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water they seem perfectly at ease, and move about with great velocity, propelling themselves by
powerful strokes of their broad paddle-like tails. The peculiarities of their internal structure,
too, are such as fit them for remaining a considerable time beneath the surface. On land, how-
ever, the Alligator moves slo wly and with evident difficulty on account qf the weight of the body
and the shortness of the legs. Nevertheless they come frequently to shore, being very fond of
sunning themselves for hours on the sandy or muddy banks of the streams they inhabit. They
are protected from assault while indulging in these siestas by their dull colors and their perfect
immobility. Holbrook states that "such Alligators as dwell in ponds and streams out of the
influence of tide- water, wander much further from the banks and are not unfrequently seen a mile
or more from water." 1

This statement is confirmed in the writings of other observers. "Following the lonely track

1 BARTRAM : Travels in East and West Florida, 1791, p. 119.
WELLS : Honduras, 1857, p. 35.
' HOLBROOK, op. tit., p. 57.



TUK ALLIGATOR: HABITS. 145

which leads for thirty three miles through Savannah's sand-hills and pine barrens from Now
Siii\ rna. Florida, to the St. .John's Uivcr," writesa corresi>ondeiit of "Forest and Stream," "we once
came upon an alligator seven feet long, taking his siesta in the middle of the road. . . .
Many alligators have I seen in Florida lakes and rivers, but never before met one on the high
road. Prol>al>ly tin- dry weather had drown the reptile from its accustomed haunts in search of
water." 1

VOICE. In spring and during the breeding season Alligators utter a cry, which has been
likened to that of the bull-frog, but intensified, and to the noise of distant thunder. It is probably
to tin's cry that 1 '.art ram frequently refers, as, for example, in the following sentences: "But what is
yet most surprising to a stranger, is the incredible loud and terrifying roar which they are capable
of making, especially in the spring season, their breeding time; it most resembles very heavy
distant thunder, not only shaking the air and waters, but causing the earth to tremble; and
when hundreds and thousands are roaring at the same time, you can scarcely be persuaded but
that the whole globe is violently and dangerously agitated."* Most evident hyperbole!

HIBERNATION. At the approach of winter the Alligators embed themselves in holes and pits
on the banks of their favorite streams, and remain dormant until spring.

BREEDING HABITS. When the breeding season arrives, early in spring, the female resorts to
a sheltered spot on the bank of the stream, and constructs a small mound of mud and other materials,
in which she deposits her eggs, one to two hundred in number. The eggs hatch in about thirty
days, and the young Alligators immediately take to the water. Although I am loath to quote so
much from one observer, I must refer again to the narrative of Bartrain, for I find no other in which
the nests of the Alligator are so fully described, with so great an appearance of accuracy. He
writes :

"1 now lost sight of my enemy again. Still keeping close along shore; on turning a point or
projection of the river bank, at once I beheld a great number of hillocks or small pyramids,
resembling hay cocks, ranged like an encampment along the banks, they stood fifteen or twenty
yards distant from the water, on a high marsh about four feet perpendicular above the water; I
knew them to be the nests of the Crocodile, having had a description of them before, and now
expected a furious and general attack, as I saw several large Crocodiles swimming abreast of
these buildings.

"These nests being so great a curiosity to me, I was determined at all events immediately to
land and examine them. Accordingly I ran my bark on shore at one of their landing places,
which was a sort of nick or little dock, from which ascended a sloping path or road up to the edge
of the meadow, where their nests were; most of them were deserted, and the great thick whitish
egg shells lay broken and scattered upon the ground round about them.

"The nests or hillocks are of the form of an obtuse cone, four feet high and four or five feet
in diameter at their bases; they are constructed with mud, grass, and herbage: at first they
lay a floor of this kind of tempered mortar on the ground, upon which they deposit a layer of
eggs, and upon this a stratum of mortar seven or eight inches in thickness, and then another
layer of eggs, and in this manner one stratum upon another, nearly to the top: I believe they
commonly lay from one to two hundred eggs in a nest: These are hatched I suppose by the heat
of the sun, and perhaps the vegetable substances mixed with the earth, being acted upon by the
sun, may cause a small degree of fermentation, and so increase the heat in those hillocks. The
ground for several acres about these nests shewed evident marks of a continual resort of alligators:

'" S. C. C." [8. C. CLAIIKK] in Forest and Stream, xii, 1679, p. 307.
lUuntAM : op. oil., \t. l-).
10 F



146 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

The grass was everywhere beaten down, hardly a blade or straw was left standing; whereas, all
about, at a distance, it was five or six feet high, and as thick as it could grow together." 1

ECONOMICAL VALUE. The principal commercial products furnished by Alligators are leather,
ivory, oil, and musk. The first two are by far the most important.

