Page images
PDF
EPUB

with a sketch of such other groups of insects as from their numbers, variety, habits, or other important features, attract the attention of the traveller from colder climates. We begin then with a group, which owing to their small size and obscure colours would attract little attention, but which nevertheless, by the universality of their presence, their curious habits, and the annoyance they often cause to man, are sure to force themselves upon the attention of every one who visits the tropics. Ants, Wasps, and Bees.—The hymenopterous insects of the tropics are, next to the butterflies, those which come most prominently before the traveller, as they love the sunshine, frequent gardens, houses, and roadways as well as the forest shades, never seek concealment, and are many of them remarkable for their size or form, or are adorned with beautiful colours and conspicuous markings. Although ants are, perhaps, on the whole the smallest and the least attractive in appearance of all tropical insects, yet, owing to their being excessively abundant and almost omnipresent, as well as on account of their curious habits and the necessity of being ever on the watch against their destructive powers, they deserve our first notice. Ants are found everywhere. They abound in houses, some living underground, others in the thatched roof on the under surface of which they make their nests, while covered ways of earth are often constructed upon the posts and doors. In the forests they live on the ground, under leaves, on the branches of trees, or under rotten bark; while others actually dwell in living plants, which seem to be specially modified so as to accommodate them. Some sting severely, others only bite ; some are quite harmless, others exceedingly destructive. The number of different kinds is very great. In India and the Malay Archipelago nearly 500 different species have been found, and other tropical countries are no doubt equally rich. I will first give some account of the various species observed in the Malay Islands, and afterwards describe some of the more interesting South American groups, which have been so carefully observed by Mr. Bates on the Amazon and by Mr. Belt in Nicaragua. Among the very commonest ants in all parts of the world are the species of the family Formicidae, which do not sting, and are most of them quite harmless. Some make delicate papery nests, others live under stones or among grass. Several of them accompany Aphides to feed upon the sweet secretions from their bodies. They vary in size from the large Formica gigas, more than an inch long, to minute species so small as to be hardly visible. Those of the genus Polyrachis, which are plentiful in all Eastern forests, are remarkable for the extraordinary hooks and spines with which their bodies are armed, and they are also in many cases beautifully sculptured or furrowed. They are not numerous individually, and are almost all arboreal, crawling about bark and foliage. One species has processes on its back just like fish-hooks, others are armed with long, straight spines. They generally form papery nests on leaves, and when disturbed they rush out and strike their bodies against the nest so as to produce a loud rattling noise; but the nest of every species differs from those of all others either in size, shape, or position. As they all live in rather small communities in exposed situations, are not very active, and are rather large and G

[ocr errors]

conspicuous, they must be very much exposed to the attacks of insectivorous birds and other creatures; and, having no sting or powerful jaws with which to defend themselves, they would be liable to extermination without some special protection. This protection they no doubt obtain by their hard smooth bodies, and by the curious hooks, spines, points and bristles with which they are armed, which must render them unpalatable morsels, very liable to stick in the jaws or throats of their captors. A curious and very common species in the Malay Islands is the green ant (OEcophylla smaragdina), a rather large, long-legged, active, and intelligent-looking creature, which lives in large nests formed by glueing together the edges of leaves, especially of Zingiberaceous plants. When the nest is touched a number of the ants rush out, apparently in a great rage, stand erect, and make a loud rattling noise by tapping against the leaves. This no doubt frightens away many enemies, and is their only protection ; for though they attempt to bite, their jaws are blunt and feeble, and they do not cause any pain. Coming now to the stinging groups, we have first a number of solitary ants of the great genus Odontomachus, which are seen wandering about the forest, and are conspicuous by their enormously long and slender hooked jaws. These are not powerful, but serve admirably to hold on by while they sting, which they do pretty severely. The Poneridae are another group of largesized ants which sting acutely. They are very varied in species but are not abundant individually. The Ponera clavata of Guiana, is one of the worst stinging ants known. It is a large species frequenting the forests on the ground, and is much dreaded by the natives, as its sting produces intense pain and illness. I was myself stung by this or an allied species when walking barefoot in the forest on the Upper Rio Negro. It caused such pain and swelling of the leg that I had some difficulty in reaching home, and was confined to my room for two days. Sir Robert Schomburgh suffered more ; for he fainted with the pain, and had an attack of fever in consequence. We now come to the Myrmecidae, which may be called the destroying ants from their immense abundance and destructive propensities. Many of them sting most acutely, causing a pain like that of a sudden burn, whence they are often called “fire-ants.” They often swarm in houses and devour everything eatable. Isolation by water is the only security, and even this does not always succeed, as a little dust on the surface will enable the smaller species to get across. Oil is, however, an effectual protection, and after many losses of valuable insect specimens, for which ants have a special affection, I always used it. One species of this group, a small black Crematogaster, took possession of my house in New Guinea, building nests in the roof and making covered ways down the posts and across the floor. They also occupied the setting boards I used for pinning out my butterflies, filling up the grooves with cells and storing them with small spiders. They were in constant motion, running over my table, in my bed, and all over my body. Luckily, they were diurnal, so that on sweeping out my bed at night I could get on pretty well;

but during the day I could always feel some of them

running over my body, and every now and then one would give me a sting so sharp as to make me jump and search instantly for the offender, who was usually found holding on tight with his jaws, and thrusting in his sting with all his might. Another genus, Pheidole, consists of forest ants, living under rotten bark or in the ground, and very voracious. They are brown or blackish, and are remarkable for their great variety of size and form in the same species, the largest having enormous heads many times larger than their bodies, and being at least a hundred times as bulky as the smallest individuals. These great-headed ants are very sluggish and incapable of keeping up with the more active small workers, which often surround and drag them along as if they were wounded soldiers. It is difficult to see what use they can be in the colony, unless, as Mr. Bates suggests, they are mere baits to be attacked by insect-eating birds, and thus save their more useful companions. These ants devour grubs, white ants, and other soft and helpless insects, and seem to take the place of the foraging ants of America and driver-ants of Africa, though they are far less numerous and less destructive. An allied genus, Solenopsis, consists of red ants, which, in the Moluccas, frequent houses, and are a most terrible pest. They form colonies underground, and work their way up through the floors, devouring everything eatable. Their sting is excessively painful, and some of the species are hence called fire-ants. When a house is infested by them, all the tables and boxes must be supported on blocks of wood or stone placed in dishes of water, as even clothes not newly washed are attractive to them; and woe to the poor fellow who puts on garments in the folds of which

« EelmineJätka »