The mammals of Australia/Introduction/Introduction
In the foregoing Preface I have glanced at the principal groups of Mammals inhabiting the great country of Australia. It will now, however, be necessary to enter into greater detail respecting this division of its fauna; and I conceive that it will not be out of place if I commence with a retrospective view of the gradual discovery of countries and their zoological productions from the earliest historic times. Such a retrospect will not, I think, be deemed unnecessary, especially since my intention is to show to the general reader, rather than to the scientific naturalist, that each great division of the globe has its own peculiar forms of animal life, and that the fauna of Australia is widely different from that of every other part of the world. By a mere glance at the zoological features of the globe as at present existing, it will be perceived with what precision the animal life of each country has been adapted to its physical character; the absence of certain great families of birds and quadrupeds in some countries will also be apparent. To account for this on any scientific principle would be very difficult, when we cannot say why the Nightingale is not a summer visitant to Devonshire, or why the Grouse is not found south of Wales; why the aerial Swifts, Swallows, and Martins are numerous in Australia, and absent in New Zealand; or why Woodpeckers, which occur in nearly every other part of the globe, are not found in Australia, New Guinea, or any of the Polynesian Islands. The ancient Egyptians appear to have been little acquainted with the natural productions of any other country than their own,—at least, we have no evidence that they were; for neither so conspicuous a bird as the Peacock, nor even the Common Fowl, are represented on their lasting monuments. Of the eastern countries Alexander's expedition doubtless greatly increased the knowledge of the Greeks, furnishing materials for the philosophic mind of Aristotle, and certainly extending the knowledge of Pliny, as is evidenced by his 'Historia Naturalis,' the only work which has come down to us of the latter great naturalist. Pliny, standing out as a bright star in zoological science at the period he lived, was doubtless tolerably acquainted with the natural productions of Eastern Europe, Arabia, North-eastern Africa, slightly with those of Persia, and still less so with those of India.
It may be fairly said, that the earliest dawn of natural history commenced with the Christian era,—Aristotle living just before, and Pliny soon after, the advent of our Saviour. This early dawn, however, was for a long period obscured by the dark ages which succeeded; for it was not until the commencement of the 17th century that Aldrovandus, Piso, Marcgrave, and Willughby wrote their works on this branch of science. At this comparatively late period, the productions of Europe were better known; Africa had been for a long time circumnavigated, and its southern fauna partially brought to light; India also in like manner furnished her quota, though sparingly, to the stock of human knowledge. What Alexander's celebrated expedition did for the naturalists Aristotle and Pliny, the discoveries of Columbus did by shedding a new light upon zoological science, and furnishing fresh food to the modern writers above mentioned. Linnaeus, the greatest of all systematists, had a very extended knowledge of the natural productions of the globe, and the information this great man has left behind him in his numerous writings is considerable. Still, the southern land which we designate Australia (the mammalian products of which this work is intended to illustrate) was a sealed book to him. As regards this great country, it may be said that its most highly organized animals, if we except the Seals, are the various species of Rodents, and the equally numerous insectivorous and frugivorous Bats, both of which rank among the lowest of the Placentals. In America the Marsupialia are but feebly represented; in Africa and India none of this form exist. On the other hand, Australia is the great country of these pouched animals; they are universally distributed throughout its entire extent, from north to south, and from east to west; and they are not even absent from the neighbouring islands. Their presence in Tasmania on the south, and New Guinea on the north, testifies that these countries were formerly united to the mainland, and constituted a great natural province, characterized by a similar fauna and flora. It will be unnecessary for me to state that none of the Quadrumana, or Monkeys, are found in Australia; and that neither the Lion, the Tiger, the Leopard, nor any other of the Felinæ, roam among its forests, to disturb the harmony of its generally peaceful quadrupeds.
The great groups of the Bovinæ, or Oxen, the Equinæ, or Horses and Zebras, the stately Elephant, the huge Rhinoceros, as well as the Cervidæ, or Deer-kind, and the Antelopes, are totally unknown in Australia; yet the great grassy plains and other physical features of the country would appear to be well adapted for them and also for the smaller herbivorous quadrupeds, such as the Hare, the Rabbit, &c. Why there should occur so great a difference between the animals of Australia and those of the other countries of the world it is not for me to say. But I may ask, has creation been arrested in this strange land? and, if not, why are these higher types denied to it? Whatever opinion may be formed on this interesting subject, it is generally believed that no more highly organized animals than those which are now found there ever roamed over her plains or tenanted her luxuriant brushes. At the same time, the partially fossilized remains of distinct species of Kangaroos which have been discovered in her stalactitic caves, and the huge skeletons, or parts of skeletons, which have been exhumed from her alluvial beds, testify that Australia must be of remote origin. It is scarcely necessary to remark that all these remains belong to Marsupial animals; nor must it be imagined that I am oblivious of the fact that the remains of members of this group have been found in the older tertiary and secondary strata of Europe. I merely glance at these things, and leave their consideration to those who pay special attention to the sister science of geology.
