Scientific American Supplement, No. 841, February 13, 1892 online

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no person may be coming up the walk, he dashes down it barking, all
the others going along too and yelping with him; then he stops,
remains a little behind after having got the others out of the way,
and, turning his head from moment to moment, looks to see if the door
has been opened, for we generally go to it to see who has come. In
that case the feigned attack is successful, and the dog, who has
evidently meant to give the alarm so as to have the door opened, comes
in at once and claims a place at the table. He has accomplished his
end, for the door is usually shut without paying attention to his
having got in. I have frequently witnessed this stratagem, and when,
during my kitchen dinner, I suddenly hear the dogs yelping after the
brach hound has begun, I am pretty sure that nobody is in sight.

I have forgotten where I found the next story of an old dog who was
also very sagacious. Hunting dogs, when they grow old, become
rheumatic, or are at least debilitated with pains. We know, too, that
they crave heat, and get as near the fire as possible - a craving which
increases as they grow older. One such dog, older than the others, and
slower in getting into the lodge on returning from the hunt, was often
crowded away from the fire by the other livelier dogs getting all the
best places before him. Finding himself thus turned out in the cold,
he would dash toward the door barking, when the others, supposing it
was an alarm, would rush away too, while the old rheumatic went to the
fire and selected a place to suit him.

It is not necessary to dwell upon the intelligence shown by such acts.
But it is hardly contestable that the old animal, who knows how to
play such tricks upon his less experienced companions, deceives them
by his intonations, while he is well aware that no enemy is
approaching the house; but he does it scientifically, by the
inflections of his voice, as a man speaking to other men would do in
announcing the arrival of an imaginary enemy.

Inarticulate cries are all pretty much the same to us; their
inflections, duration, pitch, abruptness, and prolongation alone can
inform us of their purpose. But experience and close attention have
shown us the connection of these variations with the acts that
accompany or precede them. Animals evidently understand these
inflections at once. We cannot better compare the language of animals
than with what takes place in a pleasant sport, a kind of pantomime of
the voice or language which many youth doubtless understand, and which
I venture to refer to here to aid in more easily conceiving of the
communication of thought among animals by sounds which seem to us all
alike. When I was engaged in hospitals, the evenings in the guard room
were sometimes enlivened by the presence of a companion who excelled
in humorous mimicry. He would represent a man in liquor who had
stopped at a fountain that flowed with a gentle sound, somewhat like
that of his own hiccough. A single oath, pronounced in different
tones, was sufficient to enable us to comprehend all the impressions,
all the states of mind through which this devotee of Bacchus passed.
The oath, at first pronounced slowly and with an accent expressing
relief, represented a feeling of satisfaction, with shadings of
prolonged exclamation which it would be hard for one to imagine
without suggestion. The continued flowing of the fountain made our
drunken man impatient, and he wanted it to stop. This state of mind
was translated by a new modulation of the same word. In a little while
the gurgling of the fountain produced astonishment. Was it possible
that he, with all the liquid he had imbibed, could vomit so much and
for so long a time? This mental condition was expressed by a new
modulation of the same oath. The first movement of surprise over,
resignation follows, and our man decides to wait patiently for the
end. A period of half lethargy was easily represented by the slowness
and weakness of the man's voice while living up to this decision; but
when he comes out of this sleepy condition and hears the fountain
again, he is possessed with fear; he cannot understand the flood he is
pouring out - he dares not move - he believes he is lost. Gradually the
fumes of the liquor pass away, and, his mistake being recognized, the
drunkard is taken with a laughing and a gayety which are indicated by
the same oath repeated in tones corresponding with the satisfaction he
is then enjoying. This making the series of impressions a man passes
through comprehensible by a single word, varied in pronunciation and
utterance, is very like the language of animals, which is always the
same, and the significance of which is given by variety of intonations
corresponding with sensational conditions.

