The Naturalist in La Plata
W. H. Hudson

Part 2 out of 5

beautiful in colour, is in form hideous beyond description. The skin is
of a rich brilliant green, with chocolate-coloured patches, oval in
form, and symmetrically disposed. The lips are bright yellow, the
cavernous mouth pale flesh colour, the throat and under-surface dull
white. The body is lumpy, and about the size of a large man's fist. The
eyes, placed on the summit of a disproportionately large head, are
embedded in horn-like protuberances, capable of being elevated or
depressed at pleasure. When the creature is undisturbed, the eyes, which
are of a pale gold colour, look out as from a couple of watch towers,
but when touched on the head or menaced, the prominences sink down to a
level with the head, closing the eyes completely, and giving the
creature the appearance of being eyeless. The upper jaw is armed with
minute teeth, and there are two teeth in the centre of the lower jaw,
the remaining portions of the jaw being armed with two exceedingly
sharp-edged bony plates. In place of a tongue, it has a round muscular
process with a rough flat disc the size of a halfpenny.

It is common all over the pampas, ranging as far south as the Rio
Colorado in Patagonia. In the breeding season it congregates in pools,
and one is then struck by their extraordinary vocal powers, which they
exercise by night. The performance in no way resembles the series of
percussive sounds uttered by most batrachians. The notes it utters are
long, as of a wind instrument, not unmelodious, and so powerful as to
make themselves heard distinctly a mile off on still evenings. After the
amorous period these toads retire to moist places and sit inactive,
buried just deep enough to leave the broad green back on a level with
the surface, and it is then very difficult to detect them. In this
position they wait for their prey--frogs, toads, birds, and small
mammals. Often they capture and attempt to swallow things too large for
them, a mistake often made by snakes. In very wet springs they sometimes
come about houses and lie in wait for chickens and ducklings. In
disposition they are most truculent, savagely biting at anything that
comes near them; and when they bite they hang on with the tenacity of a
bulldog, poisoning the blood with their glandular secretions. When
teased, the creature swells itself out to such an extent one almost
expects to see him burst; he follows his tormentors about with slow
awkward leaps, his vast mouth wide open, and uttering an incessant harsh
croaking sound. A gaucho I knew was once bitten by one. He sat down on
the grass, and, dropping his hand at his side, had it seized, and only
freed himself by using his hunting knife to force the creature's mouth
open. He washed and bandaged the wound, and no bad result followed; but
when the toad cannot be shaken off, then the result is different. One
summer two horses were found dead on the plain near my home. One, while
lying down, had been seized by a fold in the skin near the belly; the
other had been grasped by the nose while cropping grass. In both
instances the vicious toad was found dead, with jaws tightly closed,
still hanging to the dead horse. Perhaps they are sometimes incapable of
letting go at will, and like honey bees, destroy themselves in these
savage attacks.



The statement that birds instinctively fear man is frequently met with
in zoological works written since the _Origin of Species_ appeared; but
almost the only reason--absolutely the only plausible reason, all the
rest being mere supposition--given in support of such a notion is that
birds in desert islands show at first no fear of man, but afterwards,
finding him a dangerous neighbour, they become wild; and their young
also grow up wild. It is thus assumed that the habit acquired by the
former has become hereditary in the latter--or, at all events, that in
time it becomes hereditary. Instincts, which are few in number in any
species, and practically endure for ever, are not, presumably, acquired
with such extraordinary facility.

Birds become shy where persecuted, and the young, even when not
disturbed, learn a shy habit from the parents, and from other adults
they associate with. I have found small birds shyer in desert places,
where the human form was altogether strange to them, than in
thickly-settled districts. Large birds are actually shyer than the small
ones, although, to the civilized or shooting man they seem astonishingly
tame where they have never been fired at. I have frequently walked quite
openly to within twenty-five or thirty yards of a flock of flamingoes
without alarming them. This, however, was when they were in the water,
or on the opposite side of a stream. Having no experience of guns, they
fancied themselves secure as long as a strip of water separated them
from the approaching object. When standing on dry land they would not
allow so near an approach. Sparrows in England aro very much tamer than
the sparrows I have observed in desert places, where they seldom see a
human being. Nevertheless young sparrows in England are very much tamer
than old birds, as anyone may see for himself. During the past summer,
while living near Kew Gardens, I watched the sparrows a great deal, and
fed forty or fifty of them every day from a back window. The bread and
seed was thrown on to a low roof just outside the window, and I noticed
that the young birds when first able to fly were always brought by the
parents to this feeding place, and that after two or three visits they
would begin to come of their own accord. At such times they would
venture quite close to me, showing as little suspicion as young
chickens. The adults, however, although so much less shy than birds of
other species, were extremely suspicious, snatching up the bread and
flying away; or, if they remained, hopping about in a startled manner,
craning their necks to view me, and making so many gestures and motions,
and little chirps of alarm, that presently the young would become
infected with fear. The lesson was taught them in a surprisingly short
time; their suspicion was seen to increase day by day, and about a week
later they were scarcely to be distinguished, in behaviour from the
adults. It is plain that, with these little birds, fear of man is an
associate feeling, and that, unless it had been taught them, his
presence would trouble them as little as does that of horse, sheep, or
cow. But how about the larger species, used as food, and which have had
a longer and sadder experience of man's destructive power?

