« PreviousContinue »
LESSON IV.-A LETTER ABOUT THE SAURIANS.'
Scule u luches LIZARD DIVISION OF THE SAURIANS.-1. Brazilian, or Variegated Lizard, Teius teguexin 2. Sand-Lizard, Lacerta agilis. 3. New York Striped Lizard, or Blue-tailed Skink, Sci urus fasciatus. 4. The Common Gecko, Gecko verus. 5. The Iguana, Iguana tuberculata. 6. Mitred Basilisk, Basilicus mitratus. 7. Brown Swift, or Pine Lizard, Tropi. olepis undulatus. 8. The Chameleon, Chameleon vulgaris.
Dellwild, June 2d, 18—, 1. MY YOUNG FRIEND,—The interest with which you pro fess to have read my letters descriptive of the Chelonian order of reptiles induces me to comply with your request that I should give you some account of the remaining three orders. These are, as you are already informed, the order of Saurians or Lizards, in which is included the crocodiles; the order of Ophidians or Serpents; and, lastly, the Amphibians, which are the connecting link between reptiles and fishes. As I purpose to treat these three orders within the limits of at most three letters, my description must be very brief indeed.
2. We will take the Saurian reptiles, or lizards proper, to begin with. Very offensive-looking animals many of them are, no doubt, to one not accustomed to them; but is it not probable that your feelings have been somewhat prejudiced against them? Perhaps more familiarity with these creatures
might induce you to look upon them with a greater degree of complacency. Fancy yourself a resident of the torrid zone, where the forests, the fields, and even the houses swarm with them, and what a living torment it would be if you were to be constantly annoyed by the very sight of them! If you purpose a Southern residence, I advise you, for your own comfort, to overcome these prejudices.3
3. We have very few of the lizard family in the United States-only about a dozen species at most, and of these only two are found in New York and the New England States, and these are harmless little creatures, only six or eight inches in length. You may have been told that they are poisonous, a charge which I scornfully repel. It is merely a vulgar error, and is not true of any of the lizard race. The hotter climates of the globe are, as I have said, the great nurseries of the Saurians, and we of the temperate zone can form no adequatet idea of the variety-no, nor of the beauty of these creatures, as found in their favorite abodes. This is what a writer says of them: "In the latitudes between the tropics they every where obtrude themselves upon notice; they are in the common pathway, and even haunt the abodes of men; they swarm upon the trees, they lie motionless upon the surface of the water, enjoying the hot rays of the sun; they cover banks, and walls, and crumbling ruins, and mingle their sparkling hues with those of the blooming vegetation amid which they nestle.”
Nice little creatures, that nestle so cozilysperhaps beneath the very flowers that you are plucking!
4. The drawing at the head of this lesson, which I have prepared with much care, will give you a better idea than any description would convey of the lizards proper, leaving the crocodiles for another drawing. The little New York lizards, and the sand-lizard of England, are so small as scarcely to attract our notice. The Brazilian, or variegated lizard, is quite a different animal, sometimes measuring five or six feet in length. It runs with great swiftness, and strikes such violent blows with its tail that dogs do not readily venture to attack it. It is somewhat noted for robbing hen-roosts and stealing honey. It attacks the bee-hives with blows of its tail, running away each time, after having given a stroke, to escape the stings. In this way it wearies out the bees, who finally quit their home, and leave the honey to their enemy.
5. Another large South American lizard is the iguana, a drawing of which I have given. What would you think of eating such a creature? Do not be astonished when I tell
you that, in countries where it abounds, its flesh is regarded. as a great delicacy! But it is an animal of taste in more senses than one. It is very fond of music. It passes a great part of its existence in trees, and is commonly taken when resting on a branch, by slipping a noose over its head, its captor whistling to it while engaged in the operation.
6. The chameleon, another member of the lizard family, we nave all read of in that story of the “two travelers of conceited cast,” who,
“As o'er Arabia's wilds they passed,
Of the chameleon's form and nature." You know how violent a dispute they fell into about its color, one declaring it to be blue, and the other green, and that
“ So high, at last, the contest rose,
From words they almost came to blows ;" and yet the reptile, on being produced by a third party, was found to be neither green, nor blue, nor black-but white !
