Termites Kept in Captivity by Ants


WHEN entomologising in Portugal in 1877, in the neighbourhood of Cintra, I found the nest of Formica nigra under a stone. On my turning it over there was, as usual, great consternation in the community, and I discovered that it was evidently caused by the fear lest a colony of Termes lucifugus, which the Formicas had enslaved, should escape. The Nigras instantly began seizing the Termites, driving them underground by the nearest orifices, in the meantime wrenching and pulling off their wings in the most unceremonious manner. I observed a large number of wings lying in heaps here and there in the nest as if this treatment had been practised before. In the nest there was also a great number of Termite larvæ. The great object of the owners of the “location” seemed to be to get these larvæ underground as speedily as possible. The ants fell on them with great impetuosity, seizing them anyhow and anywhere, dragging them against the most strenuous opposition (their behaviour strikingly contrasting with the meekness of their winged fellows) into the nearest apertures of the underground home. Very often this opposition resulted in a long and stern fight, in which the larvæ were often badly wounded, being deprived sometimes of their antennæ, sometimes of half their jaws, and not seldom killed outright. Occasionally, however, the larvæ were victorious, beating off the Formicas, in which case they (the larvæ) did not make off, but remained perambulating the nest. I saw one larva drawn at the end of a long fight by its antenna, while it strenuously held on to a small ball of earth which had proved a vain anchorage for its feet, for larva and clod together were dragged across the top of the nest (made by the impression of the stone) five or six inches, up the side, 11/2 inch, and away among the grass, where, losing the ball of earth, it seized a stalk so firmly that its abductor could not drag it farther, whereupon, after reconnoitring the ground for a little distance the latter disappeared, but returned shortly with a companion, with whose aid the larva was detached. This done, the helper returned home while the abductor proceeded with his prisoner till lost to view in the grass, some twelve or fourteen inches from the spot whence it originally started.

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FORBES, H. Termites Kept in Captivity by Ants. Nature 19, 4–5 (1878). https://doi.org/10.1038/019004b0

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