Domestic Encyclopædia (1802)/Ant

ANT, or Formica, in zoology, is a genus of insects belonging to the sixth class of the animal kingdom. The characters of this insect are, that there is a small scale between the breast and belly; and the joint is so deep, that the animal appears as if it were almost cut through the body. The females and the neuters, or working ants, which have no sexual characteristics, are furnished with a secret sting; and both the males and females have wings, but the neuters have none. There are eighteen species, which are in general distinguished by their colours.

These insects cohabit in numerous parties, and maintain a sort of republic, not unlike that of the bees. Their nests are in the form of an oblong square, and contain paths which lead to different magazines. Their method of constructing these habitations is truly wonderful. Some of the ants are employed in making the ground firm, by mixing it with a kind of glue, to prevent its crumbling, and falling upon them: others may be seen gathering several twigs, which they use for rafters, by placing them over the paths to support the covering: they lay others across, and upon these, rushes, weeds, and dried grass, which they form into a double declivity, and thus conduct the water from their magazine.

For provisions they secure every thing which, to them, is eatable, and we may often observe one loaded with a dead fly, sometimes several together with the carcass of a may-bug, or other large insect; and, if they cannot transport it, they consume part of it upon the spot, at least so much as may reduce it to a bulk adequate to their strength. They lay up hoards of wheat and other corn; and, for fear it should sprout from the moisture of their subterraneous cells, they gnaw off the end which would produce the blade. It is remarkable, that if one ant meets another which is loaded, it always gives way, or will help it, if it be over-burthened. Indeed, the strength of this little animal is astonishing, as one of them will frequently drag a burthen many times heavier than itself!

On depriving a mouse or other small animal of its skin, and placing it on an ant-hill, in a little box, perforated in several parts, so as to admit a free passage for the ants, it will be found, in a few days, converted into the most perfect skeleton.

The ant deposits her eggs in the manner of the common flies, and from these eggs are hatched the larvæ, a sort of small maggots, or worms without legs; which, after a short time, change into large white aurelia, or chrysalids, usually called ant's eggs.

Although ants are considered as injurious to husbandry, by making their hills, and impairing the grass upon pasture land, yet they are unjustly reproached with damaging fruit-trees. In Switzerland, they are made subservient to the destruction of caterpillars, by hanging a pouch filled with ants upon a tree, whence they are suffered to make their escape, through an aperture, and over-run all its branches, without being able to reach the ground, as the trunk has been previously smeared with wet clay, or soft pitch, in consequence of which, impelled by hunger, they fall upon the caterpillars, and devour them.

Ants have also been successfully used in medicine. By distillation, they afford an acid liquor, which, when mixed with brandy, is by many considered as a strengthening nervous cordial; they have also been added to warm baths, when used for the gout and sprained limbs.

We shall now proceed to state several methods of destroying this numerous insect. The most simple of these is, to pour boiling water into the apertures of their hillocks. By mixing soot with cold water, and pouring it at the roots of trees infested by them, they will speedily be destroyed. Besides that already mentioned, there is another simple expedient, to prevent them from descending a tree which they visit. Nothing farther is required than to mark with a piece of common chalk a circle round its trunk, about two feet from the ground, and about an inch or two in breadth: as soon as the ants arrive at this ring, not one will attempt to cross it. This curious experiment, however, should be performed in dry weather, and the ring must be renewed, when partly washed off by rain.

The small garden-ants, which are supposed to devour the young shoots of fruit-trees, may be destroyed, by placing among them a number of large ants, which are commonly found in the woods; as there prevails between these two species of insects so strong an antipathy, that the larger sort attack the smaller, and never relinquish the combat till they have extirpated, or driven their antagoniots from the neighbourhood.

Mr. Clutterbuck, jun. of Watford, washed the walls of his hot-house with a painter's brush, dipped in a solution made of four ounces of sublimate, in two gallons of water; and since that application, neither the red spider, against which this remedy was employed, nor ants have made their appearance.

One of the most effectual methods of dispersing these troublesome insects from plantations and gardens, we believe, is that mentioned in the Encyclopædia Britannica; on the authority of which we shall communicate it to our readers: "A small quantity of human feces, when placed into their hills, will not only destroy great numbers, but expel the rest from their habitations."