Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/354

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

HOMES OF SOCIAL INSECTS.[1]
By L. N. BADENOCH.

IN no branch of insect work are more admirable means employed to bring about the desired ends, or is greater diversity of method found, than in that of insect architecture. The beauty of the buildings in many cases is incomparable, and generally speaking the abodes attain a magnitude colossal as compared with that of their creators. It may be exception will be taken to the use of the word architecture to designate this portion of the insect economy, and perhaps the term can hardly be applied in fairness to homes which are mere tunnels and galleries bored in the earth or in wood. But who would deny it to the exquisite pensile nests of the English wasps, or those of many a foreign relative, to the geometric precision exhibited within the hive of the honey bee, or to the edifices of some ants, as will be presently discovered?

Among the communities which combine their operations, there are those of which the object is simply the protection of the individuals composing them. To these societies belong the caterpillars of certain species of moths. The homes formed by these larvae, though they are not elaborate, are interesting in several minute circumstances. But they fall short in every respect of the attractive nests fabricated by companies of insects in their perfect state, in view not only of self-preservation, but of the nurture and education of their young as well.

The nests of an extraordinary tree ant, Œcophylla smaragdina, are cunningly wrought with leaves, united together with web (see Fig. 1). One was observed in New South Wales in the expedition under Captain Cook. The leaves utilized were as broad as one's hand, and were bent and glued to each other at their tips. How the insects manage to bring the leaves into the required position was never ascertained, but thousands were seen uniting their strength to hold them down, while other busy multitudes were employed within in applying the gluten that was to prevent them returning back. The observers, to satisfy themselves that the foliage was indeed incurvated and held in this form by the efforts of the ants, disturbed the builders at their work, and as soon as they were driven away the leaves sprang up, with a force much greater than it would have been deemed possible for such laborers to overcome by any combination of strength. The more compact and elegant dwelling of Œ. vires-


  1. Reprinted, with the kind permission of Messrs. Macmillan & Co., from the author's popular work, Romance of the Insect World.