Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/366

This page has been validated.

but locusts, potato-beetles, mosquitoes, noisome as they may be considered, are, in comparison with ants, what a promiscuous mob is in comparison with a well-trained and organized army. Each ant, like an experienced soldier, knows—whether rationally or instinctively it matters not—that it will be systematically supported by its comrades. What would be the prospects of agriculture in Western Asia, in Northern Africa, or in the Western States of the American Union, if the locusts, when engaged in desolating a field, were to attack, en masse, any man or bird who should interfere with them? But, on the contrary, they allow themselves to be slaughtered in detail, each indifferent to the fate of his neighbor.

Ants evince that close mutual sympathy which, to an equal extent, can be traced probably in man alone, and which has, in both these cases, proved one of the primary factors in the development of civilization. Had man been devoid of this impulse, he would have remained a mere wandering savage—perhaps a mere anthropoid, occurring as a rare species in equatorial districts. Without a similar impulse, the Ecitons would have ranked among the many solitary species of Hymenoptera. Of the mutual helpfulness of these same Ecitons, Mr. Belt gives us some most interesting cases which came under his own observation: "One day, when watching a small column of these ants (Eciton hamata), I placed a little stone on one of them to secure it. The next that approached, as soon as it discovered its situation, ran backward in an agitated manner, and soon communicated the intelligence to the others. They rushed to the rescue: some bit at the stone and tried to move it; others seized the prisoner by the legs, and tugged with such force that I thought the legs would be pulled off; but they persevered until they got the captive free. I next covered one up with a piece of clay, leaving only the ends of the antennas projecting. It was soon discovered by its fellows, who set to work immediately, and, by biting off pieces of the clay, soon liberated it. Another time I found a very few of them passing along at intervals. I confined one of these under a little piece of clay, with his head projecting. Several ants passed it, but at last one discovered it and tried to pull it up, but it could not. It immediately set off at a great rate, and I thought it had deserted its comrade; but it had only gone for assistance, for in a short time about a dozen ants came hurrying up, evidently fully informed of the circumstances of the case, for they made directly for their imprisoned comrade, and soon set him free. The excitement and ardor with which they carried on their exertions for the rescue could not have been greater if they had been human beings."

Such cases as these are of the greater moment because many other social and semi-social animals treat an unfortunate companion in a very different manner. It is on record that a rook, which had got entangled among the twigs of a tree, was pecked and buffeted to death by its neighbors, despite the efforts of its mate for its protection.