Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/May 1880/Some Facts and Fictions of Zoology
|SOME FACTS AND FICTIONS OF ZOÖLOGY.|
WHEN the country swain, loitering along some lane, comes to a standstill to contemplate, with awe and wonder, the spectacle of a mass of the familiar "hair-eels" or "hair-worms" wriggling about in a pool, he plods on his way firmly convinced that, as he has been taught to believe, he has just witnessed the results of the transformation of some horse's hairs into living creatures. So familiar is this belief to people of professedly higher culture than the country-man, that the transformation just alluded to has to all, save a few thinking persons and zoölogists, become a matter of the most commonplace kind. When some quarrymen, engaged in splitting up the rocks, have succeeded in dislodging some huge mass of stone, there may sometimes be seen to hop from among the débris a lively toad or frog, which comes to be regarded by the excavators with feelings akin to those of superstitious wonder and amazement. The animal may or may not be captured; but the fact is duly chronicled in the local newspapers, and people wonder for a season over the phenomenon of a veritable Rip Van Winkle of a frog, which, to all appearance, has lived for "thousands of years in the solid rock." Nor do the hair-worm and the frog stand alone in respect of their marvelous origin. Popular zoölogy is full of such marvels. We find unicorns, mermaids, and mermen; geese developed from the shell-fish known as "barnacles"; we are told that crocodiles may weep, and that sirens can sing—in short, there is nothing so wonderful to be told of animals that people will not believe the tale; while, curiously enough, when they are told of veritable facts of animal life, heads begin to shake and doubts to be expressed, until the zoölogist despairs of educating people into distinguishing fact from fiction, and truth from theories and unsupported beliefs. The story told of the old lady, whose youthful acquaintance of seafaring habits entertained her with tales of the wonders he had seen, finds, after all, a close application in the world at large. The dame listened with delight, appreciation, and belief, to accounts of mountains of sugar and rivers of rum, and to tales of lands where gold and silver and precious stones were more than plentiful. But, when the narrator descended to tell of fishes that were able to raise themselves out of the water in flight, the old lady's credulity began to fancy itself imposed upon; for she indignantly repressed what she considered the lad's tendency to exaggeration, saying, "Sugar mountains may be, and rivers of rum may be, but fish that flee ne'er can be!" Many popular beliefs concerning animals partake of the character of the old lady's opinions regarding the real and the fabulous; and the circumstance tells powerfully in favor of the opinion that a knowledge of our surroundings in the world and an intelligent conception of animal and plant life should form part of the school-training of every boy and girl.
The tracing of myths and fables is a very interesting task, and it may, therefore, form a curious study, if we endeavor to investigate very briefly a few of the popular and erroneous beliefs regarding lower animals. The belief regarding the origin of the hair-worms is both widely spread and ancient. Shakespeare tells us that—
Which, like the courser's hair, hath yet but life,
The hair-worms certainly present the appearance of long, delicate black hairs, which move about with great activity amid the mud of pools and ditches. These worms, in the early stages of their existence, inhabit the bodies of insects, and may be found coiled up within the grasshopper, which thus gives shelter to a guest exceeding many times the length of the body of its host. Sooner or later the hairworm, or Gordius, as the naturalist terms it, leaves the body of the insect, and lays its eggs, which are fastened together in long strings, in water. From each egg a little creature armed with minute hooks is produced, and this young hair-worm burrows its way into the body of some insect, there to repeat the history of its parent. Such is the well-ascertained history of the hair-worm, excluding entirely the popular belief in its origin. There certainly does exist in science a theory known as that of "spontaneous generation," which, in ancient times, accounted for the production of insects and other animals by assuming that they were produced in some mysterious fashion out of lifeless matter. But not even the most ardent believer in the extreme modification of this theory, which holds a place in modern scientific belief, would venture to maintain the production of a hair-worm by the mysterious vivification of an inert substance such as a horse's hair.
