Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/367

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

Facts are not wanting which show that the social organization of ants takes cognizance of sanitary matters. In Australia they have been known to bury their dead, not without some degree of formality[1] according to their caste. In experimental formicaries in this country, ants have been observed to throw the bodies of their dead companions into the water surrounding their dwellings. In the nests of almost all species great care is taken to preserve cleanliness. The agricultural ant of Texas removes any offensive matter placed near its city, and will even take the trouble to carry away the droppings of cattle that have fallen on its cleared ground. Any dung-rolling beetle which brings its ball of ordure within these sacred precincts is at once attacked and put to death, and the nuisance is quickly cut to pieces and carried to a distance.

Nor are laws on other matters wanting. Ants who have, from some unknown cause, refused to work have been observed to be put to death. Among the agricultural ants, prisoners have been known to be brought in by a fellow-citizen and handed over in a very rough manner to the guards, who are always on duty on the level ground before the city, and who carry off the offender into the underground passages. What is his after-fate is not known. It is almost needless to point out that even the faintest rudiment of law proves the existence of some notions of right and wrong, as well as of a power of communication which must go into minute details.

We have now to deal with the great question whether the civilization of ants, like that of man, has been gradually and slowly developed by the accumulation of experience, or whether—as the believers in the fixity of habits and instincts still contend—it is primordial, coexistent with the species in all the details which we now observe. Direct historical evidence is here yet more difficult to obtain than as concerns animal structure. We smile, with just reason, at the French savants of the Egyptian Expedition, who imagined that, by the study of the animal-mummies there preserved, they might gain some light on, or rather find some argument against, the mutation of species. At the same time, we readily admit that, could we find a complete series of skeletons, anatomical preparations, or even photographs of the best-known animals, made at intervals of a century, and extending backward for say a hundred thousand years, the doctrine of evolution would be brought to a crucial test. But, concerning the former habits and instincts of animals, correct information is far more difficult to obtain. The "stone-book" is silent or oracularly vague. Even if we had written documents left us by some naturalist of the Miocene ages—if we can suppose such a being to have existed—what security should we have for the accuracy and the completeness of his researches?

To meet this difficulty an attempt, remarkable for its subtile in-

  1. Journal of Linnæan Society, vol. v., p. 217.