Alligator leather is quite impervious to water, and consequently a valuable material from
which to manufacture shoes and boots. Besides serving for these purposes, however, it is fre-
quently more carefully prepared and used iu making articles which require a soft leather, sucli as
satchels, card- cases, and the like, the oddity of its appearance being much admired. It has
many cheap imitations. Hides of large size and good quality bring about eight dollars in the
market.

The ivory is obtained from the teeth. These are carved into a variety of forms, such as
whistles, buttons, and cane-handles, and also sold as jewelry. This industry is carried on prin-
cipally in Florida.

Alligator oil, which is extracted from the fat of the animal, has been recommended for the
cure of quite a variety of diseases.

The musk of the Alligator is obtained from glands situated in the lower jaw. It is not of the
best quality, but serves as the basis of certain perfumes.

THE FISHERY. In regard to the capture of Alligators in Florida for the products they
furnish, and their consequent diminution, a writer in " Forest and Stream " states:

" Alligator hunting is growing less and less successful in Florida as the game diminishes in
numbers. From being simply a pastime it has become a regular business, and thousands upon
thousands of these creatures are now annually slaughtered for the:r hides and teeth. The former
are converted into leather, and make a valuable commodity, while the teeth are manufactured into
various articles of use and ornament At the rate the alligator family is now disappearing, not
many years will elapse before the supply will be wholly exhausted, and the capture of an alligator
become an uncommon event in sporting life." 2

" MODE OF CAPTURE. There is but one mode of capturing Alligators, so far as I am aware,
namely, that of shooting them with the rifle. This is not so expeditious a method as would at first
appear. The iron-like hide of the upper surface of the reptile's body, with its rugged bosses,
secures him impunity against the ill-aimed shot. The eye is the most vulnerable spot, and it is
through this organ that the rifle-ball penetrates into the vital region, the brain.

BARTRAM: op. cit., pp. 126, 127.

" P. H. A." in Forest and Stream, vi, 1876, p. 264.



TORTOISES, TURTLES, AND Tl.IIKAI'INS. 147



F. TORTOISES, TUKTLES, AND TERRAPINS.

INTRODUCTION. Th s]>ecies of Tortoises wbich inhabit the territory of the United States
and the adjacent seas are forty-two or forty-three in number. With the exception of the Musk
Tortoises, all are more or less available for food and other economic uses. The number of species
artually in demand, however, is small. It includes the Marine Turtles, two or three species of
Soft-shell Turtles, the Snapping Turtle, three or four kinds of Terrapins, and the Gopher or Land
Tortoise. Some are too small to be of any great value, and others are of too rare occurrence, at
least within the limits of the United States.

For convenience of treatment, following in a certain way the classification of Dumeril, 1 we
may separate the Tortoises into three large groups, namely, (1) the Marine Turtles, (2) the Marsh
Tortoises, and (3) the Land Tortoises.

34. THE MARINE TURTLES IN GENERAL.

MODE OF LIFE. The Marine Turtles are especially adapted for their aquatic life. Their bodies,
which are large and broad, have a specific gravity almost exactly equivalent to that of the water
in which they are immersed, so that they are able to sustain themselves at the surface of the sea
for any length of time without fatigue. Their feet are transformed into broad paddles, enabling
them to swim freely and rapidly. The fore-feet are used in propelling the body, while the hind-feet
serve as rudders. The motion of the fore-feet is very similar to that of a bird's wings, and, indeed,
all their movements are more those of flying than of swimming. These Turtles never go on shore
except to lay their eggs, and their movements at such times are slow and constrained.

DISTRIBUTION OF THE MARINE TURTLES. The Marine Turtle* are most abundant in tropical
regions, and occur in considerable numbers only along the extreme southern portions of our coast.
Specimens are occasionally seen as far north as Long Island Sound, and still more rarely in Massa-
chusetts Bay and on the southern coast of Maine. I am further informed by ('apt. Joseph W.
Collins, a most reliable observer, that he has 1 frequently seen Turtles, which he believed to be Green
Turtles, about the fishing banks of Newfoundland. Such occurrences, however, must be considered
accidental, and are unimportant from a commercial point of view.

