Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/412

This page has been validated.

queenless nests were always ruthlessly killed, even though-in one case Sir John exhibited the queen for three days to the ant-democracy in a wire cage which protected her from them, in order to accustom them to the sight of royalty. The moment the protecting wire was removed, the queen was attacked and slain, just as if she had been an ordinary alien. Sir John, however, was occasionally able, by the help of a little intrigue—of the Marshal MacMahon kind, but more successful—to obtain a throne for a wandering queen. The way he managed was this: He took a few ants from their nest, and put them, in that disorganized state, with a strange queen. The ants were then in a timorous and diffident mood. They had no fixed institutions to fall back upon. They felt wanderers in the world. And, feeling this, they did not attack the queen, but rather regarded her as the nucleus of a possible organization. By thus gradually adding a few ants at a time to a disorganized mob which had accepted the queen as the starting-point for a new polity, "I succeeded," says Sir John Lubbock, "in securing the throne for her." But this success speaks as much for the conservatism of the ants as the former unanimous rejection of the queen by an organized community. They repudiated a queen when they knew that their institutions were in working order without her. They accepted her, when they felt at sea and in peril of anarchy, as the germ of a new system. It was a timid conservatism which dictated their policy in each case. In the former, they rejected with horror the prospect of a change of constitution; in the latter, they accepted, not, perhaps, without eagerness, the prospect of a more rapid political development than, without any ready-made leader, they could have counted upon. For the ants, then, the throne was, as M. Thiers said of a republic, under dissimilar circumstances, the constitution "which divided them least."

And it is to be inferred, we think, that the languid skepticism which is one of the commonest causes or effects—it is difficult to say which—of that intense timidity which is so often connected with conservatism, affects these wonderful little creatures also. Sir John shows us most satisfactorily that the ants understand each other—that when an ant goes back from a bit of food which she is unable by her own strength to stir, she can and does communicate in some way to her fellow-ants the need of help. They clearly understand her message, and they prepare to assist her; but they have, it appears, no real confidence in her information. What they see with their own eyes fills them with the utmost eagerness, but what they learn from others they do not more than half believe. They usually go with the messenger, but they go without any real élan, without any of that earnestness which they display after getting personal experience of the existence of the store of food. After that they are all urgency. After that they outrun their fellows, and can not reach the store of provisions too soon. But on the hearing of the ear they act with the utmost languor.