Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon
J. Emerson Tennent

Part 7 out of 12

near Ceylon, of six feet in width. Like most deep-sea fishes, the ray
has a wide geographical range, and occurs not only in all the Indian
Ocean, but also in the tropical tracts of the Atlantic.


[Footnote 1: _Raja narinari_, Bl. Schn. p. 361. _Aetobates narinari_,
Muell. und Henle., Plagiost. p. 179.]

Another armed fish, renowned since the times of AElian and Pliny for its
courage in attacking the whale, and even a ship, is the sword-fish
(_Xiphias gladius_).[1] Like the thunny and bonito, it is an inhabitant
of the deeper seas, and, though known in the Mediterranean, is chiefly
confined to the tropics. The dangerous weapon with which nature has
equipped it is formed by the prolongation and intertexture of the bones
of the upper jaw into an exceedingly compact cylindrical protuberance,
somewhat flattened at the base, but tapering to a sharp point. In
strange inconsistence with its possession of so formidable an armature,
the general disposition of the sword-fish is represented to be gentle
and inoffensive; and although the fact of its assaults upon the whale
has been incontestably established, yet the motive for such conflicts,
and the causes of its enmity, are beyond conjecture. Competition for
food is out of the question, as the Xiphias can find its own supplies
without rivalry on the part of its gigantic antagonist; and as to
converting the whale itself into food, the sword-fish, from the
construction of its mouth and the small size of its teeth, is quite
incapable of feeding on animals of such dimensions.

[Footnote 1: AELIAN tells a story of a ship in the Black Sea, the bottom
of which was penetrated by the sword of a _Xiphias_ (L. xiv. c. 23); and
PLINY (L. xxxii. c. 8) speaks of a similar accident on the coast of
Mauritania. In the British Museum there is a specimen of a plank of oak,
pierced by a sword-fish, and still retaining the broken weapon.]

In the seas around Ceylon sword-fishes sometimes attain to the length of
twenty feet, and are distinguished by the unusual height of the dorsal
fin. Those both of the Atlantic and Mediterranean possess this fin in
its full proportions, only during the earlier stages of their growth.
Its dimensions even then are much smaller than in the Indian species;
and it is a curious fact that it gradually decreases as the fish
approaches to maturity; whereas in the seas around Ceylon, it retains
its full size throughout the entire period of life. They raise it above
the water, whilst dashing along the surface in their rapid course; and
there is no reason to doubt that it occasionally acts as a sail.

The Indian species (which are provided with two long and filamentous
ventral fins) have been formed into the genus _Histiophorus_; to which
belongs the individual figured on the next page. It is distinguished
from others most closely allied to it, by having the immense dorsal fin
of one uniform dark violet colour; whilst in its congeners, it is
spotted with blue. The fish from which the engraving has been made, was
procured by Dr. Templeton, near Colombo. The species was previously
known only by a single specimen captured in the Red Sea, by Rueppell, who
conferred upon it the specific designation of "_immaculatus_."[1]

[Footnote 1: Trans. Zool. Soc. ii. p. 71. Pl. 15.]


AElian, in his graphic account of the strange forms presented by the
fishes inhabiting the seas around Ceylon, says that one in particular is
so grotesque in its configuration, that no painter would venture to
depict it; its main peculiarity being that it has feet or claws rather
than fins.[1] The annexed drawing[2] may probably represent the creature
to which the informants of AElian referred. It is a cheironectes; one of
a group in which the bones of the carpus form arms that support the
pectoral fins, and enable these fishes to walk along the moist ground,
almost like quadrupeds.

[Footnote 1: [Greek: Podas ge men chelas e pterygia.]--Lib. xvi. c. 18.]

[Footnote 2: The fish from which this drawing of the _Cheironectes_ was
made, was taken near Colombo, and from the peculiarities which it
presents it is in all probability a new and undescribed species. Dr.
GUeNTHER has remarked, that in it, whilst the first and second dorsal
spines are situated as usual over the eye (and form, one the angling
bait of the fish, the other the crest above the nose), the third is at
an unusual distance from the second, and is not separated, as in the
other species, from the soft fin by a notch.]

They belong to the family of _Lophiads_ or "anglers," not unfrequent on
the English coast; which conceal themselves in the mud, displaying only
the erectile ray, situated on the head, which bears an excrescence on
its extremity resembling a worm; by agitating which, they attract the
smaller fishes, that thus become an easy prey.

[Illustration: CHEIRONECTES]

On the rocks in Ceylon which are washed by the surf there are quantities
of the curious little fish, _Salarius alticus_[1], which possesses the
faculty of darting along the surface of the water, and running up the
wet stones, with the utmost ease and rapidity. By aid of the pectoral
and ventral fins and gill-cases, they move across the damp sand, ascend
the roots of the mangroves, and climb up the smooth face of the rocks in
search of flies; adhering so securely as not to be detached by repeated
assaults of the waves. These little creatures are so nimble, that it is
almost impossible to lay hold of them, as they scramble to the edge, and
plunge into the sea on the slightest attempt to molest them. They are
from three to four inches in length, and of a dark brown colour, almost
undistinguishable from the rocks they frequent.

[Footnote 1: Cuv. and VALEN., _Hist. Nat. des Poissons_, tom. xi. p.
249. It is identical with _S. tridactylus,_ Schn.]

But the most striking to the eye of a stranger are those fishes whose
brilliancy of colouring has won for them the wonder even of the listless
Singhalese. Some, like the Red Sea Perch (_Holocentrum rubrum_, Forsk)
and the Great Fire Fish[1], are of the deepest scarlet and flame colour;
in others purple predominates, as in the _Serranus flavo-caeruleus_; in
others yellow, as in the _Choetodon Brownriggii_[2], and _Acanthurus
vittatus_, of Bennett[3], and numbers, from the lustrous green of their
scales, have obtained from the natives the appropriate name of
_Giraway_, or _parrots_, of which one, the _Sparus Hardwickii_ of
Bennett, is called the "Flower Parrot," from its exquisite colouring,
being barred with irregular bands of blue, crimson, and purple, green,
yellow, and grey, and crossed by perpendicular stripes of black.

[Footnote 1: _Pterois muricata_, Cuv. and Val. iv. 363. _Scarpaena
miles_, Bennett; named, by the Singhalese, "_Maharata-gini_," the Great
Red Fire, a very brilliant red species spotted with black. It is very
voracious, and is regarded on some parts of the coast as edible, while
on others it is rejected.]

[Footnote 2: _Glyphisodon Brownriggii_, Cuv. and Val. v. 484; _Choetodon
Brownriggii_, Bennett. A very small fish about two inches long, called
_Kaha hartikyha_ by the natives. It is distinct from Choetodon, in which
BENNETT placed it. Numerous species of this genus are scattered
throughout the Indian Ocean. It derives its name from the fine hair-like
character of its teeth. They are found chiefly among coral reefs, and,
though eaten, are not much esteemed. In the French colonies they are
called "Chauffe-soleil." One species is found on the shores of the New
World (_G. saxatalis_), and it is curious that Messrs. QUOY and GAIMARD
found this fish at the Cape de Verde Islands in 1827.]

[Footnote 3: This fish has a sharp round spine on the side of the body
near the tail; a formidable weapon, which is generally partially
concealed within a scabbard-like incision. It raises or depresses this
spine at pleasure. The fish is yellow, with several nearly parallel blue
stripes on the back and sides; the belly is white, the tail and fins
brownish green, edged with blue.

It is found in rocky places; and according to BENNETT, who has figured
it in his second plate, it is named _Seweya_. It has been known,
however, to all the old ichthyologists, Valentyn, Renard, Seba, Artedi,
and has been named _Chaetodon lineatus_, by Linne. It is scarce on the
southern coast of Ceylon.]

Of these richly coloured fishes the most familiar in the Indian seas are
the _Pteroids_. They are well known on the coast of Africa, and thence
eastward to Polynesia; but they do not extend to the west coast of
America, and are utterly absent from the Atlantic. The rays of the
dorsal and pectoral fins are so elongated, that when specimens were
first brought to Europe it was conjectured that these fishes have the
faculty of flight, and hence the specific name of "_volitans_" But this
is an error, for, owing to the deep incisions between the pectoral rays,
the pteroids are wholly unable to sustain themselves in the air. They
are not even bold swimmers, living close to the shore and never
venturing into the deep sea. Their head is ornamented with a number of
filaments and cutaneous appendages, of which one over each eye and
another at the angles of the mouth are the most conspicuous. Sharp
spines project on the crown and on the side of the gill-apparatus, as in
the other sea-perches, _Scorpaena, Serranus_, &c., of which these are
only a modified and ornate form. The extraordinary expansion of their
fins is not, however, accompanied by a similar development of the bones
to which they are attached, simply because they appear to have no
peculiar function, as in flying fishes, or in those where the spines of
the fins are weapons of offence. They attain to the length of twelve
inches, and to a weight of about two pounds; they live on small marine
animals, and by the Singhalese the flesh (of some at least) is
considered good for table. Nine or ten species are known to occur in the
East Indian Seas, and of these the one figured above is, perhaps, the
most common.

[Illustration: PTEROIS VOLITANS.]

Another species known to occur on the coasts of Ceylon is the _Scorpaena
miles_, Bennett, or _Pterois miles_, Guenther[1], of which Bennett has
given a figure[2], but it is not altogether correct in some particulars.

[Footnote 1: The fish from the Sea of Pinang, described by Dr. CANTOR
with this name (Catal. Mal. Fish. p. 42), is again different, and
belongs to a third species.]

[Footnote 2: _Fishes of Ceylon_, Pl. ix.]

In the fishes of Ceylon, however, beauty is not confined to the
brilliancy of their tints. In some, as in the _/Scarus harid_, Forsk[1],
the arrangement of the scales is so graceful, and the effect is so
heightened by modifications of colour, as to present the appearance of
tessellation, or mosaic work.

[Footnote 1: This is the fish figured by BENNETT as _Sparus pepo_.
_Fishes of Ceylon_, Plate xxviii.]

[Illustration: SCARUS HARID. After Bennett.]

_Fresh-water Fishes_.--Of the fresh-water fish, which inhabit the rivers
and tanks, so very little has hitherto been known to naturalists[1],
that of nineteen drawings sent home by Major Skinner in 1852, although
specimens of well-known genera, Colonel Hamilton Smith pronounced nearly
the whole to be new and undescribed species.

[Footnote 1: In extenuation of the little that is known of the
fresh-water fishes of Ceylon, it may be observed that very few of them
are used at table by Europeans, and there is therefore no stimulus on
the part of the natives to catch them. The burbot and grey mullet are
occasionally eaten, but they taste of mud, and are not in request.

Some years ago the experiment was made, with success, of introducing
into Mauritius the _Osphromenus olfax_ of Java, which has also been
taken to French Guiana. In both places it is now highly esteemed as a
fish for table. As it belongs to a family which possesses the faculty,
hereafter alluded to, of surviving in the damp soil after the subsidence
of the water in the tanks and rivers, it might with equal advantage be
acclimated in Ceylon. It grows to 20 lbs. weight and upwards.]

