페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

inches. The tail is flat and broad; it has been supposed that the animal uses it in the same manner as the beaver, but this is not the case. The legs are short, the feet webbed like a duck, and from the mouth two lips project resembling the beak of that bird; the eyes are very brilliant, though small, and deeply hidden in the fur. The opening for the ear is so small that it is scarcely to be discovered in dead specimens. In living ones the animal is seen frequently to open and shut it. Their sense of hearing is very acute. Dr. Shaw was the first describer of this animal; he named it the duck-billed platypus; but Sir Joseph Banks having shortly after sent a specimen to Blumenbach, that eminent physiologist preferred the name "ornithorhynchus" for the newly-discovered creature; the merited celebrity of the German writer prevailed, and the genus has retained the name of his choosing almost universally. The flesh of this animal, though rank and fishy, is eaten by the aborigines, to whom, indeed, nothing is unacceptable. We have abridged the following account of the

[ocr errors]

Ornithorhynchus from an interesting letter of Mr. George Bennett:—

"It was on a beautiful evening in the month of October, the commencement of summer in southern latitudes, that I approached the banks of the Yas river, in the interior of Australia. The scenery here is most picturesque: the open forest country and wooded hills, the neat cottage and garden, with the grain of a vivid green just bursting into ear, the tranquillity around being only disturbed by the occasional lowing of cattle, bleating of sheep, or the gay notes of the feathered tribe. The banks of the silver stream of the Yas were adorned by the beautiful pendulous acacias, which at that season were richly covered by their rich golden and fragrant blossoms, while the lofty and majestic gum-trees, the graceful manna, or the dark swamp oak, added to the beauty and variety of the landscape.

"The sun was near its setting, when, at a more quiet part of the river, I sought the burrows of those shy animals, the water-moles. Those only who are accustomed to view and investigate the varying productions of Nature can appreciate the feelings of enjoyment experienced on seeing in their native haunts creatures which before were known merely from vague description. The animal, when seen in a living state, running along the ground, appears supernatural, and its uncouth form produces terror in the minds of the timid. Even dogs, except those employed to bring them out of the water when shot, stare at them with erect ears; still, although of such a questionable shape, it is an animal perfectly harmless, although restless disposition. It was at a tranquil part of the river which the colonists call' ponds,' on the surface of which numerous aquatic plants grow, that I first beheld these animals. It is in such places that the water-moles are most commonly seen, seeking their food among the plants, whilst the steep and shaded banks afford them excellent situations for excavating their burrows.

"By remaining perfectly still and quiet, I soon saw their dark bodies just appearing level with the water, the head slightly raised by the circles made around them from their paddling motions. The slightest noise made the timid creatures instantly dive and reappear a short distance below. Although the animal may rise close to the spot where the sportsman is patiently waiting, it is useless to level the gun, as the action only would cause its instant disappearance. The gun must be ready for discharging the instant of the creature's reappearance, which is almost sure to take place in a short time. When the fur is wet, the animal has a soiled appearance, resembling more a lump of dirty weeds, which are often seen floating about in the rivers, than any production of the animal kingdom; it would therefore often escape observation when drifting by the stream against the stump of a tree, or among the reeds and bulrushes, but for its paddling motion. These animals are seen in the Australian rivers at all seasons of the year, but are most abundant during the spring and summer months. The best time for seeing them is very early in the morning or late in the evening; during floods and freshes they are frequently perceived travelling up and down the rivers; when swimming against the stream, their strength is exerted to the utmost to stem the force of the current.

"When the water-mole is captured it makes great efforts to regain its liberty; it makes no attempt to bite, but occasionally emits a growling noise; its loose skin causes it to be held with difficulty, for the animal feels as if in a thick fur bag. The natives use them for food, and capture them by either digging them out of their burrows, or by spearing. They dig up the burrow at certain seasons of the year, when the young are nearly full-grown; at that time they are considered excellent eating. The old animal is often taken at the same time. Accompanied by one of the natives, I traced one early in the morning, and dug it out of its burrow. It proved to be a fullgrown female. When I held the unfortunate water-mole in my hands, its little bright eyes glistened, and the orifices of the ears were expanded and contracted alternately, as if eager to catch the slightest sound, its little heart panting with fear and anxiety. The animal certainly appeared very much astounded when first pulled

« 이전계속 »