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OF THE RAY TRIBE.
Tue Rays are entirely, confined to the sea; and, from being destitute of an air-bladder to buoy them, they live altogether at the bottom, and chiefly in deep water. They subsist on shell-fish, or any animal substances that come in their way. Some of them become of a size so large, as to weigh two hundred pounds and upwards; in which case they are sometimes dangerous enemies to man, whom they are said to destroy, by getting him down, lying upon, and devouring him. They seldom produce more than one young-one at a time. This
, as in the Sharks, is enclosed in a four-cornered bag or shell, which ends in slender points; but which does no: (as in those) extend into long filaments. The liver is large, and often produces a great quantity of oil.
In a fresh state, most of the Rays have a fetid and unpleasant smell, but nearly the whole are eatable. There are about twenty species. Those with which we are best acquainted, are the Skate, the Thornback, and the Torpedo, or Electric Ray.
THE TORPEDO, OR ELECTRIC RAY.
Torpedoes are partial to sandy bottoms, in about forty fathoms of
water, where they often bury themselves by flinging the sand over them, with a quick flapping of all their extremities. In Torbay they are generally caught, like otber flat-fish, with trawl-nets; and instances have occurred of their seizing a bait.
This fish possesses the same property of benumbing its
prey, as that already described in the Electric Eel; and when it is in health and vigor, the shock that it communicates is very severe: but its powers always decline as the animal declines in strength; and when it expires, they entirely cease. In winter these fish are also much less formidable than during warm weather.
Dr. Ingenhousz had for some time, in a tub of sea-water, a Torpedo which, during winter, seemed to be feeble. On taking it into his hands, and pressing it on each side of the head, a sudden tremor, which lasted for two or three seconds, passed into his fingers, ont extended no further. After a few seconds, the same trembling was felt again; and again several times, after different intervals. The sensation, he says, was similar to that which he should have felt by the discharge of several small electrical bottles, one after another, into
his hand. The shocks sometimes followed each other very quickly, and increased in strength towards the last. Probably, from the weak. ness of the fish, the shock could not be communicated through a brass chain, though the usual contortion was evidently made. A coated vial was applied to it, but could not be charged.
From some experiments that were made by Mr. Walsh, on a very stout and healthy Torpedo, it appears that although it seemed to possess many electric properties, yet no spark whatever could be discovered to proceed from it, nor were pith-balls ever found to be affected by it. When it was insulated, it gave a shock to persons likewise insulated, and even to several that took hold of each other's hands: this it did forty or fifty times successively, and with very little diminution of force. If touched only with one finger, the shock was so great as to be felt in both hands. Each effort was accompanied by a depression of the eyes, which plainly indicated the attempts that were made upon non-conductors. Although the animal was in full vigor, it was not able to force the torpedinal fluid across the minutest tract of air, not even from one link of a small chain freely suspended to another, nor through an almost invisible separation made by a penknife in a slip of tin-foil pasted on sealing-wax.
THE SKATE AND THORNBACK.
The Skate is the largest, and at the same time the most useful fish of its tribe. Its flesh is white, firm and good. In some parts of the Continent, where these fish are caught in great abundance, they are dried for sale. The best season for Skate is the spring of the year. They sometimes attain a very large size. Willougby speaks of one so huge, that it would have served one hundred and twenty men for dinner.
From the month of May, until the beginning of September, the females are occupied in producing their offspring. This they usually do on coasts and in places where they are liable to little interruption. Each of the young ones is enclosed in an oblong, angular bag, about half an inch thick in the middle. These are called purses by the fishermen. After the fish have escaped, the empty bags are frequently cast ashore by the tide.
Dr. Monroe has remarked, that in the gills of a large Skate there are upwards of one hundred and forty-four thousand subdivisions, or folds; and that the whole extent of this membrane, whose surface is nearly equal to that of the whole human body, may be seen, by a
microscope, to be covered with a net-work of vessels that are not only extremely minute, but exquisitely beautiful.
In all its habits the Thornback resembles the Skate, except as to the time in which its offspring are produced. This is usually about the months of June and July; during which time these fish are caught in great numbers.
