« PreviousContinue »
them off with so much force, that they fly to the distance of a few yards, and even bend their points against any hard substance they happen to strike. It may have been this circumstance which gave rise to the report of the Porcupine darting its quills against an enemy.
This animal is a native of Africa, India, and the Indian Islands; and is said sometimes to be found even in Italy and Sicily. It inhabits subterraneous retreats, which it forms into several compartments; leaving two holes, one for an entrance, and the other, in case of ne.cessity, to retreat by. It sleeps during the day, and makes its excursions for food (which consists principally of fruits, roots, and vegetables) in the night. Although able to support hunger for a great length of time, and apparently without inconvenience, it always eats with a voracious appetite. In the gardens near the Cape of Good Hope, these creatures do much damage. When they have once made a path through a fence, they always enter by the same path, so long as it continues open; and this gives the inhabitants an opportunity of destroying them. When a breach is discovered, they place a loaded gun in such a manner that the muzzle will be near the animal's breast, when he is devouring a carrot or turnip that is connected by a string with the trigger.
In its manners the Porcupine is harmless and inoffensive. It is never the aggressor, and, when pursued, it climbs the first tree it can reach, where it remains till the patience of its adversary is exhausted. If, however, it be roused to self-defence, even the lion dares not venture to attack it.
In confinement, none of these animals appear to have any particular attachment to their keeper. They will eat bread or roots out of his hand, or suffer him to lead them about by a string fastened to their collar. One that was exhibited in the Tower of London some years ago, would even allow its keeper to take it up under his arm: but to do this without wounding himself with its
spines, required considerable dexterity, since it was first necessary to close these to the animal's body, by sweeping his arm along the direction in which they grew.
Porcupines usually sleep in the day-time, and be come awake and active towards evening. Their teeth are peculiarly sharp and strong; and they gnaw the wood-work of their dens so much, that if there was not much iron about the sides and corners, they would soon escape.
M. Bosman, when on the coast of Guinea, put a Porcupine into a strong tub, in order to secure him but, in the course of one night, he ate his way through the staves, even in a place where they were considerably bent outward, and escaped.
The late Sir Ashton Lever had a live Porcupine, which he frequently turned out on the grass behind his house, to play with a tame hunting leopard and a large Newfoundland dog. As soon as they were let loose, the leopard and dog began to pursue the Porcupine, which always at first endeavoured to escape by flight; but, on finding that ineffectual, he would thrust his head into some corner, making a snorting noise, and erecting his spines. With these his pursuers pricked their noses, till they quarrelled between themselves, and thus gave him an opportunity to escape.
The period of gestation in the female is about seven months, at the end of which time she produces one or two young-ones at a birth, which she suckles about a month. These she defends with the utmost resolution against all assailants, and she will rather be killed than suffer herself to be deprived of them.
In the stomach of the Porcupine, bezoar stones are frequently found. These are composed of hair, which has concreted with the juices of the stomach: they have one layer over another, so that they consist of several rings of different colours. Professor Thunberg says, he has seen them as large as a hen's egg.
The quills of the Porcupine are used by the Indians to adorn many curious articles of dress and furniture; the neatness and elegance of which would not disgrace more enlightened artists. These people dye them of various beautiful colours, cut them into slips, and em. broider with them their baskets, belts, &c. in a great variety of ornamental figures. The flesh is frequently eaten by the inhabitants of the Cape of Good Hope.
OF THE CAVY TRIBE*. These animals seem to hold a middle place between the murine quadrupeds and the hares. Nearly all the species, which are seven in number, have a slow, and some of them a leaping pace. Their habitations are burrows, which they form beneath the roots of trees, or in the ground. They live entirely on vegetable food, and are all natives of America: two or three of the species, however, are found also on the Old Continent.
THE GUINEA-PIG, OR RESTLESS cavy t. There are few foreign quadrupeds more generally known than this. It is a native of Brasil and of some other parts of South America, but is supposed to have originally been imported from Guinea into England. In a state of domestication it feeds on bread or grain, fruit and vegetables; but it has a decided preference for parsley. This little creature is easily rendered tame, and is very cleanly and harmless. In its disposition it is timid; and it appears totally void of attachment, not only to its benefactors, but even towards its own offspring: these it will suffer to be taken away, and even devoured, without discovering the least concern, or attempting any resistance.
