SKETCHES OF THE NATURAL HISTORY OF CEYLON
NARRATIVES AND ANECDOTES Illustrative of the Habits and Instincts of the MAMMALIA, BIRDS, REPTILES, FISHES, INSECTS, &c.
INCLUDING A MONOGRAPH OF
THE ELEPHANT AND A DESCRIPTION OF THE MODES OF CAPTURING AND TRAINING IT WITH ENGRAVINGS FROM ORIGINAL DRAWINGS
SIR J. EMERSON TENNENT, K.C.S. LL.D. &c.
* * * * *
A considerable portion of the contents of the present volume formed the zoological section of a much more comprehensive work recently published, on the history and present condition of Ceylon. But its inclusion there was a matter of difficulty; for to have altogether omitted the chapters on Natural History would have impaired the completeness of the plan on which I had attempted to describe the island; whilst to insert them as they here appear, without curtailment, would have encroached unduly on the space required for other essential topics. In this dilemma, I was obliged to adopt the alternative of so condensing the matter as to bring the whole within the prescribed proportions.
But this operation necessarily diminished the general interest of the subjects treated, as well by the omission of incidents which would otherwise have been retained, as by the exclusion of anecdotes calculated to illustrate the habits and instincts of the animals described.
[Footnote 1: Ceylon: An Account of the Island, Physical, Historical, and Typographical; with Notices of its Natural History, Antiquities, and Productions. By Sir JAMES EMERSON TENNENT, K.C.S., LL.D., &c. Illustrated by Maps. Plans, and Drawings. 2 vols. 8vo. Longman and Co., 1859.]
A suggestion to re-publish these sections in an independent form has afforded an opportunity for repairing some of these defects by revising the entire, restoring omitted passages, and introducing fresh materials collected in Ceylon; the additional matter occupying a very large portion of the present volume.
I have been enabled, at the same time, to avail myself of the corrections and communications of scientific friends; and thus to compensate, in some degree for what is still incomplete, by increased accuracy in minute particulars.
In the Introduction to the First Edition of the original work I alluded, in the following terms, to that portion of it which is now reproduced in an extended form:—
"Regarding the fauna of Ceylon, little has been published in any collective form, with the exception of a volume by Dr. KELAART entitled Prodromus Faunae Zeilanicae; several valuable papers by Mr. EDGAR L. LAYARD in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History for 1852 and 1853; and some very imperfect lists appended to PRIDHAM'S compiled account of the island. KNOX, in the charming narrative of his captivity, published in the feign of Charles II., has devoted a chapter to the animals of Ceylon, and Dr. DAVY has described some of the reptiles: but with these exceptions the subject is almost untouched in works relating to the colony. Yet a more than ordinary interest attaches to the inquiry, since Ceylon, instead of presenting, as is generally assumed, an identity between its fauna and that of Southern India, exhibits a remarkable diversity, taken in connection with the limited area over which the animals included in it are distributed. The island, in fact, may be regarded as the centre of a geographical circle, possessing within itself forms, whose allied species radiate far into the temperate regions of the north, as well as in to Africa, Australia, and the isles of the Eastern Archipelago.
[Footnote 1: An Historical, Political, and Statistical Account of Ceylon and its Dependencies, by C. PRIDHAM, Esq. 2 vols. 8vo., London, 1849.]
"In the chapters that I have devoted to its elucidation, I have endeavoured to interest others in the subject, by describing my own observations and impressions, with fidelity, and with as much accuracy as may be expected from a person possessing, as I do, no greater knowledge of zoology and the other physical sciences than is ordinarily possessed by any educated gentleman. It was my good fortune, however, in my journeys to have the companionship of friends familiar with many branches of natural science: the late Dr. GARDNER, Mr. EDGAR L. LAYARD, an accomplished zoologist, Dr. TEMPLETON, and others; and I was thus enabled to collect on the spot many interesting facts relative to the structure and habits of the numerous tribes. These, chastened by the corrections of my fellow-travellers, and established by the examination of collections made in the colony, and by subsequent comparison with specimens contained in museums at home, I have ventured to submit as faithful outlines of the fauna of Ceylon.
"The sections descriptive of the several classes are accompanied by lists, prepared with the assistance of scientific friends, showing the extent to which each particular branch had been investigated by naturalists, up to the period of my departure from Ceylon at the close of 1849. These, besides their inherent interest, will, I trust, stimulate others to engage in the same pursuit, by exhibiting chasms, which it remains for future industry and research to fill up;—and the study of the zoology of Ceylon may thus serve as a preparative for that of Continental India, embracing, as the former does, much that is common to both, as well as possessing a fauna peculiar to the island, that in itself will amply repay more extended scrutiny.
"From these lists have been excluded all species regarding the authenticity of which reasonable doubts could be entertained, and of some of them, a very few have been printed in italics, in order to denote the desirability of more minute comparison with well-determined specimens in the great national depositories before finally incorporating them with the Singhalese catalogues.
[Footnote 1: An exception occurs in the list of shells, prepared by Mr. SYLVANUS HANLEY, in which some whose localities are doubtful have been admitted for reasons adduced. (See p. 387.)]
"In the labour of collecting and verifying the facts embodied in these sections, I cannot too warmly express my thanks for the aid I have received from gentlemen interested in similar studies in Ceylon: from Dr. KELAART and Mr. EDGAR L. LAYARD, as well as from officers of the Ceylon Civil Service; the Hon. GERALD C. TALBOT, Mr. C.R. BULLER, Mr. MERCER, Mr. MORRIS, Mr. WHITING, Major SKINNER, and Mr. MITFORD.
[Footnote 1: It is with deep regret that I have to record the death of this accomplished gentleman, which occurred in 1860.]
"Before venturing to commit these chapters of my work to the press, I have had the advantage of having portions of them read by Professor HUXLEY, Mr. MOORE, of the East India House Museum; Mr. R. PATTERSON, F.R.S., author of the Introduction to Zoology; and by Mr. ADAM WHITE, of the British Museum; to each of whom I am exceedingly indebted for the care they have bestowed. In an especial degree I have to acknowledge the kindness of Dr. J.E. GRAY, F.R.S., for valuable additions and corrections in the list of the Ceylon Reptilia; and to Professor FARADAY for some notes on the nature and qualities of the "Serpent Stone," submitted to him.
[Footnote 2: See p. 312.]
"The extent to which my observations on the Elephant have been carried, requires some explanation. The existing notices of this noble creature are chiefly devoted to its habits and capabilities in captivity; and very few works, with which I am acquainted, contain illustrations of its instincts and functions when wild in its native woods. Opportunities for observing the latter, and for collecting facts in connection with them, are abundant in Ceylon; and from the moment of my arrival, I profited by every occasion afforded to me for observing the elephant in a state of nature, and obtaining from hunters and natives correct information as to its oeconomy and disposition. Anecdotes in connection with this subject, I received from some of the most experienced residents in the island; amongst others, from Major SKINNER, Captain PHILIP PAYNE GALLWEY, Mr. FAIRHOLME, Mr. CRIPPS, and Mr. MORRIS. Nor can I omit to express my acknowledgments to Professor OWEN, of the British Museum, to whom this portion of my manuscript was submitted previous to its committal to the press."
To the foregoing observations I have little to add beyond my acknowledgment to Dr. ALBERT GUeNTHER, of the British Museum, for the communication of important facts in illustration of the ichthyology of Ceylon, as well as of the reptiles of the island.
Mr. BLYTH, of the Calcutta Museum, has carefully revised the Catalogue of Birds, and supplied me with much useful information in regard to their geographical distribution. To his experienced scrutiny is due the perfected state in which the list is now presented. It will be seen, however, from the italicised names still retained, that inquiry is far from being exhausted.
Mr. THWAITES, the able Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Peradenia, near Kandy, has forwarded to me many valuable observations, not only in connection with the botany, but the zoology of the mountain region. The latter I have here embodied in their appropriate places, and those relating to plants and vegetation will appear in a future edition of my large work.
To M. NIETNER, of Colombo, I am likewise indebted for many particulars regarding Singhalese Entomology, a department to which his attention has been given, with equal earnestness and success.
Through the Hon. RICHARD MORGAN, acting Senior Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court at Colombo, I have received from his Interpreter, M.D. DE SILVA GOONERATNE MODLIAR, a Singhalese gentleman of learning and observation, many important notes, of which I have largely availed myself, in relation to the wild animals, and the folk-lore and superstitions of the natives in connection with them.
Of the latter I have inserted numerous examples; in the conviction that, notwithstanding their obvious errors in many instances, these popular legends and traditions occasionally embody traces of actual observation, and may contain hints and materials deserving of minuter inquiry.
I wish distinctly to disclaim offering the present volume as a compendium of the Natural History of Ceylon. I present it merely as a "memoire pour servir," materials to assist some future inquirer in the formation of a more detailed and systematic account of the fauna of the island. My design has been to point out to others the extreme richness and variety of the field, the facility of exploring it, and the charms and attractions of the undertaking. I am eager to show how much remains to do by exhibiting the little that has as yet been done.
The departments of Mammalia and Birds are the only two which can be said to have as yet undergone tolerably close investigation; although even in these it is probable that large additions still remain to be made to the ascertained species. But, independently of forms and specific characteristics, the more interesting inquiry into habits and instincts is still open for observation and remark; and for the investigation of these no country can possibly afford more inviting opportunities than Ceylon.
Concerning the Reptilia a considerable amount of information has been amassed. The Batrachians and smaller Lizards have, I apprehend, been imperfectly investigated; but the Tortoises are well known, and the Serpents, from the fearful interest attaching to the race, and stimulating their destruction, have been so vigilantly pursued, that there is reason to believe that few, if any, varieties exist which have not been carefully examined. In a very large collection, made by Mr. CHARLES REGINALD BULLER during many years' residence in Kandy, and recently submitted by him to Dr. Guenther, only one single specimen proved to be new or previously unknown to belong to the island.
