pupa. The Amazons can not climb, and this fact being known
to the other ants, when they find that victory is on the side of the
enemy, they devote themselves to saving what treasure they can by
carrying their pupre up the grasses and bushes surrounding the nest.
When the marauders have obtained all the booty that they can, they
set off on their homeward march, each carrying a pupa. They do not
always follow the shortest road, but return exactly on the track by
which they came, no doubt being guided entirely by the scent left on
the ground from their previous march. When they arrive home they
commit the pupae to the care of the slaves. Forel found that a par-
ticular colony of slave-makers watched by him sent out forty-four ma-
rauding expeditions in thirty days, of which number twenty-eight were
completely successful, nine partially so, and the remainder failures.
The average booty obtained by a successful expedition was one thou-


sand pupae, so that during a single summer the total number of pupa?
captured by this colony might be put down at forty thousand.

Forel further tried the following experiment : He kept nests of
two species of slave-making ants in two separate sacks, and when he
saw that an expedition of a thu-d species (Amazons) had found a slave-
nest to plunder, and were fairly on their march toward it, he turned
out one of his sacks upon the nest, A fight at once began between
the slave-ants and sanguine ants which he had turned loose upon them.
Then the vanguard of the Amazons came up ; but, when they saw that
the sanguines were already on the field, they drew back and awaited
the approach of the main army. In close order this whole array then
precipitated itself upon the already struggling host of sanguine ants.
The latter, however, repulsed the attack, and the Amazons retired to
reform. This done they made a second assault, which appearing as if
it would end successfully, Forel, to complicate matters, poured upon
the field his second sack containing the third species of slave-makers.
All three species then fought together, till at last victory declared it-
self on the side of the Amazons. After overcoming their enemies they
paused for a breathing-space before beginning the work of plunder.
They then ravished the nest of the slave-ants, which, however, fought
desperately, so that it seemed as though they courted death. They
even followed the Amazons right up to their own nest, harassing them
all the way. On arriving at the nest of the Amazons the slaves of the
latter came out and assisted their masters to fight. These slaves were
of two species — one being the same as that which was being plun-
dered, so that these slaves were fighting for their masters against their
own kind. Altogether, therefore, in that day's warfare there were
six different species of ants engaged — three in alliance, and the rest in
mutual antagonism.

The military tactics employed by the sanguine ants above men-
tioned are different from those employed by the Amazons. They do
not seek to carry the fortress of the slave-ants by storm, but lay a
regular siege, forming a complete circle round the nest, and facing it
with jaws held fiercely open and antenntc thrown back. Being indi-
vidually large and strong, they are able thus to confine the whole nest
of slave-ants. A special guard is set upon the entrances of the nest,
and this allows all slave-ants not carrying pupre to pass, while it stops
all the slave-ants which carry pupre. The siege lasts till most of the
slave-ants have thus been allowed to pass out, while all the pupae are
left behind. The forces then close in upon the entrances and com-
pletely rifle the nest of its pupae — a few companies, however, being
told off to pursue any slave-ants which may possibly have succeeded
here and there in escaping with a pupa.

Wars are not confined to species of ants having slave-making
habits. The agricultural ants likewise at times have fierce contests
with one anothei'. The importance of seeds to these insects, and the



consequent value which they set upon them, induce the animals, when
supplies are scarce, to plunder one another's nests, prolonged warfare
being the result. Thus Moggridge says : " By far the most savage
and prolonged contests which I have witnessed were those in which the
combatants belonged to two different colonies of the same species. . . .
The most singular contests are those which are waged for seeds by A.
harhara, when one colony plunders the stores of an adjacent nest
belonging to the same species ; the weaker nest making prolonged,
though, for the most part, inefficient attempts to recover their prop-
erty." In one case the predatory war lasted for forty-six days, during
which time it became evident that the attacking nest was the stronger,

streams of ants laden with seeds arrived safely at the upper nest, while close
observation showed that very few seeds were successfully carried on the reverse
journey into the lower or plundered nest. Thus, when I fixed myattention on
one of these robbed ants surreptitiously making its exit with the seed from the
thieves' nest, and having overcome the oppositions and dangers met with on
its way, reaching, after a journey which took six minutes to accomplish, the
entrance to its own home, I saw that it was violently deprived of its burden by
a guard of ants stationed there apparently for the purpose, one of whom in-
stantly started oft" and carried the seed all the way back again to tlie upper nest.
. . . After the 4th of March I never saw any acts of hostility between these
nests, though the robbed nest was not abandoned. In another case of the same
kind, however, where the struggle lasted thirty-two days, the robbed, nest was
at length completely abandoned.