Although the more highly organized animals do not inhabit, and seem never to have inhabited Australia, it is not a little interesting to observe how completely the law of representation is manifested among her mammals—how one family typifies another in the higher groups of the Placentalia; or, to be more explicit, to note how the Herbivora are represented by the Kangaroos, the Felinæ by the Dasyures, the Jerboas by the Hapalotides, &c. When speaking of the wonderful fossil Diprotodon, in his work on Palaeontology, Professor Owen states—"Australia yields evidence of an analogous correspondence between its last extinct and its present aboriginal mammalian- fauna, which is the more interesting on account of the very peculiar organization of most of the native quadrupeds of that division of the globe. That the Marsupialia form one great natural group is now generally admitted by zoologists; the representatives in that group of many of the orders of the more exclusive Placental subclass of the Mammalia of the larger continents have also been recognized in the existing genera and species: the Dasyures, for example, play the parts of the Carnivora; the Bandicoots (Perameles), of the Insectivora; the Phalangers, of the Quadrumana; the Wombat, of the Rodentia; and the Kangaroos, in a remoter degree, of the Ruminantia. The first collection of mammalian fossils from the ossiferous caves of Australia brought to light the former existence on that continent of larger species of the same peculiar marsupial genera: some, as the Thylacine, and the Dasyurine subgenus represented by the D. ursinus, are now extinct on the Australian continent; but one species of each still exists on the adjacent island of Tasmania; the rest were extinct Wombats, Phalangers, Potoroos, and Kangaroos-—some of the latter (Macropus Atlas, M. Titan) being of great stature. A single tooth, in the same collection of fossils, gave the first indication of the former existence of a type of the Marsupial group, which represented the Pachyderms of the larger continents, and which seems now to have disappeared from the face of the Australian earth,—of the great quadruped, so indicated under the name of Diprotodon in 1838; and successive subsequent acquisitions have established the true marsupial character and the near affinities of the genus to the Kangaroo (Macropus), but with an osculant relationship with the herbivorous Wombat. The entire skull of the Diprotodon, lately acquired by the British Museum, shows in situ the tooth on which the genus was founded. This skull measures 3 feet in length, and exemplifies by its size the huge dimensions of the primeval Kangaroo. Like the contemporary gigantic Sloth in South America, the Diprotodon of Australia, while retaining the dental formula of its living homologue, shows great and remarkable modifications of its limbs. The hind pair were much shortened and strengthened compared with those of the Kangaroo; the fore pair were lengthened, as well as strengthened. Yet, as in the case of the Megatherium, the ulna and radius were maintained free, and so articulated as to give the fore paw the rotatory actions. These, in Diprotodon, would be needed, as in the herbivorous Kangaroo, by the economy of the marsupial pouch. The dental formula of Diprotodon was the same as in Macropus major: the first of the grinding series was soon shed, but the other four two-ridged teeth were longer retained; and the front upper incisor was very large and scalpriform, as in the Wombat. The zygomatic arch sent down a process for augmenting the origin of the masseter muscle, as in the Kangaroo. The foregoing skull, with parts of the skeleton of the Diprotodon australis, were discovered in a lacustrine deposit, probably pleistocene, intersected by creeks, in the plains of Darling Downs, Australia.
"The same formation has yielded evidence of a somewhat smaller extinct herbivorous genus (Nototherium), combining, with essential affinities to Macropus, some of the characters of the Koala (Phascolarctos). The writer has recently communicated descriptions and figures of the entire skull of the Nototherium Mitchelli to the Geological Society of London. The genus Phascolomys was at the same period represented by a Wombat (P. gigas) of the magnitude of a Tapir. The pleistocene marsupial Carnivora presented the usual relations of size and power to the Herbivora whose undue increase they had to check."
In another work, Prof. Owen represents an almost entire skull, with part of the lower jaw, of an animal (Thylacoleo) rivalling the Lion in size, the marsupial character of which is demonstrated by the position of the lacrymal foramen in front of the orbit, by the palatal vacuity, by the loose tympanic bone, by the development of the tympanic bulla in the alisphenoid, by the very small relative size of the brain, and other characters. "The carnassial tooth is 2 inches 3 lines in longitudinal extent, or nearly double the size of that in the Lion. The upper tubercular tooth resembles, in its smallness and position, that in the placental Felines. But in the lower jaw the carnassial is succeeded by two very small tubercular teeth, as in Plagiaulax; and there is a socket close to the symphysis of the lower jaw of Thylacoleo, which indicates that the canine may have terminated the dental series there, and have afforded an additional feature of resemblance to the Plagiaulax."
