J. Somers Somers.

A description of more than three hundred animals: interspersed with ... online

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THE TORPEDO, OR ELECTRIC RAY,

Is a very wonderful marine animal, endowed by Pro-
vidence with an electric power, for exciting which, it
is provided with a natural apparatus. It gives a smart
shock to a person who handles the fish, similar to that
produced by the electrical machine. The body of this
fish is nearly circular, and thicker than any other of
the Ray kind, to which it belongs. They are some-
times so large as to weigh betwixt seventy and eighty
pounds. The skin is smooth, of a dusky brown colour,



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FISHES. 333

and white underneath. The ventral fins form on each
side, at the end of the body, nearly a quarter of a
circle. The tail is short, and the two dorsal fins are
near its origin. The mouth is small, and, as in the
other species, there are on each side below it five
breathing apertures.

The shock imparted by the touch of the Cramp-fish,
as the Torpedo is vulgarly called, is often attended
with a sudden sickness at the stomach, a general
tremor, a kind of convulsion, and sometimes a total
suspension of the faculties of the mind. Such power
of self defence has Providence allowed this animal !
Whenever his enemy approaches him, he emits from
his body that benumbing charm, which sets the other
at rest instantly, and thereby he gets time to escape.
But it is not a sure means of defence only, as, through
it, the Torpedo benumbs his prey, and easily seizes
upon it.



THE ELECTRICAL EEL

Has been gifted by Providence with the same power
as that of the preceding fish. It is about three feet
in length, and twelve inches in circumference, in the
thickest part of the body. The head is broad, flat.



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334. A DESCRIPTION OF

and large ; the mouth wide^ and destitute of teeth ; the
rostrum obtuse and rounded ; the eyes are small and
of a bluish colour ; the back is of a darkish brown, the
sides gray, and the belly of a kind of dirty white.
Across the body there are several annular divisions,
or rather rugae of the skin, from which the fish should
seem to partake of a vermicular nature, and to have
the power of contracting or dilating itself at pleasure.
It is able to swim backwards as well as forwards.

Mr. Bryant mentions an instance of the shock from
one of these fish being felt through a considerable,
thickness of wood. One morning, while he was stand-
ing by, as a servant was emptying a tub, in which an
Electrical Eel was contained, he had lifted it entirely
from the ground, and was pouring oflf the water to
renew it, when he received a shock so violent as occar
sioned him to let the tub fall. Mr. B. then called
another person to his assistance, and caused them
together to lift up the tub, each laying hold only on
the outside. When thcfy were pouring off the remain-
der of the water, they each received a shock so smart,
that they were compelled to desist.

Persons have been knocked down with a stroke. One
of these fish having been taken from a net upon grass,
an English sailor, notwithstanding all the persuasions
that were used to prevent him, would insist on taking
it up : but the moment he grasped it, he dropped down
in a fit ; his eyes were fixed, his face became livid, and
it was not without difficulty that his senses were re-
stored. He said that the instant he touched it '' the
cold ran swiftly up his arm into his body, and pierced
him to the heart'^

This most singular fish is peculiar to South Ame-
rica, where it is found only in the rocky parts of rivers,
at a great distance from the sea.



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nsHE¬Ђ. 335



THE EEL

Is of the nature of harmless serpents ; it lives in fresh
water rivers, lakes, and ponds. It is a very voracious
fish, feeding on worms, the young fry of fish, and even
carrion and putrid flesh. ' The eyes are placed near
the end of the nose, the teeth are smaU and sharp, the
under jaw longer than the upper ; the fins, chiefly the
pectoral ones, rounded at their end. This fish is very
tenacious of life, and lives long out of water. During
the night it frequently quits its native element, to
wander in the adjacent meadows for the purpose of
feeding on snails and other insects. They even emi-
grate from their usual ditch or pond, and seek over-
land for a more comfortable situation. They are
viviparous, or produce living offspring.

The common Eel often weighs upwards of twenty
pounds. The flesh is tender, soft, and nourishing ; yet
it does not agree with all stomachs.

The Conger, or Sea Eel, is much larger and thicker.
Its body is dusky above, and silvery below ; the dorsal
and anal fins edged with black; lateral line dotted
with white. Its flesh is firm, and was much esteemed
by the ancients.



