Go To The Ant by Grant Allen

Story type: Essay

In the market-place at Santa Fe, in Mexico, peasant women from the neighbouring villages bring in for sale trayfuls of living ants, each about as big and round as a large white currant, and each entirely filled with honey or grape sugar, much appreciated by the ingenuous Mexican youth as an excellent substitute for Everton toffee. The method of eating them would hardly command the approbation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It is simple and primitive, but decidedly not humane. Ingenuous youth holds the ant by its head and shoulders, sucks out the honey with which the back part is absurdly distended, and throws away the empty body as a thing with which it has now no further sympathy. Maturer age buys the ants by the quart, presses out the honey through a muslin strainer, and manufactures it into a very sweet intoxicating drink, something like shandygaff, as I am credibly informed by bold persons who have ventured to experiment upon it, taken internally.

The curious insect which thus serves as an animated sweetmeat for the Mexican children is the honey-ant of the Garden of the Gods; and it affords a beautiful example of Mandeville’s charming paradox that personal vices are public benefits–vitia privata humana commoda. The honey-ant is a greedy individual who has nevertheless nobly devoted himself for the good of the community by converting himself into a living honey-jar, from which all the other ants in his own nest may help themselves freely from time to time, as occasion demands. The tribe to which he belongs lives underground, in a dome-roofed vault, and only one particular caste among the workers, known as rotunds from their expansive girth, is told off for this special duty of storing honey within their own bodies. Clinging to the top of their nest, with their round, transparent abdomens hanging down loosely, mere globules of skin enclosing the pale amber-coloured honey, these Daniel Lamberts of the insect race look for all the world like clusters of the little American Delaware grapes, with an ant’s legs and head stuck awkwardly on to the end instead of a stalk. They have, in fact, realised in everyday life the awful fate of Mr. Gilbert’s discontented sugar-broker, who laid on flesh and ‘adipose deposit’ until he became converted at last into a perfect rolling ball of globular humanity.

The manners of the honey-ant race are very simple. Most of the members of each community are active and roving in their dispositions, and show no tendency to undue distension of the nether extremities. They go out at night and collect nectar or honey-dew from the gall-insects on oak-trees; for the gall-insect, like love in the old Latin saw, is fruitful both in sweets and bitters, melle et felle. This nectar they then carry home, and give it to the rotunds or honey-bearers, who swallow it and store it in their round abdomen until they can hold no more, having stretched their skins literally to the very point of bursting. They pass their time, like the Fat Boy in ‘Pickwick,’ chiefly in sleeping, but they cling upside down meanwhile to the roof of their residence. When the workers in turn require a meal, they go up to the nearest honey-bearer and stroke her gently with their antennae. The honey-bearer thereupon throws up her head and regurgitates a large drop of the amber liquid. (‘Regurgitates’ is a good word which I borrow from Dr. McCook, of Philadelphia, the great authority upon honey-ants; and it saves an immense deal of trouble in looking about for a respectable periphrasis.) The workers feed upon the drops thus exuded, two or three at once often standing around the living honey-jar, and lapping nectar together from the lips of their devoted comrade. This may seem at first sight rather an unpleasant practice on the part of the ants; but after all, how does it really differ from our own habit of eating honey which has been treated in very much the same unsophisticated manner by the domestic bee?

Worse things than these, however, Dr. McCook records to the discredit of the Colorado honey-ant. When he was opening some nests in the Garden of the Gods, he happened accidentally to knock down some of the rotunds, which straightway burst asunder in the middle, and scattered their store of honey on the floor of the nest. At once the other ants, tempted away from their instinctive task of carrying off the cocoons and young grubs, clustered around their unfortunate companion, like street boys around a broken molasses barrel, and, instead of forming themselves forthwith into a volunteer ambulance company, proceeded immediately to lap up the honey from their dying brother. On the other hand it must be said, to the credit of the race, that (unlike the members of Arctic expeditions) they never desecrate the remains of the dead. When a honey-bearer dies at his post, a victim to his zeal for the common good, the workers carefully remove his cold corpse from the roof where it still clings, clip off the head and shoulders from the distended abdomen, and convey their deceased brother piecemeal, in two detachments, to the formican cemetery, undisturbed. If they chose, they might only bury the front half of their late relation, while they retained his remaining moiety as an available honey-bag: but from this cannibal proceeding ant-etiquette recoils in decent horror; and the amber globes are ‘pulled up galleries, rolled along rooms, and bowled into the graveyard, along with the juiceless heads, legs, and other members.’ Such fraternal conduct would be very creditable to the worker honey-ants, were it not for a horrid doubt insinuated by Dr. McCook that perhaps the insects don’t know they could get at the honey by breaking up the body of their lamented relative. If so, their apparent disregard of utilitarian considerations may really be due not to their sentimentality but to their hopeless stupidity.

