Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/364

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350
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

speak, mainly on sufferance, playing no appreciable part in the economy of the globe. Turning from this hypothetical survey of the ant as an individual, unorganized being to its actual condition, we see the most striking contrast. Mr. Belt gives the following graphic account of the excitement caused by a marching column of Ecitons in the primeval forests of Nicaragua: "My attention was generally first called to them by the twittering of some small birds belonging to different species. On approaching, a dense body of the ants, three or four yards wide, and so numerous as to blacken the ground, would be seen moving rapidly in one direction, examining every cranny and underneath every fallen leaf. On the flanks, and in advance of the main body, smaller columns would be pushed out. These smaller columns would generally first flush the cockroaches, grasshoppers, and spiders. The pursued insects would rapidly make off, but many, in their confusion and terror, would bound right into the midst of the main body of ants. At first, the grasshopper, when it found itself in the midst of its enemies, would give vigorous leaps, with perhaps two or three of the ants clinging to its legs. Then it would stop a moment to rest, and that moment would be fatal, for the tiny foes would swarm over the prey, and, after a few more ineffectual struggles, it would succumb to its fate, and soon be bitten to pieces and carried off to the rear. The greatest catch of the ants was, however, when they got among some fallen brushwood. The cockroaches, spiders, and other insects, instead of running right away, would ascend the fallen branches and remain there, while the host of ants were occupying all the ground beneath. By-and-by, up would come some of the ants, following every branch, and driving before them their prey to the ends of the small twigs, where nothing remained for them but to leap, and they would alight in the very throng of their foes, with the result of being certainly caught and pulled to pieces.

"The moving columns of Ecitons are composed almost entirely of workers of different sizes, but, at intervals of two or three yards, there are larger and lighter-colored individuals that often stop and sometimes run a little backward, stopping and touching some of the ants with their antennæ. They look like officers giving orders and directing the march of the column.

"The ants send off exploring-parties up the trees, which hunt for nests of wasps, bees, and probably birds. If they find any, they soon communicate the intelligence to the army below, and a column is sent up immediately to take possession of the prize. I have seen them pulling out the larvæ and pupæ from the cells of a large wasps' nest, while the wasps hovered about, powerless, before the multitude of the invaders, to render any protection to their young."

Still more formidable are the "driver-ants" of tropical Africa, so called because, on their approach, even the lion, the elephant, and the huge python, at once betake themselves to flight.