As might naturally be expected, the climate of a country which extends over more than 30 degrees of latitude is very much diversified. Cape York and Arnheim's Land are as near 11° south as possible, while Wilson's Promontory, in Victoria, reaches 39°, and the southern part of Tasmania 44½°. The parts of Australia approaching the Tropic differ very considerably from its southern portions; for, lying more to the north, the latter under the influence of monsoons, and rains more or less regular occur in their proper seasons. Speaking generally, however, Australia may be characterized as one of the driest and most heated countries of our globe; for, although an island in the strictest sense of the word, it is so extensive that the surrounding seas have little influence upon the distant interior, which must still be regarded as a great sterile waste, destitute of mountains sufficient to attract the moisture requisite to form navigable or other rivers. In writing this in 1863, when travellers have crossed the country and so many valuable discoveries have lately been made, I am willing to admit that this great desert is here and there relieved by higher lands which will ultimately become useful to the enterprising settler, and that, in all probability, many fine and extensive oases have yet to be brought to light; but, at the same time, I believe there will always be considerable uncertainty in the seasons of the interior of this great land. In southern latitudes we know that this is the case, while in the north a wet or a dry monsoon greatly alters the face of the country, and exerts a powerful influence on animal and vegetable life. Hence it is that the scanty fauna of this part of Australia is so organized that it is able to exist without water: the various species of Rodents, such as the members of the genera Mus and Hapalotis, and the Wombats, Lagorchestes, and Bettongias, and other Kangaroos, are thus constituted; and it will be recollected that, when speaking of the Halcyons and other large Kingfishers in the 'Birds of Australia' I stated that I believed they never partook of this element, their food consisting of lizards and insects, to which, in like manner, it was not essential. The Australian mammals must, however, be put to severe straits occasionally, not from the want, but from the superabundance of water,—a wet monsoon in the north, and the heavy rains which occasionally occur in the south, deluging the basin-like surface of the interior and rendering it untenable, and obliging them to retire to the higher ridges until the drought, which generally ensues, has restored it to its normal condition. The districts, or countries as I may call them, which constitute the other portions of Australia are very different, indeed completely opposite in character; I mean the rich lands which surround nearly the whole of the sterile centre. The mountain-ranges, of no very great elevation it is true, exert much influence upon the face of nature, constantly attracting rains, which, pouring down their sides, deposit a rich alluvial soil, favourable to the growth of gigantic trees and the most luxuriant vegetation. The forests of Palms which there occur are scarcely inferior to those of any other country, while the stately native Cedars and Fig-trees are wonders to every traveller. These giants of the forest are scarcely ever to be found in the interior; sterility is not suited to their existence; they do not occur in company with the Banksiæ, the Hakeæ, or the Casuarinæ, most of which are characteristics of land wherein the settler would not choose to risk his fortune. The great physical features of Australia then, as a whole, are the absence of high mountains and navigable rivers, its heated interior, its vast grassy plains, and its luxuriant brushes, particularly on its southern and south-eastern coasts. Over the whole of this extensive country, with its ever-varying climate, certain groups of animals are universally spread, while others, particularly the more isolated forms, are strictly confined to their own districts, each adapted for some special end and purpose,—as much as the long bill of the Humming-bird (Docimastes ensiferus) is evidently formed for exploring the lengthened tubular corollas of the Brugmansiæ, or the greatly curved bill of two species of the same family of birds (the Eutoxeres Aquila and E. Condaminei) is for insertion into the honey-cups of the Coryanthes speciosa and its allies,—or, to take a more striking instance, as the brush-like tongues of the numerous honey-feeding Parrakeets and Honeyeaters of Australia are constituted for obtaining the nectar from the flowers of the universally spread and equally numerous Eucalypti which form so prominent a feature in the flora of that country.
I will now give, as far as my knowledge of the subject will permit, an enumeration of Australian mammals, the extent of their range, &c. In doing this, I shall commence with the Monotrematous section of the Marsupiata, which includes the Ornithorhynchus and two species of Echidna; I shall then proceed to the genera Myrmecobius, Tarsipes, Chæropus, Peragalea, Perameles, Phascolarctos, Phalangista, Cuscus, Petaurista, Belideus, Phascogale, Sarcophilus, Dasyurus, Thylacinus, and Phascolomys; and these will be followed by the great family of Kangaroos, with remarks upon their structural differences and the especial object for which these appear to have been designed; next we shall come to the feebly represented Placentals, the Seals, and Rodents; and, lastly, to the species of Pteropus and other Bats.
