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THE COMMON WEASEL.
between the Ferret and the Polecat, it is evident that they are of distinct species. The Ferret is a native of Africa, and has been imported into Europe for the purpose of being em. ployed in driving Rabbits from their burrows. Although easily tamed and rendered docile, these animals are exceedingly irascible; and, if at all provoked, will inflict very severe wounds with their teeth. Their smell is strong and offensive.
Ferrets are generally kept in casks or chests, well supplied with hay or straw; on which they sleep almost through the whole day, The females usually produce six or seven young.ones at a litter. These are blind for a month; and, after two months, are sufficiently old to be employed in the Rabbit warrens. They ought not to be fed immediately before they are used in the burrows; because, in this case, they become indolent and may not hunt. It is also necessary that, in this operation, they should be muzzled, in order that they may not satiate their appetite in the holes ; for, after having sucked the blood of the Rabbits, they will often fall asleep, and continue under ground for many hours.
A mixed breed, between the Ferret and the Polecat, is sometimes used by the warreners, and is considered in some respects preferable to the whole-bred Ferret.
THE COMMON WEASEL.
The length of the Weasel, exclusive of the tail, is about seven inches; and its height is not more than two and a half. The color of its upper parts is a pale reddish brown; and its breast and belly are white; but on each side, below the corners of the mouth, there is a brown spot. The ears are small and rounded, and the
THE COMMON WLASEL.
The Weasel is a beautiful and active little animal, well known to husbandmen and farmers in almost every part of Great Britain. It lives chiefly in cavities under the roots of trees, and in the banks of rivulets; from which it issues, at the approach of evening, to commit its depredations; and there is no creature of its size, more destructive to young Birds, Poultry, or Rabbits, than this. It also sucks eggs with great avidity. In this operation, it begins by making a small hole at one end, from which it licks out the yolk, leaving the shell behind; whereas Rats, and some other animals, drag the egg out of the nest, and either make a large hole in it or break it to pieces. By this circumstance the attacks of the Weasel may always be distin. guished from those of a Rat.
M. de Buffon supposed the Weasel to be untameable; but Mademoiselle de Laistre, in a letter written to him on this subject, gives a very pleasing account of the education and manners of a Weasel which she took under her protection. This she fed with fresh meat and milk, the latter of which it was very fond of. It frequently ate from her hand, and seemed to be more delighted with this mode of feeding than any other. “If I pour some milk into my hand, (says this lady,) it will drink a good deal; but if I do not pay it this conpliment, it will scarcely take a drop. When satisfied it generally goes to sleep. My chamber is the place of its residence; and I have found a method of dispelling its strong smell by perfumes. By day, it sleeps in a quilt, into which it gets by an unsewn place which it has discovered on the edge: during the night, it is kept in a wired box or cage; which it always enters with reluctance, and leaves with pleasure. If it be set at liberty before my time of rising, after a thousand little playful tricks, it gets into my bed, and goes to sleep in my hand or on my bosom. If I am up first, it spends a full halfhour in caressing me; playing with my fingers like a little Dog, jumping on my head and on my neck, and running round on my arms and body, with a lightness and elegance which I have never found in any other animal. If I present my hands at the distance of three feet, it jumps into them without ever missing. It exhibits great address and cunning to compass its ends, and seems to disobey certain prohibitions merely through caprice. During all its actions, it seems solicitous to divert, and to be noticed ; looking, at every jump, and at every turn, to see whether it be observed or not. If no notice be taken of its gambols, it ceases them immediately, and betakes itself to sleep: and even when awakened from the soundest sleep, it instantly resumes its gaiety, and frolics about in as sprightly a man. ner as before. It never shows any ill-humor, unless when confiued, or teased too much ; in which case it expresses its displeasure by a sort of murmur, very different from that which it utters when pleased.
"In the midst of twenty people, this little animal distinguishes my voice, seeks me out, and springs over every body to come at me.
His play with me is the most lively and caressing imaginable. With his two little paws he pats me on the chin, with an air and manner expressive of delight. This and a thousand other preferences, show that his attachment to me is real. When he sees me dressed for going out, he will not leave me, and it is not without some trouble that I can disengage myself from him; he then hides himself behind a cabinet near the door, and jumps upon me as I pass, with so much celerity that I often can scarcely perceive him.
“He seems to resemble a squirrel in vivacity, agility, voice, and his manner of murmuring. During the summer, he squeaks and runs about all night long; but since the commencement of the cold weather I have not observed this. Sometimes, when the sun shines while he is playing on the bed, he turns and tumbles about and murmurs for a while.
“From his delight in drinking milk out of my hand, into which I pour a very little at a time, and his custom of sipping the little drops and edges of the fluid, it seems probable that he drinks dew in the
THE COMMON WEASEL.
same manner. He seldom drinks water, and then only for want of milk, and with great caution; seeming only to refresh his tongue once or twice, and even to be afraid of that duid. During the hot weather, it rained a good deal. I presented to him some rain-water in a dish, and endeavored to make him go into it, but could not succeed. I then wetted a piece of linen cloth in it, and put it near him; and he rolled upon it with extreme delight.
