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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(נְמָלָח, nemalah', either from an Arab. root, signifying creeping, or rather from נָמִל, to cut off [circumcise], from its destructive habits, or, still better, from its insect form; Sept. μύρμηξ, Vulg.formica) occurs Proverbs 6:6; Proverbs 30:25. In both passages its provident habits are referred to, especially its providing its food in the summer. This has generally been supposed to imply that these insects 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. Bochart has collected an immense array of the most eminent authors and naturalists of antiquity (Jewish, Greek, Roman, and Arabian), who all gravely propound this assertion (Hieroz. 3, 478 sq.; comp. Aristot. Anim. 9, 26; Pliny, Hist. Nat. 11:36; Horace, Sat. 1, 1, 38). But it is now ascertained beyond a doubt that no European ants, hitherto properly examined, feed on corn or any other kind of grain. (See Kirby and Spence's Entomology, p. 313, 7th ed. London, 1856, where the question is fully discussed.) Bonnet found that, however long they had been kept without food, they would not touch corn. Nor do they attack the roots or stems of corn, nor any other vegetable matter. Nor has any species of ant been yet found, with food 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. Every one must have observed these insects on the rose-tree, etc. Each different species of vegetable has its peculiar species of aphis (Reaumur, 6:566). The aphides insert their tube or sucker between the fibres 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 st inding 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 deg. Fahr.), and revive together at the same degree of warmth (Huber, Natural History of Ants, p. 210, etc.).
In the Introduction to Entomology, by Kirby and Spence, some diffidence is expressed (2, 46) respecting the inference that no exotic ants have magazines of provisions, till their habits shall have been "more accurately explored." Still, are we not in possession of sufficient data to form a strong presumption in regard to the ants of Palestine, to which Solomon of course alludes in his writings? The ants of the Holy Land certainly have to encounter a degree of cold quite as severe as ever occurs in England (Kitto, Physical Hist. of Palestine, p. 210, 216). Is it not highly probable that the ants at such times become torpid, and need no magazine of provisions? And since we learn from the same authority (p. 31) that there are intervals, even in the depth of winter, when the sun shines, and there is no wind, when it is perfectly warm, sometimes almost hot, in the open air, may not the ants of Palestine and their food revive together at such times, as is the case in other countries, where ants may often be seen pursuing their avocations over the snow? With regard to Solomon's words respecting the ant, Kirby and Spence are of opinion that, "if they are properly considered, it will be found that the interpretation which seems to favor the ancient error respecting ants has been fathered upon them rather than fairly deduced from them. He does not affirm that the ant, which he proposes to the sluggard as an example, laid up in her magazines 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."
It is true that Col. Sykes speaks (Transactions of Entomol. Soc. 2, 103) of a species of Indian ant which he calls Atta providens, so called from the fact of his having found a large store of grass-seeds in its nest; but the amount of that gentleman's observations merely go to show that this ant carries seeds underground, and brings them again to the surface after they have got wet during the monsoons, apparently to dry. "There is not," writes Mr. F. Smith (Catalogue of the Formicidae in the British Museum, 1858, p. 180), "any evidence of the seeds having been stored for food;" he observes that the processionary ant of Brazil ((Ecodoma cephalotes) carries immense quantities of portions of leaves into its underground nests, and that it was supposed that these leaves were for food; but that Mr. Bates satisfied himself that the leaves were for the purpose of lining the channels of the nest, and not for food. There is no evidence that any portion of plants ever forms an article of their Diet. The fact is, that ants seem to delight in running away with almost any thing they find — small portions of sticks, leaves, little stones — as any one can testify who has cared to watch the habits of this insect. This will explain the erroneous opinion which the ancients held with respect to that part of the economy of the ant now under consideration; nor is it, perhaps, necessary to conclude that the error originated in observers mistaking the cocoons for grains of corn, to which they bear much resemblance. It is scarcely credible that Aristotle, Virgil, Horace, etc., who all speak of this insect storing up grains of corn, should have been so far misled, or have been such bad observers, as to have taken the cocoons for grains. Ants do carry off grains of corn, just as they carry off other things, not, however, as was stated, for food, but for their nests. "They are great robbers," says Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book, p. 337), "and plunder by night as well as by day; and the farmer must keep a sharp eye to his floor, or they will abstract a large quantity of grain in a single night." (See CISTERN).
It is right to state that a well-known entomologist, the Rev. F. W. Hope, in a paper "On some Doubts respecting the (Economy of Ants" (Trans. Entom. Soc. 2, 211), is of opinion that Colossians Sykes's observations do tend to show that there are species of exotic ants which store up food for winter consumption; but it must be remembered that Mr. Bates's investigations are subsequent to the publication of that paper. (See Encycl. Brit. 8th ed. s.v.)
The particular species of ant referred to by Solomon has not been identified; and, in fact, ants have only latterly become the subjects of accurate observation. The investigations of Latreille (Histoire Naturelle des Fourmis, Par. 1802), Gould, Geer, Huber, and Kirby and Spence, have dissipated many erroneous notions respecting them, and revealed much interesting information concerning their domestic polity, language, migrations, affections, passions, virtues, wars, diversions, etc. (see Penny Cyclopcedia, s.v.). 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 pupae and, at the precise moment of the transformation, disinthrall the new-born insect of its habiliments.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Ant'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/a/ant.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.