The Zoologist/4th series, vol 3 (1899)/Issue 701/Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries  (November, 1899) 
various authors, editor W.L. Distant




The Suricate in the Transvaal.—With reference to my note on Cynictis penicillata (ante, p. 179), I have a similar observation to make respecting the true Meer-Kat or Suricate (Suricata tetradactyla). The 'Royal Natural History' positively asserts that it does not inhabit the country north of the Orange River.[1] I have myself seen the animals on the Free State Flats several years ago, and now have come across them in the Transvaal. On the 27th July a Boer brought in a Suricate, which was perfectly full-grown and apparently old. What is more, it was as savage as could be; and all who know the habits of this interesting little mammal must also be aware that it is very easily tamed. In addition, the Boer roared with laughter when I asked him whether the animal had really been caught in the Transvaal. "Waar anders?" (Where else?) he answered. "Do you think I brought or had this little beast sent from the Free State or Cape Colony?" For a long time past I had the idea that the Suricate inhabited the Transvaal, for the following reasons. Several acquaintances had tame ones, and they all, without exception, assured me that the animals had been caught in the Heidelberg and Pretoria districts. My suspicions were confirmed by the bringing in, straight from the veld, so to say, of a snapping, snarling creature. I have also long noticed their burrows. The ground is always in a way ploughed up within a certain radius of a "Meer-Kat's location." There can be no doubt as to the creature's identity. The 'Royal Natural History' itself says that there is no other Mungoose which has ears of another tint than its general body colour. The other characteristics of a Suricate need not be enumerated here. It is, however, certain that the animal is not in any way plentiful here in the Transvaal.—Alwin C. Haagner (P.O. Modderfontein, S.A.K.)

[This animal is not unknown in the Transvaal. I not only kept a pair alive when in Pretoria, but brought them home with me a few years ago. When coaching between Potchefstroom and Vryburg, I have seen quantities about their holes.—Ed.]


Chiffchaff building on the top of small Yew and Box Trees.—My friend Mr. George Alcock, who is much interested in British birds, sends me the following note, which, I think, is worth publishing:—"A Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus rufus) built in my garden at the top of a yew ten feet above ground. It built a second time on the top of a box-bush four feet above ground. I have found scores, but have never before seen one in these positions. In each case the young came to maturity; there were four eggs each time." Mr. Alcock well knows what he is talking about, or I should have been inclined to think that he had mistaken the nest of the Willow Warbler for that of the Chiffchaff; but the late Lord Lilford was of opinion that the latter bird more frequently built at some height from the ground than the former, an experience opposed to my own, but (without any doubt) based upon considerably greater knowledge of the two species.—A.G. Butler (Beckenham, Kent).

Swallows and Hobbies (ante, p. 476).—It may perhaps be remembered that in 'The Zoologist' for 1892, p. 26, I called attention to the fact which Mr. Warde Fowler, in his interesting note, has corroborated. Strange to say, one evening about the middle of September, as I sat at a window in the dusk of evening watching the Swallows as they with hurried and erratic flight dashed over the houses towards the river, I observed a much larger and darker bird accompanying them, and at the time suspected it was a Hawk; but it had gone out of sight too quickly for me to determine what it was. It no doubt has been observed that the flight of the Swallows at such a time is very low—only just over the housetops—and silent, as if they feared to get benighted ere they reached their roosting place; or that something had frightened them, and they wished to get out of sight as quickly and quietly as possible; so different to the gliding, twittering, happy, and, I always think, friendly and fearless flight of the birds at other times. It is gratifying to be able to say that the handsome little Hobby still visits this locality, and I have every reason to suppose it bred near here during the past summer, as I saw a pair near a certain wood in July, a male was killed in another direction in August, and I have no doubt the bird I saw in September following the Swallows was of the same species, for it is well known that this little Falcon is often on the wing very late in the day; and I have seen the stomach of more than one specimen where the remains of the dusk-loving Dor-beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius) indicated that the coleopteron named was a particular article of diet.—G.B. Corbin (Ringwood, Hants).

