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The Raccoon is about two feet long, and has a short and bulky body; the nose is rather shorter and more pointed than that of the fox; the fur long and thick, blackish at the surface, and gray towards the bottom; the tail, which is about a foot in length, is thick, tapering towards the point, and regularly marked with rings of black; the fore feet are much shorter than the hinder, and both are armed with five sharp claws. These claws enable him to climb trees with great facility, and to sport among the boughs with as much ease and safety as if he were on the ground. His motion, in walking, is singularly oblique; he is, nevertheless, a very active animal. He may be tamed without difficulty, and is then very good natured and sportive, but is as mischievous as a monkey, and seldom remains at rest. Of ill treatment he is extremely sensible, and never forgives those from whom he has received it. He has also an antipathy to sharp and harsh sounds, such as the bark of a dog and the cry of a child. His fur is used by the hatters, his skin is converted into gloves and upper leathers for shoes, and his flesh is considered as a delicacy by the negroes.
The indigenous Rat of this country is that species called the Black lat. It is, however, now become scarce, in consequence of the race being nearly exter
minated by the Brown Rat, which was introduced into England from Norway, a century ago, and has spread in all quarters. The Brown Rat is about nine inches long, and has a tail of the same length as the body, covered with minute dusky scales, thinly interspersed with short hairs. This Norwegian invader is a daring little animal, which will turn and fasten on its pursuer; and, as its teeth are long, sharp, and irregular, it inflicts a painful wound, that heals with difficulty.
It is not from large animals that man receives the most injury. The smaller tribes, by their numbers and perseverance, are much more annoying and destructive than their unwieldy brethren can possibly be. The Rat is among his greatest nuisances. So prolific is it, and so rapidly does it multiply, that, provided they could obtain sufficient food, and remain unmolested, the progeny of one pair might, in two years time, be swelled to more than a million. Fortunately, however, they have numerous enemies, and have also an irresistible propensity to destroy each other. But, thinned as their ranks, incessantly are, they are still numerous enough to commit extensive depredations. On board a man of war they have been known to consume a hundred weight of biscuits daily, and when, to destroy them, the ship has been smoked between decks, six hampers a day have for some time been filled with their carcasses. The Isle of France was once abandoned, on account of their immense swarms, and, even now, they are a severe scourge to it.
The surest method of killing them is by poison : nuxvomica ground, and mixed with oatmeal, with a small quantity of oil of rhodium and musk, has been found by experience to be very effectual.
THIS well known little animal, which is diffused in great numbers over almost every part of the world, seems a constant attendant on man, and is only to be found near his dwelling. Its enemies are numerous and powerful, and it has no means of resistance: its minuteness seems to be its best security; and it is saved from extinction only by its amazing fecundity. It brings forth several times in the year, and generally from six to ten each litter. The young are produced without hair, and in little more than fifteen days are able to subsist by themselves; so that the increase is prodigious.
When viewed without the absurd disgust and apprehension which usually accompanies, or is affected at the sight of it, the Mouse is a beautiful creature; its skin is sleek and soft, its eyes bright and lively, all its limbs are formed with exquisite delicacy, and its motions are smart and active. Though one of the most timid of creatures, the Mouse may be taught to repose confidence in mankind, and will quit.its place of refuge to receive food. Some few of this species are of a pure white colour, with large red eyes; but whether they be a permanent kind, or only an accidental variety, cannot well be determined.
Of Field Mice there are two kinds; the Longtailed, and the Short-tailed, of which the latter is the largest. They live in burrows under ground, and feed principally on acorns, nuts, and beech mast. There is another species of Mouse, called the HARVEST MOUSE, which is the smallest of British quadrupeds; two of them not weighing more than one halfpenny. This kind makes a beautiful nest, as round as a cricket ball, and about the same size.
This animal is a native of almost all parts of America, from Carolina to Hudson's Bay. In Canada it is called the Ondatra. It is about the size of a small rabbit, and has a thick short head, resembling that of a Water Rat; its hair is soft and glossy; and beneath the outward hair there is a thick fine down, very useful in the manufacture of hats; it is of a reddish brown colour; its breast and belly are ash, tinged with red; its tail is long and flat, covered with scales; its eyes are large ; its ears short and hairy; it has two strong cutting teeth in each jaw,—those of the under jaw are about an inch long, but the upper ones are shorter.
Its manners, in many respects, very much resemble those of the beaver. It is fond of the water, and swims well. At the approach of winter, several families associate together, and build little huts, about two feet in diameter, composed of herbs and rushes cemented with clay, forming a domelike covering ; from which are several passages, in different directions, by which they go out in quest of roots and other food.—The hunters take them in spring, by opening their holes, and letting the light suddenly in upon them.--At that time their flesh is tolerably good, and is frequently eaten: but in the summer it acquires a scent of musk so strong as to render it perfectly unpalateable. If taken when young they may easily be tamed, and are then very playful, and perfectly inoffensive.
THE MUSCOVY MUSK-RAT. This animal is about the size of the common rat: it has a long and slender nose; no external ears; and very small eyes; the tail is compressed sideways, and its hind feet are webbed ; it is of a dusky colour; the belly is of a light ash. It is a native of Lapland and Russia, in the former of which countries it is called the desman; it frequents the banks of rivers, and feeds on small fishes. It is often devoured by pikes and other fish; to which it communicates so powerful a musky flavour as renders them very unpleasant to the taste. From its tail is extracted a kind of musk, very much resembling the genuine sort.-Their skins are frequently laid amongst clothes to preserve them from moths.
THE LEMMING RAT. This singular animal is a native of Norway and Lapland; but those of the former country are far larger than those of the latter. It subsists wholly on vegetables. When a severe winter is approaching the Lemmings migrate to the southward, and they move in a straight forward direction, with such inflexible regularity, that, sooner than deviate from it, they will perish in attempting to pass over any obstacle which they may find in their way.