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336 A DESCRIPTION OF

The voracity of the Conger Eel is enormously greats
and it is one of the most dangerous and most powerful
enemies with which the fishermen of the British islands
have to contend. Being usually caught by a hook
and line, it requires some care to land and kill the
large ones without injury. We are informed that,
on such occasions, they have been known to entwine
themselves round the legs of a fisherman, and to fight
with the utmost fury. A Conger, six feet in length,
was caught in the Wash at Yarmouth, in April, 1808 ;
but not until after a severe contest with the man who
had seized it. The animal is stated to have risen half
erect, and to have actually knocked the fisherman
down before he could secure it. This Conger weighed
only about sixty pounds; but some of the largest
exceed even a hundred weight.



THE FLYING SCORPION.

How admirable is Nature ! how extensive her power,
and how various the forms with which she has sur-
rounded the united elements of animated matter!
From the uncouth shape of the wallowing whale, df
the unwieldy hippopotamus, or ponderous elephant.



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FISHES. 337

to the light and elegant form of the painted moth or
fluttering humming-bird ; she seems to have exhausted
all ideas, all conceptions, and not to have left a single
figure untried. The fish correctly represented above
is one of those, in the outlines and decorations of which
appear the discordant qualities of frightfulness and
beauty. Armed cap-a-pie, surrounded with spines and
thorns, bristling on his back and fins like an armed
phalanx of lance-bearers ; and decorated on the body
with yellow ribands, interwoven with white fillets;
and on the purple fins of his breast, with the milky
dots of the pintado; the Scorpion presents a very
extraordinary contrast. His eyes, like those of which
poets sang when celebrating the Nereids and Naiads,
consist of black pupils, surrounded with a silver iris,
radiated with alternate divisions of blue and black
compartments. The. rays of the dorsal fin are spiny,
spotted brown and yellow, conjoined below by a dark
brown membrane, and separate above; the ventral
fins are violet with white drops, and the tail and anal
fins are a sort of tesselated work of blue, black, and
white, united with the greatest symmetry, and not
unlike those ancient fragments of Roman pavements
often found in this island.

This variegated fish is found in the rivers of Am-
boyna and Japan, and even there it is scarce; its
flesh is white, firm, and well tasted, like our perch,
but it does not grow so large ; it is of a very voracious
stomach, feeding on the young of other fish, some of
which, two inches in length, have been found in its
craw. The skin has both the appearance and smooth-
ness of parchment. To the tremendous armour of its
bax;k, fins, and tail, ^lis fish owes the name of Scor-
pion.

The Butterfly-Fish is about six or seven inches long, ,
and inhabits the Adriatic Sea. In October it is not
uncommon at Venice, where it is offered to sale

Q



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338 A DESCRIPTION OF

among the great quantity of various fish which the
coasts of Italy afford. It has#no apparent scales, and
is of a faint hlue or ash colour; the dorsal fin is
elegantly spotted with hlack, and the flesh is well
tasted and tender. This fish bears some resemblance
and apparent affinity to the Scorpion, the Gurnard,
and Father-Lasher,



THE TOAD-FISH.

The figure of the animal above has been correctly
copied at the foot of Blackfriars Bridge in the month
of May 1812, from a specimen exhibited there for
several days by the fishermen who had caught it below
the river ; it is about three feet and a half long, the
head forming more than the third part of the whole ;
the mouth is uncommonly large, and armed with
several rows of white and sharp teeth, not very regu-
larly set, and seemingly moving in the cartilaginous
jaws. The tongue appears fleshy and broad, the pec-
toral fins widely extended, and placed a little below
the eyes ; and between them and the mouth a sort of
suture in black stitches and in vandyke shape, appears
very conspicuous upon the silvery white of the skin
in this part of the animal. The back is armed with
several rows of tubercles; but the most curious pecu-



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FISHES. 339

liarity belonging to this ill-shaped citizen of the deep
is, that he seems to have received the gift of feet ; for
the veiitral fins are exactly in that shape, with divided
toes, the use of which appears to be that of opening
the ooze at the bottom of the sea, or the sand on the
shores, where this gluttonous fish conceals himself
with his jaws wide open, to catch the imprudent
flounder or sole, or any others which their giddiness
leads to the dangerous abyss. The colour is brownish,
and the scales hardly perceptible.