SPECIES OF COMMERCIAL IMPORTANCE The species which are of commercial importance
are, 1. The Loggerhead ; 2. The Hawk's-bill Turtles of the east, and west coasts; and, 3. The Green
Turtles of the east and west coasts. In .addition to these, a species known as the " Bastard,"
ThalasHOchelys Eempii, Carman, has been recently described. It occurs commonly in the Gulf of
Mexico, but is not at all sought for. In contrast to the other species, it lays its eggs in the winter
months, from December to February.

THK LEATHER TURTLE. Another species which may be mentioned is the so-called "Leather
Turtle," or " Luth," or " Trunk Turtle." It belongs to a different family from those enumerated
above, is larger than they, and occurs sparingly all along our Atlantic coast, from Massachusetts
Bay to Florida. It has no commercial value with us. so far as known, but in the West Indies a
fat is procured from it which is used as a lubricator.

35. THE LOGGERHEAD TURTLE.

DISTRIBUTION OF THE LOGGERHEAD. This Turtle is commonly known in the United States
as the " Loggerhead," Thalassochelys caretta, (Linne) True, in allusion to its large and thick head.

I MMKIMI and KIIIROV : Krptologie



148 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

It occurs aloug the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Guiana and Brazil, and is common everywhere
in the Gulf of Mexico and among the West Indies. It is also found in the Mediterranean, where
formerly it was very abundant, and specimens have been taken on the coasts ot England and Scot-
land. Thus it appears that the Loggerhead inhabits generally somewhat more northerly localities
than most other species of Marine Turtles.

SIZE OF THE LOGGERHEAD. In size the Loggerhead is second only to the huge Leather
Turtle, previously mentioned. A specimen of moderate size, captured in 1871, measured six feet
in length, and nine feet across the back to the extremities of the fore-feet or "flippers." The head
was eleven inches long and eight inches broad. Its weight was about 850 pounds. In the more
southern localities the species sometimes attains a weight of 1,500 or 1,600 pounds. The specimens
taken on our coast about Beaufort and Morehead City, N. C., which enter into commerce, are
undoubtedly young animals. Their average weight, according to Mr. Earll, is not more than fifty
pounds.

FOOD. The Loggerhead is one of the most powerful of the Marine Turtles. It swims with
very considerable speed and not ungracefully. It is frequently seen far from land, floating on the
waves and apparently asleep or resting. Unlike most of the members of the group, it is generally
considered carnivorous, feeding upon crabs, various shells, and fishes. It is said to be particularly
fond of a large conch (Strombus), which it breaks with its powerful jaws and devours in great quantity. 1

BBEEDING HABITS OF THE LOGGERHEAD. On our shores this Turtle breeds in April, May,
and June, during which months the female comes to land and deposits its eggs in the sand, usually
selecting a spot on the southern side of a shoal. She scoops out a shallow pit with her hind legs,
and deposits a number of eggs, varying from 150 to 200. Having laid this large number, the Turtle
covers them with sand and leaves them to be hatched by the heat of the sun. While these animals
are engaged in this operation they seem unconscious of the presence of intruders, and from this
fact, and because they are very helpless on land, they are frequently captured while so engaged.
They breed sometimes as far "north as Virginia, and commonly in Georgia, Florida, and the eastern
Gulf States. The young make their way to the water as soon as hatched.

RATE OF GROWTH. Like all other species of Turtles, the Loggerhead is probably very slow
in coining to maturity, and many years must elapse before it is fully grown. One of the small
Marsh Terrapins is said to be ten or eleven years old before it breeds, 2 and it would seem that in
marine species, which are many times larger, the period must be much longer.

ECONOMIC VALUE. The economic value of the Loggerhead, aside from that of its eggs, is
very small. The flesh of the adult is leathery and oily, and smells very strongly of musk; it is,
therefore, not generally eaten, although some pretend that they have partaken of it when fresh
without nausea. Formerly it was salted in the West Indies and given to the slaves for food.
Young Loggerheads are considered tolerably esculent and are eaten to a limited extent in the
United States. They are captured from time to time on the coast of North Carolina, and sold in
the markets of the interior cities.

