A Book of Natural History Part 3

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"Their dwelling-place is not permanent, but changed in pursuit of food and solitude, according to the force of circ.u.mstances. We most often see them in elevated places; but this arises from the fact that the low grounds, being more favorable for the natives' rice-farms, are the oftener cleared, and hence are almost always wanting in suitable trees for their nests.... It is seldom that more than one or two nests are seen upon the same tree, or in the same neighborhood: five have been found, but it was an unusual circ.u.mstance." ...

"They are very filthy in their habits. It is a tradition with the natives generally here that they were once members of their own tribe; that for their depraved habits they were expelled from all human society, and that, through an obstinate indulgence of their vile propensities, they have degenerated into their present state of organization. They are, however, eaten by them, and when cooked with the oil and pulp of the palm-nut considered a highly palatable morsel.

"They exhibit a remarkable degree of intelligence in their habits, and, on the part of the mother, much affection for their young. The second female described was upon a tree when first discovered, with her mate and two young ones (a male and a female). Her first impulse was to descend with great rapidity and make off into the thicket with her mate and female offspring. The young male remaining behind, she soon returned to the rescue. She ascended and took him in her arms, at which moment she was shot, the ball pa.s.sing through the forearm of the young one, on the way to the heart of the mother....

"In a recent case the mother, when discovered, remained upon the tree with her offspring, watching intently the movements of the hunter. As he took aim, she motioned with her hand, precisely in the manner of a human being, to have him desist and go away. When the wound has not proved instantly fatal, they have been known to stop the flow of blood by pressing with the hand upon the part, and when they did not succeed, to apply leaves and gra.s.s.... When shot, they give a sudden screech, not unlike that of a human, being in sudden and acute distress.

"The ordinary voice of the Chimpanzee, however, is affirmed to be hoa.r.s.e, guttural, and not very loud, somewhat like 'whoo-whoo.'"

The a.n.a.logy of the Chimpanzee to the Orang, in its nest-building habit and in the mode of forming its nest, is exceedingly interesting, while, on the other hand, the activity of this ape, and its tendency to bite, are particulars in which it rather resembles the Gibbons. In extent of geographical range, again, the Chimpanzees--which are found from Sierra Leone to Congo--remind one of the Gibbons rather than of either of the other man-like Apes; and it seems not unlikely that, as is the case with the Gibbons, there may be several species spread over the geographical area of the genus.

The same excellent observer, from whom I have borrowed the preceding account of the habits of the adult Chimpanzee, published an account of the Gorilla, which has, in its most essential points, been confirmed by subsequent observers, and to which so very little has really been added, that, in justice to Dr. Savage, I give it almost in full:

"It should be borne in mind that my account is based upon the statements of the aborigines of that region (the Gaboon). In this connection it may also be proper for me to remark that, having been a missionary resident for several years, studying, from habitual intercourse, the African mind and character, I felt myself prepared to discriminate and decide upon the probability of their statements.

Besides, being familiar with the history and habits of its interesting congener (_Trogniger_, Geoff.), I was able to separate their accounts of the two animals, which, having the same locality and a similarity of habit, are confounded in the minds of the ma.s.s, especially as but few--such as traders to the interior, and huntsmen--have ever seen the animal in question.

"The tribe from which our knowledge of the animal is derived, and whose territory forms its habitat, is the _Mpongwe_, occupying both banks of the River Gaboon, from its mouth to some fifty or sixty miles upward....

"If the word 'Pongo' be of African origin, it is probably a corruption of the word _Mpongwe_, the name of the tribe on the banks of the Gaboon, and hence applied to the region they inhabit. Their local name for the Chimpanzee is _Enche-eko_, as near as it can be Anglicized, from which the common term 'Jocko' probably conies. The _Mpongwe_ apellation for its new congener is _Enge-ena_, prolonging the sound of the first vowel, and slightly sounding the second.

"The habitat of the _Enge-ena_ is the interior of Lower Guinea, while that of the _Enche-eko_ is nearer the seaboard.

"Its height is about five feet; it is disproportionately broad across the shoulders, thickly covered with coa.r.s.e black hair, which is said to be similar in its arrangement to that of the _Enche-eko_; with age it becomes gray, which fact has given rise to the report that both animals are seen of different colors.

