Saturday, May 28, 2005

Darwin writes about the GOP

CHAP. VII. SLAVE-MAKING INSTINCT. 219—This ant is absolutely dependent on its slaves; without their aid, the species would certainly become extinct in a single year. The males and fertile females do no work. The workers or sterile females, though most energetic and courageous in capturing slaves, do no other work. They are incapable of making their own nests, or of feeding their own larvæ. When the old nest is found inconvenient, and they have to migrate, it is the slaves which determine the migration, and actually carry their masters in their jaws. So utterly helpless are the masters, that when Huber shut up thirty of them without a slave, but with plenty of the food which they like best, and with their larvæ and pupæ to stimulate them to work, they did nothing; they could not even feed themselves, and many perished of hunger.

I opened fourteen nests of F. sanguinea, and found a few slaves in all. Males and fertile females of the slave-species are found only in their own proper communities, and have never been observed in the nests of F. sanguinea. The slaves are black and not above half the size of their red masters, so that the contrast in their appearance is very great. When the nest is slightly disturbed, the slaves occasionally come out, and like their masters are much agitated and defend the nest: when the nest is much disturbed and the larvæ and pupæ are exposed, the slaves work energetically with their masters in carrying them away to a place of safety. Hence, it is clear, that the slaves feel quite at home. During the months of June and July, on three successive years, I have watched for many hours several nests in Surrey and Sussex, and never saw a slave either leave or enter a nest... The masters, on the other hand, may be constantly seen bringing in materials for the nest, and food of all kinds.

One day I fortunately chanced to witness a migration from one nest to another, and it was a most interesting spectacle to behold the masters carefully carrying, as Huber has described, their slaves in their jaws. Another day my attention was struck by about a score of the slave-makers haunting the same spot, and evidently not in search of food; they approached and were vigorously repulsed by an independent community of the slave species (F. fusca); sometimes as many as three of these ants clinging to the legs of the slave-making F. sanguinea. The latter ruthlessly killed their small opponents, and carried their dead bodies as food to their nest, twenty-nine yards distant; but they were prevented from getting any pupæ to rear as slaves. I then dug up a small parcel of the pupæ of F. fusca from another nest, and put them down on a bare spot near the place of combat; they were eagerly seized, and carried off by the tyrants, who perhaps fancied that, after all, they had been victorious in their late combat.

At the same time I laid on the same place a small parcel of the pupæ of another species, F. flava, with a few of these little yellow ants still clinging to the fragments of the nest. Although so small a species, it is very courageous, and I have seen it ferociously attack other ants. In one instance I found to my surprise an independent community of F. flava under a stone beneath a nest of the slave-making F. sanguinea; and when I had accidentally disturbed both nests, the little ants attacked their big neighbours with surprising courage. Now I was curious to ascertain whether F. sanguinea could distinguish the pupæ of F. fusca, which they habitually make into slaves, from those of the little and furious F. flava, which they rarely capture, and it was evident that they did at once distinguish them: for we have seen that they eagerly and instantly seized the pupæ of F. fusca, whereas they were much terrified when they came across the pupæ, or even the earth from the nest of F. flava, and quickly ran away; but in about a quarter of an hour, shortly after all the little yellow ants had crawled away, they took heart and carried off the pupæ.

Sorry, I just couldn't help myself. Salute


  1. hahahah! the origin of species redefined!! I thoroughly enjoyed it!!

  2. Gotta revisit Darwin on occassion, esp. since he's under attack these days!