Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Ants Have Beauty Doctors

Since the image of Verrill in this newspaper article was so bad I have added a couple of images from our archives. A link to the Science Fiction story, 'World of the Giant Ants' follows./drf
Ants Have Beauty Doctors
Daily Boston Globe; Apr 11, 1937; researched by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, Dec. 2011
Intelligent Insects Keep Pets and Capture Slaves in Raids—Hyatt Verrill Tells of Man-Eating Ants He Escaped in Costa Rica—One Ant's Daily Work Equal To a Man Walking to San Francisco
"Sit-down strikes?"
"A sit-down strike would never be countenanced in the ant world! 'No work, no life' is the ant motto, and a sit-downer would unquestionably be dealt with most summarily.
"I doubt if they even have festivals or recreations, for their lives consist wholly of toiling, eating and sleeping. In fact, I should judge that an ant's life is about as monotonous and as machine-like and ordered as ours would be if the N. R. A. had continued for a few decades."
With a twinkle in his eye, A. Hyatt Verrill of Springfield, author of "Strange Insects and Their Stories," paused to tell of his adventures with ants in a score of countries. And when he speaks on ants, mark his words! He has been around!
Much Like Humans
"I do know that ants have feasts or banquets, that their form of government is thoroughly communistic, and that for some reason, whether because of strikes, mutiny or pure disobedience, certain individuals are punished and executed," he said.
"It is quite probable that had the ants developed to man's size instead of remaining tiny insects, they would have developed a far greater degree of intelligence than human beings and would have far outstripped mankind in civilization and would have completely dominated the earth."
Human beings, then, should not pat themselves on the back and pride themselves on their civilization.
"Ants resemble man in many habits. There are ant masons, miners, carpenters, farmers, soldiers, police, doctors, servants, slaves, nurses, undertakers and sanitary officers; there are ant hospitals, cemeteries, playgrounds and nurseries, and no human babies are more carefully reared than the young of most ants," the naturalist pointed out.
"Although few persons are aware of it, nearly every important industry, as well as many human characteristics and habits, are common among the ants," Mr. Verrill recalled.
"Every ant carries a comb about with it, and never think of starting the day's work without first washing himself and making himself spic and span.
Take Entertainers Along
"Moreover, ants have beauty specialists and masseurs. When some weary ant stretches out and is smoothed, rubbed, parted and massaged by another ant it exhibits every symptom of enjoying the process as much as does a human athlete after a strenuous field day."
Mr. Verrill paused to light his pipe.
"You know, it is almost impossible to conceive the amount of strenuous labor which ants perform day after day. Very often their loads weigh twice or four times as much as their own bodies, and not infrequently the tree or bush whence the leaves are cut is a mile or more from the nest. Why the ants should travel such a vast distance, equivalent to over 120 miles to a man, in order to secure leaves when there are trees of the same species within easy reach of the nest remains a mystery.
"In the course of a day I have seen ants which made scores of trips back and forth between nest and tree and tree and nest. On their journey for leaves these ants are often accompanied by strange midgets who are incapable of cutting leaves and are apparently mere entertainers."
"Yes, indeed! These are weak creatures and are often carried to the nests on the backs of workers.'
Blind Cockroach Pets
Speaking of entertainers, the ants have domestic pets, just as we human beings have dogs and cats. The leaf-cutting ants keep blind cockroaches as pets, and so fond of these creatures are the ants that when a queen departs to form a new colony she usually carries a baby cockroach with her. In return for the loving care bestowed upon them by the ants, the cockroaches act as masseurs and also lick the sap of the leaves from their masters' bodies.
Crickets and beetle larvae are also kept as pets, Mr Verrill pointed out. "So fond of these beetle pets are the ants that they feed and care for them, carry them to the outer air on fine days and take them inside if it rains, and spend a great deal of their time fondling and stroking their odd pets."
How many miles does an ant travel daily? Have you ever wondered? Then let the distinguished naturalist give you the low-down, as it were:
"Each ant travels in a day a distance which, in proportion to the insect's size, would be equal to nearly 3000 miles! Imagine a human being walking from New York to San Francisco one day and back to New York the next, for day after day, week after week, and carrying a load of two to three hundred pounds on each eastward hike, merely to secure material for a mushroom bed to supply food for his family and his friends. Yet that is his sole object of labor."
