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all their underground workings were exposed to observation. I found their nests below to consist of numerous rounded chambers, about as large as a man's head, connected together by tunnelled passages leading from one chamber to another. Notwithstanding that many columns of the ants were continually carrying in the cut leaves, I could never find any quantity of these in the burrows, and it was evident that they were used up in some way immediately they were brought in. The chambers were always about three parts filled with a
speckled, brown, flocculent, spongy-looking mass of a light and loosely connected substance. Throughout these masses were numerous ants belonging to the smallest division of the workers, which do not engage in leafcarrying. Along with them were pupa and larvæ, not gathered together, but dispersed, apparently irregularly, throughout the flocculent mass. This mass, which I have called the ant-food, proved, on examination, to be composed of minutely subdivided pieces of leaves, withered to a brown colour, and overgrown and lightly connected together by a minute white fungus that rami
fied in every direction throughout it. I not only found this fungus in every chamber I opened, but also in the chambers of the nest of a distinct species that generally comes out only in the night-time, often entering houses and carrying off various farinaceous substances, and which does not make mounds above its nests, but long, winding passages, terminating in chambers similar to the common species, and always, like them, three parts filled with flocculent masses of fungus-covered vegetable matter, amongst which are the ant-nurses and immature ants. When a nest is disturbed, and the masses of ant-food spread about, the ants are in great concern to carry every morsel of it under shelter again; and sometimes, when I had dug into a nest, I found the next day all the earth thrown out filled with little pits that the ants had dug into it to get out the covered up food. When they migrate from one part to another, they also carry with them all the ant-food from their old habitations. That they do not eat the leaves themselves I convinced myself; for I found near the tenanted chambers, deserted ones filled with the refuse particles of leaves that had been exhausted as manure for the fungus, and were now left, and served as food for larvæ of Staphylinidæ and other beetles.*
These ants do not confine themselves to leaves, but also carry off any vegetable substance that they find suitable for growing the fungus on. They are very partial to the inside white rind of oranges, and I have
* This theory that the leaf-cutting ants feed on a fungus which they cultivate has been confirmed by Mr. Fritz Müllar, who had arrived at it independently in Brazil. His observations on this and various other habits of insects are contained in a letter to Mr. Charles Darwin, published in Nature of June 11, 1874.
also seen them cutting up and carrying off the flowers of certain shrubs, the leaves of which they neglected. They are particular about the ventilation of their underground chambers, and have numerous holes leading up to the surface from them. These they open out or close up, apparently to keep up a regular degree of temperature below. The great care they take that the pieces of leaves they carry into the nest should be neither too dry nor too damp, is also consistent with the idea that the object is the growth of a fungus that requires particular conditions of temperature and moisture to ensure its vigorous growth. If a sudden shower should come on, the ants do not carry the wet pieces into the burrows, but throw them down near the entrances. Should the weather clear up again, these pieces are picked up when nearly dried, and taken inside; should the rain, however, continue, they get sodden down into the ground, and are left there. On the contrary, in dry and hot weather, when the leaves would get dried up before they could be conveyed to the nest, the ants, when in exposed situations, do not go out at all during the hot hours, but bring in their leafy burdens in the cool of the day and during the night. As soon as the pieces of leaves are carried in they must be cut up by the small class of workers into little pieces. I have never seen the smallest class of ants carrying in leaves; their duties appear to be inside, cutting them up into smaller fragments, and nursing the immature ants. I have, however, seen them running out along the paths with the others; but instead of helping to carry in the burdens, they climb on the top of the pieces which are being carried along by the middlesized workers, and so get a ride home again. It is very
probable that they take a run out merely for air and exercise. The largest class of what are called workers are, I believe, the directors and protectors of the others. They are never seen out of the nest, excepting on particular occasions, such as the migrations of the ants, and when one of the working columns or nests is attacked; they then come stalking up, and attack the enemy with their strong jaws. Sometimes, when digging into the burrows, one of these giants has unperceived climbed up my dress, and the first intimation of his presence has been the burying of his jaws in my neck, from which he would not fail to draw the blood. The stately observant way in which they stalk about, and their great size, compared with the others, always impressed me with the idea that in their bulky heads lay the brains that directed the community in its various duties. Many of their actions, such as that I have mentioned of two relays of workmen carrying out the ant-food, can scarcely be blind instinct. Some of the ants make mistakes, and carry in unsuitable leaves. Thus grass is nearly always rejected by them, yet I have seen some ants, perhaps young ones, carrying in leaves of grass. After a while these pieces were invariably brought out again and thrown away. I can imagine a young ant getting a severe earwigging from one of the major-domos for its stupidity.
I shall conclude this long account of the leaf-cutting ants with an instance of their reasoning powers. A nest was made near one of our tramways, and to get to the trees the ants had to cross the rails, over which the waggons were continually passing and repassing. Every time they came along a number of ants were crushed to death. They persevered in crossing for several days, but at last set to work and tunnelled underneath each rail. One day, when the waggons were not running, I stopped up the tunnels with stones; but although great numbers carrying leaves were thus cut off from the nest, they would not cross the rails, but set to work making fresh tunnels underneath them. Apparently an order had gone forth, or a general understanding been come to, that the rails were not to be crossed.
These ants do not appear to have many enemies, though I sometimes found holes burrowed into their nests, probably by the small armadillo. I once saw a minute parasitic fly hovering over a column of ants, near a nest, and every now and then darting down and attaching an egg to one entering. Large, horned beetles (Cælosis biloba) and a species of Staphylinus are found in the nests, but probably their larvæ live on the rotten leaves, after the ants have done with them.