Of eight of these, which were from the Mahawelliganga, and caught in the
vicinity of Kandy, five were carps; two were _Leucisci_, and one a
_Mastacembelus_ (_M. armatus_, Lacep); one was an _Ophiocephalus_, and
one a _Polyacanthus_, with no serrae on the gills. Six were from the
Kalanyganga, close to Colombo, of which two were _Helostoma_, in shape
approaching the Chaetodon; two _Ophiocephali_, one a _Silurus_, and one
an _Anabas_, but the gills were without denticulation. From the still
water of the lake, close to the walls of Colombo, there were two species
of _Eleotris_, one _Silurus_ with barbels, and two _Malacopterygians_,
which appear to be _Bagri_.

The _fresh-water Perches_ of Europe and of the North of America are
represented in Ceylon and India by several genera, which bear to them a
great external similarity (_Lates, Therapon_). They have the same habits
as their European allies, and their flesh is considered equally
wholesome, but they appear to enter salt-water, or at least brackish
water, more freely. It is, however, in their internal organisation that
they differ most from the perches of Europe; their skeletons are
composed of fewer vertebrae, and the air bladder of the _Therapon_ is
divided into two portions, as in the carps. Four species at least of
this genus inhabit the lakes and rivers of Ceylon, and one of them, of
which a figure is given above, has been but imperfectly described in any
ichthyological work[1]; it attains to the length of seven inches.

[Footnote 1: Holocentrus quadrilineatus, _Bloch_. It is allied to
_Helotes polytoenia_, Bleek., from Halmaheira which it can be readily
distinguished by having only five or six blackish longitudinal bands,
the black humeral spot being between the first and second; another
blackish blotch is in the spinous dorsal fin. There are two specimens in
the British Museum collection, one of which has recently arrived from
Amoy; of the other the locality is unknown. See GUeNTHER, _Acanthopt.
Fishes_, vol. i. p. 282, where mention of the black humeral spot has
been omitted.]


In addition to marine eels, in which the Indian coasts abound, Ceylon
has some true fresh-water eels, which never enter the sea. These are
known to the natives under the name of _Theliya_, and to naturalists by
that of _Mastacembelus_. They have sometimes in ichthyological systems
been referred to the Scombridae and other marine families, from the
circumstance that the dorsal fin anteriorly is composed of spines. But,
in addition to the general shape of the body, their affinity to the eel
is attested, by their confluent fins, by the absence of ventral fins, by
the structure of the mouth and its dentition, by the apparatus of the
gills, which opens with an inferior slit, and above all by the formation
of the skeleton itself.[1]

[Footnote 1: See GUeNTHER'S _Acanthopt. Fishes_, vol. iii. (Family

Their skin is covered with minute scales, coated by a slimy exudation,
and the upper jaw is produced into a soft tripartite tentacle, with
which they are enabled to feel for their prey in the mud. They are very
tenacious of life, and belong, without doubt, to those fishes which in
Ceylon descend during the drought into the muddy soil.[1] Their flesh
very much resembles that of the eel; and is highly esteemed.[2] They
were first made known to European naturalists by Russell[3], who brought
to Europe from the rivers round Aleppo specimens, some of which are
still preserved in the collection of the British Museum. Aleppo is the
most western point of their geographical range, the group being mainly
confined to the East-Indian continent and its islands.

In Ceylon only one species appears to occur, the

[Footnote 1: See post, p. 351.]

[Footnote 2: CUV. and VAL., _Hist. Poiss._ vol. iii. p. 459.]

[Footnote 3: _Nat. Hist. Aleppo_, 2nd edit. Lond. 1794, vol. ii. p. 208,
pl. vi.]


_Mastacembelus armatus_.[1] The back is armed with from thirty-five to
thirty-nine short, stout spines; there being three others before the
anal fin. The ground colour of the fish is brown, and the head has two
rather irregular longitudinal black bands; deep-brown spots run along
the back as well as along the dorsal and anal fins; and the sides are
ornamented with irregular and reticulated brown lines. This eel attains
to the length of two feet. The old females do not show any markings,
being of a uniform brown colour.

[Footnote 1: Macrognathus armatus, _Lacep._; Mastacembelus armatus,
_Cuv., Val._]

In the collection of Major Skinner, before alluded to, brought together
without premeditation, the naturalist will be struck by the
preponderance of those genera which are adapted by nature to endure, a
temporary privation of moisture; and this, taken in connection with the
vicissitudes affecting the waters they inhabit, exhibits a surprising
illustration of the wisdom of the Creator in adapting the organisation
of his creatures to the peculiar circumstances under which they are
destined to exist.

So abundant are fish in all parts of the island, that Knox says, not the
running streams alone, but the reservoirs and ponds, "nay, every ditch
and little plash of water but ankle deep hath fish in it."[1] But many
of these reservoirs and tanks are, twice in each year, liable to be
evaporated to dryness till the mud of the bottom is converted into dust,
and the clay cleft by the heat into gaping apertures; yet within a very
few days after the change of the monsoon, the natives are busily engaged
in fishing in those very spots and in the hollows contiguous to them,
although the latter are entirely unconnected with any pool or running
streams. Here they fish in the same way which Knox described nearly 200
years ago, with a funnel-shaped basket, open at bottom and top, "which,"
as he says, "they jibb down, and the end sticks in the mud, which often
happens upon a fish; which, when they feel beating itself against the
sides, they put in their hands and take it out, and reive a ratan
through their gills, and so let them drag after them."[2]

[Footnote 1: Knox's _Historical Relation of Ceylon,_ Part i. ch. vii.
The occurrence of fish in the most unlooked-for situations, is one of
the mysteries of other eastern countries as well as Ceylon and India. In
Persia irrigation is carried on to a great extent by means of wells sunk
in line in the direction in which it is desired to lead a supply of
water, and these are connected by channels, which are carefully arched
over to protect them from evaporation. These _kanats,_ as they are
called, are full of fish, although neither they nor the wells they unite
have any connection with streams or lakes.]

[Footnote 2: Knox, _Historical Relation of Ceylon_, Part i. ch vi.]

[Illustration: FROM KNOX'S CEYLON, A.D. 1681]

This operation may be seen in the lowlands, traversed by the high road
leading from Colombo to Kandy. Before the change of the monsoon, the
hollows on either side of the highway are covered with dust or stunted
grass; but when flooded by the rains, they are immediately resorted to
by the peasants with baskets, constructed precisely as Knox has stated,
in which the fish are entrapped and taken out by the hand.[1]

[Footnote 1: As anglers, the native Singhalese exhibit little
expertness; but for fishing the rivers, they construct with singular
ingenuity fences formed of strong stakes, protected by screens of ratan,
that stretch diagonally across the current; and along these the fish are
conducted into a series of enclosures from which retreat is
impracticable. MR. LAYARD, in the _Magazine of Natural History_ for May,
1853, has given a diagram of one of these fish "corrals," as they are
called, of which a copy is shown on the next page.]

So singular a phenomenon as the sudden re-appearance of full-grown
fishes in places that a few days before had been encrusted with hardened
clay, has not failed to attract attention; but the European residents
have been content to explain it by hazarding conjectures, either that
the spawn must have lain imbedded in the dried earth till released by
the rains, or that the fish, so unexpectedly discovered, fall from the
clouds during the deluge of the monsoon.

As to the latter conjecture; the fall of fish during showers, even were
it not so problematical in theory, is too rare an event to account for
the punctual appearance of those found in the rice-fields, at stated
periods of the year. Both at Galle and Colombo in the south-west
monsoon, fish are popularly believed to have fallen from the clouds
during violent showers, but those found on the occasions that give rise
to this belief, consist of the smallest fry, such as could be caught up
by waterspouts, and vortices analogous to them, or otherwise blown on
shore from the surf; whereas those which suddenly appear in the
replenished tanks and in the hollows which they overflow, are mature and
well-grown fish.[1] Besides, the latter are found, under the
circumstances I have described, in all parts of the interior, whilst the
prodigy of a supposed fall of fish from the sky has been noticed, I
apprehend, only in the vicinity of the sea, or of some inland water.

[Footnote 1: I had an opportunity, on one occasion only, of witnessing
the phenomenon which gives rise to this popular belief. I was driving in
the cinnamon gardens near the fort of Colombo, and saw a violent but
partial shower descend at no great distance before me. On coming to the
spot I found a multitude of small silvery fish from one and a half to
two inches in length, leaping on the gravel of the high road, numbers of
which I collected and brought away in my palankin. The spot was about
half a mile from the sea, and entirely unconnected with any watercourse
or pool.

Mr. Whiting, who was many years resident in Trincomadie, writes me that
he "had often been told by the natives on that side of the island that
it sometimes rained fishes; and on one occasion" (he adds) "I was taken
by them, in 1849, to a field at the village of Karrancotta-tivo, near
Batticaloa, which was dry when I passed over it in the morning, but, had
been covered in two hours by sudden rain to the depth of three inches,
in which there was then a quantity of small fish. The water had no
connection with any pond or stream whatsoever." Mr. Cripps, in like
manner, in speaking of Galle, says: "I have seen in the vicinity of the
fort, fish taken from rain-water that had accumulated in the hollow
parts of land that in the hot season are perfectly dry and parched. The
place is accessible to no running stream or tank; and either the fish or
the spawn from which they were produced, must of necessity have fallen
with the rain."

Mr. J. PRINSEP, the eminent secretary to the Asiatic Society of Bengal,
found a fish in the pulviometer at Calcutta, in 1838.--_Journ. Asiat.
Soc. Bengal_, vol. vi. p. 465.

A series of instances in which fishes have been found on the continent
of India under circumstances which lead to the conclusion that they must
have fallen from the clouds, have been collected by the late Dr. BUIST
of Bombay, and will be found in the appendix to this chapter.]

[Illustration: FISH CORRAL]

The surmise of the buried spawn is one sanctioned by the very highest
authority. Mr. Yarrell in his "_History of British Fishes_," adverting
to the fact that ponds (in India) which had been previously converted
into hardened mud, are replenished with small fish in a very few days
after the commencement of each rainy season, offers this solution of the
problem as probably the true one: "The impregnated ova of the fish of
one rainy season are left unhatched in the mud through the dry season,
and from their low state of organisation as ova, the vitality is
preserved till the recurrence, and contact of the rain and oxygen in the
next wet season, when vivification takes place from their joint

[Footnote 1: YARRELL, _History of British Fishes_, introd. vol. i. p.
xxvi. This too was the opinion of Aristotle, _De Respiratione_, c. ix.]

This hypothesis, however, appears to have been advanced upon imperfect
data; for although some fish, like the salmon, scrape grooves in the
sand and place their spawn in inequalities and fissures; yet as a
general rule spawn is deposited not beneath but on the surface of the
ground or sand over which the water flows, the adhesive nature of each
egg supplying the means of attachment. But in the Ceylon tanks not only
is the surface of the soil dried to dust after the evaporation of the
water, but earth itself, twelve or eighteen inches deep, is converted
into sun-burnt clay, in which, although the eggs of mollusca, in their
calcareous covering, are in some instances preserved, it would appear to
be as impossible for the ova of fish to be kept from decomposition as
for the fish themselves to sustain life. Besides, moisture in such
situations is only to be found at a depth to which spawn could not be
conveyed by the parent fish, by any means with which we are yet

But supposing it possible to carry the spawn sufficiently deep, and to
deposit it safely in the mud below, which is still damp, whence it could
be liberated on the return of the rains, a considerable interval would
still be necessary after the replenishing of the ponds with water to
admit of vivification and growth. Yet so far from this interval being
allowed to elapse, the rains have no sooner fallen than the taking of
the fish commences, and those captured by the natives in wicker cages
are mature and full grown instead of being "small fish" or fry, as
supposed by Mr. Yarrell.