The expression "crocodile's tears" has passed into common use, and it therefore may be worth while noting the probable origin of this myth. Shakespeare, with that wide extent of knowledge which enabled him to draw similes from every department of human thought, says that—
Beguiles him, as the mournful crocodile
The poet thus indicates the belief that not only do crocodiles shed tears, but that sympathizing passengers, turning to commiserate the reptile's woes, are seized and destroyed by the treacherous creatures. That quaint and credulous old author—the earliest writer of English prose—Sir John Maundeville, in his "Voiage," or account of his "Travaile," published about 1356—in which, by the way, there are to be found accounts of not a few wonderful things in the way of zoölogical curiosities—tells us that in a certain "contre and be all yonde, ben great plenty of Crokodilles, that is, a manner of a long Serpent as I have seyd before." He further remarks that "these Serpents slew men," and devoured them, weeping; and he tells us, too, that "whan thei eaten thei meven (move) the over jowe (upper jaw), and nought the nether (lower) jowe: and thei have no tonge (tongue)." Sir John thus states two popular beliefs of his time and of days prior to his age, namely, that crocodiles moved their upper jaws, and that a tongue was absent in these animals.
As regards the tears of the crocodiles, no foundation of fact exists for the belief in such sympathetic exhibitions. But a highly probable explanation may be given of the manner in which such a belief originated. These reptiles unquestionably emit very loud and singularly plaintive cries, compared by some travelers to the mournful howling of dogs. The earlier and credulous travelers would very naturally associate tears with these cries, and, once begun, the supposition would be readily propagated, for error and myth are ever plants of quick growth. The belief in the movement of the upper jaw rests on an apparent basis of fact. The lower jaw is joined to the skull very far back on the latter, and the mouth-opening thus comes to be singularly wide; while, when the mouth opens, the skull and upper jaw are apparently observed to move. This is not the case, however; the apparent movement arising from the manner in which the lower jaw and the skull are joined together. The belief in the absence of the tongue is even more readily explained. When the mouth is widely opened, no tongue is to be seen. This organ is not only present, but is, moreover, of large size; it is, however, firmly attached to the floor of the mouth, and is specially adapted, from its peculiar form and structure, to assist these animals in the capture and swallowing of their prey.
One of the most curious fables regarding animals which can well be mentioned is that respecting the so-called "bernicle" or "barnacle geese," which by the naturalists and educated persons of the middle ages were believed to be produced by those little crustaceans named "barnacles." With the "barnacles" every one must be familiar who has examined the floating drift-wood of the sea-beach, or who has seen ships docked in a seaport town. A barnacle is simply a kind of crab inclosed in a triangular shell, and attached by a fleshy stalk to fixed objects. If the barnacle is not familiar to readers, certain near relations of these animals must be well known, by sight at least, as among the most familiar denizens of our seacoasts. These latter are the "sea-acorns" or Balani, whose little conical shells we crush by hundreds as we walk over the rocks at low-water mark; while every wooden pile immersed in the sea becomes coated in a short time with a thick crust of these "sea-acorns." If we place one of these little animals, barnacle or acorn—the latter wanting the stalk of the former —in its native waters, we shall observe a beautiful little series of feathery plumes to wave backward and forward, and ever and anon to be quickly withdrawn into the secure recesses of the shell. These organs are the modified feet of the animal, which not only serve for sweeping food-particles into the mouth, but act also as breathing organs. We may, therefore, find it a curious study to inquire through what extraordinary transformation and confusion of ideas such an animal could be credited with giving origin to a veritable goose; and the investigation of the subject will afford a singularly apt illustration of the ready manner in which the fable of one year or period becomes transmitted and transformed into the secure and firm belief of the next.
We may begin our investigation by inquiring into some of the opinions which were entertained on this subject and ventilated by certain old writers. Between 1154 and 1189 Giraldus Cambrensis, in a work entitled "Topograpbia Hiberniæ," written in Latin, remarks concerning "many birds which are called Bernaceæ: against nature, nature produces them in a most extraordinary way. They are like marsh geese, but somewhat smaller. They are produced from fir timber tossed along the sea, and are at first like gum. Afterward they hang down by their beaks, as if from a sea-weed attached to the timber, surrounded by shells, in order to grow more freely." Giraldus is here evidently describing the barnacles themselves. He continues: "Having thus, in process of time, been clothed with a strong coat of feathers, they either fall into the water or fly freely away into the air. They derive their food and growth from the sap of the wood or the sea, by a secret and most wonderful process of alimentation. I have frequently, with my own eyes, seen more than a thousand of these small bodies of birds, hanging down on the seashore from one piece of timber, inclosed in shells, and already formed." Here, again, our author is speaking of the barnacles themselves, with which he naturally confuses the geese, since he presumes the crustaceans are simply geese in an undeveloped state. He further informs his readers that, owing to their presumably marine origin, "bishops and clergymen in some parts of Ireland do not scruple to dine off these birds at the time of fasting, because they are not flesh, nor born of flesh," although, for certain other and theological reasons, Giraldus disputes the legality of this practice of the Hibernian clerics.