I have considered that, in a large illustrated work like the 'Mammals of Australia,' it would be out of place to enter into the anatomy of the objects I have represented. I have therefore omitted all details of this kind; neither have I included therein a repetition of the generic characters and Latin descriptions which have appeared in general works on Mammalogy, where they may be easily referred to. Those who wish to enter more fully into the generic characters of the Australian mammals will find all the information they can wish for in Mr. Waterhouse's valuable work, entitled 'A Natural History of the Mammalia,' a publication of such great promise and merit, that it becomes a matter of surprise and regret to all interested in this branch of science that the publisher decided upon not continuing it to its completion.
It will be observed that I have entirely omitted the Whales, Porpesses, and Dugong, my reason for so doing being that I had not sufficient opportunities for studying those animals in a state of nature, and have not therefore attempted that which I did not understand, and consequently could not have accomplished in a satisfactory manner. With regard to the Dugong, I must not omit thanking my relative, Charles Coxen, Esq., of Queensland, for his attention in sending me a skin and part of the skeleton of this animal; but even with these materials I found I could not produce an accurate representation of it in the living state. Although I do not inflict upon my readers the characters and distinctions of genera, I must not pass over unnoticed the principal features which distinguish the Marsupiata from the Placental Mammalia. In the first place, the former are considered to be much less highly organized than the latter: according to Professor Owen, the brain is deficient in both the corpus callosum and the septum lucidum; the cerebrum is small in proportion to the animal, contracted in front, and its surface is smooth, or presents but few convolutions; the cerebellum is entirely exposed, and has a vermiform process large in proportion to the lateral lobes; the olfactory lobes are large. Two venæ cavæ enter the heart; "the right auricle has no trace of a fossa ovalis." In point of fact, the main characteristic of the Marsupials, as distinguished from the Placentals, is that much of the embryotic life in the former is carried on in what may be called a sort of external uterus.
On my return from Australia, the venerable Geoffroy St. Hilaire put the following question to me, "Does the Ornithorhynchus lay eggs?" and when I answered in the negative, that fine old gentleman and eminent naturalist appeared somewhat disconcerted. Now, this oviparous notion was nearly in accordance with the true state of things—somewhat akin to what is actually the case; and I consider the most striking peculiarity of this singular animal, and indeed of all the Marsupiata, to be the imperfectly formed state in which their young are born. The Kangaroo at its birth is not larger than a baby's little finger, which it is not very unlike in shape: in this extremely helpless state, the mother, by some means at present unknown, places this vermiform object to one of the nipples within her pouch or marsupium; by some equally unknown process, the little creature becomes attached by its imperfectly formed mouth to the nipple, and there remains dangling for days, and even weeks, during which it gradually assumes the likeness and structure of its parents; at length it drops from this lacteal attachment into the pouch, re-attaches itself when hunger prompts it so to do, and as often again tumbles off when its wants have been supplied. It is scarcely necessary to say that, after gaining sufficient strength, it leaves this natural pocket of the mother, leaps into the open air and sports about the plains or the forest, as the case may be, and returns again to its warm home, until at length the wearied mother denies it this indulgence and proceeds again to comply with the law which governs all creatures, that of reproduction. This is a very low form of animal life, indeed the lowest among the Mammalia, and exhibits the first stage beyond the development of the bird.
This description has reference not only to the Kangaroos, which mostly have but one young at a time, but is equally descriptive of the other members of. this group, some of which have two, while others have three or four, and others, the Phascogalæ for instance, eight or nine at a birth; but in all cases, even with these large numbers, the young hang to the mammæ in the way I have described.
Independently of the low structure of the brain and the low form of reproduction of the Kangaroos, I ought to mention that two little bones have been expressly provided for the support of the marsupium; there is also a considerable difference in the dentition, as well as in the form of the lower jaw, by which this group of animals may at all times be distinguished. I have not failed to observe much disparity in size in the Marsupiata; they seem to be always growing; for the males get larger and still larger for years, even long after they have commenced the duty of reproduction, and hence individuals of all sizes occur, and occasionally one extraordinarily large may be met with. I have observed this in all the Marsupials, but particularly among the Kangaroos. The great herds of the grey species, Macropus major, are frequently headed by an enormous male, or Boomer as he is called. Like the "rogue Elephants" of Ceylon, these patriarchs are often solitary, and are generally very savage.
Commencing with the most lowly organized of the Australian mammals, I may state that the Ornithorhynchus has a very limited range, as is shown by its not being found either in Western or Northern Australia—the south-eastern portions of the continent and Van Diemen's Land being the localities to which it is confined.
The spiny Echidna hystrix has not yet been found to the northward of Moreton Bay on the east coast, and, except in New South Wales and the islands in Bass's Straits, it is very rare—so rare indeed, that I have never seen a specimen from South Australia; yet in all probability it will be found there, since Mr. Gilbert obtained an example at Swan River; this individual, however, did not come under my notice, and I am therefore unable to say if it were a true E. hystrix, or a western representative of that species.
