Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAP. XXXIII.

THE COATIMONDI.*

T'he first peculiarity with which this animal strikes the spectator, is the extreme length of its snout, which in some measure resembles that of the hog, but elongated to a surprising degree; it bears some distant reseinblance to the animal last described, except that the neck and the body are longer, the fur shorter, and the eyes smaller; but its principal distinction, as was said before, consists in the shape of its nose, the upper jaw being an inch longer than the lower, and the snout, which is movable in every division, turning up at the end. Like the racoon, it sits up on the binder legs with great ease, and in this position, with both paws, carries the food to its mouth.

This animal is very subject to eat its own tail, which is rather longer than its body, but this strange appetite is not peculiar to the coati alone; the mococo, and some of the monkey kinds do the same, and seem to feel no pain in wounding a part of the body so remote from the centre of circulation.

It seems possessed of the same playful qualities and indiscriminate appetites, with the animal described in the last chapter; if left at liberty in a state of tameness, it will pursue the poultry, and destroy every living thing that it has strength to conquer: though it is playful with its keeper, yet it seems obstinately bent against receiving any instruction, and neither threats nor caresses can induce it to practise any arts to which it is not naturally inclined. When it sleeps, it rolls itself up in a luwp, and in that position often continues for fourteen or fifteen hours together.

CHAP. XXXIV.

THE ANT-BEAR.

[graphic]

There are many animals that live upon ants in Africa and America : the pangolin or scaly lizard of Guinea may be considered among this number; but there are a greater variety in America which makes those minute insects their only subsistence. Though they are of different figures and sizes, yet in general they go under one common name of the ant bear; the peculiar length and slenderness of their snout, their singular appetites, and their manner of taking their prey, striking us too strongly to attend to the minute

(The Ant-Bear.) differences of their size or form.

They have been classed by Buffon into the larger Tamandua, the smaller Tamandua, and the Ant-eater. The longest of this kind is four feet long, from the tip of the snout to the insertion of the tail; their legs are short and armed with four strong claws; their tail is long and tufted, and the animal often throws it on its back like the squirrel. The second of this kind is not above eighteen inches long, the tail is without hair, and it sweeps the ground as the animal moves. The ant-eater, which is the third variety, is still smaller than either o.

I've COATIMONDI is one of the weasel tibe, and is now known by the name of the Brazilian weasel.

the former, as it is not above seven inches from the tip of the snont to the insertion of the tail. The two former are of a brown, dusky colour, but this of a beautiful reddish, mixed with yellow; though they differ in figure, they all resemble each other in one peculiarity, which is the extreme slenderness of their snout, and the amazing length of their tongue.*

The snout is produced in so disproportionate a manner, that the length of it makes near a fourth part of the whole figure. A horse has one of the longest heads of any animal we know, and yet the ant-bear has one above twice as long in proportion to its body. The snout of this animal is almost round and cylindrical; it is extremely slender, and is scarce thicker near the eyes than at its extremity. The mouth is very small, the nostrils are very close to each other, the eyes are little in proportion to the length of the nose, the neck is short, the tongue is extremely long, slender, and flatted on both sides; this it keeps generally doubled up in the mouth, and is the only instrument by which it finds subsistence ; for the whole of this tribe are entirely without teeth, and find safety only in the remoteness and security of their retreat.

If we examine through the various regions of the earth, we shall find that all the most active, sprightly, and useful quadrupeds have been gathered round man, and either served his pleasures, or still maintained their independence by their vigilance, their cunning, or their industry. It is in the remote solitudes that we are to look for the helpless, the deformed, and the monstrous births of Nature. These wretched animals, being incapable of defending themselves either by their agility or their natural arms, fall a prey to every creature that attacks them; they, therefore, retire for safety into the darkest forests, or the most desert mountains, where none of the bolder or switter animals choose to reside.

