Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/836

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
816
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

INTELLIGENCE OF ANTS.
By GEORGE J. ROMANES.
II.

I HAVE now presented some of the most curious and interesting facts concerning the intelligence of ants in general; I shall next proceed to state some of the more remarkable facts concerning the intelligence of certain species of ants in particular.

Leaf-cutting Ants of the Amazon.—The mode of working practiced by these ants is thus described by Bates:

They mount a tree in multitudes. . . . Each one places itself on the surface of a leaf, and cuts with its sharp, scissors-like jaws a nearly semicircular incision on the upper side; it then takes the edge between its jaws, and by a sharp jerk detaches the piece. Sometimes they let the leaf drop to the ground, where a little heap accumulates, until carried off by another relay of workers; but generally each marches off with the piece it has operated on, and, as all take the same road to the colony, the path they follow becomes in a short time smooth and bare, looking like the impression of a cart-wheel through the herbage.

Other observers have since said that this herbage is regularly felled by the ants in order to make a road. Each ant carries its semicircular piece of leaf upright over its head, so that the home-returning train is rendered very conspicuous. Keener observation shows that this home-returning, or load-carrying, train of workers keeps to one side of the road, while the outgoing, or empty-handed, train keeps to the other side; so that on every road there is a double train of ants going in opposite directions. When the leaves arrive at the nest they are received by a smaller kind of worker, whose duty it is to cut up the pieces into still smaller fragments, whereby the leaves seem to be better fitted for the purpose to which, as we shall presently see, they are put. These smaller workers never take any part in the out-door labor; but they occasionally leave the nest, apparently for the sole purpose of obtaining air and exercise, for when they leave the nest they merely run about doing nothing, and frequently, as in mere sport, mount some of the semicircular pieces of leaf which the carrier-ants are taking to the nest, and so get a ride home.

From his continued observation of these ants Bates concludes—and his opinion has been corroborated by that both of Belt and Müller—that the object of all this labor is a highly remarkable one. The leaves when gathered do not themselves appear to be of any service to the ants as food; but, when cut into small fragments and stored away in the nests, they become suited as a nidus for the growth of a minute kind of fungus on which the ants feed. We may therefore call these insects "gardening ants," inasmuch as all their labor is given to the rearing of nutritious vegetables on artificially prepared soil. They are