Page images

any, we might give them some idea of its form, by comparing it to a rabbit; with shorter ears, and a longer tail. The tail, indeed, is alone sufficient to distinguish it from all others, as it is extremely long, beautiful and bushy, spreading like a fan, and which, when thrown up behind, covers the whole body. This serves the little animal for a double purpose; when erected, it serves, like an umbrella, as a secure protection from the injuries of the heat and cold; and when extended, it is very instrumental in promoting those vast leaps that the squirrel takes from

(Squirrel.) tree to tree: nay, some assert that it answers still a third purpose, and when the squirrel takes water, which it sometimes does upon a piece of bark, that its tail serves it instead of a sail. (5)

There are few wild animals in which there are so many varieties as in the squirrel. The common squirrel is of the size of a small rabbit, and is rather of a more reddish brown. The belly and breast are white; and the ears beautifully ornamented with long tufts of hair, of a deeper colour than that on the body. The eyes are large, black and lively; the legs are short and muscular, like those of the rabbit; but the toes longer, and the claws sharper, so as to fit it for climbing. When it eats, or dresses itself, it sits erect, like the bare or rabbit, making use of its fore legs as hands; and chiefly resides in trees. The grey Virginian squirrel, which Buffon calls the Petit Gris, is larger than a rabbit, and of a greyish colour. Its body and limbs are thicker than those of the common squirrel; and its ears are shorter, and without tufts at the point. The upper part of the body, and external part of the legs, are of a fine, whitish grey, with a beautiful red streak on each side lengthways. The tail is covered with very long, grey hair, variegated with black and white towards the extremity. This variety seems to be common to both continents; and in Sweden is seen to change colour in winter. The Barbary squirrel, of which Buffon makes three varieties, is of a mixed colour between red and black. Along the sides there are white and brown lines, which render this animal very beautiful ; but what still adds to its elegance is, that the belly is of sky blue, surrounded with white. Some of these hold up the tail erect; and others throw it forward over their body. The Siberian white squirrel is of the size of a common squirrel. The Carolina black squirrel is much bigger than the former, and sometimes tipt with white at all the extremities. The Brazilian squirrel, which Mr. Buffon calls the Coquallin, is a beautiful animal of this kind, and very remarkable for

(Grey Squirrel.) the variety of its colours. Its belly is of a bright yellow its head and body

(8, Klein. Linnæus.


variegated with white, black, brown and orange colour. It wants the tufts at he extremity of its ears; and does not climb trees, as most of the kind are seen to do. To this list may be added the little ground squirrel of Carolina, of a reddish colour, and blackish stripes on each side ; and, like the former, not delighting in trees. Lastly, the squirrel of New Spain, which is of a deep iron. grey colour, with seven longitudinal whitish streaks along the sides of the male, and five along those of the female. As for the flying squirrels, they are a distinct kind, and shall be treated of by themselves.* These, which I suppose to be but a few of the numerous varieties of the squirrel, sufficiently serve to show how extensively this animal is diffused over all parts of the world.

The squirrel is a beautiful little animal, (g) which is but half savage; and which, from the gentleness and innocence of its manners, deserves our protection. It is neither carnivorous nor hurtful; its usual food is fruits, nuts, and acorns; it is cleanly, vimble, active, and industrious ; its eyes are sparkling, and its physiognomy marked with meaning: It generally, like the hare and rabbit, sits up on its hinder legs, and uses the fore paws as hands; these have five claws or toes, as they are called, and one of them is separated from the rest like a tbumb. This animal seems to approach the nature of birds, from its lightness and surprising agility on the tops of trees. It seldom descends to the ground, except in case of storms, but jumps from one branch to another; feeds, in spring, on the buds and young shoots; in summer, on the ripening fruits ; and particularly the young cones of the pine-tree. In autumn it has an extensive variety to feast upon; the acorn, the philberd, the chestnut, and the wilding. This season of plenty, however, is not spent in idle enjoyment; the provident little animal gathers at that time its provisions for the winter; and cautiously foresees the season when the forest shall be stripped of its leaves and fruitage.

Its nest is generally formed among the large branches of a great tree, where they begin to fork off into small ones. After choosing the place where the timber begins to decay, and a hollow may the more easily be formed, the squirrel begins by making a kind of level between the forks; and then bringing moss, twigs, and dry leaves, it binds them together with great art, so as to resist the most violent storm. This is covered up on all sides; and has but a single

largest and tallest trees it can select, and forms four or five entrances, around which very large quantities of the scales of spruce fir canes are in process of time accumulated. It does not come abroad in cold or stormy weather, but even in the depth of winter it may be seen, during a gleam of sunshine sporting among the branches of the trees. On the approach of any one, it conceals itself behind a branch, but soon betrays its position by the loud noise it makes, somewhat

like the sound of a watchman's rattle, and (North American Squirrel.)