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The reason why the ants have taken thus to storing honey in the living bodies of their own fellows is easy enough to understand. They want to lay up for the future like prudent insects that they are; but they can’t make wax, as the bees do, and they have not yet evolved the purely human art of pottery. Consequently–happy thought–why not tell off some of our number to act as jars on behalf of the others? Some of the community work by going out and gathering honey; they also serve who only stand and wait–who receive it from the workers, and keep it stored up in their own capacious indiarubber maws till further notice. So obvious is this plan for converting ants into animated honey-jars, that several different kinds of ants in different parts of the world, belonging to the most widely distinct families, have independently hit upon the very self-same device. Besides the Mexican species, there is a totally different Australian honey-ant, and another equally separate in Borneo and Singapore. This last kind does not store the honey in the hind part of the body technically known as the abdomen, but in the middle division which naturalists call the thorax, where it forms a transparent bladder-like swelling, and makes the creature look as though it were suffering with an acute attack of dropsy. In any case, the life of a honey-bearer must be singularly uneventful, not to say dull and monotonous; but no doubt any small inconvenience in this respect must be more than compensated for by the glorious consciousness that one is sacrificing one’s own personal comfort for the common good of universal anthood. Perhaps, however, the ants have not yet reached the Positivist stage, and may be totally ignorant of the enthusiasm of formicity.

Equally curious are the habits and manners of the harvesting ants, the species which Solomon seems to have had specially in view when he advised his hearers to go to the ant–a piece of advice which I have also adopted as the title of the present article, though I by no means intend thereby to insinuate that the readers of this volume ought properly to be classed as sluggards. These industrious little creatures abound in India: they are so small that it takes eight or ten of them to carry a single grain of wheat or barley; and yet they will patiently drag along their big burden for five hundred or a thousand yards to the door of their formicary. To prevent the grain from germinating, they bite off the embryo root–a piece of animal intelligence outdone by another species of ant, which actually allows the process of budding to begin, so as to produce sugar, as in malting. After the last thunderstorms of the monsoon the little proprietors bring up all the grain from their granaries to dry in the tropical sunshine. The quantity of grain stored up by the harvesting ants is often so large that the hair-splitting Jewish casuists of the Mishna have seriously discussed the question whether it belongs to the landowner or may lawfully be appropriated by the gleaners. ‘They do not appear,’ says Sir John Lubbock, ‘to have considered the rights of the ants.’ Indeed our duty towards insects is a question which seems hitherto to have escaped the notice of all moral philosophers. Even Mr. Herbert Spencer, the prophet of individualism, has never taken exception to our gross disregard of the proprietary rights of bees in their honey, or of silkworms in their cocoons. There are signs, however, that the obtuse human conscience is awakening in this respect; for when Dr. Loew suggested to bee-keepers the desirability of testing the commercial value of honey-ants, as rivals to the bee, Dr. McCook replied that ‘the sentiment against the use of honey thus taken from living insects, which is worthy of all respect, would not be easily overcome.’

There are no harvesting ants in Northern Europe, though they extend as far as Syria, Italy, and the Riviera, in which latter station I have often observed them busily working. What most careless observers take for grain in the nests of English ants are of course really the cocoons of the pupae. For many years, therefore, entomologists were under the impression that Solomon had fallen into this popular error, and that when he described the ant as ‘gathering her food in the harvest’ and ‘preparing her meat in the summer,’ he was speaking rather as a poet than as a strict naturalist. Later observations, however, have vindicated the general accuracy of the much-married king by showing that true harvesting ants do actually occur in Syria, and that they lay by stores for the winter in the very way stated by that early entomologist, whose knowledge of ‘creeping things’ is specially enumerated in the long list of his universal accomplishments.

