Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/208

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196
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

OUR SIX-FOOTED RIVALS.
I.

LET us suppose that, having no previous acquaintance with the subject, we were suddenly informed, on good authority, that there existed in some part of the globe a race of beings who lived in domed habitations, aggregated together so as to form vast and populous cities; that they exercised jurisdiction over the adjoining territory, laid out regular roads, executed tunnels underneath the beds of rivers, stationed guards at the entrance of their towns, carefully removed any offensive matter, maintained a rural police, organized extensive hunting-expeditions, at times even waged war upon neighboring communities, took prisoners and reduced them to a state of slavery; that they not merely stored up provisions with due care, to avoid their decomposition by damp and fermentation, but that they kept cattle, and in some cases even cultivated the soil and gathered in the harvest. We should unquestionably regard these creatures as human beings. who had made no small progress in civilization, and should ascribe their actions to reason. If we were then told that they were not men, and they were in some places formidable enemies to man, and had even by their continued molestations caused certain villages to be forsaken by all human occupants, our interest would perhaps be mixed with some little shade of anxiety lest we were here confronted by a race who, under certain eventualities, might contest our claim to the sovereignty of the globe. But when we learn that these wonderful creatures are insects some few lines in length, our curiosity is cooled; we are apt, if duly guided by dominant prepossessions, to declare that the social organization of these beings is not civilization, but at most quasi-civilization; that their guiding principle is not reason, but "instinct," or quasi-intelligence, or some other of those unmeaning words which are so useful when we wish to shut our eyes to the truth. Yet that ants are really, for good or evil, a power in the earth, and that they seriously interfere with the cultivation and development of some of the most productive regions known, is an established fact. A creature that can lay waste the crops of a province or sack the warehouses of a town has claims upon the notice of the merchant, the political economist, and the statesman, as well as of the naturalist.

Many observers have been struck with the curious mixture of analogies and contrasts presented by the Annulosa and the Vertebrata. These two classes form, beyond any doubt, the two leading subdivisions of the animal kingdom. To them nineteen-twentieths of the population of the dry land, both as regards individuals and species, will be found to belong, and even in the world of waters they are