SINCE the earliest recorded observations of insect-life, the ant has been a subject of especial comment and wonderment. Found throughout the range of both temperate and the torrid zones, it is in the tropics that the most interesting species abound, and where their vast numbers and their industry and fearless pertinacity make them a veritable scourge.
Many confused, not to say fabulous, statements regarding them have been published in books of travels, and copied in natural history works; but enough has been recorded concerning them, which has the warrant of recent and high authority, to justify the views popularly held as to their intelligence and sagacity.
Mr. Bates, in "The Naturalist on the Amazon," devotes considerable space to them, and, in the descriptions following, very free use is made of his delightful book, and most of the illustrations are borrowed from that source.
One of the chief peculiarities of the ants is their social relations. Assembling in countless multitudes, they are divided into different classes, each with a special order of duties to fulfill, but all working harmoniously for a definite end—the perpetuation of the species. Their communities consist of males, females, and neuters; with generally two and sometimes three distinct orders or castes of the latter. Upon them devolves all the labor, the divisions being known as the worker-minors and the worker-majors, the brunt of the work falling upon the first, while the function of the worker-major, though not definitely understood, seems to be that of a superintendent or a soldier, or perhaps a combination of the two.
One of the most interesting of the American species is the saüba, or leaf-cutting ant [Œcodoma cephalotes). The workers of this species are of three orders, and vary in size from two to seven lines. Some idea of them may be obtained from the accompanying woodcut.