The mewing of the cat is always the same; but what a number of mental
conditions it expresses! I had a kitten whose gambols and liveliness
entertained me greatly. I understood well, when it came up to me
mewing, what the sound meant; sometimes the kitten wanted to come up
and sleep in my lap; at other times it was asking me to play with it.
When, at my meals, it jumped on my knees, turned round, looked at me,
and spoke in a coaxing and flattering way, it was asking for something
to eat. When its mother came up with a mouse in her jaws, her muffled
and low-toned mew informed the little one from a distance, and caused
it to spring and run up to the game that was brought to it. The cry is
always the same, but varied in the strength of the inflections and in
its protraction, so as to represent the various states of mind with
which my young animal is moved - just as it was with the drunken man in
the mimicry scene. These facts are probably well known to all
observers of animals.

We have seen that this tonality of the watch dog's cries is competent
to indicate that a person is coming to the house. We find similar
cries of warning uttered by birds. When I was a professor in the
faculty of Lille, I frequently visited the well known aged Professor
of Physics, M. Delezenne. He had a working room at the end of a
garden, in which a laughing mew wandered. From the time that any one
came in till he went out, this bird made the vocal explosions to which
it owes its name; and the good professor was certain, without ever
being mistaken, that somebody was coming to his laboratory. He was
notified. My Jaco in Paris has a warble that answers the ringing of
the bell. If we have not heard the bell, we are notified by Jaco of
its ringing, and, going to the door, find some one there. I have been
told of a parrot belonging to the steward of a lyceum which had heard
the words "Come in," when any one rang the bell. He never failed to
cry, "Come in," when the bell moved, and the visitor was embarrassed
at seeing nobody after having been invited to open the door.

Instances in which the cries of birds had an incontestable and precise
signification are numerous; let me refer to a few of the best known.
The cackle of a hen, after having laid an egg and left her nest, is
decidedly characteristic. Her clucking when she is impelled to sit on
her eggs, or when she is calling her chicks, is no less demonstrative.
There is not a farmer who does not recognize it and understand it. In
these things we see the relation between the tone of the prating or
cluck of the hen and her acts. But when a nightingale sings all night,
or a goldfinch whistles, or a raven croaks, we cannot so easily
interpret the significance of their inarticulate sounds. The finch
calls its mate by uttering a few notes followed by a long trill.
Matches of a barbarous character, based on this habit, I were held in
the north of France while I was living at Lille, between 1855 and
1860. I do not know whether they have been suppressed or not, but the
laws for the protection of animals ought to take cognizance of them.
The gamesters put out the eyes of the male finches, and made them,
thus blinded, compete as singers, for which purpose they brought their
cages into proximity. When the birds heard and recognized one
another's voices, they made their appeal to the female; the one that
renewed his amorous trills most frequently, protracted them longest
and to the last, gained the prize. The bird that was declared victor
received a medal amid the applause of a large and enthusiastic crowd;
and considerable wagers were staked upon the result. I have heard that
these poor blinded birds sometimes fell down exhausted with singing,
and kept on calling the absent female till they died, not being
willing to yield to a rival, who on his side was also keeping up his
equally useless appeals.

These finch contests were suggested after the meaning of the song of
the birds was learned. But when these birds, which are more usually
isolated - whence they have been named _Fringilla coelebs_, or
celibates - hop around our houses and also utter their amorous trills
at another than the mating season, they are evidently not calling the
female. Should we not then seek to determine by the tone whether their
call, which is always the same, is amorous or not?

In countries where flocks of turkeys are raised one can learn very
quickly from their gobblings when they have captured a hare. If they
meet him standing still or lying down, they form in a circle around
him, and, putting their heads down, repeat continually their peculiar
cries. The hare remains quiet, and it is sometimes possible to take
him up, terrorized as he is in the midst of the black circle of
gobbling beaks and heads. The language of the turkeys is at that time
incontestably significant. It is warlike, and similar to that of the
males when they are fighting. In the present instance they have joined
for war, and they make it on the frightened hare.