"Head.--The prominent features of the head are the great width and elongation of the face, the depth of the molar region, the branches of the lower jaw being very deep and extending far backward, and the comparative smallness of the cranial portion; the eyes are very large, and said to be like those of the _Enche-eko_, a bright hazel; nose broad and flat, slightly elevated toward the root; the muzzle broad, and prominent lips and chin, with scattered gray hairs; the under lip highly mobile, and capable of great elongation when the animal is enraged, then hanging over the chin; skin of the face and ears naked and of a dark-brown, approaching to black.

"The most remarkable feature of the head is a high ridge, or crest of hair, in the course of the sagittal suture, which meets posteriorly with a transverse ridge of the same, but less prominent, running round from the back of one ear to the other. The animal has the power of moving the scalp freely forward and back, and when enraged is said to contract it strongly over the brow, thus bringing down the hairy ridge and pointing the hair forward, so as to present an indescribably ferocious aspect.

[Ill.u.s.tration: THE GORILLA.]

"Neck short, thick, and hairy; chest and shoulders very broad, and said to be fully double the size of the _Enche-ekos;_ arms very long, reaching some way below the knee--the forearm much the shortest; hands very large, the thumbs much larger than the fingers....

"The gait is shuffling; the motion of the body, which is never upright as in man, but bent forward, is somewhat rolling, or from side to side. The arms being longer than the Chimpanzee, it does not stoop as much in walking; like that animal, it makes progression by thrusting its arms forward, resting the hands on the ground, and then giving the body a half-jumping, half-swinging motion between them. In this act it is said not to flex the fingers, as does the Chimpanzee, resting on its knuckles, but to extend them, making a fulcrum of the hand. When it a.s.sumes the walking posture, to which it is said to be much inclined, it balances its huge body by flexing its arms upward.

"They live in bands, but are not so numerous as the Chimpanzees; the females generally exceed the other s.e.x in number. My informants all agree in the a.s.sertion that but one adult male is seen in a band; that where the young males grow up a contest takes place for mastery, and the strongest, by killing and driving out the others, establishes himself as the head of the community."

Dr. Savage repudiates the stories about the Gorillas carrying off women and vanquishing elephants, and then adds:

"Their dwellings, if they may be so called, are similar to those of the Chimpanzee, consisting simply of a few sticks and leafy branches, supported by the crotches and limbs of trees; they afford no shelter, and are occupied only at night.

"They are exceedingly ferocious, and always offensive in their habits, never running from man, as does the Chimpanzee. They are objects of terror to the natives, and are never encountered by them except on the defensive. The few that have been captured were killed by elephant-hunters and native traders, as they came suddenly upon them while pa.s.sing through the forests.

"It is said that when the male is first seen he gives a terrific yell, that resounds far and wide through the forest, something like kh--ah!

kh--ah! prolonged and shrill. His enormous jaws are widely opened at each expiration, his under-lip hangs over the chin, and the hairy ridge and scalp are contracted upon the brow, presenting an aspect of indescribable ferocity.

"The females and young, at the first cry, quickly disappear. He then approaches the enemy in great fury, pouring out his horrid cries in quick succession. The hunter awaits his approach with his gun extended; if his aim is not sure he permits the animal to grasp the barrel, and as he carries it to his mouth (which is his habit) he fires. Should the gun fail to go off, the barrel (that of the ordinary musket, which is thin), is crashed between his teeth and the encounter soon proves fatal to the hunter.

"In the wild state their habits are in general like those of the _Troglodytes niger_, building their nests loosely in trees, living on similar fruits, and changing their place of resort from force of circ.u.mstances."

Dr. Savage's observations were confirmed and supplemented by those of Mr. Ford, who communicated an interesting paper on the Gorilla to the Philadelphian Academy of Sciences, in 1852. With respect to the geographical distribution of this greatest of all the man-like Apes, Mr. Ford remarks:

"This animal inhabits the range of mountains that traverse the interior of Guinea from the Cameroon in the north to Angola in the south, and about one hundred miles inland, and called by the geographers Crystal Mountains. The limit to which this animal extends, either north or south, I am unable to define. But that limit is doubtless some distance north of this river [Gaboon]. I was able to certify myself of this fact in a late excursion to the head-waters of the Mooney (Danger) River, which comes into the sea some sixty miles from this place. I was informed (credibly, I think), that they were numerous among the mountains in which that river rises, and far north of that.

"In the south, this species extends to the Congo River, as I am told by native traders who have visited the coast, between the Gaboon and that river. Beyond that, I am not informed. This animal is only found at a distance from the coast in most cases, and, according to my best information, approaches it nowhere so nearly as on the south side of this river, where they have been found within ten miles of the sea.

