Seaside and Wayside, Book Two  by Julia McNair Wright

The Ways of Ants

I HAVE told you that ants like honey and sweets. They will also suck the juices and soft parts of many other kinds of food. Some ants eat nearly everything that can be eaten.

Almost all ants will eat other insects, and suck the eggs or pupæ of other insects. This habit makes ants very useful. Certain worms and bugs that destroy orange trees and cotton plants are killed by ants.

Ants also eat other insects that injure men. If a coat that has these on it is laid near an ant-hill, in an hour or two the ants will have made it quite clean.

You have seen a fly sit and clean her body and wings. She does this by drawing her feet over her head and body. So you have seen the cat clean her fur coat with her paws and tongue. The ant washes or brushes herself in just such a way.

The ant is very neat and clean in her habits. She takes many naps in a day, and after each nap she brushes herself. She brushes herself tidy after work and after taking food.

The action of the ant in cleansing herself is much like that of the cat. The ant has on her fore-leg a little comb, shaped like your thumb. With this she strokes and combs all dust and dirt from her body.

If you watch an ant as she dresses herself, you will see that she draws her fore-foot through her mouth. This is to clean the comb and to make it moist, so that it will do its work well.


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The ant has also little brushes on her other feet; so you see there is no reason why she should not keep herself very trim and tidy.

Ants are very neat about their nests. They carry out all husks of grain and seeds and all dead bodies. They carry these quite off their hill.

I knew of an ant's nest that had been set on a post in water. It was kept clean by the ants. They soon learned to drop all refuse over into the water. That is as the sailor does, when he tidies his ship.


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Ants bury their dead. When an ant dies, some of the other ants pick up the body to carry it off and bury it. They do not like to put dead bodies near their hill. The ants will carry the dead ones round and round, till they find a good place for them.

A lady who spent much time in the study of ants said that the slave-owning ants do not bury the slaves with the masters. They put the dead slaves in one place and the owners in another.

Ants will now and then change their home. They leave an old hill and make a new one. When they do this, if some of the ants do not seem ready to leave the old hill, the others drag them off by force.

Most ants have very good eyes, and can see above ground and under ground. But there is one kind of ant that is blind.

Ants can bite with their sharp jaws. They also have a sting. They seldom use it if they are let alone. Some ants have quite a sharp sting. The sting is on the hind part of the ant's body. Their sting is made in three parts. There is the sack for poison, the needle which gives the prick, and the case to keep the needle or prickle in. This needle, of a light color, is like a little thorn.

The ant seizes with its jaws the part which it wishes to sting. Then it lifts its body up on the hind legs, and swings its sting part under, so that it can drive the sting into the place held by the jaws. The sting does not do much harm to people, but will no doubt kill ants and other insects.

Ants make also a kind of juice called "ant acid." They can throw this about when the hill is disturbed. This acid must be pretty strong. It will make a dog sneeze and rub his nose. The ant uses it to keep dogs, mice, beetles, and such things, away from the ant-hill.

I have told you that some ants harm trees and plants by gnawing or cutting them. It is only fair now to tell you that ants help plants to grow. As they creep into flowers for honey, they carry about from flower to flower the dust or pollen which makes new seeds grow. This dust sticks to the ant's body, and what is taken from one flower is carried to another. Bees also carry pollen.

Thus, you see that the ants help the flowers, which in their turn give food to the ants. But, of course, the ants do not know what they are doing for the flowers. Nor do the bees know that they help the flowers. The bees and ants do not know that pollen sticks to them, to be carried about.

These lessons about the ant contain only a few of the many things that can be said of this insect. I hope you will like the ants well enough to get other books about them, and study and watch the ants for yourselves.