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LESSON II.-A LETTER ABOUT THE CHELONIANS. “What do you think of turtles' ?" Such was the question asked me by a young friend and former pupil of mine, then on a visit with me to our great metropolis, 2 as, stepping out of a dining-saloon in Broadway, we stopped a moment to look at three enormous living sea-turtles that had just been deposited on the sidewalk from a dray-cart, with their backs downward to prevent them from running away. After some comments upon turtle-soup and aldermanic dinners, my young friend remarked that he knew very little about the better portion of the turtle family, and had a prejudice against the whole race: he had seen, he said, great numbers of ugly-looking mud-turtles in swamps and river-marshes, and he thought these reptiles were very well adapted, by their disagreeable appearance, to the places which they inhabit. ise to give my friend some account, by letter, of the turtle portion of the reptile kingdom, we parted; and now I proceed to make good my promise.
Dellwild, May 15th, 18—. 1. MY YOUNG FRIEND,-I begin this letter by recalling to your remembrance the substance of the remark which you made at our parting, “that turtles are peculiarly adapted to certain unpleasant localities which Nature seems to have set apart for them.” A fit starting-place is this; for here, by your own admission, is a beautiful harmony in nature, which would not be if the loveliest of singing-birds inhabited the marshes, and turtles, lizards, and crocodiles crawled in our gardens. The same kind of harmony will be found to exist throughout earth, air, and water: the eagle and the condor naturally betake themselves to mountain heights far from the dwellings of man; gaudy sun-birds and delicate hummingbirds
In the warm isles of India's sunny sea ;"' the lion for the forests, the tiger for the jungles, the fishes for the waters, and why not reptiles to cronol upon the earth, and turtles to wallow in the marshes ? You may lay it down as a principle to begin with, that the harmony3 of nature would be incomplete if every nook of creation were not filled with its appropriate inhabitants.
2. But perhaps it may serve to give these lowly creatures
The crimson blossoms of the coral-tree
a greater degree of importance in your estimation, and dignify the study of their character and
habits, to learn (if you are ignorant of it) that the celebrated naturalistAgassiz has devoted the greater part of one of his folio. volumes upon the Natural History of the Animals of this Country to the subject of tortoises alone, and that he has filled the greater part of another volume with exquisite drawings of these animals. Do you think it was time wasted on his part? or that the cause of science will not be benefited by his labors ? Not content with information at second-hand, he has examined hundreds, and probably thousands, of the living animals themselves, and from his own personal knowledge has written his descriptions and made his drawings.
3. “Surely,” you say, “he must have traveled much, and waded through swamps and marshes innumerable, to have found so many of these disgusting animals !" By no means. Breaking in upon the natural harmony to which we have alluded, he had his garden full of them, in the city of Cambridge, near Boston; and there he walked among them daily, fed them, and studied their character and habits. “But,
you ask, “how did he obtain them' ?” Scientific men from all parts of our country collected them for him, and sent them to him. Thus Agassiz tells us that a gentleman of Natchez, Mississippi, not satisfied with collecting, extensively, the turtles in the neighborhood of his residence, undertook a journey of many hundred miles for the special purpose of securing all the species living in the adjoining regions, and, having completed the survey, set out with a cargo of living turtles, and brought them safely alive to him in Cambridge, after a journey of over a thousand miles.
4. I think you will agree with me that if such a man as Agassiz, whose name is every where honored for his contributions to science, devotes so much time to the study of tortoises, and publishes costly books to explain their structure and describe their habits, it is surely not unworthy a student's ambition to learn something about these animals, and the position which they occupy in the kingdom of animated nature. You will doubtless admit that it is very desirable, to say the least, in an age when natural history is receiving so much attention, to have some general knowledge of all its great divisions, that of herpetology among the rest, that you may not be wholly ignorant of what the learned are so much interested in.
5. Let me remind you of another advantage which will be
the natural result of a more extended acquaintance with this subject. The feelings of disgust with which, doubtless, the sight of most reptiles now fills you, will give way to some degree of satisfaction at least, if not of pleasure, by reason of the interest which a knowledge of their structure, character, and habits will excite in you. If we could look upon all God's creatures with pleasure, and find something to interest us in all of them, even the humblest, how much would our stock of general happiness be increased thereby!
6. But let us return to our subject, and see if we can not treat of it in a more scientific order. As tortoises are included in the great division of vertebrated animals, you will naturally ask, “ for what réason'?” I reply," Because they have a back-bone or spinal column.” “But the tortoise,” you say, “is a soft animal, between two shells, and I see no such
bone in its body.” Let me explain to you. The back-bone of the tortoise is on the outside of the body, and forms a part of its shell, or covering. Here is a drawing which will make it all plain to you. It represents the under side of the upper shell of the tortoise, with the bones of the limbs attached in their proper places. Downward through the length of the shell runs the spinal column; branching out from each side of it are the flat ribs, which
have so grown together as to leave only a Upper shell of Tortoise.
mere line-mark to show where they are united. Thus the spinal column and the ribs grow on the outside, so as to form the upper shell of the animal.
