George Abbey.

The balance of nature and modern conditions of cultivation; a practical manual of animal foes and friends for the country gentleman, the farmer, the forester, the gardener, and the sportsman online

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it includes the eye and ear, behind which it terminates. The
hair covering the body is harsh, long, scattered, and of three colours,
white, black, and red, differing in the proportion of these tints in
different parts, black predominating on the inferior. Legs short
and stout, paws provided with long curved claws, especially adapted
for burrowing. The female brings forth three or four at a litter.



Fig. 4. — The Badger.

On the whole, the badger is a harmless creature, seldom seen
unless hunted for, though its haunts are betrayed by the animal's
strong smell, due to its having a pouch beneath the taO, from' which
a fetid fatty humour exudes. During the daytime the badger
lives in deep, winding burrows, reposing on a very comfortable
bed of hay and grass. At night it comes out to jfeed in thickets,
banks or woods, where it dwells, the food consisting of slugs and



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6 THE HEDGEHOG

snails, frogs, worms, grubs and adult insects, varied with earth-
nuts and roots of various plants, such as wild hyacinth, beech-mast,
wild fruits, and herbage. In season, it also feeds upon young
rabbits, unearthing them while in *' nest," very young hares, young
and small birds, eggs of all sorts come-at-able, and with a *' sweet
tooth " for the nest of the humble bee as well as that of the wild
honey bee, devouring the honey and combs. It, however, does ver>'
little injury, even to game.

When attacked by dogs or other enemies, the badger defends
itself with great resolution, and inflicts many severe wounds on
the aggressors before it is finally vanquished. It was formerly
and sometimes now is cruelly made sport of by dog fanciers, who
place it in an improvised hole in the ground or a long box, and set
their favourites to draw it (>ut. The skin of the badger is rather
valuable, the hair being used in the manufacture of brushes, and
its skin in is some request for holsters.



Fig. 5. — The Hedgehog.

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europceus), Fig. 5, is a native of most of
the temperate parts of Europe and Asia, and recognised by hav-
ing the body covered with spines instead of hairs. It belongs to
the same family, Talpida?, sub-family Erinacina, as the Shrews, and
has a long nose, the nostrils bordered on each side by a long flap,
ears short, rounded, naked and dusky ; the hind feet have five toes,
the upper part of the face, sides, and rump covered with strong,
coarse hair of a yellowish ash colour, the back with sharp strong
spines of a whitish tinge with a bar of black through the middle.
The animal is about 10 in. long, the tail about i in. The female
produces four or five young at a birth, which soon become covered
with prickles.

The hedgehog resides in woods, coppices, thickets, hedges, and
shrubberies, whence it frequents fields, orchards and pleasure
grounds at night in quest of food. This consists of worms, slugs,



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THE MOLE 7

snails, large insects and larva?, small vermin, roots, especially those
of plantain, fallen fruits, and, in season, eggs of ground-nesting
wild birds, game, and poultry, also weakly young birds and small
animals ; indeed, it is very fond of flesh, either raw or cooked. In
winter the hedgehog wraps itself in a warm nest, composed of moss,
dried hay and leaves, and remains torpid till the return of spring.
When attacked by other animals it defends itself by rolling up, and
thus exposing no part of the body that is not furnished with, spines.
It may be domesticated to a certain extent, and has been employed
to destroy cockroaches. (See Useful Helps, p. 250.)

Although hedgehogs have been asserted to suck cows and injure
their udders, this is equally false with the imputation that they
mount fruit trees, and come down with apples, pears, etc., stuck
upon their bristles. There is a certainty, however, of the flesh of
hedgehogs being good eating, and the skin was formerly used for
the purpose of napping cloths. The species found in bone caves
(Erinaceus fossilis) is scarcely to be distinguished from the common
living species.

The Mole (Talpa europcsa or T. europceus), Fig. 6, is the type of



Fig. 6. — The Mole and Mole Hill.

the family TALPiDiE, which is included in the order Insectivora.
The body is covered with thick glossy hair of furry consistence.
The toes are five in number to each foot, and furnished with strong
claws of curved shape admirably adapted for burrowing. The
fore-feet are of peculiar form and the palms turned backwards and
outwards so as to scoop out the earth from the burrow, whilst the
hinder limbs are used to throw the material behind the animal as
it burrows forward. The eyes of the adult mole are rudimentary
and functionally useless, whilst external ears are wholly wanting.



