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16 THE NATURALIST IN NICARAGUA. [Ch. II.
although it rained heavily again, I was better prepared for it, and, coiling myself up under an umbrella beneath the tarpaulin, managed to sleep a little. We started again before daylight, and at ten stopped at a small clearing for breakfast. I strolled back a little way into the gloomy forest, but it was not easy to get along on account of the undergrowth and numerous climbing plants that bound it together. I saw one of the large olive-green and brown mot-mots
HEADS OF MOT-MOTS.
(Momotus marţii), sitting up on a branch of a tree, moving its long curious tail from side to side, so that it was nearly at right angles to its body. I afterwards saw other species in the forests and savannahs of Chontales. They all have several characters in
Ch. II.] FORAGING ANTS. 17
common, which are linked together in a series of gradations from species to species. One of these features is a spot of black feathers on the breast. In some species this is edged with blue, in others, as in the species mentioned above, these black feathers are nearly obsolete, forming only a small black spot nearly hidden amongst the rust-coloured feathers of the breast. Characters such as these, very conspicuous in some species, shading off in others through various gradations to insignificance, if not extinction, are known by naturalists to occur in numerous genera ; and so far they have only been explained on the supposition of the descent of the different species from a common progenitor. As I returned to the boat, I crossed a column of the army or foraging ants, many of them dragging along the legs and mangled bodies of insects that they had captured in their foray. I afterwards often encountered these ants in the forests, and it may be convenient to place together all the facts I learnt respecting them.
ECITONs, or For AGING ANTs.-The Ecitons, or foraging ants, are very numerous throughout Central America. Whilst the leaf-cutting ants are entirely vegetable feeders, the foraging ants are hunters, and live solely on insects or other prey; and it is a curious analogy that, like the hunting races of mankind, they have to change their hunting-grounds when one is exhausted, and move on to another. In Nicaragua they are generally called “Army Ants.” One of the smaller species (Eciton predator) used occasionally to visit our house and Swarm over the floors and walls, searching every cranny, and driving out
the cockroaches and spiders, many of which were caught, C
pulled, bitten to pieces and carried off. The individuals of this species were of various sizes; the smallest measuring one and a quarter lines, and the largest three lines, or a quarter of an inch. I saw many large armies of this, or a closely allied species, in the forest. My attention was generally first called to them by the twittering of some small birds, belonging to several different species, that follow the ants in the woods. On approaching, a dense body of the ants, three or four yards wide, and so numerous as to blacken the ground, would be seen moving rapidly in one direction, examining every cranny, and underneath every fallen leaf. On the flanks, and in advance of the main body, smaller columns would be pushed out. These Smaller columns would generally first flush the cockroaches, grasshoppers, and spiders. The pursued insects would rapidly make off, but many, in their confusion and terror, would bound right into the midst of the main body of ants. At first the grasshopper, when it found itself in the midst of its enemies, would give vigorous leaps, with perhaps two or three of the ants clinging to its legs. Then it would stop a moment to rest, and that moment would be fatal, for the tiny foes would swarm over the prey, and after a few more ineffectual struggles it would succumb to its fate, and soon be bitten to pieces and carried off to the rear. The greatest catch of the ants was, however, when they got amongst some fallen brushwood. The cockroaches, spiders, and other insects, instead of running right away, would ascend the fallen branches and remain there, whilst the host of ants were occupying all the ground below. By-and-by up would come some of the ants, following every branch, and
Ch. II.] REMARFOABLE CASE OF INSTINCT. i9
driving before them their prey to the ends of the small twigs, when nothing remained for them but to leap, and they would alight in the very throng of their foes, with the result of being certainly caught and pulled to pieces. Many of the spiders would escape by hanging suspended by a thread of silk from the branches, safe from the foes that swarmed both above and below. I noticed that spiders generally were most intelligent in escaping, and did not, like the cockroaches and other insects, take shelter in the first hiding-place they found, only to be driven out again, or perhaps caught by the advancing army of ants. I have often seen large spiders making off many yards in advance, and apparently determined to put a good distance between themselves and the foe. I once saw one of the false spiders, or harvest-men (Phalangidae), standing in the midst of an army of ants, and with the greatest circumspection and coolness lifting, one after the other, its long legs, which supported its body above their reach. Sometimes as many as five out of its eight legs would be lifted at once, and whenever an ant approached one of those on which it stood, there was always a clear space within reach to put down another, so as to be able to hold up the threatened one out of danger. I was much more surprised with the behaviour of a green, leaf-like locust. This insect stood immovably amongst a host of ants, many of which ran over its legs, without ever discovering there was food within their reach. So fixed was its instinctive knowledge that its safety depended on its immovability, that it allowed me to pick it up and replace it amongst the ants without
making a single effort to escape. This species closely resembles a green leaf, and the other senses, which in the Ecitons appear to be more acute than that of sight, must have been completely deceived. It might easily have escaped from the ants by using its wings, but it would only have fallen into as great a danger, for the numerous birds that accompany the army ants are ever on the outlook for any insect that may fly up, and the heavy flying locusts, grasshoppers, and cockroaches have no chance of escape. Several species of ant-thrushes always accompany the army ants in the forest. They do not, however, feed on the ants, but on the insects they disturb. Besides the ant-thrushes, trogons, creepers, and a variety of other birds, are often seen on the branches of trees above where an ant army is foraging below, pursuing and catching the insects that fly up. The insects caught by the ants are dismembered, and their too bulky bodies bitten to pieces and carried off to the rear; and behind the army there are always small columns engaged on this duty. I have followed up these columns often ; generally they led to dense masses of impenetrable brushwood, but twice they led me to cracks in the ground, down which the ants dragged their prey. These habitations are only temporary, for in a few days not an ant would be seen in the neighbourhood, but all would have moved off to fresh hunting-grounds. Another much larger species of foraging ant (Eciton hamata) hunts sometimes in dense armies, sometimes in columns, according to the prey it may be after. When in columns, I found that it was generally, if not always, in search of the nests of another ant (Hypoclinea sp.), which bear their young in holes in rotten trunks of fallen timber, and are very common in cleared places. The