Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon
J. Emerson Tennent
Part 11 out of 12
Fam. EREBIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. OMMATOPHORIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. HYPOPYRIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. BENDIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. OPHIUSIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. EUCLIDIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. REMIGIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. FOCILLIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. AMPHIGANIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. THERMISIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. URAPTERYDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. ENNOMIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. BOARMIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. GEOMETRIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. PALYADAE, _Guen_.
Fam. EPHYRIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. ACIDALIDAE, _Guen_.
Zanclopteryx, _Herr. Sch_.
saponaria, _Herr. Sch_.
Fam. MICRONIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. MACARIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. LARENTIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. PLATYDIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. HYPENIDAE, _Herr_.
Fam. HERMINIDAE, _Dup_.
Fam. PYRALADAE, _Guen_.
Fam. ENNYCHIDAE, _Dup._
Fam. ASOPIDAE, _Guen_
latim orginalis, _Wlk_.
Fam. HYDROCAMPIDAE, _Guen_.
Cataclysia, _Herr Sch_.
Fam. SPILOMELIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. MARGORODIDAE, _Guen_.
Phakellura, _L. Guild_.
Fam. BOTYDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. SCOPARIDAE, _Guen_.
Fam. CHOREUTIDAE, _Staint_.
Fam. PHYCIDAE, _Staint_.
Fam. CRAMBIDAE, _Dup_.
Fam. CHLOEPHORIDAE. _Staint_.
Fam. TORTRICIDAE, _Steph_.
Fam. YPONOMEUTIDAE, _Steph_.
Fam. GELICHIDAE, _Staint_.
Fam. GLYPHYPTIDAE, _Staint_.
Fam. TINEIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. LYONETIDAE, _Staint_.
Fam. PTEROPHORIDAE, _Zell_.
Order DIPTERA, _Linn._
Fam. MYCETOPHILIDAE, _Hal_.
Fam. CECIDOMYZIDAE, _Hal_.
Fam. SIMULIDAE, _Hal_.
Fam. CHIRONOMIDAE, _Hal_.
Fam. CULICIDAE, _Steph_.
Fam. TIPULIDAE, _Hal_.
Fam. STRATIOMIDAE, _Latr_.
Fam. TABANIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. ASILIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. DOLICHOPIDAE, _Leach_.
Fam. MUSCIDAE, _Latr_.
Fam. NYCTERIBIDAE, _Leach_.
----? a species
parasitic on Scatophilus
Order HEMIPTERA, _Linn._
Fam. PACHYCORIDAE, _Dall_.
Cantuo, _Amyot & Serv_.
Fam. EURYGASTERIDAE, _Dall_.
Fam. PLATASPIDAE, _Dall_.
Fam. HALYDIDAE, _Dall_.
Fam. PENTATOMIDAE, _Steph_.
Fam. EDESSIDAE, _Dall_.
Tesseratoma, _Lep. & Serv_.
Cyclopelta, _Am. & Serv_.
Fam. PHYLLOCEPHALIDAE, _Dall_.
Fam. MICTIDAE, _Dall_.
Fam. ANISOSCELIDAE, _Dall_.
Fam. ALYDIDAE, _Dall_.
Fam. STENOCEPHALIDAE, _Dall_.
Fam. COREIDAE, _Steph_.
Fam. LYGAEIDAE, _Westw_.
Fam. ARADIDAE, _Wlk_.
Fam. TINGIDAE, _Wlk_.
Fam. CIMICIDAE, _Wlk_.
Fam. REDUVIIDAE, _Steph_.
Acanthaspis, _Am. & Serv_.
Fam. HYDROMETRIDAE, _Leach_.
Ptilomera, _Am. & Serv_.
Fam. NEPIDAE, _Leach_.
Indicum, _St. Farg_.
Fam. NOTONECTIDAE, _Steph_.
Order HOMOPTERA, _Latr_.
Fam. CICADIDAE, _Westw_.
Dundubia, _Am. & Serv_.
Fam. FULGORIDAE, _Schaum_.
Hotinus, _Am. & Serv_.
Fam. CIXIIDAE, _Wlk_.
Fam. ISSIDAE, _Wlk_.
Fam. DERBIDAE, _Schaum_.
Fam. FLATTIDAE, _Schaum_.
Fam. MEMBRACIDAE, _Wlk_.
Fam. CERCOPIDAE, _Leach_.
Ptyelus, _Lep. & Serv_.
Fam. TETTIGONIIDAE, _Wlk_.
Fam. SCARIDAE, _Wlk_.
Fam. IASSIDAE, _Wlk_.
Fam. PSYLLIDAE, _Latr_.
Fam. COCCIDAE, _Leach_.
* * * * *
With a few striking exceptions, the true _spiders_ of Ceylon resemble in
oeconomy and appearance those we are accustomed to see at home;--they
frequent the houses, the gardens, the rocks and the stems of trees, and
along the sunny paths, where the forest meets the open country, the
_Epeira_ and her congeners, the true net-weaving spiders, extend their
lacework, the grace of the designs being even less attractive than the
beauty of the creatures that elaborate them.
