Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/26
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
pretty near to the foot of the nest, as one would naturally do without even thinking that it ought to be done to save the insects some trouble, they very soon busy themselves with putting it back in its place." To save the insects some trouble! What a love for Nature the eighteenth century had, and how differently things are done nowadays! Our entomologists study their ant-hills spade in hand; a stroke of the pick into the mysteries of that underground dwelling costs their feverish passion for inquiry nothing, and yet what a spectacle rewards such barbarity! If the spade uncovers a house of tawny ants (Formica fusea), we see under the arched top a labyrinth of low rooms, of galleries and passages, which penetrates the ground and leads to spacious chambers full of nymphæ in their cocoons, or of larvæ almost as motionless. That ant, larger than the others, which is busily coming and going, is a female; for the common ants, the workmen, have no sex; naturalists call them neuters. The female lays eggs, and some workers, surrounding her, take these, one by one, and pile them in little heaps. The worms, when hatched, would perish without the workers, being able only to lift their heads to show their want of food; a worker comes up and lets them take from between its mandibles such nourishing juices as it has brought from its quest in the fields. When the hour comes for carrying all these papooses into the sun, they carry them up and spread them out on the arched top. If the heat is too strong, or if it rains, they bring them back again at once into rooms of suitable temperature. When the time of their transformation comes, the larva has spun itself a cocoon, but is quite unable to get out of it alone. It is the duty of the workers again to extract it; they cut the silk, tear the shell, release the weak, new-grown creature, and then the old empty cocoons are stored away in a remote chamber. Thus are produced males, females, and neuters. The males and females fly off; some females will come back to lay eggs in the ant-hill; the neuters do not leave it. As soon as they have gained a little strength, they set about all those labors that instinct teaches them—the repair and keeping in order of the ant-hill, inside and without, carrying of useful materials, pursuing plant-lice, and gathering stores of all kinds. Assuredly, these instincts alone are very wonderful; but there remains still another to be spoken of, peculiarly conferred on certain species, and which is indisputably the highest of all those we know among animals.
Peter Huber discovered it on the afternoon of the 17th of June, 1804. The date is a memorable one for biology. He was walking in the environs of Geneva, between four and five o'clock in the evening, when he saw a regiment of great red ants crossing the road. They marched in good order, with a front of three or four inches, and in a column eight or ten feet long. Huber followed them, crossed a hedge with them, and found himself in a meadow. The high grass plainly hindered the march of the army, yet it did not disband; it had its ob-