Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

sparrow at a birdstuffer's, in which a part of the head and nearly the whole of the breast was pure white; the other parts were of the usual colour. Varieties of the hedgesparrow are, I think, not common, but 1 have observed that it is very subject to a kind of wart or excrescence on the eyelids and feet.

April, 1874.

6th. Remarked some gray wagtails with fine black throats. Lesser blackbacked gulls still very numerous in our harbour, and to-day I observed among them one blackheaded gull which had not yet left for its breeding-station: I have never known any of this species to remain in the neighbourhood during the summer.

8th. A wryneck was killed in the vicinity of Plymouth: this bird is very uncommon in our western counties. Several ring ouzels were also seen on Dartmoor.

10th. Heard and saw both the willow wren and blackcap on the Cornish side of the river Tamar.

14th. Up to this time a dealer in live birds living in Plymouth has had no less than nineteen young ravens brought to him from nests taken chiefly on the Cornish coast.

15th. Chiffchaffs very plentiful and in full song, though the weather was very cold, but saw no willow wrens or blackcaps.

17th. Observed, in Bickleigh Vale, longtailed tits singly, and in pairs, but none in flocks; also many pairs of gray wagtails by the river-side. Missel thrushes were very numerous, and singing in all directions: this species is certainly much on the increase. Common wren particularly plentiful in the woods. Heard no blackcaps to-day. Examined a ring ouzel, which had been brought to the birdstuffer's for preservation; its stomach contained nothing but vegetable fibres.

21st. Again visited Bickleigh Vale, where I found jays very numerous; also green woodpeckers, many of which latter had been excavating fresh holes in the trees. Saw many dippers and kingfishers by the river.

25th. Visited Ivybridge, where I saw the common sandpiper by the river, and found wood larks very numerous. I also observed a jackdaw which had a large spot of pure white on each bastard wing. Noticed a dipper, when flying up the stream, to drop suddenly in the water, going completely under, and allowing the current to carry it many yards down before again making its appearance. This it did on two occasions.

28th. Met with a great number of cuckoos near Launceston, and saw more wood wrens. Observed missel thrushes to-day busily engaged in eating ivy-berries. A gentleman who knows birds pretty well assures me that he saw a splendid pair of adult roseate terns in the Plymouth Sound about a week since, and that they came within gunshot of him: their under parts were very rosy. This species has now become exceedingly rare on our coasts. The lesser blackbacked gulls have not yet left our harbours for their breedingstations.

John Gatcombe.

8, Lower Durnford Street, Stonehouse, Plymouth, April 7, 1874.

Gigantic Squids. By Edward Newman.

In the course of a long paper on the Crystal Palace Aquarium, I ventured for the first time to express a doubt of the value of that hypothesis of Science which denies to Nature the privilege of producing crocodiles, snakes, and squids exceeding in length and bulk those which are stowed away in the vaults of the British Museum; and last year I further risked the publication of a paper by Mr. Pryer giving the exact dimensions of an immense squid he had seen and measured at Yokohama, in Japan, thus endeavouring to remove the embargo from off this branch of scientific research—to throw the trade in observation and discovery open to the world.

Mr. Saville Kent, in a contribution to No. 51 of the 'Popular Science Review,' goes still more thoroughly into the subject, and entirely exonerates the family of squids from that accusation of smallness which had been so lavishly and so unwisely heaped on them by the magnates of science. Beginning with Aristotle, he traces the history of these squids through the pages of Pliny, J21ian, Strabo, Fries, Olaus Magnus, Pontoppidan, Denys de Montfort, Linneus, Pernetty, Molina, Peron, Quoy and Gaimard, Banks and Solander, DeFerussac and d'Orbigny,Steenstrup, Harting, Allmann, Bouyer, Crosse and Fischer. Wisely eliminating the apocryphal, he leaves untouched the reliable; in fact, adduces a mass of evidence which it seems impossible to call in question, and then descends to details and admeasurements of actual objects still accessible, still inviting the examination both of the critical and the sceptical.

The evidence of the capture of one of these monsters is most circumstantially given in the 'Field' newspaper for January 31st, of the present year, and portions of this, as well as the whole of a second specimen are preserved for the satisfaction of future enquirers. The narrative is given thus:—

"On October U6th, while two fishermen from St. John's were plying their vocation at the eastern end of Great Belle Island, Conception Bay, they descried, at a short distance, a dark shapeless mass floating on the water. Concluding it was a bale of goods, possibly a portion of the cargo of some wrecked vessel, the men rowed up to it, anticipating a valuable prize, and one of them struck the object with his boat-hook. In an instant the dark mass became animated, and opening out like a huge umbrella, displayed to view a pair of prominent ghastly green eyes of enormous size, which glared at them with apparent ferocity, its huge parrot-like beak at the same time opening in a savage and threatening manner. The men were so terrified by the terrible apparition that for a moment they were unable to stir, and before they could recover their presence of mind sufficiently to endeavour to make their escape, the monster, now but a few feet from the boat, shot out from and around it several long arms of corpse-like fleshiness, and, grappling for the boat, sought to envelope it in these livid folds. Two of these reached the craft, and, in consequence of its greater length, one went completely over and beyond it. At this moment one of the men, by name Theophilus Picot, fortunately recovered from his fright, and seizing a hatchet that happened to be on board succeeded by a desperate effort in severing both these arms. On finding itself wounded the animal moved off backwards, at the same time darkening the water with its inky emissions, and presently became lost to sight beneath the surface of the waves. The amputated arms, which were left in the boat as trophies of the terrible encounter, were brought to St. John's, and through the energy of Mr. Harvey, the longer one was secured for the museum."—Page 120.

