Friday, 30 December 2011

Some Ants and their Ways




Hyatt Verrill wrote about ants a number of times including the science fiction story, “World of theGiant Ants”. The illustrations for this story are his own and resemble the illustrations used in that story. (I notice the blog linked story does not contain those images, sorry.)/drf
Some Ants and their Ways
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Everyland magazine, Nov. 1916. Everyland Nature Club column. Digitized by Doug Frizzle Dec 2011.
YOU all know what busy little creatures the ants are, and no doubt many of you have watched them as they hurry about hither and thither as if intent on some very important business. So, too, you may have seen an ants' nest and wondered what was inside of it and how the ants lived.
But if you could watch the ants at their every-day life, you would be filled with wonder, for in many ways ants are most intelligent creatures and many of their actions and habits seem as if inspired by reason, while in some things the ants have really improved upon man's ways.
Even the commonest ants have very wonderful habits, and one of the most remarkable of these is the manner in which the ants keep cows. Of course they are not real cows like ours, but tiny insects known as aphids or plant lice; but to the ants these creatures serve the purpose of cows and they are just as carefully tended and cared for and pastured as are cattle kept by human beings. The aphids give forth a sweetish substance known as "honey dew," of which the ants are very fond, and it is to secure a supply of this substance that the ants keep their little six-legged cattle.
To protect the aphids from the rain, the ants build little sheds over them and if the plant, on which the aphids are feeding, wilts or dies the ants pick up their cattle and carry them carefully to a strong plant where they may be sure of plenty of good food. When cold weather approaches, the ants carry the eggs and pupæ of the aphids into their own snug nests. Here they are carefully guarded and watched throughout the winter and in the spring, when the aphids hatch out, the baby cattle are carried out of doors and placed on plants where they may find plenty of fresh sap on which to grow big and strong.
But the aphid cattle are not the only insects which live with the ants in their underground homes. Several kinds of beetles, as well as spiders and wasps, may often be found in the ants' nests and on the best of terms with the owners. Funnily enough some of these make their meals off the baby ants and nobody has ever been able to explain why the ants, which are so wise in most ways, should allow these unwelcome guests to remain in their homes. Not only do these strangers live with the ants, but their young depend upon the ants to act as nurses for them. When one of the baby beetles is hungry, he strokes and pats the face of an ant in a very funny way and the ant at once gives the hungry youngster a drop of honey-like liquid from its own mouth.
Another funny thing about the ants is that they have slaves; and the queerest thing about these slave-keeping ants is that they are red while their slaves are black!
When a nest of ants finds that it needs slaves a regular army is formed, skirmishers are thrown out, and scouts go here and there and search about until a nest of black ants is found. Then the red army of warrior ants rushes on the city of black ants and a very fierce and bloody battle is fought. But the red soldiers are always stronger and fiercer than the blacks and very soon all the black fighting ants are killed or wounded and the victorious army loots the nest and carries off all the eggs and pupæ and takes them to the red ants' city.
When they return, laden with their prizes, all the other red ants come out to meet them and act as happy and joyful at the safe return of their army as do human beings when they have won a battle.
All the eggs and pupae of the black ants are then taken into the red ants' nest and are guarded carefully until they hatch out and grow up. Oddly enough the black slaves raised in this way are very willing and obliging and do all the hard work of the red ants' city without trying to escape or shirk. The slaves even feed the baby red ants, as well as the full-grown ones, and some species of slave-holding ants have become so accustomed to being fed by their slaves that they cannot feed themselves and would die of starvation if it were not for their black servants.
Some ants do even more remarkable things than these, however. In Texas there is a kind of ant called the Horticultural Ant, which raises regular crops of certain kinds of grass on the seeds of which the ants live. Not only do they plant and weed the young grass but they also carry manure to their gardens, keep the soil loose, and free from other plants and, when the seeds are ripe, they gather them and store them away in regular granaries.
In tropical America there is a remarkable species of ant known as the Army Ant. These little creatures travel in such immense numbers and are so ravenous and fierce that nothing alive can withstand them. Wherever they go they devour every particle of food they find, and as their armies are often half a mile wide and extend for miles and miles, they create great havoc when on the march. No obstacle will turn them aside and they even cross streams and rivers and if they come to a house or a village the people are obliged to leave until the ants have passed. But the natives don't object to this very much for the ants eat every roach, bug, rat, mouse or other vermin in the houses and leave them clean. Sometimes they come upon a house in the night and before the people can escape from the ants they too are devoured. In many places where the army ants are numerous the people sleep in hammocks with rough ropes over which the ants will not crawl and in such cases the people sometimes wake up in the morning and find an army of ants has passed by during the night and has cleaned the houses of every edible thing, even the cat or dog being eaten and nothing but a few bones are left to tell the tale.
A relative of the army ant, and which is found in the same countries, is known as the Umbrella Ant. These little chaps march along in single file and each one carries a triangular bit of green leaf over his head like an umbrella. These pieces of leaves are used in building the ants' nests and also for cultivating a species of fungus on which the ants feed. As only one kind of leaf is used the ants are sometimes obliged to travel for several miles to obtain them and the endless procession of tiny green umbrellas, winding up hill and down dale, along the well-worn ants' roads is a very funny sight. Of all the funny habits of ants, however, the most curious is that of a little chap from Asia. This ant builds its home between leaves which it gums together with sticky silk, and where do you suppose it obtains the glue-like substance? Not from its own bodies and not from any plant, but from its own young, for the young ants spin out the silk for making their cocoons. When their parents wish to make a nest, two or three ants hold the edges of the leaves together and another grasps a young ant in its jaws and rubs the baby ant's mouth along the seam to be joined, just as if the little chap were a mucilage bottle. As soon as the sticky silk from one baby is used up another larva is brought and used in the same way until all the leaves are glued firmly together and the nest is complete.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.