This, however, is only of late occurrence. I am informed by some of the oldest Mpongwe men that formerly he was only found on the sources of the river, but that at present he may be found within half a day's walk of its mouth. Formerly he inhabited the mountainous ridge where Bushmen alone inhabited, but now he boldly approaches the Mpongwe plantations. This is doubtless the reason of the scarcity of information in years past, as the opportunities for receiving a knowledge of the animal have not been wanting; traders having for one hundred years frequented this river, and specimens, such as have been brought here within a year, could not have been exhibited without having attracted the attention of the most stupid."

One specimen Mr. Ford examined weighed one hundred and seventy pounds, without the thoracic or pelvic viscera, and measured four feet four inches round the chest. This writer describes so minutely and graphically the onslaught of the Gorilla--though he does not for a moment pretend to have witnessed the scene--that I am tempted to give this part of his paper in full, for comparison with other narratives.

"He always rises to his feet when making an attack, though he approaches his antagonist in a stooping posture.

"Though he never lies in wait, yet, when he hears, sees, or scents a man, he immediately utters his characteristic cry, prepares for an attack, and always acts on the offensive. The cry he utters resembles a grunt more than a growl, and is similar to the cry of the Chimpanzee when irritated, but vastly louder. It is said to be audible at a great distance. His preparation consists in attending the females and young ones, by whom he is usually accompanied, to a little distance. He, however, soon returns with his crest erect and projecting forward, his nostrils dilated, and his under-lip thrown down; at the same time uttering his characteristic yell, designed, it would seem, to terrify his antagonist. Instantly, unless he is disabled by a well-directed shot, he makes an onset, and, striking his antagonist with the palm of his hands, or seizing him with a grasp from which there is no escape, he dashes him upon the ground, and lacerates him with his tusks.

"He is said to seize a musket, and instantly crush the barrel between his teeth.... This animal's savage nature is very well shown by the implacable desperation of a young one that was brought here. It was taken very young, and kept four months, and many means were used to tame it; but it was incorrigible, so that it bit me an hour before it died."






You could hardly find a better rough test of relative development in the animal (or vegetable) world than the number of young produced and the care bestowed upon them. The fewer the offspring, the higher the type. Very low animals turn out thousands of eggs with reckless profusion; but they let them look after themselves, or be devoured by enemies, as chance will have it. The higher you go in the scale of being, the smaller the families, but the greater amount of pains expended upon the rearing and upbringing of the young. Large broods mean low organization; small broods imply higher types and more care in the nurture and education of the offspring. Primitive kinds produce eggs wholesale, on the off chance that some two or three among them may perhaps survive an infant mortality of ninety-nine per cent, so as to replace their parents. Advanced kinds produce half a dozen young, or less, but bring a large proportion of these on an average up to years of discretion.

[Ill.u.s.tration: SEA-HORSES.]

Without taking into account insects and such other "small deer,"--to quote Shakespeare's expression,--this fundamental principle of population will become at once apparent if we examine merely familiar instances of back-boned or vertebrate animals. The lowest vertebrates are clearly the fishes: and the true fishes have almost invariably gigantic families. A single cod, for example, is said to produce, roughly speaking, nine million eggs at a birth (I cannot pretend I have checked this calculation); but supposing they were only a million, and that one-tenth of those eggs alone ever came to maturity, there would still be a hundred thousand codfish in the sea this year for every pair that swam in it last year: and these would increase to a hundred thousand times that number next year; and so on, till in four or five years' time the whole sea would be but one solid ma.s.s of closely-packed cod-banks. We can see for ourselves that nothing of the sort actually occurs--practically speaking, there are about the same number of cod one year as another. In spite of this enormous birth-rate, therefore, the cod population is not increasing--it is at a standstill. What does that imply? Why, that taking one brood and one year with another, only a pair of cod, roughly speaking, survive to maturity out of each eight or nine million eggs. The mother cod lays its millions, in order that two may arrive at the period of sp.a.w.ning.

All the rest get devoured as eggs, or snapped up as young fry, or else die of starvation, or are otherwise unaccounted for. It seems to us a wasteful way of replenishing the earth: but it is nature's way; we can only bow respectfully to her final decision.