In the year 1527 appeared "The Hystory and Croniclis of Scotland, with the cosmography and dyscription thairof, compilit be the noble Clerk Maister Hector Boece, Channon of Aberdene." Boece's "History" was written in Latin, the title we have just quoted being that of the English version of the work (1540), which title further sets forth that Boece's work was "Translatit laitly in our. vulgar and commoun langage be Maister Johne Bellenden, Archedene of Murray, And Imprentit in Edinburgh, be me Thomas Davidson, prenter to the Kyngis nobyll grace." In this learned work the author discredits the popular ideas regarding the origin of the geese. "Sum men belevis that thir clakis (geese) growis on treis be the nebbis (bills). Bot thair opinioun is vane. And becaus the nature and procreatioun of thir clakis is strange, we have maid na lytyll laboure and deligence to serche ye treuth and verite yairof, we have salit (sailed) throw ye seis quhare thir clakis ar bred, and I fynd be gret experience, that the nature of the seis is mair relevant caus of thair procreatioun than ony uthir thyng." According to Boece, then, "the nature of the seis" formed the chief element in the production of the geese, and our author proceeds to relate how "all treis (trees) that ar cassin in the seis be proces of tyme apperis first wormeetin (worm-eaten), and in the small boris and hollis (holes) thairof growis small worms." Our author no doubt here alludes to the ravages of the Teredo, or shipworm, which burrows into timber, and with which the barnacles themselves are thus confused. Then he continues, the "wormis" first "schaw (show) thair heid and feit, and last of all thay schaw thair plumis and wyngis. Finaly, quhen thay ar cumyn to the just mesure and quantite of geis, thay fie in the aire as othir fowlis dois, as was notably provyn, in the yeir of God ane thousand iii hundred lxxxx, in sicht of mony pepyll, besyde the castell of Petslego." On the occasion referred to, Boece tells us that a great tree was cast on shore and was divided, by order of the "lard" of the ground, by means of a saw. Wonderful to relate, the tree was found not merely to be riddled with a "multitude of wormis," throwing themselves out of the holes of the tree, but some of the "wormis" had "baith heid, feit and wyngis," but, adds the author, "thay had no fedderis (feathers)."
Unquestionably either the scientific use of the imagination had operated in this instance in inducing the observers to believe that in this tree, riddled by the ship-worms, and possibly having barnacles attached to it, they beheld young geese; or Boece had construed the appearances described as those representing the embryo-stages of the barnacle-geese.
Boece further relates how a ship named the Christofir was brought to Leith, and was broken down because her timbers had grown old and failing. In these timbers were beheld the same "wormeetin" appearances, "all the hollis thairof" being "full of geis." Boece again most emphatically rejects the idea that the "geis" were produced from the wood of which the timbers were composed, and once more proclaims his belief that the "nature of the seis resolvit in geis" may be accepted as the true and final explanation of their origin. A certain "Maister Alexander Galloway" had apparently strolled with the historian along the seacoast, the former giving "his mynd with maist ernist besynes to serche the verite of this obscure and mysty dowtis." Lifting up a piece of tangle, they beheld the sea-weed to be hanging full of mussel-shells from the root to the branches. Maister Galloway opened one of the mussel-shells, and was "mair astonist than afore" to find no fish therein, but a perfectly-shaped "foule, smal and gret" as corresponded to the "quantity of the shell." And once again Boece draws the inference that the trees or wood on which the creatures are found have nothing to do with the origin of the birds; and that the fowls are begotten of the "occeane see, quhilk," concludes our author, "is the caus and production of mony wonderful thingis."
