So we like sugar, the confession is made! But our young students love him as much and more than us! It must be filled!
In the absence of sugar, they need – this is more respectable – sweet and sweeten food. It must be filled!
This is the goal achieved by our flocks.
This is the origin of the shipments of cows.
At this moment, autumn, which is advancing rapidly, invites us to provide for the winter the necessary animals: we are going on an expedition, I feel it; but first, I must describe the country where we could find them and where we had our home.
The land is there, in front of this house, spreading afar off its mantle of burnt ferns and heather whose partly violet and pinkish flowers have been passed. A lean and inhospitable carpet, if ever there was one, for the thread is made of dwarf gorse, whose stems, thick and reclining, weave harsh thorns that do not make them pardon a few scattered bouquets of gold florets. For us, these spines are harmless; we are so dexterous and slender, that we pass between them without ever colliding with their sharp point. But how many curses I heard men and animals passing among them!
Instead of cursing our gorse, we looked upon them as an admirable natural defense, real frieze horses guarding our anthill in the sunset. Never have I found, moreover, in my distant races, home better placed and better understood!
This construction was the masterpiece of one of our grandmothers, queen of the highest merit.
Sitting on the extreme edge of a coppice, sloping at sunset, our anthill was defended on this side by the thorny heath, as far as the eye can see, and behind, to the east and the north, by coppice with thick thickets of thorns and brambles that guaranteed us the autumn breeze and winter frost when the leaves had fallen. True paradise; not a ray of sunshine softened the temperature without stroking our roof of thatch and chopped twigs.
Not far from the anthill lay a field of beans, and in the hedge rose wild rosebushes with long, curving, trailing branches. All these plants, roses or beans, were covered with aphids: some black, others green, others yellow. Oh, good luck!
And here are our ants climbing and descending along the stems, they harass the aphids at table, sucking, with their bent proboscis, the sap of these plants; they excite them with their antennae and their palps to force them to disgorge, by the cornicles which terminate their abdomen, the droplets of sweetened liquid. Gradually, the droplets appear, the ants drink them and go on to milking another cow.
No fear of having the flock go astray. The aphid is immovable by state. Once born, he looks for the underside of the leaves or branches to be sheltered from the sun or the rain, then he pushes into the bark, or parenchyma, his long trunk and curved along his body; then he stays still, pumping the sap. These juices are easily assimilated, it seems, by passing into a gut of the greatest simplicity, so simple as it offers this anomaly, in this single insect, to have no biliary apparatus. This is perhaps why the aphid makes a sweet secretion by the two tubes that are seen on his abdomen.
Be that as it may, these flocks never flee; from time to time we see an aphid raise one leg, then the one next to it, then the others; he moves an antenna from time to time, but that’s all. He is nailed by his trunk! …
There was vaguely speaking, in the polyergic republic, of a great expedition to lead, before the winter, against nearby ants, who knew how to take away, raise, and feed wonderful insects, excellent cows, which they kept in their anthill, without never allow them to cross the threshold. It was said that there were not only pure aphids, but other insects, such as Coleoptera, Hemiptera, what do I know? But – there is always one but between our desires and the good of the neighbor! – but some of our companions, older and more experienced, do not hide from us that the expedition is distant, dangerous and deadly, because those populations have their beaks and nails, even poisoned sting, and know how to use them to defend their precious flocks.
Fearful battles will have to be fought, and many already, in similar encounters, have remained on the battlefield. Hum! … my recent exploits to the conquest of slaves certainly indicate to me to be to be part of this expedition. Would not it be better to get ahead of the call?
If we were trying to find out? Nobody can find it wrong that I inquire where to go for the general good of the public thing.
I went immediately to the guards of the laying mother, the oldest ants of the anthill and the most experienced.
“Mother Anille, tell me, do we want to go hunting for cows?”
“Yes, my child.”
“Ah! … Well! … Old mother, what is this? Is there a lot?”
“God’s day, my child! If there are any … Men claim that they know more than three hundred species, nothing but beetles that live with us or with our cousins! … We also know some of the Orthoptera, among the Homoptera…”
“You can shut up, I do not care! I was told that the staphylins formed an excellent cattle, giving an exquisite sugar by a silky hairy projection that they have on the abdomen.”
“It was right to tell you that, my son. These insects are called Myrmedonies, and they have cousins called Lomichuses, which provide a delicious liquor. These are the Attacobius with spines that retain these precious animals they know how to capture. They also live in abundance and continual feasts. But there will be a tough fight to deliver!”
“Yes, my son. It is better to buy Lomichuses, these are real pets, at the right time!”
“And why, mother Anille?”
“My child, these animals can not eat alone; therefore, will hardly be saved from us. If this fantasy took them one day, thanks to their wings, well, we would let them go. The impossibility where they are to eat we would necessarily bring them back …”
“Bravo! … and how are they?”