Even admitting the soundness of his theory, and the probability that,
under favourable circumstances, the spawn in the tanks might be
preserved during the dry season so as to contribute to the perpetuation
of their breed, the fact is no longer doubtful, that adult fish in
Ceylon, like some of those that inhabit similar waters both in the New
and Old World, have been endowed by the Creator with the singular
faculty of providing against the periodical droughts either by
journeying overland in search of still unexhausted water, or, on its
utter disappearance, by burying themselves in the mud to await the
return of the rains.

It is an illustration of the eagerness with which, after the expedition
of Alexander the Great, particulars connected with the natural history
of India were sought for and arranged by the Greeks, that in the works
both of ARISTOTLE and THEOPHRASTUS facts are recorded of the fishes in
the Indian rivers migrating in search of water, of their burying
themselves in the mud on its failure, of their being dug out thence
alive during the dry season, and of their spontaneous reappearance on
the return of the rains. The earliest notice is in ARISTOTLE'S treatise
_De Respiratione_[1], where he mentions the strange discovery of living
fish found beneath the surface of the soil, "[Greek: ton ichthyon oi
polloi zosin en te ge, akinetizontes mentoi, kai euriskontai
oryttomenoi?]" and in his History of Animals he conjectures that in
ponds periodically dried the ova of the fish so buried become vivified
at the change of the season.[2] HERODOTUS had previously hazarded a
similar theory to account for the sudden appearance of fry in the
Egyptian marshes on the rising of the Nile; but the cases are not
parallel. THEOPHRASTUS, the friend and pupil of Aristotle, gave
importance to the subject by devoting to it his essay [Greek: Peri tes
ton ichthyon en zero diamones], _De Piscibus in sicco degentibus_. In
this, after adverting to the fish called _exocoetus_, from its habit of
going on shore to sleep, "[Greek: apo tes koites,]" he instances the
small fish ([Greek: ichthydia]), that leave the rivers of India to
wander like frogs on the land; and likewise a species found near
Babylon, which, when the Euphrates runs low, leave the dry channels in
search of food, "moving themselves along by means of their fins and
tail." He proceeds to state that at Heraclea Pontica there are places in
which fish are dug out of the earth, "[Greek: oryktoi ton ichthyon],"
and he accounts for their being found under such circumstances by the
subsidence of the rivers, "when the water being evaporated the fish
gradually descend beneath the soil in search of moisture; and the
surface becoming hard they are preserved in the damp clay below it, in a
state of torpor, but are capable of vigorous movements when disturbed."
"In, this manner, too," adds Theophrastus, "the buried fish propagate,
leaving behind them their spawn, which becomes vivified on the return of
the waters to their accustomed bed." This work of Theophrastus became
the great authority for all subsequent writers on this question.
ATHENAEUS quotes it[3], and adds the further testimony of POLYBIUS, that
in Gallia Narbonensis fish are similarly dug out of the ground.[4]
STRABO repeats the story[5], and the Greek naturalists one and all
received the statement as founded on reliable authority.

[Footnote 1: Chap. ix.]

[Footnote 2: Lib. vi. ch. 15, 16, 17.]

[Footnote 3: Lib. viii. ch. 2.]

[Footnote 4: _Ib._ ch. 4.]

[Footnote 5: Lib. iv. and xii.]

Not so the Romans. LIVY mentions it as one of the prodigies which were
to be "expiated" on the approach of a rupture with Macedon, that "in
Gallico agro qua induceretur aratrum sub glebis pisces emersisse,"[1]
thus taking it out of the category of natural occurrences. POMPONIUS
MELA, obliged to notice the matter in his account of Narbon Gaul,
accompanies it with the intimation that although asserted by both Greek
and Roman authorities, the story was either a delusion or a fraud,
JUVENAL has a sneer for the rustic--

"miranti sub aratro
Piscibus inventis."--_Sat_. xiii. 63.

[Footnote 1: Lib. xlii. ch. 2.]

And SENECA, whilst he quotes Theophrastus, adds ironically, that now we
must go to fish with a _hatchet_ instead of a hook; "non cum hamis, sed
cum dolabra ire piscatum." PLINY, who devotes the 35th chapter of his
9th book to this subject, uses the narrative of Theophrastus, but with
obvious caution, and universally the Latin writers treated the story as
a fable.

In later times the subject received more enlightened attention, and
Beekman, who in 1736 published his commentary on the collection [Greek:
Peri Thaumasion akousmaton], ascribed to Aristotle, has given a list of
the authorities about his own times,--GEORGIUS AGRICOLA, GESNER,
RONDELET, DALECHAMP, BOMARE, and GRONOVIUS, who not only gave credence
to the assertions of Theophrastus, but adduced modern instances in
corroboration of his Indian authorities.

As regards the fresh-water fishes of India and Ceylon, the fact is now
established that certain of them possess the power of leaving the rivers
and returning to them again after long migrations on dry land, and
modern observation has fully confirmed their statements. They leave the
pools and nullahs in the dry season, and led by an instinct as yet
unexplained, shape their course through the grass towards the nearest
pool of water. A similar phenomenon is observable in countries similarly
circumstanced. The Doras of Guiana[1] have been seen travelling over
land during the dry season in search of their natural element[2], in
such droves that the negroes fill baskets with them during these
terrestrial excursions. PALLEGOIX in his account of Siam, enumerates
three species of fishes which leave the tanks and channels and traverse
the damp grass[3]; and SIR JOHN BOWRING, in his account of his embassy
to the Siamese kings in 1855, states, that in ascending and descending
the river Meinam to Bankok, he was amused with the novel sight of fish
leaving the river, gliding over the wet banks, and losing themselves
amongst the trees of the jungle.[4]

[Footnote 1: _D. Hancockii_, CUV. et VAL.]

[Footnote 2: Sir R. Schomburgk's _Fishes of Guiana_, vol. i. pp. 113,
151, 160. Another migratory fish was found by Bose very numerous in the
fresh waters of Carolina and in ponds liable to become dry in summer.
When captured and placed on the ground, "they _always, directed
themselves towards the nearest water, which they could not possibly
see_, and which they must have discovered by some internal index. They
belong to the genus _Hydrargyra_ and are called Swampines.--KIRBY,
_Bridgewater Treatise_, vol. i. p. 143.

Eels kept in a garden, when August arrived (the period at which instinct
impels them to go to the sea to spawn) were in the habit of leaving the
pond, and were invariably found moving eastward _in the direction of the
sea_.--YARRELL, vol. ii. p. 384. Anglers observe that fish newly caught,
when placed out of sight of water, always struggle towards it to

[Footnote 3: PALLEGOIX, vol. i. p. 144.]

[Footnote 4: Sir J. BOWERING'S _Siam,_ &c., vol. i. p. 10.]

The class of fishes endowed with this power are chiefly those with
labyrinthiform pharyngeal bones, so disposed in plates and cells as to
retain a supply of moisture, which, whilst they are crawling on land,
gradually exudes so as to keep the gills damp.[1]

[Footnote 1: CUVIER and VALENCIENNES, _Hist. Nat. des Poissons_, tom.
vii. p. 246.]

The individual most frequently seen in these excursions in Ceylon is a
perch called by the Singhalese _Kavaya_ or _Kawhy-ya_, and by the Tamils
_Pannei-eri_, or _Sennal_. It is closely allied to the _Anabas scandens_
of Cuvier, the _Perca scandens_ of Daldorf. It grows to about six inches
in length, the head round and covered with scales, and the edges of the
gill-covers strongly denticulated. Aided by the apparatus already
adverted to in its head, this little creature issues boldly from its
native pools and addresses itself to its toilsome march generally at
night or in the early morning, whilst the grass is still damp with the
dew; but in its distress it is sometimes compelled to move by day, and
Mr. E.L. Layard on one occasion encountered a number of them travelling
along a hot and dusty road under the midday sun.[1]

[Footnote 1: _Annals and Mag. of Nat. Hist_., May, 1853, p. 390. Mr.
Morris, the government-agent of Trincomalie, writing to me on this
subject in 1856, says--"I was lately on duty inspecting the kind of a
large tank at Nade-cadua, which, being out of repair, the remaining
water was confined in a small hollow in the otherwise dry bed. Whilst
there heavy rain came on, and, as we stood on the high ground, we,
observed a pelican on the margin of the shallow pool gorging himself;
our people went towards him and raised a cry of fish! fish! We hurried
down, and found numbers of fish struggling upwards through the grass in
the rills formed by the trickling of the rain. There was scarcely water
enough to cover them, but nevertheless they made rapid progress up the
bank, on which our followers collected about two bushels of them at a
distance of forty yards from the tank. They were forcing their way up
the knoll, and, had they not been intercepted first by the pelican and
afterwards by ourselves, they would in a few minutes have gained the
highest point and descended on the other side into a pool which formed
another portion of the tank. They were chub, the same as are found in
the mud after the tanks dry up." In a subsequent communication in July,
1857, the same gentleman says--"As the tanks dry up the fish congregate
in the little pools till at last you find them in thousands in the
moistest parts of the beds, rolling in the blue mud which is at that
time about the consistence of thick gruel."

"As the moisture further evaporates the surface fish are left uncovered,
and they crawl away in search of fresh pools. In one place I saw
hundreds diverging in every direction, from the tank they had just
abandoned to a distance of fifty or sixty yards, and still travelling
onwards. In going this distance, however, they must have used muscular
exertion sufficient to have taken them half a mile on level ground, for
at these places all the cattle and wild animals of the neighbourhood had
latterly come to drink; so that the surface was everywhere indented with
footmarks in addition to the cracks in the surrounding baked mud, into
which the fish tumbled in their progress. In those holes which were deep
and the sides perpendicular they remained to die, and were carried off
by kites and crows."

"My impression is that this migration takes place at night or before
sunrise, for it was only early in the morning that I have seen them
progressing, and I found that those I brought away with me in chatties
appeared quiet by day, but a large proportion managed to get out of the
chatties at night--some escaped altogether, others were trodden on and

"One peculiarity is the large size of the vertebral column, quite
disproportioned to the bulk of the fish. I particularly noticed that all
in the act of migrating had their gills expanded."]

Referring to the _Anabas scandens_, DR. HAMILTON BUCHANAN says, that of
all the fish with which he was acquainted it is the most teliacious of
life; and he has known boatmen on the Ganges to keep them for five or
six days in an earthen pot without water, and daily to use what they
wanted, finding them as lively and fresh as when caught.[1] Two Danish
naturalists residing at Tranquebar, have contributed their authority to
the fact of this fish ascending trees on the coast of Coromandel, an
exploit from which it acquired its epithet of _Perca scandens_. DALDORF,
who was a lieutenant in the Danish East India Company's service,
communicated to Sir Joseph Banks, that in the year 1791 he had taken
this fish from a moist cavity in the stem of a Palmyra palm, that grew
near a lake. He saw it when already five feet above the ground
struggling to ascend still higher;--"suspending itself by its
gill-covers, and bending its tail to the left, it fixed its anal fin in
the cavity of the bark, and sought by expanding its body to urge its way
upwards, and its march was only arrested by the hand with which he
seized it."[2]

[Footnote 1: _Fishes of the Ganges_, 4to. 1822.]