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8 THE MOLE

yet the internal ears are perfectly developed, as also is the olfactory
sense. In length the common mole measures on an average about
4 in. The female brings forth four to six young, about the
month of April, and these are lodged in a special nest prepared
by the parents, and lined by young grass and soft roots.

Moles live in pairs, the habitation, formed under an hillock. Fig.
6, lower figure, consisting of an upper and lower gallery, which
communicate by five passages, the principal chamber being con-
tained within the lower and larger gallery, from which the mole
can escape, either by the high road of the upper or lower gallery,
and which lead to the hunting grounds. The burrows in these are
sometimes superficial, as in summer, when worms are near the
surface, and at other times, as in winter, the burrows are deeper,
and often of considerable depth, assumedly to secure water in
situations at a far distance from a brcok or ditch. Each mole or
pair has its own hunting grounds, yet there are high roads connect-
ing the different hunting grounds with each other, which may be used
by individuals in common, but if two moles meet, either one must
make speedy retreat, or an encounter takes place, resulting in the
vanquishing of the weaker.

The mole is common in England, Wales and Scotland, but is
said to be comparatively rare in Ireland. It inhabits or frequents
woods, copses, commons, moors, and waste places, hedgerows and
ditches, pastures and meadows, arable land, parks, pleasure grounds
orchards and gardens. In these locations the mole tunnels in various
directions and varied depths in quest of food, which consists of
worms, insect larvae, notably wire worm, cockchafer grubs, and other
root-devouring pests. By its burrowing it cuts the roots of plants,
these being uprooted by the surface runs or covered up by the hil-
locks, hence in gardens, allotments, and arable land the mole is an
intolerable nuisance, indeed, in all cultivated land and well-kept
grounds. In pastures and meadows the mole may be tolerated
in winter and early spring, when the greater proportion of mole-
hills are thrown up, and if the mounds are spread just before the
fields are closed for hay, few more will appear, as in summer the
mole works near its breeding place, such as a hedge-bank, where,
in the ditch and its sides it finds sufficient food. Besides, the
mould upcast by mcles dispersed by chain and brush harrowing
acts as a sort of top-dressing and benefits grass land. The retire-
ment of moles in summer to damp, shady places for feeding, such as
ditches and hollows by or in woods and copses, marks the measure
of its usefulness in these locations as most pronounced, where, and
in waste places, the balance of nature is not materially affected
by cultivation, and from whence incursions are made by predatory
pests to the prejudice of the cultivator of the soil. Thus the mole
is useful, inasmuch as all the grubs it destroys in woods, copses
and waste places are kept from adult stage, when they take flight



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THE WEASEL g

and invade cultivated ground, doing more harm by their larvae
than the mole, kept within bounds, itself conunits by tunnelling,
underdraining, aerating, and top-dressing the ground, blending
the subsoil constituents with the surfacing debris.

The Weasel (Mustela vulgaris), Fig. 7, a species of carnivorous
mammals, belonging to the family Mustehda*, is characterized by
an elongated body, about 10 in. long in the male and 8 or 9
in the female ; head, long ; legs, short ; feet, each five toes ; muzzle,
rounded; body, bright brown on the upper parts, the under
parts white ; and tail tinted uniformly with the body. It is a highly
courageous animal, and attacks mice, rats, and voles, hares and
rabbits — the five worst enemies of the forester, farmer, and gardener.
On the other hand, the weasel is very fond of young partridges and
pheasants, also chickens, and even pigeons, hence those interested
in game and poultry-rearing regard it as only deserving of exter-
mination. Albeit, the weasel destroys vast numbers of rodents or



Fig. 7. — The Weasel.

gnawing animals, and in this respect confers more benefit than
damage on the farmer.

The male weasel is so small that it can pass along mole runs easily,
not perhaps so much in quest of this animal as for the grass mice
or voles frequently harboured in forsaken mole-tunnels ; we have
caught weasels in traps set for moles, while the female weasel
is so wonderfully slim as to follow field mice underground. In
hedgerows mice and even rats find no abiding-place where the weasel
exists, and in comstacks, often at a distance from the homestead,
there is no tunnelling of them by mice and rats when weasels
guard the environs ; while in case of rats and mice in possession
of a wheatrick, a weasel's appearance on the scene implies a speedy
clearance. In grassy places where voles, or so-called field mice, are
fostered the weasel is earnest in its breeding season, bringing mice
for the young at the rate of four per hour in one instance of obser-
vance, while the rodents passed out from the grassy places and
invaded the adjacent cultivated ground, the weasels being such



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lo THE FOX

persistent mouse-hunters. On moorlands and hill pastures there
is no greater benefactor to the grazier than the weasel, and to the
forester its services are invaluable; while to the gardener and
even the farmer in woodland districts, with a reservation in respect
of incursions into poultry yards, the little animal is extremely useful,
for " neither mouse nor rat nor mole can carry on their projects
with impunity while the weasel stands sentinel " (Waterton).