“Black, wide, thick; a little longer than us. They have large projecting eyes, the abdomen large and heavy, yet very mobile, which they carry up while walking. When you have harvested, they will come to feel your head with their antennas and hit it with little blows. It will mean that they are hungry. You will disgorge them of food as you do for our young people. Then, you will see them spreading their wide abdomen that they usually wear, even inside the anthill, raised on their back, and you will be able to lick and press between their mandibles their hair thus exposed. You will find a succulent secretion.”
“And how, mother Anille, do we take these good beasts?”
“My friend, we push them, we bring them to five or six, and let them enter the anthill without harming them.”
“Agreed! … And where do we find them?”
“Ah! It is the most difficult. However, look well, I have heard flying these days, around evening, around our house. They like, moreover, our nation and also that of the Red and Yellow Ants (Formica rubra and Formica rufa). You may find some in the underbrush, in the vicinity of decaying mushrooms, near the old rotten woods, under the moss: it is there that they metamorphose and arrive at the perfect state. Search!”
“Mother Anille! You open my eyes!”
“Why my friend?”
“That was it! … Awkward that I am! Here is what I saw … on our last expedition to the Blacks for the slaves’ abduction: I saw some workers who, warned of our approach by their sentinels, were running away, carrying black packets in their mandibles …”
“They were their Clavigeres, beetles, which they put in a safe place, my child! These are the best animals that an ant can find. Ah! When you have collected enough, our dessert will be insured for all winter.”
“Thus, I could miss such an opportunity! Woe, three times misfortune! But we will begin again!”
“Recommend, my children, I do not ask for better. You will find Clavigeres at Black, Yellow, Red Ant and Myrmic strains (Myrmica cespitum). Oh! They are not big! About the ants, what are the sheep to men. They are red-brown or black, walk slowly and make the death if they are tormented, which will allow you to seize and remove them easily. Although devoid of eyes …”
“They are blind? …”
“I do not dare to say so, because they know how to move and avoid obstacles, like bats, flying without ever colliding in the darkest caves, either by exquisite tact or by a luminous impression perceived through a thin integument. The small mouth of the Clavigeres can only take a liquid food: they do not know how to eat alone and walk in the anthill without being able to taste the provisions. They will meet you, you and your comrades, when you are satiated, and they will know how to use, as well as you, their antennas in clubs to ask you to eat. You just have to open your mouth and the Clavigere will smell a liquid drop that you will bring him between your mandibles.”
“Service for service, my child. You will immediately lick the hair of the elytra Clavigere, you will press slightly between your large mandibles, and you will aspire a delicious liquor.”
“All are good to take?”
“All! You will find the Longhorn Beetle at the Black Ant, and the Faveolatus at the Red. Both are equally familiar with us.”
“That’s enough, Mother Anille; I have my project! Thank you.”
I returned hastily to my companions and explained to them what we should do. We needed, at all costs, Clavigeres, Myrmedonies and Lomichuses.
“Up! … To the other ants! … Up! … Above all, to the Blacks, who stole our Clavigeres!”
It was a holiday in the republic that announced a similar expedition. So we would have a flock of sweets to spend the winter happily, because no one doubted the success.
I gathered my companions in a secret meeting:
“No one comes out! No untimely demonstration awakens the spies whom the Blacks and the Reds may have sent to roam about! We have only a very poor reputation as good neighbors; show that, despite their cowardly espionage, we know how to hide from their eyes when necessary. At the last raid of the slaves, we were sold: the ashen Blacks took away the Clavigeres which belonged to us! … That cries revenge! …”
“Yes! Yes! To death the ashen Blacks!”
“Well, my friends! I like to see you animated by these sentiments of justice. A method similar to theirs deserves no consideration.”
“Let’s go! Let’s go!”
“A moment! Let’s go … In columns, it’s the way to be discovered, sold, betrayed again! And to have no Clavigeres. Here is my plan of attack. We will go out one by one, to separate immediately. Each will describe a circuit as long as it will be necessary to arrive, with a companion at most, near scouts or sentinels. Each of these will be put to death, silently and mercilessly! This is necessary, think about it! If one escapes, goodbye good cows to sugar! And now, prudence and decision! … The column will follow you, slowly, two hours away.”
We left in silence, one by one.
All sentinels were killed! An hour later, the city of the Blacks was in our power. All was plundered, all was carried away: forty Clavigeres fell into our hands, I brought two for my part! More than two hundred slaves came to fill our stores.
It was a magnificent raid: however, we bought fifty-two dead comrades and as many wounded. But what to do? You can not make an omelette without breaking eggs!
Mother Anille was delighted. Now she had, as before, at the right time, cows to look after.