Page images
PDF
EPUB

to cause vomitings.(g) They, therefore, take away the fat, which is in great abundance, and salt the remainder, drying it somewhat in the manner of bacon. Still, however, it is said to be very indifferent eating.*

THE AGOUTI.–From the marmot, wbich differs from the hare so much is the length of its fur, we go to the agouti, another species equally dic fering in the shortness of its hair. These bear some rude resemblance to the hare and the rabbit in their form and manner of living, but sufficiently differing to require a particular description. The first of these, and that the largest, as was binted above, is called the agonti. This animal is found in great abundance in the southern parts of America,

(Agouti.) and has by some been

• AMERICAN Marmor.The varieties of this animal in the north continent of America are exceedingly numerous. Richardson in his American Zoology sets forth upwards of a dozen. The “ Tawny American” (Arcto. mys Richardsonii) will suit

This animal inhabits the grassy plains that lie between the north and south branches of the Saskatchewan river, living in deep bur. rows, formed in the sandy soil. It is very common in the neighbourhood of Carlton House, its burrows being scattered at short distances

(American Marmot.) over the whole plain. The burrows are proportionable to the size of the and there appears to be no concert between animal. The earth scraped out forming them the tawny marmots residing in the neigh is thrown up in a sinall mound at the mouth bourhood, every individual looking out for of the hole, and on it the animal seats itself himself. on its hind legs, to overlook the short grass, The above cut is a variety of the American and reconnoitre before it ventures to make an brood.—ED. excursion. There are many little, well worn pathways, diverging from each burrow, and + THE AGOUTI. – This animal together some of these roads are observed, in the with the paca, apera, guinea pig, capibara, spring, to lead directly to neighbouring holes, and a few other species, are now arranged unbeing most probably formed by the males der the general appellation of cavy. They going in quest of a mate. The males fight are distinguished by having two wedgewhen they meet on these excursions, and it shaped front teeth in each jaw, and eight not unfrequently happens, that the one which grinders on each side in both jaws; they have is worsted loses a part of its tail as he endea- from four to six toes on the fore-feet, and vours to escape. They place no sentinels, from three to five on the hinder ; the tail is

(8) Dictionnaire Raisonnée, vol. iii. p. 29.

[graphic]
[graphic]

called the rabbit of that continent. But, though in many respects it resembles the rabbit, yet still in many more it differs, and is, without all doubt, an animal peculiar to the new world only. The agonti is about the size of a rabbit, and has a head very much resembling it, except that the ears are very short in comparison. It resembles the rabbit also in the arched form of its back, in the hind legs being longer than the fore, and in having four great cutting teeth, two above and two below; but then it differs in the nature of its hair, which is not soft and downy as in the rabbit, but bard and bristly like that of a sucking pig. and of a reddish brown colour. It differs also in the tail, which is even shorter than in the rabbit, and entirely destitute of hair. Lastly, it differs in the num. ber of its toes, having but three on the hinder feet, whereas the rabbit has five. All these distinctions, however, do not countervail against its general form, which resembles that of a rabbit, and most travellers have called it by that name.

As this animal differs in form, it differs still more in habitudes and disposition. As it has the hair of a hog, so also it has its voraciousness.(8) It eats indiscriminately of all things; and when satiated, hides the remainder, like the dog or the fox, for a future occasion. It takes a pleasure in gnawing and spoiling every thing it comes near. When irritated, its bair stands erect along the back, and, like the rabbit, it strikes the ground violently with its hind feet. It does not dig a hole in the ground, but burrows in the hollows of trees. Its ordinary food consists of the roots of the country, potatoes and yams, and such fruits as fall from the trees in autumn. It uses its fore-paws like the squirrel, to carry its food to its mouth; and as its hind-feet are longer than the fore, it runs very swiftly upon plain ground or up a hill, but upon a descent it is in danger of falling. Its sight is excellent, and its hearing equals that of any other animal: whenever it is whistled to it stops to hearken. The flesh of such as are fat and well fed is tolerable food, although it bas a peculiar taste, and is a little tough. The French dress it like a sucking pig, as we learn from Buffon's account; but the English dress it with a pudding in its belly, like a hare. It is hunted by dogs; and whenever it is got into a sugar-ground, where the canes cover the place, it is easily overtaken, for it is embarrassed every step it takes, so that a man may easily come up with it without any other assistance. When in the open country, it usually runs with great swiftness before the dogs until it gains its retreat, within which it continues to hide, and nothing but filling the hole with smoke can force it out. For this purpose the hunter burns faggots or straw at the entrance, and conducts the smoke in such a manner that it fills the whole cavity. While this is doing, the poor little animal seems sensible of its danger, and begs for quarter with a most plaintive cry, seldom quitting its hole till the utmost extremity. At last, when half suffocated, it issues out, and trusts once more to its speed for protection. When still forced by the dogs, and incapable of making good a retreat, it turns upon the hunters, and with its hair bristling like a bog, and standing upon its hind feet, it defends itself very obstinately. Sometimes it bites the legs of those that attempt to take it, and will take out the piece wherever it fixes its teeth.(g)