Of the Ichthyology of Ceylon I am obliged to speak ill very different terms; for although the materials are abundant almost to profusion, little has yet been done to bring them under thoroughly scientific scrutiny. In the following pages I have alluded to the large collection of examples of Fishes sent home by officers of the Medical Staff, and which still remain unopened, in the Fort Pitt Museum at Chatham; but I am not without hope that these may shortly undergo comparison with the drawings which exist of each, and that this branch of the island fauna may at last attract the attention to which its richness so eminently entitles it.
In the department of Entomology much has already been achieved; but an extended area still invites future explorers; and one which the Notes of Mr. Walker prefixed to the List of Insects in this volume, show to be of extraordinary interest, from the unexpected convergence in Ceylon of characteristics heretofore supposed to have been kept distinct by the broad lines of geographical distribution.
Relative to the inferior classes of Invertebrata very little has as yet been ascertained. The Mollusca, especially the lacustrine and fluviatile, have been most imperfectly investigated; and of the land-shells, a large proportion have yet to be submitted to scientific examination.
The same may be said of the Arachnida and Crustacea. The jungle is frequented by spiders, phalangia, and acarids, of which nothing is known with certainty; and the sea-shore and sands have been equally overlooked, so far as concerns the infinite variety of lobsters, crayfish, crabs, and all their minor congeners. The polypi, echini, asterias, and other radiata of the coast, as well as the acalephae of the deeper waters, have shared the same neglect: and literally nothing has been done to collect and classify the infusoriae and minuter zoophytes, the labours of Dr. Kelaart amongst the Diatomaceae being the solitary exception.
[Footnote 1: Commonly called "harvest-men."]
Nothing is so likely to act as a stimulant to future research as an accurate conception of what has already been achieved. With equal terseness and truth Dr. Johnson has observed that the traveller who would bring back knowledge from any country must carry knowledge with him at setting out: and I am not without hope that the demonstration I now venture to offer, of the little that has already been done for zoology in Ceylon, may serve to inspire others with a desire to resume and complete the inquiry.
J. EMERSON TENNENT
London: November 1st, 1861.
* * * * *
Neglect of zoology in Ceylon
Labours of Dr. Davy
Followed by Dr. Templeton and others
Dr. Kelaart and Mr. E.L. Layard
Monkeys The Rilawa, Macacus pileatus Wanderoos Knox's account of them Error regarding the Silenus Veter (note) Presbytes Cephalopterus Fond of eating flowers A white monkey Method of the flight of monkeys P. Ursinus in the Hills P. Thersites in the Wanny P. Priamus, Jaffna and Trincomalie No dead monkey ever found
Bats Flying Fox, Pteropus Edwardsii Their numbers at Peradenia Singularity of their attitudes Food and mode of eating Horse-shoe bat, Rhinolophus Faculty of smell in bat A tiny bat, Scotophilus foromandelicus Extraordinary parasite of the bat, the Nycteribia
Carnivora.—Bears Their ferocity
Singhalese belief in the efficacy of charms (note)
Leopards Erroneously confounded with the Indian cheetah Curious belief Anecdotes of leopards Their attraction by the smallpox Native superstition Encounter with a leopard Monkeys killed by leopards Alleged peculiarity of the claws
Dogs Cruel mode of destroying dogs Their republican instincts
Jackal Cunning, anecdotes of The horn of the jackal
Mungoos Its fights with serpents Theory of its antidote
Squirrels Flying squirrel
Tree-rat Story of a rat and a snake
Pengolin Its habits and gentleness Its skeleton
Ruminantia.—The Gaur Oxen Humped cattle Encounter of a cow and a leopard Draft oxen Their treatment A Tavalam Attempt to introduce the camel (note) Buffaloes Sporting buffaloes Peculiar structure of the foot
Elephants Recent discovery of a new species Geological speculations as to the island of Ceylon Ancient tradition Opinion of Professor Ansted Peculiarities in Ceylon mammalia The same in Ceylon birds and insects Temminck's discovery of a new species of elephant in Sumatra Points of distinction between it and the elephant of India Professor Schlegel's description
Cetacea Whales The Dugong Origin of the fable of the mermaid Credulity of the Portuguese Belief of the Dutch
Testimony of Valentyn
List of Ceylon mammalia
* * * * *
Vast numbers in Ceylon
Derivation of the word "elephant" (note)
Antiquity of the trade in elephants
Numbers now diminishing
Mischief done by them to crops
Ivory scarce in Ceylon
Conjectures as to the absence of tusks
Elephant a harmless animal
Alleged antipathies to other animals
Fights with each other
The foot its chief weapon
Use of the tusks in a wild state doubtful
Anecdote of sagacity in an elephant at Kandy
Difference between African and Indian species
Native ideas of perfection in an elephant
Blotches on the skin
White elephants not unknown in Ceylon
* * * * *
Water, but not heat, essential to elephants
Cries of the elephant
Facility of stealthy motion
Ancient delusion as to the joints of the leg
Its exposure by Sir Thos. Browne
Its perpetuation by poets and others
Position of the elephant in sleep
An elephant killed on its feet
Mode of lying down
Its gait a shuffle
Power of climbing mountains
Facilitated by the joint of the knee
Mode of descending declivities
A "herd" is a family
Attachment to their young
Suckled indifferently by the females
A "rogue" elephant
Their cunning and vice
Injuries done by them
The leader of a herd a tusker
Bathing and nocturnal gambols, description of a scene by Major Skinner
Method of swimming
Internal anatomy imperfectly known
Faculty of storing water
Peculiarity of the stomach
The food of the elephant
Sagacity in search of it
Unexplained dread of fences
Its spirit of inquisitiveness
Anecdotes illustrative of its curiosity
Estimate of sagacity
Singular conduct of a herd during thunder
An elephant feigning death
Appendix.—Narratives of natives, as to encounters with rogue elephants
* * * * *
Vast numbers shot in Ceylon
Revolting details of elephant killing in Africa
Fatal spots at which to aim
Structure of the bones of the head
Wounds which are certain to kill
Attitudes when surprised
Peculiar movements when reposing
Habits when attacked
Sagacity of native trackers
Courage and agility of the elephants in escape
Worthlessness of the carcass
Singular recovery from a wound
* * * * *
An Elephant Corral.
Early method of catching elephants
Capture in pit-falls
By means of decoys
Panickeas—their courage and address
Their sagacity in following the elephant
Mode of capture by the noose
Mode of taming
Method of leading the elephants to the coast
Process of embarking them at Manaar
Method of capturing a whole herd
The "keddah" in Bengal described
Process of enclosing a herd
Process of capture in Ceylon
An elephant corral and its construction
An elephant hunt in Ceylon, 1847
The town and district of Kornegalle
The rock of AEtagalla
Forced labour of the corral in former times
Now given voluntarily
Form of the enclosure
Method of securing a wild herd
Scene when driving them into the corral
An elephant drove by night
Singular scene in the corral
Excitement of the tame elephants
* * * * *
A night scene
Morning in the corral
Preparations for securing the captives
The "cooroowe," or noosers
The tame decoys
First captive tied up
Singular conduct of the wild elephants
Furious attempts of the herd to escape
Courageous conduct of the natives
Variety of disposition exhibited by the herd
Extraordinary contortions of the captives
Water withdrawn from the stomach
Instinct of the decoys
Conduct of the noosers
The young ones and their actions
Noosing a "rogue." and his death
Instinct of flies in search of carrion (note)
A second herd captured
Their treatment of a solitary elephant
A magnificent female elephant
Her extraordinary attitudes
Taking the captives out of the corral
Their subsequent treatment and training
Grandeur of the scene
Story of young pet elephant
* * * * *
Conduct in Captivity.
Alleged superiority of the Indian to the African elephant—not true
Ditto of Ceylon elephant to Indian
Process of training in Ceylon
Allowed to bathe
Difference of disposition
Sudden death of "broken heart"
First employment treading clay
Drawing a waggon
Sagacity in labour
Mode of raising stones
Strength in throwing down trees exaggerated
Not uniform in habits of work
Lazy if not watched
Obedience to keeper from affection, not fear
Change of keeper—story of child
Ear for sounds and music
Endurance of pain
Working elephants, delicate
Deaths in government stud
Subject to tooth-ache
Question of the value of labour of an elephant
Food in captivity, and cost
Breed in captivity
Theory of M. Fleurens
No dead elephants found
Passage from AElian
Hornbills, the "bird with two heads"
Sea birds, their number
I. Accipitres.—Eagles Falcons and hawks Owls—the devil bird
II. Passeres.—Swallows Kingfishers—sunbirds The cotton-thief Bul-bul—tailor bird—and weaver The mountain jay Crows, anecdotes of
VI. Grallae.—Ibis, stork, &c.
VII. Anseres.—Flamingoes Pelicans Strange scene Game—Partridges, &c.
List of Ceylon birds
List of birds peculiar to Ceylon
Lizards.—Iguana Kabara-goya, barbarous custom in preparing the kabara-tel poison Blood-suckers The green calotes The lyre-headed lizard Chameleon Ceratophora Geckoes,—their power of reproducing limbs
Crocodiles Their sensitiveness to tickling Anecdotes of crocodiles Their power of burying themselves in the mud
Tortoises.—Curious parasite Terrapins Edible turtle Cruel mode of cutting it up alive Huge Indian tortoises (note) Hawk's-bill turtle, barbarous mode of stripping it of the tortoise-shell
Serpents.—Venomous species rare Tic polonga and carawala Cobra de capello Tame snakes (note) Anecdotes of the cobra de capello Legends concerning it Instance of land snakes found at sea Singular tradition regarding the robra de capello Uropeltidae.—New species discovered in Ceylon Buddhist veneration for the cobra de capello The Python Tree snakes Water snakes Sea snakes Snake stones Analysis of one Caecilia Frogs Tree frogs
List of Ceylon reptiles
Ichthyology of Ceylon, little known
Fish for table, seir fish
Fish of brilliant colours
Curious fish described by AElian
Beautifully coloured fishes
Fresh-water fish, little known,—not much eaten
Fresh-water fish in Colombo Lake
Immense profusion of fish in the rivers and lakes
Their re-appearance after rain
Mode of fishing in the ponds
Showers of fish
Conjecture that the ova are preserved, not tenable
Fish moving on dry land Ancient authorities, Greek and Roman Aristotle and Theophrastus Athenaeus and Polybius Livy, Pompomus, Mela, and Juvenal Seneca and Pliny Georgius Agricola, Gesner, &c. Instances in Guiana (note) Perca Scandens, ascends trees Doubts as to the story of Daldorf
Fishes burying themselves daring the dry season The protopterus of the Gambia Instances in the fish of the Nile Instances in the fish of South America Living fish dug out of the ground in the dry tanks in Ceylon Molluscs that bury themselves The animals that so bury themselves in India Analogous case of Theory of aestivation and hybernation
Fish in hot water in Ceylon
List of Ceylon fishes
Instances of fishes falling from the clouds
Note on Ceylon fishes by Professor Huxley
Comparative note by Dr. Gray, Brit. Mus.
