Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

clear water there was a number of the young fry of some small fish, most of them not more than an inch in length, swimming in little shoals close to the surface. The Dragon-fly had been hawking to and fro over the brook some time; at length he dashed down into the water where a few of the fry were swimming, and made quite a little splash, but did not go under. He rose again immediately, but without success evidently, as he continued his hawking as before. The fry darted away in all directions from the intruder's attack, of course, but soon reassembled and came to the surface as before. The Dragon-fly, not discouraged by failure, presently made another pounce, and now succeeded better, for he instantly settled for a few minutes upon a twig on the bank, as their manner invariably is when they take prey, to eat it. On the closest examination, I could discover nothing else in the water that could be supposed to be the object of his attack. The food of the Dragon-flies has been universally believed, as far as I am aware, to consist exclusively of insects, which are always caught in the air, though eaten at rest. The singular selection made by this individual is not less remarkable than the fact that it should venture into the water to obtain it. I have no doubt that young fish often form the prey of these insects in their early stages, when they are aquatic, as they are large and very voracious; and we know that the larvæ of the greater water-beetles (Dyticidæ) devour fish.

A few miles away, in a very unfrequented part of the forest, there is a shallow pool of considerable extent, perhaps covering three or four acres. It seems to have been caused by the accidental choking up of the course of a small creek, by the falling of a tree across it, the formation of the land on either side aiding the accumulation of the water. Evaporation is checked by the shadow of the dense and lofty trees around, the foliage of which spreads over the quiet water, and in a great measure shields it from the sun's rays; for the original course of the brook wound through the very heart of the tall forest.

A desolate scene is presented here to the visitor. One consequence of the accumulation of the standing water was the speedy death of the growing timber upon the whole area inundated; and majestic sycamores, and oaks, and chestnuts, were in a short time prostrated by the high winds, and lay about on one another in all directions in the wildest ruin. These, as they fell, helped still further to choke up the water, and to increase its depth ; while their broken, half-decayed trunks, covered with moss and parasitical plants, project from the sluggish surface, or form piers,

near.

which stretch away from the banks into the midst of the lake, and precarious bridges across different portions. At first sight you are ready to conclude that no living thing is

All is still and silent; the breeze that ruffles the leaves at the summits of the trees cannot reach here; scarcely a bird or an insect appears in an hour ; the surface of the pond is unmoved and seemingly immoveable, for it is so covered with a dense coat of yellow-green vegetation, that you can scarcely tell where the land ends and the water begins, till the plunge of your leg half kneedeep into black, fetid, slushy mud, informs you of your whereabouts.

Yet, quiet and apparently desolate as this sombre lake is, it is the congenial home of some animals, and those not to be despised by man. It is true, if you approach noisily, kicking the stumps and breaking the twigs, you see nothing ; nor will you be any the wiser if you move about the brink talking and laughing. But sit down on a log a few paces within the shadow of the forest, and remain quite silent, keeping your eyes on the surface of the pool, and especially on the fallen trunks that project from it. In a few minutes a little black head peeps from the mantle of green incumbent weed, and a tortoise creeps noiselessly out, and takes up his position on one of the rotten logs. Glance over the pool; every log is tenanted by one or more of the same silent reptiles, not one of which was there a moment ago.

But lo! while you look, another and another and another--nay, scores are crawling up upon the logs, so that in a quarter of an hour you may count them by hundreds, and others are still rising. They are of various sizes; some are as large as the crown of your hat, others are tiny creatures not bigger than a half-crown piece, and of all intermediate dimensions.

My lads are familiar enough with them ; they call them Mudturtles or Terrapins, and say that their flesh is good to eat. Sometimes they shoot the larger ones with the rifle, aiming to strike them beneath the edge of the back-shell ; and at others they lay traps of various devices, and lines with strong hooks baited with a piece of flesh. The rifle-ball is frequently turned by the horny shell of these animals, when struck at an angle; and hence this potent weapon is often unsuccessful, notwithstanding that the habits of the turtles allow ample opportunity for the most careful aim. When out of water, they will sit for hours without moving, the foreparts raised, looking diagonally upwards, yet ready to drop on the slightest alarm into the water below. At the first crack of the rifle they disappear; every one has dropped silently down, not with a struggle and a splash, but so stilly that you look round and wonder what magical art has made the host suddenly invisible.