DESTRUCTIVE

Fox {Cams vulpes or Vulpes vulgaris) Fig. 8. This (only wild
representative of the Canidae left in the British Islands) is unques-
tionably an unmitigated pest and nuisance in the moimtain dis-
tricts of northern Britain where no fox-hunting is practicable;
hence only the forester and gardener has use for the animal in
such locations, the hares, rabbits, rats, mice, and moles destroyed



Fk;. «.— The Fox.

being considerable. In wild districts weakly sheep, lambs, ptar-
migan, grouse, wild fowl generally, and even young roe, as well
as those just named, fall a prey to the fox. In hunting localities
foxes feed largely on leverets and rabbits (unearthing young in the
" nest *'), on brooding pheasants and partridges, even their eggs,
and among young coop-reared pheasants makes fearful havoc. In
the poultry yard the fox is pre-eminently the worst enemy, and,
though nocturnal in habits, will carry off the unwary duck or hen
in broad daylight during the season his family are dependent on him,
often clearing a whole parish of out-sitting ducks and hens.

But the fox feeds upon rats, mice (common, long-tailed and
short-tailed), and worms, snails, frogs and beetles, so that the work



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THE COMMON MARTEN 1 1

is not altogether against the farmer, who often has himself to
blame for the inroads into the hen-roost by not taking the pre-
caution to exclude the marauder. Similar remarks apply to phea-
sant and poultry-rearing grounds, where the fox's incursions
may be much checked, or altogether prevented, by care and pre-
caution. Thus the fox may be left to gratify its *' sweet tooth "
by feeding on the honey of wild bees and to give hounds a merry cry,
with a healthy and Hfe-giving exercise to the followers. In dis-
tricts where there is no fox-hunting, and even where there is, when
foxes are allowed to multiply unduly, it is right and proper to keep
the fox in check; but it is well to remember that decrease of the
animal means an increase of the hare and rabbit, game-preserving
uncombined with fox-hunting being a greater evil than a judicious
preservation of foxes.

Regarding the damage done by fox-hunters in galloping across
newly sown wheat fields and other crops, including the breaking
of fences, we can only say that no fox-hunter worth the name
gallops across nursery grounds, land under spade husbandry,
such as allotments and market gardens, over lawns and other
well-kept parts of the demesne, or does wanton damage in fields
and woodlands, for the simple reason that he, as a landlord,
or farmer, or both, " does as he would be done by," making no
gaps where none, or only dead fences, exist. Indeed most gaps
are made by blackberry gatherers, nutters, and other town
nondescripts, who, as pleasure seekers, cannot keep from cultivated
land and cull things they would consider as stolen if practised
in their own gardens.

In sandy soils foxes excavate considerable burrows or " earths,'*
and in these, or rocky places, the young are almost always brought
forth, although a vixen has been known to select a hollow tree, or a
straw stack, and being near a farmstead the excursions to the
poultry yard may be disastrous, when timely notice to the hunts-
man is sure to bring prompt relief by removal, if possible, of the
litter, with recompense for damage in due course.

The Marten (Mattes (Mustela) sylvesiris or M. foina), Fig. 9, is
included in the Mustelidae or Weasel family, the body being elon-
gated and slender, legs short, feet provided with five toes, armed
with sharp claws. The marten breeds in hollow trees, and pro-
duces from three to seven young at a birth.

Arboreal in habits, climbing trees with great ease, the marten
frequents the larger ranges of woodland in preference to the open
country, and is an expert at catching birds, robbing nests of young
as well as eggs, a great enemy of squirrels, particularly their
young, hence a benefactor to the forester in woods, especially beech
and pine, but very destructive to game, both ground and winged ;
also visits farmyards, killing poultry, and pigeons. It, however,
destroys mice, moles, rats, and voles, and it is said to be fond of



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li THE POLECAT

honey, and to even eat fruits and grain. The fur of the marten
bears some resemblance to that of the sable, but is inferior to it,
though a considerable number of skins are imported into England
from the North of Europe.
The Pine Marten (Martes abietum) inhabits the pine forests of



Fig. 9. — The Common Marten.

