Seaside and Wayside, Book Two  by Julia McNair Wright

The Ants at Home

W E have taken a look at the ants and have seen how the hill is made. Let us now see how the ants live in their hill-home.

When we go to visit them, we shall find ants running all about the hill and in the halls. These are the work ants. Some seem to stand on the hill to watch lest any danger may come near.

When the drone ants and the queens are young, the work ants let them go out and fly. When they go out, the drones do not often come back. They get lost or die.

The young queens come back, except those who go off to make new hills. But when the young queen settles down in life, to her work of laying eggs, the workers do not let her leave the hill any more.

How do they keep her in? If she has not taken off her pretty wings, they take them off and throw them away! If she tries to walk off, a worker picks her up in its jaws and carries her back.

The ants are kind to their queen. They feed her and pet her, and she becomes very lazy. She does not even care to lay her eggs in a nice clean place.

The idle queen drops her eggs anywhere. The kind worker ants pick them up, and take them to a soft bedroom.

When there are too many young queens in one hill, they do not have a war, as the bees do. The workers settle the trouble, by taking off the wings of some of the young queens, and turning them into work ants. This is done before the queens begin to lay eggs.

New-born ants and queens, who do not go out into the sunshine, are of a light color. The other ants are dark.

In cold, wet weather the ants stay at home. If a rain comes up when they are out, they hurry back. Early in the day, and late in the afternoon, they all seem to be very busy. In the hot hours of the day they stay in the hill and rest.

In very hot lands the ants stir about all winter. Such ants lay up stores of food. You shall hear of them by and by. In cooler lands, during winter, the ants are asleep, or, as we say, are torpid.

The young swarms usually go out in autumn. I have seen very large swarms in the spring.

Ants like sugar and honey best of all food. They get honey from flowers, and in other ways of which I will soon tell you. Some like seeds which have a sweet taste. For this reason they eat some kinds of grass-seeds, oats, apple-seeds, and such things.

Ants take their food by licking it. Their little rough tongues wear away bits of the seed; they also suck up the oil and juice. They seem to press the food with their jaws.

It has been found out that they know how to moisten their food and make it soft. If you give them dry sugar or cake, they turn it into a kind of paste or honey. Then it is easier to suck or drink it up.

If you put a nest of ants with plenty of earth into a large glass jar, and put some food near by for the ants to eat, they may settle down in the jar, to make a home. If you cover the outside of the jar with thick, dark paper, the ants may build close to the glass. Then, when you take off the paper, you will be able to see the halls and storerooms.

You might put such a jar in a safe place out of doors. Then you would be able to study the ants, as they roam around near by, or do their work inside the jar.