“It’s time to go! Taratantara!! …”
The anthill is covered with soldiers brandishing in the sun their bright, sharp mandibles. It is an indescribable back and forth … What a beautiful melee! … What a beautiful start! Long live the war!…
We are at least three hundred, all animated by the greatest courage! Hooray!! Long live the war! To the carnage!… To the loot!!…
But it’s time to get going. Friends, to our ranks! Taratantara!!…
And the army gathers together at fifteen, twenty abreast; it descends like a river that pours out, it leaves the mound that forms our home and extends into the plain… The plain is a path formed by men and passes next to it, below our nest. But we have not made ten steps on the road to war, when we meet scouts who have recognized the way and are guiding us to the enemy.
“What enemy?” you will tell me.
“What enemy? Other ants. Do not we need slaves? Are we therefore destined to cut the wood, the stone, to spoil the mortar and to give the children to suck? We, warriors by birth! … God, I tell you, we did not want it. See, we have gratified with special jaws for the fight. The length and sharpness of our mandibles make them weapons and not tools. Long live the war!…”
There are, besides, two nations of ants all over the world, destined to become our slaves, to raise our larvae, to build our houses; that is why we are walking to their conquest. It is time for the anthill to think of multiplying; all of us here are brothers, all of us are sons of the same mother, of the one who founded our colony last year, with some fugitives escaping the pursuit of a pheasant, the colony of Polyergus or Red Ants. But, unfortunately! we are not numerous enough to resist the winter, the bad weather of autumn; and then we must spread.
This beautiful army of three hundred warriors is not enough; it must be tenfold. Notice how we resemble each other: it looks like a brilliant uniform covering all our bodies; and I alone am taller than others. This is an exception; I pass for a Hercules, and I believe that I am one indeed. However you must see some black comrades among us, they are males. Poor beings who will not live as long as us! But, as they are armed like the others, they come on an expedition anyway…
Warning, we are approaching the enemy. The enemy is the black ash ants (Formica fusca). We are looking for them as slaves and we are going to defeat them all at once, they are unable to resist us. The same is true of miner ants (Formica cunicularia). Unfortunately, these are even weaker than the first ones.
I know that some atrabilious spirits will find – what it is not found? – that, for experienced warriors, it is not brave to attack people who can not resist. But what to do? Above all, one must make his well where he finds it. This is my opinion.
And the whole troop redoubles with ardor; it seemed to fly on the surface of the leaves … it is at this moment that the anthill of the blacks appears, in the middle of a bush of white thorn. This anthill, much smaller than that of the attacking Polyergues, was composed of small, artistically intertwined shives.
In the twinkling of an eye the Polyergus had invaded the outposts. The Ashes, warned by their scouts, were however on the defensive. But what to do? Each blow of the terrible mandibles in falsity slaughtered a member; it was a frightful carnage, and yet the Ashes fought well. They assail two or three each of their invaders; they cling to his belt and often cut it, leaving the two sections of the mutilated writhing on the ground …
But the Reds penetrate every corner, in spite of this energetic defense; they search for the peculiar reductions in pillage, that is to say, the breeding rooms. Each attacker carries a white larva between his jaws and tries to escape with his precious booty. Blacks can not resist; they cling to wild animals, they drag them away. Weary, they let go, the kidnapper flees.
This is the signal of retirement! Long live the booty!!
And standing up on my feet, I shout to my comrades:
“In mass, tighten the column! … Retreat to our anthill! … Attention to the conquered larvae! …”
And I came back blithely, holding two larvae in my mandibles and walking with that head up, like a carriage horse, while my companions bent under the burden of a single conquered larva.
However, I had a terrible slash in one leg, a huge slash in the back … Bah! I did not mind paying attention. I took the head of the column and walked forward. I noticed that two men were watching us, stopped a few steps away. I heard one of them saying:
“What are they going to do now with these larvae that they take away? A meal of cannibals?”
“You are too much a man,” replied the elder, “you believe that all beings resemble you.”
“Point. When they return home, their household ants will carefully carry these precious larvae to their rooms; soon these will be born into perfect insects of the working class and immediately they will take care of all the work of the house … absolutely as they would have done in their own homes.”
“Then these abominable robbers do not know how to work?”
“Give God!” I cried, turning around; “are we then made to work, we warriors, like vile slaves?”
But they did not hear me; they had ears too long for that!
“My dear child,” said the old man, “here is the moment to remind you of the experience of one of my friends. One day, he put a certain quantity of these beautiful red Polyergus, aggressors so determined, in a box of glass with a few larvae; they were not only able to raise these young people. Better still, they do not even know – it would seem unbelievable, if my friend had not told me – to feed themselves. So that many died of hunger.”
To continue the experiment, he introduced into the same box a single individual of the family of slaves (F. fusca), while the state of the hungry was not brilliant. Everything was going from bad to worse; death was imminent …”
This little creature undertook the care of the whole family, gave the great dadais angry Amazon ants half-starved, and took care, all at the same time, of the remaining larvae, until they were developed into perfect insects … Thus, one intelligence alone was enough to save this whole family devoted to brute force.”
“Therefore the Polyergus are incapable …”
Everyone will understand that I did not stop to hear such ridiculous anecdotes. I left the two men there and went home happily, happy with my day, and ready to start again the next day, if the grand council thought it useful …
Really these men are very strange, who believe that servitude is odious to our slaves as well as theirs.
Nothing is easier, by observing them, than to realize that we must have no compassion for our ilotes – if we can, by memory, call them so – their fate is precisely that for which they are made.
The works which these little creatures undertake and lead us are not inspired by arbitrariness, by the fear of punishment, but by the instinct which resides in them. They work in exactly the same way and with the same diligence in their own house as in that of their captors, and the work with which they are charged is the same in one case as in the other.
In fact, they do not know – since they’ve been kidnapped – of their own family. They are perfectly at home, and are, in all respects, equal to their so-called masters. Much better, if you look closely, the real owners of the house are slaves, whose actions are indeed dependent from the first to the last day of their lives. What do we ask them? To make us live and live at the same time. They know that without them the community would soon perish, and they work accordingly.
In truth, one must have a mind as badly done as men have to find fault.
What must be striking in the maneuver of our conquering companies is that they never bring back only larvae suitable for giving neutrals. What need do we have for males and females? No. Also, we have a way to recognize them … But this is unknown to men and we will never tell them. What is sufficient for them is to see that the Polyergus are never mistaken in their successive expeditions, for one alone is not enough; as the colony increases, more servants are needed; it is therefore necessary to conquer again to repair the losses caused by death and daily accidents; we must provide for this recruitment. We provide it.
Translated from “Les aventures d’une fourmi rouge et les mémoires d’un pierrot”, by Henri de la Blanchère