* The Cavies have, in each jaw, two wedge-shaped front teeth, and eight grinders. They have likewise four or five toes on the fore feet, and from three to five on the hinder feet. The tail is either very short, or altogether wanting; and they have no collar-bones.
+ SYNONYMS. Cavia Cobaya. Linnæus. Gmel. Mus porcellus. Linn. Syst. Nat. ed. xii.-Cochon d'Inde. Buffon.Shaw's Gen. Zool. Pl. 126.-Bew. Quad. 377.
When kept in a room, it seldom crosses the floor, but generally creeps round by the wall. Its motions are, in a great measure, similar to those of the rabbet: it strokes its head with its fore feet, and sits on its hind legs, like that animal. The male usually compels the female to go before him, and follows exactly in her footsteps. These animals are fond of dark and intricate retreats, and seldom venture out if danger be near. When about to quit their hiding-places, they spring forward to the entrance, stop to listen, and look round; and if the road be clear, they sally forth in search of food; but on the least alarm they run instantly back again.
In their habits they are so exceedingly clean, that if their young-ones happen to be dirtied, the female takes such a dislike to them, as never again to suffer them to approach her. Guinea-pigs may frequently be observed in the act of smoothing and dressing their fur, somewhat in the manner of a cat. The principal employment of the male and female seems to consist in smoothing each other's hair ; after this office has been mutually performed, they turn their attention to their young-ones, whose hair they take particular care to keep unruffled and even; and they bite them whenever they are in the least refractory.
They repose flat on their belly; and, like the dog, turn several times round before they lie down. They sleep with their
open, and are very watchful. It is observed that the male and female seldom sleep at the same time, but seem alternately to watch each other. They are exceedingly delicate, and impatient of cold or moisture. Their usual voice is a kind of grunting, like that of a young pig; but their notes of pain are shrill and piercing.
Their manner of fighting is singular. One of them seizes the neck of its antagonist with its teeth, and attempts to tear the hair from it. In the mean time, the other turns his posteriors to his enemy, kicks up behind like a horse, and, by way of retaliation, scratches the
sides of his opponent with his hinder claws, in such a manner that both are frequently covered with blood. The female goes
about five weeks, and breeds nearly every two months. Though furnished with only two teats, she usually produces three or four, and sometimes so many as twelve young-ones, at a birth. And as these have been known to breed when only two months old, the produce of a single pair may amount to upwards of a thousand in the year.
OF THE BEAVER TRIBE*. Belonging to the present tribe, there are but two species that have hitherto been discovered, the Common and the Chili Beavers; and even of these, it seems doubtful whether the latter ought not to be arranged with the Otters.
THE COMMON BEAVERT.
There is reason to suppose that this animal was once an inhabitant of great Britain; for Giraldus Cambrensis says, that Beavers frequented the river Tievi in Cardiganshire, and that they had, from the Welsh, a name signifying " the Broad-tailed animals." Their skins
* The Beavers have the front teeth in their upper jaw trunc ed, and excavated with a transverse angle; and those of the lower jaw are transverse at the tips. There are four grinders on each side. The tail is long, depressed, and scaly; and there are collar-bones in the skeleton.
+ DESCRIPTION. The general length of the Beaver is about three feet. The tail is oval, nearly a foot long, and compressed horizontally, but rising into a convexity on its upper surface: it is destitute of hair, except at the base, and is marked into scaly divisions, like the skin of a fish. The hair of the Beaver is fine, smooth, glossy, and of a chesnut colour, vary. ing sometimes to black; and instances have occurred in which these animals have been found white, cream-coloured, or spotted. The ears are short, and almost hidden in the fur.
SYNONYMS. Castor Fiber. Linnæus.-Castor. Buffon.Shaw's Gen. Zool. Pl. 128.-Bew. Quad. 417.