Note on the Bora-chung
MOLLUSCA, RADIATA, AND ACALEPHAE.
I. Conchology.—General character of Ceylon shells Confusion regarding them in scientific works and collections Ancient export of shells from Ceylon Special forms confined to particular localities The pearl fishery of Aripo Frequent suspensions of Experiment to create beds of the pearl oyster Process of diving for pearls Danger from sharks The transparent pearl oyster (Placuna placenta) The "musical fish" at Ballicaloa A similar phenomenon at other places Faculty of uttering sounds in fishes Instance in the Tritonia arborescens Difficulty in forming a list of Ceylon shells List of Ceylon shells
II. Radiata.—Star fish Sea slugs Parasitic worms Planaria
III. Acalephae, abundant The Portuguese man-of-war Red infusoria Note on the Tritonia arborescens
Profusion of insects in Ceylon Imperfect knowledge of
I. Coleoptera.—Beetles Scavenger beetles Coco-nut beetles Tortoise beetles
II. Orthoptera.—Mantis and leaf-insects Stick-insects
III. Neuroptera.—Dragon flies Ant-lion White ants Anecdotes of their instinct and ravages
IV. Hymenoptera.—Mason wasps Wasps Bees Carpenter Bee Ants Burrowing ants
V. Lepidoptera.—Butterflies The spectre Lycaenidae Moths Silk worms Stinging caterpillars Wood-carrying moths Pterophorus
VI. Homoptera Cicada
VII. Hemiptera Bugs
IX. Diptera.—Mosquitoes Mosquitoes the "plague of flies" The coffee bug
General character of Ceylon insects
List of insects in Ceylon
ARACHNIDAE, MYRIOPODA, CRUSTACAE, ETC.
Spiders Strange nets of the wood spiders The mygale Birds killed by it Olios Taprobanius The galeodes Gregarious spiders Ticks Mites.—Trombidium tinctorum
Myriapods.—Centipedes Cermatia Scolopendra crassa S. pollippes The fish insect
Crustacae Calling crabs Sand crabs Painted crabs Paddling crabs
Annelidae, Leeches.—The land leech Medicinal leech Cattle leech
List of Articulata, &c.
Note.—On the revivification of the Rotifera and Paste-eels
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
View of an Elephant Corral Frontispiece
Group of Ceylon Monkeys to face 5
The Loris (Loris gracilis) 12
Group of Flying Foxes (Pteropus Edwardsii) to face 14
Head of the Horse-shoe Bat (Rhynulophus) 19
Indian Bear (Prochylus labiatus) 23
Ceylon Leopard and Indian Cheetah 26
Jackal's Skull and "Horn" 36
Mongoos of Neura-ellia (Herpestes vitticollis) 38
Flying Squirrel (Pteromys oral) 41
Coffee Rat (Golunda Elliotti) 44
Bandicoot Rat (Mus bandicota) 45
Pengolin (Manis pentadactylus) 47
Skeleton of the Pengolin 48
Moose-deer (Moschus meminna) 55
The Dugong (Halicore dugung) 69
The Mermaid, from Valentyn 72
Brain of the Elephant 95
Bones of the Fore-leg 108
Elephant descending a Hill 111
Elephant's Well 122
Elephant's Stomach, showing the Water-cells 125
Elephant's Trachea 126
Water-cells in the Stomach of the Camel 128
Section of the Elephant's Skull 145
Fence and Ground-plan of a Corral 172
Mode of tying an Elephant 184
His Struggles for Freedom 185
Impotent Fury 188
Obstinate Resistance 189
Attitude for Defence 203
Singular Contortions of an Elephant 204
Figures of the African and Indian Elephants on Greek and Roman Coins 208
Medal of Numidia 212
Modern "Hendoo" ib.
The Horn-bill (Buceros pica) 243
The "Devil-bird" (Syrnium Indranec) 247
The "Cotton-thief" (Tchitrea paradisi) 250
Layard Mountain Jay (Cissa puella) 252
The "Double-spur" (Gallo-perdix bicalcaratus) 260
The Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) 261
The Kabara-goya Lizard (Hydrosaurus salvator) 273
The Green Calotes (Calotes ophiomachus) 276
Tongue of the Chameleon 278
Ceratophora to face 280
Skulls of the Crocodile and Alligator 283
Terrapin (Emys trijuga) 290
Shield-tailed Serpent (Uropeltis grandis) 302
Tree Snake (Passerita fusca) to face 307
Sea Snake (Hydrophis subloevisis) to face 311
Saw of the Saw-fish (Pristis antiquorum) to face 326
Ray (Aetobates narinari) 327
Sword-fish (Histiophorus immaculatus) 330
Pterois volitans 334
Scarus harid 335
Perch (Therapon quadrilineatus) 337
Eel (Mastacembelus armatus) 338
Mode of Fishing, after Rain 340
Plan of a Fish Decoy 342
The Anabas of the dry Tanks 354
The Violet Ianthina and its Shell 370
Bullia vittata ib.
Pearl Oysters, in various Stages of Growth to face 380
Pearl Oyster, full grown to face 381
Cerithium palustre ib.
The Portuguese Man-of-war (Physalus urticulus) 399
Longicorn Beetle (Batocera rubus) 406
Leaf Insects, &c 409
Eggs of the Leaf Insect (Phyllium siccifolium) 410
The Carpenter Bee (Xylocapa tenniscapa) 419
Wood-carrying Moths 431
The "Knife, grinder" (Cicada) 432
Flata (Elidiptera Emersoniana and Poeciloptera Tennentii) 433
The "Coffee-bug" (Lecanium caffeae) to face 436
Spider (Mygate fasciata) to face 465
The Calling Crab (Gelusimus) 477
Eyes and Teeth of the Leech 480
Land Leeches preparing to attack 481
Medicinal Leech of Ceylon 483
With the exception of the Mammalia and Birds, the fauna of Ceylon has, up to the present, failed to receive that systematic attention to which its richness and variety most amply entitle it. The Singhalese themselves, habitually indolent, and singularly unobservant of nature and her operations, are at the same time restrained from the study of natural history by the tenet of their religion which forbids the taking of life under any circumstances. From the nature of their avocations, the majority of the European residents, engaged in planting and commerce, are discouraged by want of leisure from cultivating the taste; and it is to be regretted that, with few exceptions, the civil servants of the government, whose position and duties would have afforded them influence and extended opportunities for successful investigation, have never seen the importance of encouraging such studies.
The first effective impulse to the cultivation of natural science in Ceylon, was communicated by Dr. Davy when connected with the medical staff of the army from 1816 to 1820, and his example stimulated some of the assistant-surgeons of Her Majesty's forces to make collections in illustration of the productions of the colony. Of these the late Dr. Kinnis was one of the most energetic and successful. He was seconded by Dr. Templeton of the Royal Artillery, who engaged assiduously in the investigation of various orders, and commenced an interchange of specimens with Mr. Blyth, the distinguished naturalist and curator of the Calcutta Museum. The birds and rarer vertebrata of the island were thus compared with their peninsular congeners, and a tolerable knowledge of those belonging to the island, so far as regards the higher classes of animals, has been the result. The example so set was perseveringly followed by Mr. E.L. Layard and the late Dr. Kelaart, and infinite credit is due to Mr. Blyth for the zealous and untiring energy with which he has devoted his attention and leisure to the identification of the specimens forwarded from Ceylon, and to their description in the Calcutta Journal. To him, and to the gentlemen I have named, we are mainly indebted for whatever accurate knowledge we now possess of the zoology of the colony.
[Footnote 1: Dr. DAVY, brother to the illustrious Sir Humphry Davy, published, in 1821, his Account of the Interior of Ceylon and its Inhabitants, which contains the earliest notice of the Natural History of the island, and especially of its ophidian reptiles.]
[Footnote 2: Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bengal, vol. xv. p. 280, 314.]
The mammalia, birds, and reptiles received their first scientific description in an able work published in 1852 by Dr. Kelaart of the army medical staff, which is by far the most valuable that has yet appeared on the Singhalese fauna. Co-operating with him, Mr. Layard has supplied a fund of information especially in ornithology and conchology. The zoophytes and Crustacea have I believe been partially investigated by Professor Harvey, who visited Ceylon in 1852, and more recently by Professor Schmarda, of the University of Prague. From the united labours of these gentlemen and others interested in the same pursuits, we may hope at an early day to obtain such a knowledge of the zoology of Ceylon as will to some extent compensate for the long indifference of the government officers.
[Footnote 1: Prodromus Faunae Zeylanicae; being Contributions to the Zoology of Ceylon, by F. KELAART, Esq., M.D., F.L.S., &c. &c. 2 vols. Colombo and London, 1852.]