More than fifty years after the publication of Boece's "History," old Gerard of London, the famous "master in chirurgerie" of his day, gave an account of the barnacle-goose, and not only entered into minute particulars of its growth and origin, but illustrated its manner of production by means of the engraver's art of his day. Gerard's "Herball," published in 1597, thus contains, among much that is curious in medical lore, a very quaint piece of zoölogical history. He tells us that "in the north parts of Scotland, and the Hands adjacent, called Orchades (Orkneys)," are found "certaine trees, whereon doe growe certaine shell fishes, of a white colour tending to russet; wherein are conteined little living creatures: which shels in time of maturitie doe open, and out of them grow those little living foules whom we call Barnakles, in the north of England Brant Geese, and in Lancashire tree Geese; but the other that do fall upon the land, perish, and come to nothing: thus much by the writings of others, and also from the mouths of people of those parts, which may," concludes Gerard, "very well accord with truth."
Not content with hearsay evidence, however, Gerard relates what his eyes saw and hands touched. He describes how on the coasts of a certain "small Ilande in Lancashire called Pile of Foulders" (probably Peel Island), the wreckage of ships is cast up by the waves, along with the trunks and branches "of old and rotten trees." On these wooden rejectamenta "a certaine spume or froth" grows, according to Gerard. This spume "in time breedeth unto certaine shels, in shape like those of the muskle, but sharper pointed, and of a whitish colour." This description, it may be remarked, clearly applies to the-barnacles themselves. Gerard then continues to point out how, when the shell is perfectly formed, it "gapeth open, and the first thing that appeereth is the foresaid lace or string"—the substance described by Gerard as contained within the shell—"next come the legs of the Birde hanging out; and as it groweth greater, it openeth the shell by degrees, till at length it is all come foorth, and hangeth only by the bill; in short space after it commeth to full maturitie, and falleth into the sea, where it gathereth feathers, and groweth to a foule, bigger then a Mallard, and lesser than a Goose, having blacke legs and bill or beake, and feathers blacke and white. . . . which the people of Lancashire call by no other name then a tree Goose."
Accompanying this description is the engraving of the bernicle-tree, bearing its geese-progeny. From the open shells, in two cases, the little geese are seen protruding, while several of the fully-fledged fowls are disporting themselves in the sea below. Gerard's concluding piece of information, with its exordium, must not be omitted. "They spawne," says the wise apothecary, "as it were, in March or Aprill; the Geese are found in Maie or June, and come to fulnesse of feathers in the moneth after. And thus hauing, through God's assistance, discoursed somewhat at large of Grasses, Herbes, Shrubs, Trees, Mosses, and certaine excrescences of the earth, with other things moe incident to the Historie thereof, we conclude and end our present volume, with this woonder of England. For which God's name be euer honored and praised." It is to be remarked that Gerard's description of the goose-progeny of the barnacle-tree exactly corresponds with the appearance of the bird known to ornithologists as the "barnacle-goose," while there can be no doubt that, skilled as was this author in the natural-history lore of his day, there was no other feeling in his mind than that of firm belief in and pious wonder at the curious relations between the shells and their fowl-offspring. Gerard thus attributes the origin of the latter to the barnacles. He says nothing of the "wormeetin" holes and burrows so frequently mentioned by Boece, nor would he have agreed with the latter in crediting the "nature of the occeane see" with their production, save in so far as their barnacle-parents lived and existed in the waters of the ocean.
The last account of this curious fable which we may allude to in the present instance is that of Sir Robert Moray, who, in his work entitled "A Relation concerning Barnacles," published in the "Philosophical Transactions" of the Royal Society in 1677-'78, gives a succinct account of these crustaceans and their bird-progeny. Sir Robert is described as "lately one of His Majesties Council for the Kingdom of Scotland," and we may therefore justly assume his account to represent that of a cultured, observant person of his day and generation. The account begins by remarking that the "most ordinary trees" found in the western islands of Scotland "are Firr and Ash." "Being," continues Sir Robert, "in the Island of East (Uist), I saw lying upon the shore a cut of a large Firr-tree of about 22 foot diameter, and 9 or 10 foot long; which had lain so long out of the water that it was very dry: And most of the shells that had formerly cover'd it, were worn or rubb'd off. Only on the parts that lay next the ground, there still hung multitudes of little Shells; having within them little Birds, perfectly shap'd, supposed to be Barnacles." Here again the description applies to the barnacles; the "little birds" they are described as containing being of course the bodies of the shell-fish.
