Chapter 3 - Items of Interest in Natural History

Chapter 3 - Items of Interest in Natural History
“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” Proverbs 6:6

Venezuela is an insects’ paradise. To begin with, among the ants alone there are many varieties with their different characteristics. The Parasol Ants, so named because they carry leaves upright in their strong serrated jaws, are very destructive to certain trees and crops. If an orange tree should become the object of their attack, they usually begin operations after dark; cutting a narrow path through the grass, then dividing their forces, some to climb the tree and cut the leaves whilst others pick them up between their pinchers and carry them like the sail of a ship along the clean path to the cave. By morning light the tree has been practically stripped of its foliage. Before the advent of poisons and sprays to combat these ants, the natives had a crude way of destroying them. Should a large underground cave of them be discovered in some plantation, a ditch would be dug in the rainy season from a higher level to the opening of the cave, to flood the cave with water. Then the soil would be loosened and removed until the cave was reached, and men in bare feet, with trousers rolled up would go down and trample ants, earth and water until all was mixed up together and the ants suffocated. The men would come out with hundreds of ants clinging to their legs, with the strong pinchers buried in their skin, and with the task before them of pulling them off!

parasol ant
Parasol Ant.  Its strong serrated jaws open.

The strength of these ants is formidable. The writer was once staying in a friend’s home, who had just bought a sack of maize as feed for his horse. During the night a battalion of ants from the neighbor’s yard began on that sack, carrying grain after grain to the end of the garden, and then over a seven foot wall to their nest and by the morning the sack was half empty.

The leaves and stuff which these ants deposit in their underground caves grow a fungi and this actually is what they live on.

The Soldier Ants are carnivorous and in addition to a painful sting, they have tusks to pierce the heads of other insects. When an army of these ants invades a lonely cottage in the country, the inmates get out quickly and let the ants do the “house cleaning.” Rats,  mice, cockroaches, scorpions, centipedes, etc., are surrounded and devoured by the multitude of invaders. After the ants have left, the family returns. We were in one backwoods settlement where we heard the sad story of a mother who was washing clothes in a mountain stream and had left her recently born infant, lying on a grassy spot nearby. When she heard the cry of her baby it was too late as the army of ants had got too far on with their job. That mother would never forgive herself for not having kept her eye on her baby. So we think of the dangers to which the “babes in Christ” are exposed, and what a need there is of shepherd vigilance and care!

The Barabbas Ant makes its home in the tree which bears the same name. It has a hollow centre and the ants bore little holes into it. Woe betide the person who unwittingly leans their hand or arm against the tree! In a moment an ant will dart out and give a nasty sting. The tree blooms with pretty flowers, but harbours a cruel enemy. This is the case with many of the world’s delusive attractions and pleasures of sin. They are like the bee, which carries honey in front and venom in the rear.

The most formidable enemy of the ants is the Great Ant Eater, with its sticky tongue a foot long, its club feet, powerful claws and a beautiful tail like a palm leaf. It follows behind the Army Ants licking them up and they will not attack it. It can also break open the strong ant-hills to satisfy its prodigious appetite. Then there is the little Ant Bear with its forked tongue; harmless but doing a good work. The Ant Lion is another foe. In sandy places one can notice small holes with a fine sand parapet around them and this is the Lion’s lair, hiding himself down below. Any ant in search of food who climbs that parapet, loses its grip on the treacherous sand and rolls down to the bottom where the scissors of the “Lion” in an instant clip off a leg. The ant struggles up the inside but again the sinking sand gives way and lets him down, this time to lose another leg and eventually to be sucked dry and its carcass expelled by a flip of the Lion’s hind leg. Peter had a bitter experience when he was sifted of the devil. When he followed the Lord afar off and when he warmed himself by the world’s fire he was on treacherous sand, which led to his sad fall, and after being restored, he warns the saints against our adversary the devil who like a roaring lion goeth about seeking whom he may devour. The Christian’s safety is in watching and praying: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you."

The principal lesson to be learned from the ant is that of DILIGENCE. These little creatures never kill time, nor do they waste time arguing with one another. They prepare their meat in the summer. Young Christian, get all the spiritual food you can whilst the summer time of life lasts, then your mental “garners” will be well stored with God’s Word hid in your heart to stand you in good stead in the winter time of life. The Apostle reminds us that “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” The night is coming when no man can work. The Lord is coming, closing forever our day of service upon earth. Not another opportunity will be ours of winning a soul for Christ. “Must I go and empty-handed, must I meet my Saviour so, not one soul with which to greet Him, must  I empty-handed go?” The Lord is coming and if we value His kind word of approval in that day, let us seek to fulfill the work that He has committed to our care.