A large amount of oil can be obtained from this Turtle, but its rank odor unfits it for use iu
cooking. It has been employed, however, to smear on the sides of vessels, which it is said to pre-
serve from worms; and to soften certain kinds of leathers. Its scales, although larger than those
of the Tortoise-shell Turtle, are very thin, and apt to be wrinkled and filled with impurities, and
therefore are not used to any considerable extent in the arts.

The eggs of the Loggerhead are larger than those of other species, and are not inferior in
flavor. They are highly esteemed as food, and also furnish a considerable quantity of oil.

'HOLBBOOK: North American Herpetology, ii, 1842, p. 37.

*AGASSIZ: Contribution? to the Natural History of the United States, ii, 1857, p. 496.



TIII-: HAWK'S en. i. TI KILLS. 149

36. THE HAWK'S BILL TURTLES.

NORTH AMERICAN SPECIES. These two Turtles, the former inhabiting the Atlantic and the
latter the Pacific Ocean, were for a long period erroneously considered identical. But though
different, the distinctions which separate them are of a technical nature, and we can readily treat
of them together. They are commonly known under the names " Hawk's -bill" and Tortoise-
shell" Turtles (BivtmOoMyt).

KANGK OP THE HAWK'S-BILL TURTLES. The Atlantic species, E. imbricata, occurs on the
southern coasts of Florida and of the States bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, and from thence
its range extends southward over the Gulf, among the West Indies, northeastward to the Bermudas,
and as far south as Guiana and Brazil. Holbrook records as an unusual occurrence the presence
of a Turtle of this sj>ecies on the shores of Carolina, whither, he says, it was probably driven by a
heavy storm. 1 The Pacific species, E. squamata, occurs on our western coast, and is common also
in the Chinese and Japanese waters, and in the Indian Ocean generally.

SIZE. The Hawk's-bill is smaller than either the Loggerhead or the Green Turtle. It is
generally considered that a Turtle must have a weight of about one hundred and sixty pounds
before its "shell is of suitable thickness to be used in the arts, but it often attains to at least twice
that weight, and sometimes even approaches in weight the Green Turtle."

FOOD AND HABITS. The habits of the Hawk's-bill Turtle do not differ essentially from those
of the Loggerhead. Its diet is strictly vegetable, but it is said to be much more fierce than the
carnivorous but harmless Loggerhead. It bites severely, and occasions painful wounds, so that
the fishermen have to be on their guard against its attacks. On our shores its breeding season
extends from the latter part of April to the first of July. It usually selects a gravelly rather than
a sandy beach in which to deposit its eggs.

ECONOMIC VALUE: GRADES OF ''-SHELL." The Hawk's-bill Turtle is chiefly valued for the
horn-like scales or plates which cover its bony shell. These form the "tortoise-shell" of com-
merce. The back of the Turtle is covered with three rows of plates, a central and two lateral
rows. The central row contains five plates and each of the lateral rows four plates; in addition,
the margin of the shell is occupied by twenty-five small plates. The plates of the three rows
covering the back are known as "blades," and collectively as the "head" of shell. The small
marginal plates are denominated "feet," or "noses." These, together with the thinner plates of
the central row, are also sometimes known as "hoofs and claws." The plates which have the
highest value are the two middle ones on each lateral row, since they have the greatest thickness
and size. The colors of tortoise-shell which are preferred are mingled "golden yellow, reddish
jasper, and white, or brown approaching black." A variety of shell in which a large amount of
white occurs is also much esteemed, especially by the Chinese. Such shell is known as "white"
head or "blonde" shell. Plates in which the patches of color am nearly of equal size, and occupy
nearly the same position on both sides, are also highly valued. The largest Turtle does not furnish
more than fifteen or sixteen pounds of tortoise-^bell. "The best tortoise-shell comes from the
Indian Archipelago, where Singapore is the principal jxirt for its exportation. It is also sent
from the West Indies, from the Gallapagos Islands, situated on the west coast of South America,
and from Mauritius, Cape Verde, and Canary Islands."

The plates on the plastron, or under part of the shell, are golden yellow in color. Articles
made from them are much admired in some localities. It is said that combs of this color are
eagerly sought for by Spanish ladies, who will leadily pay fifteen or twenty dollars for them.

1 HOLBROOK : North American Herpetology, ii, 1812, p. 42.



150 NATURAL HISTOltY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS

THE HAWK'S-BILL Ag FOOD. The flesh of the Hawk's bill Turtle is comparatively value-
less; indeed, in the West Indies it is said that it possesses cathartic qualities iu a high degree.
The Turtle is occasionally brought to our markets from North Carolina. I have seen it. in
Washington several times recently, both in the markets and before certain restaurants of the city.
The eggs are not inferior to those of other Marine Turtles, and are valuable both as food and as
the source of a limpid and not ill-flavored oil, which is used in cookery and in the arts.