The Sun-Fish is also known by the name of Diodon.
He appears like the fore part of the body of a very
deep fish, which has been amputated in the middle.
The mouth is small, with two broad teeth only in each
jaw. When alarmed, the animal inflates his body to a
globular shape of a great size, and is beset with large
and sharp spines, which he can erect or depress at plea-
sure ; by this manoeuvre he defends or secures himself
against the attacks of his enemies, and might have
been named the hedgehog of the sea, if a different
animal had not received the name. The back of this
curious marine animal is of a rich blue colour. He
frequents the coasts of both the ancient and new con-
tinent, and has been found on the shores of England.
There are several species of this genus of fish, but the
difference between them is so inconsiderable, that it
would not be interesting to our readers to find here a
minute description of each. '



a2



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340 A DESCRIPTION OF




THE TRUMPET-nSH

Abides in the Mediterranean, and is from four to eight
inches in length ; he has a large snout, long and nar-
row at the end ; the eyes are large, the irides red, and
the body is covered with rough cinereous scales. The
anterior part of the body has two bony substances like
fins, and another situate on the belly. This fish is
often found in the ocean, where he seems to be driven
by storms, as he is seldom seen there in any other
than tempestuous weather. His breathing the water
out of his snout with a sounding noise, has occasioned
our sailors to call him the Trumpet This species
belongs to the Centriscus genus.



THE LUMP, SUCKER, OR SEA-OWL,

Is an odd-shaped fish; its colour is blackish with
faint red, in spots ; the belly is red ; it has no scales,
but on all sides sharp, black tubercles, in shape like
warts ; on each side are three rows of sharp prickles.



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FISHES. 341

and on the back two distinct fins. It is taken in many
places about England, and stares at the buyers on the
stalls of the London markets. The Lump, properly so
named from its unseemly shape, is about a foot in
length, and ten inches broad. The flesh is but indif-
ferent.

This fish, by nieans of its sucker, is able to adhere
with great force to objects. Pennant says, that, on
throwing an individual of this species into a pail of
water, it adhered so firmly to the bottom, that on
taking the fish by the tail, the whole pail was lifted,
though it held some gallons.



THE SEA UNICORN, OR NARVAL.

A CETACEOUS fish caught in the icy sea, and very
remarkable for a horn or tooth of seven or eight feet
in length, proceeding from the nose ; it is white like
ivory, and curiously wreathed and twisted ; the sub-
stance is much heavier than ivory, or any sort of bone ;
it is perforated to a considerable distance toward the
tapering end, and has often been set with an elegant
head, and used as a walking stick. The animal, when
young, has generally two of these, and sometimes they
are smooth. This horn, which is the offensive weapon
of this creature, must be tremendous in its violent
thrusts: when enraged with revenge the fish darts



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342 A DESCRIPTION OF

through the yielding wayes, wielding his spear with
e9^e, rapidUy> and strength, and goring the breasts or
sides of his enemies with his irresistible lance. The
skin of this fish is brown, spotted with browner speckles;
it is smooth like that of an eel. The body is round,
and altogether in the shape of an egg. It is worthy of
remark, that the way in which this ftsb rids itself of
the remains of its food after digestion has not yet been
found out. It has a semicircular hole on the head,
communic9,ting with the roof of the mouth, like others
of the same order ; but it is clear that the purpose of
it is for spouting water. Perhaps, like the leech, this
creature perspires in a peculiar manner what others
void in the form of excrements.



T^IE CAVAIXO-MARINO, OR SEA-HORSE,

Is a small, fish of a curious shape. The length, seldom
reaches twelve inches; the head bears some resem-
blance to, that of a horse, whence originates, its name.
A long dorsal fin runs from the head to the tail, which
is spirally curved. The ova of this genu^ are hatched



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FISHES. :>4d

in a pooch, formed by an expansion of the skin, which
in some is placed under the belly, and in others at the
base of the tail, and which opens to allow the young
to get out. They are often seen in cabinets and mu-
seums in a dried state, and the library of the East
India House is possessed of a very good specimen of
this curious creature. It belongs to the genus Pipe^
Fish.



SHELL FISH.



THE OYSTER

Has long been in favour with man for the delicacy
of its food ; the Lucrine lake used to be as much in
renown among the Romans for the choicest kind of
Oysters, as Cancalle Bay with the French, and the
Colchester beds with us. It is a bivalve shell-fish,
having the valves generally unequal. The hinge is
without teeth, but fornished with a somewhat oval



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344 A DESCRIPTION OF

cavity, and mostly with lateral transverse grooves. It
grows sometimes to a very large size; in the East
Indies they sometimes measure near two feet in diame-
ter. Fixed to a rock from the moment it has been
spawned, the Oyster is deprived of locomotion ; and
by this circumstance, as well as by the stony nature
of its heavy shell, unites the confines of the animal
kingdom to those of the mineral.

