The adventures of a red ant: XVII. VITALITY OF ANOMMAS – THE HEN PASSES IN FRONT OF THE NOSE
Before the end of the following week, I had eaten python like the others, we had surprised one in a swamp where he thought himself safe. It’s not bad; but the antelope he had in his stomach is better: the flesh is softer and more tender.
We returned home at the first rays of the sun, when loud cries excited the colony; the soldiers raised their heads, opened their mandibles, and prepared for battle. It was useless … We saw from a distance half a dozen Negroes yoloffs who uttered loud clamours while contemplating the skeleton of the python. One of them bent down to touch one of the bones and show the others that it was all that was left of a recent meal. All looked anxiously about them, and soon, perceiving our soldiers marching towards them in a compact troop, they fled as fast as their legs could carry them.
They had disappeared into the woods when we resumed our journey. In the meantime, a Cynocephalus came to feel the skeleton of the snake. We were still close enough to this one so that about fifty of our soldiers, always ready to attack, jumped on him by attaching to the hairs of his paws … It was by a frightening bond that the animal manifested his terror.
Going up to the next tree was a matter of a moment. On the next branch he sat up, staggering and trying to detach our intrepid soldiers from the long hairs they adhered to … He chewed on them … Soon a roar of pain told us that our brave, following the backbone, as they knew how to do it, and consequently walking slowly away from the paws, had arrived at the head.
Soon the eyes were invaded, attacked … The Cynocephalus leaped madly through the trees. Suddenly he fell. He was blind! At that moment, squads of flies came to the cure to help the first attackers. The struggle was frightful; but, an hour later, the unhappy monkey, dead, served as food for the whole column teeming on his remains.
These were our victories.
I stayed a long time with my new friends, and I confess that I have never seen better people and shared more noble sentiments. It was with a ensemble touching that we executed the most dangerous expeditions; but these admirable insects are so well endowed that they succeed in all that they undertake. How many times have we eaten yams, these huge and luscious lizards, surprised during their sleep and invaded from all sides before they could only know where their adventure came from.
Never, I repeat, did I meet a rich organization. Vitality in the Anommas is incredible. I want to give a proof, because I attended the experiment, hidden under a leaf above the heads of the operators.
These operators were three young Frenchmen, whom local negroes had brought near us, and who seized first of all a half-dozen of our greatest soldiers whom they could meet.
“Friend! Look at this one,” said one of them, pointing to his companion; “if it were not absurd, it looks like a red ant from our country.“
“It is true. A reddish Polyergue …“
“Bah! it’s an anomaly. There are no ants from France in the middle of Africa!“
“Take it, we’ll see …“
I hid behind two young soldiers and sneaked to tall grasses – for at that moment I was near them on the ground – from where I reached a bushy tree and watched them over their heads.
“I can not find it. What a pity!“
“It’s a real discovery, my friend, that you missed it!“
“Satan ant, go! …“
And, with a blow of a scalpel, struck in a moment of bad humor, he slices the head of one of the biggest hunter ant!
Then, without thinking exactly what he was doing, he presented the tip of his finger to that severed head. Immediately she opens his mandibles and pinches the finger so strongly, a trickle of blood springs immediately …
“What a rough organization, my friend!“ cried the pinched.
“It’s beautiful this vitality. What ganglia!“
“Hold on! but she continues her work and hurts me horribly! It’s as if I have a pack of animated needles crossing my finger!“
“Patience! courage, in the name of science, let’s see …“
“It is easy for you to say! Ouch!…“
“Sonic, my friend; you must be! We must sacrifice to the goddess that we serve up to the blood inclusively. To science !!!“
Then, laughing together, they studied the maneuvers of the severed head, I understood then that the injured was not without pain. The tips of mandibles had easily passed through the epidermis; now, the head partially removed a mandible, and the prick more perpendicularly penetrated further, then began the same ride with the other, giving with each shot, to his mandible, a more vertical direction, wounding and cutting further and more deeply. It seemed not a cut head, but a complete soldier, enjoying all his strength and in possession of all parts of his body.
The experiences of these people lasted a long time. They explored the country around; I was amusing myself by following them. Many of my brave companions lost their lives, not knowing how to hide themselves in time or to save themselves quickly enough. We must not confide too much in their strengths. Thirty-six hours after the scalpel stroke, the severed head was not dead. The body has lived even longer, forty-eight hours, if I remember it well.
How can one admit, on the other hand, the experience they had, that so tenacious insects were, in less than two minutes, killed by a ray of sun falling freely upon them?
