Gateway to the Classics: Seaside and Wayside, Book Two by Julia McNair Wright
Seaside and Wayside, Book Two by  Julia McNair Wright

The Life of an Ant

I N ant-hills we find drone ants, queen ants, and worker ants. The drone ants have no sting and do no work. Their bodies are longer and more slim than those of queens. The drone ants have wings.

The queen ants also have wings. They have stings, and their bodies are round and dark.

The workers are smaller than queens and drones. They are also darker, and have no wings and no stings. Workers are of two sizes, large and small. They are the builders, nurses, soldiers, and servants of the others.


A House in a Hill

In an ant-hill there may be many queens at one time. Often the ant-queens work. They are both mothers and queens. They will also act as soldiers. The queen ant is not like the queen bee, who will allow no other queen to live near her. I think mother ant a better term than queen ant.

The word "queen" may make you think that this ant rules the rest. That is not so. Ants have no leader and no ruler. Each ant seems to act as it pleases.

The chief work of the queen ant is to lay eggs. In a short time, out of each egg comes a lively, hungry, little baby ant. It is called a larva. A larva is like a small white worm.

This little being needs to be washed, fed, kept warm and dry, and taken into the air and sun. It must be cared for, very much as the baby in your home is cared for.

The workers, who act as nurses, are very kind to the young larvæ. (When we mean only one we say larva;  when we mean more than one we say larvæ.) How do they wash these little things? They lick them all over, as the cat licks the kitten. They use such care that they keep them nearly as white as snow.

The nurses feed the baby ants four or five times each day. The nurses prepare the food in their crops, to make it soft and fit for the little ants.

The nurses stroke and smooth the larva baby. It seems as if they patted and petted it. When the weather is cold, they keep the larvæ in-doors. When it is warm and dry, they hurry to carry them up to the top of the hill. They place them there to bask in the sun. If any rain comes, or the hill is broken, the nurses run to carry the babies to a safe place.

When the larva is full grown, it spins around itself a little fine net, which wraps it all up. When people see these white bundles in the ant-hills, they call them "ant-eggs." They are not eggs. They are pupa-cases. In them the baby ants are getting ready to come out, with legs and wings, as full-grown ants.

The pupa-cases are of several sizes. The largest ones are for queens and drones. The next size holds large workers; the smallest cases hold the smallest workers.

There are often in the hills very wee ants called dwarf ants. When you study more about ants in other books, you can learn about the dwarfs.

After the ants have been in the little cases some time, they are ready to come out. The nurse ants help them to get free.

Many hundreds come out of the cases. They crowd the old home so full that they can scarcely find room to move about.

Then they see the light shine in at the little gates on the top of the hill. They feel the warmth of the sun. They crawl out.

They push upon each other. The hill is not wide and high enough for so many uncles and cousins and sisters and brothers. They act like great crowds in the streets at a big parade, each one struggles for his own place.

Young ants, like young people, wish to set up for themselves in new homes. They spread their fine wings. Off they fly! Since there is not room in the old hill they will build a new one.

They swarm as the bees do. As they rise high from the earth, they drift off on the wind. Very many of them tire out and die, or are blown into the water, and are drowned. A few live and settle on places fit for a new ant-hill.

It is the mother or queen ant who chooses the new home. When she has found the right place, what do you think she does? She takes off her wings, as she does not care to fly any more.

The ant does not tear off her wings. She unhooks them, and lets them fall away, and does not seem to miss them.

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