The New Student's Reference Work/Ant
Ant, an insect related to bees and wasps. More than two thousand species have been described. One authority thinks there are probably as many as 5,000. All ants are social, and live in communities, old ones containing hundreds of thousands of members. Ants of one community are not friendly with those of another; either they have nothing to do with them or quarrel with them. The work of a community is wonderfully portioned out. There are big workers and little workers. In some species there is a class that does the fighting, a soldier class. In a colony are the females, which are largest in size; the males; and the workers or nurses, which are the smallest.
After the pairing season the males are allowed to stray away and soon die. The females and workers are very long-lived. The queens are carefully guarded by the workers, but occasionally one of them escapes and founds a colony. There are four stages in the life history of ants: egg, larva, pupa and perfect insect. The eggs are laid by the queen and carried about by the workers or nurses, exposed to the sunlight during the day and protected from the dampness at night. As soon as the white, legless larvæ are hatched, they are treated in the same way, being fed by a liquid from the stomach of the nurse, until they reach the proper age to spin their own cocoons around them. The cocoons represent the pupa stage; they are commonly called ant-eggs, and are carefully tended by the workers. When ready for their second birth, the young ants are cut out of the inclosing cells.
The workers are the most interesting of the three classes of ants. Besides acting as nurses, they supply all the food and are the builders of their wonderful colonies with their houses and streets, by processes of mining, masonry and carpentry. The mining ants dig long galleries in the clay, removing the rubbish, building pillars to support the work and covering the whole with a thatch of grass stems. The red and yellow field-ants are the masons. They first raise pillars and then spring arches over them, covering them with the loose piles of soil which we know as ant-hills. The carpenter ants bore their cells in the solid timber of trees, side by side, with partitions no thicker than paper. A kind of ant in Australia builds its houses of leaves fastened together with a kind of glue. Ants are very strong, carrying animals for food, or masses of material several times larger than themselves. They eat various kinds of food, both vegetable and animal, other insects, honey, sugar, fruit, etc. They are fond of the honey-dew produced by little insects called aphides, and some kinds of ants capture these insects and use them as milch-cows. Many ants live on decaying vegetable and animal matter. In some hot countries are large, flesh-eating ants, which move in swarms over the land, searching for insects of all kinds, each carrying his prey. In South America, when a swarm is seen approaching, the people leave their houses and let the ants clear out the insects which infest them. In Texas is a kind of farming ant, which is said to plant, cultivate and harvest a kind of grain, laying it up in cells for a rainy day. This kind also "builds paved cities, constructs roads and keeps a large military force."
Some varieties, like the amazon or warrior ant, are slaveholders. They go out on warlike expeditions against tribes of smaller ants and capture their eggs and cocoons, which they bring home, dooming the ants hatched from them to lifelong labor.
The honey ant is a very curious creature, having a distended abdomen filled wholly with honey. Active workers bring in the honey, and it is stored with the honey-bearers. These cling to the ceiling of the underground chambers, and in time of need give forth their store drop by drop.
The common household ants are the little red ants, the small black ant and the pavement ant. Their nests, usually in walls, are very hard to locate. Their presence can be discouraged by spraying with kerosene the crack through which entrance is had to kitchen or pantry.
There are various kinds of ant homes. Some have underground chambers and galleries, some occupy chambers and galleries in decaying wood. Some ants construct mounds. Some build nests of a paste-like substance. In the tropics there is a great variety in materials used and manner of building.
The only insects likely to be mistaken for ants are the termites or white ants, which belong to an entirely different order of insects. These latter live in vast communities, generally in the tropics, and do much damage by eating out the interior of articles of furniture, chairs, tables, sills of houses, etc. They are very productive, one female laying as many as 80,000 eggs. Their homes are very large, sometimes twelve feet high, in the shape of a cone, and so strongly built that a man may stand upon them. The queen is imprisoned in a large chamber in the interior. Ants have been a most interesting object of study from the earliest times; reference being made to them in the Bible and in poetry and fable. Many stories are told of their seeming intelligence, much written of the curious features of their lives—their battles, their mushroom-growing, the many guests they entertain in their colonies, the cleanliness of their homes, etc., etc. See Lubbock: Ants, Bees and Wasps; McCook: The Agricultural Ant; The Honey Ants and Tenants of an Old Farm; Howard: The Insect Book; La Fontaine's fable: The Grasshopper and the Ant.