7. “This is wonderful,” you say; “what I had never thought of before.” Do you see any
wisdom', or apparent design', in such an arrangement'? The tortoise, when on land, is a slow animal, and
it has a soft body, which, if unprotected, would be easily crushed, or destroyed by other animals. The peculiar growth of its back-bone and ribs has given it a firm bony shell to protect it from above; and in a similar manner the breast-bone, or sternum (which has been removed in the drawing), spreads out, in a shell-like form, extending from the base of the neck to the tail. By this singular provision the turtle is incased in a coat of bony armor, formed of its own skeleton! It will be well for you to recollect that the upper shell is called the carapace, and the lower one the plastron.
8. The Chelonian order of reptiles (for it is well to know the terms which scientific men use)—the Chelonians, I say, may be conveniently divided into the three following families: land tortoises, river and marsh tortoises, and marine turtles; although Agassiz divides them into two classes, with seven families in one, and two in the other, placing the land tortoises and the river and marsh tortoises in one class, and the marine turtles in the other. I shall not have room in this letter to describe any of these classes or families, but in my next I will give you some account of a few of the most important or most noted species. 1 CAE-LÕ'-NI-AN, from the Greek chel-o-ne, a'5 AG-AS-siz (ng'-ā-së, or a-gås'-siz).
6 FO'-LI-o, a book formed by once doubling 2 ME-TRÕP'-0-LIS, chief city (New York). each sheet of paper. 3 HÄR'-MO-NY, just adaptation of parts to ? Èx'-QUI-SITE, choice; exceedingly beauti
[tory./ ful. 4 NĂT'-U-RAL-IST, one versed in natural his-, 8 €ĂR-A-PACE'.
LESSON III.-A SECOND LETTER ABOUT TURTLES.
Scale of Inches LAND, MARSH, AND RIVER TORTOISES.-1. Salt-water Terrapin, Emys palustris. 2. Blanding's Tortoise, Cistuda Blandingii. Spotted Tortoise, Emys guttata. 4. Freshwater, or Wood Terrapin, Emys insculpta. 5. Alligator Tortoise, or Snapping Turtle, Emysaura serpentina. 6. Common Mud-Turtle, or Musk Tortoise, Sternotherus odoratus. 7. Matamata Tortcise, Chelys matamata. 8. Common Box-Tortoise, Cistuda Carolina. (Nos, 2 and 8 are Land Tortoises,)
Dellwild, May 24th, 18— 1. MY YOUNG FRIEND,—I proceed now to fulfill the promise which I made in my last letter. Among the land tortoises, which vary from a few inches to three or four feet in length, the best known to us is the little box-tortoise, which is found every where in this country on dry land. (See No. 8.) It is a very gentle and timid animal, never takes to the water from choice, and feeds on insects and fruit. The little land tortoise of Europe is extensively used in Greece for food. One kept in the garden of Lambeth Palace, near London, lived to the age of one hundred and twenty years.
Some of the largest land tortoises, often weighing two or three hundred pounds, are often found on the Galapagos Islands, where they are considered wholesome and palatable food. They are eagerly sought for by crews of vessels, as they serve for fresh meat, and can be kept for a year in the hold of a ship without food or drink. In some of the land tortoises, the lower shell, or plastron, is so jointed that the animal, after drawing in its limbs, can shut the doors of its portable house against its enemies.
2. Of the marsh and river tortoises there is a great variety, differing much in size and character. Of these, a great many species, some of which are commonly known as terrapins, and others as mud-turtles, are found in this country. The wellknown and justly prized terrapin of epicures,3 which is called the salt-water terrapin, because it is found exclusively in salt or brackish streams near the sea-shore, is quite abundant on the shores of Long Island. During the winter it buries itself in the mud, from which it is taken in great numbers in early spring, and is then very fat.
3. Among the river tortoises is the well-known alligator tortoise, or snapping turtle, which derives its name from its propensity to snap at every thing within its reach. It will snap greedily at the legs of ducks in a pond, and drag them under water to be devoured at leisure. In the Southern United States this and other river turtles destroy great numbers of young alligators. Another large river turtle, also frequently called "snapping turtle,” and found abundantly in the rivers which enter the Gulf of Mexico, we have represented in the engraving on the next page.
But I must not omit to mention the matamata, found in South America. It is the most remarkable of the river tortoises. Look at the drawing of it! What a hideous looking object! Yet its flesh is much esteemed for food, and it is angled for with a hook and line. It is an ugly creature to deal with, as it bites sharply; and the fishermen generally cut off its head as soon as they have caught it.