Frogs and other amphibians stand higher in the scale of life than fish; they have acquired legs in place of fins, and lungs instead of gills; they can hop about on sh.o.r.e with perfect freedom. Now, frogs still produce a great deal of sp.a.w.n, as every one knows: but the eggs in each brood are numbered in their case by hundreds, or at most by a thousand or two, not by millions as with many fishes. The sp.a.w.n hatches out as a rule in ponds, and we have all seen the little black tadpoles crowding the edges of the water in such innumerable ma.s.ses that one would suppose the frogs to be developed from them must cover the length and breadth of England. Yet what becomes of them all?

Hundreds are destroyed in the early tadpole stage--eaten up or starved, or crowded out for want of air and s.p.a.ce and water: a few alone survive or develop four legs, and absorb their tails and hop on sh.o.r.e as tiny froglings. Even then the ma.s.sacre of the innocents continues. Only a t.i.the of those which succeeded in quitting their native pond ever return to it full grown, to sp.a.w.n in due time, and become the parents of further generations.

Lizards and other reptiles make an obvious advance on the frog type; they lay relatively few eggs, but they begin to care for their young.

The family is not here abandoned at birth, as among frogs, but is frequently tended and fed and overlooked by the mother. In birds we have a still higher development of the same marked parental tendency; only three or four eggs are laid each year, as a rule, and on these eggs the mother sits, while both parents feed the callow nestlings till such time as they are able to take care of themselves and pick up their own living. Among mammals, which stand undoubtedly at the head of created nature, the lower types, like mice and rabbits, have frequent broods of many young at a time; but the more advanced groups, such as the horses, cows, deer, and elephants, have usually one foal or calf at a birth, and seldom produce more than a couple. Moreover, in all these higher cases alike, the young are fed with milk by the mother, and so spared the trouble of providing for themselves in their early days, like the young codfish or the baby tadpole. Starvation at the outset is reduced to a minimum.

It is interesting to note, too, that antic.i.p.ations of higher types, so to speak, often occur among lower races. An animal here and there among the simpler forms. .h.i.ts upon some device essentially similar to that of some higher group with which it is really quite unrelated. For example, those who have read my account of the common earwig (given in the sixth chapter of "Flashlights on Nature") will recollect how that lowly insect sits on her eggs much as a hen does, and brings up her brood of callow grubs as if they were chickens. In much the same way, antic.i.p.ations of the mammalian type occur pretty frequently among lower animals. Our commonest English lizard, for example, which frequents moors and sandhills, does not lay or deposit its eggs at all, but hatches them out in its own body, and so apparently brings them forth alive: while among snakes, the same habit occurs in the adder or viper. The very name _viper_, indeed, is a corruption of _vivipara_, the snake which produces living young. Still more closely do some birds resemble mammals in the habit of secreting a sort of milk for the sustenance of their nestlings. Most people think the phrase "pigeon's milk" is much like the phrase "the horse-marines," a burlesque name for an absurd and impossible monstrosity. But it is nothing of the sort: it answers to a real fact in the economy of certain doves, which eat grain or seeds, grind and digest it in their own gizzards into a fine soft pulp or porridge, and then feed their young with it from their crops and beaks. This is thus a sort of bird-like imitation of milk. Only the cow or the goat takes gra.s.s or leaves, chews, swallows, and digests them, and manufactures from them in her own body that much more nutritive substance, milk, with which all mammals feed their infant offspring.

Now, after this rather long preamble, I am going to show you in this present article a few other examples of special care taken of the young in certain quarters where it might be least expected. Fish are not creatures from which we look for marked domestic virtues: yet we may find them there abundantly. Let us begin with that familiar friend of our childhood, the common English stickleback.

Which of us cannot look back in youth to the mysteries of the stickleback fisheries? Captains courageous, we sailed forth with bent pin and piece of thread, to woo the wily quarry with half an inch of chopped earthworm. For stickleback abound in every running stream and pond in England. They are beautiful little creatures, too, when you come to examine them, great favorites in the fresh-water aquarium; the male in particular is exquisitely colored, his hues growing brighter and his sheen more conspicuous at the pairing season. There are many species of sticklebacks--in England we have three very different kinds--but all are alike in one point which gives them their common name, that is to say, in their aggressive and protective p.r.i.c.kliness.

They are armed against all comers. The dorsal fin is partly replaced in the whole family by strong spines or "stickles," which differ in number in the different species. One of our English sorts is a lover of salt water: he lives in the sea, especially off the Cornish coast, and has fifteen stickles or spines; on which account he is commonly known as the Fifteen-spined Stickleback; our other two sorts belong to fresher waters, and are known as the Ten-spined and the Three-spined respectively.

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A Book of Natural History Part 3 summary

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