Page:Darwin Journal of Researches.djvu/147

This page has been validated.

most favourite resort appears to be those parts of the plain which during one half of the year are covered with giant thistles, to the exclusion of other plants. The Gauchos affirm that it lives on roots; which, from the great strength of its gnawing teeth, and the kind of places frequented by it, seems probable. In the evening the bizcachas come out in numbers, and quietly sit at the mouths of their burrows on their haunches. At such times they are very tame, and a man on horseback passing by seems only to present an object for their grave contemplation. They run very awkwardly, and when running out of danger, from their elevated tails and short front legs, much resemble great rats. Their flesh, when cooked, is very white and good, but it is seldom used.

The bizcacha has one very singular habit; namely, dragging every hard object to the mouth of its burrow: around each group of holes many bones of cattle, stones, thistle-stalks, hard lumps of earth, dry dung, &c., are collected into an irregular heap, which frequently amounts to as much as a wheelbarrow would contain. I was credibly informed that a gentleman, when riding on a dark night, dropped his watch; he returned in the morning, and by searching the neighbourhood of every bizcacha hole on the line of road, as he expected, he soon found it. This habit of picking up whatever may be lying on the ground any where near its habitation, must cost much trouble. For what purpose it is done, I am quite unable to form even the most remote conjecture: it cannot be for defence, because the rubbish is chiefly placed above the mouth of the burrow, which enters the ground at a very small inclination. No doubt there must exist some good reasonĀ ; but the inhabitants of the country are quite ignorant of it. The only fact which I know analogous to it, is the habit of that extraordinary Australian bird, the Calodera maculata, which makes an elegant vaulted passage of twigs for playing in, and which collects near the spot, land and seashells, bones, and the feathers of birds, especially brightly coloured ones. Mr. Gould, who has described these facts, informs me, that the natives, when they lose any hard object, search the playing passages, and he has known a tobacco-pipe thus recovered.

The little owl (Athene cunicularia), which has been so often