Dr. Lincecum of Texan fame has even improved upon Solomon by his discovery of those still more interesting and curious creatures, the agricultural ants of Texas. America is essentially a farming country, and the agricultural ants are born farmers. They make regular clearings around their nests, and on these clearings they allow nothing to grow except a particular kind of grain, known as ant-rice. Dr. Lincecum maintains that the tiny farmers actually sow and cultivate the ant-rice. Dr. McCook, on the other hand, is of opinion that the rice sows itself, and that the insects’ part is limited to preventing any other plants or weeds from encroaching on the appropriated area. In any case, be they squatters or planters, it is certain that the rice, when ripe, is duly harvested, and that it is, to say the least, encouraged by the ants, to the exclusion of all other competitors. ‘After the maturing and harvesting of the seed,’ says Dr. Lincecum, ‘the dry stubble is cut away and removed from the pavement, which is thus left fallow until the ensuing autumn, when the same species of grass, and in the same circle, appears again, and receives the same agricultural care as did the previous crop.’ Sir John Lubbock, indeed, goes so far as to say that the three stages of human progress–the hunter, the herdsman, and the agriculturist–are all to be found among various species of existing ants.

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The Saueba ants of tropical America carry their agricultural operations a step further. Dwelling in underground nests, they sally forth upon the trees, and cut out of the leaves large round pieces, about as big as a shilling. These pieces they drop upon the ground, where another detachment is in waiting to convey them to the galleries of the nest. There they store enormous quantities of these round pieces, which they allow to decay in the dark, so as to form a sort of miniature mushroom bed. On the mouldering vegetable heap they have thus piled up, they induce a fungus to grow, and with this fungus they feed their young grubs during their helpless infancy. Mr. Belt, the ‘Naturalist in Nicaragua,’ found that native trees suffered far less from their depredations than imported ones. The ants hardly touched the local forests, but they stripped young plantations of orange, coffee, and mango trees stark naked. He ingeniously accounts for this curious fact by supposing that an internecine struggle has long been going on in the countries inhabited by the Sauebas between the ants and the forest trees. Those trees that best resisted the ants, owing either to some unpleasant taste or to hardness of foliage, have in the long run survived destruction; but those which were suited for the purpose of the ants have been reduced to nonentity, while the ants in turn were getting slowly adapted to attack other trees. In this way almost all the native trees have at last acquired some special means of protection against the ravages of the leaf-cutters; so that they immediately fall upon all imported and unprotected kinds as their natural prey. This ingenious and wholly satisfactory explanation must of course go far to console the Brazilian planters for the frequent loss of their orange and coffee crops.

Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of the Darwinian theory (whose honours he waived with rare generosity in favour of the older and more distinguished naturalist), tells a curious story about the predatory habits of these same Sauebas. On one occasion, when he was wandering about in search of specimens on the Rio Negro, he bought a peck of rice, which was tied up, Indian fashion, in the local bandanna of the happy plantation slave. At night he left his rice incautiously on the bench of the hut where he was sleeping; and next morning the Sauebas had riddled the handkerchief like a sieve, and carried away a gallon of the grain for their own felonious purposes. The underground galleries which they dig can often be traced for hundreds of yards; and Mr. Hamlet Clarke even asserts that in one case they have tunnelled under the bed of a river where it is a quarter of a mile wide. This beats Brunel on his own ground into the proverbial cocked hat, both for depth and distance.

Within doors, in the tropics, ants are apt to put themselves obtrusively forward in a manner little gratifying to any except the enthusiastically entomological mind. The winged females, after their marriage flight, have a disagreeable habit of flying in at the open doors and windows at lunch time, settling upon the table like the Harpies in the AEneid, and then quietly shuffling off their wings one at a time, by holding them down against the table-cloth with one leg, and running away vigorously with the five others. As soon as they have thus disembarrassed themselves of their superfluous members, they proceed to run about over the lunch as if the house belonged to them, and to make a series of experiments upon the edible qualities of the different dishes. One doesn’t so much mind their philosophical inquiries into the nature of the bread or even the meat; but when they come to drowning themselves by dozens, in the pursuit of knowledge, in the soup and sherry, one feels bound to protest energetically against the spirit of martyrdom by which they are too profoundly animated. That is one of the slight drawbacks of the realms of perpetual summer; in the poets you see only one side of the picture–the palms, the orchids, the humming-birds, the great trailing lianas: in practical life you see the reverse side–the thermometer at 98 deg., the tepid drinking-water, the prickly heat, the perpetual languor, the endless shoals of aggressive insects. A lady of my acquaintance, indeed, made a valuable entomological collection in her own dining-room, by the simple process of consigning to pill-boxes all the moths and flies and beetles that settled upon the mangoes and star-apples in the course of dessert.