"The Shells," continues the narrator, "hang at the Tree by a Neck longer than the Shell," this "neck" being represented by the stalk of the barnacle. The neck is described as being composed "of a kind of filmy substance, round, and hollow, and creassed, not unlike the Wind-pipe of a Chicken; spreading out broadest where it is fastened to the Tree, from which it seems to draw and convey the matter which serves for the growth and vegetation of the Shell and the little Bird within it." Sir Robert Moray therefore agrees, in respect of the manner of nourishment of the barnacles, with the opinion of Giraldus already quoted. The author goes on to describe the "Bird" found in every shell he opened; remarking that "there appeared nothing wanting as to the internal parts, for making up a perfect Seafowl: every little part appearing so distinctly, that the whole looked like a large Bird seen through a concave or diminishing Glass, colour and feature being everywhere so clear and neat." The "Bird" is most minutely described as to its bill, eyes, head, neck, breast, wings, tail, and feet, the feathers being "everywhere perfectly shaped, and blackish-coloured. All being dead and dry," says Sir Robert, "I did not look after the Internal parts of them," a statement decidedly inconsistent with his previous assertion as to the perfect condition of the "internal parts"; and he takes care to add, "Nor did I ever see any of the little Birds alive, nor met with anybody that did. Only some credible persons," he concludes, "have assured me they have seen some as big as their fist."
This last writer thus avers that he saw little birds within the shells he clearly enough describes as those of the barnacles. We must either credit Sir Robert with describing what he never saw, or with misconstruing what he did see. His description of the goose corresponds with that of the barnacle-goose, the reputed progeny of the shells; and it would, therefore, seem that this author, with the myth at hand, saw the barnacles only with the eyes of a credulous observer, and thus beheld, in the inside of each shell—if, indeed, his research actually extended thus far—the reproduction in miniature of a goose, with which, as a mature bird, he was well acquainted.
This historical ramble may fitly preface what we have to say regarding the probable origin of the myth. By what means could the barnacles become credited with the power of producing the well-known geese? Once started, the progress and growth of the myth are easily accounted for. The mere transmission of a fable from one generation or century to another is a simply explained circumstance, and one exemplified by the practices of our own times. The process of accretion and addition is also well illustrated in the perpetuation of fables; since the tale is certain to lose nothing in its historical journey, but, on the contrary, to receive additional elaboration with increasing age. Professor Max Müller, after discussing various theories of the origin of the barnacle-myth, declares in favor of the idea that confusion of language and alterations of names lie at the root of the error. The learned author of the "Science of Language" argues that the true barnacles were named, properly enough, bernaculæ, and lays stress on the fact that bernicle geese were first caught in Ireland. That country becomes Hibernia in Latin, and the Irish geese were accordingly named Hibernicæ, or Hiberniculæ. By the omission of the first syllable—no uncommon operation for words to undergo—we obtain the name Berniculæ for the geese, this term being almost synonymous with the name Bernacllæ already applied, as we have seen, to the barnacles. Bernicle-geese and bernicle-shells, confused in name, thus became confused in nature; and? once started, the ordinary process of growth was sufficient to further intensify, and render more realistic, the story of the bernicle-tree and its wonderful progeny.
By way of a companion legend to that of the Barnacle-tree we may select the story of the "Lamb-tree" of Cathay, told by Sir John Maundeville, whose notes of travel regarding crocodiles' tears, and other points in the conformation of these reptiles, have already been referred to. Sir John, in that chapter of his work which treats "Of the Contries and Yles that ben bezonde the Lord of Cathay; and of the Frutes there," etc., relates that in Cathay "there growethe a manner of Fruyt, as thoughe it were Gowrdes: and whan thei ben rype, men kutten (cut) hem a to (them in two), and men fynden with inne a lytylle Best (beast), in Flessche in Bon and Blode (bone and blood) as though it were a lytylle Lomb (lamb) with outen wolle (without wool). And men eten both the Frut and the Best; and that," says Sir John, "is a gret marveylle. Of that fruit," he continues, "I have eten; alle thoughe it were wondirfulle"—this being added, no doubt, from an idea that there might possibly be some stay-at-home persons who would take Sir John's statement cum grano salts. "But that," adds this worthy "knyght of Ingelond," "I knowe wel that God is marveyllous in his Werkes." And not to be behind the inhabitants of Cathay in a tale of wonders, the knight related to these Easterns "als gret a marveylle to hem that is amonges us; and that was of the Bernakes. For I tolde hem hat in oure Countree weren Trees that beren a Fruyt, that becomen Briddes (birds) fleeynge: and tho that fellen in the Water lyven (live); and thei that fallen on the Erthe dyen anon: and thei ben right gode to mannes mete (man's meat). And here had thei als great marvayle," concludes Sir John, "that sum̃e of hem trowed it were an impossible thing to be." Probably the inhabitants of Cathay, knowing their own weakness as regards the lamb-tree, might possess a fellow feeling for their visitor's credulity, knowing well, from experience, the readiness with which a "gret marvayle" could be evolved and sustained.