The principal breeding season of Oysters is in the
months of April and May, when they cast their spawn,
or spats, as the fishermen call them, upon rocks, stones,
shells, or any other hard substance that happens to be
near the place where they lie ; and to these the spats
immediately adhere. Till they obtain their film or
crust, they are somewhat like the drop of a candle,
but are of a greenish hue. The substances to which
they adhere, of whatever nature, are called cultck.
From the spawning time till about the end of July,
the Oysters are said to be sick; but by the end of
August they become perfectly recovered. During these
months they are out of season, and are bad eating.
The Oyster fishery of our principal coasts is regulated
by a court of admiralty. In the month of May the
fishermen are allowed to take the Oysters, in order to
separate the spawn from the cultch, the latter of which
is thrown in again, for the purpose of preserving the
bed for the future. After this month it is felony to
carry away the cultch, and otherwise punishable to
take any Oyster, between whose shells, when closed, a
shilling wiU rattle. The reason of the heavy penalty
on destroying the cultch is, that when this is taken
away, the ouse will increase, and muscles and cockles
will breed on the bed ; and, by gradually occupying
all the places on which the spawn should be cast, will
destroy the Oysters.

The Oyster has been represented, by many authors.



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FISHES. 345

as an animal destitute not only of motion^ but of every
species of sensation. It is able, however, to perform
movements which are perfectly consonant to its wants,
to the dangers it apprehends, and to the enemies by
which it is attacked. Oysters breathe by means of
gills. They draw the water in at their mouth, a small
opening in the upper part of their body, drive it down
along a canal that constitutes the base of the gills, and
so out again, retaining the air that is requisite for the
functions of the body.



THE COMMON COCKLE.

Pew of our shell-fish are more common, in inlets and
bays near the mouths of rivers, than these. In such
situations they are usually found immersed at the
depth of two or three inches in the sand, the place of
each being marked by a smalls circular,, depressed
spot. When they open their shells, the entrance into
them is protected by a soft membrane, which entirely
closes up the front, except in two places, at each of
which there is a small, yellow, and fringed tube. It
is by means of these tubes the animals receive and
eject the water which conveys to their body the nutri-
ment necessary for their support.

Cockles are in great request as food, and are caught
for this purpose chiefly in the winter months. Their
size is various, from dye or six inches to half an inch
in diameter. The shell is somewhat heart-shaped, with
twenty-six longitudinal ribs, and transverse wrinkled,
somewhat imbricated strise ; the colour pale, or whitish.



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346 A DESCRIPTION OF



THE MUSCLE, AND ADMIRAL.

Like the oyster, the Muscle inhabits a bivalve shell,
to which he adheres, as others of that species, by a
strong cartilaginous tie. The shells of several muscles
are beautiful. The muscle possesses the property of
locomotion, which he performs with that member
called the tongue of the muscle ; by this tongue he
gets hold of the rock, and by moving it along, is
enabled to change his situation ; he has also the pro-
perty of emitting some kind of threads, which fixing
at the sides of the shell upon the ground, answer the
purpose of cables to keep the body of the fish steady.
The Chama, which is akin to the muscle, was used
by the ancients to engrave various figures upon, from
which circumstance those small bas-reliefs, so valued
now, have obtained among the Italians and collectors
the name of Cameos. The shells of some of these are
decorated with red or yellow stripes, diverging from
the hinge, and spreading to the edges. The Giant
Chama has been found to weigh more than five hun-
dred pounds, and the fish within large enough to
furnish a meal for one hundred and twenty men.



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FISHES. 347

The Admiral, the shell of a species of the Voluia,
is called so for its uncommon beauty. The inhabitant
of it is a slug, or snail^ as most of those of the univalve
kind. If Nature have taken a delight in painting the
wings of birds, the skins of quadrupeds, and the scales
of fishes, she seems not to have been less pleased in
pencilling the shells of these inhabitants of the deep.
The variety, brightness, and versatility of the colour-
ing, has been for a long space of time the deserving
object of man's admiration ; and in several places we
cannot help being astonished at the richness which a
cabinet of well selected shells presents to the eye.