I. QUADRUMANA. 1. Monkeys.—To a stranger in the tropics, among the most attractive creatures in the forests are the troops of monkeys that career in ceaseless chase among the loftiest trees. In Ceylon there are five species, four of which belong to one group, the Wanderoos, and the other is the little graceful grimacing rilawa, which is the universal pet and favourite of both natives and Europeans. The Tamil conjurors teach it to dance, and in their wanderings carry it from village to village, clad in a grotesque dress, to exhibit its lively performances. It does not object to smoke tobacco. The Wanderoo is too grave and melancholy to be trained to these drolleries.
[Footnote 1: Macacus pileatus, Shaw and Desmarest. The "bonneted Macaque" is common in the south and west; it is replaced on the neighbouring coast of the Peninsula of India by the Toque, M. radiatus, which closely resembles it in size, habit, and form, and in the peculiar appearance occasioned by the hairs radiating from the crown of the head. A spectacled monkey is said to inhabit the low country near to Bintenne; but I have never seen one brought thence. A paper by Dr. TEMPLETON, in the Mag. Nat. Hist. n. s. xiv. p. 361, contains some interesting facts relative to the Rilawa of Ceylon.]
KNOX, in his captivating account of the island, gives an accurate description of both; the Rilawas, with "no beards, white faces, and long hair on the top of their heads, which parteth and hangeth down like a man's, and which do a deal of mischief to the corn, and are so impudent that they will come into their gardens and eat such fruit as grows there. And the Wanderoos, some as large as our English spaniel dogs, of a darkish grey colour, and black faces with great white beards round from ear to ear, which makes them show just like old men. This sort does but little mischief, keeping in the woods, eating only leaves and buds of trees, but when they are catched they will eat anything."
[Footnote 1: KNOX, Historical Relation of Ceylon, an Island in the East Indies.—P. i. ch. vi. p. 25. Fol. Lond. 1681. See an account of his captivity in SIR J. EMERSON TENNENT'S Ceylon, etc., Vol. II. p. 66 n.]
KNOX, whose experience during his long captivity was confined almost exclusively to the hill country around Kandy, spoke in all probability of one large and comparatively powerful species, Presbytes ursinus, which inhabits the lofty forests, and which, as well as another of the same group, P. Thersites, was, till recently, unknown to European naturalists. The Singhalese word Ouandura has a generic sense, and being in every respect the equivalent fur our own term of "monkey" it necessarily comprehends the low country species, as well as those which inhabit other parts of the island. In point of fact, there are no less than four animals in the island, each of which is entitled to the name of "wanderoo." Each separate species has appropriated to itself a different district of the wooded country, and seldom encroaches on the domain of its neighbours.
[Footnote 1: Down to a very late period, a large and somewhat repulsive-looking monkey, common to the Malabar coast, the Silenus veter, Linn., was, from the circumstance of his possessing a "great white beard," incorrectly assumed to be the "wanderoo" of Ceylon, described by KNOX; and under that usurped name it has figured in every author from Buffon to the present time. Specimens of the true Singhalese species were, however, received in Europe; but in the absence of information in this country as to their actual habitat, they were described, first by Zimmerman, on the continent, under the name of, Leucoprymnus cephalopterus, and subsequently by Mr. E. Bennett, under that of Semnopithecus Nestor (Proc. Zool. Soc. pt. i. p. 67: 1833); the generic and specific characters being on this occasion most carefully pointed out by that eminent naturalist. Eleven years later Dr. Templeton forwarded to the Zoological Society a description, accompanied by drawings, of the wanderoo of the western maritime districts of Ceylon, and noticed the fact that the wanderoo of authors (S. veter) was not to be found in the island except as an introduced species in the custody of the Arab horse-dealers, who visit the port of Colombo at stated periods. Mr. Waterhouse, at the meeting (Proc. Zool. Soc. p. 1: 1844) at which this communication was read, recognised the identity of the subject of Dr. Templeton's description with that already laid before them by Mr. Bennett; and from this period the species in question was believed to truly represent the wanderoo of Knox. The later discovery, however, of the P. ursinus by Dr. Kelaart, in the mountains amongst which we are assured that Knox spent so many years of captivity, reopens the question, but at the same time appears to me clearly to demonstrate that in this latter we have in reality the animal to which his narrative refers.]
1. Of the four species found in Ceylon, the most numerous in the island, and the one best known in Europe, is the Wanderoo of the low country, the P. cephalopterus of Zimmerman. Although common in the southern and western provinces, it is never found at a higher elevation than 1300 feet. It is an active and intelligent creature, little larger than the common bonneted Macaque, and far from being so mischievous as others of the monkeys in the island. In captivity it is remarkable for the gravity of its demeanour and for an air of melancholy in its expression and movements which are completely in character with its snowy beard and venerable aspect. In disposition it is gentle and confiding, sensible in the highest degree of kindness, and eager for endearing attention, uttering a low plaintive cry when its sympathies are excited. It is particularly cleanly in its habits when domesticated, and spends much of its time in trimming its fur, and carefully divesting its hair of particles of dust.
[Footnote 1: Leucoprymnus Nestor, Bennett.]
Those which I kept at my house near Colombo were chiefly fed upon plantains and bananas, but for nothing did they evince a greater partiality than the rose-coloured flowers of the red hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis).
These they devoured with unequivocal gusto; they likewise relished the leaves of many other trees, and even the bark of a few of the more succulent ones. A hint might possibly be taken from this circumstance for improving the regimen of monkeys in menageries, by the occasional admixture of a few fresh leaves and flowers with their solid and substantial dietary.
A white monkey, taken between Ambepusse and Kornegalle, where they are said to be numerous, was brought to me to Colombo. Except in colour, it had all the characteristics of Presbytes cephalopterus. So striking was its whiteness that it might have been conjectured to be an albino, but for the circumstance that its eyes and face were black. I have heard that white monkeys have been seen near the Ridi-galle Wihara in Seven Korles and also at Tangalle; but I never saw another specimen. The natives say they are not uncommon, and KNOX that they are "milk-white both in body and face; but of this sort there is not such plenty." The Rev. R. SPENCE HARDY mentions, in his learned work on Eastern Monachism, that on the occasion of his visit to the great temple of Dambool, he encountered a troop of white monkeys on the rock in which it is situated—which were, doubtless, a variety of the Wanderoo. PLINY was aware of the fact that white monkeys are occasionally found in India.
[Footnote 1: KNOX, pt. i.e. vi. p. 25.]
[Footnote 2: Eastern Monachism. c: xix; p. 204.]
[Footnote 3: PLINY, Nat. Hist. I. viii. c. xxxii.]
When observed in their native wilds, a party of twenty or thirty of these creatures is generally busily engaged in the search for berries and buds. They are seldom to be seen on the ground, except when they may have descended to recover seeds or fruit which have fallen at the foot of their favourite trees. When disturbed, their leaps are prodigious: but, generally speaking, their progress is made not so much by leaping as by swinging from branch to branch, using their powerful arms alternately; and when baffled by distance, flinging themselves obliquely so as to catch the lower boughs of an opposite tree, the momentum acquired by their descent being sufficient to cause a rebound of the branch, that carries them upwards again, till they can grasp a higher and more distant one, and thus continue their headlong flight. In these perilous achievements, wonder is excited less by the surpassing agility of these little creatures, frequently encumbered as they are by their young, which cling to them in their career, than by the quickness of their eye and the unerring accuracy with which they seem almost to calculate the angle at which a descent will enable them to cover a given distance, and the recoil to attain a higher altitude.
2. The low country Wanderoo is replaced in the hills by the larger species, P. ursinus, which inhabits the mountain zone. The natives, who designate the latter the Maha or Great Wanderoo, to distinguish it from the Kaloo, or black one, with which they are familiar, describe it as much wilder, and more powerful than its congener of the lowland forests. It is rarely seen by Europeans, this portion of the country having till very recently been but partially opened; and even now it is difficult to observe its habits, as it seldom approaches the few roads which wind through these deep solitudes. At early morning, ere the day begins to dawn, its loud and peculiar howl, which consists of a quick repetition of the sounds how how! maybe frequently heard in the mountain jungles, and forms one of the characteristic noises of these lofty situations. It was first captured by Dr. Kelaart in the woods near Nuera-ellia, and from its peculiar appearance it has been named P. ursinus by Mr. Blyth.
[Footnote 1: Mr. Blyth quotes as authority for this trivial name a passage from MAJOR FORBES' Eleven Years in Ceylon; and I can vouch for the graphic accuracy of the remark.—"A species of very large monkey, that passed some distance before me, when resting on all fours, looked so like a Ceylon bear, that I nearly took him for one."]
3. The P. Thersites, which is chiefly distinguished from the others by wanting the head tuft, is so rare that it was for some time doubtful whether the single specimen procured by Dr. Templeton from the Nuera-kalawa, west of Trincomalie, and on which Mr. Blyth conferred this new name, was in reality native; but the occurrence of a second, since identified by Dr. Kelaart, has established its existence as a separate species. Like the common wanderoo, the one obtained by Dr. Templeton was partial to fresh vegetables, plantains, and fruit; but he ate freely boiled rice, beans, and gram. He was fond of being noticed and petted, stretching out his limbs in succession to be scratched, drawing himself up so that his ribs might be reached by the finger, closing his eyes during the operation, and evincing his satisfaction by grimaces irresistibly ludicrous.
4. The P. Priamus inhabits the northern and eastern provinces, and the wooded hills which occur in these portions of the island. In appearance it differs both in size and in colour from the common wanderoo, being larger and more inclined to grey; and in habits it is much less reserved. At Jaffna, and in other parts of the island where the population is comparatively numerous, these monkeys become so familiarised with the presence of man as to exhibit the utmost daring and indifference. A flock of them will take possession of a Palmyra palm; and so effectually can they crouch and conceal themselves among the leaves that, on the slightest alarm, the whole party becomes invisible in an instant. The presence of a dog, however, excites such an irrepressible curiosity that, in order to watch his movements, they never fail to betray themselves. They may be frequently seen congregated on the roof of a native hut: and, some years ago, the child of a European clergyman stationed near Jaffna having been left on the ground by the nurse, was so teased and bitten by them as to cause its death.
