Ant colonies

Ant colonies

Ant coloniesOrganized society, whether among insects or men, implies some form of government; and that implies citizenship.

And fidelity to the just and natural service of citizens is communal righteousness. May we apply such a term to insects?

And if so, what is the character of such a quality; or, if one may venture so to put it, what is the duality of such a character? And is it in any measure comparable with communal righteousness as the phrase goes amoung men? The inquiry will here be limited to ants; but the study requires the statement of some preliminary facts, so that readers may have a true conception of the field which our thoughts are to explore.

Some insects are "solitary"; they live alone. Others are "social"; they live in communities. There is such a striking contrast between the manners of the two groups that one wonders how the distinction arose. True, at the beginning of life most insects are massed, since their mothers lay their eggs in compact clusters. But if one start with the theory that this may have left in the germ of being a tendency which, under favorable conditions might be transferred to the adult, he is met by certain facts that may confound his reasoning.

For example, the eggs of ants and bees are dropped separately, yet they produce insects of the strongest social habits. The moth of the tent caterpillar oviposits in clusters, and her progeny keep together in the larval state. The eggs of the garden orbweaver, like those of most spiders, are laid in carefully sheltered masses, and the young are partly reared together in the silken tent which the mother overspins. Moreover, they start independent life in a self-woven silken compound. The lycosid, a ground spider, drags her round cocoon behind her until the eggs are hatched, and then bears the younglings about clustered upon her back. Yet soon the centrifugal factor in vital force drives the young of moth, orbweaver, and lycosid asunder, and thereafter their life is solitary.

With social insects the tendency is reversed. Beginning life solitary, as in the case of the maternal founder of an ant's nest, the individual becomes a family, and the family a community, and this may develop into a vast commonwealth containing many thousands or even millions of individuals. When the circle of life is complete, the vital centripetal force which binds these communities together is relaxed, in a movement of impassioned communal fervor, to allow the outgoing of the winged males and females, as with ants; or the swarming of a new community, as with bees. This is the "commencement" time in the insect calendar, when a matured sliver of the community is struck off and pushed into independent life.

Among ants these communities vary in population from a few score to many thousands. There are villages, towns, cities - each, for the most part, independent of all others, and each complete within itself, a separate tribe, a sovereign state. That the orderly and successful conduct of such communities must spring, consciously or unconsciously, from some system, is self evident. What is that system? What are its laws, its customs, its methods of administration? Is an ant-hill a monarchy, a republic, a democracy, a socialistic commune? How does its government compare - if in any wise comparable - with the civil governments of men? And what lessons in civics can we learn therefrom?

Surely, an interesting inquiry here opens up; for, whatever the result, it must give us a glimpse of nature pure and simple. To this this website's purpose is mainly directed; but, as a by-product of our studies, we confess a keen interest in those reflections that traverse the field of human civics, and which inevitably arise as one pursues the history of life in ant communes.

In many parts of the Alleghany Mountains, and in middle and eastern Pennsylvania, in New Jersey, in the White Mountains and elsewhere, are distributed the large conical nests of the mound-making ants of the Alleghanies, Formica exsectoides. These vary in size from newly begun colonies a few inches high to mature hills, measuring thirty-seven feet in circumference at the base, though rarely more than three feet high. They occur in groups; and in one site near Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, within a space of fifty acres, the writer counted seventeen hundred well-developed mounds. At two other localities in these mountains similar groups were observed even more thickly placed.