In the market-place at Santa Fe, in Mexico, peasant women from the neighbouring villages bring in for sale trayfuls of living ants, each about as big and round as a large white currant, and each entirely filled with honey or grape sugar, much appreciated by the ingenuous Mexican youth as an excellent substitute for Everton toffee. The method of eating them would hardly command the approbation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It is simple and primitive, but decidedly not humane. Ingenuous youth holds the ant by its head and shoulders, sucks out the honey with which the back part is absurdly distended, and throws away the empty body as a thing with which it has now no further sympathy. Maturer age buys the ants by the quart, presses out the honey through a muslin strainer, and manufactures it into a very sweet intoxicating drink, something like shandygaff, as I am credibly informed by bold persons who have ventured to experiment upon it, taken internally.
The curious insect which thus serves as an animated sweetmeat for the Mexican children is the honey-ant of the Garden of the Gods; and it affords a beautiful example of Mandeville’s charming paradox that personal vices are public benefits—vitia privata humana commoda. The honey-ant is a greedy individual who has nevertheless nobly devoted himself for the good of the community by converting himself into a living honey-jar, from which all the other ants in his own nest may help themselves freely from time to time, as occasion demands. The tribe to which he belongs lives underground, in a dome-roofed vault, and only one particular caste among the workers, known as rotunds from their expansive girth, is told off for this special duty of storing honey within their own bodies. Clinging to the top of their nest, with their round, transparent abdomens hanging down loosely, mere globules of skin enclosing the pale amber-coloured honey, these Daniel Lamberts of the insect race look for all the world like clusters of the little American Delaware grapes, with an ant’s legs and head stuck awkwardly on to the end instead of a stalk. They have, in fact, realised in everyday life the awful fate of Mr. Gilbert’s discontented sugar-broker, who laid on flesh and ‘adipose deposit’ until he became converted at last into a perfect rolling ball of globular humanity.
The manners of the honey-ant race are very simple. Most of the members of each community are active and roving in their dispositions, and show no tendency to undue distension of the nether extremities. They go out at night and collect nectar or honey-dew from the gall-insects on oak-trees; for the gall-insect, like love in the old Latin saw, is fruitful both in sweets and bitters, melle et felle. This nectar they then carry home, and give it to the rotunds or honey-bearers, who swallow it and store it in their