The Singhalese have the impression that the remains of a monkey are never to be found in the forest; a belief which they have embodied in the proverb that "he who has seen a white crow, the nest of a paddi bird, a straight coco-nut tree, or a dead monkey, is certain to live for ever." This piece of folk-lore has evidently reached Ceylon from India, where it is believed that persons dwelling on the spot where a hanuman monkey, Semnopithecus entellus, has been killed, will die, that even its bones are unlucky, and that no house erected where they are hid under ground can prosper. Hence when a dwelling is to be built, it is one of the employments of the Jyotish philosophers to ascertain by their science that none such are concealed; and Buchanan observes that "it is, perhaps, owing to this fear of ill-luck that no native will acknowledge his having seen a dead hanuman."
[Footnote 1: BUCHANAN'S Survey of Bhagulpoor, p. 142. At Gibraltar it is believed that the body of a dead monkey has never been found on the rock.]
The only other quadrumanous animal found in Ceylon is the little loris, which, from its sluggish movements, nocturnal habits, and consequent inaction during the day, has acquired the name of the "Ceylon Sloth."
[Footnote 1: Loris graeilis, Geof.]
There are two varieties in the island; one of the ordinary fulvous brown, and another larger, whose fur is entirely black. A specimen of the former was sent to me from Chilaw, on the western coast, and lived for some time at Colombo, feeding on rice, fruit, and vegetables. It was partial to ants and, other insects, and was always eager for milk or the bone of a fowl. The naturally slow motion of its limbs enables the loris to approach its prey so stealthily that it seizes birds before they can be alarmed by its presence. The natives assert that it has been known to strangle the pea-fowl at night, to feast on the brain. During the day the one which I kept was usually asleep in the strange position represented on the last page; its perch firmly grasped with both hands, its back curved into a ball of soft fur, and its head hidden deep between its legs. The singularly-large and intense eyes of the loris have attracted the attention, of the Singhalese, who capture the creature for the purpose of extracting them as charms and love-potions, and this they are said to effect by holding the little animal to the fire till its eyeballs burst. Its Tamil name is thaxangu, or "thin-bodied;" and hence a deformed child or an emaciated person has acquired in the Tamil districts the same epithet. The light-coloured variety of the loris in Ceylon has a spot on its forehead, somewhat resembling the namam, or mark worn by the worshippers of Vishnu; and, from this peculiarity, it is distinguished as the Nama-thavangu.
[Footnote 1: There is an interesting notice of the Loris of Ceylon by Dr. TEMPLETON, in the Mag. Nat. Hist. 1844, ch. xiv. p. 362.]
II. CHEIROPTERA. Bats.—The multitude of bats is one of the features of the evening landscape; they abound in every cave and subterranean passage, in the tunnels on the highways, in the galleries of the fortifications, in the roofs of the bungalows, and the ruins of every temple and building. At sunset they are seen issuing from their diurnal retreats to roam through the twilight in search of crepuscular insects, and as night approaches and the lights in the rooms attract the night-flying lepidoptera, the bats sweep round the dinner-table and carry off their tiny prey within the glitter of the lamps. Including the frugivorous section about sixteen species have been identified in Ceylon; and remarkable varieties of two of these are peculiar to the island. The colours of some of them are as brilliant as the plumage of a bird, bright yellow, deep orange, and a rich ferruginous brown inclining to red.
[Footnote 1: Rhinolophus affinis? var. rubidus, Kelaart. Hipposideros murinus, var. fulvus, Kelaart. Hipposideros speoris, var. aureus, Kelaart. Kerivoula picta, Pallas. Scotophilus Heathii, Horsf.]
But of all the bats, the most conspicuous from its size and numbers, and the most interesting from its habits, is the rousette of Ceylon;—the "flying fox," as it is called by Europeans, from the similarity to that animal in its head and ears, its bright eyes, and intelligent little face. In its aspect it has nothing of the disagreeable and repulsive look so common amongst the ordinary vespertilionidae; it likewise differs from them in the want of the nose-leaf, as well as of the tail. In the absence of the latter, its flight is directed by means of a membrane attached to the inner side of each of the hind legs, and kept distended at the lower extremity by a projecting bone, just as a fore-and-aft sail is distended by a "gaff."
[Footnote 1: Pteropus Edwardsii, Geoff.]
In size the body measures from ten to twelve inches in length, but the arms are prolonged, and especially the metacarpal bones and phalanges of the four fingers over which the leathery wings are distended, till the alar expanse measures between four and five feet. Whilst the function of these metamorphosed limbs in sustaining flight entitles them to the designation of "wings," they are endowed with another faculty, the existence of which essentially distinguishes them from the feathery wings of a bird, and vindicates the appropriateness of the term Cheiro-ptera, or "winged hands," by which the bats are designated. Over the entire surface of the thin membrane of which they are formed, sentient nerves of the utmost delicacy are distributed, by means of which the animal is enabled during the darkness to direct its motions with security, avoiding objects against contact with which at such times its eyes and other senses would be insufficient to protect it. Spallanzani ascertained the perfection of this faculty by a series of cruel experiments, by which he demonstrated that bats, even after their eyes had been destroyed, and their external organs, of smell and hearing obliterated, were still enabled to direct their flight with unhesitating confidence, avoiding even threads suspended to intercept them. But after ascertaining the fact, Spallanzani was slow to arrive at its origin; and ascribed the surprising power to the existence of some sixth supplementary sense, the enjoyment of which was withheld from other animals. Cuvier, however, dissipated the obscurity by showing the seat of this extraordinary endowment to be in the wings, the superficies of which retains the exquisite sensitiveness to touch that is inherent in the palms of the human hand and the extremities of the fingers, as well as in the feet of some of the mammalia. The face and head of the Pteropus are covered with brownish-grey hairs, the neck and chest are dark ferruginous grey, and the rest of the body brown, inclining to black.
[Footnote 1: [Greek: cheir] the "hand," and [Greek: pteron] a "wing."]
[Footnote 2: See BELL On the Hand, ch. iii. p. 70;]
[Footnote 3: See article on Cheiroptera, in TODD'S Cyclopiadia of Anatomy and Physiology, vol. i. p. 599.]
These active and energetic creatures, though chiefly frugivorous, are to some extent insectivorous also, as attested by their teeth, as well as by their habits. They feed, amongst other things, on the guava, the plantain, the rose-apple, and the fruit of the various fig-trees. Flying foxes are abundant in all the maritime districts, especially at the season when the pulum-imbul, one of the silk-cotton trees, is putting forth its flower-buds, of which they are singularly fond. By day they suspend themselves from the highest branches, hanging by the claws of the hind legs, with the head turned upwards, and pressing the chin against the breast. At sunset taking wing, they hover, with a murmuring sound occasioned by the beating of their broad membranous wings, around the fruit trees, on which they feed till morning, when they resume their pensile attitude as before.
[Footnote 1: Those which I have examined have four minute incisors in each jaw, with two canines and a very minute pointed tooth behind each canine. They have six molars in the upper jaw and ten in the lower, longitudinally grooved, and with a cutting edge directed backwards.]
[Footnote 2: Eriodendron Orientale, Stead.]
A favourite resort of these bats is to the lofty india-rubber trees, which on one side overhang the Botanic Gardens of Paradenia in the vicinity of Kandy. Thither for some years past, they have congregated, chiefly in the autumn, taking their departure when the figs of the ficus elastica are consumed. Here they hang in such prodigious numbers, that frequently, large branches give way beneath their accumulated weight. Every forenoon, generally between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M., they take to wing, apparently for exercise, and possibly to sun their wings and fur, and dry them after the dews of the early morning. On these occasions, their numbers are quite surprising, flying in clouds as thick as bees or midges. After these recreations, they hurry back to their favourite trees, chattering and screaming like monkeys, and always wrangling and contending angrily for the most shady and comfortable places in which to hang for the rest of the day protected from the sun. The branches they resort to soon become almost divested of leaves, these being stripped off by the action of the bats, attaching and detaching themselves by means of their hooked feet. At sunset, they fly off to their feeding-grounds, probably at a considerable distance, as it requires a large area to furnish sufficient food for such multitudes.
In all its movements and attitudes, the action of the Pteropus is highly interesting. If placed upon the ground, it is almost helpless, none of its limbs being calculated for progressive motion; it drags itself along by means of the hook attached to each of its extended thumbs, pushing at the same time with those of its hind feet. Its natural position is exclusively pensile; it moves laterally from branch to branch with great ease, by using each foot alternately, and climbs, when necessary, by means of its claws.
When at rest, or asleep, the disposition of the limbs is most curious. At such times it suspends itself by one foot only, bringing the other close to its side, and thus it is enabled to wrap itself in the ample folds of its wings, which envelop it like a mantle, leaving only its upturned head uncovered. Its fur is thus protected from damp and rain, and to some extent its body is sheltered from the sun.
As it collects its food by means of its mouth, either when on the wing, or when suspended within reach of it, the flying-fox is always more or less liable to have the spoil wrested from it by its intrusive companions, before it can make good its way to some secure retreat in which to devour it unmolested. In such conflicts they bite viciously, tear each other with their hooks, and scream incessantly, till, taking to flight, the persecuted one reaches some place of safety, where he hangs by one foot, and grasping the fruit he has secured in the claws and opposable thumb of the other, he hastily reduces it to lumps, with which he stuffs his cheek pouches till they become distended like those of a monkey; then suspended in safety, he commences to chew and suck the pieces, rejecting the refuse with his tongue.