Such of them as live in the woods select with singular sagacity the
bridle-paths and narrow passages for expanding their nets; perceiving no
doubt that the larger insects frequent these openings for facility of
movement through the jungle; and that the smaller ones are carried
towards them by currents of air. Their nets are stretched across the
path from four to eight feet above the ground, suspended from projecting
shoots, and attached, if possible, to thorny shrubs; and they sometimes
exhibit the most remarkable scenes of carnage and destruction. I have
taken down a ball as large as a man's head consisting of successive
layers rolled together, in the heart of which was the original den of
the family, whilst the envelope was formed, sheet after sheet, by coils
of the old web filled with the wings and limbs of insects of all
descriptions, from large moths and butterflies to mosquitoes and minute
coleoptera. Each layer appeared to have been originally hung across the
passage to intercept the expected prey; and, when it had become
surcharged with carcases, to have been loosened, tossed over by the wind
or its own weight, and wrapped round the nucleus in the centre, the
spider replacing it by a fresh sheet, to be in turn detached and added
to the mass within.
Separated by marked peculiarities both of structure and instinct, from
the spiders which live in the open air, and busy themselves in providing
food during the day, the _Mygale fasciata_ is not only sluggish in its
habits, but disgusting in its form and dimensions. Its colour is a
gloomy brown, interrupted by irregular blotches and faint bands (whence
its trivial name); it is sparingly sprinkled with hairs, and its limbs,
when expanded, stretch over an area of six to eight inches in diameter.
It is familiar to Europeans in Ceylon, who have given it the name, and
ascribed to it the fabulous propensities, of the Tarentula.
[Footnote 1: Species of the true _Tarentula_ are not uncommon in Ceylon;
they are all of very small size, and perfectly harmless.]
The Mygale is found abundantly in the northern and eastern parts of the
island, and occasionally in dark unfrequented apartments in the western
province; but its inclinations are solitary, and it shuns the busy
traffic of towns.
The largest specimens I have seen were at Gampola in the vicinity of
Kandy, and one taken in the store-room of the rest-house there, nearly
covered with its legs an ordinary-sized breakfast plate.
[Footnote 1: See Plate opposite.]
This hideous creature does not weave a broad web or spin a net like
other spiders, but nevertheless it forms a comfortable mansion in the
wall of a neglected building, the hollow of a tree, or under the eave of
an overhanging stone. This it lines throughout with a tapestry of silk
of a tubular form; and of a texture so exquisitely fine and closely
woven, that no moisture can penetrate it. The extremity of the tube is
carried out to the entrance, where it expands into a little platform,
stayed by braces to the nearest objects that afford a firm hold. In
particular situations, where the entrance is exposed to the wind, the
mygale, on the approach of the monsoon, extends the strong tissue above
it so as to serve as an awning to prevent the access of rain.
The construction of this silken dwelling is exclusively designed for the
domestic luxury of the spider; it serves no purpose in trapping or
securing prey, and no external disturbance of the web tempts the
creature to sally out to surprise an intruder, as the epeira and its
By day it remains concealed in its den, whence it issues at night to
feed on larvae and worms, devouring cockroaches and their pupae, and
attacking the millepeds, gryllotalpae, and other fleshy insects.
Mr. EDGAR L. LAYARD has described an encounter between a Mygale and a
cockroach, which he witnessed in the madua of a temple at Alittane,
between Anarajapoora and Dambool. When about a yard apart, each
discerned the other and stood still, the spider with his legs slightly
bent and his body raised, the cockroach confronting him and directing
his antennae with a restless undulation towards his enemy. The spider, by
stealthy movements, approached to within a few inches and paused, both
parties eyeing each other intently; then suddenly a rush, a scuffle, and
both fell to the ground, when the blatta's wings closed, the spider
seized it under the throat with his claws, and dragged it into a corner,
when the action of his jaws was distinctly audible. Next morning Mr.
Layard found that the soft parts of the body had been eaten, nothing but
the head, thorax, and clytra remaining.
[Footnote 1: _Ann. and Mag. Nat. Hist._ May, 1853.]
But, in addition to minor and ignoble prey, the Mygale rests under the
imputation of seizing small birds and feasting on their blood. The
author who first gave popular currency to this story was Madame MERIAN,
a zoological artist of the last century, many of whose drawings are
still preserved in the Museums of St. Petersburg, Holland, and England.
In a work on the Insects of Surinam, published in 1705, she figured
the _Mygale aricularia_, in the act of devouring a humming-bird. The
accuracy of her statement has since been impugned by a correspondent
of the Zoological Society of London, on the ground that the mygale makes
no net, but lives in recesses, to which no humming-bird would resort;
and hence, the writer somewhat illogically declares, that he
"disbelieves the existence of any bird-catching spider."
[Footnote 1: _Dissertatio de Generatione et Metamorphosibus Insectorum
Surinamensium_, Amst. 1701. Fol.]
[Footnote 2: By Mr. MACLEAY in a paper communicated to the Zoological
Society of London, _Proc._ 1834, p. 12.]
