« PreviousContinue »
The ferret is about one foot long, being nearly four inches longer than the weasel. It resembles that animal in the slenderness of its body, and the short ness of its legs; but its nose is sharper, and its body more slender, in proportion to its length. The ferret is commonly of a cream colour; but they are also found of all the colours of the weasel kind; white, blackish, brown, and partycoloured. Those that are of the whitish kind, have their eyes red, as is almost general with all animals entirely of that colour. But its principal distinction from the weasel, is the length of the hair on its tail, which is much longer in the ferret than the weasel.
As this animal is a native of the torid zone, () so it cannot bear the rigours of our climate, without care and shelter; and it generally repays the trouble of its keeping, by its great agility in the warren. It is naturally such an enemy of the rabbit kind, that if a dead rabbit be presented to a young ferret, although it has never seen one before, it instantly attacks and bites it with an appearance of rapacity. If the rabbit be living, the ferret is still more eager, seizes it by the neck, winds itself round it, and continues to suck its blood till it be satiated.
Their chief use in warrens, is to enter the holes, and drive the rabbits in the nets that are prepared for them at the mouth. For this purpose, the ferret is muzzled; otherwise, instead of driving out the rabbit, it would content itself with killing, and sucking its blood at the bottom of the hole ; but, by this contrivance, being rendered unable to seize its prey, the rabbit escapes from its claws, and instantly makes to the mouth of the hole with such precipitation, that it is inextricably entangled in the net placed there for its reception.
The female of this species, (8) is sensibly less than the male, whom she seeks with great ardour, and, it is said, often dies, without being admitted. They are usually kept in boxes, with wool, of which they make themselves a warın bed, that serves to defend them from the rigour of the climate. They sleep almost continually; and the instant they awake, they seem eager for food. They are usually fed with bread and milk. They breed twice a year. Some of them devour their young as soon as brought forth ; and then become fit for the male again. Their number is usually from five to six at a litter : and this is said to consist of more females than males. Upon the whole, this is a useful, but a disagreeable and offensive animal; its scent is fætid, its nature voracions, it is tame without any attachment, and such is its appetite for blood, that it has been known to attack and kill children in the cradle. It is very easy to be irritated; and, although at all times its smell is very offensive; it then is much more so; and its bite is very difficult of cure.
THE POLECAT.-- The Polecat is larger than the weasel, the ermine, or the ferret, being one foot five inches long ; whereas, the weasel is but six inches, the ermine nine, and the ferret eleven inches. It so much resembles the ferret in form, that some have been of opinion they were one and the same animal: nevertheless, there are a sufficient number of distinctions between them : it is, in the first place, larger
(The Polecat.) than the ferret; it is not quite so slender and has a blunter nose; it differs also internally, having but fourteen ribs, whereas the ferret has fifteen; and wants one of the breast bones, which is found in the ferret : however, warreners assert, that the polecat will mix with
the strong, musky smell which I formerly soon took food from the hand, but not until noticed. No threats or teasing could induce he had first used every exertion to reach and him to retire to the sleeping place; and when- bite the fingers which conveyed it. This ever he did so of his own accord, the slightest boldness gave me great hopes of being able rubbing on the bars was sufficient to bring to keep my little captive alive through the him out to the attack of his tormentors. He winter, but he was killed by an accident."
the ferret; and they are sometimes obliged to procure an intercourse between these two animals, to improve the breed of the latter, which by long confinement, is sometimes seen to abate of its rapacious disposition.
The polecat, for the most part, is of a deep chocolate colour; it is white abont the mouth; the ears are short, rounded, and tipt with white ; a little beyond the corners of the mouth a stripe begins, which runs backward, partly white and partly yellow : its bair, like that of all this class, is of two sorts ; the long and the furry; but, in this animal, the two kinds are of different colours; the longest is black, and the shorter yellowish :(8) the throat, feet and tail, are blacker than any other parts of the body: the claws are white underneath, and brown above; and its tail is about two inches and a half.
