Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 6 (October 1, 1930)


Toilers in the Garden-of-the-Gods, are most remarkable, even amongst that super-interesting insect group—Ants! These really wonderful creatures are existent in many countries and are quite unique indeed, in that they utilize certain individuals of their formicary for storage purposes—one might say as living honey jars. The strange part, too, is that their “nests” are formed, or excavated in sandstone ridges and occupy as much as thirty-six cubic feet of space honeycombing the rock in various directions. The debris is carried up by the workers and dumped outside and around the “gate” of the formicary which is vault shaped. From the dome of this are suspended hundreds of the living “honey-jars,” richly amber coloured globes with yellow trunks and legs showing beneath the distended abdomens, clinging to the roof, which has been left rough to enable a grip whereby to hang, and whence they relax only when death supervenes.

These are the workers and honey containers of the formicary and represent three forms, the “majors,” “minors,” and “dwarfs.”

Purely nocturnal workers, the only sign of ant life around and outside the nest during the day is the incessant, tireless military patrol of sentinels on guard duty. At nightfall the colony awakens to feverish activity. The “workers” emerge through the “gate” in yellow swarms, form into a long column, and set forth to their labours: all are normal —as we know ants—no globularly distended abdomens are in evidence.

Slowly the column—gathering speed as it progresses—winds away to the nearer timberland. There does not appear to be any recognised chief, though in front marches a “dwarf-worker” shewing the route. A small and stunted oak, covered with brown and greenish galls formed by a “gall fly,” is reached, the cavalcade swarms up the trunk and soon become distributed about the branches busily engaged in collecting and swallowing the almost transparent microscopic globules of sweet white moisture exuded by the galls. The dry and hard galls are passed, those that are “bleeding” receive attention. The reason of this is easily obvious, the galls that are dry are no longer inhabited by the grub of the fly that formed them, whereas, those that are soft and green still contain the grub and exude the trituration of the inhabiting larvae. Gradually the visitors’ abdomens become filled and distended, the “repletes” returning to the “nest.”

Work goes on during the period between midnight and the false dawn. As the “repletes” reach the west entrance they are challenged by the “guards” who also levy a toll of nectar before entrance is permitted.

The “honey-pots,” as they hang from the cave roof are ministered and attended to regularly by other workers whose duty it is to massage and cleanse them. Should one of these “honey-pots” die funeral obsequies are performed; the distended abdomen is severed from the trunk, and all the parts removed to the cemetery for internment. A noticeable feature of this being that the abdomen of the dead, often still replete with the precious nectar, is never in any manner violated.