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Friday, 31 October 2014

Curtiosity about ants and arachnids

Just a further reminder: the curtiosity entries represent selections from a book-sized file of quotes, garnered and stored against some future possible need for epigraphs and epigrams (and, yes, I am old enough to know the difference). They are more than a little random, because that's the nature of scrap books.

One difference from other collections of quotes on the interwebs: these ones are all as fully documented as I can manage.  I hate it when a quote lacks any provenance trail!

Many various kinds of ants inhabit New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land; I know about a dozen species myself. One is a very formidable-looking personage, full an inch long, with a shiny coat of mail gleaming purple and blue, and a threatening sting, which I am told inflicts a most painful wound, as severe as that of the hornet.
— Louise Ann (Mrs Charles) Meredith, Notes and Sketches of New South Wales. London: John Murray, 1844, and Ringwood: Penguin Books, 1973, page 69.

Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer.
— Holy Bible, Proverbs 30:25.

Go to the ant thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.
— Holy Bible, Proverbs, 6:6.
Moreover, it is commonly said, that a frog hath a double liver, which ought to be laid before ants; and look which of the two lobes or flaps thereof they make unto and seem to gnaw, the same is a most singular antidote against all poisons whatsoever . . .
Pliny, The Natural History, c. 80 AD.

There is no way of keeping ants out of a tent. Those called soldiers or riflemen are the worst. Bushrangers are alleged to have captured a policeman, then bound and thrown him on a soldier-ant nest, where he was stung to death.
C. Rudston Read, What I saw, heard and did at the Australian Gold Fields, 1853, pp 220-221.

Another type of snare is constructed by the 'ant-lion' larvae of certain Myrmeleontidae (Neuroptera). They excavate conical pits in dry, sandy places, by backing into the sand in a circular pattern and flicking off the material that falls on to their head and jaws, so that the sides come to lie at the angle of repose of the sand. Ants or other small insects that tumble into the pitfall are usually seized immediately by the ant-lion, which lies concealed in the sand at the bottom of the pit with its mouth-parts agape. However, if the victim attempts to escape up the sides of the pit, sand is flicked up and either dislodges it or causes the walls of the pit to slip beneath it. Vermilionine Rhagionidae (Diptera) have the same habit in the northern hemisphere, a remarkable example of convergent evolution.
— CSIRO, The Insects of Australia, Melbourne University Press, 1970, p. 129.

He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it.
— Holy Bible, Ecclesiastes, 10:8.

You can get to know your own forehead mites the following way: stretch the skin tight with one hand, carefully scrape a spatula or butter knife over the skin in the opposite direction, squeezing out traces of oily material from the sebum glands. (Avoid using too sharp an object, such as a glass edge or sharpened knife.)  Next scrape the extracted material off the spatula with a cover slip and lower the slip face down onto a drop of immersion oil previously placed on a glass slide. Then examine the material with an ordinary compound microscope. You will see the creatures that literally make your skin crawl.
— Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life, Belknap 1992, 177.

My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions
— Holy Bible, 1 Kings, 12:11.

Tis true, a scorpions oil is said
To cure the wounds the vermine made;
And weapons, drest with salves, restore
And heal the hurts they gave before;
—Samuel Butler, Hudibras, Part III, Canto II 1029–1032. (1662)

Mix equal quantities of oil of scorpions and oil of beeswax, and apply the warm mixture to the kidney.
—Robert Boyle, Medicinal Experiments: or, a collection of choice and safe remedies, 1696, vol II, p. 111.

…bruised and applied to the Place, they cure the Poison of their own Stings, others take it bruised in Wine, others instil Oil of Scorpions into the Wound. The Oil of Scorpions, is by some recommended as effectual in a Suppression of Urine, the Bladder being anointed with it hot, or before a Fire.
Pharmacopoeia Universalis, or, a New Universal English Dispensatory, 1747, 527–8.

Now for the spotted lizards called stellions, a scorpion stamped is singular good against their poisons . . .
—Pliny, The Natural History, c. 80 AD.

'Will you walk into my parlour?' said a spider to a fly
'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy.
— Mary Howitt (1799-1888) The Spider and the Fly.

The insect I am now describing lived three years; every year it changed its skin, and got a new set of legs. I have sometimes plucked off a leg, which grew again in two or three days. At first it dreaded my approach to its web; but at last it became so familiar as to take a fly out of my hand, and upon my touching any part of the web, would immediately leave its hole, prepared either for defence or an attack.
— Oliver Goldsmith (1728 - 1774), 'The Philosopher and the Spider', in Animated Nature.

Amazonian tarantula, met a few months ago.
It is proven today that the tarantula is innocuous, as are almost all spiders in our country; but there is not a child, especially in the country, whose mother does not say: 'Don't touch it, it's a spider, it's poisonous'; and childhood memories are indelible.
— Primo Levi, 'The Fear of Spiders' in Other People's Trades, page 144.

Many people, children and adults, men and women, brave and fearful, are deeply repelled by spiders, and if they are asked why spiders in particular, they usually answer: 'Because they have eight legs.'
— Primo Levi, 'The Fear of Spiders' in Other People's Trades, page 141.

So why aren't people as frightened of two red setters, which have more fangs and longer and hairier legs, which can run faster, jump higher, and can surround you?
— Duncan Bain (pseud.) (1944 - ) 'Wring the toxin', from Carl Orff the Dogs, Anura Books, 1985.

Long before the Great Age of Dinosaurs, creatures of humbler build called arthropods began to leave the sea and adopt a life on the land. Not only were arthropods, which include all those animals with an external skeleton and joint ed limbs such as insects, ticks, scorpions and centipedes, the first animals to colonize the land but according to many zoologists they will also be the last survivors.
— Barbara York Main, Spiders, Collins, 1984, 13.

Something completely different: 
How far do ants roam from their nest?
This is lifted from the manuscript of my book Australian Backyard Naturalist, where there is lots more good stuff like this.  I'm not at all sure this made it into the book, but it's hard to get, now, so here it is for free.

About the only way to answer this is to mark some ants and follow them. A quick look at the scientific literature reveals that when scientists mark ants, they use a readily available pen, the 'Artline' 999XF in silver, which has a 0.8 mm "nib", which you can buy at any large stationery shop.

You need to get the pen working first, pressing it down hard on a piece of paper, and then you can mark a dozen ants just by touching each one gently on the abdomen (the tail portion). After that, you need to press the pen hard on paper again.

The ink stays on the ants, and does not seem to harm them. I managed to sight several marked ants on the day after my trial, so it obviously does not make the other ants attack them, something that can happen with some smelly ways of marking ants.

If you are studying ants that are likely to bite or sting, try standing with your feet in two dishes or buckets of water.

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