[Footnote 2: _Transactions Linn. Soc._ vol. iii. p. 63. It is
remarkable, however, that this discovery of Daldorf, which excited so
great an interest in 1791, had been anticipated by an Arabian voyager a
thousand years before. Abou-zeyd, the compiler of the remarkable MS.
known since Renaudot's translation by the title of the _Travels of the
Two Mahometans_, states that Suleyman, one of his informants, who
visited India at the close of the ninth century, was told there of a
fish which, issuing from the waters, ascended the coco-nut palms to
drink their sap, and returned to the sea. "On parle d'un poisson de mer
qui, sortant de l'eau, monte sur la cocotier et boit le suc de la
plante; ensuite il retourne a la mer." See REINAUD, _Relations des
Voyages faits par les Arabes et Persans dans le neuvieme siecle_, tom.
i. p, 21, tom. ii. p. 93.]

There is considerable obscurity about the story of this ascent, although
corroborated by M. JOHN. Its motive for climbing is not apparent, since
water being close at hand it could not have gone for sake of the
moisture contained in the fissures of the palm; nor could it be in
search of food, as it lives not on fruit but on aquatic insects.[1] The
descent, too, is a question of difficulty.

[Footnote 1: Kirby says that it is "in pursuit of certain crustaceans
that form its food" (_Bridgewater Treatise_, vol i. p. 144); but I am
not aware of any crustaceans in the island which ascend the palmyra or
feed upon its fruit. The _Birgus latro_, which inhabits Mauritius, and
is said to climb the coco-nut for this purpose, has not been observed in

The position of its fins, and the spines on its gill-covers, might
assist its journey upwards, but the same apparatus would prove anything
but a facility in steadying its journey down. The probability is, as
suggested by Buchanan, that the ascent which was witnessed by Daldorf
was accidental, and ought not to be regarded as the habit of the animal.
In Ceylon I heard of no instance of the perch ascending trees[1], but
the fact is well established that both it, the _pullata_ (a species of
_polyacanthus_), and others, are capable of long journeys on the level

[Footnote 1: This assertion must be qualified by a fact stated by Mr.
E.A. Layard, who mentions that on visiting one of the fishing stations
on a Singhalese river, where the fish are caught in staked enclosures,
as described at p. 342, and observing that the chambers were covered
with netting, he asked the reason, and was told "_that some of the fish
climbed up the sticks and got over._"--Mag. Nat. Hist, for May 1823, p.

[Footnote 2: Strange accidents have more than once occurred at Ceylon
arising from the habit of the native anglers; who, having neither
baskets nor pockets in which to place what they catch, will seize a fish
in their teeth whilst putting fresh bait on their hook. In August, 1853,
a man was carried into the Pettah hospital at Colombo, having a climbing
perch, which he thus attempted to hold, firmly imbedded in his throat.
The spines of its dorsal fin prevented its descent, whilst those of the
gill-covers equally forbade its return. It was eventually extracted by
the forceps through an incision in the oesophagus, and the patient
recovered. Other similar cases have proved fatal.]

_Burying Fishes._--But a still more remarkable power possessed by some
of the Ceylon fishes, is that already alluded to, of secreting
themselves in the earth in the dry season, at the bottom of the
exhausted ponds, and there awaiting the renewal of the water at the
change of the monsoon. The instinct of the crocodile to resort to the
same expedient has been already referred to[1], and in like manner the
fish, when distressed by the evaporation of the tanks, seek relief by
immersing first their heads, and by degrees their whole bodies, in the
mud; sinking to a depth at which they find sufficient moisture to
preserve life in a state of lethargy long after the bed of the tank has
been consolidated by the intense heat of the sun. It is possible, too,
that the cracks which reticulate the surface may admit air to some
extent to sustain their faint respiration.

[Footnote 1: See _ante_, p. 285.]

The same thing takes place in other tropical regions, subject to
vicissitudes of drought and moisture. The Protopterus[1], which inhabits
the Gambia (and which though demonstrated by Professor Owen to possess
all the essential organisation of fishes, is nevertheless provided with
true lungs), is accustomed in the dry season, when the river retires
into its channel, to bury itself to the depth of twelve or sixteen
inches in the indurated mud of the banks, and to remain in a state of
torpor till the rising of the stream after the rains enables it to
resume its active habits. At this period the natives of the Gambia, like
those of Ceylon, resort to the river, and secure the fish in
considerable numbers as they flounder in the still shallow water. A
parallel instance occurs, in Abyssinia in relation to the fish of the
Mareb, one of the sources of the Nile, the waters of which are partially
absorbed in traversing the plains of Taka. During the summer its bed is
dry, and in the slime at the depth of more than six feet is found a
species of fish without scales, different from any known to inhabit the

[Footnote 1: _Lepidosiren annectans_, Owen. See _Linn. Trans._ 1839.]

[Footnote 2: This statement will be found in QUATREMERE'S Memoires sur
l'Egypte, tom. i. p. 17, on the authority of Abdullah ben Ahmed ben
Solaim Assouany, in his _History of Nubia_, "Simon, heritier presomptif
du royanme d'Alouah, m'a assure que l'on trouve, dans la vase qui couvre
fond de cette riviere, un grand poisson sans ecailles, qui ne ressemble
en rien aux poissons du Nil, et que, pour l'avoir, il faut creuser a une
toise et plus de profondeur." To this passage, there is appended this
note:--"Le patriarche Mendes, cite par Legrand (_Relation Hist. d'
Abyssinie_, du P. LOBO, p. 212-3) rapporte que le fleuve Mareb, apres
avoir arrose une etendue de pays considerable, se perd sous terre; et
que quand les Portugais faisaient la guerre dans ce pays, ils
fouilloient dans le sable, et y trouvoient de la bonne eau et du ban
poisson. An rapport de l'auteur de _l' Ayin Akbery_ (tom. ii, p. 146,
ed. 1800), dans le Soubah do Caschmir, pres du lieu nomme Tilahmoulah,
est une grande piece de terre qui est inondee pendant la saison des
pluies. Lorsque les eaux se sont evaporees, et que la vase est presque
seche, les habitans prennant des batons d'environ une aune do long,
qu'ils enfoncent dans la vase, et ils y trouvent quantite de grands et
petits poissons." In the library of the British Museum there is an
unique MS. of MANOEL DE ALMEIDA, written in the sixteenth century, from
which Balthasar Tellec compiled his _Historia General de Ethiopia alta_,
printed at Coimbra in 1660, and in it the above statement of Mendes is
corroborated by Almeida, who says that he was told by Joao Gabriel, a
Creole Portuguese, born in Abyssinia, who had visited the Mareb, and who
said that the "fish were to be found everywhere eight or ten palms down,
and that he had eaten of them."]

In South America the "round-headed hassar" of Guiana, _Callicthys
littoralis_, and the "yarrow," a species of the family Esocidae, although
they possess no specially modified respiratory organs, are accustomed to
bury themselves in the mud on the subsidence of water in the pools
during the dry season.[1] The _Loricaria_ of Surinam, another Siluridan,
exhibits a similar instinct, and resorts to the same expedient. Sir R.
Schomburgk, in his account of the fishes of Guiana, confirms this
account of the Callicthys, and says "they can exist in muddy lakes
without any water whatever, and great numbers of them are sometimes dug
up from such situations."[2]

[Footnote 1: See Paper "_on some Species of Fishes and Reptiles in
Demerara_," by J. HANDCOCK, Esq., M.D., _Zoological Journal_, vol. iv.
p. 243.]

[Footnote 2: A curious account of the _borachung_ or "ground fish" of
Bhootan, will be found in Note (C.) appended to this chapter.]

In those portions of Ceylon where the country is flat, and small tanks
are extremely numerous, the natives are accustomed in the hot season to
dig in the mud for fish. Mr. Whiting, the chief civil officer of the
eastern province, informs me that, on two occasions, he was present
accidentally when the villagers were so engaged, once at the tank of
Malliativoe, within a few miles of Kottiar, near the bay of Trincomalie,
and again at a tank between Ellendetorre and Arnitivoe, on the bank of
the Vergel river. The clay was firm, but moist, and as the men flung out
lumps of it with a spade, it fell to pieces, disclosing fish from nine
to twelve inches long, which were full grown and healthy, and jumped on
the bank when exposed to the sun light.


Being desirous of obtaining a specimen of fish so exhumed, I received
from the Moodliar of Matura, A.B. Wickremeratne, a fish taken along with
others of the same kind from a tank in which the water had dried up; it
was found at a depth of a foot and a half where the mud was still moist,
whilst the surface was dry and hard. The fish which the moodliar sent to
me is an Anabas, closely resembling the _Perca scandens_ of Daldorf; but
on minute examination it proves to be a species unknown in India, and
hitherto found only in Boreno and China. It is the _A. oligolepis_ of

But the faculty of becoming torpid at such periods is not confined in
Ceylon to the crocodile sand fishes;--it is also possessed by some of
the fresh-water mollusca and aquatic coleoptera. One of the former, the
_Ampullaria glauca_, is found in still water in all parts of the island,
not alone in the tanks, but in rice-fields and the watercourses by which
they are irrigated. When, during the dry season, the water is about to
evaporate, it burrows and conceals itself[1] till the returning rains
restore it to activity, and reproduce its accustomed food. There, at a
considerable depth in the soft mud, it deposits a bundle of eggs with a
white calcareous shell, to the number of one hundred or more in each
group. The _Melania Paludina_ in the same way retires during the
droughts into the muddy soil of the rice lands; and it can only be by
such an instinct that this and other mollusca are preserved when the
tanks evaporate, to re-appear in full growth and vigour immediately on
the return of the rains.[2]

[Footnote 1: A knowledge of this fact was turned to prompt account by
Mr. Edgar S. Layard, when holding a judicial office at Point Pedro in
1849. A native who had been defrauded of his land complained before him
of his neighbour, who, during his absence, had removed their common
landmark, diverting the original watercourse and obliterating its traces
by filling it up to a level with the rest of the field. Mr. Layard
directed a trench to be sunk at the contested spot, and discovering
numbers of the Ampullaria, the remains of the eggs, and the living
animal which had been buried for months, the evidence was so resistless
as to confound the wrong-doer, and terminate the suit.]

[Footnote 2: For a similar fact relative to the shells and water beetles
in the pools near Rio Janeiro, see DARWIN'S _Nat. Journal_, ch. v. p.
99. BENSON, in the first vol. of _Gleanings of Science_, published at
Calcutta in 1829, describes a species of _Paludina_ found in pools,
which are periodically dried up in the hot season but reappear with the
rains, p. 363. And in the _Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal_ for
Sept. 1832, Lieut. HUTTON, in a singularly interesting paper, has
followed up the same subject by a narrative of his own observations at
Mirzapore, wherein June, 1832, after a few heavy showers of rain, that
formed pools on the surface of the ground near a mango grove, he saw the
_Paludinae_ issuing from the ground, "pushing aside the moistened earth
and coming forth from their retreats; but on the disappearance of the
water not one of them was to be seen above ground. Wishing to ascertain
what had become of them he turned up the earth at the base of several
trees, and invariably found the shells buried from an inch to two inches
below the surface." Lieut. Hutton adds that the _Ampullariae_ and
_Planorbes_, as well as the _Paludinae_ are found in similar situations
during the heats of the dry season. The British _Pisidea_ exibit the
same faculty (see a monograph in the _Camb. Phil. Trans._ vol. iv.). The
fact is elsewhere alluded to in the present work of the power possessed
by the land leech of Ceylon of retaining vitality even after being
parched to hardness during the heat of the rainless season. LYELL
mentions the instance of some snails in Italy which, when they
hybernate, descend to the depth of five feet and more below the surface.
_Princip. of Geology,_ &c, p. 373.]