The more hairy Echidna setosa is confined to Van Diemen's Land; but it is questionable whether it be really distinct from E. hystrix; the more southern position and colder climate of that island may have had the effect of giving it a warmer coat, whiter spines, and of altering its general appearance.
The single species representing the genus Myrmecobius (M. fasciatus) appears to be more plentiful in the Swan River Settlement than elsewhere; it nevertheless occurs in the Murray Scrub and other parts of South Australia, and from thence to the western coast it probably inhabits every locality suited to its habits and mode of life.
Like the Myrmecobius, the little honey-lapping Tarsipes rostratus stands quite alone—and a truly singular creature it is: to give the area over which it ranges is impossible, as we know far too little of these diminutive mammals to come to any positive conclusion on this point; at present, the neighbourhood of King George's Sound is one of the localities in which it has been seen in a state of nature.
Isolated in form and differing in the structure of its feet from every other known quadruped is the Chæropus, an animal which frequents the hard grounds of the interior, over which it is dispersed from New South Wales to Western Australia. The specific term of ecaudatus, first applied to this animal in consequence of the specimen characterized being destitute of the caudal appendage, must now sink into a synonym, that organ being as well developed in this as in any other of the smaller quadrupeds, the Perameles for instance, to which this singular animal is somewhat allied.
The root-feeding Dalgyte, or Peragalea lagotis, leads us still nearer to the genus Perameles: the fauna of Western Australia is greatly enriched by the addition of this beautiful species. I believe that South Australia may also lay claim to it; for I have seen a tail, said to have been obtained on the south coast, which greatly resembled that of the Swan River Peragalea; but it may have pertained to an allied animal with which we are not yet acquainted.
The members of the restricted genus Perameles are numerous in species, and universally dispersed over the whole of Australia and Van Diemen's Land; they also extend in a northerly direction to New Guinea and the adjacent islands. Of this genus there are two well-marked divisions: one distinguished by bands on their backs or crescentic markings across their rumps and by their diminutive tails, the other by a uniformity in their colouring. The species of the former division inhabit the hot stony ridges bordering the open plains; those of the latter the more humid forests, among grass and other dense vegetation. Figures of most of these Bandicoots, as they are called, and an account of the manners, habits, and economy of each, so far as known, will be found in their proper places in the body of the work.
The Phascogales, of which there are three, namely P. penicillata, P. calura, and P. lanigera, are all natives of the southern portions of Australia, from east to west; they are, however, rather denizens of the interior than of the provinces near the coast, but the P. penicillata is alike found in both. Their dentition indicates that they are sanguinary in their disposition,— a character which is confirmed by the P. penicillata, small as it comparatively is, being charged with killing fowls and other birds.
It might be thought that the Phascogalæ would naturally lead to the Antechini, but there is no real affinity between the two groups. I find it most difficult to arrange the Australian mammals in anything like a serial order; but the numerous species forming the genera Antechinus and Podabrus are, perhaps, as well placed here as elsewhere. Like the Peramelides, the members of those genera inhabit every part of Australia and the adjacent islands: the thick-tailed species, forming the genus Podabrus, frequent the interior rather than the coast; the Antechini, on the other hand, inhabit both districts; and wherever there are trees and shrubs, one or other of them may be found; some evince a partiality for the fallen boles lying on the ground, while others run over the branches of those that are still standing.
I now approach a better-defined section of the Australian Marsupiata than any of the preceding—the nocturnal Phalangers. These are divided into several genera—Phascolarctos, Petaurista, Belideus, Phalangista, Cuscus, Acrobates, and Dromicia. The extraordinary Koala is only found in the brushes of New South Wales. It stands quite alone—the solitary species of its genus, and it is well worth while to turn to my figures and description of this anomalous Sloth among the Marsupials. The Petauristæ are strictly brush-loving animals, and are almost entirely confined to New South Wales; some one or other of the Belidei, on the other hand, is found in all other parts of the Australian continent (except perhaps its western portion), wherever there are Eucalypti of sufficient magnitude for their branches to become hollow spouts wherein these nocturnes may sleep during the day. This form also occurs among the animals of the New Guinea group of islands. The little Opossum Mouse, Acrobates pygmæus, is a general favourite with the colonists; and well it may be so, for in its disposition it is as amiable as its form is elegant and its fur soft and beautiful: what the Dormouse is to the English boy, this little animal is to the juveniles of Australia. I have seen it kept as a pet, and its usual retreat in the day, while it sleeps, was a pill-box; as night approaches it becomes active, and then displays much elegance in its motions. The true Phalangista comprise many species; and are found in every colony, in Port Essington on the north, Swan River on the west, New South Wales and Queensland on the east, and Victoria and Van Diemen's Land on the south. They lead to the genus Cuscus, a form better represented in New Guinea and its islands than in Australia, where only one species has been discovered, in the neighbourhood of Cape York. Of the two fairy-like Dromiciæ, which live upon the stamens of flowers and the nectar of their corollas, one is found in Van Diemen's Land, the other in Western Australia. The description of a third species of this form has just been transmitted by Mr. Krefft to the Zoological Society; he states that it was taken from an example discovered by himself in New South Wales, and proposes to call it D. unicolor.