To drink, which it does by lapping, the Pteropus suspends itself head downwards from a branch above the water.
Insects, caterpillars, birds' eggs, and young birds are devoured by them; and the Singhalese say that the flying-fox will even attack a tree snake. It is killed by the natives for the sake of its flesh, which, I have been told by a gentleman who has eaten of it, resembles that of the hare. It is strongly attracted to the coconut trees during the period when toddy is drawn for distillation, and exhibits, it is said, at such times, symptoms resembling intoxication.
[Footnote 1: In Western India the native Portuguese eat the flying-fox, and pronounce it delicate, and far from disagreeable in flavour.]
Neither the flying-fox, nor any other bat that I know of in Ceylon, ever hybernates.
There are several varieties (one of them peculiar to the island) of the horse-shoe-headed Rhinolophus, with the strange leaf-like appendage erected on the extremity of the nose.
It has been suggested that the insectivorous bats, though nocturnal, are deficient in that keen vision characteristic of animals which take their prey by night.
I doubt whether this conjecture be well founded; it certainly does not apply to the Pteropus and the other frugivorous species, in which the faculty of sight is singularly clear. As regards the others, it is possible that in their peculiar oeconomy some additional power may be required to act in concert with that of vision, as in insects, touch is superadded, in its most sensitive development, to that of sight. It is probable that the noseleaf, which forms an extended screen stretched behind the nostrils in some of the bats, may be intended by nature to facilitate the collection and conduction of odours, just as the vast expansion of the shell of the ear in the same family is designed to assist in the collection of sounds—and thus to supplement their vision when in pursuit of prey in the dusk by the superior sensitiveness of the organs of hearing and smell.
One tiny little bat, not much larger than the humble bee, and of a glossy black colour, is sometimes to be seen about Colombo. It is so familiar and gentle that it will alight on the cloth during dinner, and manifests so little alarm that it seldom makes any effort to escape before a wine glass can be inverted to secure it.
[Footnote 1: It is a very small Singhalese variety of Scotophilus Coromandelicus, F. Cuv.]
Although not strictly in order, this seems not an inappropriate place to notice one of the most curious peculiarities connected with the bats—their singular parasite, the Nycteribia. On cursory observation this creature appears to have neither head, antennae, eyes, nor mouth; and the earlier observers of its structure satisfied themselves that the place of the latter was supplied by a cylindrical sucker, which, being placed between the shoulders, the insect had no option but to turn on its back to feed. Another anomaly was thought to compensate for this apparent inconvenience;—its three pairs of legs, armed with claws, are so arranged that they seem to be equally distributed over its upper and under sides, the creature being thus enabled to use them like hands, and to grasp the strong hairs above it while extracting its nourishment.
[Footnote 1: This extraordinary creature had formerly been discovered only on a few European bats. Joinville figured one which he found on the large roussette (the flying-fox), and says he had seen another on a bat of the same family. Dr. Templeton observed them in Ceylon in great abundance on the fur of the Scotophilus Coromandelicus, and they will, no doubt, be found on many others.]
It moves, in fact, by rolling itself rapidly along, rotating like a wheel on the extremities of its spokes, or like the clown in a pantomime, hurling himself forward on hands and feet alternately. Its celerity is so great that Colonel Montague, who was one of the first to describe it minutely, says its speed exceeds that of any known insect, and as its joints are so flexible as to yield in every direction (like what mechanics call a "ball and socket"), its motions are exceedingly grotesque as it tumbles through the fur of the bat.
[Footnote 1: Celeripes vespertilionis, Mont. Lin. Trans. xi. p.11.]
To enable it to attain its marvellous velocity, each foot is armed with two sharp hooks, with elastic opposable pads, so that the hair can not only be rapidly seized and firmly held, but as quickly disengaged, as the creature whirls away in its headlong career.
The insects to which it bears the nearest affinity, are the Hippoboscidae, or "spider flies," that infest birds and horses; but, unlike them, the Nycteribia is unable to fly.
Its strangest peculiarity, and that which gave rise to the belief that it was headless, is its faculty when at rest of throwing back its head and pressing it close between its shoulders till the under side becomes uppermost, not a vestige of head being discernible where we would naturally look for it, and the whole seeming but a casual inequality on its back.
On closer examination this, apparent tubercle is found to have a leathery attachment like a flexible neck, and by a sudden jerk the little creature is enabled to project it forward into its normal position, when it is discovered to be furnished with a mouth, antennae, and four eyes, two on each side.
The organisation of such an insect is a marvellous adaptation of physical form to special circumstances. As the nycteribia has to make its way through fur and hairs, its feet are furnished with prehensile hooks that almost convert them into hands; and being obliged to conform to the sudden flights of its patron, and accommodate itself to inverted positions, all attitudes are rendered alike to it by the arrangement of its limbs, which enables it, after every possible gyration, to find itself always on its feet.
III. CARNIVORA.—Bears.—Of the carnivora, the one most dreaded by the natives of Ceylon, and the only one of the larger animals that makes the depths of the forest its habitual retreat, is the bear, attracted chiefly by the honey which is found in the hollow trees and clefts of the rocks. Occasionally spots of fresh earth are observed which have been turned up by the bears in search of some favourite root. They feed also on the termites and ants. A friend of mine traversing the forest, near Jaffna, at early dawn, had his attention attracted by the growling of a bear, that was seated upon a lofty branch, thrusting portions of a red-ants' nest into his mouth with one paw, whilst with the other he endeavoured to clear his eyebrows and lips of the angry inmates, which bit and tortured him in their rage. The Ceylon bear is found in the low and dry districts of the northern and south-eastern coast, and is seldom met with on the mountains or the moist and damp plains of the west. It is furnished with a bushy tuft of hair on the back, between the shoulders, by which the young are accustomed to cling till sufficiently strong to provide for their own safety. During a severe drought that prevailed in the northern province in 1850, the district of Caretchy was so infested by bears that the Oriental custom of the women resorting to the wells was altogether suspended, as it was a common occurrence to find one of these animals in the water, unable to climb up the yielding and slippery soil, down which its thirst had impelled it to slide during the night.
[Footnote 1: Prochilus labiatus, Blainville.]
Although the structure of the bear shows him to be naturally omnivorous, he rarely preys upon flesh in Ceylon, and his solitary habits whilst in search of honey and fruits render him timid and retiring. Hence he evinces alarm on the approach of man or other animals, and, unable to make a rapid retreat, his panic, rather than any vicious disposition, leads him to become an assailant in self-defence. But so furious are his assaults under such circumstances that the Singhalese have a terror of his attack greater than that created by any other beast of the forest. If not armed with a gun, a native, in the places where bears abound, usually carries a light axe, called "kodelly," with which to strike them on the head. The bear, on the other hand, always aims at the face, and, if successful in prostrating his victim, usually commences by assailing the eyes. I have met numerous individuals on our journeys who exhibited frightful scars from such encounters, the white seams of their wounds contrasting hideously with the dark colour of the rest of their bodies.
The Veddahs in Bintenne, whose principal stores consist of honey, live in dread of the bears, because, attracted by the perfume, they will not hesitate to attack their rude dwellings, when allured by this irresistible temptation. The Post-office runners, who always travel by night, are frequently exposed to danger from these animals, especially along the coast from Putlam to Aripo, where they are found in considerable numbers; and, to guard against surprise, they are accustomed to carry flambeaux, to give warning to the bears, and enable them to shuffle out of the path.
[Footnote 1: Amongst the Singhalese there is a belief that certain charms are efficacious in protecting them from the violence of bears, and those whose avocations expose them to encounters of this kind are accustomed to carry a talisman either attached to their neck or enveloped in the folds of their luxuriant hair. A friend of mine, writing of an adventure which occurred at Anarajapoora, thus describes an occasion on which a Moor, who attended him, was somewhat, rudely disabused of his belief in the efficacy of charms upon bears:—"Desiring to change the position of a herd of deer, the Moorman (with his charm) was sent across some swampy land to disturb them. As he was proceeding, we saw him suddenly turn from an old tree and run back with all speed, his hair becoming unfastened and like his clothes streaming in the wind. It soon became evident that he was flying from some terrific object, for he had thrown down his gun, and, in his panic, he was taking the shortest line towards us, which lay across a swamp covered with sedge and rushes that greatly impeded his progress, and prevented us approaching him, or seeing what was the cause of his flight. Missing his steps from one hard spot to another he repeatedly fell into the water, but he rose and resumed his flight. I advanced as far as the sods would bear my weight, but to go further was impracticable. Just within ball-range there was an open space, and, as the man gained it. I saw that he was pursued by a bear and two cubs. As the person of the fugitive covered the bear, it was impossible to fire without risk. At last he fall exhausted, and the bear being close upon him, I discharged both barrels. The first broke the bear's shoulder, but this only made her more savage, and rising on her hind legs she advanced with ferocious prowls, when the second barrel, though I do not think it took effect, served to frighten her, for turning round she retreated, followed by the cubs. Some natives then waded through the mud to the Moorman, who was just exhausted, and would have been drowned but that he fell with his head upon a tuft of grass: the poor man was unable to speak, and for several weeks his intellect seemed confused. The adventure sufficed to satisfy him that he could not again depend upon a charm to protect him, from bears, though he always insisted that but for its having fallen from his hair where he had fastened it under his turban, the bear would not have ventured to attack him."]
Leopards are the only formidable members of the tiger race in Ceylon, and they are neither very numerous nor very dangerous, as they seldom attack man. By the Europeans, the Ceylon leopard is erroneously called a cheetah, but the true "cheetah" (felis jubata),' the hunting leopard of India, does not exist in the island.
[Footnote 1: Felis pardus, Linn. What is called a leopard, or a cheetah, in Ceylon, is in reality the true panther.]
