Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/88

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

Collecting sea-cucumbers is easy, but preserving them is not. Rough handling of any sort and above all the plunge into the preserving fluid inevitably caused the cucumbers to eject from the mouth opening a considerable portion of their insides, comprising most of the esophagus, stomach and intestines. This extraordinary behavior tended both to ruin the specimens and to make a rather messy lot of preserved material. Occasionally not only cucumber stomach would come out, but also an active and astonished little live fish. This fish, called Fierasfer, seems to have adopted for more or less permanent home the inside of sea-cucumbers. It is a slender, active, bright-eyed little creature which has certainly displayed an extraordinary cleverness in the life-and-death game of hide and seek with its enemies.

Octopuses and squids came to be familiar acquaintances in the reef pools. None of these were large, the pulpy, sack-like body of the largest octopus found being perhaps not more than a foot long, with arms of twice that length, but with its staring eyes and hooked beak and sucker-armed tentacles even a small octopus looks very ferocious and capable of making serious trouble. The squids with their power of ejecting a dark fluid, discoloring all the water in the pool so that nothing could be seen in it, had the further protection of concealment. We scientific collectors were hard pressed in our search for octopuses by the food-hunting natives. These devil-fish are much sought for by natives and are reputed to taste, when cooked, much like chicken. The most effective way of rendering the octopus harmless and helpless in its collector's hands is that of turning it inside out, which is a means regularly practised by the natives. It seems to require, however, a particular knack which we never learned.

There were, of course, hosts of crabs, little crabs, middle-sized crabs and big crabs; red and green and polka-dotted. Rather frightening at first were the active, foot-long Squillas with sharp knife-blade claws. Even more terrifying was a specimen (brought to us by a native) of the great cocoanut crab, Birgus. These tough customers have a body seven or eight inches across, and great long strong legs extending a foot on either side. Their shell was of the hardest and their grasping claws of the strongest. They spend most of their time in the cocoanut plantations, feeding upon the fallen nuts. Just how they get at the tender meat inside the cocoanut shell is more or less a question. The natives tell you that the great crab climbs a cocoanut tree, snips off a cocoanut, thus letting it fall heavily three or four score of feet to the ground. It perchance falls on a stone, but even if not it is likely to be broken, anyway. The crab, descending, then tears open the cracked shell and scoops out the rich food. Perhaps this extraordinary crab does this thing. We never saw it. But that it feeds upon cocoanuts is quite cer-