These ants are also hard workers. One day, a chicken from the village died in the vicinity of our house. It was soon reported, and a squad was appointed to dismember it. I joined. Beginning at the base of the beak, the workers began to tear the feathers one by one, thus stripping it quickly by the head, then by the neck, and finally the whole body. It was obviously a very hard task, because my good friends do not have sufficient strength to do like men and tear off feathers at once; they had to gnaw them all by the root.
At last, by putting himself on several occasions at first, and much later, the work went on rather quickly; the feathers fell and were carried away one after the other. Already the soldiers were about to cut up the body in pieces to make it easier to transport to the anthill, when the negroes, companions of our young scientists, realized what was going on. These lurking plunderers naturally took over our hen. Some claimed that the hunting ant had often come to eat enough poultry in their village to return the favor once by chance. The others assured that this chicken was a fetish offered to the ants and, consequently, that it was urgent to remove it so that they did not spoil it! …
Short! we did not eat the chicken!
I always followed my young compatriots as an amateur, and it was in their company that I met another Anomma, who looked so much like my good friends that I was for a moment deceived. It is called the Anomma Burgmeisteri. She is deep black and shiny; it looks like a devil! The larger ones often carry a slight red hue. All have a huge head, equal to one third of their total length. I understand a similar head, because it required a massive cubic mass to attach muscles capable of moving mandibles as gigantic as theirs. These weapons, very short, intersect one another closing. This offers a great disadvantage, in my opinion; it is because the insect is taken by its mandibles if it does not want or can reopen them. Even dead, her head does not let go of the mouthful she holds. Each mandible carries, in addition, a central tooth which will join that opposite when the points are crossed; double way to bite!
I still met a third species, the Anomma rubella, smaller and more or less brown red. In all, the legs are slender, but with an extraordinary grip. No soldier has any vestige of external eyes; even under the microscope, the slightest indication of visual organs is not found. However, as the horny envelope of the head is transparent enough to show through the articulation of the jaws when it is brightly illuminated, it is possible that the insect possesses some sense of sight which makes it distinguishable at less the day of the night.
These ants are of a boldness that nothing disturbs. Usually fire scares all animals, but they are not afraid at all. If you annoy them with incandescent charcoal, they rush at him, and their mandibles roast and sizzle while squeezing the hot surface … but they do not go away!
As for water, they care very little about it. I have seen experiments which prove that, left twelve hours in the water, they return to them and run, after a few moments, as quickly as before. Injuries that kill any other animal do not even have the effect of altering their vigor. They even form a privileged people!
We passed the next day in a bushy wood, when an exclamation struck my ears:
“Sapristi!“ exclaimed one of our young Frenchmen, jumping like a panicked freak.
“What do you have? Are you struck by Saint-Guy’s dance?“
“Come help me, unhappy! instead of laughing … To my help, my friends! … Ouch !!“
“But what is it?“
“Do not you see I’m awash with ants? Ouch! Ouch! … But, come to my rescue! …“
“Ah! ah!“ said one approaching and picking an ant on the back of his friend, “this is the Ecophylla virescens !! …“
“The devil take you! … What does it do to me? Rip, take away … I’m burning !! …“
Both of them began ridding their unfortunate comrade, who was literally covered with green ants that he was crushing and pursuing fiercely.
“Where is the nest?“
“What do I know? …“
“Let’s listen … Here! do you hear? it sounds like the sound of rain falling on the leaves …“
“Well! what does it do to me?“
“Ingrate! … it’s the noise that they make, because you disturbed them, the companions of those who have accommodated you so well your neck, shoulders and face …“
“I hear. Where is the nest? …“
“You do not see it in the middle of the leaves? … It was enough that you hit them in passing so that the owners send to you an urgent swarm of theirs.“
“Wait a bit!!…“
And here is our young man who, armed with stones, begins the assault of the nest. It was a rolling fire of projectiles that hit the ball so well built and sent it rolling twenty paces. Nest and ants tumbled together …“
One of the companions ran, by a detour, to the nest lying, rolled it some time on the ground, by means of a stick, then, when he thought it empty and abandoned, he picked it up without danger. It’s really a curious and interesting construction. It is as big as the head and formed of leaves cut by the ants and chewed by them until they form a coarse paste almost similar to that made in France by wasps and hornets; except that the material is green instead of gray, composed of ligneous fibers.
“For the sake of example, I’ll keep it, that one,” said the young man.
“What do you want to do?“
“It will be a memory!“
And taking a pencil, he wrote on it:
This is the powder box
From my friend
And he laughingly placed the nest in his bag.
I lost sight of him in the woods, and returned to the house.