The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 667/Editorial Gleanings

Editorial Gleanings (January, 1897)
editor W.L. Distant
4036891Editorial GleaningsJanuary, 1897editor W.L. Distant


Mr. L.C. Ditmars has contributed to the 'Proceedings of the Linnæan Society of New York' a descriptive list of "The Snakes found within fifty miles of New York City." These number fifteen species, belonging to thirteen genera. Only two of them, the Copperhead Snake (Agkistrodon contortrix) and the Banded Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), are venomous, and fortunately the first is reported as of not common occurrence near the city, and the second as becoming very rare within fifty miles of the same.

A second species of Natrix, N. leberis, has been recorded by Holbrook ('North American Herpetology') as being also found in the State, and thus included by Baird in his list of Ophidia; but Mr. Ditmars has found no authentic information of its being taken in the area he has defined, and so excludes it from his list.

In connection with the recent earthquake shocks in this couutry, attention has once more been called to the premonitory warnings given by Pheasants in Japan. Lieut. C.W. Baillie, of the Meteorological Office, made some corroborative remarks to a representative of the 'Westminster Gazette' on this subject. He is reported as saying: "Japan is—or was a few years ago—very plentifully provided with Pheasants. And I have heard them many a time in a wood close by my house making a noise that always warned us of the approach of the earthquake; and the warning was was always justified within a few minutes."

Readers of this Magazine may remember that in the volume for 1896, p. 78, attention was recalled to the fact that the Pheasant in this country was incited to crow at the sound of thunder or the firing of cannon.

In the Zoological Series of the publications of the Field Columbian Museum, Chicago, and in a paper written by Mr. D.G. Elliot on "Sundry Collections of Mammals," are some interesting observations made by Prof. J.B. Steere while collecting in the Philippine Islands. We extract the following:—

"The Fruit Bats of the Philippines prefer small islands for their roosts, but will take up with other isolated localities. I found one roost on Negros occupying one immense hard-wood tree standing by itself far from the forest on the plains of the western side of the island. Where they are not hunted for food by the natives they sometimes roost near the native houses or villages for protection. Their roosts seem to be permanently occupied. We found the specimens we procured had been feeding upon the palm-juice which the natives were collecting for saquir (toddy). The bats visit the trees at night and drink the juice from the cups hung on the trees."

Two new species, Pteropus auri-nuchalis and P. lucifer, are described by Mr. Elliot.

The rinderpest, which is devastating South Africa, and has been calculated as liable to destroy ninety-nine per cent. of the domesticated oxen, has prompted the suggestion of more than one remedy. Dr. Stroud, of Pretoria, has now advocated a process of inoculation. He argues that prevention can never be brought about by a system of medication, but, in a specific disease of this terrible nature, can only be effected, either by the wholesale slaughter of the healthy along with the smitten, and so getting rid of all possible contingencies by one radical sweep; or else, by increasing in the sound animal its power of resistance to the invasion of the disease. As the rinderpest is reported to have attacked some of the wild fauna, the difficulties of the course proposed are doubtless increased.

What devastation the rinderpest has created in the Transvaal alone is shown by an extract from the Pretoria 'Press,' November, 1896:—"To quote a single instance, it may be stated that in the ward Boschveld, in the Marico district, there were, before the outbreak, some 30,798 head of oxen. Up to date 4,027 of these have been slaughtered, and 16,808 have died, representing a loss of 20,835 animals; 6,766 are still healthy, 610 are sick; 958 have been salted; 3,229 have been treated by the 'zucht' method; there being thus 9,953 head alive, for those at present sick can hardly be counted."

Locusts are still ravaging South Africa. We learn from Durban, under date of last November, that on one morning during that month immense swarms stretched without intermission from Bellair to the Congella Valley, and young mealie fields and vegetable patches in many places were utterly spoiled. Part of a swarm passed over, but did not settle. Swarms were seen on the back beach, and although they were keeping pretty close to the ground, a westerly breeze which prevailed was driving them to the sea rapidly. Numbers of dead locusts, which had been washed up by the waves, were piled up in a line along the beach, and as the breeze freshened during the day the work of destruction increased.

At a December meeting of the Croydon Microscopical and Natural History Society, the President, Mr. W.M. Holmes, stated that he had seen flocks of Wood Pigeons, numbering many hundreds, in Croham Hurst and the surrounding woods. They are much more numerous this year than usual, and they have evidently been attracted by the abundance of acorns. He was told by a keeper that he had never seen Wood Pigeons in such enormous numbers. They do not appear to do any damage to the crops. In all probability many have come over from the Continent.

A few days ago the father of the late Richard Jefferies passed away at Bath, where he had lived in retirement for some years. To his father the author of 'The Gamekeeper at Home' owed much of his early intimacy with Nature in all her various moods. Mr. Jefferies belonged to the sturdy yeoman class, and formerly farmed Coate Farm, in Swindon, where Richard was born and brought up. Adjoining the farm were the estates of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, which were full of ground game, and over which the family roamed at pleasure. Stretching a few miles distant stood the Downs, whose outlines and features became so familiar to the author of 'Wild Life in a Southern County'; while in another direction a ten-mile walk brought one to Savernake. Amidst these natural surroundings the father trained his boys' observant faculties in every possible way.

We have just heard from our friend and indefatigable collector, Dr. Percy Rendall, whose African collections, made west, south, and east of the Continent, have already borne good fruit, and are expected to produce much more when his material is thoroughly worked out. His last letter was from St. Helena, and he proposes visiting Trinidad, and perhaps St. Lucia and St. Vincent, on his way home. Probably the Tring Museum will be enriched thereby.

