We have left our good little cows behind us, said the wise old ant. Who will go after them?
Just at that moment there came a large number of workers running with all speed towards the new home, each with a tiny green insect in its jaws. These green insects are the ants cows.
The ants had built their new quarters near the roots of a tree; there the fine, tender rootlets ran down into their nests; and here the workers stopped, and let fall their light burdens.
Now these good little cows were nothing more nor less than a family of small green plant lice.
These insects belong to the bug family;1 and although they are such tiny things themselves, they have some relations that are of large size, and that make quite a noise in the world.
He-mip´te-ra: this word means half wing; the upper wings of these insects are thick at the base.
Some of them do a great deal of harm, too, as you will learn when you read the story about the squash bug.
At a certain time of the year there are some plant lice that have wings; but these tiny green cows have none.
Their bodies are small; but they have very long antennæ, long, slender legs, and a beak that is three-jointed.
With this strong, horny beak they are able to suck the juice from every part of a plant, even from the topmost leaf, to the very roots. And sometimes they will cling to a twig or a root with their beaks, and throw up their legs, as if they were having a real frolic among themselves; and if they are touched or disturbed in any way, they will resent it with a speedy kick.
Now the juice that they suck from the plants soon turns to honey within their small bodies; but they do not store it up, as the honeybees do.
At the end of their bodies there is a small opening from which this sweet honeylike fluid is continually dropping.
Ants are very fond of this sweet fluid, and when it does not fall fast enough to please them, they will pat the lice with their antennæ and coax them to give out more. This is their way of milking the cows.
They take very good care of their cows too; they stroke them, and keep them clean, and will not allow any harm to befall them.
They carry them down into their nests, and place them near the sweet, juicy roots of the plants, where they will be sure to have plenty to eat. In fact, they look upon these plant lice as their own property.
Is it any wonder, then, that the old ant was uneasy because they were left behind?
We often read in books of travel about different kinds of ants that do very wonderful things.
Some of them wage war on their neighbors and make prisoners of them; they will even carry off the larval babies of their weaker neighbors and bring them up as slaves.
And there is another kind that builds large mounds, and makes smooth pavements around them. And there are still others, so very wise that they know how to plant seeds and to harvest their crops.
In Africa there is a kind called the driver ants, and they are well named; for they march in great armies, and drive everything before them.
But we need not go to foreign countries in order to study the knowing ways of these little insects; for we may find them here, all about us. We
may look for them in trees, on decayed stumps, and under stones; while we can see their small hillocks thrown up all along the wayside.
A gentleman who wanted to see these insects at work in their underground homes, once visited an ant-hill, and carried with him a large pane of glass.
He pressed a sharp edge of the pane down through the center of the hill; and then, with a spade, he scraped away one half of the hill and went away and left it for a short time.
The ants seemed to be greatly distressed at first; but after awhile they all gathered into that part of the nest that was left unharmed.
Then the gentleman went close to the hill, and looked through the glass.
There he saw roadways, halls, and rooms, both large and small; and through these, there were hundreds of busy worker ants, running about in all directions, each one performing its own task in its own way.
Now why may not you and I surprise these knowing little creatures on some moving day? And when they become quietly settled down in their new quarters, we, too, can put a pane of glass into the front door of their underground home and see for ourselves how they manage their household affairs; for it is always better to use our own eyes, so far as we are able, than to depend upon the stories that are told to us by others.
Two large falcons lived in the top of a tall pine tree. Their home was built in the fork of the tree, and was securely made; but, to say the least, it was a very rough and homely abode.
It was built of coarse sticks and leaves, and was lined with dry, loose bark.
Within the nest were five quite large eggs of a dirty bluish color, blotched with brown. The female bird guarded these eggs with so much care that she would scarcely leave them, even for a few moments at a time.
So her mate had to provide food for her, as well as for himself, and it kept him constantly on the wing; for the mistress of the house had an excellent appetite, and she wanted the very best thing that could be found in the market.
Mr. Falcon was a strong, fine-looking fellow, with a bold, dashing air about him, upon which he really seemed to pride himself.
In fact,it may as well be told first as last,Mr. Falcons common, everyday name was chicken hawk; and you have no doubt heard of him many a time; for he was a fierce highway robber by trade, and he understood his business well.
He was dressed in a thick, heavy suit of bluish gray, with a dark head covering. He wore white about his throat; but his breast and his sides were handsomely flecked with light, yellowish red.
His rounded tail was marked above, with four, very dark, brown bands; while the under part and the tips of the tail feathers were white.