continental Europe, and is not, as formerly supposed, a British
species. It is of smaller size than the common marten, with a yellow
mark on the throat, and has a finer fur, which is used for trimmings.
The Polecat, Foumart or Fitch (Mustela putoria), Fig. 10,
like most other members of the Mustelidae, has an elongated body
and short legs, muzzle shortened, skull triangular, neck long and
flexible, ears small, eyes large, and the senses of smell, hearing, and
sight very acute. The anal glands which are placed close to the
base of the tail secrete a fluid of highly unpleasant odour, disagree-
ably permanent in contact with clothing or other material. The



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THE STOAT OR ERMINE 13

adult measures from 16 to 18 in., and the tail 4 to 5 in. ; fur
dense in the under-coat outer ; and hairy, of a yellow colour,
with the tips of the longer hairs dark brown ; edges of ears and
fur surrounding lips white. The young, produced in spring, number
three to five.

The foumart inhabits woods and hedgerows, hving in burrows,



Fig. 10. — The Polecat.

and lining the nest with dried grass or similar material. It is very
destructive in game preserves, partridges and pheasants, hares
and rabbits falling victims to its blood-thirstiness, while its ravages
among fowls and ducks, geese and turkeys (young) are appalling,
for it kills only to suck blood and eat brains, leaving the bodies
and flesh untouched. Fish, particularly eels, also fsdl a prey to
its rapacity, while mice, rats, and voles are speedily destroyed by
it. The fur of the polecat is worn under the name of " fitch,"
the Scotch skins being regarded as the finest.

Stoat or Ermine (Mustela erminea), Fig. 11. This beautiful
little animal is the Mus Ponticus of Pliny, and in habits very similar
to the common weasel, hence, by some, considered to do as
much good as harm, and should be included in the '* Partly
Useful and Partly Injurious " section. In summer it is of a light
ferruginous or chestnut-brown colour over the head, back, sides,
and upper half of the tail ; the under part is nearly of a pure white,
the lower portion of the tail becomes gradually darker, till at the
extremity it is quite black. The fur is short, soft, and silky. In
its winter coat it is pure white over the whole body, the lower part
of tail only retaining its dark colour, and at this time the fur is much
longer, finer, and thicker than in summer. The fur is in great
request, formerly as insignia of kings, and is still used by judges.

The stoat frequents woods, copses, and hedgebanks, also bams
and outhouses. It feeds on mice and rats and voles, soon clear-
ing infested places of these pernicious depredators, being among the
deadhest and most persevering of small rodent enemies. Hares
may not often fall victims to its rapacity, but it is a terrible enemy
to rabbits, and has a particular penchant for young pheasants and
other winged game, not even sparing the brooding pheasant or



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14 THE OTTER

partridge, and a great devourer of eggs. In the henrocst and
dovecot it is ver\' destructive, its ravages outweighing the ser-
vices rendered by destroying rodents in the hedgebanks in summer
and stackyards in winter. The stoat, hke most of the weasel family.



Fici. II. — The Stoat or Ermine.

hunts by " nose," following the scent of rats or rabbits with thegreatest
pertinacity. It is also capable of climbing trees, capturing unwary
birds, and robbing nests of young and eggs. Frequenting stream-
banks in quest of brown rats as well as water voles, the stoat often
takes to the water, swimming with ease and rapidity.

The Otter (Lutra vulgaris), Fig. 12, is included in the family
of the MustelidcC or Weasels, but is of aquatic tastes, for which the



Fig. 12. — The Otter,



possession of w^ebbed feet admirably adapts it. The body is of
elongated shape, about 2^ ft. in length, the tail somewhat taper-
ing, compressed frcm above downwards, and serving as a rudder
to guide the swimming movements of the animal. The legs are



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THE BROWN RAT 15

short, muscular and mobile, each foot having live webbed toes.
Lips, whiskered ; ears, short ; eyes, large. Under fur, short, closely
set, woolly; outer covering composed of coarser, longer, dark-
brown hairs.

The otter is chiefly nocturnal, swimming about at night in quest
of food, and preys mainly on fishes, leaving many mangled after
eating part of the victim, though largely subsisting on freshwater
cray-fish, and destroying more eels— deadly enemies to trout
streams or salmon rivers — than other fish. The burrow is con-
structed near the water's edge, and the nest situated at some dis-
tance in the bank of the river, being lined with grass and leaves,
wherein from four to five young are produced in June. The otter
inhabits Europe generally, and is a well-known denizen of Scotch
and Welsh rivers and streams, also some English ones, being
hunted for sport by means of dogs known as otter-hounds, which
are specially bred and trained to the work. By diving, biting and
hiding, with great tenacity of life, it often gives the hunters no little
trouble to secure it. Although of an untamable and somewhat
ferocious disposition, the otter can occasionally be domesticated
to a very perfect extent, and trained to fish for the tamer.

