Natural History, Reptiles/Apoda
ORDER V. APODA.
We have seen by how gradual steps the Amphibia approach the Fishes; we now come to a group which links them, in a manner equally interesting, to the Serpents. A zoologist no less able than the illustrious Cuvier, actually arranged them with the latter, by the title of "naked Serpents."
The form is snake-like, lengthened, cylindrical through its whole length, without any trace of limbs; the skin apparently naked and covered with a viscid secretion, but marked with numerous annular wrinkles or folds, within which are concealed numerous rings of flat, delicate, overlapping scales, very minute, resembling those of fishes, their rounded edges being free. The tail is very short, neither compressed nor tapering, but ending suddenly with a round or conical extremity. The skeleton is furnished with ribs, which are forked at the end that joins the spine: the sternum, or breast-bone, is wanting. The opening of the mouth is rather small, the lower jaw is shorter than the upper, and both are furnished with teeth, which are long, sharp, and, for the most part, curved backwards: one lung is larger than the other.
In these particulars there is a greater or less degree of affinity to the Ophidian forms, and perhaps more particularly to those which present the evanescent characters of the lowest Saurians, as Anguis and Typhlops. It must be observed that the two branches of the lower jaw are firmly soldered together in front, and that they are jointed behind immediately on the skull, without the intervention of a bony foot-stalk, in both which particulars they vary from the true Serpents.
But there are characters of more importance which demand the arrangement of these animals among the Amphibia, notwithstanding all these affinities with a higher type. The first of these is the articulation of the skull to the first vertebra of the spine, by means of two separate and well marked projections (condyles),—a strongly distinctive mark of this Sub-class; secondly, the vertebræ are hollowed in front and in rear into conical excavations; and (what is decisive, if it may be depended on) the presence of branchiæ, involving a metamorphosis, is said to have been detected in the young. Müller announced the discovery of branchial apertures in a young Cæcilia hypocyanea preserved in the Museum of Natural History at Leyden. He noticed an orifice a line in width on each side of the neck, some distance behind the gape, situated in the yellow stripe which runs down the side, and communicating freely with the mouth. The edge of the hole was rough, and in the interior he observed black fringes, which appeared to be fixed to the branchial arches, but they did not project beyond the external orifice. These observations were made on a specimen four inches and a half in length, (without dissection, however,) while an adult specimen more than a foot long, exhibited no trace of the apertures.
MOUTH OF RINGED CÆCILIA.
We may add that these Reptiles resemble the Eels among Fishes in the form and structure of the skeleton, the articulation of the jaws, the mode of implantation of the teeth, and some other particulars; but the junction of the head with the spine by two condyles, the presence of lungs, and the nostrils opening distinctly within the cavity of the mouth, remove them from the Class of Fishes.
The tongue is large, thick, covered with papillæ, fixed by its edges on the gums in the hollow of the lower jaw; not protractile, nor forked, nor sheathed at the base. The eyes are excessively minute, nearly hidden by the skin, sometimes not distinguishable: and the orbits are pierced with only a small hole in the skull. The latter presents one continuous vaulted piece, forming a bony buckler.
SKULL OF CÆCILIA. Of the habits of these curious animals, exceedingly little is known. Cuvier states that their intestines have been found charged with Vegetable matter, together with soil, and sand; but the character of their teeth as well as analogy would rather induce the presumption that they are carnivorous, and devour living prey. They are said to bury themselves in the moist earth, or in the soft mud of marshy places, burrowing through it like earth-worms, which they much resemble, often several feet below the surface. Their motion on the ground is said to be slow, but in the water they swim with facility, with lateral undulations. In these particulars they agree with the Amphibia which we have recently noticed; but with the curious diversity of relation that marks these doubtful animals, their reproduction, on the other hand, carries back our thoughts to the Angues and Typhlopes, for like these, the Cæciliæ are ovoviviparous. M. Leperieur, during his stay at Cayenne, having procured a living specimen, which he placed in a vessel filled with water, saw it bring forth, in the space of some days, from five to seven young, perfectly similar to their mother. MM. Duméril and Bibron, who give us this information, remark on it, that the fecundation of the ova in this Order, must be effected within the interior of the body; and that the metamorphosis must take place in the body of the mother, as in the case of the Black Salamander of the Alps. M. Müller's observation of branchiæ in the Leyden specimen, however, is adverse to this last conclusion.
Nine species are described, arranged in three genera; the greater number of these are found in the warm regions of America; two are natives of India, and one of the American species is found also in the Seychelles Islands, in the Indian Ocean.
Genus Rhinatrema. (Dum.)
In this genus the head is lengthened, and slightly depressed, resembling in form that of certain Serpents: the muzzle is obtuse; the teeth, both of the jaws and palate, loose in structure, sharp, and pointing backwards. The tongue is entire, of a velvety surface; the eyes distinct through the skin. There are no pits, neither under the muzzle, nor below the eyes. The body is somewhat thickened in the middle, and is covered with numerous circular wrinkles.
The only known species of this genus is the Two-lined Cæcilia, (Rhinatrema bivittatum, Dum.)
We have thus gone through the diverse and extensive Class denominated Reptiles; and we trust that the particulars that we have detailed may induce some of our readers to regard with fresh interest many animals which may have hitherto excited no feelings but those of fear, disgust, and aversion. Some of them, we have seen, are deservedly looked upon with dread; and it is desirable to know how such may be discriminated, that our fear and hate may not be unreasonably extended to a whole Class of animals, most of which are innocent, many beautiful, and some useful; and all of which demonstrate the glory of God, who is infinitely great in all His works. "By His Spirit He hath garnished the heavens; His hand hath formed the crooked Serpent."
The study of the wondrous organisation of the living beings with which this globe is profusely stocked, of their various intelligence, their instincts, their powers, their habits, their relations to man and to each other, is chiefly valuable as it brings before the mind fresh discoveries of God. Like all other knowledge, if it lead not to Him, it will prove, for the most part, worse than useless, a curse rather than a blessing. But we would remind our young readers, that there may be much knowledge of God's works, and a measure of recognition of His glorious attributes as the wise and good Creator of all things, without any acquaintance with Him in that relation which affects our eternal happiness. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handy-work;" but neither these nor all the works of Creation beside, afford any light whereby a sinner can discover the way of being reconciled to the Holy God. It is His blessed Word that reveals this, and that points to the Lord Jesus Christ,—God manifest in the flesh,—as healing the sin-poisoned wounds inflicted by "that old Serpent the Devil." The Seed of the woman has bruised the Serpent's head; and through the shedding of His blood is preached unto man the forgiveness of sins.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
- Dr. Mayer. however, considers these wrinkles to be no true character, but as produced mainly by the contraction of the skin, by means of the spirit in which the animals are preserved.
- Job xxvi. 13.