My Jaco, like all parrots, which are excellent imitators, pronounces a
few words and repeats them over and over again. Such birds amuse us
because the words they know sometimes happen to be ludicrously
fitting. A bird of this kind had been struck by the note sounded by
the wind blowing into a room through a crack in the glass work
whenever a certain door was opened; and he had become so perfect in
his imitation that they sometimes, on hearing the noise, went to shut
the door when it was not open.

Jaco formerly belonged to a very pious old lady who was accustomed to
say her litanies with another person. He had caught the words "Pray
for us," in the invocations to the several saints, and said them so
well as sometimes to deceive his learned mistress, and cause her to
think she was saying her litanies with two colleagues. When Jaco was
out of food, and any one passed by him, he would say, "My poor
Cocotte!" or "My poor rat!" in an arch, mawkish, protracted tone that
indicated very clearly what he wanted, and that his drinking cup was
empty. There was no doubt in the house as to his meaning; and whenever
one heard it he said: "He has nothing to eat." He was exceedingly fond
of fresh pits of apples and pears, and I was in the habit of
collecting them and keeping them to give him. So whenever, as I came
near him, I put my hand into my pocket he never failed to say: "Poor
Cocco!" in a supplicating tone which it was impossible to mistake. A
sugar plum is a choice morsel to him. He can tell what it is from a
distance when I hold it out in my fingers; and when I give it to him
he cannot restrain himself if it has been any considerable time since
he has had the delicacy. Usually, after having made the first motion
to get it, as if he were ravished and wanted to express his joy in
advance, he would draw back before taking it, and say, in a comical
tone, "Hold, my poor Cocotte!" His manner of thanking in advance is
likewise amusing. The expression of his eyes and the pose of his head
are all in accord with the tone of his exclamation. When he tastes the
plum he utters a series of _ahs_, and produces a kind of warble by
prolonging some of his notes and shortening up others. We find in
these examples, without doubt, that the articulate voice makes us
better able to judge the meaning of the impressions that are moving
the animal than inarticulate cries, or merely musical sounds. When
Jaco met a child for whom he had a great affection, he would promenade
on his perch, or turn the wheel, spreading out his tail and ruffling
the feathers of his head, while his eyes grew red with excitement if
the child was too slow in bestowing the accustomed caress. Then he
would stop, bend down his head, and, looking at his friend, say
pleasantly, "Jaco," in a tone and with a manner quite in contrast with
the pronunciation of the same word when he was hungry.

It is not the word he speaks that is of interest; he might have been
taught another, and it would have been the same; but it is the tone.
In this case, too, the articulation gives an easier clew to the
meaning the bird seeks to express, having a meaning according to the
manner of pronouncing it, than any isolated, simply musical sound,
like the song of the nightingale, canary bird, and warbler. This
became evident to me, not from observing animals for a few moments
without seeing them again, but from studying them continuously.

Jaco did not like solitude, and was talkative and fond of being
caressed, like all of his kind. One day, when there was no one in the
country house, all having gone out into the garden or the fields, I
heard him saying over what few words he knew, in different
inflections. I went quietly into the room where he was, without being
seen; but he heard my steps, although I walked in very cautiously,
hoping to surprise him. He ceased his chatter, listened, and, after a
silence, pronounced "Jaco" in a low tone, drawing out the end of the
word. He listened again, and repeated the word in the same tone; then,
after another silence, repeated it with a rise of the voice. I
continued observing him, and, as he heard no one, he raised his tone
gradually, repeating the same word, and ended at last with a genuine
cry of distress. The people ran in from without, supposing something
had happened to him. He then repeated his name in a lower tone, which
seemed to indicate his satisfaction at finding his isolation ended. I
went in myself, and his prattle unmistakably betrayed his gladness at
being no longer alone.