It is very destructive to young game of all kinds : (8) but the rabbit seems to be its favourite prey; a single polecat is often sufficient to destroy a whole warren; for, with that insatiable thirst for blood which is natural to all the weasel kind, it kills mnch more than it can devour; and I have seen twenty rabbits at a time taken out dead, which they had destroyed, and that by a wound which was hardly perceptible. Their size, however, which is so much larger than the weasel, renders their retreat near bonses much more precarious; although I have seen them burrow near a village, so as scarcely to be extirpated. But, in general, they reside in woods or thick brakes, making holes under ground of about two yards deep, commonly ending among the roots of large trees, for greater secilrity. In winter they frequent houses and make a common practice of robbing the ben-roost and the dairy.
The polecat is particularly destructive among pigeons, (g) when it gets into a dove-house; without making so much noise as the weasel, it does a great deal more mischief; it dispatches each with a single wound in the head; and, after killing a great number, and satiating itself with their blood, it then begins to tbink of carrying them home. This it carefully performs, going and returning, and bringing them one by one to its hole; but if it should happen that the opening by which it got into the dove-house, be not large enough for the body of the pigeon to get through, this mischievous creature contents itself with carrying away the heads, and makes a most delicious feast upon the brains.
It is not less fond of honey, attacking the hives in winter and forcing the bees away. It does not remove far from honses in winter, as its prey is not so easily found in the woods during that season. The female brings forth young in summer, to the number of five or six at a time; these she soon trains to her own rapacious babits, supplying the want of milk, which no carnivorous quadruped has in plenty, with the blood of such animals as she happens to seize. The tur of this animal is considered as soft and warm; yet it is in less estimation than some of a much inferior kind, from its offensive smell, which can never be wholly removed or suppressed. The polecat seems to be an inhabitant of the temperate climates, (g) scarce any being found towards the north, and but very few in the warmer latitudes. The species appears to be confined in Europe, from Poland to Italy. It is certain, that these animals are afraid of the cold, as they are often seen to come into houses in winter, and as their tracks are never found in the snow near their retreats. It is probable, also, that they are afraid of heat, as they are but thinly scattered in the southern climates.
THE MARTIN.–The Martin is a larger animal than any of the former, being generally eighteen inches long, and the tail ten more. It differs from the polecat, in being about four or five inches longer; its tail also is longer in proportion, and more bushy at the end; its nose is flatter; its cry is
(The Martin.) sharper and more piercing ; (8) Ray's Synopsis. (8) British Zoology, vol. i. p. 78. (8) Buffon (8) Buffon.
irs colours are more elegant; and, what still adds to their beanty, its scent, very unlike the former, instead of being offensive, is considered as a most pleasing perfume. The martin, in short, is the most beautiful of all British beasts of prey: its head is small, and elegantly formed : its eyes lively; its ears are broad, rounded and open ; its back, its sides, and tail, are covered with a fine, thick, downy fur, with longer hair intermixed; the roots are ash colour, the middle of a bright chestnut, the points black; the head is brown, with a slight cast of red; the legs, and upper sides of the feet, are of a chocolate colour, the palms, or under sides, are covered with a thick down, like that of the body; the feet are broad, thé claws white, large and sharp, well adapted for the purposes of climbing; but, as in others of the weasel kind, incapable of being sheathed or unsheathed at pleasure ; the throat and breast are white; the belly of the same colour with the back, but rather paler; the hair on the tail is very long, especially at the end, where it appears much thicker than near the insertion.
There is also a variety of this animal, called the yellow-breasted marha, which in no respect differs from the former, except that this bas a yellow breast, whereas the other has a white one: the colour of the body also is darker ; and, as it lives more among trees than the other martin, its fur is more valuable, beauti. ful and glossy. The former of these Buffon calls the Fouine ; the latter, simply the Martin ; and be supposes them to be a distinct species : but, as they differ only in colour, it is unnecessary to embarrass history by a new
(The Yellow breasted Martin.) distinction, where there is only so minute a difference.
