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Place, the garden. Time, summer. Dramatis personae, a couple of small brown garden-ants, and a lazy clustering colony of wee green ‘plant-lice,’ or ‘blight,’ or aphides. The exact scene is usually on the young and succulent branches of a luxuriant rose-bush, into whose soft shoots the aphides have deeply buried their long trunk-like snouts, in search of the sap off which they live so contentedly through their brief lifetime. To them, enter the two small brown ants, their lawful possessors; for ants, too, though absolutely unrecognised by English law (‘de minimis non curat lex,’ says the legal aphorism), are nevertheless in their own commonwealth duly seised of many and various goods and chattels; and these same aphides, as everybody has heard, stand to them in pretty much the same position as cows stand to human herdsmen. Throw in for sole spectator a loitering naturalist, and you get the entire mise-en-scene of a quaint little drama that works itself out a dozen times among the wilted rose-trees beneath the latticed cottage windows every summer morning.

It is a delightful sight to watch the two little lilliputian proprietors approaching and milking these their wee green motionless cattle. First of all, the ants quickly scent their way with protruded antennae (for they are as good as blind, poor things!) up the prickly stem of the rose-bush, guided, no doubt, by the faint perfume exhaled from the nectar above them. Smelling their road cautiously to the ends of the branches, they soon reach their own particular aphides, whose bodies they proceed gently to stroke with their outstretched feelers, and then stand by quietly for a moment in happy anticipation of the coming dinner. Presently, the obedient aphis, conscious of its lawful master’s friendly presence, begins slowly to emit from two long horn-like tubes near the centre of its back a couple of limpid drops of a sticky pale yellow fluid. Honey-dew our English rustics still call it, because, when the aphides are not milked often enough by ants, they discharge it awkwardly of their own accord, and then it falls as a sweet clammy dew upon the grass beneath them. The ant, approaching the two tubes with cautious tenderness, removes the sweet drops without injuring in any way his little protege, and then passes on to the next in order of his tiny cattle, leaving the aphis apparently as much relieved by the process as a cow with a full hanging udder is relieved by the timely attention of the human milkmaid.

Evidently, this is a case of mutual accommodation in the political economy of the ants and aphides: a free interchange of services between the ant as consumer and the aphis as producer. Why the aphides should have acquired the curious necessity for getting rid of this sweet, sticky, and nutritious secretion nobody knows with certainty; but it is at least quite clear that the liquid is a considerable nuisance to them in their very sedentary and monotonous existence–a waste product of which they are anxious to disembarrass themselves as easily as possible–and that while they themselves stand to the ants in the relation of purveyors of food supply, the ants in return stand to them in the relation of scavengers, or contractors for the removal of useless accumulations.

Everybody knows the aphides well by sight, in one of their forms at least, the familiar rose aphis; but probably few people ever look at them closely and critically enough to observe how very beautiful and wonderful is the organisation of their tiny limbs in all its exquisite detail. If you pick off one good-sized wingless insect, however, from a blighted rose-leaf, and put him on a glass slide under a low power of the microscope, you will most likely be quite surprised to find what a lovely little creature it is that you have been poisoning wholesale all your life long with diluted tobacco-juice. His body is so transparent that you can see through it by transmitted light: a dainty glass globe, you would say, of emerald green, set upon six tapering, jointed, hairy legs, and provided in front with two large black eyes of many facets, and a pair of long and very flexible antennae, easily moved in any direction, but usually bent backward when the creature is at rest so as to reach nearly to his tail as he stands at ease upon his native rose-leaf. There are, however, two other features about him which specially attract attention, as being very characteristic of the aphides and their allies among all other insects. In the first place, his mouth is provided with a very long snout or proboscis, classically described as a rostrum, with which he pierces the outer skin of the rose-shoot where he lives, and sucks up incessantly its sweet juices. This organ is common to the aphis with all the other bugs and plant-lice. In the second place, he has half-way down his back (or a little more) a pair of very peculiar hollow organs, the honey tubes, from which exudes that singular secretion, the honey-dew. These tubes are not found in quite all species of aphides, but they are very common among the class, and they form by far the most conspicuous and interesting organs in all those aphides which do possess them.