Some years later, however, the same writer felt it incumbent on him to
qualify this hasty conclusion, in consequence of having seen at
Sydney an enormous spider, the _Epeira diadema_, in the act of sucking
the juices of a bird (the _Zosterops dorsalis_ of Vigors and Horsfield),
which, it had caught in the meshes of its geometrical net. This
circumstance, however, did not in his opinion affect the case of the
_Mygale_; and even as regards the _Epeira_, Mr. MacLeay, who witnessed
the occurrence, was inclined to believe the instance to be accidental
and exceptional; "an exception indeed so rare, that no other person had
ever witnessed the fact."
[Footnote 1: See _Ann. and Mag. of Nat. Hist._ for 1842, vol. viii. p.
Subsequent observation has, however, served to sustain the story of
Madame Merian. Baron Walckenaer and Latreille both corroborated it by
other authorities; and M. Moreau da Jonnes, who studied the habits of
the Mygale in Martinique, says it hunts far and wide in search of its
prey, conceals itself beneath leaves for the purpose of surprising them,
and climbs the branches of trees to devour the young of the
humming-bird, and of the _Certhia flaveola_. As to its mode of attack,
M. Jonnes says that when it throws itself on its victim it clings to it
by the double hooks of its tarsi, and strives to reach the back of the
head, to insert its jaws between the skull and the vertebrae.
[Footnote 1: See authorities quoted by Mr. SHUCKARD in the _Ann. and
Mag. of Nat. Hist._ 1842, vol. viii. p. 436, &c.]
[Footnote 2: At a meeting of the Entomological Society, July 20, 1855, a
paper was read by Mr. H.W. BATES, who stated that in 1849 at Cameta in
Brazil, he "was attracted by a curious movement of the large grayish
brown Mygale on the trunk of a vast tree: it was close beneath a deep
crevice or chink in the tree, across which this species weaves a dense
web, at one end open for its exit and entrance. In the present instance
the lower part of the web was broken, and two small finches were
entangled in its folds. The finch was about the size of the common
Siskin of Europe, and he judged the two to be male and female; one of
them was quite dead, but secured in the broken web; the other was under
the body of the spider, not quite dead, and was covered in parts with a
filthy liquor or saliva exuded by the monster. "The species of spider,"
Mr. Bates says, "I cannot name; it is wholly of a gray brown colour, and
clothed with coarse pile." "If the Mygales," he adds, "did not prey upon
vertebrated animals, I do not see how they could find sufficient
subsistence."--_The Zoologist_, vol. xiii. p. 480.]
For my own part, no instance came to my knowledge in Ceylon of a mygale
attacking a bird; but PERCIVAL, who wrote his account of the island in
1805, describes an enormous spider (possibly an Epeirid) thinly covered
with hair which "makes webs strong enough to entangle and hold even
small birds that form its usual food."
[Footnote 1: PERCIVAL'S _Ceylon_, p. 313.]
The fact of its living on millepeds, blattae, and crickets, is
universally known; and a lady who lived at Marandahn, near Colombo, told
me that she had, on one occasion, seen a little house-lizard (_gecko_)
seized and devoured by one of these ugly spiders.
Walckenaer has described a spider of large size, under the name of _Olios
Taprobanius_, which is very common in Ceylon, and conspicuous from the
fiery hue of the under surface, the remainder being covered with gray
hair so short and fine that the body seems almost denuded. It spins a
moderate-sized web, hung vertically between two sets of strong lines,
stretched one above the other athwart the pathways. Some of the threads
thus carried horizontally from tree to tree at a considerable height
from the ground are so strong as to cause a painful check across the
face when moving quickly against them; and more than once in riding I
have had my hat lifted off my head by one of these cords.
[Footnote 1: Over the country generally are scattered species of
_Gasteracantha_, remarkable for their firm shell-covered bodies, with
projecting knobs arranged in pairs. In habit these anomalous-looking
_Epeirdae_ appear to differ in no respect from the rest of the family,
waylaying their prey in similar situations and in the same manner.
Another very singular subgenus, met with in Ceylon, is distinguished by
the abdomen being dilated behind, and armed with two long spines,
arching obliquely backwards. These abnormal kinds are not so handsomely
coloured as the smaller species of typical form.]
An officer in the East India Company's Service, in a communication to
the Asiatic Society of Bengal, describes the gigantic web of a black and
red spider six inches in diameter, (his description of which, both in
colour and size, seems to point to some species closely allied to the
_Olios Taprobanius_,) which he saw near Monghyr on the Ganges; in this
web "a bird was entangled, and the young spiders, eight in number, and
entirely of a brick red colour, were feeding on the carcase."
[Footnote 1: Capt. Sherwill.]
[Footnote 2: _Jour. Asiat. Soc. Bengal_, 1850, vol. xix. p. 475.]
The voracious _Galeodes_ has not yet been noticed in Ceylon; but its
carnivorous propensities are well known in those parts of Hindustan,
where it is found, and where it lives upon crickets, coleoptera and
other insects, as well as small lizards and birds. This "tiger of the
insect world," as it has aptly been designated by a gentleman who was a
witness to its ferocity, was seen to attack a young sparrow half
grown, and seize it by the thigh, _which it sawed through_. The "savage
then caught the bird by the throat, and put an end to its sufferings by
cutting off its head." "On another occasion," says the same authority,
"Dr. Baddeley confined one of these spiders under a glass wall-shade
with two young musk-rats (_Sorex Indicus_), both of which it destroyed."