MONKEYS

In the early days of my service in Venezuela when a good deal of my time was spent in the jungle villages of the Yaracuy, a Gospel meeting had been arranged in a neighboring settlement for a certain night. At the time to start out, the brethren who were to accompany me were detained unexpectedly at the railway station where they worked. So I started out alone through the forest trail and when quite a distance on the way, at sunset I was startled by a tremendous roar which echoed through the forest, and was repeated three times. My first apprehension was that it could be a jaguar, but nothing transpired so when I reached the settlement I enquired of someone what the roar might be. I was told that it came from the roarer monkeys. These are a fairly good size and spend their lives in the tree tops, seldom coming to the ground. They have a small bag under their chin, and both at sunset and sunrise they gather together in a tree top and the group leader begins with three grunts. Then all together they swell out their little bags and give out their harmonious roar, which is repeated three times. We watched them in this very act. Has their Maker any purpose in giving them this capacity? Only man has a soul and spirit capable of worshiping God, but surely we should be reminded by such fixed procedures, every day and twice a day for life in the lower creation, that God expects from us the morning and evening song of praise. “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord ... to shew forth Thy loving-kindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness every night.” Psalm 92:1-2.

Native acquaintances who have had cultivated fields on the outskirts of forests have related some interesting incidents witnessed by themselves regarding the monkeys. When the green corn is ready to pick, a group of monkeys will sometimes appear on the scene. They leave one of their number up above to keep watch, and if he fails to see the farmer arrive, and one of them gets shot, the rest as they hastily retreat can be seen giving the “watchman” a severe beating up for his negligence. This reminds us of the watchman’s responsibility as recorded in Ezekiel 33:2-7, “his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.” This has a voice to each one of us.

Eye-witnesses have told me that when the monkeys are stealing the cobs of corn, they have a way of binding two cobs together with the leaves, then arranging them over their shoulders, one on either side so that their “hands” are free to grasp the branches back to the tree tops. Would this suggest to us that perhaps the monkey has one cob for himself and another for mother monkey and the baby and possibly the grannies who had to “tarry by the stuff”? (Read David’s words to his men in I Samuel 30:23-25, with Ephesians 4:28 “ . . that he may have to give to him that needeth.”)

THE JAGUAR

This is the most powerful carniverous beast in Venezuela. It is a good swimmer and fisher; it can also climb trees. Many of these roam the vast inland


donkey

 Donkey of privilege. Occupied a corner of his master’s home because of jaguars


cattle plains, killing calves and pigs for food. The Jaguar, or “Tiger” has a liking for donkey meat, and we visited one lonely cottage where one end of the “parlor” was fenced off as a stable for the donkey, a “safety zone.” In another part of the country where we occasionally visited, three or four pigs were huddled together outside the back door one night, when a tiger sprang out of the nearby forest and carried one of them away. Just the thickness of the door made all the difference to that pig between life or death. Every boy and girl and unsaved person should make sure of being on the inside of the door. The Lord Jesus said: “I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” etc. (John 10:9).

We knew a famous tiger hunter in one of the inland towns who was linesman for the Telegraphs, which work meant going into virgin forest on foot, loaded with tools, hammock, food and rifle. On one such occasion he met a tiger fishing in a pond. It came rushing out and crouched ready to spring. He just had time to step behind a tree, level his rifle and shoot the beast in mid air. But although he had nerves like steel when facing the tiger, sometime after his wife brought him to where we were holding meetings, to get us to extract a tooth for him. To our surprise he fainted when he saw the forceps close to his face and he had to be laid on a bench until he came to. Finally we coaxed him to submit and the offending molar was safely extracted. It was to us an eye-opener as to human nature: the man who could fearlessly face the tiger, slumped at the sight of a dental forceps. This is also true in spiritual things. We heard of a soldier who had been converted on the battlefield, confessing that he feared more his ungodly wife’s cutting words than the bursting shells at the front. Peter, who could face Christ’s enemies with sword in hand, lacked moral courage before a servant maid shortly after. Paul admonished the young man Timothy with these words: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”