Its cry when disturbed or provoked resembles that of a sucking pig. If taken young, it is easily tamed, continues to play harmlessly about the house, and goes out and returns of its own accord. In a savage state it usually continues in the woods, and the female generally chooses the most obscure parts to bring forth her young. She there prepares a bed of leaves and dry grass, and generally brings forth two at a time. She breeds twice or thrice a year, and carries her young from one place to another, as convenience requires, in the manner of a cat. She generally lodges them when three days old in the boilow of a tree, suckling them but for a very short time, for they soon come to perfection, and it should consequently follow that they soon grow old. very short, or none, and they have no collar- reside under ground or beneath the roots of bones. They are inhabitants of warmer re- trees, and move with a slow and kind of leap gions, live entirely on vegetable substances, ing pace. (8) Buffon.

(g) Ray's Synop.

THE PACA.—The paca is an animal also of South America, very much resembling the former, and like it his received the name of the American rabbit, but with as little propriety. It is a out the size of a bare, or rather larger, and in figure somewhat like a sucking pig, which it also resembles in its grunting, and its manner of eating. It is, however, most like the agouti, altbongh it differs in several particulars. Like the agouti, it is covered rather with

coarse bair than a downy fur. But then it is beautifully marked along the sides with small ash-coloured spots, upon an amber-coJoured ground; whereas the agouti is pretty much of one reddish colour. 'The paca is rather more thick

(Paca.) and corpulent than the agouti ; its nose is shorter, and its hind feet have five toes; whereas the agonti bas but three.

The paca does not make usc of its fore-paws, like the squirrel or the agouti, to carry its food to the mouth, but hunts for it on the ground, and roots like a hog. It is generally seen along the banks of rivers, and is only to be found in the moist and warm countries of South America. It is a very fat animal, and in this respect much preferable to the agouti, that is most commonly found lean. It is eaten, skin and all, like a young pig, and is considered as a great delicacy. Like the former little animal, it delends itself to the last extremity, and is very seldom taken alive. It is persecuted not only by man, but by every beast and bird of prey, who all watch its motions, and, if it ventures at any distance from its hole, are sure to seize it. But although the race of these little animals is thus continually destroyed, it finds some refuge in its bole, from the general combination ; 'and breeds in such numbers, that the diminution is not perceptible.

To these animals may be added others, very similar both in form and disposition: each known by its particular name in its native country, but wbich travellers have been contented to call rabbits or hares; of which we have but indistinct notice.

To these imperfect sketches of animals little known, others less known might be added ; for as nature becomes more diminutive, her operations are less attentively regarded. I shall only, therefore, add an animal more to this class, and that very well known ; I mean the guinea pig; which Brisson places among those of the rabbit-kind; and as I do not know any other set of animals with which it can be so well compared, I will take leave to follow his example.

THE GUINEA-PIG.–The guinea-pig is a native of the warmer climates ;* but has been so long rendered domestic, and so widely diffused, that it is now become common in every part of the world. There are few unacquainted with the figure of this little animal; in some places it is considered as the principal favourite; and is often found even to displace the lap-dog. It is less than a rabbit, and its legs are shorter; they are scarce seen, except when it moves ; and the neck, also, is so short, that the head seems stuck upon the shoulders.

* Of Guinea and the Brazils, where it is tirpated, were it not for the rapid and almost generally of a pure, white colour, ard seldom incredible multiplication of their species, six variegated with orange and black in irregular hundred being annually produced, on an aveblotches, as in England. They dwell in war. rage, from one female. rens like rabbits, and would be speedily ex

[graphic]

The ears are short, thin and transparent; the hair is like that of a sucking pig, from whence it has taken the name; and it wants even the vestiges of a tail. In other respects, it has some similitude to the rabbit. When it moves, its body lengthens like that animal; and when it is at rest, it gathers up in the same manner. Its nose is formed with the rabbit lip, except that its nostrils are minch further asunder. Like all other animals in a domestic state, its colours are different; some are white, some are red, and others both red and white. It differs from the rabbit in the number of its toes, having four toes on the leet before, and but three on those behind.

(Guinea-Pig.) It strokes its head with the fore-feet like the rabbit ; and, like it, sits upon the bind feet; for which purpose there is a naked callous skin on the back part of the legs and feet.

These animals are of all others the most helpless and inoffensive.(8) They are scarce possessed of courage sufficient to defend themselves against the meanest of all quadrupeds, a mouse. Their only animosity is exerted against each other; for they will often tight very obstinately; and the stronger is often known to destroy the weaker.