Passing from the sphere of the mythical and marvelous as represented in mediæval times, we may shortly discuss a question which, of all others, may justly claim a place in the records of zoölogical curiosities—namely, the famous and oft-repeated story of the "Toad from the solid rock," as the country newspapers style the incident. Regularly, year by year, and in company with the reports of the sea serpent's reappearance, we may read of the discoveries of toads and frogs in situations and under circumstances suggestive of a singular vitality on the part of the amphibians, of more than usual credulity on the part of the hearers, or of a large share of inventive genius in the narrators of such tales. The question possesses for every one a certain degree of interest, evoked by the curious and strange features presented on the face of the tales. And it may therefore not only prove an interesting but also a useful study, if we endeavor to arrive at some just and logical conceptions of these wonderful narrations.
Instances of the discovery of toads and frogs in solid rocks need not be specially given; suffice it to say that these narratives are repeated year by year with little variation. A large block of stone or face of rock is detached from its site, and a toad or frog is seen hereafter to be hopping about in its usual lively manner. The conclusion to which the bystanders invariably come is, that the animal must have been contained within the rock, and that it was liberated by the dislodgment of the mass. Now, in many instances, cases of the appearance of toads during quarrying-operations have been found, on close examination, to present no evidence whatever that the appearance of the animals was due to the dislodgment of the stones. A frog or toad may be found hopping about among some recently formed debris, and the animal is at once seized upon and reported as having emerged from the rocks into the light of day. There is in such a case not the slightest ground for supposing any such thing; the animal may more reasonably be presumed to have hopped into the debris from its ordinary habitat. But, laying aside narratives of this kind, which lose their plausibility under a very commonplace scrutiny, there still exist cases, reported in an apparently exact and truthful manner, in which these animals have been alleged to appear from the inner crevices of rocks after the removal of large masses of the formations. We shall assume these latter tales to contain a plain, unvarnished statement of what was observed, and deal with the evidence they present on this footing.
One or two notable examples of such verified tales are related by Smellie, in his "Philosophy of Natural History." Thus, in the "Memoirs of the French Academy of Science" for 1719, a toad is described as having been found in the heart of an elm-tree; and another is stated to have been found in the heart of an old oak-tree, in 1731, near Nantz. The condition of the trees is not expressly stated, nor are we afforded any information regarding the appearance of the toads—particulars of considerable importance in view of the suggestions and explanations to be presently brought forward. Smellie himself, while inclined to be skeptical in regard to the truth or exactness of many of the tales told of the vitality of toads, yet regards the matter as affording food for reflection, since he remarks: "But I mean not to persuade, for I can not satisfy myself; all I intend is, to recommend to those gentlemen who may hereafter chance to see such rare phenomena, a strict examination of every circumstance that can throw light upon a subject so dark and mysterious; for the vulgar, ever inclined to render uncommon appearances still more marvelous, are not to be trusted."
