Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/624

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Various lizards abash their enemies by expansion, protrusion, or erection of appendages. The iguana has a bag beneath the neck which it puffs up. The frilled lizard of Australia has a sort of Elizabethan collar about its neck which it can suddenly expand, to astonish and put to flight the approaching enemy. And the basilisk of South America has fin-like appendages upon its back and tail which it can erect if annoyed. The chameleon inflates his body with air, that he may appear to be a much bigger creature than he really is. From this sprang the belief that the chameleon lived on air.

The phosphorescence of animals is a subject not yet fully explained. But without doubt it is partly defensive.

One of the most queer and ludicrous methods of protection is seen in the bombardier beetles. In description of this, listen to Pouchet: "They alarm their enemies by means of real artillery. These coleoptera when threatened suddenly expel from their intestines a whitish acid vapor, the explosion of. which as it issues produces a certain sound, a slight detonation, which carries disorder among the aggressors. This explosion may even be repeated a certain number of times. Hence, when one of these insects is pursued by an enemy, it fires off its artillery anew. The instinct of defense is so inherent in the tribe of bombardiers that, at the sound of a cannon-shot from one of them, all the others fire at the same time; there is a running fire along the whole line. The sound produced by these coleoptera is intense enough to startle those who do not know the ruse."

Truthfulness is not an inherent virtue of animal character. Many are the tricks, deceits, and devices by which they selfishly seek advantage. A common artifice is that of feigning death in order to escape the reality. "Playing 'possum" is a dodge not confined to those higher animals to which we in our condescension grant the possession of a degree of intelligence. The larva of the dytiscus, knowing the preference of fishes for living active prey, when seized immediately becomes flaccid and limp. The fish, supposing he has seized only a carcass, drops it in disgust, and the dytiscus makes the most of his opportunity. When the insect becomes a hard-skinned beetle, it, of course, loses this power, and then employs a disgusting fluid, as before mentioned.

Every collector of insects becomes familiar with species which have the habit of quietly dropping from the plants on which they feed to the ground, upon the least alarm.

Hunters are familiar with many wiles by which pursued animals endeavor to elude their pursuers and throw them off the scent. The fox has the habit of doubling on his track, of walking fences, and going into water. Wood thus describes the habit of a South African antelope, the duyker-bok: "If the sportsman should happen to overtake this buck, it will lie still, watching him attentively, and will not move until it is aware that it is observed. It will then jump up and