Skip to main content
Hide Articles List

8 articles on this Page

I IA JOKE ON A JOKER.

I .A LAST CHANCE.

Advertising

---GENERAL INFORMATION. ——-.--

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES. -------

News
Cite
Share

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES. DEPARTURE OF THE MIGRANTS. The swift and cuckoo have already left us. One of the most mysterious migrants now is the landrail. This bird, with its short wings and long weak legs, is a slow and heavy flier, and not good at running, yet on its arrival it scatters itself over the oountry and its harsh note may be heard simultaneously in every county in England and :far into Soot land; and it departs as it came, without con- gregating on the shore, like most of the other birds. We have now reached the period when a great rush abroad takes place on the part of the migratory birds, and continues through September, or, if the weather be fine, they may be content to remain a little longer. DUNNING COLOURS IN ANIMALS. There has been recently some interest ardused in those very remarkable birds, the touracos, on account of the curious faot that the red pigment in their wing-feathers can be partially at least washed out wiih pure water. This is generally believed to be a unique instance of the kind, but it does not appear to be so. Another animal—a mammal this time—shares with the touracos the peculiarity of being tinted with colours that ran." This animal is a Brazilian tree porcupine, with bright yellow spines, which are hidden by a dense coat of fur. This porcupine is, unlike the Indian form, a tree-dwelling creature, with a comparatively long prehensile tail. The yellow pigment of the spines can be extracted by water, which then beoomes a pale lemon- yellow hue. J ut as the porcupine frequents trees, and as it is covered with long hair, it. does not seem probable that, in a state of nature, the warm rain of the tropics would ever bleach the spines as it is said to bleach the feathers of the touraco. THE SLAUGHTER OF SEA-GULLS. It has sometimes been supposed that Cole- ridge in the "Ancient Mariner" did some- thing to obeclr the barbarous oustom of slaughtering seabirds, but & correspondent of a Dondon contemporary informs the Man- chester Guardian that in some of the Yorkshire watering-places guns are regularly let out to visitors, who make a practice of killing and maiming the birds for the mere pleasure of destroying them. The seagull is useless for food, and the men whose wanton cruelty is exposed do not, it seems, even attempt to secure their prey. The favourite plan is to fire at first indiscriminately. Then, when the birds hover over a wounded companion, whole- sale and indiscriminate slaughter is attempted. The writer of the letter says that after a three weeks' inspection of this outrageous sport he is certain that no species can for many years survive this unauthorised and wholesale slaughter." It will surely be the duty of the Inland Revenue authorities at least to inquire whether the perpetrators of this ignoble sport who take out guns for the day have all supplied themselves with the requisite licences. THE HOUSE FLY. The common house fly -does not, in the ordinary sense of the word, migrate, though, of course, mdlvldualstJftbe speoiefl fre- quently travel long distance?., The remark- able fecundity of the fly is quite sufficient to account for its numbers during the early summer. A few individuals, in the torpid state, survive even the coldest winter, and with the first warm days of summer lay their eggs. When deposited under favourable conditions these are hatohed in from twelve to 24 hours, and in twelve days the worm changes into a nymph, and in ten days more into a perfect fly. A fly will lay four times during the summer, about 80 eggs each time, and careful calculations have demonstrated that the descendants of a single inseot may, from the 1st of June to the end of Septem- ber, exceed 2,000,000. Were it not for bats, insect-eating birds, and the innumerable mic- roscopic parasites with which the fly is parti- cularly afflicted, there would be no worse pest in the world than the fly. THE SPIDERS THREAD. An American professor has dealt with the phenomena of spider life. The female is larger and much fiercer than the male, who, while paying his addresses, is in constant peril, frequently losing some of his legs. In one tribe the female is 1,300 times as large as the male. The spider's thread is made up of innumerable small threads or fibres, one of these threads being estimated to be one two- millionth of a hair in thickness. Three kinds of thread are spun One of great strength, for the radiating, or spoke, lines of the web. The cross lines, or what a sailor might call the ratlines, are finer, and are tenacious— that is, they have upon them little specks or globules of a very stioky gum. These specks are put on with even inter- spaces. They are set quite thickly along the line, and are what, in the first instance, oatch and hold the legs or wings of the fly. Once caught in this fashion, the prey is held secure by threads flung over it somewhat in the manner of a lasso. The third kind of silk is that whioh the spider throws out in a mass of flood, by which it suddenly envelops any prey of which it is somewhat afraid, as, for example, a wasp. A scientific experimenter once drew out from the body of a single spider 3,480 yards of thread or spider silk—a length little short of two miles. Silk may be woven of spider's thread, and it is more glossy and brilliant than that of the silk- worm, being of a golden oolour. An enthu- siastic entomologist is said to have secured enough of it for the weaving of a suit of clothes for Louis XIV. BIRDS CAN TASTE. In birds generally the sense of ta3te is not highly developed or enjoyed, though it exists in a rudimentary state, which enables them, for instance, to rejeot seeds that have been soaked in petroleum. The means by which we taste are minute, soft prominences on the tongue. But the tongues of birds have usually a horny covering at the tip and over all the front part of them, with no papillae, as these protuberances are oalled, ex- cept at the base, near