An equally remarkable and distinct division or group is composed of the Dasyures, to which the extraordinary Sarcophilus ursinus of Van Diemen's Land bears precisely the same degree of relationship that the Koala does to the Phalangers. Like the Thylacinus, the Sarcophilus is confined to Van Diemen's Land. And I would ask, why are these strange and comparatively large animals now restricted to so limited an area? for it can scarcely be supposed that they have not, at some time or other, inhabited the continent of Australia also. Had not Tasmania as well as the mainland been peopled for a long time by the human race, it might have been supposed that their extirpation from the continent had been effected by these children of nature. Whatever the cause may have been, it cannot now be ascertained, and we must be content to treat of the creatures that still exist. Of the true Dasyures, four very distinct species are dispersed over Australia from Van Diemen's Land to the shores of Torres' Straits. Tasmania is frequented by two (Dasyurus maculatus and D. viverrinus), the southern parts of the mainland by the same two species with the addition of a third (D. Geoffroyi), while the D. hallucatus inhabits the north. The animals of this genus are very viverrine both in their appearance and in their sanguinary disposition, and are probably the true representatives in Australia of that group of quadrupeds. The term 'sanguinary' is rightly applied to some of these animals, yet there is not one which a child might not conquer. The boldest of them are more troublesome than dangerous, and a robbery of the hen-roost is the utmost of the depredations their nature prompts them to commit.
I now come to the most bloodthirsty of the Australian mammals—the Wolf of the Marsupials—the Thylacinus of Tasmania's forest-clad country—the only member of its Order which gives trouble to the shepherd or uneasiness to the stockholder. Van Diemen's Land is the true and only home of this somewhat formidable beast, which occasionally deals out destruction among the flocks of the settler, to which it evinces a decided preference over the Brush Kangaroos, its more ancient food. To man, however, it is not an object of alarm; for the shepherd, aided by his dog, and stick in hand, does not for a moment hesitate about attacking and killing it. The large life-sized head and the reduced figures given in the body of the work well represent the Thylacinus, and all that is known of its habits will be found in the accompanying letter-press.
Until lately, only one species of Phascolomys or Wombat was clearly defined; but we now know that there are three, if not four, very distinct kinds; and in all probability others may yet be discovered, and prove that this form has a much more extended range than is at present supposed. The P. Wombat is still abundant in Van Diemen's Land and on some of the islands in Bass's Straits; and two or three species burrow in the plains of the southern countries of Australia generally. These huge, heavy, and short-legged animals, revelling in a state of obesity, feed most harmlessly on roots and other vegetable substances; they are the Rodents of their own Order, and the representatives of the Capybaras of South America. With this group I terminate the first volume; the next is devoted to the great family of the Macropodidæ or Kangaroos. This, the most important of all the Marsupial groups, both as to diversity of form and the number of species, is so widely and so universally dispersed over the Australian continent and its islands, that its members may be said to exist in every part of those countries. They are found in great abundance in the southern and comparatively cold island of Tasmania, while three species, at least, tenant that little-explored country, New Guinea, and some of the adjacent islands. Varied as the physical condition of Australia really is, forms of Kangaroos are there to be found peculiarly adapted for each of these conditions. The open grassy plains, sometimes verdant, at others parched up and sterile, offer an asylum to several of the true Macropi; the hard and stony ridges and rocky crowns of the mountains are frequented by the great Osphranters; precipitous rocks are the home of the Petrogales; the mangrove-swamps and dense humid brushes are congenial to the various Halmaturi; in the more spiny brigaloe-scrubs the Onychogaleæ form their runs, and fly before the shouting of the natives when a hunt is the order of the day; among the grassy beds which here and there clothe the districts between the open plains and the mountain-ranges—the park-like districts of the country—the Lagorchestes sit in their "forms," like the Hare in England; and the Bettongiæ and Hypsiprymni shroud themselves from the prying eye of man and the eagle in their dome-shaped grassy nests, which are constructed on any part of the plains, the stony ridges, and occasionally in the open glades among the brushes. The species inhabiting New Guinea (the Dendrolagus ursinus and D. inustus) resort to the trees, and, monkey-like, ascend and live among the branches. Of the Filander of the same country we know little or nothing. How wonderfully are all these forms adapted to a separate and special end and purpose—an end and a purpose which cannot be seen to advantage in any but a comparatively undisturbed country like Australia—a part of the world's surface still in maiden dress, but the charms of which will ere long be ruffled and their true character no longer seen! Those charms will not long survive the intrusion of the stockholder, the farmer, and the miner, each vying with the other to obliterate that which is so pleasing to every naturalist; and fortunate do I consider the circumstances which induced me to visit the country while so much of it remained in its primitive state.
