Page images

“Nor with less waste the whisker'd vermin race,

A countless clan, destroy the lowland cane.”—GRAINGER.



amongst the brown heaths and fern of the summer and autumn, would be too conspicuous by contrast for the safety of the animals amongst the winter snow.

640. Why certain quadrupedssuch the argali (mountain sheep of Armenia), the hare, and the sable, furnished with a mixed coating of hair and wool ?

Because, while wool preserves the animal heat in winter, an outer covering of hair is required to throw off moisture; and without the latter these animals would suffer both from wet, and from the underwood through which they have to force their path.

641. Why is there so much bleating and confusion among sheep after the ewes and lambs have been shorn?

After this operation, neither the dams nor the young are able to distinguish one another as before. The embarrassment arises not alone from the loss of the fleece, which may occasion an alteration in their appearance, but from a defect in the odour, by which animals discriminate each individual personally. The confusion is also the greater on account of the strong scent of the tar or other substance wherewith they are newly marked.

642. Why are some species of animals furnished with bristly hairs, called whiskers ?

Because the skin of the upper lip, from which these hairs grow, is so very sensitive as to feel the slightest bending or touch of any one of those hairs ; and by this means they act as very important instruments in keeping the animal free from contact with obstacles, while it is advancing with its eye fixed intently on its prey.

643. Why is the situation of the nose eminently adapted to its uses in all animals ?

Being turned downwards in all animals to which smell is important, it receives the ascending effluvia. Being situated near

“From forests, fields, from rivers, and from ponds,

All that have webs, or cloven-footed ones,
To the grand Ark together friendly came,
Whose several species were too long to name.”—DRAYTON.

the mouth, it is ever active and watchful in determining the proper qualities of food; and, being located near the eyes, it is instantly directed to objects which they examine, and assists them in discriminating the qualities of objects.

644. How may the species of animals be determined by an inspection of the detached organs ?

It is from the correspondence between single characters and general plans of structures, that the nature of the whole animal is determined, from a single fragment of its skeleton, or from one of its teeth. In no animal is the body made up of a number of disconnected parts, united, as it were, at hazard ; for all its organs have a more or less intimate connection with each other, so that there is a kind of harmony amongst them all, and between every part and the entire structure.

645. Thus, the simple inspection of the tooth represented in the accompanying figure, suffices to disclose to the scientific naturalist the following facts regarding the animal to which it belonged. In the first place, there must have been a bony framework, in which this tooth was planted, and which gave support to the rest of the body; and as this internal framework does not exist in any other animals than those of the vertebrated series, we know that the animal in question had the brain and spinal cord, the complete set of organs of the senses, the red blood, &c., &c., which belong to the sub-kingdom only.


Further, there are certain characters about the roots of this tooth which enable the anatomist to feel certain that it must have been implanted in a deep socket, which is only the case in mammals and reptiles; and he may further determine froin them, that the animal belonged to the former, and that it must have, therefore, possessed the organization which is peculiar to it.

Again, by the form of the crown of the tooth, it is easily shown that it was destined to divide animal flesh; and that it consequently belonged to a carnivorous quadruped. To digest the flesh, the animal must have had a stomach and intestinal “ He hath so well beset his ordinance,

That species of thinges and progressions
Shullen enduren by successions,
And not eterne, withouten any lie.”-CHAUCER.

canal formed upon a certain plan; and, in order to obtain its prey, it must have had appropriate organs of locomotion and prehension. Its extremities must have terminated in separate toes, and these must have been armed with claws. The limbs must have been furnished with very powerful muscles, to enable the animal to give chase to its prey, or to spring upon it unawares, and afterwards drag it to its den. The head, also, must have been connected with the spinal column by ligaments and muscles of great power, attached to elerated portions of the vertebræ, in order that it might have the power of lifting the heavy bodies which the animal desired to remove. The lower jaw must have been connected with the upper by a hinge, admitting but a scraper-like action, by which the edges of the cutting teeth were constantly kept sharp; and the muzzle must not have been very protruberant, otherwise the strength of the muscles which raise the jaw would be applied at a great disadvantage. The cranial cavity must have been comparatively large, in order that the size of the brain might correspond with the degree of vitality wbich the habits of the animal required. By inferences of this kind, and under the guidance of our knowledge of the forms at present existing, all the leading peculiarities of an animal may be deduced from any characteristic portion of it; for if any part essential to the action of the remainder had been deficient, the animal could not have maintained its existence.