Brown Rat (Mus decumanus), Fig. 13, belongs to the family
Muridae or Mouse kind of the order Rodentia or gnawing animals.
The lower incisors are narrow-pointed and smooth, two incisors,
two pre-molars and four molar teeth exist in each jaw. Complete
collar-bones exist, and the front limbs possess four toes and a ru-
dimentary thumb, the hind legs having five toes. The tail is long,
pointed and scaly and thinly haired.



Fig. 13. — The Brown Rat.

The brown rat is known by its brownish fur, and was first
noticed in England in 1730. It is much larger than the Black Rat
(Mus rattus), the British native species, supposed to have come
into Europe about 1200. The males greatly outnumber the females.
They commence breeding at four months of age, and from three
^o four broo4s of from eight to fourteen young each may be annually



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i6 THE HOUSE MOUSE

produced. Varieties of this species appear to exist, there being
visible distinctions and differences between the bam and sewer
rats. The habitats of the brown rat are cosmopohtan, in this
country embracing hedgebanks, pond sides, com and strawstacks,
drains, bams, granaries, outhouses, warehouses, and dwellings.
Its food consists of grain of all kinds, legumes, roots, vegetables,
fmit — carrying it from stores, gnawing and spoiling great quantities,
and the devastation committed in a house of ripe grapes is appalling.
It also feeds on breadstuffs, fats, flesh — in fact, is a gourmand and
scavenger. Its depredations upon poultry and pigeons are well
known, also its feat in stealing eggs without breaking them. Bark-
ing vines and other ligneous plants is not uncommon work of the
brown rat, as well as the wholesale cutting off of fems in ferneries
and plants in plant houses, while its gnawing of woodwork and
tunnelling under floors and walls attest its further despoliation.

The true Enghsh or Black Rat {Mus rattus) is smaller than the
brown rat, and possesses a blackish-grey fur. Although the black
rat has been exterminated by the increase of the brown species,
some observers incline to the belief that the scarcity of the former
has arisen from the stronger males of the brown rat mating with the
black females, and thus producing a brown progeny.

House Mouse (Mus musculus), Fig. 14, is generally of a dusky
brown colour, and its mouth, like the rat, is provided with organs



Fig. 14. — The House Mouse.

adapted for the mastication of a mixed dietary, or one not confined
solely to vegetable matters. From six to ten young are produced
in a litter, and brought forth several times in a year. In about
a fortnight the young are able to shift for themselves, although
they are born in a helpless condition. " Albino " or so-called
'* white mice " are not uncommon. They are whitish or yellowish-
white in colour and possess pink eyes. A " piebald " variety is
also bred from the house mouse, and, like the albino, is readily tamed
and frequently kept as a pet.
The house mouse frequents dwellings, buildings, bams, granaries.



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THE LONG-TAILED FIELD MOUSE 17

comstacks and other places where foodstuffs are stored or used,
and at times is very troublesome in gardens, unearthing peas and
beans, also crocuses and other roots, and destroys young trees and
vines by gnawing the bark round the stems just beneath or at the
surface of the ground, and it is very fond of ripe fruit, particularly
forced strawberries and late grapes. The chief food, however,
of this animal consists of grain, seeds, roots, breadstuffs, lard, flesh,
cheese, and, if opportunity offers, confectionery and even honey.
Long-tailed Field Mouse (Mus sylvaticus), Fig. 15, is of a
brown or chestnut colour, with a darker stripe along the middle
of the back, whilst the body and tail is of a whitish colour beneath.
It frequents woods, fields, nurseries and gardens, and feeds upon
seeds, roots, conifer seeds, acorns, beech-mast, hazel nuts and other
products of hedgerow and woodland shrubs and trees. It also
turns up and devours seed-grain, peas and beans, " rot-heap '* and seed-



FiG. 15. — The Long-tailed Field Mouse.

bed seeds, nibbles off buds of seedlings and " transplants," and some-



Online LibraryGeorge AbbeyThe balance of nature and modern conditions of cultivation; a practical manual of animal foes and friends for the country gentleman, the farmer, the forester, the gardener, and the sportsman → online text (page 5 of 29)