Another objectionable habit of the tropical ants, viewed practically, is their total disregard of vested interests in the case of house property. Like Mr. George and his communistic friends, they disbelieve entirely in the principle of private rights in real estate. They will eat their way through the beams of your house till there is only a slender core of solid wood left to support the entire burden. I have taken down a rafter in my own house in Jamaica, originally 18 inches thick each way, with a sound circular centre of no more than 6 inches in diameter, upon which all the weight necessarily fell. With the material extracted from the wooden beams they proceed to add insult to injury by building long covered galleries right across the ceiling of your drawing-room. As may be easily imagined, these galleries do not tend to improve the appearance of the ceiling; and it becomes necessary to form a Liberty and Property Defence League for the protection of one’s personal interests against the insect enemy. I have no objection to ants building galleries on their own freehold, or even to their nationalising the land in their native forests; but I do object strongly to their unwarrantable intrusion upon the domain of private life. Expostulation and active warfare, however, are equally useless. The carpenter-ant has no moral sense, and is not amenable either to kindness or blows. On one occasion, when a body of these intrusive creatures had constructed an absurdly conspicuous brown gallery straight across the ceiling of my drawing-room, I determined to declare open war against them, and, getting my black servant to bring in the steps and a mop, I proceeded to demolish the entire gallery just after breakfast. It was about 20 feet long, as well as I can remember, and perhaps an inch in diameter. At one o’clock I returned to lunch. My black servant pointed, with a broad grin on his intelligent features, to the wooden ceiling. I looked up; in those three hours the carpenter-ants had reconstructed the entire gallery, and were doubtless mocking me at their ease, with their uplifted antennae, under that safe shelter. I retired at once from the unequal contest. It was clearly impossible to go on knocking down a fresh gallery every three hours of the day or night throughout a whole lifetime.

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Ants, says Mr. Wallace, without one touch of satire, ‘force themselves upon the attention of everyone who visits the tropics.’ They do, indeed, and that most pungently; if by no other method, at least by the simple and effectual one of stinging. The majority of ants in every nest are of course neuters, or workers, that is to say, strictly speaking, undeveloped females, incapable of laying eggs. But they still retain the ovipositor, which is converted into a sting, and supplied with a poisonous liquid to eject afterwards into the wound. So admirably adapted to its purpose is this beautiful provision of nature, that some tropical ants can sting with such violence as to make your leg swell and confine you for some days to your room; while cases have even been known in which the person attacked has fainted with pain, or had a serious attack of fever in consequence. It is not every kind of ant, however, that can sting; a great many can only bite with their little hard horny jaws, and then eject a drop of formic poison afterwards into the hole caused by the bite. The distinction is a delicate physiological one, not much appreciated by the victims of either mode of attack. The perfect females can also sting, but not, of course, the males, who are poor, wretched, useless creatures, only good as husbands for the community, and dying off as soon as they have performed their part in the world–another beautiful provision, which saves the workers the trouble of killing them off, as bees do with drones after the marriage flight of the queen bee.

The blind driver-ants of West Africa are among the very few species that render any service to man, and that, of course, only incidentally. Unlike most other members of their class, the driver-ants have no settled place of residence; they are vagabonds and wanderers upon the face of the earth, formican tramps, blind beggars, who lead a gipsy existence, and keep perpetually upon the move, smelling their way cautiously from one camping-place to another. They march by night, or on cloudy days, like wise tropical strategists, and never expose themselves to the heat of the day in broad sunshine, as though they were no better than the mere numbered British Tommy Atkins at Coomassie or in the Soudan. They move in vast armies across country, driving everything before them as they go; for they belong to the stinging division, and are very voracious in their personal habits. Not only do they eat up the insects in their line of march, but they fall even upon larger creatures and upon big snakes, which they attack first in the eyes, the most vulnerable portion. When they reach a negro village the inhabitants turn out en masse, and run away, exactly as if the visitors were English explorers or brave Marines, bent upon retaliating for the theft of a knife by nobly burning down King Tom’s town or King Jumbo’s capital. Then the negroes wait in the jungle till the little black army has passed on, after clearing out the huts by the way of everything eatable. When they return they find their calabashes and saucepans licked clean, but they also find every rat, mouse, lizard, cockroach, gecko, and beetle completely cleared out from the whole village. Most of them have cut and run at the first approach of the drivers; of the remainder, a few blanched and neatly-picked skeletons alone remain to tell the tale.