Lastly, McCook records the history of an interesting engagement
which he witnessed between two nests of Tetramoriinn cmspitum in
the streets of Philadelphia, and which lasted for nearly three weeks.
Although all the combatants belonged to the same species, friends
were always distinguished from foes, however great the confusion of
the fight. This fact is always observable in the case of battles between
nests of the same species, and McCook thinks that the distinction ap-
pears to be effected in some way by contact of antennae. •

Keeping Pets. — Many species of ants display the curious habit of
harboring in their nests sundry kinds of other insects, which, so far as
observation extends, are of no benefit to the ants, and which have
therefore been regarded by observers as mere domestic pets. These
pets are, for the most part, species which occur nowhere else except
in ants' nests, and each species of pet is peculiar to certain species of
ant. Beetles and crickets seem to be the more favorite kinds of in-
sects, and these live on the best terms with their hosts, playing round
the nests in fine weather, and retiring into them in stormy weather,
while allowing the ants to carry them from place to place during mi-
grations. It is evident, therefore, that ants not only tolerate these
insects, but foster them ; and, as it seems absurd to credit the ants
with any mere fancy or caprice, such as that of keeping pets, it is per-


haps safest to suppose that these insects, like the aphides, are of some
use to their masters, although we are not yet in a position to surmise
what this use can be.

Sleep axd Cleanliness. — It is probable that all ants enjoy periods
of true slumber alternating with those of activity ; but actual obser-
vations on this subject have only been made in the case of two or
three species, McCook says that the harvesting ants of Texas sleep
so soundly that they may be pretty severely stroked with a feather
without being aroused ; but they are immediately awakened by a sharp
tap. On awakening they often stretch their limbs in a manner pre-
cisely resembling that of warm-blooded animals, and even yawn — the
latter action being " very like that of the human animal ; the mandi-
bles are thrown open with the peculiar muscular strain which is fa-
miliar to all readers ; the tongue is also sometimes thrust out." The
ordinary duration of sleep in this species is about three hours.

Invariably on awakening, and often at other times, the ants per-
form, like many other insects, elaborate processes of washing and
brushing. But, unlike other insects, ants assist one another in the
performance of their toilet. The author just quoted describes the
whole process in the genus Atta. The cleanser begins with washing
the face of her companion, and then passes on to the thorax, legs, and

The attitude of the cleansed all this while is one of intense satisfaction, quite
resembling that of a family do» when one is scratching the back of his neck.
The insect stretches out her limbs, and, as her friend takes them successively
into hand, yields them limp and supple to her manipulation ; she rolls gently
over on her side, even quite over on her back, and with all her limbs relaxed
presents a perfect picture of muscular surrender and ease. The pleasure which
the creatures take in being thus " combed " and " sponged " is really enjoyable
to the observer. I have seen an ant kneel down before another and thrust for-
ward the head drooping quite under the face, and lie there motionless, thus ex-
pressing, as plainly as sign-language could, her desire to be cleansed. I at once
understood the gesture, and so did the supplicated ant, for she at once went to

Bates also has described similar facts with regard to ants of another
genus — the Ecito)is.

Play and Leisure. — The life of ants is not all work, or, at least,
is not so in all species. Iluber describes regular gymnastic sports as
practiced by the species pratensis. They raise themselves on their
hind-legs to wTestle and throw pretended antagonists with their fore-
legs, run after each other and seem to play at hide and seek. When
one is victorious in a display of strength, it often seizes all the others
in the ring, and tumbles them about like nine-pins. Forel has amply
confirmed these observations of Ilubcr, and says that the chasing,
struggling, and rolling together upon the ground, pulling each other
in and out of the entrances, etc., irresistibly reminded him of romping


boys at play. *' I understand," he says, " that the matter must seem
wonderful to those who have not witnessed it, particularly when we
remember that sexual attraction can here play no part."

McCook and Bates also give similar accounts of the habits of play
and leisure among species of the Western Hemisphere.