646. We have heard an anecdote related of Cuvier, the great naturalist. Some hair-brained students had determined to play a trick upon him, and to try the strength of his nerves. Accordingly one of them was disguised in a cow's skin, and concealed under a table in the dessecting-room. At a moment when the Baron was engaged in closely examining some portion of anatomical structure, a loud roar came from beneath the table. The Baron turned round and inquired, “Who's there ?" A voice replied, “I am the devil, and mean to devour you !” The Baron looked down, and seeing a cloven hoof projecting, calmly proceeded to classify the animal : “Ah! divided hoof, herbivorous teeth, ruminating stomach ; Class I., Order II., Sub-genus III., Species, Bos taurus—you can't eat flesh !" and he kicked the discomfited trickster from his hiding-place !

“ For when I see how they do mount on hie,

Waving their outstretched wings with libertie,
Then do I think, how bird-like in a cage (MIRROR FOR
My life I leade, and grief can never swage.”-MAGISTRATES.




647. Why is the first order of birds called accipetres ?

From the Latin ad and capio to seize. The name has been applied to this order to denote the rapacious character of its members. From the same root we derive accipitrine, as the accipitrine order of birds, or the rapacious order.

The name implies takers by force.

The accipetres have a hooked bill, the upper mandible near the base being extended on each side beyond the inferior. The genera include the vulture, the falcon or hawk, and the strix or owl, &c.

648. Why do birds of prey build their nests upon lofty and barren rocks?

Their predatory nature seems to impel them to a species of isolation ; they are the banditti of creation ; and, like them, they affect the wildest retreats from which to issue, and hunt down their prey.

An elevated situation gives them a better view of their quarry ; and the barrenness of the soil protects their eggs from the reptiles which would make them their prey.

Cliffs overhanging the sea, deep lakes or rivers, afford to them facilities for taking fish, of which the falcon tribe in particular

are very fond.

649. Why are the legs and thighs of birds of prey shorter and more robust than those of other species ?

It is by means of these chiefly that they strike and hold their prey ; the shortness and muscular development of the lower extremities giving greater power to their possessor in the use of the other members.

“ Their proud eyes do not see
The radiance of my helmet there, whose beames had instantly
Thruste backe, and all these ditches filled with carrion of their flesh,
If Agamemnon had been kinder.”-CHAPMAN.

650. Those who remember the exhibition a few years since, of a certain dwarf called Hervio Nano—(Harvey Leach)-will have seen a remarkable illustration of this fact. That strangely formed individual, whose legs were not more than eighteen or twenty inches long, but whose arms, head, and chest, were finely developed, contrived with the greatest ease to scramble-somewhat like a lame fir-along the front of a proscenium and across the ceiling of a theatre, by grasping the inequalities of the moulding only. " The Black Dwarf” of Sir Walter Scott was a being thus formed, and was, by the great novelist, admitted to be a mere transcript from the life.

651. Why are birds of prey generally destitute of the power of song?

The gift of song would be of no advantage to the accipetres ; they generally live in solitary grandeur, or lie concealed under circumstances where musical notes would prove a detriment, as serving to warn off their victims.

652. There would appear to be some connection in this respect between the ruminating animals and the song birds, as distinguished from the carnivorous mammalia and birds of prey. The voice, if any, of ruminants is gentle, and not unpleasing, like that of song-birds ; while that of the predacious tribes of both classes is either disagreeable or terrifying. There is something unamiable, at the very least, about a bird of prey which ill assorts with our ideas of music, and the warblings of the fields and groves. If the gift of melody had been at our disposal we should certainly have decided to withhold it from that species of being, whose career, however necessary in the scale of creation, is one of terror and rapacity. A song from the vulture-whatever might be the extent of its vocal powers-would be the last thing asked for.*

653. Why are some birds of prey destined to eat carrion only ?

Because in doing this they act as scavengers to the countries which they inhabit ; clearing the earth of that carrion which, if suffered to remain, might cause infectious diseases among the people of the country.

654. An instance of the manner in which the carrion eaters perform the operation of devouring dead carcases, in obedience to their instincts, is afforded in the following description given by the Naturalist Wilson :-"A horse had dropped down in the street in convulsions, and dying, it was dragged out to Hampstead,

* Partington's "Cyclopædia.”

« PreviousContinue »