The manner of preparing the shells, and of bringing
out their beautiful colours, is simple, and yet requires
great attention. The crust must be rubbed gently with
spirit of salt, and soon washed with clear water ; this
process will cleanse the shell, and display the wonder-
ful brilliancy which was hidden under the first coat.



THE SNIPE, AND WILK.

The Snipe, a shell-fish, so called on account of the
curious length of a certain prominency coming out of
the shell. It is surrounded with blunt prickles, and
the colour of the whole is elegantly variegated.



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348 A DESCRIPTION OF

The Wilk belongs to the family of the Turbines,
It is the shell which the soldier crab generally adopts
for his temporary abode, not having been furnished
by Nature with those calcareous juices which produce
a shell.



THE LIMPET

Is a univalve shell-fish> the shape of which is pyra-
midal ; it adheres to the rock with such strength^ that
no human force can make it leave its hold^ unless it is
crushed by a strong blow. The apex of the shell is
sometimes sharp, sometimes obtuse, and often sur-
rounded with points and sharp prickles. When cleaned
by proper means, the shell is found sometimes of a
beautiful purple tint, sometimes emits rays of reflected
light of an uncommon brilliancy. They are found on
the rocks, which are incessantly beaten by the surges
and breakers, on the searshores of almost every country
in the world. The rays of variegated colours, which
issue from their tops, are sometimes found of the most
vivid hues ; and the animal that lives under this mag-
nificent roof, or versicolored canopy, is a kind of slug,
uncomely to the eye, and insipid to the palate. It is
not by any glutinous liquid, as it has been asserted,
that this fish adheres so strongly to the rock ; but by



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FISHES. 349

the simple process of expelling the air from between
its body and the ground, to which it affixes itself.

The variety which Providence has thrown into the
sum of animated beings is so wonderfully great, that
naturalists have reckoned two hundred and twenty-
nine species of this genus of shell-fish ; the difference
arising merely out of the diversity of forms and
colours.



THE LOBSTER

Has a cylindric body, the antenna long, and a broad
tail. This fish, for it is one of the crustaceous kind,
b^ins the class of water insects. His large claws
enable him to seize on his prey, to fix himself at the
small prominences of rocks in the sea, to resist the
motion of the waves, and to fight his enemies. The
Lobster makes a fulcnun with the point of his tail
when he wants to spring off. His gait is awkward, as
in all of the crab kind. Beside his claws, he has four
small l^;s on each side, to assist him in his awkward
movements. Under the tail the hen Lobster preserves
her ^gs till they are hatched. They are extremely
prolific. Dr. Baxter says he counted twelve thousand
four hundred and forty-four eggs under the tail of a
female Lobster, besides those that remained in the



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350 A DESCRIPTION OF

body unprotruded. They deposit these eggs in the
sand, where they are soon hatched. Like the rest of
their tribe, they are said to cast their shells annually.
Previously to putting off their old shell, they appear
sick, languid, and restless. They acquire an entirely
new covering in a few days. At the same time that
they cast their shell, they change also their stomach
and intestines. The animal, while it is moulting, is
said to feed upon its former stomach, which wastes by
degrees, and is at length replaced by a new one.

Lobsters are caught in such abundance on the coast
of Northumberland, that, about the year 1769, the sum
paid for the annual exports from Nubi^^in and New-
ton, by the sea, amounted to nearly fifteen hundred
pounds.



THE CRAYFISH

Is the lobster of fresh water, and their presence is
generally esteemed an evidence of the goodness of the
water. They are reckoned a very strengthening food.
They are caught in shallow brooks, hid under large
stones, out of which they crawl backwards to seek for
their prey, which consists of small insects ; they are
easily baited with liver or flesh, which they nibble
most greedily.



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FISHES. 351



THE CRAB

Ir an amphibious animal; living on land and in
water. Crabs are of various sizes, some weighing
several pounds, and others only a few grains, all of
different species. They move not forward, but on one
side^ as it suits them best. They have a small tail
closed on the body ; which is a considerable and essen-
tial differ^ce between them and the lobsters, prawns,
shrimps, and cray-fish.

The most remarkable circumstance, in the history
of these animals, is the changing of their shells and


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Online LibraryJ. Somers SomersA description of more than three hundred animals: interspersed with ... → online text (page 20 of 28)