It must be added, however, that neither in the instance of the bird, of
the lizard, or the rats, did the galeodes devour its prey after killing
[Footnote 1: Capt. Hutton. See a paper on the _Galeodes vorae_ in the
_Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal_, vol. xi. Part 11. p. 860.]
In the hills around Pusilawa, I have seen the haunts of a curious
species of long-legged spiders, popularly called "harvest-men," which
congregate in hollow trees and in holes in the banks by the roadside, in
groups of from fifty to a hundred, that to a casual observer look like
bunches of horse-hair. This appearance is produced by the long and
slender legs of these creatures, which are of a shining black, whilst
their bodies, so small as to be mere specks, are concealed beneath them.
The same spider is found in the low country near Galle, but there it
shows no tendency to become gregarious. Can it be that they thus
assemble in groups in the hills for the sake of accumulated warmth at
the cool altitude of 4000 feet?
[Footnote 1: _Phalangium bisignatum_.]
_Ticks_.--Ticks are to be classed among the intolerable nuisances to the
Ceylon traveller. They live in immense numbers in the jungle, and
attaching themselves to the plants by the two forelegs, lie in wait to
catch at unwary animals as they pass. A shower of these diminutive
vermin will sometimes drop from a branch, if unluckily shaken, and
disperse themselves over the body, each fastening on the neck, the ears,
and eyelids, and inserting a barbed proboscis. They burrow, with their
heads pressed as far as practicable under the skin, causing a sensation
of smarting, as if particles of red hot sand had been scattered over the
flesh. If torn from their hold, the suckers remain behind and form an
ulcer. The only safe expedient is to tolerate the agony of their
penetration till a drop of coco-nut oil or the juice of a lime can be
applied, when these little furies drop off without further ill
consequences. One very large species, dappled with grey, attaches itself
to the buffaloes.
[Footnote 1: Dr. HOOKER, in his _Himalayan Journal_, vol. i. p. 279, in
speaking of the multitude of those creatures in the mountains of Nepal,
wonders what they tend to feed on, as in these humid forests in which
they literally swarmed, there was neither pathway nor animal life. In
Ceylon they abound everywhere in the plains on the low brush-wood; and
in the very driest seasons they are quite as numerous as at other times.
In the mountain zone, which is more humid, they are less prevalent. Dogs
are tormented by them: and they display something closely allied to
cunning in always fastening on an animal in those parts where they
cannot be torn off by his paws; on his eye-brows, the tips of his ears,
and the back of his neck. With a corresponding instinct I have always
observed in the gambols of the Pariah dogs, that they invariably
commence their attentions by mutually gnawing each other's ears and
necks, as if in pursuit of ticks from places from which each is unable
to expel them for himself. Horses have a similar instinct; and when they
meet, they apply their teeth to the roots of the ears of their
companions, to the neck and the crown of the head. The buffaloes and
oxen are relieved of ticks by the crows which rest on their backs as
they browse, and free them from these pests. In the low country the same
acceptable office is performed by the "cattle-keeper heron" (_Ardea
bubulcus_), which is "sure to be found in attendance on them while
grazing; and the animals seem to know their benefactors, and stand
quietly, while the birds peck their tormentors from their
flanks."--_Mag. Nat. Hist._ p. 111, 1844.]
_Mites_.--The _Trombidium tinctorum_ of Hermann is found about Aripo,
and generally over the northern provinces,--where after a shower of rain
or heavy night's dew, they appear in countless myriads. It is about half
an inch long, like a tuft of crimson velvet, and imparts its colouring
matter readily to any fluid in which it may be immersed. It feeds on
vegetable juices, and is perfectly innocuous. Its European
representative, similarly tinted, and found in garden mould, is commonly
called the "Little red pillion."
MYRIAPODS.--The certainty with which an accidental pressure or unguarded
touch is resented and retorted by a bite, makes the centipede, when it
has taken up its temporary abode, within a sleeve or the fold of a
dress, by far the most unwelcome of all the Singhalese assailants. The
great size, too (little short of a foot in length), to which it
sometimes attains, renders it formidable, and, apart from the
apprehension of unpleasant consequences from a wound, one shudders at
the bare idea of such a hideous creature crawling over the skin, beneath
the innermost folds of one's garments.
At the head of the _Myriapods_, and pre-eminent from a
superiorly-developed organisation, stands the genus _Cermatia_:
singular-looking objects; mounted upon slender legs, of gradually
increasing length from front to rear, the hind ones in some species
being amazingly prolonged, and all handsomely marked with brown annuli
in concentric arches. These myriapods are harmless, excepting to
woodlice, spiders, and young cockroaches, which form their ordinary
prey. They are rarely to be seen; but occasionally at daybreak, after a
more than usually abundant repast, they may be observed motionless, and
resting with their regularly extended limbs nearly flat against the
walls. On being disturbed they dart away with a surprising velocity, to
conceal themselves in chinks until the return of night.
