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Micrographia - or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon/Chapter 49

Observ. XLIX. Of an Ant or Pismire

THis was a creature, more troublesom to be drawn, then any of the rest, for I could not, for a good while, think of a way to make it suffer its body to ly quiet in a natural posture; but whil'st it was alive, if its feet were fetter'd in Wax or Glew, it would so twist and wind its body, that I could not any wayes get a good view of it; and if I killed it, its body was so little, that I did often spoile the shape of it, before I could throughly view it: for this is the nature of these minute Bodies, that as soon, almost, as ever their life is destroy'd, their parts immediately shrivel, and lose their beauty; and so is it also with small Plants, as I instanced before, in the description of Moss. And thence also is the reason of the variations in the beards of wild Oats, and in those of Musk-grass seed, that their bodies, being exceeding small, those small variations which are made in the surfaces of all bodies, almost upon every change of Air, especially if the body be porous, do here become sensible, where the whole body is so small, that it is almost nothing but surface; for as in vegetable substances, I see no great reason to think, that the moisture of the Aire (that, sticking to a wreath'd beard, does make it untwist) should evaporate, or exhale away, any faster then the moisture of other bodies, but rather that the avolation from, or access of moisture to, the surfaces of bodies being much the same, those bodies become most sensible of it, which have the least proportion of body to their surface. So is it also with Animal substances; the dead body of an Ant, or such little creature, does almost instantly shrivel and dry, and your object shall be quite another thing, before you can half delineate it, which proceeds not from the extraordinary exhalation, but from the small proportion of body and juices, to the usual drying of bodies in the Air, especially if warm. For which inconvenience, where I could not otherwise remove it, I thought of this expedient.

I took the creature, I had design'd to delineate, and put it into a drop of very well rectified spirit of Wine, this I found would presently dispatch, as it were, the Animal, and being taken out of it, and lay'd on a paper, the spirit of Wine would immediately fly away, and leave the Animal dry, in its natural posture, or at least, in a constitution, that it might easily with a pin be plac'd, in what posture you desired to draw it, and the limbs would so remain, without either moving, or shriveling. And thus I dealt with this Ant, which I have here delineated, which was one of many, of a very large kind, that inhabited under the Roots of a Tree, from whence they would sally out in great parties, and make most grievous havock of the Flowers and Fruits, in the ambient Garden, and return back again very expertly, by the same wayes and paths they went.

It was more then half the bigness of an Earwig, of a dark brown, or reddish colour, with long legs, on the hinder of which it would stand up, and raise its head as high as it could above the ground, that it might stare the further about it, just after the same manner as I have also observ'd a hunting Spider to do: and putting my finger towards them, they have at first all run towards it, till almost at it; and then they would stand round about it, at a certain distance, and smell, as it were, and consider whether they should any of them venture any further, till one more bold then the rest venturing to climb it, all the rest, if I would have suffered them, would have immediately followed: many such other seemingly rational actions I have observ'd in this little Vermine with much pleasure, which would be too long to be here related; those that desire more of them may satisfie their curiosity in Ligons History of the Barbadoes.

Having insnar'd several of these into a small Box, I made choice of the tallest grown among them, and separating it from the rest, I gave it a Gill of Brandy, or Spirit of Wine, which after a while e'en knock'd him down dead drunk, so that he became moveless, though at first putting in he struggled for a pretty while very much, till at last, certain bubbles issuing out of its mouth, it ceased to move; this (because I had before found them quickly to recover again, if they were taken out presently) I suffered to lye above an hour in the Spirit; and after I had taken it out, and put its body and legs into a natural posture, remained moveless about an hour; but then, upon a sudden, as if it had been awaken out of a drunken sleep, it suddenly reviv'd and ran away; being caught, and serv'd as before, he for a while continued struggling and striving, till at last there issued several bubbles out of its mouth, and then, tanquam animam expirasset, he remained moveless for a good while; but at length again recovering, it was again redipt, and suffered to lye some hours in the Spirit; notwithstanding which, after it had layen dry some three or four hours, it again recovered life and motion: Which kind of Experiments, if prosecuted, which they highly deserve, seem to me of no inconsiderable use towards the invention of the Latent Scheme, (as the Noble Verulam calls it) or the hidden, unknown Texture of Bodies.

Of what Figure this Creature appear'd through the Microscope, the 32. Scheme (though not so carefully graven as it ought) will represent to the eye, namely, That it had a large head AA, at the upper end of which were two protuberant eyes, pearl'd like those of a Fly, but smaller BB; out of the Nose, or foremost part, issued two horns C C, of a shape sufficiently differing from those of a blew Fly, though indeed they seem to be both the same kind of Organ, and to serve for a kind of smelling; beyond these were two indented jaws D D, which he open'd side-wayes, and was able to gape them asunder very wide; and the ends of them being armed with teeth, which meeting went between each other, it was able to grasp and hold a heavy body, three or four times the bulk and weight of its own body: It had only six legs, shap'd like those of a Fly, which, as I shewed before, is an Argument that it is a winged Insect, and though I could not perceive any sign of them in the middle part of its body (which seem'd to consist of three joints or pieces E F G, out of which sprung two legs), yet 'tis known that there are of them that have long wings, and fly up and down in the air.

The third and last part of its body I I I was bigger and larger then the other two, unto which it was joyn'd by a very small middle, and had a kind of loose shell, or another distinct part of its body H, which seem'd to be interpos'd, and to keep the thorax and belly from touching.

The whole body was cas'd over with a very strong armour, and the belly I I I was covered likewise with multitudes of small white shining brisles; the legs, horns, head, and middle parts of its body were bestuck with hairs also, but smaller and darker.