I saw one shot and mortally wounded. It fell over on its back and rolled into the water, but could only feebly struggle, and had no power to turn, or to direct its movements so as to swim to the bottom. Hence with some difficulty it was dragged to shore. It was, as I had supposed, a species of Emys, -and I could not but admire the adaptation of the form for swift swimming, the carapace or back shell being flattened, arching slightly in the middle, and thinned to an edge all round, so as to present as little resistance as possible to the water ; and also the efficient protection which the integument affords against most ordinary casualties, the back and belly being encased in bony solid shields, and the neck and limbs covered with a loose skin so dense as to resist the edge of a knife. The strong cutting jaws, shutting into each other just like the notched mandibles of an eagle, and the curved claws, likewise show how well furnished the creature is for taking its prey.

There are sometimes found in the swamps and in the wider rivers other turtles of larger size and more formidable character, which I hear reports of, but have not yet been so fortunate as to

The name of Snapping-turtle is given to one, but it is frequently called in books the Alligator Tortoise (Chelydra serpentina). It is said to be three feet in length, and as ferocious as the mailed leviathan after whom it is named. Concealing itself under the broad floating leaves of aquatic plants, it suddenly darts out its great head, and makes a snap at any intruder with fatal precision; while such is the force of the muscles which move the jaws, such the strength of their substance, and the keenness of their cutting edges, that any object less firm than metal is pretty sure to be divided. Instances have not unfrequently occurred of unwary persons having their fingers amputated at a single snap of this vicious creature. The allusion to the alligator, in the name given to this animal, does not refer so much to this ferocity as to the form, the stout limbs, and especially to the long and thick tail flattened sidewise, and surmounted by a saw-like ridge of stout elevated plates.

Another tortoise of even greater size and equal ferocity is the Soft-back (Trionyx ferox). It is spoken of as rather rare, but as being occasionally met with in the Cahawba River, where its habit is to squat on fallen trunks and logs, like the mud-turtle, watching

2 A

see.

VOL. II.

for fishes, which it pursues and devours, as it does also ducks and other water-fowl. Its flesh is much esteemed, and hence it is captured for the table by those who are acquainted with its haunts. They bait a strong hook with a living fish, as it is necessary that the prey should be in motion to attract the turtle. Care and caution are needful in landing the game when captured; for it darts its head in all directions, seeking to bite its enemies, and frequently inflicting severe wounds from the remarkable suddenness and agility of its movements.

This large and fierce turtle is chiefly remarkable for having only the central portion of the back covered with a shell of horny plates, the remainder of the upper parts being protected by a marginal flap-like expansion of leathery texture, the edge of which is free, and helps the animal in swimming; the feet also, which are armed with strong hooked claws, are furnished with large swimming flaps of like leathery substance.

[To be continued.]

THE RISING MOON.
The moon is up! How calm and slow,

She wheels above the hill!
The weary winds forget to blow,

And all the world lies still.
The wayworn travellers, with delight

The rising brightness see;
Revealing all the paths and plains,

And silvering every tree.
It glistens where the hurrying stream

Its little ripple leaves;
It falls upon the forest shades

And sparkles on the leaves.
So once on Judah's evening hills

The heavenly lustre spread ;
The Gospel sounded from the blaze,

And shepherds gazed with dread.
And still that light upon the world

Its guiding splendour throws;
Bright in the opening hours of life,

But brighter at the close.
The waning moon in time shall fail

To walk the midnight skies ;
But God hath kindled this bright light
With fire that never dies,

W. O. B. PEABODY.

[merged small][graphic][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

It is curious to observe how different and far-distant places are brought into prominence on the page of History as the great sheet of Time is gradually unrolled. Nineveh, Babylon, Athens, and Rome may serve as examples on a grand scale ; but, to descend to minor instances,--who could have foretold that St. Petersburg, Cronstadt, and Sebastopol would have drawn so many eyes towards them as they have done for months past? And how many thoughtful readers have gazed on the word Pekin with interest, of late, who perhaps scarcely ever directed a single thought to this far-distant city in their whole previous lifetime! This word will not improbably be the central point in the annals of one of the most extraordinary revolutions which the history of the world has exhibited. Into the merits or demerits of that revolution, however, we have neither the intention nor the ability to enter; but some account of the city of Pekin may not be un

« AnteriorContinuar »