Sky-Lark (Alauda arvensis) singing in October.—On the morning of October 16th I heard a Lark singing, which was repeated on the 17th, about the same hour, viz. 6 a.m. I again heard the song on the 18th, but in this case it was about 8 a.m., and I also heard it some seven miles from my home on the 20th, also about 8 a.m.; so that this occurrence has not been confined to one bird or to one place. The weather was very mild, and this may have occasioned the song. I do not recollect hearing the Lark sing at the same time of year before. In the last instance there were several Larks in a flock, but only one was singing. In the other cases there were also several in the vicinity, but one only sang. The songs were of fair duration; but I have not again heard more up to the time of writing (Oct. 27th).—Wm. Wilson (Alford, Aberdeen, N.B.)

Green Woodpecker near London.—I have had brought to me a male Green Woodpecker (Gecinus viridis), which had been shot here on the 19th October. It was only about half through its moult, and had been seen about for some time, evidently coming from Dulwich Wood. I am sorry it could not have been spared, as this bird is rarely seen so near London.—Frank Slade (Horniman Museum, Forest Hill, S.E.)

Birds of Cheshire.—We have for some years been engaged in preparing a book on the 'Birds of Cheshire,' which will be published early in the ensuing year; and we shall be grateful for assistance in the shape of notes of the occurrence or capture of rare species, lists of local bird names, or other matters relating to the avifauna of the county.—T.A. Coward (Tryfan, Peel Causeway, Bowdon); Chas. Oldham (Alderley Edge).


A Viper feeding in Confinement.— During a holiday spent in the Land's End district of Cornwall, in August of last year, I obtained several Vipers (Vipera verus), two of which I kept alive in a large case—a fine male and small female—the latter giving birth to seven young about a fortnight later. Up to this period she had refused to eat (I might mention that the male refused all food during the three months it lived), but, on putting a live Mouse into the case, I was fortunate enough to observe the perfectly natural action of both animals. The Viper, on seeing the Mouse, followed it cautiously, striking a hind limb, which appeared to cause very little inconvenience to the Mouse; the Viper, however, still following up, struck again, this time fairly across the loins, and then retired to the further part of the case, seemingly to await results. In less than two minutes the Mouse was dead. Soon the Viper came slowly towards the body, with head lowered, prodding the earth as if smelling the track of its prey, and, although the body was completely hidden by grassy turf, went straight to it. After several unsuccessful attempts to swallow it by means of the legs, the head was seized, and the body disappeared in about ten minutes. Strangely enough, after this it refused to feed, and died of starvation the following November. The young were totally ignored by the mother, although when at rest they generally kept near her (avoiding the male), invariably lying upon or around her, and at the slightest alarm slipping under and along the coils of her body, thus disappearing from view. This habit has no doubt given origin to the numerous reports of female Vipers temporarily swallowing their families till danger was past.—F.W. Terry (102, Kingston Road, Wimbledon, Surrey).

Viper killed by a Mouse.—I was in the same district last July, and captured, amongst others, a very fine gravid female, with which I hoped to be more successful than in the previous year; but the result was still more disastrous. Although particularly vicious at first, after a few weeks' confinement it became sufficiently docile to allow free handling. Some time previous to giving birth it became sickly, and the young, when born, soon died. Guided by my previous experience, I tried it with a Mouse, but this was ignored, and for over a week both lived on perfectly happy terms. One evening, on going to feed the Mouse, I was amazed to find it hanging on to the Viper's head, like a miniature Bull-dog, the unfortunate reptile vainly endeavouring to shake it off. I promptly killed the aggressor, and found also that it was necessary to treat the Snake likewise, for, on examination, I found that both eyes had been eaten out, and the maxillary bearing the poison-fang bitten through. How the Mouse passed unscathed is a mystery, for the Snake, although weak, was quite capable of striking, the uninjured fang being erected freely after the attack. Was it instinct that taught this (a house Mouse) that a dangerous enemy deprived of sight became practically harmless? Certainly, it was not hunger, for plenty of fresh food remained untouched.—F.W. Terry (102, Kingston Road, Wimbledon, Surrey).

[I had a somewhat similar experience with a large Python (P. sebae), which I kept for some months, and never induced to feed. Among other proffered viands was a live Rat, which I positively had to remove after about thirty-six hours, as it had attacked the body of the lethargic serpent. In this case I presume that hunger had overcome fear.—Ed.]

  1. The statement in the work referred to is: "Meerkats appear to be confined to the Cape Colony, extending at least as far north as Algoa Bay."—(Ed.)

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