Dr. John Hunter[1] has advanced an opinion that hybernation, although a
result of cold, is not its immediate consequence, but is attributable to
that deprivation of food and other essentials which extreme cold
occasions, and against the recurrence of which nature makes a timely
provision by a suspension of her functions. Excessive heat in the
tropics produces an effect upon animals and vegetables analogous to that
of excessive cold in northern regions, and hence it is reasonable to
suppose that the torpor induced by the one may be but the counterpart of
the hybernation which results from the other. The frost that imprisons
the alligator in the Mississippi as effectually cuts it off from food
and action as the drought which incarcerates the crocodile in the
sun-burnt clay of a Ceylon tank. The hedgehog of Europe enters on a
period of absolute torpidity as soon as the inclemency of winter
deprives it of its ordinary supply of slugs and insects; and the
_tenrec_[2] of Madagascar, its tropical representative, exhibits the
same tendency during the period when excessive heat produces in that
climate a like result.

[Footnote 1: HUNTER'S _Observations on parts of the Animal oeconomy_, p.

[Footnote 2: _Centetes ecaudatus_, Illiger.]

The descent of the _Ampullaria_, and other fresh-water molluscs, into
the mud of the tanks, has its parallel in the conduct of the _Bulimi_
and _Helices_ on land. The European snail, in the beginning of winter,
either buries itself in the earth or withdraws to some crevice or
overarching stone to await the returning vegetation of spring. So, in
the season of intense heat, the _Helix Waltoni_ of Ceylon, and others of
the same family, before retiring under cover, close the aperture of
their shells with an impervious epiphragm, which effectually protects
their moisture and juices from evaporation during the period of their
aestivation. The Bulimi of Chili have been found alive in England in a
box packed in cotton after an interval of two years, and the animal
inhabiting a land-shell from Suez, which was attached to a tablet and
deposited in the British Museum in 1846, was found in 1850 to have
formed a fresh epiphragm, and on being immersed in tepid water, it
emerged from its shell. It became torpid again on the 15th November,
1851, and was found dead and dried up in March, 1852.[1] But exceptions
serve to prove the accuracy of Hunter's opinion almost as strikingly as
accordances, since the same genera of animals that hybernate in Europe,
where extreme cold disarranges their oeconomy, evince no symptoms of
lethargy in the tropics, provided their food be not diminished by the
heat. Ants, which are torpid in Europe during winter, work all the year
round in India, where sustenance is uniform.[2] The shrews of Ceylon
(_Sorex montanus_ and _S. ferrugineus_ of Kelaart), like those at home,
subsist upon insects, but as they inhabit a region where the equable
temperature admits of the pursuit of their prey at all seasons of the
year, unlike those of Europe, they never hybernate. A similar
observation applies to bats, which are dormant during a northern winter
when insects are rare, but never become torpid in any part of the
tropics. The bear, in like manner, is nowhere deprived of its activity
except when the rigour of severe frost cuts off its access to its
accustomed food. On the other hand, the tortoise, which in Venezuela
immerses itself in indurated mud during the hot months shows no tendency
to torpor in Ceylon, where its food is permanent; and yet it is subject
to hybernation when carried to the colder regions of Europe.

[Footnote 1: _Annals of Natural History_, 1860. See Dr. BAIRD'S _Account
of Helix desertorum; Excelsior,_ &c., ch. i. p. 345.]

[Footnote 2: Colonel SKYES has described in the _Entomological Trans._
the operations of an ant in India which lays up a store of hay against
the rainy season.]

To the fish in the detached tanks and pools when the heat, by exhausting
the water, deprives them at once of motion and sustenance, the practical
effect must be the same as when the frost of a northern winter encases
them in ice. Nor is it difficult to believe that they can successfully
undergo the one crisis when we know beyond question that they may
survive the other.[1]

[Footnote 1: YARRELL, vol. i. p. 364, quotes the authority of Dr. J.
Hunter in his _Animal oeconomy_, that fish, "after being frozen still
retain so much of life as when thawed to resume their vital actions;"
and in-the same volume (_Introd_. vol. i. p. xvii.) he relates from
JESSE'S _Gleanings in Natural History_, the story of a gold fish
(_Cyprinus auratus_), which, together with the a marble basin, was
frozen into one solid lump of ice, yet, on the water being thawed, the
fish became as lively as usual. Dr. RICHARDSON in the third vol of his
_Fauna Borealis Americana_, says the grey sucking carp, found in the fur
countries of North America, may be frozen and thawed again without being
killed in the process.]

_Hot-water Fishes_.--Another incident is striking in connection with the
fresh-water fishes of Ceylon. I have described elsewhere the hot springs
of Kannea[1], in the vicinity of Trincomalie, the water in which flows
at a temperature varying at different seasons from 85 deg. to 115 deg.. In the
stream formed by these wells M. Reynaud found and forwarded to Cuvier
two fishes which he took from the water at a time when his thermometer
indicated a temperature of 37 deg. Reaumur, equal to 115 deg. of Fahrenheit. The
one was an Apogon, the other an Ambassis, and to each, from the heat of
its habitat, he assigned the specific name of "thermalis."[2]

[Footnote 1: See SIR J. EMERSON TENNET's _Ceylon_, &c., vol. ii. p.

[Footnote 2: CUV. and VAL., vol. iii. p. 363. In addition to the two
fishes above named, a loche _Cobitis thermalis_, and a carp, _Nuria
thermoicos_, were found in the hot-springs of Kannea, at a heat 40 deg.
Cent., 114 deg. Fahr., and a roach, _Leuciscus thermalis_, when the
thermometer indicated 50 deg. Cent, 122 deg. Fahr.--_Ib_. xviii. p. 59, xvi. p.
182, xvii. p. 94. Fish have been taken from a hot spring at Pooree when
the thermometer stood at 112 deg. Fahr., and as they belonged to a
carnivorous genus, they must have found prey living in the same high
temperature.--_Journ. Asiatic Soc. of Beng._ vol. vi. p. 465. Fishes
have been observed in a hot spring at Manila which raises the
thermometer to 187 deg., and in another in Barbary, the usual temperature of
which is 172 deg.; and Humboldt and Bonpland, when travelling in South
America, saw fishes thrown up alive from a volcano, in water that raised
the temperature to 210 deg., being two degrees below the boiling point.
PATTERSON'S _Zoology_, Pt. ii. p. 211; YARRELL'S _History of British
Fishes_, vol. i. In. p. xvi.]

* * * * *

_List of Ceylon Fishes._

In the following list, the Acanthopterygian fishes of Ceylon has been
prepared for me by Dr. GUeNTHER, and will be found the most complete
which has appeared of this order. I am also indebted to him for the
correction of the list of Malacopterygians, which I hope ere long to
render still more extended, as well as that of the Cartilaginous fishes.



Myripristis murdjan, _Forsk_.
Holocentrum rubrum, _Forsk_.
spiniferum, _Forsk_.
diadema, _Lacep_.

PERCIDAE, _Guenther_.
*Lates calcarifer, _Bl._
Serranus louti, _Forsk_.
pachycentrum, _C. & V._
guttatus, _Bl._
Sonneratii, _C. & V._
angularis, _C.& V._
marginalis, _Bl._
hexagonatis, _Forsk_.
flavocoeruleus, _Lacep_.
biguttatus, _C. & V._
lemniscatus, _C. & V._
Amboinensis, _Bleek_.
boenak, _C. & V._
Grammistes orientalis, _Bl._
Genyoroge Sebae, _C. & V._
Bengalensis, _C. & V._
marginata, _C. & V._
rivulata, _C. & V._
gibba, _Forsk_.
spilura, _Benn_.
Mesoprion aurolineatus, _C. & V._
rangus, _C. & V._
quinquelineatus, _Ruepp_.
Johnii, _Bl._
annularis, _C. & V._
?Priacanthus Blochii, _Bleek_.
Ambassis n. sp., _Guenth_.
Commersonii, _C. & V._
thermalis, _C. & V._
Apogon Ceylonicus, _C. & V._
thermalis, _C. & V._
annularis, _Ruepp_. Var. roseipinnis.
Chilodipterus quinquelineatus, _C. & V._

Dules Bennettii, _Bleek_.
*Therapon servus, _Bloch_.
*trivittatus, _Buch. Ham_.
quadrilineatus, _Bl._
*Helotes polytaenia, _Bleek_.
Pristipoma hasta, _Bloch_.
maculatum, _Bl._
Diagramma punctatum, _Ehrenb_.
orientale, _Bl._
poecilopterum, _C. & V._
Blochii, _C. & V._
lineatum, _Gm_.
Radja, _Bleek_.
Lobotes auctorum, _Guenth_.
Gerres oblongus, _C & V._
Scolopsia Japonicus, _Bl._
bimaculatus, _Ruepp_.
monogramma, _k. & v. H._
Synagris furcosus, _C. & V._
Pentapus aurolineatus, _Lacep_.
Smaris balteatus, _C. & V._
Caesio coerulaureus, _Lacep_.

Upeneus taeniopterus, _C. & V._
Indicus, _Shaw_.
cyclostoma, _Lacep_.
Upe. trifasciatus, _Lacep_.
cinnabarinus, _C. & V._
Upeneoides vittatus, _Forsk._
sulphureus, _C. & V._
Mulloides flavolineatus, _Lacep_.
Ceylonicus, _C. & V._

SPARIDAE, _Guenther_.
Lethrinus frenatus, _C. & V._
cinereus, _C. & V._
fasciatus, _C. & V._
?ramak, _Forsk._
opercularis, _C. & V._
erythrurus, _C. & V._
Pagrus spinifer, _Forsk_.
Crysophrys hasta, _Bl._
?Pimelepterus Ternatensis, _Bleek_.

SQUAMIPINNES, _Guenthier_.
Chaetodon Layardi, _Blyth_.
oligacanthus, _Bleek_.
setifer, _Bl._
vagabundus, _L._
guttatissimus, _Benn_.
pictus, _Forsk_.
xanthocephalus, _Benn_.
Sebae, _C. & V._
Heniochus macrolepidotus, _Artedi_.
Holacanthus annularis, _Bl._
xanthurus, _Benn_.
imperator, _B1_.
Scatophagus argus, _Gm_.
Ephippus orbis, _Bl._
Drepane punctata, _Gm_.

Cirrhites Forsteri, _Schn_.

Scorpaena polyprion, _Bleek_.
Pterois volitans, _L._
miles, _Benn_.
Tetraroge longispinis, _C. & V._
Platycephalus insidiator, _Forsk_.
punctatus, _C. & V._
serratus, _C. & V._
tuberculatus, _C. & V._
suppositus, _Trosch_.
Dactylopterus orientalis, _C. & V._

TRACHINIDAE, _Guenther_.
?Uranoscopus guttatus, _C. & V._
Percis millepunctata, _Guenth_.
Sillago siliama, _Forsk_.

SCIAENIDAE, _Guenther_.
Sciaena diacantha, _Lacep_.
maculata, _Schn_.
Dussumieri, _C & V._
Corvina miles, _C. & V._
Otolithus argenteus, _k. & v. H._

POLYNEMIDAE, _Guenther_.
Polynemus heptadactylus, _C. & V._
hexanemus, _C. & V._
Indicus, _Shaw_.
plebeius, _Gm._
tetradactylus, _Shaw_.

