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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/438

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432
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

In some regions this is an event of the spring much looked forward to. The little eels are known as elvers—a corruption of eel-fare—and are boiled and pressed into cakes—eel-cakes—which become for the time being an important article of food.

Both elvers and adults, however, are found above obstructions in the rivers which seem to make impassable barriers. It is certain that the young display the greatest persistence in climbing streams, and evidence is not wanting that to get around obstacles they leave their native element and make a land journey. The stories on this point do violence even to the somewhat lax canons which by tradition and present practice are supposed to govern the history of the tribe of fishes. There is no doubt that they can wriggle for some distance over favorable ground, as through wet grass. Albertus Magnus writes in 1545: 'The eel also comes out of the water in the night time into the fields where he can find pease, beans, and lentils.' Another writer contradicts pointedly in differing from this opinion. He says: 'They eat fish, do not come on the land and do not eat pease, but remain in the water always and are nocturnal animals.' But Bach, a Prussian naturalist, insists that eels do devastate the pea patches and avows that the peasants fish for them with the plow by cutting a furrow before daybreak, which intercepts their retreat, and that sometimes for the same purpose sand or ashes are used, which adheres or dries the slime on their bodies, making locomotion impossible. On the other hand, it is related that eels stranded by the drying of pools adjacent to larger waters have not attempted the short journey necessary to return to the main stream, and that the presence of eels far overland is to be attributed to poachers who throw them away in flight from pursuit.

It is not to be doubted that the necessity of water breathing is no bar to short overland journeys. The moisture of the grass or ground which is a necessary condition of such wanderings probably replaces somewhat for breathing purposes the natural. medium which the eel leaves and to which his return can not be long delayed. Many fish can suspend respiration for quite a while without suffering injury. Concerning this habit a curious opinion is expressed by an English writer not so many years ago. He says, speaking of the eel, 'The curious airbladders, so-called—which are really intended as reservoirs for water to moisten the gills of the fish when traveling out of the water—have been held to prove that it is properly an air-breathing creature, which occasionally, like some snakes, sojourns in the water for reasons of its own.'

The eel seems to have taken its name, and in more languages than one, from its suggestion of the snake. The Anglo-Saxon aal is derived from the Finnish for slimy, while the scientific name is the