Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/526

This page has been validated.
510
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

boys at play. "I understand," he says, "that the matter must seem wonderful to those who have not witnessed it, particularly when we remember that sexual attraction can here play no part."

McCook and Bates also give similar accounts of the habits of play and leisure among species of the Western Hemisphere.

Funerals.—The habit of carrying their dead out and away from their nests is very general, if not universal, among ants; and, being no doubt due to sanitary requirements, has probably been developed as a beneficial instinct by natural selection. McCook says of the agricultural ants:

All species whose manners I have closely observed are quite alike in their mode of caring for their own dead, and for the dry carcasses of aliens. The former they appear to treat with some degree of reverence, at least to the extent of giving them a sort of sepulture without feeding upon them. The latter, after having exhausted the juices of the body, they usually deposit together in some spot removed from the nest.

Experiments made on ants kept in confinement showed that the desire to remove dead companions was one of the strongest that they exhibited:

So great was the desire to get rid of the dead outside the nest, that the bearers would climb up the smooth surface of the glass to the very top of the jar, laboriously carrying with them a dead ant. This was severe work, which was rarely undertaken except under the influence of this funereal enthusiasm. Falls were frequent, but patiently the little "undertaker" would follow the impulse of her instinct and try and try again. Finally the fact of a necessity seemed to dawn upon the ants (the jar being closed at the top so that they could not get out), and a portion of the surface opposite from the entrance to the galleries, and close up against the glass, was used as a burial-ground and sort of kitchen-midden, where all the refuse of the nest was deposited.

This author also records in his recently published work an interesting piece of information to which he was led by Mrs. Treat:

A visit was paid to a large colony of these slave-makers (F. sanguinea), which is established on the grounds adjoining her residence at Vineland, New Jersey. I noticed that a number of carcasses of one of the slave species (Formica fusca) were deposited together quite near the gates of the nest. They were probably chiefly the dry bodies of ants brought in from recent raids. It was noticed that the dead ants were all of one species, and therefore Mrs. Treat informed me that the red slave-makers never deposited their dead with those of their black servitors, but always laid them by themselves, not in groups, but separately, and were careful to take them a considerable distance from the nest. One can hardly resist pointing out here another likeness between the customs of these social hymenoptera and those of human beings, certain of whom carry their distinctions of race, condition, or religious caste even to the gates of the cemetery, in which the poor body molders into its mother dust!—Nineteenth Century.