Sphyraena jello, _C. & V._
obtusata, _C. & V._

Trichiurus savala, _Cuv._

SCOMBRIDAE, _Guenther_.
?Thynnus affinis, _Cant._
Cybium Commersonii, _Lacep._
guttatum, _Schn._
Naucrates ductor, _L._
Elacate nigra, _Bl._
?n. sp.
Echeneis remora, _L._
scutata, _Guenth._
naucrates, _L._
Stromateus cinereus, _Bl._
niger, _Bl._
Coryphaena hippurus, _L._
Mene maculata, _Schn._

CARANGIDAE, _Guenther._
Caranx Heberi, _Benn._
Rottleri, _Bl._
calla, _C.&V._
xanthurus, _K.&v.H._
talamparoides, _Bleek._
Malabaricus, _Schn._
speciosus, _Forsk._
carangus, _Bl._
hippos, _L._
armatus, _Forsk._
ciliaris, _Bl._
gallus, _L._
Micropteryx chrysurus, _L._
Seriola nigro-fasciata, _Ruepp._
Chorinemus lysan, _Forsk._
Sancti Petri, _C. & V._
Trachynotus oblongus, _C. & V._
ovatus, _L._
Psettus argenteus, _L._
Platax vespertilio, _Bl._
Raynaldi, _C.&V._
Zanclus sp. n.
Lactarius delicatulus, _C. & V._
Equula fasciata, _Lacep._
edentula, _Bl._
daura, _Cuv._
Gazza minuta, _Bl._
equulaeformis, _Ruepp._
Pempheris sp.

Histiophorus immaculatus, _Ruepp._

THEUTYIDAE, _Guenther._
Theutys Javus, _L._
stellata, _Forsk._
nebulosa, _A. & G._

ACRONURIDAE, _Guenther._
Acanthurus triostegus, _L._
nigrofuscus, _Forsk._
lineatus, _L._
Tennentii, _Gthr._
leucosternon, _Bennett._
ctenodon, _C.&V._
rhombeus, _Kittl._
xanthurus, _Blyth._
Acronurus melas, _C. & V._
melanurus, _C. & V._
Naseus unicornis, _Forsk,_
brevirostris, _C. & V._
tuberosus, _Lacep._
lituratus, _Forster._

Fistularia serrata, _Bl._

Salarias fasclatus, _Bl._
Sal. marmoratus, _Benn._
tridactylus, _Schn._
quadricornis, _C.&V._

GOBIIDAE, _Muell._
Gobius ornatus, _Ruepp._
giuris, _Buch. Ham._
albopunctatus, _C. & V._
grammepomus, _Bleek._
Apocryptes lanceolatus, _Bl._
Periophthalmus Koelreuteri, _Pall._
Eleotris ophiocephalus, _K. & v.H._
fusca, _Bl._
sexguttata, _C. & V._
muralis, _A. & G._

Mastacembelus armatus, _Lacep._

Antennarius marmoratus, _Guenth._
hispidus, _Schn._
pinniceps, _Commers._
Commersonii, _Lacep._
multiocellatus _Guenth._
bigibbus, _Lacep._

ATHERINIDAE, _Guenther._
Atherina Forskalii, _Ruepp._
duodecimalis, _C. & V._

MUGILIDAE, _Guenther._
Mugil planiceps, _C. & V._
Waigiensis, _A.G._
Ceylonensis, _Guenth._

Ophiocephalus punctatus, _Bl._
Kelaartii, _Guenth._
striatus, _Bl._
marulius, _Ham. Buch._
Channa orientalis, _Schn._

Anabas oligolepis, _Bleek._
Polyacanthus signatus, _Guenth._

Amphiprion Clarkii, _J. Benn._
Dascyllus aruanus, _C. & V._
trimaculatus, _Ruepp._
Glyphisodon septem-fasciatus, _C. & V._
Brownrigii, _Benn,_
coelestinus, _Sol._
Etroplus Suratensis, _Bl._
Julis lunaris _Linn._
decussatus, _W Benn._
formosus, _C.&V._
quadricolor. _Lesson._
dorsalis, _Quoy & Gaim._
aureomaculatus, _W. Benn._
Cellanicus, _E. Benn._
Finlaysoni, _C. & V._
purpureo-lineatus, _C. & V._
cingulum, _C. & V._
Gomphosus fuscus, _C. & V._
coeruleus, _Comm._
viridis, _W. Benn._
Scarus pepo, _W. Benn._
harid. _Forsk._
Tautoga fasciata, _Thunb._
Hemirhamphus Reynaldi, _C. & V._
Georgii _C.& V._
Exocoetus evolans. _Linn._
Belone annulata, _C. & V._

Bagrus gulio, _Buch_.
albilabris, _C. & V._
Plotosus lineatus, _C. & V._
Barbus tor, _C. & V._
Nuria thermoicos, _C. & V._
Leuciscus dandia, _C. & V._
scalpellus, _C. & V._
Ceylonicus, _E. Benn_.
thermalis, _C. & V._
Cobitis thermalis, _C. & V._
Chirocentrus dorab, _Forsk_.
Elops saurus, _L._
Megalops cundinga, _Buch_.
Engraulis Brownii, _Gm_.
Sardinella leiogaster, _C. & V._
lineolata, _C. & V._
Saurus myops, _Val_.
Saurida tombil, _Bl._

Pleuronectes, _L._


Syngnathus, _L._

Tetraodon ocellatus, _W. Benn_.
tepa, _Buch_.
argyropleura, _E. Bennett_.
argentatus, _Blyth_.
Balistes biaculeatus, _W. Benn_.
lineatus, _Bl._
Triacanthus biaculeatus, _W. Benn_.
Alutarius laevis, _Bl._


Pristis antiquorum, _Lath_.
cuspidatus, _Lath_.
pectinatus, _Lath_.
Chiloscyllium plagiosum, _Benn_.
Stegostoma fasciatum, _Bl._
Carcharias acutus, _Ruepp_.
Sphyrna zygaena, _L._
Rhynchobatus laevis, _Bl._
Trygon uarnak, _Forsk_.
Pteroplatea micrura, _Bl._
Taeniura lymna, _Forsk_.
Myliobatis Nieuhofii, _Bl._
Aetobates narinari, _Bl._

* * * * *



(_From the Bombay Times,_ 1856.)

See Page 343.

The late Dr. Buist, after enumerating cases in which fishes were said to
have been thrown out from volcanoes in South America and precipitated
from clouds in various parts of the world, adduced the following
instances of similar occurrences in India. "In 1824," he says, "fishes
fell at Meerut, on the men of Her Majesty's 14th Regiment, then out at
drill, and were caught in numbers. In July, 1826, live fish were seen to
fall on the grass at Moradabad during a storm. They were the common
cyprinus, so prevalent in our Indian waters. On the 19th of February,
1830, at noon, a heavy fall of fish occurred at the Nokulhatty factory,
in the Daccah zillah; depositions on the subject were obtained from nine
different parties. The fish were all dead; most of them were large; some
were fresh, others were rotten and mutilated. They were seen at first in
the sky, like a flock of birds, descending rapidly to the ground; there
was rain drizzling, but no storm. On the 16th and 17th of May, 1833, a
fall of fish occurred in the zillah of Futtehpoor, about three miles
north of the Jumna, after a violent storm of wind and rain. The fish
were from a pound and a half to three pounds in weight, and of the same
species as those found in the tanks in the neighbourhood. They were all
dead and dry. A fall of fish occurred at Allahabad, during a storm in
May, 1835; they were of the chowla species, and were found dead and dry
after the storm had passed over the district. On the 20th of September,
1839, after a smart shower of rain, a quantity of live fish, about three
inches in length and all of the same kind, fell at the Sunderbunds,
about twenty miles south of Calcutta. On this occasion it was remarked
that the fish did not fall here and there irregularly over the ground,
but in a continuous straight line, not more than a span in breadth. The
vast multitudes of fish, with which the low grounds round Bombay are
covered, about a week or ten days after the first burst of the monsoon,
appear to be derived from the adjoining pools or rivulets, and not to
descend from the sky. They are not, so far as I know, found in the
higher parts of the island. I have never seen them, (though I have
watched carefully,) in casks collecting water from the roofs of
buildings, or heard of them on the decks or awnings of vessels in the
harbour, where they must have appeared had they descended from the sky.
One of the most remarkable phenomena of this kind occurred during a
tremendous deluge of rain at Kattywar, on the 25th of July, 1850, when
the ground around Rajkote was found literally covered with fish; some of
them were found on the tops of haystacks, where probably they had been
drifted by the storm. In the course of twenty-four successive hours
twenty-seven inches of rain fell, thirty-five fell in twenty-six hours,
seven inches within one hour and a half, being the heaviest fall on
record. At Poonah, on the 3rd of August, 1852, after a very heavy fall
of rain, multitudes of fish were caught on the ground in the
cantonments, full half a mile from the nearest stream. If showers of
fish are to be explained on the assumption that they are carried up by
squalls or violent winds, from rivers or spaces of water not far away
from where they fall, it would be nothing wonderful were they seen to
descend from the air during the furious squalls which occasionally occur
in June."

* * * * *



(_Memorandum by Professor Huxley._)

See Page 324.

The large series of beautifully coloured drawings of the fishes of
Ceylon, which has been submitted to my inspection, possesses an unusual
value for several reasons.

The fishes, it appears, were all captured at Colombo, and even had those
from other parts of Ceylon been added, the geographical area would not
have been very extended. Nevertheless there are more than 600 drawings,
and though it is possible that some of these represent varieties in
different stages of growth of the same species, I have not been able to
find definite evidence of the fact in any of those groups which I have
particularly tested. If, however, these drawings represent _six hundred_
distinct species of fish, they constitute, so far as I know, the largest
collection of fish from one locality in existence.

The number of known British fishes may be safely assumed to be less than
250, and Mr. Yarrell enumerates only 226, Dr. Cantor's valuable work on
Malayan fishes enumerates not more than 238, while Dr. Russell has
figured only 200 from Coromandel. Even the enormous area of the Chinese
and Japanese seas has as yet not yielded 800 species of fishes.

The large extent of the collection alone, then, renders it of great
importance: but its value is immeasurably enhanced by the two
circumstances,--_first_, that every drawing was made while the fish
retained all that vividness of colouring which becomes lost so soon
after its removal from its native element; and _secondly_, that when the
sketch was finished its subject was carefully labelled, preserved in
spirits, and forwarded to England, so that at the present moment the
original of every drawing can be subjected to anatomical examination,
and compared with already named species.

Under these circumstances, I do not hesitate to say that the collection
is one of the most valuable in existence, and might, if properly worked
out, become a large and secure foundation for all future investigation
into the ichthyology of the Indian Ocean.

It would be very hazardous to express an opinion as to the novelty or
otherwise of the species and genera figured without the study of the
specimens themselves, as the specific distinctions of fish are for the
most part based upon character--the fin-rays, teeth, the operculum, &c.,
which can only be made out by close and careful examination of the
object, and cannot be represented in ordinary drawings however accurate.

There are certain groups of fish, however, whose family traits are so
marked as to render it almost impossible to mistake even their
portraits, and hence I may venture, without fear of being far wrong,
upon a few remarks as to the general features of the ichthyological
fauna of Ceylon.

In our own seas rather less than a tenth of the species of fishes belong
to the cod tribe. I have not found one represented in these drawings,
nor do either Russell or Cantor mention any in the surrounding seas, and
the result is in general harmony with the known laws of distribution of
these most useful of fishes.

