The males and females alone possess wings, which, for that matter, they discard after the nuptial flight.
There is not, as among the bees and termites, one sole queen or mother, but as many fruitful females as are judged to be necessary by the secret council which presides over the
destinies of the myrmecaean republic. In small nests there will be two or three, in large nests as many as fifty, and in confederate nests their number is indeterminate, Here we are confronted once more by the great problem of the hive and the termites* nest. Who reigns and governs in the State? Where is the mind or spirit that gives the orders which are never disputed? Concerted action is as indubitable and as wonderful among the ants as among the bees and termites, and must present greater difficulties, for the life of the ants is, in general, far more complex and adventurous, and richer in unforeseen contingencies.
In the absence of a better explanation, perhaps the most admis- sible is that which I suggested in "The Life of the White Ant": namely, that the formicary must be regarded as an individual, whose cells, unlike those of our bodies, which number about sixty trillions, are not agglomerated but dissociated, disseminated, externalized, while remaining sub- ject, despite their seeming independence, to the same central law.
It is equally possible that we shall one day discover in the ant-hill a whole complex of electro-magnetic or etheric or psychic
relations of which we have as yet but the vaguest notion. As a matter of fact, if we look more closely, we shall find that our sixty trillions of cells, although they are enclosed in our bodies, are relatively as widely disseminated as the thousands of bees, termites, or ants outside the limits of their dwel- lings. The intervals between cell and cell are in proportion to their size, or rather, in proportion to the size of the electrons which constitute their soul; and these distances must, comparatively speaking, be as great as the distances which separate the stars in the heavens, for the infinitely little is equivalent to the infinitely great. If the human body (as Wheeler very justly remarks) could be compressed until its electrons were in contact with one another, its volume would not exceed a few cubic millimetres, This compression or density is not impossible, since Nature has realized it in certain stars known as " white dwarfs/' notably in the mysterious satellite of Sirius, on which a pint of water if water could remain liquid there would weigh nearly thirty tons. If this be so we can more readily explain why, as we shall see later on, the workers of an enormous colony of confederate nests know, or rather "feel," z6 THE LIFE OF THE ANT with a precision which amazes us, how many fecundated females are indispensable. When we are hungry and thirsty an analogous phenomenon occurs in our vast confederation of cells. They experience a collective hunger and thirst. All our cells experience this hunger and thirst simultaneously, and they order those which act upon the external world to do what is necessary to satisfy the general hunger and thirst, just as they command them to cease operations so soon as they are appeased. It will be seen that this comparison is less temerarious than might have been supposed. Each of us is merely a collective being, a colony of social cells; but we do not in the least know what commands, directs, regulates, and harmonizes the prodigiously complex and disseminated activities of our organic life, the basis of an existence of which our conscious or intellectual life is only an accessory manifestation, belated, precarious, and ephemeral. We do not know, we cannot under- stand our own secret, which seems to us so obvious; how then can we hope to fathom the great analogous secret which is concealed in the colonies of the social insects ? s It is probable, then, that there is, to begin with, a collective and unanimous life, which guides, in a massive or general fashion, the destinies of the GENERAL IDEAS 27 formicary. But within this general and fundamental movement a host of individual activities are perceptible, which support it, and may even exert an influence over the direction which it follows. As in our human history, we detect a certain liberty within its inevitability. In order to realize this we have only to observe the ants at work. We shall there at once behold the picture drawn by Huber, to whom we must refer^the reader, for it cannot be described more precisely than he has described it: "It is above all when the ants begin some under- taking that we seem to see an idea taking shape in their minds and being realized in execution. Thus, when one of them finds on the nest a couple of intersecting blades of grass, which might favour the formation of a cell, or a few tiny beams which outline the sides and corners of such a cell, we see the ant examine the different parts of this arrangement, and then, with great skill and con- sistency, place fragments of earth in the gaps, and along the stems ; bringing from all directions the materials which it may require, sometimes even without respecting the work which others have begun, so wholly is it dominated by the idea which it has conceived, and which it pursues without succumbing to any distraction. It comes, and goes, and returns again, until its plan has become perceptible to other ants. . . . "In another part of the ants' nest several bits of grass seemed to have been placed expressly 28 THE LIFE OF THE ANT in order to form the framework of the roof of a large cell ; a worker took advantage of this arrange- ment; these fragments, lying horizontally half an inch from the ground, crossed one another in such a manner as to form an elongated parallelogram. The industrious insect began by placing earth in all the corners of this framework, and along the little beams of which it was composed; the same worker then placed several rows of these
materials in juxtaposition, so that the roof of the house was beginning to grow quite distinct; when, having perceived the possibility of employing another plant as the support of a vertical wall, it laid the foundation of this wall in the same manner. Other ants having by then arrived, they completed in common the structures which the first had begun,"