As to their manner of living among us, they owe their lives entirely to our unceasing protection. They must be constantly attended, shielded from the excessive colds of the winter, and secured against all other domestic animals, which are apt to attack them, from every motive, either of appetite, jealousy, or experience of their pusillanimous nature. Such indeed is their stupidity, that they suffer themselves to be devoured by the cats, without resistance; and, different from all other creatures, the female sees her young destroyed without once attempting to protect them. Their usual food is bran, parsley, or cabbage leaves; but there is scarce a vegetable cultivated in our gardens that they will not gladly devour. The carrot-top is a peculiar dainty; as also sallad; and those who would preserve their healths, would do right to vary their food; for if they be continued on a kind too succulent or too dry, the effects are quickly perceived upon their constitutions. When fed upon recent vegetables, they seldom drink. But il often happens tbat, conducted by nature, they seek drier food, when the former disagrees with them. They then gnaw cloths, paper, or whatever of this kind they meet with ; and, on these occasions, they are seen to drink like most other animals, which they do by lapping. They are chiefly fond of new milk ; but, in case of necessity, are contented with water.

They move pretty much in the manner of rabbits, though not near so swiftly; and when contined in a room, seldom cross the floor, but generally keep along the wall. The male usually drives the female on before him, for they never move abreast together; but constantly the one seems to tread in the footsteps of the preceding. They chietly seek for the darkest recesses, and the most intricate retreats, where, if hay be spread as a bed for them, they continue to sleep together, and seldom venture out but wben they suppose all interruption removed. On those occasions they act as rabbits; they swiftly move forward from their bed, stop at the entrance, listen, look round, and if they perceive the slightest approach of danger, they run back with precipitation. In very cold weather, however, they are more active, and run about in order to keep themselves warm.

They are a very cleanly animal, and very different from that whose name they go by. If the young ones happen to fall into the dirt, or be any other way dis

(8) This history is partly taken from the Amænitates Academicæ, vol. iv. p. 202.

[graphic]

composed, the female takes such an aversion to them, that she never permits them to visit ber more. Indeed, her whole employment, as well as that of the male, seems to consist in smoothing their skins, in disposing their bair, and improving its gloss. The male and female take this office by turns; and when ihey have brushed up each other, they then bestow all their concern upon their young, taking particular care to make their hair lie smooth, and biting them if they appear refractory. As they are so solicitous for elegance themselves, the place where they are kept must be regularly cleaned, and a new bed of bay provided for them at least every week. Being natives of a warm climate, they are naturally chilly in ours : cleanliness, therefore, assists warmth, and expels moisture. They may he thus reared, without the aid of any artificial beat; but, in general, there is no keeping them from the fire in winter, if they be once permitted to approach it.

When they go to sleep, they lie flat on their bellies, pretty much in their usual posture ; except that they love to have their fore feet higher than their hinder. For this purpose, they turn themselves several times round before they lie down, to find the most convenient situation. They sleep, like the hare, with their eyes half open; and continue extremely watchful, if they suspect danger. The male and female are never seen both asleep at the same time; but while he enjoys his repose, she remains upon the watch, silently continuing to guard him, and her head turned towards the place where he lies. When she supposes that he has had his turn, she then awakes him with a kind of murmur. ing noise, goes to him, forces him from his bed, and lies down in his place. He then performs the same good turn for ber; and continues watchful till she also has done sleeping.

These animals are exceedingly salacious, and generally are capable of coup. ling at six weeks old. The female never goes with young above five weeks; and usually brings forth fron three to five at a time; and this not without pain. But what is very extraordinary, the female admits the male the very day she has brought forth, and becomes again pregnant; so that their multiplication is astonishing. She suckles her young but about twelve or fifteen days; and during that time does not seem to know her own : for if the young of any other be brought, though much older, she never drives them away, but suffers them even to drain ber, to the disadvantage of her own immediate offspring. They are produced with the eyes open, like all others of the hare kind ; and in about twelve hours, equal even to the dam in agility. Although the dam has but two teats, yet she abundantly supplies them with milk : and they are also capable of feeding upon vegetables, almost from the very beginning. If the young ones are permitted to continue together, the stronger, as in all other societies, soon begins to govern the weak. Their contentions are often long and obstinate ; and their jealousies very apparent. Their disputes are usually for the warmest place, or the most agreeable food. If one of them happens to be more fortunate in this respect than the rest, the strongest generally comes to dispossess it of its advantageous situation. Their manner of fighting, though terrible to them, is ridiculous enough to a spectator. One of them seizes the hair on the nape of the others neck with its fore teeth, and attempts to tear it away; the other, to retaliate, turns its hinder parts to the enemy, and kicks up behind like a horse, and with its binder claws scratches the sides of its adversary; so that sometimes they cover each other with blood. When they contend in this manner, they gnash their teeth pretty loudly; and this is often a denunciation of mutual resentment.

These, though so formidable to each other, yet are the most timorous creatures upon earth, with respect to the rest of animated nature ; a falling leaf disturbs them, and every animal overcomes them. From hence they are with diffi. culty tamed; and will suffer vone to approach them, except the person by whom they are fed. Their manner of eating is something like that of the rabbit; and, like it, they appear also to chew the cud. Although they seldom drink, they make water every minute. They grunt somewhat like a young pig; and have a more piercing note to express pain. In a word, they do no injury; but then,

« PreviousContinue »