On the other hand, the mackerel family, including the tunnies, the
bonitas, the dories, the horse-mackerels, &c., which form not more than
one sixteenth of our own fish fauna, but which are known to increase
their proportion in hot climates, appear in wonderful variety of form
and colour, and constitute not less than one fifth of the whole of the
species of Ceylon fish. In Russell's catalogue they form less than one
fifth, in Cantor's less than one sixth.

Marine and other siluroid fishes, a group represented on the continent
of Europe, but doubtfully, if at all, in this country, constitute one
twentieth of the Ceylon fishes. In Russell's and Cantor's lists they
form about one thirtieth of the whole.

The sharks and rays form about one seventh of our own fish fauna. They
constitute about one tenth or one eleventh of Russell's and Cantor's
lists, while among these Ceylon drawings I find not more than twenty, or
about one thirtieth of the whole, which can be referred to this group of
fishes. It must be extremely interesting to know whether this
circumstance is owing to accident, or to the local peculiarities of
Colombo, or whether the fauna of Ceylon really is deficient in such

The like exceptional character is to be noticed in the proportion of the
tribe of flat fishes, or _Pleuronectidae_. Soles, turbots, and the like,
form nearly one twelfth of our own fishes. Both Cantor and Russell give
the flat fishes as making one twenty-second part of their collection,
while in the whole 600 Ceylon drawings I can find but five

When this great collection has been carefully studied, I doubt not that
many more interesting distributional facts will be evolved.

* * * * *

Since receiving this note from Professor Huxley, the drawings in
question have been submitted to Dr. Gray, of the British Museum. That
eminent naturalist, after a careful analysis, has favoured me with the
following memorandum of the fishes they represent, numerically
contrasting them with those of China and Japan, so far as we are
acquainted with the ichthyology of those seas:--


Ceylon. China and Japan.

Squali 12 15
Raiae 19 20
Sturiones 0 1


tetraodontidae 10 21
balistidae 9 19
syngnathidae 2 2
pegasidae 0 3
lophidae 1 3
echeneidae 0 1
cyclopteridae 0 1
gobidae 7 35
callionymidae 0 7
uranoscopidae 0 7
cottidae 0 13
triglidae 11 37
polynemidae 12 3
mullidae 1 7
perecidae 26 12
berycidae 0 5
sillaginidae 3 1
sciaenidae 19 13
haemullinidae 6 12
serranidae 31 38
theraponidae 8 20
cirrhitidae 0 2
maenidiae 37 25
sparidae 16 17
acanthuridae 14 6
chaetodontidae 25 21
fistularidae 2 3
mugilidae 5 7
anabantidae 6 15
pomacentridae 10 11
labridae 16 35
scomberesocidae 13 6
blenniidae 3 8
zeidae 0 2
sphyraenidae 5 4
scomberidae 118 62
xiphlidae 0 1
cepolidae 0 5
platessoideae 5 22
siluridae 31 24
cyprinidae 19 52
scopelinidae 2 7
salmonidae 0 1
clupeidae 43 22
gadidae 0 2
macruridae 1 0
anguillidae 8 12
muraenidae 8 6
sphagebranchidae 8 10

* * * * *



See P. 353.

In Bhootan, at the south-eastern extremity of the Himalayas, a fish is
found, the scientific name of which is unknown to me, but it is called
by the natives the _Bora-chung_, and by European residents the
"ground-fish of Bhootan." It is described in the _Journal of the Asiatic
Society of Bengal for_ 1839, by a writer (who had seen it alive), as
being about two feet in length, and cylindrical, with a thick body,
somewhat shaped like a pike, but rounder, the nose curved upwards, the
colour olive-green, with orange stripes, and the head speckled with
crimson.[1] This fish, according to the native story, is caught not in
the rivers in whose vicinity it is found, but "in perfectly dry places
in the middle of grassy jungle, sometimes as far as two miles from the
banks." Here, on finding a hole four or five inches in diameter, they
commence to dig, and continue till they come to water; and presently the
_bora-chung_ rises to the surface, sometimes from a depth of nineteen
feet. In these extemporised wells these fishes are found always in
pairs, and I when brought to the surface they glide rapidly over the
ground with a serpentine motion. This account appeared in 1839; but some
years later, Mr. Campbell, the Superintendent of Darjeeling, in a
communication to the same journal[2], divested the story of much of its
exaggeration, by stating, as the result of personal inquiry in Bhootan,
that the _bora-chung_ inhabits the jheels and slow-running streams near
the hills, but lives principally on the banks, into which it penetrates
from one to five or six feet. The entrance to these retreats leading
from the river into the bank is generally a few inches below the
surface, so that the fish can return to the water at pleasure. The mode
of catching them is by introducing the hand into these holes; and the
_bora-chungs_ are found generally two in each chamber, coiled
concentrically like snakes. It is not believed that they bore their own
burrows, but that they take possession of those made by land-crabs. Mr.
Campbell denies that they are more capable than other fish of moving on
dry ground. From the particulars given, the _bora-chung_ would appear to
be an _Ophiocephalus_, probably the _O. barka_ described by Buchanan, as
inhabiting holes in the banks of rivers tributary to the Ganges.

[Footnote 1: Paper by Mr. J.T. PEARSON, _Journ. Asiat. Soc. Beng._, vol.
viii p. 551.]

[Footnote 2: _Journ. Asiat. Soc. Beng._, vol. xi. p. 963.]



* * * * *

_Mollusca.--Radiata, &c._

Ceylon has long been renowned for the beauty and variety of the shells
which abound in its seas and inland waters, and in which an active trade
has been organised by the industrious Moors, who clean them with great
expertness, arrange them in satin-wood boxes, and send them to Colombo
and all parts of the island for sale. In general, however, these
specimens are more prized for their beauty than valued for their rarity,
though some of the "Argus" cowries[1] have been sold as high as _four
guineas_ a pair.

[Footnote 1: _Cypraea Argus_.]

One of the principal sources whence their supplies are derived is the
beautiful Bay of Venloos, to the north of Batticaloa, formed by the
embouchure of the Natoor river. The scenery at this spot is enchanting.
The sea is overhung by gentle acclivities wooded to the summit; and in
an opening between two of these eminences the river flows through a
cluster of little islands covered with mangroves and acacias. A bar of
rocks projects across it, at a short distance from the shore; and these
are frequented all day long by pelicans, that come at sunrise to fish,
and at evening return to their solitary breeding-places remote from the
beach. The strand is literally covered with beautiful shells in rich
profusion, and the dealers from Trincomalie know the proper season to
visit the bay for each particular description. The entire coast,
however, as far north as the Elephant Pass, is indented by little rocky
inlets, where shells of endless variety may be collected in great
abundance.[1] During the north-east monsoon a formidable surf bursts
upon the shore, which is here piled high with mounds of yellow sand; and
the remains of shells upon the water mark show how rich the sea is in
mollusca. Amongst them are prodigious numbers of the ubiquitous
violet-coloured _Ianthina_[2], which rises when the ocean is calm, and
by means of its inflated vesicles floats lightly on the surface.

[Footnote 1: In one of these beautiful little bays near Catchavelly,
between Trincomalie and Batticaloa, I found the sand within the wash of
the sea literally covered with mollusca and shells, and amongst others a
species of _Bullia_ (B. vittata, I think), the inhabitant of which, has
the faculty of mooring itself firmly by sending down its membranous foot
into the wet sand, where, imbibing the water, this organ expands
horizontally into a broad, fleshy disc, by which the animal anchors
itself, and thus secured, collects its food in the ripple of the waves.
On the slightest alarm, the water is discharged, the disc collapses into
its original dimensions, and the shell and its inhabitant disappear
together beneath the sand.]

[Illustration: BULLIA VITTATA]

[Footnote 2: _Ianthina communis_, Krause and _I. prolongata_, Blainv.]

[Illustration: IANTHINA.]

The trade in shells is one of extreme antiquity in Ceylon. The Gulf of
Manaar has been fished from the earliest times for the large chank
shell, _Turbinella_ _rapa_, to be exported to India, where it is still
sawn into rings and worn as anklets and bracelets by the women of
Hindustan. Another use for these shells is their conversion into wind
instruments, which are sounded in the temples on all occasions of
ceremony. A chank, in which the whorls, instead of running from left to
right, as in the ordinary shell, are reversed, and run from right to
left, is regarded with such reverence that a specimen formerly sold for
its weight in gold, but one may now be had for four or five pounds.
COSMAS INDICO-PLEUSTES, writing in the fifth century, describes a place
on the west coast of Ceylon, which he calls Marallo, and says it
produced "[Greek: kochlious]," which THEVENOT translates "oysters;" in
which case Marallo might be conjectured to be Bentotte, near Colombo,
which yields the best edible "oysters" in Ceylon.[1] But the shell in
question was most probably the chank, and Marallo was Mantotte, off
which it is found in great numbers.[2] In fact, two centuries later
Abouzeyd, an Arab, who wrote an account of the trade and productions of
India, speaks of these shells by the name they still bear, which he
states to be _schenek_[3]; but "schenek" is not an Arabic word, and is
merely an attempt to spell the local term, _chank_, in Arabic

[Footnote 1: COSMAS INDICO-PLEUSTES, in Thevenot's ed. t i. p. 21.]

[Footnote 2: At Kottiar, near Trincomalie, I was struck with the
prodigious size of the edible oysters, which were brought to us at the
rest-house. The shell of one of these measured a little more than eleven
inches in length, by half as many broad: thus unexpectedly attesting the
correctness of one of the stories related by the historians of
Alexander's expedition, that in India they had found oysters a foot
long. PLINY says: "In Indico mari Alexandri rerum auctores pedalia
inveniri prodidere."--_Nat. Hist._ lib. xxxii. ch. 31. DARWIN says, that
amongst the fossils of Patagonia, he found "a massive gigantic oyster,
sometimes even a foot in diameter."--_Nat. Voy._, ch. viii.]

[Footnote 3:--ABOUZEYD, _Voyages Arabes,_ &c., t. i. p. 6; REINAUD,
_Memoire sur l'Inde,_ &c p. 222.]

BERTOLACCI mentions a curious local peculiarity[1] observed by the
fishermen in the natural history of the chank. "All shells," he says,
"found to the northward of a line drawn from a point about midway from
Manaar to the opposite coast (of India) are of the kind called _patty_,
and are distinguished by a short flat head; and all those found to the
southward of that line are of the kind called _pajel_, and are known
from having a longer and more pointed head than the former. Nor is there
ever an instance of deviation from this singular law of nature. The
_Wallampory_, or 'right-hand chanks,' are found of both kinds."

[Footnote 1: See also the _Asiatic Journal for_ 1827, p. 469.]

This tendency of particular localities to re-produce certain
specialities of form and colour is not confined to the sea or to the
instance of the chank shell. In the gardens which line the suburbs of
Galle in the direction of Matura the stems of the coco-nut and jak trees
are profusely covered with the shells of the beautiful striped _Helix
hamastoma_. Stopping frequently to collect them, I was led to observe
that each separate garden seemed to possess a variety almost peculiar to
itself; in one the mouth of every individual shell was _red_; in
another, separated from the first only by a wall, _black_; and in others
(but less frequently) _pure white_; whilst the varieties of external
colouring were equally local. In one enclosure they were nearly all red,
and in an adjoining one brown.[1]

[Footnote 1: DARWIN, in his _Naturalist's Voyage_, mentions a parallel
instance of the localised propagation of colours amoungst the cattle
which range the pasturage of East Falkland Island: "Round Mount Osborne
about half of some of the herds were mouse-coloured, a tint no common
anywhere else,--near Mount Pleasant dark-brown prevailed; whereas south
of Choiseul Sound white beasts with black heads and feet were
common."--Ch. ix. p. 192.]