Is there not in this an act of real intelligence? While alone, the
parrot entertained himself by talking; but when he heard a sound he
hoped at first to see some one come; and when no one answered him, he
raised his voice, as a person would do who calls, and, getting no
reply, cried out louder and louder till he was heard and answered. The
meaning of the differences of intonation is as evident in this case as
in that of the drunken man. A parrot raised in the South had learned
to swear in the local _patois_. Being fond of coffee, he was sometimes
given a spoonful, which he would come awkwardly up to the table to
drink with his master. One day the master, not thinking of his bird,
had already added cognac to his coffee, and gave the parrot the
accustomed spoonful. The parrot took a swallow of it, and, in his
surprise at the novel taste, raised his head and repeated the oath in
a tone that excited laughter in all who were present. The cause of his
surprise being discovered, he was soothed, and then took his usual
ration with evident signs of contentment. The mimicry of language in
this case clearly represented the shade of the new impression he felt.

Jaco is very timid. In the evening, when he is put to roost in a close
and dark room, he is afraid of the shadow of his perch that is cast by
the light we carry in our hand; he eyes it, and utters a low cry,
which stops when the candle is blown out and he cannot see the shadow
any longer. He stands in dread of blows in the bottom of his cage,
because, having a wing broken, he cannot fly, and is afraid of
falling. Feeling his weakness, his language has a different tone from
the usual one. Large birds flying in the sky above him annoy him
greatly, and we can all tell by his voice when such a bird is near or
flying over. He inclines his head and chatters in a low tone as long
as the bird is in sight, paying no attention to anything else. Turkeys
and hens announce the approach of a bird of prey in a similar manner.

We find in the facts which we have related, as well as in many others
which are cited respecting the ways and habits of parrots, proofs of a
remarkable intelligence. These creatures are distinguished by the
unlimited affection which they bestow upon some persons, as well as by
their excessive dislikes, which nothing can explain. Jaco conceived an
extraordinary dislike for a maid who, although she took good care of
him, was in the habit of washing the bottom of his cage under a
faucet. He afterward discarded another person, whom he had liked so
much that she could do what she pleased with him, even to passing her
hand over his back and taking him by the tail, holding him in her
hands, or putting him in her apron - caresses of a kind that parrots do
not usually permit. Nothing astonished him or offended him. He proved
very inconstant toward her, and now, while better disposed toward the
other girl, he is furious against this one. A third miss has come to
capture his affection; and when he has been left asleep, or resting in
his cage, he has always the same word, but different in the inflection
wheedling, angry, or nearly indifferent, as either of the three
persons comes near him. Jaco's pronunciation is scanned in many
meters. Only one young student has had the privilege of retaining his
affection unmarred.

Jaco had been left in the country for a whole week in the winter.
Alone and isolated, he was taken care of by a person who was not
constantly with him. The young student, accompanied by a tutor, came
to pass a few days in the house. At the sight of the youth, Jaco,
surprised, called out, "Momon! Momon!" "It was affecting," they wrote
me, "to see so great signs of joy." I have also myself witnessed
similar signs of joy at the coming of the student. Jaco's speech at
such times is always in harmony with his feelings. In the pleasant
season Jaco's cage is put outdoors; and at meal times, knowing very
well what is going on within, he keeps up a steady course of suppliant
appeals for attention. His appeals cease at once if I go out with
fruit in my hand, and if I go toward him he utters a prattle of joy
that sounds like musical laughter. These manifestations indicate that
he is happy at seeing that he has been thought of.

I close these anecdotes, as I began them, by repeating that animals
communicate their impressions, and the feelings that move them, by
various modulations of their inarticulate cries, which are
incomprehensible to us unless we have succeeded by attentive
observation in connecting them with the acts that follow or precede
them. We have also seen that the articulation of a few words learned
by parrots aids us greatly in learning the meaning of these different

The extension of these studies would furnish much of interest; but
further observations should be made upon the same animals for a
longtime continuously, relating especially to their peculiar instincts
as manifested by their various cries. We might then, by comparing and
relating acts and cries, reach the point of comprehending and perhaps
fixing the meaning in many cases where we are now in ignorance. Every
one has noticed a few facts, and has interpreted and related them, but
much is still wanting for the co-ordination of them in the point of
view of the signification of the language and communication of animals
among themselves. It has not been made in a general sense.
- _Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from the Revue

* * * * *



Every now and then some weather sage predicts extremely cold winters,
and another ventures to say that the sun is gradually losing heat and
in time Arctic cold will prevail over the globe. Whatever may have
been the changes during the vast cycles of time prior to the advent of
man, or whatever may be the changes in the time to come, one thing is
quite certain; that our climate has been much modified within the past
two or three thousand years.