"One singularity in this charming animal is his curiosity. It is impossible to open a drawer or a box, or even to look at a paper, but he will examine it also. If he get into any place where I am afraid of permitting him to stay, I take a paper or a book, and look attentively at it; on which he immediately runs upon my hand, and surveys with an inquisitive air whatever I happen to hold. I must further observe, that he plays with a young Cat and Dog, both of considerable size; getting about their necks, backs, and paws, without their doing him the least injury.”
According to the account given by M. de Buffon, the method of taming these creatures is to stroke them gently over the back; and to threaten, and even beat them when they attempt to bite.
The motion of the Weasel consists of unequal leaps; and it can spring several feet from the ground. It is a remarkably active animal, and it will run up a wall with such facility, that no place is secure from it. It is useful to the farmer in ridding him of Rats and Mice, which it will pursue into their holes and there kill; but its depredations are not altogether confined to these pernicious animals, as it also frequently destroys young poultry and Pigeons. It seizes its prey near the head, but seldom eats it on the spot; and often destroys Moles in their habitations. We are told that when the Weasel pursues the Hare, that timid creature is terrified into a state of absolute imbecility; and gives itself up without the least resistance, making, at the same time, the most piteous outcries.
A story is related, that an Eagle having seized a Weasel, mounted into the air with it, and was soon afterwards observed to be in great distress. The Weasel so far extricated himself, as to be able to bite the Eagle very severely in the neck; which presently brought the bird to the ground, and gave the Weasel an opportunity of escaping.
The female produces her young-ones in the spring of the year; and prepares for them a bed of straw. Aldrovandus tells us, that when she suspects they will be stolen, she carries them in her mouth from place to place, changing her retreat even several times a-day. M. de Buffon informs us, that, in his neighborhood, a Weasel with three young ones was taken out of the body of a Wolf, that had been hung up on a tree by the hind-feet. The Wolf was in a state of putrefactiou; and the Weasel had made a nest of leaves and herbage in the thorax.
Among other curious particulars respecting this animal, it has been observed, that, when asleep, its muscles are in a state of such extreme flaccidity, that it may be taken up by the head, and several times swung backward and forward, like a pendulum, before it will awake.
THE STOAT, OR ERMINE,
In northern climates this animal is brown in summer, and white in the winter. In the former of these states it is denominated Stoat, and in the latter Ermine. The tip of its tail, however, continues always black. Its habits of life are similar to those of the Weasel.
The Genet slightly resembles the Cat, particularly in its spots, and the power of climbing trees. It inhabits Africa, and is not unfrequently found in the south of France. At Constantinople it is domesticated, and keeps the houses free from Rats and Mice, which are said to be unable to endure
its scent, but it is much more pro. bable that it frees the houses from mice by devouring them.
OF THE OTTERS IN GENERAL.
OTTERS have in each jaw, six sharpish cutting teeth; the lower ones
of which do not stand in an even line with the rest, but two are placed somewhat within the others. The canine teeth are rather longer than the other teeth. All the animals of this tribe bave webbed feet.
There are about eight ascertained species of Otters. These animals
differ much from the Weasels in their habits. They live almost constantly in the water, from wbich they principally derive their food. Their bodies are very long, and their legs short. They burrow and form dwellings in the banks of rivers and lakes, in the neighborhood of the situations where they find their prey.
THE COMMON OTTER.
This animal is about two feet in length, from the nose to the instrtion of the tail; and the length of the tail is nearly sixteen inches. Its legs are short, but strong and muscular. The head is broad, oval, and flat on the upper part; and the body is long and round. The legs are so placed as to be capable of being brought into a line with the body, and of performing the office of fins. The toes are connected by webs. The general color of the body is a deep brown.
The habitation of the Otter is almost always made in the bank of a river or brook, in the immediate neighborhood of which he can be furnished with a plentiful supply of food. In forming his habitation, this animal exhibits great sagacity. He burrows under ground in the bank, and always makes the entrance of his hole under water, working upward towards the surface of the earth; and, before he reaches the top, he provides several holts or lodges, that in case of high floods he may have a retreat, and then make a minute orifice for the admission of air. It is further observed, that, the more effectually to conceal his retreat, he contrives to make this little air-hole in the midst of some thick bush.
In some parts of North America, Otters are seen in winter at a distance from any apparent open water, both in woods and on plains; but it is not known what leads them to such situations. If pursued, when among the woods where the snow is light and deep, they immediately dive, and make considerable way under it; but they are easily traced by the motion of the snow above them, and soon overtaken. The Indians track them in the snow, and with clubs kill great num. bers of them.
These creatures are sometimes frolicsome and playful: and one of their favorite pastimes is, to get on a high ridge of snow, bend their fore-feet backward, and slide down the side of it, sometimes to the distance of twenty yards or upwards.
Otters, though naturally of a ferocious disposition, may, if taken young and properly educated, be completely' tamed. The training of them, however, requires both assiduity and perseverance: but their activity and use, when taught, sufficiently repay this trouble; and few animals are more beneficial to their masters. The usual method is first to teach them to fetch, in the same way as dogs are taught; but, as they are not so docile as the dog, so it requires more art and experience to instruct them. They are first taught to take in their mouths a truss made of leather, and stuffed with wool, of the shape of a fish; to drop it at a word of command; to run after it when thrown forward, and to bring it to their master. Real fish are next employed; whicb