from whence it has obtained the expressive

appellation of Chickaree. When pursued * The SQUIRREL IN North AMERICA. and harassed it makes great leaps from tree - This little animal is an inhabitant of to tree, but as soon as it observes the way the forests of white spruce, which cover a clear, it descends to the ground and seeks great portion of the surface of the earth in shelter in its burrow. It does not appear the fur conntries. The limits of its range to to quit the tree beneath which it burrows, the southward have not been mentioned hy by choice, unless when it makes an excursion American writers, but they say that it is in the spring in quest of a mate. In the common in the middle states. It is found as winter it collects the cones from the tree and far north as the spruce trees extend, that is carries them to the entrance of its burrow, to between the 68 and 69 parallel of latitude, where it picks out the seeds beneath the and it is one of the most numerous animals snow. Like the English squirrel, it makes in the Lorthern districts. It digs its bur- hoards on the approach of severe weather.rows. gi nerally at root of one of the RICHARDSON'S AMERICAN ZOOLOGY.

(8) Buffon.


opening at top, which is just large enough to admit the little animal; and this opening is itself defended from the weather by a kind of canopy, made in the fashion of a cone, so that it throws off the rain, though never so beavy. The nest thus formed, with a very little opening above, is, nevertheless, very commodious and roomy below; soft, well knit together, and every way convenicnt and warm. In this retreat the little animal brings forth its young, sbelters itself from the scorching heat of the sun, which it seems to fear, and from the storms and the inclemency of winter, which it is still less capable of supporting. Its provision of nuts and acorns is seldom in its nest, but in the hollows of the tree, laid up carefully together, and never touched but in cases of necessity. Thus one single tree serves for a retreat and a store-house; and without leaving it during the winter, the squirrel possesses all those enjoyments that its nature is capable of receiving. But it sometimes happens that its little mansion is attacked by a deadly and powerful foe. The martin goes often in quest of a retreat for its young, which it is incapable of making for itself; for this reason it fixes upon the nest of a squirrel, and, with double injustice, destroys the tenant, and then takes possession of the mansion.

However, this is a calamity that but seldom happens : and, of all other animals the squirrel leads the most frolicsome, playful life ; being surrounded with abundance, and having few enemies to fear. They are in heat early in the spring : when, as a modern naturalist says,(g) it is very diverting to see the female feigning an escape from the pursuit of two or three males, and to observe the various proofs which they give of their agility, which is then exerted in full force. Nature scems to have been particular in her formation of these animals for propagation; however, they seldom bring forth above four or five young at a time, and that but once a year. The time of their gestation seems to be about six weeks; they are pregnant in the beginning of April, and bring forth about the middle of May.

The squirrel is never found in the open fields, nor yet in copses or underwoods; it always keeps in the midst of the tallest trees, and, as much as possible, shuns the habitations of men. It is extremely watchful; if the tree in which it resides be but touched at the bottom, the squirrel instantly takes the alarm, quits its nest, at once flies off to another tree; and thus travels, with great ease, along the tops of the forest, until it finds itself perfectly out of danger. In this manner it continues for some hours at a distance from home, until the alarm be past away : and then it returns, by paths that to all quadrupeds but itself are utterly impassable. Its usual way of moving is by bounds; these it takes from one tree to another, at forty feet distance; and if at any time it is obliged to descend, it runs up the side of the next tree with amazing facility. It has an extremely sharp, piercing note, which most usually expresses pain; it bas another, more like the purring of a cat, wbich it employs when pleased; at least it appeared so in that from whence I have taken a part of this description.

In Lapland, and the extensive forests to the north, the squirrels are observed to change their habitation, and to remove in vast numbers from one country to another. In these migrations they are generally seen by thousands, travelling directly forward; while neither rocks, forests, nor even the broadest waters can stop their progress. What I am going to relate, appears so extraordinary, that were it not attested by numbers of the most credible historians, among whom are Klein and Linnæus, it might be rejected, with that scorn with which we treat imposture or credulity; however, nothing can be more true than that when these animals, in their progress, meet with broad rivers, or extensive lakes, which abound in Lapland, they take a very extraordinary method of crossing them. Upon approaching the banks, and perceiving the breadth of the water, they return, as if by common consent, into the neighbouring forest, each in quest' of a piece of bark, which answers all the purposes of boats for wafting them over. When the whole company are fitted in this manner, they

(8) British Zoology.

boldly commit their little fleet to the waves; every squirrel sitting on its own piece of bark, and fanning the air with its tail, to drive the vessel to its desired port. In this orderly manner they set forward, and often cross lakes several miles broad. But it too often happens that the poor mariners are not aware of the dangers of their navigation; for although at the edge of the water it is gene. rally calm, in the midst it is always more turbulent. There the slightest additional gust of wind oversets the little sailor and his vessel together. The whole navy, that but a few minutes before rode proudly and securely along, is now overturned, and a shipwreck of two or three thousand sail ensues. This, which is so unfortunate for the little animal, is generally the most lucky accident in the world for the Laplander on the shore; who gathers up the dead bodies as they are thrown in by the waves, eats the flesh, and sells the skins for about a shilling the dozen.()

The squirrel is easily tamed, and it is then a very familiar animal. It loves to lie warm, and will often creep into a man's pocket or his bosom. It is usually kept in a bos, and fed with hazel nuts. Some find amusement in observing with what case it bites the nut open, and eats the kernel. In short, it is a pleasing, pretty, little domestic; and its tricks and habitudes may serve to entertain a mind unequal to stronger operations.