"There have been fifteen climatic changes since the beginning of the
glacial age, each change lasting 10,500 years, and each change
reversing the season in the two hemispheres, the pole which had
enjoyed continuous summer being doomed to undergo perpetual winter for
10,500 years, and then passing to its former state for an equal term.
The physical changes upon the earth's surface during the past 80,000
years modified the changes of climate even in the Arctic regions, so
that the intense cold of the former epochs was much modified during
the latter epochs." Reckoning these climatic changes in their order,
we had entered the epoch of a more genial temperature about fifteen
hundred years ago; and if no disturbing change takes place during the
present epoch, we may reasonably expect a gradual modification of our
winters for nine thousand years to come. The changes to intense cold
from perpetual summer during the greater part of the glacial period
are supposed to have been caused by the high temperature of the north
pole as compared to that of the south pole, owing to the distribution
of land around the two, the south having almost none. Dr. Croll thinks
it was caused by the varying inclination of the earth's axis, which
produced the relative position of the two poles toward the sun to be
periodically reversed at distant periods. Dr. James Geikie agrees with
Croll on the reverse of seasons every 10,500 years during certain
periods of high ellipticity of the earth's orbit.

But it may be asked, "How could the fauna and flora propagate
themselves under such conditions?" The flora itself at the quaternary
age was of extreme vigor. We know this from the little which is left
us, but more especially from the presence of a large number of
herbivorous animals - stags, horses, elephants, rhinoceros, etc. - which
animated the plains and valleys of Europe and America at the same
time. Evidently they could not have lived and propagated themselves
without abundant vegetation for nourishment and development.

That which has deceived the adherents of the glacial theory, as
understood in its absolute sense, is, they have generally placed a too
high estimate on its extent and intensity. It needs but a little
effort of the reasoning powers to come to the conclusion that the
earth had cooled to the degree that all animal and vegetable life
could exist upon it, and that a portion of the earth's surface
permanently covered with snow and ice was absolutely indispensable to
the existence, perpetuity, and well-being of animal and vegetable
life. Again, they have attributed to the glaciers the rocks, gravels,
and other material which they have found spread here and there long
distances from the mountains. The transportation of the so-called
erratic rocks has appeared inexplicable in any other way, and the
piles of rock and gravel have been considered so many _moraines_, that
is, deposits of diverse material transported by the glaciers. They do
not regard the probability of other agents taking the place of
glaciers, and undervalue the moving power of water. Water in liquid
state has often produced analogous effects, and it has often been the
error of the glacialists to confound the one with the other. The
erratic rocks and the moraines are undoubtedly the ordinary
indications of the ancient gravels, but, taken isolatedly, they are
not sufficient proof. In order to convince they should be accompanied
with a third indication, which is the presence of striated rocks which
we find in the neighborhood of our actual glaciers. When all these
signs are together then there is hardly a possibility of error, but
one alone is not sufficient, because it can be the effect of another

No doubt the temperature was really lower at the quaternary age and at
the epoch generally assigned to man's advent in European countries,
but the difference was not so great as some say. A lowering of four
degrees is sufficient to explain the ancient extension of the
glaciers. We can look on this figure as the maximum, for it is proved
to-day that humanity played the main _role_ in the glacial phenomena.
The beds of rivers and the alluvia are there to tell that all the
water was not in a solid state at that time, that the glaciers were
much more extended than in our days, and that the courses of the

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Online LibraryVariousScientific American Supplement, No. 841, February 13, 1892 → online text (page 2 of 11)