I took fifty specimens, twenty-five from one nest and twenty-five from another, made them dead drunk, marked each with a spot of paint, and put them on a table close to where the other ants from one of the nests were feeding. The table was surrounded as usual with a moat of water to prevent them from straying. The ants which were feeding soon noticed those which I had made drunk. They seemed quite astonished to find their comrades in such disgraceful condition, and as much at a loss to know what to do with their drunkards as we are. After a while, however, to cut my story short, they carried them all away: the strangers they took to edge of the moat and dropped into the water, while they bore their friends home into the nest, where by degrees they slept off the effects of the spirit. Thus it is evident that they know their friends even when incapable of giving any sign or password.
This little experiment also shows that they help comrades in distress. If a wolf or a rook be ill or injured, we are told that it is driven away or even killed by its comrades. Not so with ants.
For instance, in one of my nests an unfortunate ant, in emerging from the chrysalis skin, injured her legs so much that she lay on her back quite helpless. For three months, however, she was carefully fed and tended by the other ants. In another case an ant in the same manner had injured her antennae. I watched her also carefully to see what would happen. For some days she did not leave the nest. At last one day she ventured outside, and after a while met a stranger ant of the same species, but belonging to another nest, by whom she was at once attacked. I tried to separate them, but whether by her enemy, or perhaps by my well-meant but clumsy kindness, she was evidently much hurt and lay helplessly on her side. Several others passed her without taking any notice, but soon one came up, examined her carefully with her antennae, and carried her off tenderly to the nest. No one, I think, who saw it could have denied to that ant one attribute of humanity, the quality of kindness.
The existence of such communities as those of ants or bees implies, no doubt, some power of communication, but the amount is still a matter of doubt. It is well known that if one bee or ant discovers a store of food, others soon find their way to it. This, however, does not prove much. It makes all the difference whether they are brought or sent. If they merely accompany on her return a companion who has brought a store of food, it does not imply much. To test this, therefore, I made several experiments. For instance, one cold day my ants were almost all in their nests. One only was out hunting and about six feet from home. I took a dead bluebottle fly, pinned it on to a piece of cork, and put it down just in front of her. She at once tried to carry off the fly, but to her surprise found it immovable. She tugged and tugged, first one way and then another for about twenty minutes, and then went straight off to the nest. During that time not a single ant had come out; in fact she was the only ant of that nest out at the time. She went straight in, but in a few seconds--less than half a minute--came out again with no less than twelve friends, who trooped off with her, and eventually tore up the dead fly, carrying it off in triumph.
Now the first ant took nothing home with her; she must therefore somehow have made her friends understand that she had found some food, and wanted them to come and help her to secure it. In all such cases, however, so far as my experience goes, the ants brought their friends, and some of my experiments indicated that they are unable to send them.
Certain species of ants, again, make slaves of others, as Huber first observed. If a colony of the slave-making ants is changing the nest, a matter which is left to the discretion of the slaves, the latter carry their mistresses to their new home. Again, if I uncovered one of my nests of the Fuscous ant (Formica fusca), they all began running about in search of some place of refuge. If now I covered over one small part of the nest, after a while some ant discovered it. In such a case, however, the brave little insect never remained there, she came out in search of her friends, and the first one she met she took up in her jaws, threw over her shoulder (their way of carrying friends), and took into the covered part; then both came out again, found two more friends and brought them in, the same manoeuvre being repeated until the whole community was in a place of safety. This I think says much for their public spirit, but it seems to prove that, in F. fusca at least, the powers of communication are but limited.
One kind of slave-making ant has become so completely dependent on their slaves that even if provided with food they will die of hunger, unless there is a slave to put it into their mouths, I found, however, that they would thrive very well if supplied with a slave for an hour or so once a week to clean and feed them.
But in many cases the community does not consist of ants only. They have domestic animals, and indeed it is not going too far to say that they have domesticated more animals than we have. Of these the most important are Aphides on trees and bushes; others collect root-feeding Aphides into their nests. They serve as cows to the ants, which feed on the honey-dew secreted by the Aphides. Not only, moreover, do the ants protect the Aphides themselves, but collect their eggs in autumn, and tend them carefully through the winter, ready for the next spring. Many other insects are also domesticated by ants, and some of them, from living constantly underground, have completely lost their eyes and become quite blind.
When we see a community of ants working together in perfect harmony, it is impossible not to ask ourselves how far they are mere exquisite automatons; how far they are conscious beings. When we watch an ant-hill tenanted by thousands of industrious inhabitants, excavating chambers, forming tunnels, making roads, guarding their home, gathering food, feeding the young, tending their domestic animals--each one fulfilling its duties industriously, and without confusion--it is difficult; altogether to deny to them the gift of reason; and all our recent observations tend to confirm the opinion that their mental powers differ from those of men, not so much in kind as in degree.
THE KATY-DID'S PARTY
By Harriet Beecher Stowe
Miss Katy-did sat on the branch of a flowering azalea, in her best suit of fine green and silver, with wings of point-lace from Mother Nature's finest web.