[Footnote 2: A belief is prevalent at Trincomalie that a Bengal tiger inhabits the jungle in its vicinity; and the story runs that it escaped from the wreck of a vessel on which it had been embarked for England. Officers of the Government state positively that they have more than once come on it whilst hunting; and one gentleman of the Royal Engineers, who had seen it, assured me that he could not be mistaken as to its being a tiger of India, and one of the largest description.]
[Footnote 3: Mr. BAKER, in his Eight Years in Ceylon, has stated that there are two species of leopard in the island, one of which he implies is the Indian cheetah. But although he specifies discrepancies in size, weight, and marking between the varieties which he has examined, his data are not sufficient to identify any of them with the true felis jubata.]
There is a rare variety of the leopard which has been found in various parts of the island, in which the skin, instead of being spotted, is of a uniform black. Leopards frequent the vicinity of pasture hinds in quest of the deer and other peaceful animals which resort to them; and the villagers often complain of the destruction of their cattle by these formidable marauders. In relation to them, the natives have a curious but firm conviction that when a bullock is killed by a leopard, and, in expiring, falls so that its right side is undermost, the leopard will not return to devour it. I have been told by English sportsmen (some of whom share in the popular belief), that sometimes, when they have proposed to watch by the carcase of a bullock recently killed by a leopard, in the hope of shooting the spoiler on his return in search of his prey, the native owner of the slaughtered animal, though earnestly desiring to be avenged, has assured them that it would be in vain, as the beast having fallen on its right side, the leopard not return.
[Footnote 1: F. melas, Peron and Leseur.]
The Singhalese hunt them for the sake of their extremely beautiful skins, but prefer taking them in traps and pitfalls, and occasionally in spring cages formed of poles driven firmly into the ground, within which a kid is generally fastened as a bait; the door being held open by a sapling bent down by the united force of several men, and so arranged as to act as a spring, to which a noose is ingeniously attached, formed of plaited deer's hide. The cries of the kid attract the leopard, which being tempted to enter, is enclosed by the liberation of the spring, and grasped firmly round the body by the noose.
Like the other carnivora, leopards are timid and cowardly in the presence of man, never intruding on him voluntarily, and making a hasty retreat when approached. Instances have, however, occurred of individuals having been slain by them; and it is believed, that, having once tasted human blood, they, like the tiger, acquire an habitual relish for it. A peon, on duty by night at the court-house of Anarajapoora, was some years ago carried off by a leopard from a table in the verandah on which he had laid down his head to sleep. At Batticaloa a "cheetah" in two instances in succession was known to carry off men placed on a stage erected in a tree to drive away elephants from rice-land: but such cases are rare, and, as compared with their dread of the bear, the natives of Ceylon entertain but slight apprehensions of the "cheetah." It is, however, the dread of sportsmen, whose dogs when beating in the jungle are especially exposed to its attacks: and I am aware of an instance in which a party having tied their dogs to the tent-pole for security, and fallen asleep round them, a leopard sprang into the tent and carried off a dog from the midst of its slumbering masters. On one occasion being in the mountains near Kandy, a messenger despatched to me through the jungle excused his delay by stating that a "cheetah" had seated itself in the only practicable path, and remained quietly licking its fore paws and rubbing them over its face, till he was forced to drive it, with stones, into the forest.
Leopards are strongly attracted by the peculiar odour which accompanies small-pox. The reluctance of the natives to submit themselves or their children to vaccination exposes the island to frightful visitations of this disease; and in the villages in the interior it is usual on such occasions to erect huts in the jungle to serve as temporary hospitals. Towards these the leopards are certain to be allured; and the medical officers are obliged to resort to increased precautions in consequence. This fact is connected with a curious native superstition. Amongst the avenging scourges sent direct from the gods, the Singhalese regard both the ravages of the leopard, and the visitation of the small-pox. The latter they call par excellence "maha ledda," the great "sickness;" they look upon it as a special manifestation of devidosay, "the displeasure of the gods;" and the attraction of the cheetahs to the bed of the sufferer they attribute to the same indignant agency. A few years ago, the capua, or demon-priest of a "dewale," at Oggalbodda, a village near Caltura, when suffering under small-pox, was devoured by a cheetah, and his fate was regarded by those of an opposite faith as a special judgment from heaven.
Such is the awe inspired by this belief in connection with the small-pox, that a person afflicted with it is always approached as one in immediate communication with the deity; his attendants, address him as "my lord," and "your lordship," and exhaust on him the whole series of honorific epithets in which their language abounds for approaching personages of the most exalted rank. At evening and morning, a lamp is lighted before him, and invoked with prayers to protect his family from the dire calamity which has befallen himself. And after his recovery, his former associates refrain from communication with him until a ceremony shall have been performed by the capua, called awasara-pandema, or "the offering of lights for permission," the object of which is to entreat permission of the deity to regard him as freed from the divine displeasure, with liberty to his friends to renew their intercourse as before.
Major SKINNER, who for upwards of forty years has had occasionally to live for long periods in the interior, occupied in the prosecution of surveys and the construction of roads, is strongly of opinion that the disposition of the leopard towards man is essentially pacific, and that, when discovered, its natural impulse is to effect its escape. In illustration of this I insert an extract from one of his letters, which describes an adventure highly characteristic of this instinctive timidity:—
"On the occasion of one of my visits to Adam's Peak, in the prosecution of my military reconnoissances of the mountain zone, I fixed on a pretty little patena (i.e., meadow) in the midst of an extensive and dense forest in the southern segment of the Peak Range, as a favourable spot for operations. It would have been difficult, after descending from the cone of the peak, to have found one's way to this point, in the midst of so vast a wilderness of trees, had not long experience assured me that good game tracks would be found leading to it, and by one of them I reached it. It was in the afternoon, just after one of those tropical sunshowers that decorate every branch and blade with pendant brilliants, and the little patena was covered with game, either driven to the open space by the drippings from the leaves or tempted by the freshness of the pasture: there were several pairs of elk, the bearded antlered male contrasting finely with his mate; and other varieties of game in a profusion not to be found in any place frequented by man. It was some time before I would allow them to be disturbed by the rude fall of the axe, in our necessity to establish our bivouac for the night, and they were so unaccustomed to danger that it was long before they took alarm at our noises.
"The following morning, anxious to gain a height for my observations in time to avail myself of the clear atmosphere of sunrise, I started off by myself through the jungle, leaving orders for my men, with my surveying instruments, to follow my track by the notches which I cut in the bark of the trees. On leaving the plain, I availed myself of a fine wide game track which lay in my direction, and had gone, perhaps, half a mile from the camp, when I was startled by a slight rustling in the nilloo to my right, and in another instant, by the spring of a magnificent leopard, which, in a bound of full eight feet in height over the lower brushwood, lighted at my feet within eighteen inches of the spot whereon I stood, and lay in a crouching position, his fiery gleaming eyes fixed on me.
[Footnote 1: A species of one of the suffruticose Acanthaccae (Strobilanthes), which grows, abundantly in the mountain ranges of Ceylon.]
"The predicament was not a pleasant one. I had no weapon of defence, and with one spring or blow of his paw the beast could have annihilated me. To move I knew would only encourage his attack. It occurred to me at the moment that I had heard of the power of man's eye over wild animals, and accordingly I fixed my gaze as intently as the agitation of such a moment enabled me on his eyes: we stared at each other for some seconds, when, to my inexpressible joy, the beast turned and bounded down the straight open path before me. This scene occurred just at that period of the morning when the grazing animals retired from the open patena to the cool shade of the forest: doubtless, the leopard had taken my approach for that of a deer, or some such animal. And if his spring had been at a quadruped instead of a biped, his distance was so well measured, that it must have landed him on the neck of a deer, an elk, or a buffalo; as it was, one pace more would have done for me. A bear would not have let his victim off so easily."
Notwithstanding the unequalled agility of the monkey, it falls a prey, and not unfrequently, to the leopard. The latter, on approaching a tree on which a troop of monkeys have taken shelter, causes an instant and fearful excitement, which they manifest by loud and continued screams, and incessant restless leaps from branch to branch. The leopard meanwhile walks round and round the tree, with his eyes firmly fixed upon his victims, till at last exhausted by terror, and prostrated by vain exertions to escape, one or more falls a prey to his voracity. So rivetted is the attention of both during the struggle, that a sportsman, on one occasion, attracted by the noise, was enabled to approach within an uncomfortable distance of the leopard, before he discovered the cause of the unusual dismay amongst the monkeys overhead.
It is said, but I have never been able personally to verify the fact, that the leopard of Ceylon exhibits a peculiarity in being unable entirely to retract its claws within their sheaths.
There is another piece of curious folk lore, in connexion with the leopard. The natives assert that it devours the kaolin clay called by them kiri-mattie in a very peculiar way. They say that the cheetah places it in lumps beside him, and then gazes intently on the sun, till on turning his eyes on the clay, every piece appears of a red colour like flesh, when he instantly devours it.
[Footnote 1: See Sir J.E. TENNENT'S Ceylon, vol. i. p. 31.]
They likewise allege that the female cheetah never produces more than one litter of whelps.
Of the lesser feline species, the number and variety in Ceylon is inferior to those of India. The Palm-cat lurks by day among the fronds of the coco-nut palms, and by night makes destructive forays on the fowls of the villagers; and, in order to suck the blood of its victim, inflicts a wound so small as to be almost imperceptible. The glossy genette, the "Civet" of Europeans, is common in the northern province, where the Tamils confine it in cages for the sake of its musk, which they collect from the wooden bars on which it rubs itself. Edrisi, the Moorish geographer, writing in the twelfth century, enumerates musk as one of the productions then exported from Ceylon.
[Footnote 1: Paradoxurus typus, F. Cuv.]
[Footnote 2: Viverra Indica, Geoffr., Hodgs.]
[Footnote 3: EDRISI, Geogr. sec. vii. Jauberts's translation, t. ii. p. 72. In connexion with cats, a Singhalese gentleman has described to me a plant in Ceylon, called Cuppa-mayniya by the natives; by which he says cats are so enchanted, that they play with it as they would with, a captured mouse; throwing if into the air, watching it till it falls, and crouching to see if it will move. It would be worth inquiring into the truth of this; and the explanation of the attraction.]