It may well be supposed that an animal so helpless as the ant-bear is, with legs too short to fit it for flight, and unprovided with teeth to give it power of resistance, is neither numerous nor often seen : its retreats are in the most barren and uncultivated parts of South America. It is a native only of the new continent, and entirely unknown to the old. It lives chiefly in the woods, and bides itself under the fallen leaves. It seldom ventures from its retreat; and the industry of an hour supplies it with sufficient food for several days together. Its manner of procuring its prey is one of the most singular in all natural history. As its name implies, it lives entirely upon ants and insects; these, in the countries where it is bred, are found in the greatest abundance, and often build themselves hills, five or six feet high, where they live in community: When this animal approaches an ant-bill, it creeps slowly forward on its belly, taking every precaution to keep itself concealed, till it comes within a proper distance of the place where it intends to make its banquet; there lying closely along at its length, it thrusts forth its round, red tongue, which is often two feet long, across the path of these busy insects, and there lets it lie motionless for several

* ANT-BEAR.-On November 22, 1831, a a standing position) the claws of the fore feet letter from Sir R. Ker Porter, Corr. Memb. do not project in front, but are doubled backZoological Society, dated City of Caracas, wards under the wrist; evidencing a mode of Sept. 10, 1831, was read. It contained a progression in the Myrmecophage similar to detailed description of the Myrmecophaga that recently described by Col. Sykes as exist. jubata, Linn., under the name of Orsó Hor- ing in the species of Manis."" To receive meguero, or ant-bear, together with an account the additional length and point of the middle of the habits of that animal; and was accom- toe," observes Sir R. Ker Porter, " a protrud. panied by a drawing of the fully grown indi- ing mass of hard fesh stood out from the vidual from whom the description was taken. wrist, wherein was a cavity destined for the Sir R. Ker Porter was particularly struck with reception of the ungulated elongation when the difference in structure which exists be the animal was in a standing position." He tween the fore and the hiuder feet, and with adds, “ from the awkward formation of the the curious disposition of the parts of the fore fert, quickness of motion becomes im. former in the act of progression, which has possible; hence they may be canght in the been slightly referred to by D`Azara. In the smallest open space (when seen) with little figure (in which the animal is represented in difficulty." — ARCANA OF SCIENCE, 1833.

minutes together. The ants of that country, some of which are balf an inch long, considering it as a piece of flesh accidentally thrown before them, come forth and swarm upon it in great numbers ; but wherever they touch, they stick: for this instrument is covered with a slimy fluid, which, like bird-lime, entangles every creature that lights upon it. When, therefore, the ant-bear has found a sufficient number for one morsel, it instantly draws in the tongue, and devours them all in a moment; after which it still continues in its position, practising the same arts until its hunger is entirely appeased; it then retires to its hiding-place once more, where it continues in indolent existence till again excited by the calls of hunger.

Such is the luxurious life of a creature that seems of all others the most helpless and deformed. It finds safety in its hiding-place from its enemies, and an ample supply in some neighbouring ant-hill, for all its appetites. As it only tries to avoid its pursuers, it is seldom discovered by them; yet, helpless as this animal is, when driven to an extremity, though without teeth, it will fight with its claws with great obstinacy. With these arms alone, it has often been found to oppose the dog, and even the jaguar. It throws itself upon its back, fastens upon its enemy with all its claws, sticks with great strength and perseverance, and even after killing its invader, which is sometimes the case, does not quit its hold, but remains fastened upon him in vindictive desperation.*

CHAP. XXXV.

THE SLOTH.

Of the Sloth there are two differer.t kinds, distinguished from each other by their claws; the one, which in its native country is called the Unan, having only two claws upon each foot, and being without a tail : the other, which is called the Ai, hav. ing a tail, and three claws upon each foot. The unan has the snout longer, the ears more apparent, and the fur very different from the other. It differs also in the number of its ribs; this baving forty-six, while the ai bas but twenty-eight. These differences, however, which

(The Sloth ) though very apparent, have been

[graphic]