Miss Katy was in the very highest possible spirits, because her gallant cousin, Colonel Katy-did, had looked in to make her a morning visit. It was a fine morning, too, which goes for as much among the Katy-dids as among men and women. It was, in fact, a morning that Miss Katy thought must have been made on purpose for her to enjoy herself in. There had been a patter of rain the night before, which had kept the leaves awake talking to each other till nearly morning, but by dawn the small winds had blown brisk little puffs, and whisked the heavens clear and bright with their tiny wings, as you have seen Susan clear away the cobwebs in your mamma's parlor; and so now there were only left a thousand blinking, burning water drops, hanging like convex mirrors at the end of each leaf, and Miss Katy admired herself in each one.
"Certainly I am a pretty creature," she said to herself; and when the gallant Colonel said something about being dazzled by her beauty, she only tossed her head and took it as quite a matter of course.
"The fact is, my dear Colonel," she said, "I am thinking of giving a party, and you must help me make out the lists."
"My dear, you make me the happiest of Katy-dids."
"Now," said Miss Katy-did, drawing an azalea-leaf towards her, "let us see,--whom shall we have? The Fireflies, of course; everybody wants them, they are so brilliant; a little unsteady, to be sure, but quite in the higher circles."
"Yes, we must have the Fireflies," echoed the Colonel.
"Well, then,--and the Butterflies and the Moths. Now, there's a trouble. There's such an everlasting tribe of those Moths; and if you invite dull people they're always sure all to come, every one of them. Still, if you have the Butterflies, you can't leave out the Moths."
"Old Mrs. Moth has been laid up lately with a gastric fever, and that may keep two or three of the Misses Moth at home," said the Colonel.
"What ever could give the old lady such a turn?" said Miss Katy. "I thought she never was sick."
"I suspect it's high living. I understand she and her family ate up a whole ermine cape last month, and it disagreed with them."
"For my part, I can't conceive how the Moths can live as they do", said Miss Katy with a face of disgust. "Why, I could no more eat worsted and fur, as they do--"
"That is quite evident from the fairy-like delicacy of your appearance," said the Colonel. "One can see that nothing so gross and material has ever entered into your system."
"I'm sure," said Miss Katy, "mamma says she don't know what does keep me alive; half a dew-drop and a little hit of the nicest part of a rose-leaf, I assure you, often last me for a day. But we are forgetting our list. Let's see,--the Fireflies, Butterflies, Moths.
The Bees must come, I suppose."
"The Bees are a worthy family," said the Colonel.
"Worthy enough, but dreadfully hum-drum" said Miss Katy. "They never talk about anything but honey and housekeeping; still they are a class of people one cannot neglect."
"Well, then, there are the Bumble-bees."
"Oh, I doat on them! General Bumble is one of the most dashing, brilliant fellows of the day.
"I think he is shockingly corpulent," said Colonel Katy-did, not at all pleased to hear him praised, "don't you?"
"I don't know but he _is_ a little stout," said Miss Katy; "but so distinguished and elegant in his manners,--something martial and breezy about him."
"Well, if you invite the Bumble-bees you must have the Hornets."
"Those spiteful Hornets,--I detest them!"
"Nevertheless, dear Miss Katy, one does not like to offend the Hornets."
"No, one can't. There are those five Misses Hornet,--dreadful old maids! as full of spite as they can live. You may be sure they will every one come, and be looking about to make spiteful remarks. Put down the Hornets, though."
"How about the Mosquitoes?" said the Colonel.
"Those horrid Mosquitoes,--they are dreadfully common! Can't one cut them?"
"Well, dear Miss Katy," said the Colonel, "if you ask my candid opinion as a friend, I should say _not_. there's young Mosquito, who graduated last year, has gone into literature, and is connected with some of our leading papers, and they say he carries the sharpest pen of all the writers. It won't do to offend him."
"And so I suppose we must have his old aunts, and all six of his sisters, and all his dreadfully common relations."
"It is a pity," said the Colonel, "but one must pay one's tax to society."
Just at this moment the conference was interrupted by a visitor, Miss Keziah Cricket, who came in with her work-bag on her arm to ask a subscription for a poor family of Ants who had just had their house hoed up in clearing the garden-walks.
"How stupid of them," said Katy, "not to know better than to put their house in the garden-walk; that's just like those Ants!"
"Well, they are in great trouble; all their stores destroyed, and their father killed,--cut in two by a hoe."
"How very shocking! I don't like to hear of such disagreeable things,--it affects my nerves terribly. Well, I'm sure I haven't anything to give. Mamma said yesterday she was sure she didn't know how our bills were to be paid,--and there's my green satin with point-lace yet to come home." And Miss Katy-did shrugged her shoulders and affected to be very busy with Colonel Katy-did, in just the way that young ladies sometimes do when they wish to signify to visitors that they had better leave.
Little Miss Cricket perceived how the case stood, and so hopped briskly off, without giving herself even time to be offended. "Poor extravagant little thing!" said she to herself, "it was hardly worth while to ask her."
"Pray, shall you invite the Crickets?" said Colonel Katy-did.
"Who? I? Why, Colonel, what a question! Invite the Crickets? Of what can you be thinking?"
"And shall you not ask the Locusts, or the Grasshoppers?"
"Certainly. The Locusts, of course,--a very old and distinguished family; and the Grasshoppers are pretty well, and ought to be asked. But we must draw the line somewhere,--and the Crickets! Why it's shocking even to think of!"