OF THE LAMPREY TRIBE.
Tie bodies of these fish are slippery and mucous. Three of the species are inhabitants exclusively of fresh waters, and one only is
known to frequent the sea. They are all much esteemed as food. So tenacious are they of life, that they will even continue firmly attached, by their mouths, to solid bodies, for some time after they are cut in half. They feed on worms, insects, small fish, and mud or aquatic plants.
THE TRUE AND LESSER LAMPREY.
The surprising faculty of adhesion to solid bodies, possessed by
these fish, arises from their drawing up the middle of their circular mouth, and exhausting the air from under it. The edges of the mouth are thus pressed closely down to the object, by the weight of the super incumbent atmosphere.
Possessed of an apparatus so formidable as the mouth
of the True Lamprey, this fish, although it feeds on animal substances, does not attack the larges and more powerful inhabitants of the water. It usually preys or marine worms and small fish; and, like the Eel, will even content itself with the flesh of dead and putrid animals. In fact, the teett from the circunstance of their not being fixed in bony jaws, are incl
pable of offensive operations against animals more powerful than themselves.
The branchial orifices, or gills, on each side of the neck of the Lamprey, are mistaken by many persons for eyes. This fish is destitute of bones. having only strong cartilages in place of them.
The singular fish called the Sea Horse has often been found off the southern coasts of England. The habits of this fish are very singular and interesting. A pair were kept alive for some time in a glass vessel, and exhibited considerable activity and intelligence. They swam about with an undulating kind of movement, and frequently twined their tails round the weeds placed in their prison. Their eyes moved independently of each other, like those of the Chameleon, and the changeable tints of the head closely resemble that animal.
More than once, these curious fish have been seen curled up in oyster shells.
The singular creatures called Pipefish also belong to the Syngnathidæ.
THE ANGLER, OR FISHING FROG
The Angler, or Fishing Frog, as it is more generally called, is not uncommon in all the European seas. The peculiar formation of its poctoral fins enables it to crawl for some distance on land.
On its head are two elongated bony appendages, curiously articu, lated to the skull by a joint formed something like the links of a chain, and capable of movement in any direction. The Angler couches close to the bottom of the sea, and by the movement of its pectoral fins stirs up the sand and mud, and agitates the bony appendages amid the turbid cloud produced. The small fishes, observ. ing the muddy water, and taking the filaments for worms, approach to seize them, and are instantly engulphed in the capacious jaws of the crafty Angler. The voracity of the Angler is so great, that when caught in a net
together with other fish, it generally devours some of its fellow prisoners—a useless act, for the fishermen mostly open its stomach, and recapture the flounders and other fish found in its interior.
The Barbel is found in most of the European rivers. Its flesh is
course and unsavory, but it SI is eagerly sought after by
anglers, as the spirit and vigor displayed by it when hooked afford fine sport. It is peculiarly apt at breaking the line, a feat sometimes accomplished by a violent blow of the tail, and some
times by contriving to twist the line round a root or post, and giving a sudden jerk. It feeds principally on larvæ and
molluscs, inbabiting the banks, and obtains them by rooting in the sand with its snout. The Barbels
, or beards, lianging from the upper jaw doubtless assist in these investiga. tions. It frequently grows to a very great size, weighing from fifteen to eighteen pounds, and measuring upwards of three feet in length. Many are captured by nets during the summer, at which season they frequent the weedy parts of the river in shoals; but in winter they ritire to the shelter afforded by banks and old woodwork. Several good swimmers have been known to dive after the Barbel, as they lay pressed against the banks, and to bring up one each time, not unfrequently appearing with two, one in each hand.
THE LOACH. .
In some countries the Loach goes by the name of “Beardie,” in
allusion to the little fleshy particles that hang from its lips. It has also the name of Groundling, on account of its habit of living close to the bottom of the water.
It is a common fish, and may be taken in most streams, especially if the bait is drawn over the bed of the stream. The principal peculiarity about the fish, is the comparatively great breadth of the tail where it joins the spine. This formation, together with the generally pellucid appearance of its body, at once distinguish it from any other fish.