The next morning, at the first light of the sun, a step was heard on the stairs, a head slowly advanced into the office. Urbain was there …
His eyes went straight to his desk.
“My poor ant from France!“ he said, “saved!“
He came to me, took me, gave me sugar … and locked me in my prison …
It was a real blessing that the hunt was carried out by the Ecitons travelers; the house was perfectly cleaned, and, except for the smell they had left, all traces of invasion had disappeared.
Soon came the two friends of Urbain, who raved about the chance I had of not falling prey to visitors.
“Do you know any other species of these excellent ants in this country?“
“Yes. There are still, in fact, travelers, the Eciton predator. This one does not know how to form long and narrow columns like the winter Drepanophora: he walks in thick and solid phalanges.“
“By the way, Urbain, what does it mean Drepanophora?“
“Bearer of fake or sickles, because of the mandibles that you saw. I come back to the Prædator, who is a tiny creature, no bigger than the common red ant of France (Myrmica rubra). It is, however, of a much brighter red color, and when a phalanx of these Ecitons climbs a tree, these enormous multitudes spread on the trunk and on the branches in such a quantity that one might think to see flow on the tree a liquid of color of blood.“
“Why is it called looter?“
“Ah! my friend, this is a whim of nomenclator! This Eciton is no more looty than the others. A third species is known, a little less well defined than the two preceding ones, and which has been named the Eciton legion (Eciton legionis). The latter seems to be showing, so far at least, only in the great sandy plains of Santarem.“
“What does he come to do?“
“It comes, like most of the Ecitons, to attack the nests of different species of miner ants and wasps. Fortunately! for without them the country would not be habitable! As for me, I do not know a single animal, whoever it is, whose Ecitons do not come to the end. I saw the species that visited us yesterday to attack the huge nests of the great wasp that flies very often around us. The thousand spurts of the wasps which threaten them, which strike them, do not weigh a straw for them; they tear with their powerful jaws the substance so resistant to these nests, penetrate inside, shoot down the cells and throw out all the young larvae. If a wasp, even an adult, wants to resist, the Eciton throws itself on it and cuts it in half before the sting of the flying insect has been able to serve.“
“I answer you. Small Legionis also often attack the nests of large miner ants. Generally, they split into two troops that march to the assault simultaneously, one sinking into the ground and each worker bringing big balls of earth, the other troop receiving these balls from their comrades, and carrying them away. in the distance.“
We do not do otherwise, notice it, my friends, to quickly execute excavations. We set up a picker’s workshop filling the wheelbarrows, and relays of men taking them away. At home, as at their home, leaders stand in place to lead the efforts of workers and maintain them in regular lines.
But it’s time to return to our legion ants. They dug twenty-five centimeters below the ground, and breached the fortress. Here is the assault! Millions of Ecitons rush, collide, hurry and arrive, like a living wall, against the assailants who defend their homes. No way of fighting can be simpler than that of the terrible Ecitons. They approach the miner ants, open their forceps in fake … and take away their enemies alive! …
Unless … they cut them in half! …
And that, walking with such enthusiasm, that entire lines of inhabitants disappear as if by magic, struggling with rage between the claws of the kidnappers, who seem to make a real move by withdrawing with their burden from breach to take it out behind the attacking army. Not only do they carry away the miner ants, but also fragments torn from the materials of the anthill … Do these materials contain any nutritive material of their taste? Are they considered light, strong and very well prepared materials that they are happy to use? Or the goal is simply not to let the breach be encumbered?
I saw the battle that I tell you. As soon as the anthill of the miners was devastated from top to bottom, the invaders assembled in small groups on the advanced works and hastened to join the great army, melting in their place. Each insect, and they are millions, knows, without a doubt, its proper place in every kind of work that the troupe undertakes. This organization is so perfect that during the summer, the active season par excellence, it often happens that after a fruitful expedition their long procession divides, of itself, into two distinct columns, one going to the pursuit of booty, the other taking it in mass to the mother-house.
All this seems like a fairy tale.
We still meet in this country the ravening Eciton (Eciton predator) who, he, goes to war, no longer against miner ants, but against the same big wasps as the Drepanophora and the stores from which he has the same taste and the same lust. Only he is much more dangerous than the first, because his height is much more considerable. He is the greatest of the Ecitons, and, really, when you meet a besieging column, he makes you instinctively flee, just as you flee before the lion. Indeed, to them all, they would devour us in less time than the master puts to the big mane, and with as much certainty! Many of these huge ants are up to one and a half centimeters in length.
Finally, let’s not forget the blind Eciton (Eciton erratica).
Does not this deprivation of sight come from the fact that, like the blind Proteus, the Erratics live in absolutely dark caverns or caves?
On this account, many ants, absolutely and exclusively miners, should be blind like erratic Eciton. It is not so, however.
Finally, are we sure that these erratic Ecitons have no eyes? …
Some naturalists thought that this ant, supposedly blind, could have organs of vision, and that the horny hat of its head was transparent enough to allow the light to pass, not very strongly, but in such a way that these insects can distinguish at least the day of the night, the light of darkness.
This hypothesis may be correct, but we do not know the truth. Whatever the case may be, I consider that the sense of touch is a much more valuable aid than that of sight to guide oneself through the meanders of their dwellings.
Nothing is more easy than to seize, in the species which occupies us, officers with big heads. Just break the gallery somewhere. As soon as an unexpected ray of light slips into the interior, the officers and soldiers arrive slowly, swinging their big heads right and left, and opening their powerful jaws with an air of silent menace. If we do not bother them any more, once the damage is noticed – I do not say seen – they go back into their gallery, the workers arrive and, in a moment, a piece is put and the damage repaired.
“In all this, my friend, a conclusion strikes me. For a long time we have been studying ants together; well! all, even the most skilful, detect a great inferiority with regard to the bees, and I will say more, vis-à-vis almost all the builder flies.“
“Which one, please?“
“Which one! The lack of grandeur and simplicity. The ant is complicated in its building; it lacks architecture. It will never reach the sublime height of adoption of the regular hexagon for the alveoli of hives! All his works, underground or external, are distributed without order; with expedition, I agree, but without art!“
“There is certainly truth in what you say; but are you certain of having the right to say: without art? … Is it not: with another art, what should one say?“
“Shut up! Your ants are only replasterers and not creators!“
I listened attentively to everything the young men said, Urbain brought me plenty of food … But I was a prisoner!