the larynx or throat, and even tbese papilloe have no true gusta- tory nerve-that is, the nerve by which the sense of taste is conveyed to the brain. They are guided to their food by sight. The tongue serves chiefly for taking hold of it, and as they have no teeth they swallow their food almost as soon as it is seized. But parrots are better off in this respect than the majority of their olass. Their tongues are roundish, large, and fleshy, and covered with papillsa. They detain their food in the mouth longer than most other birds, tarn it about with their tongues, grind it up into small pieces, and show a gustatory faculty by rejecting indigestible parts, such as the coats of kernels. They thus dis- play more perfect senses than other birds, as they also possess and employ larger brains. The flamingo, which in a similar way grubs in the mud with its beak for small worms, fishes, crustaceans, and molluscs or shell- fish of various sorts, has a tongue adapted for this purpose—large, soft, and papillated-so that it rejects the mud, which passes out as through a sieve, while it swallows its food. The tongue of a humming bird is rolled into a sucking tube, and terminates in hair-like filaments, by which it retains the neotar of flowers. The toucan's tongue is fringed with bristles, by which it tests the ripeness of fruits. AUSTRALIAN MARSUPIALIA, BIRDS AND FLORA. The flying opossums and the hairy tails, sometimes called native devils," are two of the most extraordinary animals that attract the notice of an English traveller when he first visits the woods in Australia. These flying opossums are very similar in their habits and species to the common opqssum of the country, which live in trees and swing themselves like monkeys from branch to branch by their tails, except that they possess a peculiar conformation in a membrane which extends from the hind to the fore legs, and gives them the power of supporting them- selves in the air, assisting them also materially in the wide leaps they take from one tree to another. They are carnivorous marsupials, and traverse the trees like pole cats in search of young birds, eggs, and smaller animals. The hairy devils" do the same, and they resemble wild oats, having long loose fur, with pointed, rather fox-like, ears and nose. A friend of mine kept two for some time in captivity, and he says that they took their food between the bands just as a squirrel does, and always used their prehensile tail to assist them in olimbing. They are called pbalangees," because they have the second and third toes of the hind foot united in a j common integument, and are all of them most expert climbers, though they are as a rule rather sluggish in their movements, if we except the ones provided with a flying mem- brane. They keep concealed during the day in the hollows of the tree*. Consequently, they are rather difficult to shoot or capture alive but they quit their hiding places at twilight to feed on buds, leaves, fruit, small mammals, and insects of various kinds. The natives of Australia are said to have esteemed the flesh of these animals very highly. They are covered with fat, and that not of a particularly delicate flavour or odour, so the demand for opossum flesh has not increased, and, as a natural conse- quence, the marsupialia has multiplied con- siderably of late years. We have also the Iltbylacynus," a creature as large as a dog, but more like a weasel in figure. It is an ugly beast, nocturnal in its habits, feeding on all the young lambs and the poultry it can catch. It is rare, fortunately, and peculiar to Tasmania. Some writers term it the pouched wolf." I believe that some speci- mens of this family have been exhibited in the Zoo, but they are very wild, and they live chiefly in caverns and glens amongst the mountains. Captain James shot one the size of a young wolf three feet long nearly, with a tail of twenty inches additional. It had short, very stout claws, and large feet with very rough pads. The head was dog-shaped, with a narrow, elongated muzzle and sharp-pointed ears. It would have been, I should say, a formidable match for -1 any dog or batch of dogs even. But after all is said and done, the most anomalous animal in all Australia to my mind is the duck-billed ornithorhynchus, whioh seems not only to form a connecting link between mammals and birds, but to possess some affinities with reptiles. The Colonials call it the water mole. Its native name is It mallangong, and Enghsh writers term it tha duck-billed platypus," It is, I regret to say, rapidly disappearing from the streams and banUs of this country, and may even now be classed with the dodo. An old Colonial naturalist, who has seen several in his younger days, gave me what I believe to be a faithful description. It burrows the banks of streams during the day, coiled up like a ball, and only comes out at night to seek for food. It can swim and dive; will eat worms, insects, and all sorts of small aquatic animals. It is very clean in its habits, and particularly fond of warmth and dryness, for this old gentleman, having when a boy kept some of their young in confinement, was able to observe their tastes and mode of life. Those he had used to eat boiled rice and eggs, soaked bread, and very finely chopped meat, but they were very delicate and difficult to rear. When handled they used to try and bite, but never used the sharp, bony spur on their hind legs as a weapon of injury or defence. They had thick fur like an otter, short legs, fine- toed webbed feet, and a bill like a duck's. They never lay eggs like a bird, but use their mammals, and they nourish their young, which are born blind, with milk, the bill of the youngster being short, flexible, and adapted for suoking the nourish-1 ment which the mother emits on to the sur-, face of the water as she swims, for she has no prominent nipples like a true mammal, only mammary openings, and it is, I believe, a puzzle still how the little creatures are fed before they begin to swim, for they are not only blind, but naked, when they come into the world.—HELEN WATNEY, Liss, Hants.

I SCIENTIFIC AND INVENTION…

Advertising

AN AMERICAN'S ATTEMPT TO SEE…