Week fifty: KELEP (probability 9374), by David Sutton

A KELEP is a kind of stinging ant, imported into the United States from Guatemala. It preys upon the boll weevil, which attacks cotton plants. The word comes from the Mayan language of Guatemala.

Although there are around 8000 species of ant, very few have single-word common names. Another that does is the SAUBA, or leaf-cutter ant, that is found in South America, and to this can be added the NASUTE. NASUTE is normally an adjective, meaning keen-scented or beaked, but as a noun it means a beaked soldier white ant.

To these can be added the PISSANT, another name for the wood ant, a large species which lives in nests made of pine needles or small twigs that often smell unpleasantly like urine, hence the name. An archaic name for an ant, PISMIRE, embodies the same idea. Another old name for the ant is EMMET.

Beyond that, the vocabulary of ants includes ERGATE, a worker ant, an undeveloped female, and ERGATANER, a wingless male worker ant. Then there is DULOSIS, a kind of enslavement practised by some species of ant on other species — this yields the adjective DULOTIC — and SYMPHILE. A SYMPHILE is an animal of another kind kept as a guest or domestic animal in an ants' or termites' nest; the practice is called SYMPHILY. A SYMPHILE well-known to lepidopterists is the caterpillar of the Large Blue butterfly, which makes it home in the nest of a a species of red ant, feeding on the red ants' eggs and larvae but rewarding its hosts with secretions of a sweet fluid.

Finally, from the Greek myrmex, ant, we have words like MYRMECOLOGY, the study of ants; MYRMECOID, antlike, MYRMECOPHAGOUS, feeding on ants, and MYRMIDON, someone who carries out another's orders without fear or pity. The original MYRMIDONS were the loyal followers of Achilles in Homer's 'Iliad'. The term now is derogatory, reflecting a blind obedience to totalitarian regimes; in Homer it is more ambiguous, depending on whether one views Achilles as a divine hero or a peevish thug.


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