Excerpted from George Romanes' book Animal Intelligence (1888)
But that some species of ants display marked signs of what we may call sympathy even towards healthy companions in distress, is proved by the following observation of Mr. Belt. He writes: -
One day, watching a small column of these ants (Eciton hamata), I placed a little stone on one of them to secure it. The next that approached, as soon as it discovered its situation, ran backwards in an agitated manner, and soon communicated the intelligence to the others. They rushed to the rescue; some bit at the stone and tried to move it, others seized the prisoner by the legs and rugged with such force that I thought the legs would be pulled off, but they persevered until they got the captive free. I next covered one up with a piece of clay, leaving only the ends of its antennae projecting. It was soon discovered by its fellows, which set to work immediately, and by biting off pieces of the clay soon liberated it. Another time I found a very few of them passing along at intervals. I confined one of these under a piece of clay at a little distance from the line, with his head projecting. Several ants passed it, but at least one discovered it and tried to pull it out, but could not. It immediately set off at a great rate, and I thought it had deserted its comrade, but it had only gone for assistance, for in a short time about a dozen ants come hurrying up, evidently fully informed of the circumstances of the case, for they made directly for their imprisoned comrade and soon set him free. I do not see how this action could be instinctive. It was sympathetic help, such as man only among the higher mammalia shows. The excitement and ardour with which they carried on their unflagging exertions for the rescue of their comrade could not have been greater if they had been human beings.
This observation seems unequivocal as proving fellow- feeling and sympathy, so far as we can trace any analogy between the emotions of the higher animals and those of insects.
Romanes' procedures for collecting such anecdotes Romanes' Psychological Criteria for Mind Morgan on seeing the process leading to an "intelligent" behavior Charles Darwin on the issue of mental continuity between humans and animals