Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/217

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companions. The manner in which, when on the march, they are directed by their officers, and the promptitude and precision with which a column is sent out to seize any booty indicated by scouting parties, show likewise a completeness and precision of language very different from anything we observe in quadrupeds and birds.

But as to the nature of this language, which Mr. Belt rightly calls "wonderful," we are as yet very much in the dark. Sounds audible to our ears they scarcely can be said to emit. Their principal organs of speech are doubtless the antennæ: with these, when seeking to communicate intelligence, they touch each other in a variety of ways. There can be no doubt that, with organs so flexible and so sensitive, an interchange not merely of emotions but of ideas must be easy.

But there is another channel of communication which deserves to be carefully investigated. We know that the language of vertebrates, or at least of their higher sections, turns on the production or recognition of sounds. What if the language of social insects should be found to depend, in part at least, on the production and recognition of odors? We have already full proof that their sense of smell is developed to a degree of acuteness and delicacy which utterly passes our conceptions of possibility, and to which the scent of the keenest hound presents but a very faint approximation. Collectors of Lepidoptera are well aware that if a virgin female moth of certain species is inclosed in a box, males of the same species will make their appearance from distances which may be relatively pronounced prodigious. As soon, however, as the decoy has been fecundated, this attraction ceases. This is only one among the many phenomena which testify to the wonderful olfactory powers of insects. So much, then, for the recognition of odors. Nor is their production among insects a matter open to doubt. Scents, distinctly perceptible even to our duller organs, are given off by many. The pleasant odor of the musk-beetle, and the offensive smells of the ladybirds, the common ground-beetles, the oil-beetles, the Spanish fly, and the "devil's coach horse"—hence technically named Gœrius olens—are known to every tyro in entomology. The next question is, Are these odors at all under the control of the insect, and capable of being produced, suppressed, or modified at will? We have noticed many instances where the odors of insects became more intense under the influence of anger or alarm. A peculiarly pungent odor is said to issue from a beehive if the inmates are becoming excited.

The possibility of a scent-language among insects must therefore be conceded. Mr. Belt thinks that the Ecitons mark out a track which is to be followed by their comrades by imparting to it some peculiar odor. He says: "At one point I noticed a sort of assembly of about a dozen individuals that appeared in consultation. Suddenly one ant left the conclave, and ran with great speed up the perpendicular face of the cutting without stopping. It was followed by others, which,