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Across Unknown South America by Landor

The local name for all kinds of termites was cupim


It

was enough to split one of the heaps and watch the termites at work to learn a lesson of what devotion and duty mean. In the many passages overcrowded with ants--there was never confusion--you saw hundreds of them, either conveying food or building materials to the various quarters. Some carried leaves, others carried pieces of wood, seeds, or dead insects. If one was not strong enough to convey its load, others came to its assistance--although they generally seemed to resent the intrusion of others in doing their work. I always noticed that when one was in difficulty and others ran to the rescue there generally ensued what seemed to be a row, and the new arrivals hurriedly left--either disgusted or angry, I could not tell which by their minute expression.

Then there were extraordinarily fat lady ants, lying flat upon their backs, and with many attendants around them doing massage and general nursing with the greatest possible gentleness and care. If one wanted to see a great commotion one only had to introduce into one of the chambers a larger ant of a different kind. What struck me was that the moment the fray was over the termites at once--if perhaps a little more excitedly--resumed their work.

What astonished me more than anything was that they would go on working at all--as if nothing had happened--when I split open one of their dwellings and many of the channels, which must have been normally in the dark--were

now exposed to the light. This made me suspect that their vision was either missing altogether or was very defective.

Nature is a wonderful organizer. The majority of termites--including warriors and workers--were sexless; that was perhaps why they were such good workers, as they had nothing to distract them. The males and females whose duty was merely to propagate and improve the race were provided temporarily with wings, so that they could fly away from the colony and disseminate their love among other winged termites of other colonies. The relation between different colonies was friendly. When their task was accomplished and flight was no more necessary for them, they conveniently and voluntarily shed their wings, leaving merely a small section of the wing root attached to the thorax.

The local name for all kinds of termites was _cupim_, but technically they are known in the Order of _Neoroptera_ as _Termes album_. Another variety of insect, the _Psocus domesticus_, was also as destructive as the _Termes album_.

We frequently met with plants of _caju_, or _acaju_ or _acajueiro_ (_Anacardium Occidentale_ L.) on our course. They belonged to the _Terebinthaceae_ group. In a preceding chapter I have already described the red or yellow delicious fruit of this tree. Then we found other interesting trees, such as the _oleo_, the tall and handsome _poinna_, and numerous specimens of the small but good-looking palm _pindova_.

There were not many flowers in that particular spot, barring perhaps an occasional cluster of white flowers, principally _bocca de carneiro_, said to have properties refreshing for the blood.


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