I must revert to the Kangaroos; for it will be necessary to point out the situations affected by the various genera. In the body of the work three species of true Macropi are figured, and others are described, but not represented. These are all inhabitants of the southern districts of Australia and Van Diemen's Land. To say that no true Macropus, as the genus is now restricted, would be found in Northern Australia would be somewhat unwarrantable; at the same time, I have never seen an example from thence. The genus Osphranter, on the other hand, the members of which, as has been before stated, are always found in rocky situations, have their representatives in the north as well as in the south, but they are not found in Van Diemen's Land. The splendid 0. rufus is an animal of the interior, and frequents the plains more than any other species of its genus. At present, the back settlements of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia are the only countries whence I have seen specimens. The great Black Wallaroo (O. robustus) forms its numerous runs among the rocks, and on the summits of mountains bordering the rivers Mokai and Gwydyr. The O. Parryi ranges over the rocky districts of the headwater's of the Clarence and adjacent rivers, while the 0. antilopinus is as yet only known in the Cobourg Peninsula.
The smaller Petrogalæ differ from all the other Kangaroos, both in the form of their feet and the structure of their brushy dangling tails. With the exception of Tasmania, these rock-lovers dwell everywhere, from north to south, and from east to west. The P. penicillata inhabits New South Wales; the P. xanthopus, South Australia; the P. lateralis, Western Australia; the P. concinna and P. brachyotis, the north-west coast; and the P. inornata, the opposite rocky shores of the east.
The true Wallabies, or Halmaturi, are all brush animals, and are more universally dispersed than any of the other members of the entire family. Tasmania is inhabited by two species, New South Wales by at least five, South Australia by two or three, and Western Australia by the same number; while the genus is represented on the north coast by the H. agilis. It will be clear, then, that the arboreal districts of the south, with their thick and impenetrable brushes, are better adapted for the members of this genus than the hotter country of the north.
The Onychogaleæ are, par excellence, the most elegantly formed and the most beautifully marked members of the whole family, and they are, moreover, as graceful in their actions as in their colouring they are pleasing to the eye. One species, the O. franatæ, inhabits the brigaloe-scrubs of the interior of New South Wales and Queensland, and probably South Australia. The O. lunata plays the same part, and affects very similar situations, in Western Australia; while the O. unguifera, as far as we yet know, is confined to the north-eastern part of the continent.
The Lagorchestes are a group of small hare-like Kangaroos, which dwell in every part of the interior of the southern portion of the mainland, from Swan River on the west to Queensland on the east; one species has, however, been found in the northern districts—the L. Leichardti, as it has been named, in honour of its discoverer, the late intrepid and unfortunate explorer, Dr. Leichardt. They are the greatest leapers and the swiftest runners among small animals I have ever seen; they sleep in forms, or seats, like the Common Hare (Lepus timidus) of Europe, and mostly affect the open grassy ridges, particularly those that are of a stony character. The beautiful L. fasciatus of Swan River is one of the oldest known; the L. Leichardti the latest yet discovered.
The Bettongiæ, with their singular prehensile tails, also enjoy a wide range, the various species composing the genus being found in Tasmania, New South Wales, Southern and Western Australia, but, so far as we yet know, not in the north. For a more detailed account of the localities favoured with the presence of these animals, and the manner in which their prehensile tails are employed in carrying the grass for their nest, I must refer to the history of the respective species, and particularly to the plate of Bettongia cuniculus.
The Hypsiprymni are the least and, perhaps, the most aberrant group of this extensive family. They inhabit the southern and most humid parts of the country, and are to be found everywhere, from Tasmania to the 15th degree of latitude on the continent in one direction, and from the scrubs of Swan River and King George's Sound to the dense brushes of Moreton Bay in the other; like most other Kangaroos, they are nocturnal in their habits, grub the ground for roots, and live somewhat after the manner of the Peramelides, with which, however, they have no relationship.
To render my history of this group of animals the more complete, I have included in the work the three species inhabiting New Guinea: two of these belong to the genus Dendrolagus, and, as their name implies, dwell among the branches of trees, and rarely resort to the ground: the third forms the genus Dorcopsis, of which a single species only is known; it has doubtless some peculiar habits; but these must be left for a future historian to describe; at present they are unknown.
