Seaside and Wayside, Book Two  by Julia McNair Wright

Ants and Their Trades

S INCE you know that bees, ants, and wasps all belong to the same great family of living creatures, you will not wonder that many of their ways are alike.

You know there are wasps and bees that live alone. You have read how, in the spring, Mrs. Social Wasp builds her home and raises a brood of babies.

These, as soon as full-grown, begin to build more rooms and nurse the next babies. Mrs. Ant does as Mrs. Wasp does.

Mrs. Ant begins a new hill, and as her children grow they help her. But Mrs. Ant does not often begin her hill in the spring. She chooses the early fall to begin work.

As the eggs change into working ants, Mrs. Ant gets plenty of help in her work.

You have seen bees swarm, and hang in a bunch, or curtain. Ants also cling together and form balls. But this is for warmth or safety. It is called "snugging." In some lands, in times of flood, ants form balls as large as your play ball. Thus they can float on the water, and do not drown.

As Mrs. Wasp makes paper, so Mrs. Ant can make a thin paper, for her nest. But it is poor paper, not so good as Mrs. Wasp makes. Mrs. Wasp is the chief of the paper-makers.

I told you how one Mrs. Bee cuts leaves to line her nest. So one Mrs. Ant does. With cut leaves she lines a neat little nest. As the spider makes a fine spun ball to put her babies in, there is an ant that makes a woolly nest.

You have read of the Tower Spider, that builds a neat tower of sticks, straw, and grass over her nest. There is an ant that thatches its hill in much the same way.

There is a brown ant that is a mason. She makes her nest of little balls of mud, laid up like bricks in a wall.

Then there is a carpenter ant, as there is a carpenter bee. These carpenters cut their way into trees and logs. These ants hollow out the inside of a tree, or beam, until it is ready to fall to pieces. In this way they do much harm.

Besides their other trades, the ants know the trade of war. There are soldier ants. Ants are mild and kind to each other while at work. But they are brave, and have armies for war.

It is odd to see how much ant ways and ant soldiers are like human ways and human soldiers.

The ants make war to get slaves, or servants. I will tell you more of that in the next lesson. They also make war to get cows, as you will hear by and by. They seem to have some other reasons for war.

When the ant army marches, it keeps in line and order. It seems to have captains to rule and lead it. Scouts go before to seek out the way.

The ant-hill has some soldiers for sentries, to see that no danger comes near. When a work ant gets into trouble, it will run to a soldier for help.

The soldier ants do not appear to be cross. They have very large heads, as if they wore big hats. Some of them have smooth heads, and some hairy heads. They eat much and love to sleep.

The soldier ants do not do much work. They rouse up only for a battle. In an ant-hill, the soldiers are larger, and often more in number, than the other ants.

The workers are the smallest ants in a hill. There are fewer queens than any other kind, except after most of the drone ants go off and die. At that time there are very few drones.

In a battle, two ants will often cling to each other by their jaws, until both die. The usual way in which an ant soldier kills a foe is by cutting off the head.

Sometimes the battle ends without any killing. At other times the ants are very fierce, and large numbers are cut to pieces.

When strange ants get into a hill, sometimes they are driven out; sometimes they are killed; sometimes they are treated kindly.

I put a black ant into the gate of a city of brown ants. You should have seen how they drove him out! He ran as if he were wild with fear. Three or four brown ants came after him to the edge of their hill.

But though some strange ants are cast out so fiercely, there are two or three kinds of beetles which go into ant-hills and live with the ants. The ants do not harm them in any way. You shall hear about that when we have some lessons about beetles.