The yellow-breasted martin is much more common in France than in Eng land; and yet even there this variety is much scarcer than that with the white breast. The latter keeps nearer houses and villages, to make its petty ravages among the sheep and the poultry; the other keeps in the woods, and leads in every respect a savage life, building its nest on the tops of trees, and living upon such animals as are entirely wild like itself. Abont night-fall it usually quits its solitude to seek its prey, hunts after squirrels, rats, and rabbits; destroys great numbers of birds and their young, takes the eggs from the nest, and often removes them to its own without breaking. (8) The instant the martin finds itself pursued by dogs, for which purpose there is a peculiar breed, that seems fit for this chase only, it immediately makes to its retreat, wbich is generally in the hollow of some tree, towards the top, and which it is impossible to come at without cutting it down. Their nest is generally the original tenement of the squirrel, which that little animal bestowed great pains in completing : but the martin having killed and dispossessed the little architect, takes possession of it for its own use, enlarges its dimensions, improves the softness of the bed, and in that retreat brings forth its young. Its litter is never above three or four at a time; they are brought forth with the eyes closed, as in all the rest of this kind, and very soon come to a state of perfection. The dam compensates for her own deficiency of milk, by bringing them eggs and live birds, accustuming them from the beginning to a life of carnage and rapine. When she leads them from
(@) Brooks's Natural History.
the nest into the woods, the birds at once distinguish their enemies and attend them, as we before observed of the fox, with all the marks of alarm and animosity. Wherever the martin conducts ber young, a flock of small birds are seen threatening and insulting her, alarming every thicket, and often directing the hunter in bis pursuit.
The martin is more common in North America than in any part of Europe.* These animals are found in all the northern parts of the world, from Siberia to China and Canada. In every country they are hunted for their furs, which are very valuable, and chiefly so when taken in the beginning of winter. The most esteemed part of the martin's skin is that part of it which is browner than the rest, and stretches along the back bone. Above twelve thousand of these skins are annually imported into England from Hudson's Bay, and above thirty thousand from Canada. +
THE SABLE.-Most of the classes of the weasel kind would have continued utterly unknown and disregarded were it not for their furs, which are finer, more glossy and soft, than those of any other quadruped. Their dispositions are fierce and untameable; their scent generally offensive ; and their figure dis
(The Sable.) proportioned and unpleasing. The knowledge of one or two of them would, therefore, have sufficed curiosity; and the rest would probably have been confounded together, under one common name, as things useless and unin teresting, had not their skins been coveted by the vain, and considered as capable of adding to human magnificence or beauty.
Of all these, however, the skin of the sable I is the most coveted, and held in the highest esteem. It is of a brownish black, and the darker it is, it becomes
* The PINE-MARTIN. — The pine-martin its snout is long, and of a deep, black colour ; inhabits the woody districts in the northern the crown is whitish grey, and the belly of a parts of America, from the Atlantic to the fine chestnut. The length of the body is in Pacific, in great numbers, and has been ob- general nearly two feet, and the tail five inches. served to be particularly abundant where the The Woolly Martin inhabits Cayenne : the trees have been killed by fire, but are still body is about sixteen inches long, and the standing. It preys on mice, hares, and par- tail nine. The snout is long and slender; tridges, and in summer on small birds' eggs. the upper jaw is considerably longer than the A partridge's head, with the feathers, is the lower; its ears are short and rounded, and its best bait for the log traps in which this ani- legs short and stout. The body is covered mal is taken. It does not reject carrion, and with woolly hair, and its tail long and taper. often destroys the hoards of meat and fish Sables.-Sables are numbered among laid up by the natives, when they have acci- the most valuable of furs. From an abstract dentally left a crevice by which it can enter. drawn up by the late Dr. Forster, from MulThe Martin, when its retreat is cut off, ler's Account of Commercial History, it apshows its teeth, sets up its hair, arches its pears that the price varies from one to ten back, and makes a hissing noise like a cat. pounds sterling and above. The blackest, It will seize a dog by the nose, and bite so and those which have the finest bloom or hard, that unless the latter is accustomed to gloss, are reputed the best. The very best the combat, it suffers the little animal to are said to come from the environs of Nertchisk escape. It may be easily tamed, and it soon and Yakutsk, and in the latter district, the acquires an attachment for its master, but it country about the river Ud, sometimes affords never becomes docile. Its flesh is occasion- Sables of which a single fur is sold at the ally eaten, though it is not prized by the rate of sixty or seventy rubles, or twelve or Indians. - RICHARDSON'S AMERICAN Z00- fouteen pounds sterling. Sometimes the
furs of sables are fraudulently dyed, and † THE GUINEA MArtin is of a dark otherwise prepared, in order to give them a brown colour : its forehead white, and its more intense colour, but these are very infe neck with a long narrow stripe on the side. rior to the fine, natural ones, and are easily Its fur is sprinkled with black and white; distinguished on scrutiny.-Skaw.