37. THE GREEN TURTLES.

NORTH AMERICAN SPECIES. The two species ot Green Turtle, the one, C. mydatt, inhabiting
the Atlantic and the other, C. virgata, the Pacific Ocean, like the two Hawk's-bill Turtles, are very
similar in general aspect, and have been confounded by many observers. The Atlantic species,
however, has been most often described and commented upon, and it is to that species that most
of my remarks will refer.

NAMES. As far as known, the Green Turtle has no other popular name in the United States
or in England. In France it is called the "Tortue Franche," in Portugal the "Tartaruga," and
in Brazil the " Jurucua."

DISTRIBUTION. The Atlantic species occurs all along our coast, from Long Island Sound,
where it has been taken several times, but is not common, to Florida and the coasts of the Gulf
States. Captain Collins believes that he has seen this species on the northern fishing-hanks.
It is abundant in the West Indies, and is found as far south as Guiana and Brazil; is said to
occur also along the west coast of Africa. I am informed by Mr. E. G. Blackford that the
supply for New York market is brought principally from Indian Eiver, Cedar Keys, and Key
West, Florida. The Pacific species is "found along the whole southern coast of California," but
its northern limit has not been ascertained. It is said to occur also in the Indian Ocean.

SIZE. In size the Green Turtle ranks intermediate between the Loggerhead and the Tortoise-
shell Turtles. Those taken on the coast of the Carolinas are very small, but the species increases
in size southward. The specimens taken at the more northerly localities seem to be young or
dwarfed individuals, as in the case of the Loggerhead. At Beaufort and Morehead City, as Mr.
Earll ascertained, they weigh only about eight pounds; at Charleston, usually from five to fifteen
pounds, the largest weighing twenty -five pounds; about Saint Augustine, the average size is
twenty or twenty-five pounds; at Halifax River, thirty-five pounds; at Indian River, fifty or sixty
pounds, specimens weighing as much as two hundred pounds being not infrequently taken; at Key
West the weight is usually from forty to one hundred pounds; at Cedar Keys specimens weighing
from six hundred to eight hundred pounds are sometimes taken, and rarely some weighing a
thousand pounds. Thus it appears that there is gradual increase in size as we pass southward. 1

FOOD AND FEEDING HABITS. Holbrook makes the following statements in regard to the food
of the Green Turtle: "The Chelonia mydas lives mostly in deep water, feeding on marine plants,
especially one called turtle-grass (Zostera marina). This, according to Audubon, they cut near
the roots, to procure the most tender and succulent part, which alone is eaten, while the rest of
the plant floats to the surface, and is there collected in large fields, a sure indication that the feeding
ground of the Green Turtle is near. In confinement, however, they eat readily enough purslaiu
(Portulaca oleracea), and even grow fat on this nourishment." 2 A specimen taken at Noank,
Connecticut, in August, 1874, was full of Irish moss (Ghondrus crispug). After browsing for a



'This fact, which corresponds with what has been observed regarding ome other aniinalH, isof great interest from
a zoological point of view.

HOLBROOK: North American Hepetology, ii, 1842, p. 29.



GREEN TURTLES: FOOD AND FEEDING. 151

time in these pasturages of sea weed, tlit- Turtles seek tin- months of livers, whew they apparently
take {treat pleasure in bathing in the fresh water, which seems to be necessary to them from time,
to time. They are very timid on sueli occasions, and hasten away into deep water at the approach
of man. In Florida, it " is naid by turtle Ushers to enter the creeks which abound on that coast,
and having eaten its till of the sea-grass growing there, to roll together masses of it of the size of
a man's head, which it cements with clay on which the grass grows, and then when the turn of
the tide takes it out to sea, follows it, feeding upon it. When, therefore, the fishermen find any
of these balls floating down from a creek, they at once spread a strong net across the mouth, and
almost always secure a number of these Turtles." 1

BREEDING OF GREEN TURTLES. The Green Turtle breeds on the coasts of Florida and in
the Bahamas and West Indies generally. On our coast its breeding season is from April to July.
Holbrook gives also an excellent account of the breeding habits of this Turtle, and we cannot do



Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 29 of 146)