This author strikes the key-note of the inquiry in his concluding words, and we shall find that the explanation of the matter really lies in the clear understanding of what are the probabilities, and what the actual details, of the cases presented for consideration. We may firstly, then, glance at a few of the peculiarities of the frogs and toads, regarded from a zoological point of view. As every one knows, these animals emerge from the egg in the form of little fish-like "tadpoles," provided with outside gills, which are soon replaced by inside gills, resembling those of fishes. The hind-legs are next developed, and the fore-limbs follow a little later; while, with the development of lungs, and the disappearance of the gills and tail, the animal leaves the water, and remains for the rest of its life an air-breathing, terrestrial animal. Then, secondly, in the adult frog or toad, the naturalist would point to the importance of the skin as not only supplementing but, in some cases, actually supplanting the work of the lungs as the breathing organ. Frogs and toads will live for months under water, and will survive the excision of the lungs for like periods; the skin in such cases serving as the breathing surface. A third point worthy of remembrance is included in the facts just related, and is implied in the information that these animals can exist for long periods without food, and with but a limited supply of air. We can understand this toleration on the part of these animals when we take into consideration their cold-blooded habits, which do not necessitate, and which are not accompanied by, the amount of vital activity which we are accustomed to note in higher animals. And, as a last feature in the purely scientific history of the frogs and toads, it may be remarked that these animals are known to live for long periods. One pet toad is mentioned by a Mr. Arscott as having attained, to his knowledge, the age of thirty-six years; and a greater age still might have been recorded of this specimen, but for the untoward treatment it sustained at the hands, or rather beak, of a tame raven. In all probability it may be safely assumed that, when the conditions of life are favorable, these creatures may attain a highly venerable age regarding—the lapse of time from a purely human and interested point of view.
We may now inquire whether or not the foregoing considerations may serve to throw any light upon the tales of the quarryman. The first point to which attention may be directed is that involved in the statement that the amphibian has been imprisoned in a solid rock. Much stress is usually laid on the fact that the rock was solid; this fact being held as implying the great age, not to say antiquity, of the rock and its supposed tenant. The impartial observer, after an examination of the evidence presented, will be inclined to doubt greatly the justification for inserting the adjective "solid"; for usually no evidence whatever is forthcoming as to the state of the rock prior to its removal. No previous examination of the rock is or can be made, from the circumstance that no interest can possibly attach to its condition until its removal reveals the apparent wonder it contained, in the shape of the live toad. And we rarely, if ever, find mention of any examination of the rock being made subsequently to the discovery. Hence, a first and grave objection may be taken to the validity of the supposition that the rock was solid, and it may be fairly urged that on this supposition the whole question turns and depends. For, if the rock can not be proved to have been impermeable to and barred against the entrance of living creatures, the objector may proceed to show the possibility of the toad having gained admission, under certain notable circumstances, to its prison-house.
The frog or toad in its young state, and having just entered upon its terrestrial life, is a small creature, which could, with the utmost ease, wriggle into crevices and crannies of a size which would almost preclude such apertures being noticed at all. Gaining access to a roomier crevice or nook within, and finding there a due supply of air, along with a dietary consisting chiefly of insects, the animal would grow with tolerable rapidity, and would increase to such an extent that egress through its aperture of entrance would become an impossibility. Next, let us suppose that the toleration of the toad's system to starvation and a limited supply of air is taken into account, together with the fact that these creatures will hibernate during each winter, and thus economize, as it were, their vital activity and strength; and after the animal has thus existed for a year or two—no doubt under singularly hard conditions—let us imagine that the rock is split up by the wedge and lever of the excavator; we can then readily enough account for the apparently inexplicable story of "the toad in the rock." "There is the toad and here is the solid rock," say the gossips. "There is an animal which has singular powers of sustaining life under untoward conditions, and which, in its young state, could have gained admittance to the rock through a mere crevice," says the naturalist in reply. Doubtless, the great army of the unconvinced may still believe in the tale as told them, for the weighing of evidence and the placing pros and cons in fair contrast are not tasks of congenial or wonted kind in the ordinary run of life. Some people there will be who will believe in the original solid rock and its toad, despite the assertion of the geologist that the earliest fossils of toads appear in almost the last-formed rocks, and that a live toad in rocks of very ancient age—presuming, according to the popular belief, that the animal was inclosed when the rock was formed—would be as great an anomaly and wonder as the mention as an historical fact of an express train or the telegraph in the days of the patriarchs. The reasonable mind, however, will ponder and consider each feature of the case, and will rather prefer to countenance a supposition based on ordinary experience than an explanation brought ready-made from the domain of the miraculous. While not the least noteworthy feature of these cases is that included in the remark of Smellie respecting the tendency of uneducated and superstitious persons to magnify what is uncommon, and in his sage conclusion that, as a rule, such persons in the matter of their relations "are not to be trusted."