the more valuable. A single skin, though not above four inches broad, is often valued at ten or fifteen pounds; (6) the tur differing from others in this, that it has no grain ; so that, rub it which way you will, it is equally smooth and unresisting.
Sables generally inhabit along the banks of rivers, in shady places, and in the thickest woods. They leap with great ease from tree to tree, and are said to be afraid of the sun, which tarnishes the lustre of their robes. They are chiefly hunted in winter for their skins, during which part of the year they are only in season. They are mostly found in Siberia, and but very few in any other country of the world, and this scarcity it is which enhances their value. The hunting of the sable chiefly falls to the lot of the condenined criminals, who are sent from Russia into these wild and extensive forests that, for a great part of the year, are covered with snow; and in this instance, as in many others, the luxuries and ornaments of the vain, are wrought out of the dangers and the miseries of the wretched. These are obliged to furnish a certain number of skins every year, and are punished if the proper quantity be not provided.
The sable is also killed by the Russian soldiers, who are sent into those parts to that end. They are taxed a certain number of skins yearly, like the former, and are obliged to shoot with only a single ball, to avoid spoiling the skin, or else with cross-how and blunt arrows. As an encouragement to the hunters, they are allowed to share among themselves the surplus of those skins which they thus procure; and thig, in the process of six or seven years, amounts to a very considerable sum. A colonel, during his seven years stay, gains abont four thousand crowns for his share, and the common men six or seven hundred each for theirs.
THE ICHNEUMON.—The Ichneumon, which some have injudiciously denominated the Cat of Pharaoh, is one of the boldest and most useful animals of all the weasel kind. In the kingdom of Egypt, where it is chiefly bred, it is used for the same purposes that cats are in Europe, and is even more ser viceable, as being more expert in catching mice than they. This animal is usually of the size of the martin, and greatly resembles it in appearance, except that the hair, which is of a grisly black, is much rougher and less downy.
The Ichneumon, with all the strength of a cat, has more instinct and agility; a more universal appetite for carnage, and a greater variety of powers to pro cure it.(8) Rats, mice, birds, serpents, lizards and insects, are all equally pur. snied; it attacks every living thing which it is able to overcome, and indiscriminately preys on flesh of all kinds. Its courage is equal to the vehemence of its appetite. It fears neither the force of the dog nor the insidnous malice of the cat : neither the claws of the vulture nor the poison of the viper. It inakes war upon all kinds of serpents with great avidity, seizes and kills them how venomous soever they be; and we are told that when it begins to perceive the effects of their rage, it has recourse to a certain root, which the Indians call after its name, and assert to be an antidote for the bite of the asp or the viver.
But what this animal is particularly serviceable to the Egyptians for is, that it discovers and destroys the eggs of the crocodile. It also kills the young ones that have not as yet been able to reach the water; and, as fable usually goes hand in hand with truth it is said that the ichneumon sometimes enters the
(g) Regnard. (g) The rest of this description is extracted from Mr. Buffon, except where marked with commas.