THE FLYING SQUIRREL. — This little animal, which is frequently brought over to England, is less than a common squirrel, and bigger than a field mouse. Its skin is very soft, and clegantly adorned with a dark fur in some places, and light grey in others. It has large, prominent, black and very sparkling eyes, small ears, and very sharp teeth, with which it gnaws any thing quickly. When it does not leap, its tail, which is pretty enough, lies close to its back; but

(Flying Squirrel.) when it takes its spring, the tail is moved backwards and forwards from side to side. It is said to partake somewhat of the nature of the squirrel, of the rat, and of the dormouse ; but that in which it is distinguished from all other animals, is its peculiar conformation for taking those leaps that almost look like flying. It is, indeed, amazing to see it at one bound dart above a hundred yards from one tree to another. They are assisted in this spring by a very peculiar formation of the skin, that extends from the fore-feet to the hinder; so that when the animal stretches its fore-legs forward and its hind-legs backward, this skin is spread out between them, somewhat like that between the legs of a bat. The surface of the body being thus increased, the little animal keeps buoyant in the air until the force

* FLYING SQUIRRELS. — There are eight habits of life it differs very little from the species of flying squirrels, but there is only a preceding species. It always sleeps during a trifling difference between them. The the day-time, and seldom appears abroad in European squirrel differs from the American bad weather. It is active through the whole species principally in having its tail full of winter, being frequently caught during that hair, and rounded at the end, and in the season, in the traps that are laid for the grey colour of its body, the upper part of which is squirrels. The females, when they have a fine grey, and the lower white. Its whole young ones, never leave their nest in pursuit length is about nine inches, of which the tail of food, without previously wrapping them occupies five. The European flying squirrel carefully up in the moss. They pay to them is found in the woods of Lapland and Nor- the utmost attention, brooding anxiously over way, where it feeds principally on the tender them, and tenderly sheltering their bodies, by branches of the beech and pine trees. In its their flying membrane, from the cold.

(8) Oeuvres de Regnard.


of its first impulsion is expired, and then it descends. This skin, when the creature is at rest, or walking, continues wrinkled up on its sides; but when its limbs are extended, it forms a kind of web between them of above an inch broad on either side, and gives the whole body the appearance of a skin floating in the air. In this manner the flying squirrel changes place, not like a bird, by repeated strokes of its wings, but rather like a paper kite, supported by the expansion of the surface of its body; but with this difference, however, that, being naturally heavier than the air, instead of mounting, it descends; and that jump, which upon the ground would not be above forty yards, when from a higher tree to a lower may be above a hundred. This little animal is more common in America than in Europe, but not very commonly to be seen in either.* It does not seem fond of nuts or almonds, like other squirrels, but is chiefly pleased with the sprouts of the birch and the cones of the pine. Some naturalists gravely caution us not to let it get among our corn-fields, where they tell us it will do a great deal of damage, by cropping the corn as soon as it begins to San Rott

THE MARMOT. -Among the bare kind is the marmot, which naturalists have placed either among the hare kind or the rat kind, as it suited their respective systems. In fact, it bears no great resemblance to either; but of the two it approaches much nearer the hare, as well in the make of its head, as in its size, in its bushy tail, and particularly in its chewing the cud, which alone is suffi. cient to determine our choice in giving it its present situation. How it ever

(Marmot.) came to he degraded into the rat or the mouse, I cannot conceive, for it in no way resembles them in size, being near as big as a hare; or in its disposition, since no animal is more tractable, nor more easily tamed.

The marmot is, as was said, almost as big as a hare, but it is more corpulent than a cat, and has shorter lege. Its head pretty nearly resembles that of a hare, except that its ears are much_shorter. It is clothed all over with very long hair, and a shorter fur below. These are of different colours, black and grey. The length of the hair gives the body the appearance of greater corpulence than it really bas, and at the same time shortens the feet so that its belly seems touching the ground. Its tail is tufted and well furnished with hair, and

The HOODED SQUIRREL.-- Pennant de- + THE MARMOT.—The marmots have two scribes a species inhabiting the woods of wedge-shaped front teeth in each jaw; five Java, which he denominates the hooded grinders on each side in the upper-jaw, and squirrel. It is of a rusty brown colour, paler four in the lower; and they have a perfect underneath, with the Aying membrane ex- collar bone; the fore-feet have four claws, tending to the ends of all the limbs, and and a very small kind of thumb; the hindreaching round the shoulders and throat in feet have five claws. It does not, as Buffon the manner of a cloak, or a great coat. Its tail supposes, chew the cud. is remarkably bushy, and spread on each side.

(8) He may easily be made tame; but he is apt to do a great deal of damage in the corn. fields, because he will crop the corn as soon as it begins to ear.—Brooke's Nat. Hist.

« PreviousContinue »