Funerals. — The habit of carrying their dead out and away from
their nests is very general, if not universal, among ants ; and, being no
doubt due to sanitary requirements, has probably been developed as a
beneficial instinct by natural selection. McCook says of the agricultu-
ral ants :

All species whose manners I liave closely observed are quite alike in their
mode of caring for their own dead, and for the dry carcasses of aliens. The
former they appear to treat with some degree of reverence, at least to the ex-
tent of giving them a sort of sepulture without feeding upon them. The latter,
after having exhausted the juices of the body, they usually deposit together in
some spot removed from the nest.

Experiments made on ants kept in confinement showed that the desire
to remove dead companions was one of the strongest that they exhib-
ited :

So great was the desire to get rid of the dead outside the nest, that the
bearers would climb up the smooth surface of the glass to the very top of the
jar, laboriously carrying with them a dead ant. This was severe work, which
was rarely undertaken except under the influence of this funereal enthusiasm.
Falls were frequent, but patiently the little "undertaker" would follow the
impulse of her instinct and try and try again. Finally the fact of a necessity
seemed to dawn upon the ants (the jar being closed at the top so that they could
not get out), and a portion of the surface opposite from the entrance to the gal-
leries, and close up against the glass, was used as a burial-ground and sort of
kitchen-midden, where all the refuse of the nest was deposited.

This author also records in his recently published work an interest-
ing piece of information to which he was led by Mrs. Treat :

A visit was paid to a large colony of these slave-makers {F. sanguinea), which
is established on the grounds adjoining her residence at Vineland, New Jersey.
I noticed that a number of carcasses of one of the slave species {Formica fusca)
were deposited together quite near the gates of the nest. They were probably
chiefly the dry bodies of ants brought in from recent raids. It was noticed that
the dead ants were all of one species, and therefore Mrs. Treat informed me that
the red slave-makers never deposited their dead with those of their black ser-
vitors, but always laid them by themselves, not in groups, but separately, and
were careful to take them a considerable distance from the nest. One can hardly
resist pointing out here another likeness between the customs of these social
hymenoptera and those of human beings, certain of whom carry their distinc-
tions of race, condition, or religious caste even to the gates of the cemetery, in
which the poor body molders into its mother dust ! — Nineteenth Century.




FROM the remotest periods of which we have quoted or written
records, the moon has been an object of adoring and speculative
contemplation. As the babe in the cradle, crowing and smiling,
stretches out its tiny hands to grasp the shining flame of the distant
candle, so the infant races of the world gazed at the radiant orb above
them, seeking to grasp and penetrate its mystic beauties.

Nor is it to be marveled at, when we consider that this planet was
the most brilliant and changeable, as well as the nearest and apparent-
ly largest celestial body that presented itself to their nightly view,
and that in the clear, exquisite ether of Arabian skies, and the calm
nights of India and Egypt, it shone among the heavenly host with a
luster unknown to dwellers in the crowded cities of a northern clime.

But the children of these tropic lands did something more than
gaze, speculate, and admire : with supreme patience they reared lofty
towers and grand pyramids, and invented instruments which have led
up step by step to the transit instrument, the micrometer, and the
telescope of to-day. A college of astronomy was founded by the
priesthood of Egypt, the worship of the moon growing out of their
frequent use of her pictured or carved image in making their meteoro-
logical announcements to the people ; as, for instance, when the Nile
was about to overflow, warning heralds were sent through the streets
bearing aloft the familiar symbols of the river goddess, and a gilded
figure of the moon in the phase it would present at the date of the ex-
pected rising.

In the course of time, the signification was forgotten, the symbol
was worshiped, and finally what it represented deified. The moon no
longer appeared to the unlettered populace as merely a brilliant lamp
suspended from a revolving dome, and shining until extinguished by
the waters of the ocean, but now was looked upon with awe as a
region of sublime mysteries.

This veneration of the moon gradually spread with population to
all parts of the woi'ld. We have records of ancient Chinese ceremo-
nials ; relics found among Druidical remains in Western Europe ; ac-
counts of astronomical picture-writings of a religious character, and
lunar calendars of gold, silver, and stone, discovered in ancient temple-
ruins in Mexico, Central and South America.

Among the buildings devoted to lunar worship may be mentioned
the wonderful Temple of Diana at Ephesus, built at the combined ex-
pense of the nations of Asia, and the magnificent mansion of the moon
adjoining the Temple of the Sun in ancient Cuzco ; this building was
in form a pyramidal pavilion with doors and inclosures completely


incrusted with glittering silver. Within, on the southern wall, was a
painting in white, presenting the moon as a beautiful woman ; on
either side along the eastern and western walls, on massive thrones of
silver, were seated the dead queens of Peru, embalmed and arrayed in
regal splendor.