The great family of the Kangaroos, of which what I have here written must only be regarded as a slight sketch, is well worthy the study of every mammalogist. It forms by far the most conspicuous feature in the history of Australian quadrupeds; and, numerous as are the species now known, I doubt not that others will yet be discovered when the north and north-western provinces of the country have been more diligently explored.
The third and concluding volume is devoted to the Rodents, Seals, and Bats, and ends with the Canis Dingo. These are the only Placental animals inhabiting the land of Australia, and, contrary to what was formerly supposed, the Rodents form no inconspicuous feature among the quadrupeds of that country. They are very numerous in species, and almost multitudinous in individuals. Every traveller who has visited the interior can testify to this fact. If exploration has been his object, the numerous runs and tracks of these little animals must have been frequently presented to his notice,—every grassy bed being tenanted by its own species of Mus, while all the sand-hills are run over by the same or other species, interspersed with the Jerboa-like Hapalotides. The sluggish river-reaches and water-holes of nearly every part, from Tasmania through all the southern portions of the continent, have their muddy banks traversed by the Hydromys, or Beaver-Rats, as they have been very appropriately called. Even New Zealand, a country which it was formerly supposed never had a more highly organized indigenous creature than a bird, has its Bats; it will not be surprising, therefore, that the sister country of Australia should be tenanted by numerous species of these Nocturnes; not only are they individually very plentiful, but many distinct forms or genera are there found. The brushes which abound in fruit-bearing fig-trees are frequented by Vampires or Pteropi—a form which appears to be mainly confined to the south-eastern and northern portions of the country, for I have not yet seen any examples from Tasmania, or Southern or Western Australia. The trees in this strange country which either bear fruit or berries are very few. Even the fruit of the stately parasitic Fig is a mere apology for that which we are accustomed to see, and hence but few species of these great frugivorous Bats occur in the fauna of Australia. At the same time, the paucity of species is amply compensated by the number of individuals; these, however, are confined to the brushes which stretch along the eastern coast. In these solitary forests they teem and hang about in thousands, frequently changing their locale when their food becomes scarce or has been entirely cleared off. The species I more particularly allude to is the Pteropus poliocephalus. The Cobourg Peninsula and other parts of the north coast are also inhabited by a species which, according to Gilbert and Leichardt, is very abundant. A third and very fine one frequents Fitzroy Island, lying off the eastern coast.
The extraordinary Molossus australis is a native of Victoria, and is the sole species of its genus yet discovered in Australia. The Taphozoi appear to be rock-loving Bats, and the single species as yet discovered is from the Peninsula of Cape York. The Scotophili, of which there are several species, are found in all parts of the country, from Van Diemen's Land to the most northern part of the continent.
The restricted genus Vespertilio is more feebly represented than the last-mentioned form, since only two species are known to exist in the country; these are very generally spread over the southern coast.
Of the leaf-nosed Rhinolophi I have figured three species— the R. cervinus, which inhabits Cape York, the R. aurantius (a very beautiful species) from North-western Australia, and the R. megaphyllus from New South Wales.
The Nyctophili, or Long-eared Bats, are well represented, four species, at least, frequenting every part of the continent from east to west, and also the island of Tasmania.
This, I am aware, is a very imperfect résumé of the Cheiroptera inhabiting Australia; could I have rendered it more complete, I would have done so; but it must be recollected that seventh-tenths of the country are yet unexplored.
A mere glance at the globe which stands in every school-room will show how greatly the sea preponderates over the land of this planet. Like the land, the ocean is tenanted by many remarkable animals, certain groups of which exist in one hemisphere and are not found in the other; and it is not often that even the great Cetaceans occur in both. Neither do the Seals: the equatorial region separates them most completely; that is, no species is common alike to the north and the south. I do not consider that either the Australian Cetacea or Phocidæ have been well made out, and this certainly is the part of the mammalian fauna of that country of which we know the least. I have omitted the former altogether, but it will be seen that I have figured two of the latter; these constitute two genera (Stenorhynchus and Arctocephalus); they both inhabit the shores and rocky islands of the southern portion of Australia, while the Dugong (Halicore australis) is, as far as I am aware, a native of the east coast only.
Whether the Canis Dingo be really indigenous, or has at some very remote period followed man in his migrations, is a question on which naturalists are at variance. For my own part, I am inclined to the latter theory, as being the most philosophic mode of accounting for its presence there. That Man is the latest visitant to the soil of Australia there can be little doubt: the country is far too sparsely provided with fruits and other substances necessary for his existence to favour a contrary hypothesis.
In the following list of the Australian Mammals I shall refer to the volumes in which they are contained and to the plates on which they are respectively figured, and shall moreover give any additional information I may have acquired respecting them, together with an account of the new species which have been described by other writers, but which, from my not having been able to see examples, I have not figured.