But the species to be really dreaded are the true _Scolopendrae_, which
are active and carnivorous, living in holes in old walls and other
gloomy dens. One species attains to nearly the length of a foot, with
corresponding breadth; it is of a dark purple colour, approaching black,
with yellowish legs and antennae, and in its whole aspect repulsive and
frightful. It is strong and active, and evinces an eager disposition to
fight when molested. The _Scolopendrae_ are gifted by nature with a rigid
coriaceous armour, which does not yield to common pressure, or even to a
moderate blow; so that they often escape the most well-deserved and
well-directed attempts to destroy them, seeking refuge in retreats which
effectually conceal them from sight.
[Footnote 1: _Scolopendra crassa_, Temp.]
There is a smaller species, that frequents dwelling-houses; it is
about one quarter the size of the preceding, and of a dirty olive
colour, with pale ferruginous legs. It is this species that generally
inflicts the wound, when persons complain of being bitten by a scorpion;
and it has a mischievous propensity for insinuating itself into the
folds of dress. The bite at first does not occasion more suffering than
would arise from the penetration of two coarsely-pointed needles; but
after a little time the wound swells, becomes acutely painful, and if it
be over a bone or any other resisting part, the sensation is so
intolerable as to produce fever. The agony subsides after a few hours'
duration. In some cases the bite is unattended by any particular degree
of annoyance, and in these instances it is to be supposed that the
contents of the poison gland had become exhausted by previous efforts,
since, if much tasked, the organ requires rest to enable it to resume
its accustomed functions and to secrete a supply of venom.
[Footnote 1: _Scolopendra pallipes_.]
_The Fish-insect_.--The chief inconvenience of a residence in Ceylon,
both on the coast and in the mountains, is the prevalence of damp, and
the difficulty of protecting articles liable to injury from this cause.
Books, papers, and manuscripts rapidly decay; especially during the
south-west monsoon, when the atmosphere is saturated with moisture.
Unless great precautions are taken, the binding fades and yields, the
leaves grow mouldy and stained, and letter-paper, in an incredibly short
time, becomes so spotted and spongy as to be unfit for use. After a very
few seasons of neglect, a book falls to pieces, and its decomposition
attracts hordes of minute insects, that swarm to assist in the work of
destruction. The concealment of these tiny creatures during daylight
renders it difficult to watch their proceedings, or to discriminate the
precise species most actively engaged; but there is every reason to
believe that the larvae of the death-watch and numerous acari are amongst
the most active. As nature seldom peoples a region supplied with
abundance of suitable food, without, at the same time, taking measures
of precaution against the disproportionate increase of individuals; so
have these vegetable depredators been provided with foes who pursue and
feed greedily upon them. These are of widely different genera; but
instead of their services being gratefully recognised, they are
popularly branded as accomplices in the work of destruction. One of
these ill-used creatures is a tiny, tail-less scorpion (_Chelifer_),
and another is the pretty little silvery creature (_Lepisma_), called by
Europeans the "fish-insect."
[Footnote 1: Of the first of these, three species have been noticed in
Ceylon, all with the common characteristics of being nocturnal, very
active, very minute, of a pale chesnut colour, and each armed with a
crab-like claw. They are
_Chelifer Librorum_, Temp.
_Chelifer oblongus_, Temp.
_Chelifer acaroides_, Hermann.
Dr. Templeton appears to have been puzzled to account for the appearance
of the latter species in Ceylon, so far from its native country, but it
has most certainly been introduced from Europe, in Dutch or Portuguese
[Footnote 2: _Lepisma niveo-fasciata_, Templeton, and _L. niger_, Temp.
It was called "Lepisma" by Fabricius, from its fish-like scales. It has
six legs, filiform antenna, and the abdomen terminated by three
elongated setae, two of which are placed nearly at right angles to the
central one. LINNAEUS states that the European species, with which book
collectors are familiar, was first brought in sugar ships from America.
Hence, possibly, these are more common in seaport towns in the South of
England and elsewhere, and it is almost certain that, like the chelifer,
one of the species found on book-shelves in Ceylon, has been brought
thither from Europe.]
The latter, which is a familiar genus, comprises several species, of
which only two have as yet been described; one is of a large size, most
graceful in its movements, and singularly beautiful in appearance, owing
to the whiteness of the pearly scales from which its name is derived.
These, contrasted with the dark hue of the other parts, and its
tri-partite tail, attract the eye as the insect darts rapidly along.
Like the chelifer, it shuns the light, hiding in chinks till sunset, but
is actively engaged throughout the night feasting on the acari and
soft-bodied insects which assail books and papers.
_Millepeds_.--In the hot dry season, and more especially in the northern
portions of the island, the eye is attracted along the edges of the
sandy roads by fragments of the dislocated rings of a huge species of
millepede, lying in short curved tubes, the cavity admitting the tip
of the little finger. When perfect the creature is two-thirds of a foot
long, of a brilliant jet black, and with above a hundred yellow legs,
which, when moving onward, present the appearance of a series of
undulations from rear to front, bearing the animal gently forwards. This
_Julus_ is harmless, and may be handled with perfect impunity. Its food
consists chiefly of fruits and the roots and stems of succulent
vegetables, its jaws not being framed for any more formidable purpose.
