It’s late, and you’re still awake. Allow us to help with Sleep Aid, a series devoted to curing insomnia with the dullest, most soporific texts available in the public domain. Tonight’s prescription: a chapter from Ants and Some Other Insects: An Inquiry into the Psychic Powers of These Animals, a 1904 book by the University of Zurich’s Dr. August Forel.
An insect is extraordinarily stupid and inadaptable to all things not related to its instincts. Nevertheless I succeeded in teaching a water-beetle (Dytiscus marginalis) which in nature feeds only in the water, to eat on my table. While thus feeding, it always executed a clumsy flexor-movement with its fore-legs which brought it over on its back. The insect learned to keep on feeding while on its back, but it would not dispense with this movement, which is adapted to feeding in the water. On the other hand, it always attempted to leap out of the water (no longer fleeing to the bottom of the vessel) when I entered the room, and nibbled at the tip of my finger in the most familiar manner. Now these are certainly plastic variations of instinct. In a similar manner some large Algerian ants which I transplanted to Zurich, learned during the course of the summer months to close the entrance of their nest with pellets of earth, because they were being persecuted and annoyed by our little Lasius niger. In Algiers I always saw the nest-opening wide open. There are many similar examples which go to show that these tiny animals can utilize some few of their experiences even when this requires a departure from the usual instincts. Read More