Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 40.djvu/670

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


THE discovery of a new mammal with distinct enough characteristics to constitute the type of a new family, possibly of an order, in the class of Didelphæ or Aplacentariæ, is, at this age, a zoölogical event of great importance. The discovery is still ÷ more interesting in the case of an animal presenting so curious a form and organization as the one about to be described. The account we give of it is taken from the original memoir of Mr. E. C. Stirling, Director of the South Australian Museum and professor in the University of Adelaide, who found the animal in the central desert of Australia. The researches of English naturalists, especially of the ornithologist Gould, have made us so well acquainted with the fauna of New Holland that the announcement of the existence in that country of a living mammal that fills what has long been recognized as a gap in it is a real surprise.

The Notoryctes, as Prof. Stirling has named it, is a marsupial mole presenting remarkable analogies at once with the Chrysochlores, or moles, of the Cape of Good Hope, placentary insectivores peculiar to South Africa, and with the primitive mammals of the Secondary period and the beginning of the Tertiary, of which only the dentition is known to us. The name, Notoryctes typhlops, means blind burrower of the South.

The first individual of this species, of which Prof. Stirling saw the remains in very bad condition, was captured in 1888 by Mr. Coulthard, a cattle-raiser of northern South Australia. Following the tracks of the animal, he found it at the foot of a tuft of porcupine-grass (Spinifex or Triodia irritans). Although he had lived many years in the country, he had never seen or heard of it before. The region where it was found is about a thousand miles north of Adelaide; is bounded on the northeast by the dry bed of Finke River, and is a country of dunes and red sand, with spots of vegetation composed exclusively of Spinifex and Acacia. It rarely rains there. The species does not seem to be very abundant, and the natives appeared to have no knowledge of the animal when a figure of it was shown them. Much interested in his discovery. Prof. Stirling visited the South Australian desert and procured six specimens of the Notoryctes, four female and two male, and preserved them in alcohol for dissection on his return to Adelaide.

It was only with the assistance of the natives, and their surprising gifts in following the tracks of an animal, that it was possible to procure the precious specimens. The rainy season of the short semitropical summer of the country is the most favorable time