* THE ANT-EATERS.—Besides the animal rounded animal, with a long, tubular mouth, here described, there are others of the same and entirely covered over on the upper parts kind; the most remarkable of which are the with strong sharp spines, resembling those of Little Anteater of New Holland and the the porcupine. Prickly Ant-eater of New Holland. The foriner is singular for its having only two + The TardiGRADE, OR Slow-paced FAtoes on the fore feet, armed with strong claws, MILY-Naturalists express their pity for the and a tail which it is able to coil round the animals of the tardigrade or slow.footed branches of trees and told fast by.. The family. Whilst other quadrupeds, they say, whole animal is clothed in a beautiful, soft, range in boundless wilds, the sloth hangs curled, pale yellow fur. It is a native of suspended by his strong arms—a poor illGuinea. The prickly int-eater is a short formed creature, deficient as well as deforined, but little regarded in the description of two animals which so strongly resemble each other in the general outlines of their figure, in their appetites, and their helpless formation. his hind legs too short, and his hair like the tardigrade family, considers them as monwithered grass ; his looks, motions, and cries, sters by defect of organization ;-as attempts conspire to excite pity; and, as if this were of nature in which she has failed to perfect not enough, they say that his moaning makes her plan ;-that she has produced animals the tiger relent and turn away. This is not which must have lived miserably, and which a true picture: the sloth cannot walk like are effaced as failures from the list of living quadrupeds, but he stretches out his strong beings. The Baron Cuvier does not express arms, and if he can hook on his claws to the himself more favourably when he says of the inequalities of the ground, he drags himself existing species that they have so little resem. along. This is the condition which autho- blance to the organization of animals generizes such an expression as “the bungled and rally, and their structure is so much in confaulty composition of the sloth. But when trast with that of other creatures, that he he reaches the branch or the rough bark of a could believe them to be the remnants of an tree his progress is rapid ; he climbs hand order unsuitable to the present system of over head along the branches till they touch, nature ; and if we are to look for their conand thus from bough to bough, and from tree geners it must be in the interior of the earth, to true: he is most alive in the storm; and in the ruins of the ancient world. when the wind blows and the trees stoop and The animals of the antediluvian world the branches wave and meet, he is then upon were not monsters; there was no lusus or the march.

extravagance. Hideous as they appear to us, The compassion expressed by these philo- and, like the phantoms of a dream, they were sophers for animals which they consider im- adapted to the condition of the earth whın perfectly organized, is uncalled for; as well they existed. I could have wished that our might they pity the larva of the summer fly naturalists had given the inhabitants of that which creeps in the bottom of a pool because early condition of the globe names less schoit cannot yet rise upon the wing. As the lastíc. We have the plesiosaurus and plesioinsect has no impulse to fly until the meta- saurus dolichodeirus; we have the ichthyomorphosis is perfect and the wings developed, saurus and megalosaurus, and iguanodon, so we have no reason to suppose that a dis- pterodactyles, with long and short beaks, torposition or instinct is given to animals where toises, and crocodiles ; and these are found there is no corresponding provision for motion. among reeds and grasses of gigantic propor

The sloth may move tardily on the ground, tions, algæ, and fuci, and a great variety of his long arms and his preposterous claws mollusca of inordinate bulk, compared with may be an incumbrance, but they are of ad- those of the present day, as ammonites and vantage in his natural place among the nautili. Every thing declares that these anibranches of trees, in obtaining his food and mals inhabited shallow seas and estuaries or in giving him shelter and safety from his great inland lakes; that the surface of the enemies.

earth did not rise up in peaks and mountains, We must not estimate the slow motions of or that perpendicular rocks bound in the seas, aniinals by our own sensations. The motion but that it was flat, slimy, and covered with of the bill of the swallow or the fly-catcher in a loaded and foggy atmosphere. There is, catching a fly is so rapid that we do not see indeed, every reason to believe that the it, but only hear the snap. On the contrary, classes mammalia and birds were not then how very different are the means given to the created ; and that if man had been placed in chameleon for obtaining his food; he lies this condition of the earth there must have more still than the dead leaf, his skin is like been around him a state of things unsuited the bark of the tree and takes the hue of sur. to his constitution and not calculated to call rounding objects. Whilst other animals have forth his capacities. excitement conforming to their rapid motions, But, looking to the class of animals as we the shrivelled face of the chameleon hardly have enumerated them, there is a correspon. indicates life; the eyelids are scarcely parted'; dence: they were scaly; they swam in water he protrudes his tongue with a motion só or crept upon the margins; there were no imperceptible towards the insect that it is animals possessed of rapidity of motion, and touched and caught more certainly than by no birds of prey to stoop upon them; there the most lively action. Thus, various crea. was, in short, that balance of the power of tures living upon insects reach their prey by destruction and self-preservation which we different means and instincts; rapidity of see now to obtain in higher animals since motion which gives no time for escape is be- created with infinitely varied instincts and stowed on some, while others have a languid powers for defence or attack. --Sır CHARLES and slow movement that excites no alarm. BELL - BRIDGEWATER TREATISES.