His mate was even larger than he, and was clad in about the same attire, and oh, what sharp, curved claws they had! So when they both went proudly soaring through forest and field, it is no wonder that the smaller and weaker birds about them quaked with fear.
Mr. Falcon sat on a bough near the nest, dressing his plumage with great care. At length, he said to his mate, I am going out, my dear; what would you like for your dinner?
I have been thinking, she replied, that a nice
chicken pie would not come amiss. And as she spoke she snapped her curved, horny bill several times, as if she could already taste the flavor of the fine treat in store for her.
I am getting very tired, she added, of frogs and squirrels and field mice,and as for a grasshopper or a cricket, I fairly loathe the sight of one.
Very well, answered Mr. Falcon, with an assuring tone, very well; have what you like, and he stretched his long, narrow wings, and was off in a jiffy.
Now it so happened that a mother hen and her brood of half-grown chickens were also ranging the fields that day in search of a good dinner.
There had been a little shower the night before, just enough to moisten the earth; and it had brought to the surface of the ground many a fat prize in the shape of a grub or a worm.
So there was a rich repast spread out for that hungry family, and what was best of all, they did not even have to scratch for it!
Grasshoppers, crickets, angleworms, and grubs, all on one bill of fare,that was a luxury indeed!
Now who could expect the watchful mother hen to turn away from such a feast as that, in order to gaze upwards at the clouds. But it might have
saved her a vast amount of trouble and of fright if she had done so.
For see! there is a dark form swooping down with noiseless wings just above her head. Suddenly she becomes aware of the danger, and her feathers are so ruffled that she looks twice her natural size.
Cluck! cluck! she calls in her very sharpest tones of command; and her frightened family understand, too well, that signal of alarm, for they have heard it before.
Not less than three of their number have already been seized and borne away by the terrible claws that are now reaching down after another.
Hither and thither they run, in all directions, not knowing, in their fright, which way to go; and there seems to be no means of escape for them.
The terror-stricken mother clucks and calls, and seeks for a hiding place, in vain.
Alas, has she discovered the danger too late? For now the fierce talons of the robber are about to fasten upon another of her luckless brood.
Bang! bang! what a cloud of smoke! But it clears away, and there stands a hunter with a gun in his hand.
But he did not bring down the bold robber, after
all; for do you not hear that shrill screech of defiance as he disappears from view?
With all possible speed, the old hen and her chickens hasten back to the barnyard, well content to dine on the simplest fare, rather than to risk their lives for the more choice tidbits of the field.
On the top of an old stump, in the middle of a quiet stream, sits the falcon, perfectly composed, with not so much as one feather of his fine plumage out of place.
A mother duck and her young ones are moving quietly about on the surface of the water, entirely unconscious of danger. Their webbed feet are made for swimming, and they enjoy it. All at once the mother discovers her enemy, sitting there so still, on the old stump.
She gives the alarm, dives to the bottom, and in a twinkling, every little duckling disappears with her. She swims away from her family, quite a little distance, and then comes to the top, hoping the falcon will make a dash at her, instead of at the little ones.
But he is too wise a bird for that; he has watched these swimmers, many a time, and he understands their ways.
He knows that the ducklings can not swim very far under the water, and that they will soon come
to the surface for air, very near the place where they went down; so he keeps his eye on the spot.
For he says to himself, Since Mrs. Falcon has been cheated out of her chicken pie, nothing less than a nice plump duckling can fill its place. And he patiently watches his chance.
Pretty soon up comes a small, downy head; then another, and another.
The mother duck tries, but all in vain, to attract his attention to herself; for he suddenly leaves his perch and sweeps down till he almost touches the water with his wings. Then he stretches out his long claws. But again is heard the bang! bang! of a gun.
And when the smoke clears away this time, there lies the wounded falcon, struggling to rise from the water; but he finds himself helpless, with a broken wing.
Just at this point comes a loud quack, quack, that sounds exactly like a mocking laugh, and the old duck and her brood make swiftly for the shore.
Here, Growler, calls the hunter, and with a glad bound the dog springs into the stream and brings his prize to land.
The hunter carries it home and carefully removes the skin in order to prepare it for his cabinet, for he is a collector of birds.
And there sits Mr. Falcon now, mounted on his perch, with outstretched wings, and as I glance up at him, he stares fiercely at me, with two immovable glass eyes.
As for his body, that was thrown to the dogs; and when Growler seized upon his share of it, there was a low, husky chuckle in his voice as he said to himself, Ah, this is a chicken pie worth having.