Another and a very pretty species, quite as black, but with a bright
crimson band down the back, and the legs similarly tinted, is common in
the gardens about Colombo and throughout the western province.
[Footnote 1: _Julus ater_.]
[Footnote 2: _Julus carnifex_, Fab.]
CRUSTACEA.--The seas around Ceylon abound with marine articulata; but a
knowledge of the crustacea of the island is at present a desideratum;
and with the exception of the few commoner species that frequent the
shores, or are offered in the markets, we are literally without
information, excepting the little that can be gleaned from already
published systematic works.
[Illustration: CALLING CRAB OF CEYLON.]
In the bazaars several species of edible crabs are exposed for sale; and
amongst the delicacies at the tables of Europeans, curries made from
prawns and lobsters are the triumphs of the Ceylon cuisine. Of these
latter the fishermen sometimes exhibit specimens of extraordinary
dimensions and of a beautiful purple hue, variegated with white. Along
the level shore north and south of Colombo, and in no less profusion
elsewhere, the nimble little Calling Crabs scamper over the moist
sands, carrying aloft the enormous hand (sometimes larger than the rest
of the body), which is their peculiar characteristic, and which, from
its beckoning gesture has suggested their popular name. They hurry to
conceal themselves in the deep retreats which they hollow out in the
banks that border the sea.
[Footnote 1: _Palinurus ornatus_, Fab. P--n. s.]
[Footnote 2: _Gelasimus tetragonon_? Edw.; _G. annulipes_? Edw.; _G.
_Sand Crabs_.--In the same localities, or a little farther inland, the
_Ocypode_ burrows in the dry soil, making deep excavations, bringing
up literally armfulls of sand; which with a spring in the air, and
employing its other limbs, it jerks far from its burrows, distributing
it in a circle to the distance of several feet. So inconvenient are
the operations of these industrious pests that men are kept regularly
employed at Colombo in filling up the holes formed by them on the
surface of the Galle face. This, the only equestrian promenade of the
capital, is so infested by these active little creatures that accidents
often occur through horses stumbling in their troublesome excavations.
[Footnote 1: _Ocypode ceratophthamus_. Pall.]
[Footnote 2: _Ann. Nat. Hist_. April, 1852. Paper by Mr. EDGAR L.
_Painted Crabs_.--On the reef of rocks which lies to the south of the
harbour at Colombo, the beautiful little painted crabs, distinguished
by dark red markings on a yellow ground, may be seen all day long
running nimbly in the spray, and ascending and descending in security
the almost perpendicular sides of the rocks which are washed by the
waves. _Paddling Crabs_, with the hind pair of legs terminated by
flattened plates to assist them in swimming, are brought up in the
fishermen's nets. _Hermit Crabs_ take possession of the deserted shells
of the univalves, and crawl in pursuit of garbage along the moist beach.
Prawns and shrimps furnish delicacies for the breakfast table; and the
delicate little pea crab, _Pontonia inflata_, recalls its
Mediterranean congener, which attracted the attention of Aristotle,
from taking up its habitation in the shell of the living pinna.
[Footnote 1: _Grapsus strigosus_, Herbst.]
[Footnote 2: _Neptunus pelagicus_, Linn.; _N. sanguinolentus_, Herbst,
[Footnote 3: MILNE EDW., _Hist. Nat. Crust_., vol. ii. p. 360.]
[Footnote 4: _Pinnotheres veterum_.]
ANNELIDAE.--The marine _Annelides_ of the island have not as yet been
investigated; a cursory glance, however, amongst the stones, on the
beach at Trincomalie and in the pools that afford convenient basins for
examining them, would lead to the belief that the marine species are not
numerous; tubicole genera, as well as some nereids, are found, but there
seems to be little diversity, though it is not impossible that a closer
scrutiny might be repaid by the discovery of some interesting forms.
_Leeches_.--Of all the plagues which beset the traveller in the rising
grounds of Ceylon, the most detested are the land leeches. They are
not frequent in the plains. which are too hot and dry for them; but
amongst the rank vegetation in the lower ranges of the hill country,
which is kept damp by frequent showers, they are found in tormenting
profusion. They are terrestrial, never visiting ponds or streams. In
size they are about an inch in length, and as fine as a common knitting
needle; but they are capable of distension till they equal a quill in
thickness, and attain a length of nearly two inches. Their structure is
so flexible that they can insinuate themselves through the meshes of the
finest stocking, not only seizing on the feet and ankles, but ascending
to the back and throat and fastening on the tenderest parts of the body.