Dogs.—There is no native wild dog in Ceylon, but every village and town is haunted by mongrels of European descent, that are known by the generic description of Pariahs. They are a miserable race, lean, wretched, and mangy, acknowledged by no owners, living on the garbage of the streets and sewers, and if spoken to unexpectedly they shrink with an almost involuntary cry. Yet in these persecuted outcasts there survives that germ of instinctive affection which binds the dog to the human race, and a gentle word, even a look of compassionate kindness, is sufficient foundation for a lasting attachment.
The Singhalese, from their religious aversion to taking away life in any form, permit the increase of these desolate creatures till in the hot season they become so numerous as to be a nuisance; and the only expedient hitherto devised by the civil government to reduce their numbers, is once in each year to offer a reward for their destruction, when the Tamils and Malays pursue them in the streets with clubs (guns being forbidden by the police for fear of accidents), and the unresisting dogs are beaten to death on the side-paths and door-steps where they had been taught to resort for food. Lord Torrington, during his government of Ceylon, attempted the more civilised experiment of putting some check on their numbers, by imposing a dog-tax, the effect of which would have been to lead to the drowning of puppies; whereas there is reason to believe that dogs are at present bred by the horse-keepers to be killed for sake of the reward.
The Pariahs of Colombo exhibit something of the same instinct, by which the dogs in other eastern cities partition the towns into districts, each apportioned to a separate pack, by whom it is jealously guarded from the encroachments of all intruders. Travellers at Cairo and Constantinople are often startled at night by the racket occasioned by the demonstrations made by the rightful possessors of a locality in repelling its invasion by some straggling wanderer. At Alexandria, in 1844, the dogs had multiplied to such an inconvenient extent, that Mehemet Ali, to abate the nuisance, caused them to be shipped in boats and conveyed to one of the islands at the mouth of the Nile. But the streets, thus deprived of their habitual patroles, were speedily infested by dogs from the suburbs, in such numbers that the evil became greater than before, and in the following year, the legitimate denizens were recalled from their exile in the Delta, and speedily drove back the intruders within their original boundary. May not this disposition of the dog be referable to the impulse by which, in a state of nature, each pack appropriates its own hunting-fields within a particular area? and may not the impulse which, even in a state of domestication, they still manifest to attack a passing dog upon the road, be a remnant of this localised instinct, and a concomitant dislike of intrusion?
Jackal.—The Jackal in the low country of Ceylon hunts thus in packs, headed by a leader, and these audacious prowlers have been seen to assault and pull down a deer. The small number of hares in the districts they infest is ascribed to their depredations. In the legends of the natives, and in the literature of the Buddhists, the jackal in Ceylon is as essentially the type of cunning as the fox is the emblem of craft and adroitness in the traditions of Europe. In fact, it is more than doubtful whether the jackal of the East be not the creature alluded to, in the various passages of the Sacred Writings which make allusion to the artfulness and subtlety of the "fox."
[Footnote 1: Canis Aureus, Linn.]
These faculties they display in a high degree in their hunting expeditions, especially in the northern portions of the island, where they are found in the greatest numbers. In these districts, where the wide sandy plains are thinly covered with brushwood, the face of the country is diversified by patches of thick jungle and detached groups of trees, that form insulated groves and topes. At dusk, or after nightfall, a pack of jackals, having watched a hare or a small deer take refuge in one of these retreats, immediately surround it on all sides; and having stationed a few to watch the path by which the game entered, the leader commences the attack by raising the unearthly cry peculiar to their race, and which resembles the sound okkay! loudly and rapidly repeated. The whole party then rush into the jungle, and drive out the victim, which generally falls into the ambush previously laid to entrap it.
A native gentleman, who had favourable opportunities of observing the movements of these animals, informed me, that when a jackal has brought down his game and killed it, his first impulse is to hide it in the nearest jungle, whence he issues with an air of easy indifference to observe whether anything more powerful than himself may be at hand, from which he might encounter the risk of being despoiled of his capture. If the coast be clear, he returns to the concealed carcase, and carries it away, followed by his companions. But if a man be in sight, or any other animal to be avoided, my informant has seen the jackal seize a coco-nut husk in his mouth, or any similar substance, and fly at full speed, as if eager to carry off his pretended prize, returning for the real booty at some more convenient season.
[Footnote 1: Mr. D. de Silva Gooneratne.]
They are subject to hydrophobia, and instances are frequent in Ceylon of cattle being bitten by them and dying in consequence.
An excrescence is sometimes found on the head of the jackal, consisting of a small horny cone about half an inch in length, and concealed by a tuft of hair. This the natives call narrie-comboo; and they aver that this "Jackal's Horn" only grows on the head of the leader of the pack. Both the Singhalese and the Tamils regard it as a talisman, and believe that its fortunate possessor can command by its instrumentality the realisation of every wish, and that if stolen or lost by him, it will invariably return of its own accord. Those who have jewels to conceal rest in perfect security if along with them they can deposit a narri-comboo, fully convinced that its presence is an effectual safeguard against robbers.
[Footnote 1: In the Museum of the College of Surgeons, London (No. 4362 A), there is a cranium of a jackal which exhibits this strange osseous process on the super-occipital; and I have placed along with it a specimen of the horny sheath, which was presented to me by Mr. Lavalliere, the late district judge of Kandy.]
One fabulous virtue ascribed to the narrie-comboo by the Singhalese is absurdly characteristic of their passion for litigation, as well as of their perceptions of the "glorious uncertainty of the law." It is the popular belief that the fortunate discoverer of a jackal's horn becomes thereby invincible in every lawsuit, and must irresistibly triumph over every opponent. A gentleman connected "with the Supreme Court of Colombo has repeated to me a circumstance, within his own knowledge, of a plaintiff who, after numerous defeats, eventually succeeded against his opponent by the timely acquisition of this invaluable charm. Before the final hearing of the cause, the mysterious horn was duly exhibited to his friends; and the consequence was, that the adverse witnesses, appalled by the belief that no one could possibly give judgment against a person so endowed, suddenly modified their previous evidence, and secured an unforeseen victory for the happy owner of the narrie-comboo!
The Mongoos.—Of the Mongoos or Ichneumon four species have been described; and one, that frequents the hills near Neuera-ellia, is so remarkable from its bushy fur, that the invalid soldiers in the sanatarium there, to whom it is familiar, have given it the name of the "Ceylon Badger."
[Footnote 1: Herpestes vitticollis. Mr. W. ELLIOTT, in his Catalogue of Mammalia found in the Southern Maharata Country, Madras, 1840, says, that "One specimen of this Herpestes was procured by accident in the Ghat forests in 1829, and is now deposited in the British Museum; it is very rare, inhabiting only the thickest woods, and its habits are very little known," p. 9. In Ceylon it is comparatively common.]
I have found universally that the natives of Ceylon attach no credit to the European story of the Mongoos (H. griseus) resorting to some plant, which no one has yet succeeded in identifying, as an antidote against the bite of the venomous serpents on which it preys: There is no doubt that, in its conflicts with the cobra de capello and other poisonous snakes, which it attacks with as little hesitation as the harmless ones, it may be seen occasionally to retreat, and even to retire into the jungle, and, it is added, to eat some vegetable; but a gentleman, who has been a frequent observer of its exploits, assures me that most usually the herb it resorted to was grass; and if this were not at hand, almost any other plant that grew near seemed equally acceptable. Hence has probably arisen the long list of plants, such as the Ophioxylon serpentinum and Ophiorhiza mungos, the Aristolochia Indica, the Mimosa octandria, and others, each of which has been asserted to be the ichneumon's specific; whilst their multiplicity is demonstrative of the non-existence of any one in particular on which the animal relies as an antidote. Were there any truth in the tale as regards the mongoos, it would be difficult to understand why creatures, such as the secretary bird and the falcon, and others, which equally destroy serpents, should be left defenceless, and the ichneumon alone provided with a prophylactic. Besides, were the ichneumon inspired by that courage which would result from the consciousness of security, it would be so indifferent to the bite of the serpent that we might conclude that, both in its approaches and its assault, it would be utterly careless as to the precise mode of its attack. Such, however, is far from being the case: and next to its audacity, nothing can be more surprising than the adroitness with which it escapes the spring of the snake under a due sense of danger, and the cunning with which it makes its arrangements to leap upon the back and fasten its teeth in the head of the cobra. It is this display of instinctive ingenuity that Lucan celebrates where he paints the ichneumon diverting the attention of the asp, by the motion of his bushy tail, and then seizing it in the midst of its confusion:—
"Aspidas ut Pharias cauda solertior hostis Ludit, et iratas incerta provocat umbra:
* * * * *
[Footnote 1: The passage in Lucan is a versification of the same narrative related by Pliny, lib. viii. ch. 53; and AElian, lib. iii. ch. 22.]
Obliquusque caput vanas serpentis in auras Effuse toto comprendit guttura morsu Letiferam citra saniem; tunc irrita pestis Exprimitur, faucesque fluunt pereunte veneno." Pharsalia, lib. iv. v. 729.
The mystery of the mongoos and its antidote has been referred to the supposition that there may be some peculiarity in its organisation which renders it proof against the poison of the serpent. It remains for future investigation to determine how far this conjecture is founded in truth; and whether in the blood of the mongoos there exists any element or quality which acts as a prophylactic. Such exceptional provisions are not without precedent in the animal oeconomy: the hornbill feeds with impunity on the deadly fruit of the strychnos; the milky juice of some species of euphorbia, which is harmless to oxen, is invariably fatal to the zebra; and the tsetse fly, the pest of South Africa, whose bite is mortal to the ox, the dog, and the horse, is harmless to man and the untamed creatures of the forest.