Termite soldiers


Termite soldiersAfter the termite workers come the termite warriors, male and female. Their sex also is sacrificed: they, too, are blind and wingless. It has improvised weapons against which its normal enemies, the enemies of its kind, cannot prevail.

Its own weapons have not been borrowed, like ours, from the external world; it has done better than that, proving itself thereby to be nearer than we to the springs of life; it has created those weapons out of its own body, evolved them from within itself, by a kind of concrete materialisation of its heroism, by a miracle of its imagination, of its will-power; or perhaps because of some secret alliance with the soul of this world, some knowledge of mysterious biological laws for which we still are groping. And indeed there can be no doubt that in this case, and in certain others, the termite knows more than we do; and that the will which with us is limited by our consciousness and governs only the mind, with the insect spreads over all the dark region in which function and are fashioned the organs of life.

Two kinds of soldiers are sometimes found in the same termitary, one large and the other small, although both are equally fullgrown. Their duty seems to be to police the inside of the city. The Soldiers go out en masse by night in order to collect from the trunks of coco-nut trees the lichen of which it is so found.

From time to time one of the soldiers of the escort will climb a hill and survey the surrounding country; he will give a whistle to which the troops will respond by quickening their pace. It was this whistle which indicated their presence to Smeathman, the first to discover them. We must not forget that all these workers and soldiers are blind, and should ask ourselves what men would do in their place.

The soldiers of the other species never leave the fortress it is their duty to defend. The Genius of the species has devised this practical and radical means of retaining them at their post. Moreover, they are effective only on their battlements and facing the foe.

It may be argued that it was to the necessity of self-protection against the ant that the termite owes its most remarkable qualities, its highly developed intelligence, and the marvellous organisation of its republics. These do not yet build, but are content to hollow their galleries in tree trunks. But one Calotermes, the Dilatus, has already evolved into a quite special type of soldier, whose head is a sort of enormous bung, which readily takes the place of sawdust in stopping a hole.

After an invasion of the termite mound, the soldiers remain for some time on the breach, and then return to their posts or go back to the barracks. But for all the authority which in many cases seems to be absolute, and which the fearful weapons they possess would enable them easily to abuse, they still remain at the mercy of the sovereign and occult power governing the republic. When they exceed this proportion, when, for instance-as experiments have proved that were made in small termitaries, the only ones in which observations of the kind are possible-super- numeraries are introduced, the unknown power,which must be good at arithmetic, causes almost as many of these to perish as have been imported, not because they are foreigners-having marked them, one can be certain of this-but merely because they are superfluous.

They are not massacred, like the male bees; a hundred workers would be unable to over- come a single one of these monsters, which are vulnerable only in their hindquarters. That is one of the myriad questions arising from the termitary to which no answer has yet been found. In any event, in contradistinction to the bees and ants which would appear to be stone-deaf, acoustics play a certain part in the republic of these blind creatures, whose hearing is very acute.

Further, it is obvious that so complex and delicate an organisation, in which every element reacts on the other in perfect equipoise, could not subsist without a common consent; unless its miracles are to be attributed to a pre-established harmony, which is much less likely than a mutual understanding. From among the countless proofs of this understanding that are slowly accumulating before us I will draw attention to one only, which is much to the point: there are termitaries in which a single colony occupies several tree trunks, sometimes a considerable distance apart, with only one royal pair. These agglomerations, though disconnected, are subject to the same central administration; and so fully capable of communication with each other that if, in one of the trees, the team of pretenders which the termites always keep in reserve to fill the place, in case of accident, of a dead or not sufficiently fertile queen, should be suppressed, the inhabitants of a neighbouring trunk will immediately start rearing a fresh troop of candidates for the throne.