7. The truth about this power of the chameleon to change its color is this. It is naturally of a pale gray color, from which it may pass from pale green to yellow, and dingy red; and sometimes the change is continued to dusky violet, or nearly black. In other respects, also, the chameleon is a very peculiar animal. It seems scarcely to possess the power of motion-walks with the greatest circumspection--and frequently remains hours almost immovable. can direct its eyes two different ways at once-one looking backward and the other forward. This animal feeds upon insects; and it may be a wonder to you how so sluggish a creature can seize them. The wonder will not be lessened when you are told that it seizes them with its tongue, which it darts forth instantaneously, often more than the length of the body, and that the end of the tongue is covered with a viscid='secretion, by which the insects at which it is thrown are glued to it. As this motion of the tongue is so rapid as to be scarcely visible, it was the popular belief of the ancients that the chameleon fed on air alone.
8. But I must pass on to others of the lizard class. The basilisk of South America, although perfectly harmless, is a very hideous-looking reptile, as you may see from the picture of it. This term, basilisk, was applied by the ancients to a monster which existed only in their own imaginations, yet of which the most detailed accounts have been transmitted to
The name is derived from a Greek word signifying royalty; and the animal was represented as the king of the ser
pents, with a regal crown upon its head, blighting the herbage with its breath, and striking
dead with a glance of its eye. The term has been retained, and applied to this South American lizard on account of the crest or projection on its head. Another harmless little lizard, with a terrible name, is the fly
ing dragon, which is found in India, and Flying Dragon,
which is noted chiefly for being the only liv
ing representative of the fabulous dragons of olden time, so celebrated in romance and fable.
9. I will allude to one more only of the true lizards, and that is the little, active, noiseless gecko, or house-lizard of India. The peculiar construction of its feet enables it to run up smooth perpendicular walls with great facility, and even to cross a ceiling with its back downward. It is partial to the habitations of men, attracted by the flies which swarm there. Thus Mrs. Mason, of the Baptist mission of Burmah, says of these creatures : “They are every where, under the sides of tables and chairs, in the closets and book-cases, and among the food and clothing. They sometimes tumble from the roof upon the tables, but they usually come struggling with a centiped,8 or some other vermin, in their mouths.” So far from having any wish to destroy them, Mrs. Mason considered their services invaluable for clearing the house of vermin. It is supposed that this, instead of the spider, is the animal mentioned in the thirtieth chapter of Proverbs, and twenty-eighth verse, which has thus been rendered by Jerome:
“ The gecko taketh hold with her hands,
And dwelleth in king's palaces." 10. Thę crocodile group of the Saurians next claims our attention. Its principal divisions are those of the alligator of our Southern States, the cayman of Brazil, the common crocodile of the Nile, and the gavial of the Ganges, all of which are represented in the annexed engraving, which will give you a better idea of their forms and relative sizes than any written description could convey. In the true crocodile the jaws are much moré slim and pointed than in the alligator; and at the end of the long and slender snout of the male gavial is a large protuberance,9 in which the nostrils are situated. All these animals are inhabitants of the rivers and fresh waters of warm countries; and, although they breathe
24 Scale of Feet. CROCODILE DIVISION OF THE SAURIANS. - 1. Mississippi Alligator, Alligator Mississip. piensis. 2. Gavial of the Ganges, Gavialis Gangetica. 3. The Cayman, Caiman palpebrosus. 4. Egyptian Crocodile, Crocodilus vulgaris. by means of lungs, they are capable of remaining under water an hour and a half at a time. Their near alliancelo to the tortoises is seen in the upper covering of their bodies, which is composed of numerous large, square, bony plates, set in a very tough leathery hide. In all of them both jaws are set round with formidable teeth, but the upper jaw only is movable. The following, descriptive of some of the habits of the crocodile, will be read with interest:
11. “The female digs a cavity in the earth, in which she places her eggs in a circular form, in successive layers, and with portions of earth between, the whole being afterward covered up. The nest is generally placed in a dry hillock, and the earth is gathered up, so that, on the average, the eggs are about ten inches below the surface. This being done, the mother abandons them to be hatched by the heat of the sun; yet'instinct prompts her frequently to revisit the spot as the term of 'exclusion'll approaches. She then testifies uncommon agitation, roaming about the place, and uttering a peculiar growling, as if to awake her hideous offspring to animation.
12. “The period of maturity being at length attained, the nascent"? crocodiles answer to her solicitude by a kind of yelping like puppies. A hollow murmur in return denotes her satisfaction, and she hastens to scrape up the earth with such anxiety that several of the young are generally crushed under her unwieldy body. Having withdrawn them from their nest, the mother leads them straightway to the neighboring water; but now her utmost vigilance is required for their preservation ; for, unlike the instinct with which she is animated, the male, silently approaching, will frequently devour them before she is aware of their danger. He perpetually seeks their destruction; and the watch of the female over her young is protracted for three months from their first appearance."-GOODRICH.