How "legends" in British Zoology are reported abroad may be seen from the following extract from 'The Two Republics,' published in the city of Mexico. As may be noticed, it is again copied from one of the United States journals:—

"A queer story is told of an English naturalist, who died in 1860, and was buried at Blankney, in Lincolnshire. Among his pets was a large grey Bat. This Bat was permitted to enter the tomb, and was sealed up alive along with the corpse of his dead master. In 1866 the vault was opened, and to the surprise of all the Bat was alive and fat. On four different occasions since, the relatives of the dead man have looked after the welfare of his pet, aud each time it has been reported that the Bat was still in the land of the living, although occupying quarters with the dead. It was last seen in 1892."—('Cincinnati Enquirer.')

We have previously remarked on the value of private collections, especially when estimated by their ultimate reception in some public institution. We are glad to see there are collectors in Australia. From the last number of 'The Wombat,' published at Geelong, and just received, we read: "We have much pleasure in offering our congratulations to Mr. A.J. Campbell on the occasion of his collection having entered upon its sixth hundred species of Australian eggs, and upon the success of the entertainment which he gave to brother collectors in celebration of that event."

In the 'Naturalist' for January, 1897, our old contributor, Mr. John Cordeaux, in his "Bird-Notes from the Humber District: Autumn of 1896," writing on the third recorded appearance, for the British Islands, of the Indian Houbara Bustard (Otis macqueeni), remarks:—"Much nonsense was written at the time, in both the London and local press, on the enormity of shooting this Bustard—ignorantly called by the writers the Great Bustard—a former inhabitant of the wolds of Yorkshire. The Indian Houbara Bustard comes from Central Asia, where it is abundant, and there was not the slightest chance of this far wanderer ever finding its way back, or becoming naturalised in this country. No doubt its fate would have been decided by the first prowling Fox that came that way, or by Stoat or Weasel." We are no advocate for the extermination of birds, even for museum purposes; but there can be little doubt that Mr. Cordeaux makes out his case in this instance.

In the 'Field' for January 9th, 1897, Mr. George Hewlett, Surgeon, H.M.S. 'Barracouta,' gives the following account of an enormous stranding of Whales at Teal Inlet, East Falkland Island:—

"In the end of September, 1896, an enormous school of a species of Whale, called the Caaing Whale, ran ashore in Teal Inlet. Teal Inlet is a small creek, one and a half miles long, opening into Port Salvador, which in turn opens into the South Atlantic by a very narrow opening.

"One morning a whirlwind appeared to be approaching over the water in the bay of San Salvador, and soon this was made out to be an enormous school of Whales, so thick that they seemed to be jostling each other, nothing but fins and tails, and the water in foam all round; this was on a flowing tide, and they came on into the inlet itself, describing a sort of cycloidal curves, until the inshore part of the squadron took on a kelp reef, and then a sudden panic seemed to seize them all, and the unfortunate animals came up the inlet full speed ahead, with the sea boiling in front of them and a great wave coming after them, and they piled up in hundreds on the beach. Then, as there was a rising tide, they got off again, but only to charge the opposite beach, and so on till the falling tide and loss of strength left them high and dry all round the dreary bay; then could be heard the sort of long-drawn sighs which these mighty beasts made in breathing, and the young ones were said to have been heard to cry with a mewing sound. Some of the cows gave birth in their death agony to poor little calves, and very few, old or young, lived more than a quarter of an hour after their final stranding. Some died quietly, others beat the sand and water with their tails, dyeing the water with blood; the children, not realizing the calamity of the poor monsters, were observed to be putting stones on the blow-holes of such as they could reach, delighted to see the stones blown high into the air at each expiration. The men of the settlement were engaged with ropes in trying to save the boat-pier from destruction by the furious strokes of the tails of a couple of Whales who had got alongside it to die.

"By the evening, after that tide had ebbed, there were five Whales afloat only, out of more than 500 that had been afloat that morning, and by next morning only three were to be seen, and they swam round and round for a while, and then, as is if disdaining to live when all their companions were dead, in company they made straight for the beach, and in a few moments they also had passed for ever out of the scheme of existence. Unfortunately for the world at large, all this loss of life benefited nothing but the sea-birds and the pigs of the settlement. Circumstances made it impossible to use the blubber. Some of the bodies have been burnt; they burn like a great oil-shed. The spring tides fortunately floated others up and down and dispersed them, otherwise the stench would have been unbearable.

"As for the cause of this catastrophe among the Whales, my friend Mr. Felton, who manages the estate, thinks that the school got into the bay of San Salvador and lost their way in its ramifications, and could not get suitable food, and became delirious from starvation, thus committing suicide. He dissected some of them, and found both stomach and intestines empty; but, against this theory, they all had about two inches of blubber all over them, and therefore had not wasted very much.

"These Whales were from thirty feet to four feet long. The four-feet ones were just born. They were of all ages and sexes. They had small, sharp-cutting teeth in each jaw, and a very large tongue; the head was not very large, certainly not more than a seventh of the body length."

As we go to press news has been received of the burning of the residence of Mr. John Harvie Brown, and the total destruction of his valuable Natural History collection. We desired to record "Museum Notes," but deeply regret that this should prove to be the first contribution. We not only express our sympathy with Mr. Harvie Brown, on such a more than personal loss, but feel that British zoologists will universally deplore the catastrophe.