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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/359

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AN EPISODE ON RATS.

where it sleeps and rears its young, of which the female has two or three litters annually, numbering from five to seven in each. It is a most audacious little fellow, and fears neither man nor beast, refusing to give way save on the compulsion of superior force. Travelers speak of having seen them frisking about in hundreds in their native forests, when they dispute the path even with man. From the vantage-ground of the mounds of earth at the entrance to their burrows, they sit on their beam-ends and scan the intruders with comical gravity. If the traveler has a dog with him, unhappily ignorant of the ways of this cool and impudent varmint, he will likely advance with the easy non-chalance of his tribe to smell the odd little animal—which betrays no fear at his approach—to be rewarded by a sharp and trenchant bite on the nose; a reception so sudden and unexpected that it is ten chances to one against his prosecuting his investigations further, for a dog is too well bred to attack any strange living object which awaits his approach.

PSM V04 D359 Lemming or norway rat.jpg
Lemming, or Norway Rat.

Unlike many of its congeners, the lemming does not provide a sufficient store of food to last it through the long winter, when the earth is covered with snow, and, as it does not hibernate, it is driven to many a hard shift in its struggle for a subsistence. It devours the bark of trees and small twigs, and drives tunnels through the snow, along the surface of the ground, eating every shred of vegetation it meets with. These food-burrows are all connected with a main burrow, leading to its home in the earth, which is ventilated by a hole driven obliquely through the snow to the surface. These air-shafts guide the arctic fox and the ermine to their whereabouts, and they devour many of them, while kites and other predaceous birds are ever on the watch to pick them up when they emerge upon the surface. The natives of these regions kill and eat them during summer, when they are in good condition; and a traveled friend of ours, who has