Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 48.djvu/908

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
826
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE WAYS AND MEANS OF ANTS.
By NORMAN ROBINSON.

A FEW days since I witnessed an engineering feat on the part of a company of ants that interested me greatly. A Florida chameleon (Anolis principalis) had wandered into my laboratory and taken refuge under a newspaper which was lying in a chair. Some one had evidently occupied the chair without taking up the paper, with the result, of course, of crushing out the life, of the unfortunate little anolis. Having occasion to use the chair, I removed the paper, and discovered the flattened-out body of the little lizard, around which a company of ants were evidently holding a consultation as to the best method of utilizing the game thus accidentally provided for them.

The particular species of emmet that was thus engaged I am not able to identify. Our Florida ants have not been very carefully studied, and I think it quite possible that this is an undescribed species. Popularly he is known here as the "racehorse" ant, and the name is certainly appropriate. Of all the fast and fussy little runabouts that his omnipresent family affords, he is far and away the supreme. It would be hard to find even among the marvels of the insect kingdom any such concentrated bundle of nerves and muscles and brains. He is a little black mite of a fellow, three millimetres (about an eighth of an inch) in length, and it takes one hundred and sixty-two of him to weigh one grain. His ordinary walk is a fast trot, but when he really gets down to business even that kangaroo among insects, the flea, can not beat him in getting over the ground or being in a dozen places apparently at the same moment. Naturally he is a terrible nuisance to housekeepers; borax, corrosive sublimate, Cayenne pepper, and all the other warranted prophylactics against the plague of ants simply amuse him. Not long since I tried all the devices I had ever heard of, and which do often prove effective with other species of ants, in a vain effort to keep this active little rogue out of a new barrel of sugar. A strong solution of corrosive sublimate was poured in a circle on the floor around the barrel. He simply waited for the floor to get dry and calmly trotted over to the alluring barrel of sweets. Three hours after trying this "poison guard" I found a colony of a hundred or so comfortably regaling themselves upon the coveted treasure. Caustic potash dissolved and used in the same way served a little better purpose, but this soon solidified into a carbonate, and its usefulness was at an end. I next procured some freshly ground and pure Cayenne pepper, which some "scientific" newspaper correspondent had recommended as an infallible protection against these little pests.