But it must also be noted that we possess valuable evidence of a positive and direct kind bearing on the duration of life in toads under adverse circumstances; and, as this evidence tells most powerfully against the supposition that the existence of those creatures can be indefinitely prolonged, it forms of itself a veritable court of appeal in the cases under discussion. The late Dr. Buckland, curious to learn the exact extent of the vitality of the toad, caused, in the year 1825, two large blocks of stone to be prepared. One of the blocks was taken from the oölite limestone, and in this first stone twelve cells were excavated. Each cell was one foot deep and five inches in diameter. The mouth of each cell was grooved so as to admit of two covers being placed over the aperture; the first or lower cover being of glass, and the upper one of slate. Both covers were so adapted that they could be firmly luted down with clay or putty; the object of this double protection being that the slate cover could be raised so as to inspect the contained object through the closed glass cover without admitting air. In the second or sandstone block a series of twelve cells was also excavated; these latter cells being, however, of smaller size than those of the limestone block, each cell being only six inches in depth by five inches in diameter. These cells were likewise fitted with double covers.
On November 26, 1825, a live toad—kept for some time previously to insure its being healthy—was placed in each of the twenty-four cells. The largest specimen tenant of which was dead, numerous insects were found. No. 9, weighing originally 988 grains, had increased during its incarceration to 1,116 grains; but No. 1, which in the year 1825 had weighed 924 grains, was found in December, 1826, to have decreased to 698 grains; and No. 11, originally weighing 836 grains, had likewise disagreed with the imprisonment, weighing only 652 grains when examined in 1826.1,185 grains, and the smallest 115 grains. The stones and the immured toads were buried on the day mentioned, three feet deep, in Dr. Buckland's garden. There they lay until December 10, 1826, when they were disinterred-and their tenants examined. All the toads in the smaller cells of the sandstone block were dead, and from the progress of decomposition it was inferred that they had succumbed long before the date of disinterment. The majority of the toads in the limestone block were alive, and, curiously enough, one or two had increased in weight. Thus, No. 5, which at the commencement of its captivity had 1,185 grains, had increased to 1,265 grains; but the glass cover of No. 5's cell was found to be cracked. Insects and air must, therefore, have obtained admittance and have afforded nourishment to the imprisoned toad; this supposition being rendered the more likely by the discovery that in one of the cells, the covers of which were also cracked and the
At the period when the blocks of stone were thus prepared, four toads were pinned up in holes five inches deep and three inches in diameter, cut in the stem of an apple-tree; the holes being firmly plugged with tightly fitting wooden plugs. These four toads were found to be dead when examined along with the others in 1826; and of four others inclosed in basins made of plaster-of-Paris, and which were also buried in Dr. Buckland's garden, two were found to be dead at the end of the year, their comrades being alive, but looking starved and meager. The toads which were found alive in the limestone block in December, 1826, were again immured and buried, but were found to be dead, without leaving a single survivor, at the end of the second year of their imprisonment.
These experiments may fairly be said to prove two points. They firstly show that even under circumstances of a favorable kind when compared with the condition popularly believed in—namely, that of being inclosed in a solid rock—the limit of the toad's life may be assumed to be within two years; this period being no doubt capable of being extended when the animal possesses a slight advantage, exemplified by the admission of air and insect-food. And, secondly, we may argue that these experiments show that toads when rigorously treated, like other animals, become starved and meager, and by no means resemble the lively, well-fed animals reported as having emerged from an imprisonment extending, in popular estimation, through periods of inconceivable duration. These tales are, in short, as devoid of actual foundation as are the modern beliefs in the venomous properties of the toad, or the ancient beliefs in the occult and mystic powers of various parts of its frame when used in incantations. Shakespeare, while attributing to the toad venomous qualities, has yet immortalized it in his famous simile, by crediting it with the possession of a "precious jewel." But even in the latter case the animal gets but scant justice; for science strips it of its poetical reputation, and in this, as in other respects, shows it, despite fable and myth, to be an interesting but commonplace member of the animal series.—Gentleman's Magazine.