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CHAP. 36. (30.)—ANTS.

The greater part of the insects produce a maggot. Ants also produce one in spring, which is similar to an egg,1 and they work in common, like bees; but whereas the last make their food, the former only store2 it away. If a person only compares the burdens which the ants carry with the size of their bodies, he must confess that there is no animal which, in proportion, is possessed of a greater degree of strength. These burdens they carry with the mouth, but when it is too large to admit of that, they turn their backs to it, and push it onwards with their feet, while they use their utmost energies with their shoulders. These insects, also, have a political community among themselves, and are possessed of both memory and foresight. They gnaw each grain before they lay it by, for fear lest it should shoot while under ground; those grains, again, which are too large for admission, they divide at the entrance of their holes; and those which have become soaked by the rain, they bring out and dry.3 They work, too, by night, during the full moon; but when there is no moon, they cease working. And then, too, in their labours, what ardour they display, what wondrous carefulness! Because they collect their stores from different quarters, in ignorance of the proceedings of one another, they have certain days set apart for holding a kind of market, on which they meet together and take stock.4 What vast throngs are then to be seen hurrying together, what anxious enquiries appear to be made, and what earnest parleys5 are going on among them as they meet! We see even the very stones worn away by their footsteps, and roads beaten down by being the scene of their labours. Let no one be in doubt, then, how much assiduity and application, even in the very humblest of objects, can upon every occasion effect! Ants are the only living beings, besides man, that bestow burial on the dead. In Sicily there are no winged ants to be found.

(31.) The horns of an Indian ant, suspended in the temple of Hercules, at Erythræ,6 have been looked upon as quite miraculous for their size. This ant excavates gold from holes, in a country in the north of India, the inhabitants of which are known as the Dardæ. It has the colour of a cat, and is in size as large as an Egyptian wolf.7 This gold, which it extracts in the winter, is taken by the Indians during the heats of summer, while the ants are compelled, by the excessive warmth, to hide themselves in their holes. Still, however, on being aroused by catching the scent of the Indians, they sally forth, and frequently tear them to pieces, though provided with the swiftest camels for the purpose of flight; so great is their fleetness, combined with their ferocity and their passion for gold!

1 What are commonly called ants' eggs, are in reality their larvæ and nymphæ. Enveloped in a sort of tunic, these last, Cuvier says, are like grains of corn, and from this probably has arisen the story that they lay up grains against the winter, a period through which in reality they do not eat.

2 They stow away bits of meat and detached portions of fruit, to nourish their larvæ with their juices.

3 It is in reality their larvæ that they thus bring out to dry. The working ants, or neutrals, are the ones on which these labours devolve; the males and females are winged, the working ants are without wings.

4 "Ad recognitionem mutuam."

5 Some modern writers express an opinion that when they meet, they converse and encourage one another by the medium of touch and smell.

6 See B. v. c. 31.

7 M. de Veltheim thinks that by this is really meant the Canis corsac, the small fox of India, but that by some mistake it was represented by travellers as an ant. It is not improbable, Cuvier says, that some quadruped, in making holes in the ground, may have occasionally thrown up some grains of the precious metal. The story is derived from the narratives of Clearchus and Megasthenes. Another interpretation of this story has also been suggested. We find from some remarks of Mr. Wilson, in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society, on the Mahabharata, a Sanscrit poem, that various tribes on the mountains Meru and Mandara (supposed to lie between Hindostan and Tibet) used to sell grains of gold, which they called paippilaka, or "ant-gold," which, they said, was thrown up by ants, in Sanscrit called pippilaka. In travelling westward, this story, in itself, no doubt, untrue, may very probably have been magnified to its present dimensions.

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