In order to exclude them, the coffee planters, who live amongst these
pests, are obliged to envelope their legs in "leech gaiters" made of
closely woven cloth. The natives smear their bodies with oil, tobacco
ashes, or lemon juice; the latter serving not only to stop the flow
of blood, but to expedite the healing of the wounds. In moving, the land
leeches have the power of planting one extremity on the earth and
raising the other perpendicularly to watch for their victim. Such is
their vigilance and instinct, that on the approach of a passer-by to a
spot which they infest, they may be seen amongst the grass and fallen
leaves on the edge of a native path, poised erect, and preparing for
their attack on man and horse. On descrying their prey they advance
rapidly by semi-circular strides, fixing one end firmly and arching the
other forwards, till by successive advances they can lay hold of the
traveller's foot, when they disengage themselves from the ground and
ascend his dress in search of an aperture to enter. In these encounters
the individuals in the rear of a party of travellers in the jungle
invariably fare worst, as the leeches, once warned of their approach,
congregate with singular celerity. Their size is so insignificant, and
the wound they make is so skilfully punctured, that both are generally
imperceptible, and the first intimation of their onslaught is the
trickling of the blood or a chill feeling of the leech when it begins to
hang heavily on the skin from being distended by its repast. Horses are
driven wild by them, and stamp the ground in fury to shake them from
their fetlocks, to which they hang in bloody tassels. The bare legs of
the palankin bearers and coolies are a favourite resort; and, as their
hands are too much engaged to be spared to pull them off, the leeches
hang like bunches of grapes round their ankles; and I have seen the
blood literally flowing over the ledge of a European's shoe from their
innumerable bites. In healthy constitutions the wounds, if not
irritated, generally heal, occasioning no other inconvenience than a
slight inflammation and itching; but in those with a bad state of body,
the punctures, if rubbed, are liable to degenerate into ulcers, which
may lead to the loss of limb or even of life. Both Marshall and Davy
mention, that during the march of troops in the mountains, when the
Kandyans were in rebellion, in 1818, the soldiers, and especially the
Madras sepoys, with the pioneers and coolies, suffered so severely from
this cause that numbers perished.
[Footnote 1: _Haemadipsa Ceylanica_. Bose. Blainv. These pests are not,
however, confined to Ceylon, they infest the lower ranges of the
Himalaya.--HOOKER, vol. i. p. 107; vol. ii. p. 54. THUNBERG, who records
(_Travels_, vol. iv. p. 232) having seen them in Ceylon, likewise met
with them in the forests and slopes of Batavia. MARSDEN (_Hist_. p. 311)
complains of them dropping on travellers in Sumatra. KNORR found them at
Japan; and it is affirmed that they abound in islands farther to the
eastward. M. GAY encountered them in Chili.--(MOQUIN-TANDON,
_Hirudinees_, p. 211, 346). It is very doubtful, however, whether all
these are to be referred to one species. M. DE BLAINVILLE, under _H.
Ceylanica_, in the _Dict. de Scien. Nat_. vol. xlvii. p. 271, quotes M.
Bosc as authority for the kind, which that naturalist describes being
"rouges et tachetees;" which is scarcely applicable to the Singhalese
species. It is more than probable therefore, considering the period at
which M. BOSC wrote, that he obtained his information from travellers to
the further east, and has connected with the habitat universally
ascribed to them from old KNOX'S work (Part 1. chap. vi.) a meagre
description, more properly belonging to the land leech of Batavia or
Japan. In all likelihood, therefore, there may be a _H. Boscii_,
distinct from the _H. Ceylanica_. That which is found in Ceylon is
round, a little flattened on the inferior surface, largest at the anal
extremity, thence gradually tapering forward, and with the anal sucker
composed of four rings, and wider in proportion than in other species.
[Illustration: EYES AND TEETH OF THE LAND LEECH OF CEYLON]
It is of a clear brown colour, with a yellow stripe the entire length of
each side, and a greenish dorsal one. The body is formed of 100 rings;
the eyes, of which there are five pairs, are placed in an arch on the
dorsal surface; the first four pairs occupying contiguous rings (thus
differing from the water-leeches, which have an unoccupied ring betwixt
the third and fourth); the fifth pair are located on the seventh ring,
two vacant rings intervening. To Mr. Thwaites, Director of the Botanic
Garden at Peradenia, who at my request examined their structure
minutely, I am indebted for the following most interesting particulars
respecting them. "I have been giving a little time to the examination of
the land leech. I find it to have five pairs of ocelli, the first four
seated on corresponding segments, and the posterior pair on the seventh
segment or ring, the fifth and sixth rings being eyeless (_fig_. A). The
mouth is very retractile, and the aperture is shaped as in ordinary
leeches. The serratures of the teeth, or rather the teeth themselves,
are very beautiful. Each of the three 'teeth,' or cutting instruments,
is principally muscular, the muscular body being very clearly seen. The
rounded edge in which the teeth are set appears to be cartilaginous in
structure; the teeth are very numerous, (_fig_. B); but some near the
base have a curious appendage, apparently (I have not yet made this out
quite satisfactorily) set upon one side. I have not yet been able to
detect the anal or sexual pores. The anal sucker seems to be formed of
four rings, and on each side above is a sort of crenated flesh-like
appendage. The tint of the common species is yellowish-brown or
snuff-coloured, streaked with black, with a yellow-greenish dorsal, and
another lateral line along its whole length. There is a larger species
to be found in this garden with a broad green dorsal fascia; but I have
not been able to procure one although I have offered a small reward to
any coolie who will bring me one." In a subsequent communication Mr.