As I wish to be considered a veracious historian, I will not retail the further strange stories that still find their way into books of natural history about the manners and habits of these blind marauders. They cross rivers, the West African gossips declare, by a number of devoted individuals flinging themselves first into the water as a living bridge, like so many six-legged Marcus Curtiuses, while over their drowning bodies the heedless remainder march in safety to the other side. If the story is not true, it is at least well invented; for the ant-commonwealth everywhere carries to the extremest pitch the old Roman doctrine of the absolute subjection of the individual to the State. So exactly is this the case that in some species there are a few large, overgrown, lazy ants in each nest, which do no work themselves, but accompany the workers on their expeditions; and the sole use of these idle mouths seems to be to attract the attention of birds and other enemies, and so distract it from the useful workers, the mainstay of the entire community. It is almost as though an army, marching against a tribe of cannibals, were to place itself in the centre of a hollow square formed of all the fattest people in the country, whose fine condition and fitness for killing might immediately engross the attention of the hungry enemy. Ants, in fact, have, for the most part, already reached the goal set before us as a delightful one by most current schools of socialist philosophers, in which the individual is absolutely sacrificed in every way to the needs of the community.

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The most absurdly human, however, among all the tricks and habits of ants are their well known cattle-farming and slaveholding instincts. Everybody has heard, of course, how they keep the common rose-blight as milch cows, and suck from them the sweet honey-dew. But everybody, probably, does not yet know the large number of insects which they herd in one form or another as domesticated animals. Man has, at most, some twenty or thirty such, including cows, sheep, horses, donkeys, camels, llamas, alpacas, reindeer, dogs, cats, canaries, pigs, fowl, ducks, geese, turkeys, and silkworms. But ants have hundreds and hundreds, some of them kept obviously for purposes of food; others apparently as pets; and yet others again, as has been plausibly suggested, by reason of superstition or as objects of worship. There is a curious blind beetle which inhabits ants’ nests, and is so absolutely dependent upon its hosts for support that it has even lost the power of feeding itself. It never quits the nest, but the ants bring it in food and supply it by putting the nourishment actually into its mouth. But the beetle, in return, seems to secrete a sweet liquid (or it may even be a stimulant like beer, or a narcotic like tobacco) in a tuft of hairs near the bottom of the hard wing-cases, and the ants often lick this tuft with every appearance of satisfaction and enjoyment. In this case, and in many others, there can be no doubt that the insects are kept for the sake of food or some other advantage yielded by them.

But there are other instances of insects which haunt ants’ nests, which it is far harder to account for on any hypothesis save that of superstitious veneration. There is a little weevil that runs about by hundreds in the galleries of English ants, in and out among the free citizens, making itself quite at home in their streets and public places, but as little noticed by the ants themselves as dogs are in our own cities. Then, again, there is a white woodlouse, something like the common little armadillo, but blind from having lived so long underground, which walks up and down the lanes and alleys of antdom, without ever holding any communication of any sort with its hosts and neighbours. In neither case has Sir John Lubbock ever seen an ant take the slightest notice of the presence of these strange fellow-lodgers. ‘One might almost imagine,’ he says, ‘that they had the cap of invisibility.’ Yet it is quite clear that the ants deliberately sanction the residence of the weevils and woodlice in their nests, for any unauthorised intruder would immediately be set upon and massacred outright.

Sir John Lubbock suggests that they may perhaps be tolerated as scavengers: or, again, it is possible that they may prey upon the eggs or larvae of some of the parasites to whose attacks the ants are subject. In the first case, their use would be similar to that of the wild dogs in Constantinople or the common black John-crow vultures in tropical America: in the second case, they would be about equivalent to our own cats or to the hedgehog often put in farmhouse kitchens to keep down cockroaches.

