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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Ant, fifth order of insects, occurs Proverbs 6:6; Proverbs 30:25. Ants have only latterly become the subjects of accurate observation, and the result has dissipated many erroneous notions respecting them, and revealed much interesting information concerning their domestic polity, language, migrations, affections, passions, virtues, wars, diversions, etc. The following facts are selected as relevant to Scriptural illustration. Ants dwell together in societies; and although they have 'no guide, overseer, or ruler,' yet they have all one soul, and are animated by one object—their own welfare and the welfare of each other. Each individual strenuously pursues his own peculiar duties; and regards (except in the case of females), and is regarded by every other member of the republic with equal respect and affection. They devote the utmost attention to their young. The egg is cleaned and licked, and gradually expands under this treatment, till the worm is hatched, which is then tended and fed with the most affectionate care. They continue their assiduity to the pupa, or chrysalis, which is the third transformation. They heap up the pupae, which greatly resemble so many grains of wheat, or rather rice, by hundreds in their spacious lodges, watch them in an attitude of defense, carry them out to enjoy the radiance of the sun, and remove them to different situations in the nest, according to the required degree of temperature; open the pupa, and at the precise moment of the transformation, disenthrall the new-born insect of its habiliments.

The most prevalent and inexcusable error, however, respecting ants, has been the belief that they hoard up grains of corn, chiefly wheat, for their supply during winter, having first bitten out the germ to prevent it from growing in their nests. This notion, however, is now completely exploded with regard to European ants. The mistake has no doubt arisen from the great similarity, both in shape, size, and color, before mentioned, of the pupa or chrysalis of the ant to a grain of corn, and from the ants being observed to carry them about, and to open the cuticle to let out the enclosed insect. It is now also ascertained beyond a doubt that no European ants, hitherto properly examined, feed on corn, or any other kind of grain. Nor has any species of ant been yet found of any kind laid up in its nest. The truth is, that ants are chiefly carnivorous, preying indiscriminately on all the soft parts of other insects, and especially the viscera; also upon worms, whether dead or alive, and small birds or animals. If unable to drag their booty to the nest, they make an abundant meal upon it, and, like the bee, disgorge it, upon their return home, for the use of their companions; and they appear able to retain at pleasure the nutritious juices unchanged for a considerable time. Ants are also extremely fond of saccharine matter, which they obtain from the exudation of trees, or from ripe fruits, etc.; but their favorite food is the saccharine exudation from the body of the aphides, or plant-lice. These insects insert their tube or sucker between the fibers of vegetables, where they find a most substantial nutriment. This nutriment they retain a considerable time, if no ant approaches them. The ant has the talent of procuring it from the aphides at pleasure. It approaches the aphis, strikes it gently and repeatedly with its antennae, when it instantly discharges the juice by two tubes, easily discerned to be standing out from its body. These creatures are the milch kine of the ants. By a remarkable coincidence, which M. Huber justly considers too much to be ascribed to chance, the aphides and the ants become torpid at the same degree of cold (27° F.), and revive together at the same degree of warmth. He says, 'I am not acquainted with any ants to whom the art of obtaining from the pucerons (aphides) their subsistence is unknown. We might even venture to affirm that these insects are made for their use' (Huber, Natural History of Ants, p. 210, etc.).

It is highly probable that the exotic ants subsist by similar means. The accounts given us of the termites, or ants, inhabiting the hottest climates, clearly show that they are carnivorous. Bosman, in his description of Guinea, says that they will devour a sheep in one night, and that a fowl is amusement to them only for an hour. In these situations living animals often become their victims. An Italian missionary at Congo relates that a cow in a stall had been known to be devoured by these devastators. We have therefore every reason to conclude that the ants of Palestine, like those of Europe, are carnivorous, become torpid in winter, and need no magazine of provisions. The words of Solomon (Proverbs 6:6, etc.), properly considered, give no countenance to the ancient error respecting ants. He does not affirm that the ant, which he proposes to the sluggard as an example, laid up in her magazine stores of grain against winter, but that, with considerable prudence and foresight, she makes use of proper seasons to collect a supply of provisions sufficient for her purposes. There is not a word in them implying that she stores up grain or other provisions. She prepares her bread and gathers her food (namely, such food as is suited to her) in summer and harvest (that is, when it is most plentiful), and thus shows her wisdom and prudence by using the advantages offered to her. The sense is thus ably given by Dr. Hammond: 'As in the matter just mentioned the least delay is pernicious, so in all things else sluggishness, or negligence of those things which concern us most nearly, should ever be avoided; and if we need any instructor on this head, we may go to one of the least and meanest of creatures.' The moral, then, intended in Solomon's allusion to the ant, is simply to avail one's self of the favorable time without delay.





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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Ant'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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