By Dr. WILLIAM MORTON WHEELER,
AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
OBSERVERS of ant behavior have almost invariably fixed their attention on the easily procurable workers, to the all but, complete neglect of the males and queens. In the case of the males, this neglect is, perhaps, pardonable, for the behavior of this sex is extremely monotonous. The neglect of the queens, however, as I shall endeavor to show, has not only left untouched a very interesting subject of study, but is responsible for much useless speculation.
Mention of the queen ant unfortunately suggests by association the idea of the queen honey-bee. These two insects are, however, in certain very important respects diametrical opposites. The queen honey-bee is a degenerate creature, unable to nourish herself or her young, to visit the flowers, build or store the comb; while the worker bee, apart from her normal infertility, still retains intact all the true female attributes of the ancestral solitary bees. In ants the very reverse of this is true: the queen is the perfect exemplar and embodiment of the species and has lost none of the primitive female attributes of independence and initiative, which she shares with the female bumble bees, solitary and social wasps. The worker ant, on the contrary, bears all the stigmata of incomplete and retarded development. Although these differences between the queen honey-bee and queen ant and between the respective workers must be apparent to the most superficial observer, yet the familiar conception of the queen honey-bee as little more than an egg-laying machine, so degenerate that she can not exist apart from the workers, has been tacitly expanded to embrace the queen ant. Surely it is time that the reputation of this insect should be viewed in a more favorable light.