This so-called " arm," or rather that portion of it which has been preserved, measures nineteen feet in length; it is extremely slender, measuring only three inches and a half in circumference, excepting towards the extremity, where it widens into a spathulate or oarshaped disk, covered with suckers to the very extremity, which terminates in a "pretty fine point." All naturalists know that the cephalopods have either eight or ten of these so-called "arms," and that they are denominated octopods or decapods according to the number, but it does not seem to be so generally understood that the divisions of the "foot," as it is called in gasteropod mollusks, are always eight, and that the supplementary pair in certain cephalopods find no homologues whatever in the octopods. These supplementary arms are without doubt those which Theophilus Picot succeeded in amputating.

The fishermen were far too terrified by the encounter to give any reliable estimate of the size of the enemy; they talked of sixty feet in length, but we all know that hasty estimates of the size of a sea serpent or a sea squid cannot be quoted as good Natural History; and therefore we have every reason to congratulate ourselves on a coincidence which has rarely happened in the annals of Science. Scarcely had the first narrative obtained publicity when a second squid, little inferior in size to the first, was taken by three Newfoundland fishermen in a herring-net in Logie Bay, some three miles from St. John's. Its voluminous arms became so completely entangled in the folds of the net that its power of resistance was annihilated. The entire body was taken to St. John's; photographs were made, and means were taken to preserve the body entire. The following dimensions were taken and recorded:— Length of body - - - 8 feet.

Girth of body - - - 5 „

Length of supplementary tentacles - 24 „

Length of the eight shorter arms - 6 „

The publication of this account elicited others, and there is now no reasonable doubt that gigantic squids not only exist but almost abound on the coast of Newfoundland; there is no doubt, moreover, that they constitute the principal food of the Odontocete, those toothed whales which form so important a sejjes of endosteate animals.

Mr. Kent has, I venture to think, done unwisely in giving a new generic and specific name to this creature (Megaloteuihis Harveyi); we already have more genera and more species than we have specimens, and I cannot but anticipate they will all melt away when placed in the crucible of more exact science. Professor Steenstrup had previously named one of the monsters Architeuthis Monachus and another Architeuthis Dux. These are described by Professor Verrill in a most interesting contribution to Silliman's 'American Journal' for January last.

So far 1 had written when I saw the following in the ' Times' of Saturday, July 4th. Whether intended to burlesque and discredit the American narratives above cited, I cannot say, and have no desire to offer an opinion; but I cannot refrain from observing that the coincidence between all these details and the methodical description of the animal seen by the Rev. John Macrae and the Rev. David Twopeny (Zool. S. S. 3517), and again by Lady Florence Levesou Gower and the Hon. Mrs. Coke (S. S. 3804) is too obvious to escape the most superficial reader, and really bids fair to solve the sea-serpent mystery at last.

"Wo had left Colombo iu the steamer ' Stratbowen,' had rounded Galle, aud were well iu the bay, with our course laid for Madras, steaming over a calm aud tranquil sea. About an hour before sunset ou the 10th of May we saw ou our starboard beam, and about two miles off, a small schooner lying becalmed. There was nothing in her appearance or position to excite remark, but as we came up with her I lazily examined her with my binocular, and then noticed between us, but nearer her, a long, low swelling lying on the sea, which from its colour and shape I took to be a bank of sea-weed. As I watched, the mass, hitherto at rest ou the quiet sea, was set in motion. It struck the schooner, which visibly reeled, and then righted. Immediately afterwards the masts swayed sideways, and with my glass I could clearly discern the enormous mass and the hull of the schooner coalescing—I can think of no other term. Judging from their exclamations, the other gazers must have witnessed the same appearance. Almost immediately after the collision and coalescence, the schooner's masts swayed towards us, lower and lower; the vessel was on her beam-ends, lay there a few seconds, and disappeared, the masts righting as she sank, and the main exhibiting a reversed ensign struggling towards its peak. A cry of horror rose from the lookers-on, and, as if by instinct, our ship's head was at ouce turned towards the scene, which was now marked by the forms of those battling for life—the. sole survivors of the pretty little schooner which only twenty minutes before floated bravely on the smooth sea. As soon as the poor fellows were able to tell their story they astounded us with the assertion that their vessel had been submerged by a gigantic cuttle-fish or calamary, the animal which, iu a smaller form, attracts so much attention in the Brighton Aquarium, as the octopus. Each narrator had his version of the story, but in the main all the narratives tallied so remarkably as to leave no doubt of the fact. As soon as he was at leisure, I prevailed on the skipper to give me his written account of the disaster, and I have now much pleasure iu seuding you a copy of his narrative:—

"' I was lately the skipper of the 'Pearl' schooner, 150 tons, as tight a little craft as ever sailed the seas, with a crew of six men. We were bound from the Mauritius for Rangoon in ballast to return with paddy, and had put in at Galle for water. Three days out we fell becalmed in the bay

« AnteriorContinuar »