Some Can't Feed Themselves
Of course, some ants just won't work and that's where the unemployment problem comes in. Some ants take life easy and are so wholly dependent upon their slaves that they are unable to feed themselves, and if placed in a jar with sugar they will starve. But if a black slave is placed with them he will at once begin feeding his masters.
"Oddly enough," Mr. Verrill declares, "the ants' slaves are always black ants and the masters are red ants. Red ants often raid the nests of black ants and carry off the young. Some of the most interesting battles occur when the black ants mass themselves in army array for a battle with their attackers.
“No quarter is shown, the wounded are promptly put to death and often devoured, and the victorious black warriors are left unmolested for a time. But usually it is the other way around." Mr Verrill's fascinating book on insects and their stories, published recently by L. C. Page & Co. is replete with stories on ants and their work. He also is the author of "Strange Sea Shells and Their Stories" and "My Jungle Trails" published by the same company.
"I have stood within a dozen feet of a vast army of ants, an army so immense that the rustling of their moving bodies and the sound of their jaws could be heard a hundred yards away," he relates. "So numerous and so voracious are these big ants that horses and cattle are overpowered and devoured, and there are many cases of human beings having fallen victims to the army ants."
10,000 Red Hot Needles
In his newest book, "My Jungle Trails," to be out this month, Mr Verrill tells of stepping into an ant colony while collecting natural history specimens in Costa Rica.
"Never dreaming of any danger, I jumped from the log, and the next instant fairly howled. I felt as if I had sprung into a pot of boiling lead with 10,000 red-hot needles searing the flesh of my ankles and legs. Yelling with pain, I glanced down to find my legs almost hidden beneath a moving black mass, while between the branches and trash underfoot the ground appeared to heave, move and undulate. Instantly I realized what had happened. I had jumped into a column of army ants!"
Son of the late Prof Addison E. Verrill, noted zoologist, Mr Verrill is one of the nation's foremost authorities on nature subjects. A graduate of Yale, he has illustrated the natural history portions of Webster's International Dictionary, and has conducted scientific expeditions in Bermuda, the West Indies, Guiana, Central America and Panama.
He has studied insects and plant; life in Costa Rica, Mexico, Yucatan, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, Brazil, Uruguay, the Azores, Cape Verde Islands and all the islands of the Caribbean. Besides, he has made extensive studies in Europe and has crossed the Atlantic 12 times.
Tramping about these countries gave Mr Verrill plenty of hair-raising adventures. Often he was in grave danger.
"On one occasion, for example, while spending the night in a shack on the mountainside of Costa Rica, the hut was visited by an army of ants while my companions and I slept. And it was only by good fortune that we ever saw the light of day again!
Escaped Man-Eaters
"It was this way," he began. "We were sleeping in hammocks and ants will not travel over a rough hair rope. Except for ourselves, every other living thing within the house was utterly destroyed. Not a roach, fly, moth or termite remained, and a good-sized tapir, which we had killed in the afternoon and had hung up outside the hut, was completely devoured. Only the bones and the rugged hide remained to tell the ants' visit as silently as they had come they had vanished.
"I shudder to think of what out fate would have been had we been sleeping in cots instead."
Mr Verrill, whose works have enjoyed a wide popularity, is the author of more than 90 books. In 1920 he made ethnological and archaeological explorations in Panama. Four years later he discovered the remains of previously unknown prehistoric culture in Panama. Then he was engaged in making a series of oil paintings of South and Central American Indians from life.
Mr Verrill led archaeological and ethnological expeditions in Peru, Bolivia and Chile and in 1933 led an expedition to salvage a Spanish galleon sunk in the West Indies in the 17th century.
An honorary chief of the Carib Indians of Guiana and the Guaymi tribe of Panama, he speaks several Indian dialects.
He is at home in any city or town of Latin America, for he has spent some time in almost every South .and Central American republic. For several years he conducted the popular science department of the American Boy Magazine. His latest are being published by the Page Company in Boston.
How does he explain some of the amazing things that ants do? Are ants guided by instinct or reason?
"That," he laughed, "is a question on which scientists disagree. Personally, I think they reason, for I cannot explain many of their actions by pure instinct."

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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.