Thwaites remarks "that the dorsal longitudinal fascia is of the same
width as the lateral ones, and differs only in being perhaps slightly
more green; the colour of the three fasciae varies from brownish-yellow
to bright green." He likewise states "that the rings which compose the
body are just 100, and the teeth 70 to 80 in each set, in a single row,
except to one end, where they are in a double row."]
[Illustration: LAND LEECHES IN PURSUIT]
[Footnote 2: The Minorite friar, ODORIC of Portenau. writing in A.D.
1320, says that the gem-finders who sought the jewels around Adam's
Peak, "take lemons which they peel, anointing themselves with the juice
thereof, so that the leeches may not be able to hurt them."--HAKLUYT,
_Voy._ vol. ii. p. 58.]
[Footnote 3: DAVY'S _Ceylon_, p. 104; MARSHALL'S _Ceylon_, p. 15.]
One circumstance regarding these land leeches is remarkable and
unexplained; they are helpless without moisture, and in the hills where
they abound at all other times, they entirely disappear during long
droughts;--yet re-appear instantaneously on the very first fall of rain;
and in spots previously parched, where not one was visible an hour
before, a single shower is sufficient to reproduce them in thousands,
lurking beneath the decaying leaves, or striding with rapid movements
across the gravel. Whence do they re-appear? Do they, too, take a
"summer sleep," like the reptiles, molluscs, and tank fishes? or may
they, like the _Rotifera_, be dried up and preserved for an indefinite
period, resuming their vital activity on the mere recurrence of
[Footnote 1: See an account of the _Rotifera_ and their faculty of
repeated vivifaction, in the note appended to this chapter.]
Besides a species of the medicinal leech, which is found in Ceylon,
nearly double the size of the European one, and with a prodigious
faculty of engorging blood, there is another pest in the low country,
which is a source of considerable annoyance, and often of loss, to the
husbandman. This is the cattle leech, which infests the stagnant
pools, chiefly in the alluvial lands around the base of the mountain
zone, whither the cattle resort by day, and the wild animals by night,
to quench their thirst and to bathe. Lurking amongst the rank vegetation
that fringes these deep pools, and hid by the broad leaves, or concealed
among the stems and roots covered by the water, there are quantities of
these pests in wait to attack the animals on their approach to drink.
Their natural food consists of the juices of lumbrici and other
invertebrata; but they generally avail themselves of the opportunity
afforded by the dipping of the muzzles of the animals in the water to
fasten on their nostrils, and by degrees to make their way to the deeper
recesses of the nasal passages, and the mucous membranes of the throat
and gullet. As many as a dozen have been found attached to the
epiglottis and pharynx of a bullock, producing such irritation and
submucous effusion that death has eventually ensued; and so tenacious
are the leeches that even after death they retain their hold for some
[Footnote 1: _Hirudo sanguisorba_. The paddi-field leech of Ceylon, used
for surgical purposes, has the dorsal surface of blackish olive, with
several longitudinal striae, more or less defined; the crenated margin
yellow. The ventral surface is fulvous, bordered laterally with olive;
the extreme margin yellow. The eyes are ranged as in the common
medicinal leech of Europe; the four anterior ones rather larger than the
others. The teeth are 140 in each series, appearing as a single row; in
size diminishing gradually from one end, very close set, and about half
the width of a tooth apart. When full grown, these leeches are about two
inches long, but reaching to six inches when extended. Mr. Thwaites, to
whom I am indebted for these particulars, adds that he saw in a tank at
Kolona Korle leeches which appeared to him flatter and of a darker
colour than those described above, but that he had not an opportunity of
examining them particularly.
Mr. Thwaites states that there is a smaller tank leech of an olive-green
colour, with some indistinct longitudinal striae on the upper surface;
the crenated margin of a pale yellowish-green; ocelli as in the
paddi-field leech; length, one inch at rest, three inches when extended.
Mr. E.L. LAYARD informs us, _Mag. Nat. Hist_. p. 225, 1853, that a
bubbling spring at the village of Tonniotoo, three miles S.W. of
Moeletivoe, supplies most of the leeches used in the island. Those in
use at Colombo are obtained in the immediate vicinity.]
[Footnote 2: _Haemopsis paludum_. In size the cattle leech of Ceylon is
somewhat larger than the medicinal leech of Europe: in colour it is of a
uniform brown without bands, unless a rufous margin may be so
considered. It has dark striae. The body is somewhat rounded, flat when
swimming, and composed of rather more than ninety rings. The greatest
dimension is a little in advance of the anal sucker; the body thence
tapers to the other extremity, which ends in an upper lip projecting
considerably beyond the mouth. The eyes, ten in number, are disposed as
in the common leech. The mouth is oval, the biting apparatus with
difficulty seen, and the teeth not very numerous. The bite is so little
acute that the moment of attachment, and the incision of the membrane is
scarcely perceived by the sufferer from its attack.]
[Footnote 3: Even men, when stooping to drink at a pool, are not safe
from the assault of the cattle leeches. They cannot penetrate the human
skin, but the delicate membrane of the mucous passages is easily
ruptured by their serrated jaws. Instances have come to my knowledge of
Europeans into whose nostrils they had gained admission and caused
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