A trade more ancient by far than that carried on in chanks, and
infinitely more renowned, is the fishery of pearls on the west coast of
Ceylon, bordering the Gulf of Manaar. No scene in Ceylon presents so
dreary an aspect as the long sweep of desolate shore to which, from time
immemorial, adventurers have resorted from the uttermost ends of the
earth in search of the precious pearls for which this gulf is renowned.
On approaching it from sea the only perceptible landmark is a building
erected by Lord Guildford, as a temporary residence for the Governor,
and known by the name of the "Doric," from the style of its
architecture. A few coco-nut palms appear next above the low sandy
beach, and presently are discovered the scattered houses which form the
villages of Aripo and Condatchy.

Between these two places, or rather between the Kalaar and Arrive river,
the shore is raised to a height of many feet, by enormous mounds of
shells, the accumulations of ages, the millions of oysters[1], robbed of
their pearls, having been year after year flung into heaps, that extend
for a distance of many miles.

[Footnote 1: It is almost unnecessary to say that the shell fish which
produces the true Oriental pearls is not an oyster, but belongs to the
genus Avicula, or more correctly, Meleagrina. It is the _Meleagrina
Margaritifera_ of Lamarck.]

During the progress of a pearl-fishery, this singular and dreary expanse
becomes suddenly enlivened by the crowds who congregate from distant
parts of India; a town is improvised by the construction of temporary
dwellings, huts of timber and cajans[1], with tents of palm leaves or
canvas; and bazaars spring up, to feed the multitude on land, as well as
the seamen and divers in the fleets of boats that cover the bay.

[Footnote 1: _Cajan_ is the local term for the plaited fronds of a

I visited the pearl banks officially in 1848 in company with Capt.
Stenart, the official inspector. My immediate object was to inquire into
the causes of the suspension of the fisheries, and to ascertain the
probability of reviving a source of revenue, the gross receipts from
which had failed for several years to defray the cost of conservancy. In
fact, between 1837 and 1854, the pearl banks were an annual charge,
instead of producing an annual income, to the colony. The conjecture,
hastily adopted, to account for the disappearance of mature shells, had
reference to mechanical causes; the received hypothesis being that the
young broods had been swept off their accustomed feeding grounds, by the
establishment of unusual currents, occasioned by deepening the narrow
passage between Ceylon and India at Paumbam. It was also suggested, that
a previous Governor, in his eagerness to replenish the colonial
treasury, had so "scraped" and impoverished the beds as to exterminate
the oysters. To me, neither of these suppositions appeared worthy of
acceptance; for, in the frequent disruptions of Adam's Bridge, there was
ample evidence that the currents in the Gulf of Manaar had been changed
at former times without destroying the pearl beds: and moreover the
oysters had disappeared on many former occasions, without any imputation
of improper management on the part of the conservators; and returned
after much longer intervals of absence than that which fell under my own
notice, and which was then creating serious apprehension in the colony.

A similar interruption had been experienced between 1820 and 1828: the
Dutch had had no fishing for twenty-seven years, from 1768 till 1796[1];
and they had been equally unsuccessful from 1732 till 1746. The Arabs
were well acquainted with similar vicissitudes, and Albyronni (a
contemporary of Avicenna), who served under Mahmoud of Ghuznee, and
wrote in the eleventh century, says that the pearl fishery, which
formerly existed in the Gulf of Serendib, had become exhausted in his
time, simultaneously with the appearance of a fishery at Sofala, in the
country of the Zends, where pearls were unknown before; and hence, he
says, arose the conjecture that the pearl oyster of Serendib had
migrated to Sofala.[2]

[Footnote 1: This suspension was in some degree attributable to disputes
with the Nabob of Arcot and other chiefs, and the proprietors of temples
on the opposite coast of India, who claimed, a right to participate in
the fisheries of the Gulf of Manaar.]

[Footnote 2: "Il y avait autrefois dans le Golfe de Serendyb, une
pecherie de perles qui s'est epuisee de notre temps. D'un autre cote il
s'est forme une pecherie de Sofala dans le pays des Zends, la ou il n'en
existait pas auparavant--on dit que c'est la pecherie de Serendyb qui
s'est transportee a Sofala."--ALBYROUNI, _in_ RENAUD'S _Fragmens Arabes,
&c_, p. 125; see also REINAUD'S _Memoire sur l'Inde_, p. 228.]

It appeared to me that the explanation of the phenomenon was to be
sought, not merely in external causes, but also in the instincts and
faculties of the animals themselves, and, on my return to Colombo, I
ventured to renew a recommendation, which had been made years before,
that a scientific inspector should be appointed to study the habits and
the natural history of the pearl-oyster, and that his investigations
should be facilitated by the means at the disposal of the Government.

Dr. Kelaart was appointed to this office, by Sir H.G. Ward, in 1857, and
his researches speedily developed results of great interest. In
opposition to the received opinion that the pearl-oyster is incapable of
voluntary movement, and unable of itself to quit the place to which it
is originally attached[1], he demonstrated, not only that it possesses
locomotive powers, but also that their exercise is indispensable to its
oeconomy when obliged to search for food, or compelled to escape from
local impurities. He showed that, for this purpose, it can sever its
byssus, and re-form it at pleasure, so as to migrate and moor itself in
favourable situations.[2] The establishment of this important fact may
tend to solve the mystery of the occasional disappearances of the
oyster; and if coupled with the further discovery that it is susceptible
of translation from place to place, and even from salt to brackish
water, it seems reasonable to expect that beds may be formed with
advantage in positions suitable for its growth and protection. Thus,
like the edible oyster of our own shores, the pearl-oyster may be
brought within the domain of pisciculture, and banks may be created in
suitable places, just as the southern shores of France are now being
colonised with oysters, under the direction of M. Coste.[3] The
operation of sowing the sea with pearl, should the experiment succeed,
would be as gorgeous in reality, as it is grand in conception: and the
wealth of Ceylon, in her "treasures of the deep," might eclipse the
renown of her gems when she merited the title of the "Island of Rubies."

[Footnote 1: STEUART'S _Pearl Fisheries of Ceylon_, p. 27: CORDINER'S
_Ceylon, &c_, vol. ii. p. 45.]

[Footnote 2: See Dr. KELAART'S Report on the Pearl Oyster in the _Ceylon
Calendar for 1858--Appendix_, p. 14.]

[Footnote 3: _Rapport de_ M. COSTE, Professeur d'Embryogenie, &c.,
Paris, 1858.]

On my arrival at Aripo, the pearl-divers, under the orders of their
Adapanaar, put to sea, and commenced the examination of the banks.[1]
The persons engaged in this calling are chiefly Tamils and Moors, who
are trained for the service by diving for chanks. The pieces of
apparatus employed to assist the diver in his operations are exceedingly
simple in their character: they consist merely of a stone, about thirty
pounds' weight, (to accelerate the rapidity of his descent,) which is
suspended over the side of the boat, with a loop attached to it for
receiving the foot; and of a net-work basket, which he takes down to the
bottom and fills with the oysters as he collects them. MASSOUDI, one of
the earliest Arabian geographers, describing, in the ninth century, the
habits of the pearl-divers in the Persian Gulf, says that, before
descending, each filled his ears with cotton steeped in oil, and
compressed his nostrils by a piece of tortoise-shell.[2] This practice
continues there to the present day[3]; but the diver of Ceylon rejects
all such expedients; he inserts his foot in the "sinking stone" and
inhales a full breath; presses his nostrils with his left hand; raises
his body as high as possible above water, to give force to his descent:
and, liberating the stone from its fastenings, he sinks rapidly below
the surface. As soon as he has reached the bottom, the stone is drawn
up, and the diver, throwing himself on his face, commences with alacrity
to fill his basket with oysters. This, on a concerted signal, is hauled
rapidly to the surface; the diver assisting his own ascent by springing
on the rope as it rises.

[Footnote 1: Detailed accounts of the pearl fishery of Ceylon and the
conduct of the divers, will be found in PERCIVAL's _Ceylon_, ch. iii.:
and in CORDINER'S _Ceylon_, vol. ii. ch. xvi. There is also a valuable
paper on the same subject by Mr. LE BECK, in the _Asiatic Researches_,
vol. v. p. 993; but by far the most able and intelligent description is
contained in the _Account of the Pearl Fisheries of Ceylon_, by JAMES
STEUART, Esq., Inspector of the Pearl Banks, 4to. Colombo, 1843.]

[Footnote 2: MASSOUDI says that the Persian divers, as they could not
breathe through their nostrils, _cleft the root of the ear_ for that
purpose: "_Ils se fendaient la racine de l'oreille pour respirer_; en
effet, ils ne peuvent se servir pour cet objet des narines, vu qu'ils se
les bouchent avec des morceaux d'ecailles de tortue marine on bien avec
des morceaux de corne ayant la forme d'un fer de lance. En meme temps
ils se mettent dans l'oreille du coton trempe dans de
l'huile."--_Moroudj-al-Dzeheb,_ &c., REINAUD, _Memoire sur l'Inde,_ p.

[Footnote 3: Colonel WILSON says they compress the nose with horn, and
close the ears with beeswax. See _Memorandum on the Pearl Fisheries in
Persian Gulf.--Journ. Geogr. Soc._ 1833, vol. iii. p. 283.]

Improbable tales have been told of the capacity which these men acquire
of remaining for prolonged periods under water. The divers who attended
on this occasion were amongst the most expert on the coast, yet not one
of them was able to complete a full minute below. Captain Steuart, who
filled for many years the office of Inspector of the Pearl Banks,
assured me that he had never known a diver to continue at the bottom
longer than eighty-seven seconds, nor to attain a greater depth than
thirteen fathoms; and on ordinary occasions they seldom exceeded
fifty-five seconds in nine fathom water[1].

[Footnote 1: RIBEYRO says that a diver could remain below whilst two
_credos_ were being repeated: "Il s'y tient l'espace de deux
_credo_."--Lib. i. ch. xxii. p. 169. PERCIVAL says the usual time for
them to be under water was two minutes, but that some divers stayed
_four_ or _five_, and one _six_ minutes,--_Ceylon_ p. 91; LE BECK says
that in 1797 he saw a Caffre boy from Karical remain down for the space
of seven minutes.--_Asiat. Res_ vol. v. p. 402.]

The only precaution to which the Ceylon diver devotedly resorts, is the
mystic ceremony of the shark-charmer, whose exorcism is an indispensable
preliminary to every fishery. His power is believed to be hereditary;
nor is it supposed that the value of his incantations is at all
dependent upon the religious faith professed by the operator, for the
present head of the family happens to be a Roman Catholic. At the time
of our visit this mysterious functionary was ill and unable to attend;
but he sent an accredited substitute, who assured me that although he
himself was ignorant of the grand and mystic secret, the mere fact of
his presence, as a representative of the higher authority, would be
recognised and respected by the sharks.

Strange to say, though the Gulf of Manaar abounds with these hideous
creatures, not more than one well authenticated accident[1] is known to
have occurred from this source during any pearl fishery since the


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