Buffon, speaking of the extinct species of

They are both, therefore, described under the common appellation of the sloth, and their habitudes well deserve our wonder and curiosity. Nature seems cramped and constrained in their formation ; other animals are often indolent from choice, these are slow from necessity.* The ai, from which I shall take my description, and from which the other differs only in the slight particulars above-mentioned, and in being rather more active, is of about the size of a badger. Its fur is coarse and staring, somewhat resembling dried grass; the tail very short and scarce appearing; the month extending from ear to ear; the eye dull and heavy; the feet armed with three claws each, and made so short, and set on so awkwardly, that a few paces is often the journey of a week; but though the feet are short, they are still longer than its legs, and these proceed from the body in such an oblique direction that the sole of the foot seldom touches the ground. When the animal, therefore, is compelled to make a step forward, it scrapes on the back of the nails along the surface, and wheeling the limbs circularly about, yet still touching the ground, it at length places its foot in a progressive position: the other three limbs are all brought about with the same difficulty; and thus it is seen to move not above three feet in an hour. In fact, this poor creature seldom changes place but by constraint, and when impelled by the severest stings of hunger.

The sloth seems to be the meanest and most ill-formed of all those animals that chew the cud: it lives entirely upon vegetable food, on the leaves, the fruit, and the flowers of trees, and often even on the very bark, when nothing else is left on the tree for its subsistence. Like all other ruminant animals it has four stomachs; and these requiring a large share of provision to supply them, it generally strips a tree of all its verdure in less than a fortnight. Still, however, it keeps aloft, unwilling to descend while anything remains that can serve it for food; it, therefore, falls to devouring the bark, and thus in a short time kills the tree upon which it found its support. Thus destitute of provisions above, and crawling slowly from branch to branch in hopes of finding something still left, it is at last obliged to encounter all the dangers that attend it below. Though it is formed by nature for climbing a tree with great pain and difficulty, yet it is utterly unable to descend: it, therefore, is obliged to drop from the branches to the ground, and as it is incapable of exerting itself to break the violence of its descent, it drops like a shapeless, heavy mass, and feels no small shock in the fall. There, after remaining some time torpid, it prepares for a journey to some neighbouring tree; but this of all migrations is the most tedious, dangerous, and painful; it often takes a week in crawling to a tree not fifty yards distant; it mores with imperceptible slowness, and often baits by the way. All motions seem to torture it; every step it takes it sets forth a most plaintive, melancholy cry, which, from some distant similitude to the human voice, excites a kind of disgust mixed with pity. This plaintive sound seems its chief defence; few quadrupeds appear willing to interrupt its progress, either that the flesh is offensive or that they are terrified at its cries. When at length they reach their

The SLOTH.—This singular animal is tion to find him out and examine his haunts, destined by nature to be produced, to live, and see whether nature has committed any and to die' in the trees; and to do justice to blunder in the formation of this extraordinary him, naturalists must examine him in this animal, which appears to us so forlorn and his upper element. He is a scarce and soli- miserable, so ill put together, and so totally tary animal, and, being good food, he is never unfit to enjoy the blessings which have been allowed to escape. He inhabits remote and so bountifully given to the rest of animated gloomy forests where snakes take up their nature; for, as it has forinerly been remarked, abode, and where cruelly stinging ants, and he has no soles to his feet, and he is evidently scorpions, and swamps, and innumerable ill at ease when he strives to move on the thorny shrubs and bushes, obstruct the steps ground, and it is then that he looks up in of civilized man. Were you to draw your your face with a countenance that seems to own conclusions from the descriptions which say—“ Have pity on me, for I am in pain have been given of the sloth, you would pro- and sorrow !"—WANDERINGS IN South Ame. bably suspect that no naturalist has actually RICA. gone into the wilds with the fixed deterinina

« PreviousContinue »