In an elegant pavilion, covered with plates of the precious metal,
adjoining the mansion, were apartments for the accommodation of her
Avaiting-maids, the stars.

There was also an elaborate circular Temple of the Moon on a lofty
hill near Quito, so arranged that the moonlight, falling through certain
openings, shone directly on a silver image suspended from a blue roof
emblazoned with stars.

Priesthoods and orders of priestesses existed in ancient Greece,
Italy, India, Egypt, Britain, and America, fearful penalties attaching
to broken vows or neglect of offices.

Many astronomers, whose quoted works are lost, flourished before
Christ ; their curious theories have been preserved in ancient writings
of a later period. It is exceedingly interesting to trace, step by step,
the changes of opinion wrought by gradual discovery in regard to the
physical condition of the moon. This orb — variously supposed to be a
brilliant disk-shaped body formed from mist congealed by fire ; a mass
of fiery and opaque elements ; a circle of porous substance like pumice-
stone, receiving light from a luminous ether ; and a sphere, one half of
which wps burning — Avas finally pronounced by Anaxagoras, the Greek
philosopher, in the year 500 b. c, to be an earth with mountain^ and
valleys like our own.

For this opinion, and his belief that the moon was as large as the
Peloponnesus, Anaxagoras was ridiculed by the learned men of his
time. Six hundred years later, Plutarch supported the views of his
ancient predecessor ; but it was not until the application of the first
telescope that any certain knowledge of the planet was gained. This
instrument caused a complete revolution of ideas in astronomy. Gali-
leo's plains, mountains, and valleys, were facts, whereas those of An-
axagoras had been matters of conjecture. Imagination soon peopled
the moon with a peculiar race of beings, covered it with grand forests
and cities, and all that pertains to a habitable world. Fortifications
were discovered ; consequently, the Lunarians were a warlike people.
Certain bright points on the dark portion of the moon's disk were
proclaimed to be conflagrations, or volcanic eruptions, or perhaps fire-
works in honor of some lunar event.

A German astronomer proposed the building of an immense tri-
angle on the plains of Siberia as a means of mathematical correspond-
ence with the moon's inhabitants, believing they would build one in
reply. A brother scientist, commenting on this novel signal-service,
naively declared that " many more foolish projects had been carried
out successfullv."


Improved instruments Lave demonstrated that life, as we under-
stand it, is impossible on the lunar body, revealing to us that it is
composed of rocks and matter of a highly reflective character ; its
surface being broken up by ranges of lofty, perpendicular mountains,
craters of elevation, precipitous caves and hollows ; that the dark
plains are the beds of oceans long ago evaporated or withdrawn into
the interior of the planet ; that it is subject to enormous degrees of
heat and cold, has no water or apparent atmosphere, and, if so, neither
wind, wave, nor sound.

Nothing varies the monotony of the long days and nights compos-
ing the lunar year, save the changing positions of the intensely black
shadows falling from hills and mountains that cut off or fling back
into space the white light of the sun ; or the swift, silent fall of the
crumbling walls of some hollow crater.

On looking at the moon through the telescope for the first time,
one is struck by the melancholy character of its broken yet shining
surface. Desolate plains are seen stretching away from the central
view to the dazzling sunlit edge where, under the immedate solar
glare, they seem sheeted with everlasting snow. To the right, as they
gradually approach the region of darkness, the Fhite softens into the
greenish gray of a sandy desert.

But, ho ! what tracks are these like the footprints of huge camels ?
Has some celestial caravan passed this way and disappeared from
sight in the far south ? Shall we see another wending its slow way

And yonder — another marvel — a fountain of silver sending from
its argent depths rivers of precious metal to wander over sandy plains !
Will the wonders never cease ? Beyond, on the brilliant terminator,
are promontories of pearly luster jutting out into seas of darkness,
and, remoter still, pendent stars shining over ebon gulfs !

Gentle astronomer, increase your magnif}-ing, for we long to in-
vestigate, space by space, this moon whose beauties we have never
known before !

Ah, the footprints are footprints no longer — they are cup-shaped
hollows innumerable ! These drifts, as of snow, are ranges of moun-
tains, and the promontories and pendent stars are crags and mountain-

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 63 of 110)