Letter | Published:

Socialism in South Africa


I NOTICED this morning that along the bottom of the front wall of my house, on the verandah, there lay a quantity of reddish-brown powder; there was enough to fill a coffee-cup. On looking closer I saw that it was made up of small and larger fragments which glistened, and on inspecting some in my hand they turned out to be the heads, legs, trunks, &c., of countless ants. A number of these animals were still on the wall above, and my attention being now arrested, I watched them, and saw that they were contributing to the carnage beneath. This species of ant is a small, comparatively harmless one, the chief sin of which is that it makes its way to every species of food and swarms on it. As is usual with ants, the general body of insects is accompanied by larger individuals, which are provided with heads and jaws quite disproportionate to their bodies, and with these jaws they do all the cutting up. Among the ants on the wall there was a large sprinkling of these “soldier ants”, and the whole community seemed to be bent on destroying them. The proportion of heavy jawed to ordinary ants was about one to ten. I saw a group of little ones fastening on to a big one, which made desperate efforts to release itself. At first the big one bit several little ones in two, and the parts dropped down from the wall; but after a while the little ones severed all the legs of the big one, and finally got on his back and cut him in two. The group then dropped down to swell the mass below. Similar scenes were enacted elsewhere on the wall. The commencement of one combat was as follows:—A big ant walked along till it met another big one, and the two shook antennæ. Just then a little, one seized hold of a hind leg of one of these big ones. Neither took any notice, but continued a rapid conversation. Suddenly other small ones came up; when the big one whose leg was grabbed turned furiously on the little one and seized him by the middle. This could not be done until the big one had doubled himself up; as soon as he had hold of his small antagonist he lifted him in the air and snipped him in two. Meanwhile all the big one's legs had been seized by little ones, and the party seemed to turn over and over, little bits tumbling down, now a leg, now half an ant, till the big one was vanquished.

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