Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/216

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culty is that, like all finite intelligences, ants are not equally wise on all occasions. Sometimes they hit upon the best expedient for evading or overcoming an obstacle, but sometimes, under circumstances not more complicated, they fail. This is doubtless the case with man himself. If contemplated by some being endowed with higher reasoning powers, would he not be pronounced a most curiously inconsistent mixture of sagacity and stupidity, now solving problems of no small difficulty, and now standing helpless in presence of others even more simple? That such is in reality the case with man is proved by the history of discoveries, and of their reception. Do we not always say when we hear of any great step, whether in scientific theory or in the practical arts, "How simple, how natural!" Yet, simple and natural as it is, all sorts and conditions of men lived for centuries without opening their eyes to it. To those who, on the score of incidental blunders and stupidities, deny the rationality of' animals, we would hold up the ever-memorable "egg" of Columbus, and exclaim, "What, gentlemen, do you expect the ant to be be more uniformly and consistently intelligent than your erudite selves?"

Concerning the language of ants no small diversity of opinion has prevailed; but among actual observers the general conclusion is that these tiny creatures can impart to each other information of a very definite character, and not merely general signals, such as those of alarm. It has been found that ants fetched by a messenger for some especial purpose seem, when they arrive at the spot, to have some knowledge of the task which is awaiting them, and set about it at once without any preliminary investigation. The cases which we quote elsewhere from Mr. Belt are very conclusive on this point. In order to decide whether ants are really fetched to assist in tasks beyond the strength of any one of their number, Sir John Lubbock instituted a very interesting and decisive experiment. It is well known that if the larvæ of ants are taken out of the nest, the workers never rest till they have fetched them back. Sir John Lubbock took a number of larvæ out of his experimental formicary, and placed them aside in two parcels very unequal in number. Each of these lots was soon discovered by an ant, who at once fell to work to carry the larvæ back to the nest, and was soon joined by others, eager to assist. The observer reasoned thus: If these ants have come to the spot by accident, it is probable that the number who arrive at each lot will be approximately equal. On the other hand, if they are intentionally fetched to assist in removing the larvæ, the number in each case will most likely bear some proportion to the amount of work to be done. The result was, that the large heap of larvæ was visited by about three times as many ants as the small one. Hence the inference is plain that ants can call assistance to any task in which they are engaged, that they can form some estimate of the amount of labor that will be required, and can make their views in some manner known to their