Ants and Some Other Insects: An inquiry into the psychic powers of these animals

Jun 16, 2012 by

You’ll never look at bugs the same way after reading ANTS AND SOME OTHER INSECTS: AN INQUIRY INTO THE PSYCHIC POWERS OF THESE ANIMALS (with an Appendix on The Peculiarities of Their Olfactory Sense ) first published in 1904.  The author Dr. August Forel was a professor of psychiatry in Zurich at the turn of the century, and this book is a translation of the original German text. It is books like Ants and Some Other Insects that keep me on the search for old magnificent gems to share with you. Let’s take a peek into what Dr. Forel has discovered about the psychic powers of ants and some other insects:

“I will cite an example, which I have myself observed, for the purpose of illustrating the capacity of the topochemical olfactory sense. The American genus Eciton comprises predatory ants that build temporary nests from which they undertake expeditions for the purpose of preying on all kinds of insects. The Ecitons follow one another in files, like geese, and are very quick to detect new hunting grounds. As ‘ants of visitation,’ like the Africo-Indian species of Dorylus, they often take possession of human dwellings, ferret about in all the crevices of the walls and rooms for spiders, roaches, mice, and even rats, attack and tear to pieces all such vermin in the course of a few hours and then carry the booty home. They can convert a mouse into a clean skeleton. They also attack other ants and plunder their nests. Now all the workers of the African species of Dorylus and of many of the species of Eciton are totally blind, so that they must orient themselves exclusively by means of their antennal sense. In 1899 at Faisons, North Carolina, I was fortunate enough to find a temporary nest of the totally blind little Eciton carolinense in a rotten log. I placed the ants in a bag and made them the subject of some observations. The Eciton workers carry their elongate larvae in their jaws and extending back between their legs in such a position that the antennas have full play in front. Their ability to follow one another and to find their way about rapidly and unanimously in new territory without a single ant going astray, is incredible. I threw a handful of Ecitons with their young into a strange garden in Washington, i. e., after a long rail- way journey and far away from their nest. Without losing a moment’s time, the little animals began to form in files which were fully organised in five minutes. Tapping the ground continually with their antennae, they took up their larvae and moved away in order, reconnoitering the territory in all directions. Not a pebble, not a crevice, not a plant was left unnoticed or overlooked. The place best suited for concealing their young was very soon found, whereas most of our European ants under such conditions, i. e., in a completely unknown locality, would probably have consumed at least an hour in accomplishing the same result. The order and dispatch with which such a procession is formed in the midst of a totally strange locality is almost fabulous. I repeated the experiment in two localities, both times with the same result. The antennae of the Ecitons are highly developed, and it is obvious that their brain is instinctively adapted to such rapid orientation in strange places. In Colombia, to be sure, I had had opportunities of observing, not the temporary nests, but the predatory expeditions of larger Ecitons (E. Burchelli and hamatum) possessing eyes. But these in no respect surpassed the completely blind E. carolinense in their power of orientation and of keeping together in files. As soon as an ant perceives that she is not being followed, she turns back and follows the others. But the marvellous fact is the certainty of this recognition, the quickness and readiness with which the animals recognise their topochemical trail without hesitation. There is none of the groping about and wandering to and fro exhibited by most of our ants. Our species of Tapinoma and Polyergus alone exhibit a similar but less perfect condition. It is especially interesting, however, to watch the perpetuum mobile of the antennas of the Ecitons, the lively manner in which these are kept titillating the earth, all objects, and their companions. All this could never be accomplished by a tactile sense alone. Nor could it be brought about by an olfactory sense which furnished no spatial associations. As soon as an Eciton is deprived of its two antennas it is utterly lost, like any other ant under the same circumstances. It is absolutely unable to orient itself further or to recognise its companions. In combination with the powerful development of the cerebrum (corpora pedunculata) the topochemical olfactory sense of the antennae constitutes the key to ant psychology. Feeling obliged to treat of the latter in the preceeding lecture, I found it necessary here to discuss in detail this particular matter which is so often misunderstood.”

Enjoy, keep reading, and try not to step on those ants below your feet….

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