The crowning glory of owning slaves, which many philosophic Americans (before the war) showed to be the highest and noblest function of the most advanced humanity, has been attained by more than one variety of anthood. Our great English horse-ant is a moderate slaveholder; but the big red ant of Southern Europe carries the domestic institution many steps further. It makes regular slave-raids upon the nests of the small brown ants, and carries off the young in their pupa condition. By-and-by the brown ants hatch out in the strange nest, and never having known any other life except that of slavery, accommodate themselves to it readily enough. The red ant, however, is still only an occasional slaveowner; if necessary, he can get along by himself, without the aid of his little brown servants. Indeed, there are free states and slave states of red ants side by side with one another, as of old in Maryland and Pennsylvania: in the first, the red ants do their work themselves, like mere vulgar Ohio farmers; in the second, they get their work done for them by their industrious little brown servants, like the aristocratic first families of Virginia before the earthquake of emancipation.

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But there are other degraded ants, whose life-history may be humbly presented to the consideration of the Anti-Slavery Society, as speaking more eloquently than any other known fact for the demoralising effect of slaveowning upon the slaveholders themselves. The Swiss rufescent ant is a species so long habituated to rely entirely upon the services of slaves that it is no longer able to manage its own affairs when deprived by man of its hereditary bondsmen. It has lost entirely the art of constructing a nest; it can no longer tend its own young, whom it leaves entirely to the care of negro nurses; and its bodily structure even has changed, for the jaws have lost their teeth, and have been converted into mere nippers, useful only as weapons of war. The rufescent ant, in fact, is a purely military caste, which has devoted itself entirely to the pursuit of arms, leaving every other form of activity to its slaves and dependents. Officers of the old school will be glad to learn that this military insect is dressed, if not in scarlet, at any rate in very decent red, and that it refuses to be bothered in any way with questions of transport or commissariat. If the community changes its nest, the masters are carried on the backs of their slaves to the new position, and the black ants have to undertake the entire duty of foraging and bringing in stores of supply for their gentlemanly proprietors. Only when war is to be made upon neighbouring nests does the thin red line form itself into long file for active service. Nothing could be more perfectly aristocratic than the views of life entertained and acted upon by these distinguished slaveholders.

On the other hand, the picture has its reverse side, exhibiting clearly the weak points of the slaveholding system. The rufescent ant has lost even the very power of feeding itself. So completely dependent is each upon his little black valet for daily bread, that he cannot so much as help himself to the food that is set before him. Hueber put a few slaveholders into a box with some of their own larvae and pupae, and a supply of honey, in order to see what they would do with them. Appalled at the novelty of the situation, the slaveholders seemed to come to the conclusion that something must be done; so they began carrying the larvae about aimlessly in their mouths, and rushing up and down in search of the servants. After a while, however, they gave it up and came to the conclusion that life under such circumstances was clearly intolerable. They never touched the honey, but resigned themselves to their fate like officers and gentlemen. In less than two days, half of them had died of hunger, rather than taste a dinner which was not supplied to them by a properly constituted footman. Admiring their heroism or pitying their incapacity, Hueber at last gave them just one slave between them all. The plucky little negro, nothing daunted by the gravity of the situation, set to work at once, dug a small nest, gathered together the larvae, helped several pupae out of the cocoon, and saved the lives of the surviving slaveowners. Other naturalists have tried similar experiments, and always with the same result. The slaveowners will starve in the midst of plenty rather than feed themselves without attendance. Either they cannot or will not put the food into their own mouths with their own mandibles.

There are yet other ants, such as the workerless Anergates, in which the degradation of slaveholding has gone yet further. These wretched creatures are the formican representatives of those Oriental despots who are no longer even warlike, but are sunk in sloth and luxury, and pass their lives in eating bang or smoking opium. Once upon a time, Sir John Lubbock thinks, the ancestors of Anergates were marauding slaveowners, who attacked and made serfs of other ants. But gradually they lost not only their arts but even their military prowess, and were reduced to making war by stealth instead of openly carrying off their slaves in fair battle. It seems probable that they now creep into a nest of the far more powerful slave ants, poison or assassinate the queen, and establish themselves by sheer usurpation in the queenless nest. ‘Gradually,’ says Sir John Lubbock, ‘even their bodily force dwindled away under the enervating influence to which they had subjected themselves, until they sank to their present degraded condition–weak in body and mind, few in numbers, and apparently nearly extinct, the miserable representatives of far superior ancestors maintaining a precarious existence as contemptible parasites of their former slaves.’ One may observe in passing that these wretched do-nothings cannot have been the ants which Solomon commended to the favourable consideration of the sluggard; though it is curious that the text was never pressed into the service of defence for the peculiar institution by the advocates of slavery in the South, who were always most anxious to prove the righteousness of their cause by most sure and certain warranty of Holy Scripture.

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