The Intelligence of Ants

- By Sir John Lubbock
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John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury, 4th Baronet, PC, DL, FRS, FRAI (30 April 1834 – 28 May 1913), known as Sir John Lubbock, 4th Baronet from 1865 until 1900, was an English banker, Liberal politician, philanthropist, scientist and polymath. Lubbock worked in his family company as a banker but made significant contributions in archaeology, ethnography, and several branches of biology. He coined the terms "Paleolithic" and "Neolithic" to denote the Old and New Stone Ages, respectively. He helped establish archaeology as a scientific discipline, and was also influential in nineteenth-century debates concerning evolutionary theory.[1] He introduced the first law for the protection of the UK's archaeological and architectural heritage. He was also a founding member of the X Club. John Lubbock was born in 1834, the son of Sir John Lubbock, 3rd Baronet, a London banker, and was brought up in the family home of High Elms Estate, near Downe in Kent. The family had two homes, one at 29 Eaton Place, Belgrave Square where John was born and another in Mitcham Grove. Lubbock senior had studied mathematics at Cambridge University and had written on probability, and on astronomy. A Fellow of the Royal Society, he was keenly involved in the scientific debates of the time apart from serving as the Vice Chancellor of London University. During 1842, his father brought home a "great piece of news": the young Lubbock said later that he initially thought that the news might be of a new pony, and was disappointed to learn it was only that Charles Darwin was moving to Down House in the village.[2] The youth was soon a frequent visitor to Down House, and became the closest of Darwin's younger friends.[3] Their relationship stimulated young Lubbock's passion for science and evolutionary theory.[1] John's mother, Harriet, was deeply religious.

The Intelligence of Ants

1. The subject of ants is a wide one. There are at least a thousand species of ants, all with their own habits.
2. A community of ants includes:
*the young
*the males, which do not work
*the wingless workers
*and one or more queen mothers
3. The queens have wings at first, but after one marriage flight, they throw them off, as they never leave the nest again. The wingless workers carry on all the work of the community. Some of the workers remain in the nest, make tunnels, and tend the young. The young are sorted by age, so that many nests often look like a school, with the children arranged in classes.
4. As far as we yet know, ants do not have a “ruler.” The “queens” are really mothers. But it is true that the working ants and bees always turn their heads towards the queen. It seems as if the sight of her makes them happy.
5. One time, while I was moving some ants from one nest into another, I, unfortunately, crushed the queen and killed her. The others did not desert her or drag her out as they do dead workers. They carried her into the new nest, and then into a larger one. They gathered around her for weeks just as if she had been alive. I could not help thinking that they were mourning her loss or hoping for her recovery.
6. The communities of ants are sometimes very large, containing up to 500,000 ants. And, while they do not fight with members of their own community, they will not tolerate any intruders. I have introduced ants from one of my nests into another nest of the same species, and they were attacked, grabbed by a leg or an antenna, and dragged out.
7. The ants of each community all recognize one another, which is very remarkable. But more than this, I several times divided a nest into two halves and separated them for a year and nine months. At the end of that time, they still recognized one another. They were perfectly friendly to each other, while they at once attacked ants from a different nest.
8. In one of my nests, an ant injured her legs so much that she lay on her back, helpless. For three months, however, she was carefully fed and cared for by the other ants. In another case, an ant had injured her antennae. I watched her carefully to see what would happen. For some days, she did not leave the nest. At last, one day, she went outside. After a while, she met a stranger ant of the same species, but belonging to another nest, which attacked her at once.
9. I tried to separate them, but she was badly hurt and lay helplessly on her side. Several others passed her without taking any notice, but soon one came up, examined her carefully with her antennae, and carried her off tenderly to the nest. No one who saw it could have denied that ants do take care of each other.

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Word Lists:

Antenna : either of a pair of long, thin sensory appendages on the heads of insects, crustaceans, and some other arthropods

Intruder : a person who intrudes, especially into a building with criminal intent

Community : a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common

Injured : harmed, damaged, or impaired

Mourning : the expression of deep sorrow for someone who has died, typically involving following certain conventions such as wearing black clothes

Species : a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. The species is the principal natural taxonomic unit, ranking below a genus and denoted by a Latin binomial, e.g. Homo sapiens.

Grab : grasp or seize suddenly and roughly

Careful : making sure of avoiding potential danger, mishap, or harm; cautious

Unfortunately : it is unfortunate that

Ruler : a person exercising government or dominion.


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