The rhea, or South American ostrich, philosophers tell us, is a very
ancient bird on the earth; and from its great size and inability to
escape by flight, and its excellence as food, especially to savages, who
prefer fat rank-flavoured flesh, it must have been systematically
persecuted by man as long as, or longer than, any bird now existing on
the globe. If fear of man ever becomes hereditary in birds, we ought
certainly to find some trace of such an instinct in this species. I have
been unable to detect any, though I have observed scores of young rheas
in captivity, taken before the parent bird had taught them what to fear.
I also once kept a brood myself, captured just after they had hatched
out. With regard to food they were almost, or perhaps quite,
independent, spending most of the time catching flies, grasshoppers, and
other insects with surprising dexterity; but of the dangers encompassing
the young rhea they knew absolutely frothing. They would follow me about
as if they took me for their parent; and, whenever I imitated the loud
snorting or rasping warning-call emitted the old bird in moments of
danger, they would to me in the greatest terror, though no animal was in
sight, and, squatting at my feet, endeavour to conceal themselves by
thrusting their heads and long necks up my trousers. If I had caused a
person to dress in white or yellow clothes for several consecutive days,
and had then uttered the warning cry each time he showed himself to the
birds, I have no doubt that they would soon have acquired a habit of
running in terror from him, even without the warning cry, and that the
fear of a person in white or yellow would have continued all their
lives. Up to within about twenty years ago, rheas were seldom or never
shot in La Plata and Patagonia, but were always hunted on horseback and
caught with the bolas. The sight of a mounted man would set them off at
once, while a person on foot could walk quite openly to within easy
shooting distance of them; yet their fear of a horseman dates only two
hundred years back--a very short time, when we consider that, before the
Indian borrowed the horse from the invader, he must have systematically
pursued the rhea on foot for centuries. The rhea changed its habits when
the hunter changed his, and now, if an _estanciero_ puts down ostrich
hunting on his estate, in a very few years the birds, although wild
birds still, become as fearless and familiar as domestic animals. I have
known old and ill-tempered males to become a perfect nuisance on some
estancias, running after and attacking every person, whether on foot or
on horseback, that ventured near them. An old instinct of a whole race
could not be thus readily lost here and there on isolated estates
wherever a proprietor chose to protect his birds for half a dozen years.

I suppose the Talegallus--the best-known brush-turkey--must be looked on
as an exception to all other birds with regard to the point I am
considering; for this abnormal form buries its eggs in the huge mound
made by the male, and troubles herself no more about them. When the
young is fully developed it simply kicks the coffin to pieces in which
its mother interred it, and, burrowing its way up to the sunshine,
enters on the pleasures and pains of an independent existence from
earliest infancy--that is, if a species born into the world in full
possession of all the wisdom of the ancients, can be said ever to know
infancy. At all events, from Mr. Bartlett's observations on the young
hatched in the Zoological Gardens, it appears that they took no notice
of the old birds, but lived quite independently from the moment they
came out of the ground, even flying up into a tree and roosting
separately at night. I am not sure, however, that these observations are
quite conclusive; for it is certain that captivity plays strange pranks
with the instincts of some species, and it is just possible that in a
state of nature the old birds exercise at first some slight parental
supervision, and, like all other species, have a peculiar cry to warn
the young of the dangers to be avoided. If this is not so, then the
young Talegallus must fly or hide with instinctive tear from every
living thing that approaches it. I, at any rate, find it hard to believe
that it has a knowledge, independent of experience, of the different
habits of man and kangaroo, and dis-criminates at first sight between
animals that are dangerous to it and those that are not. This
interesting point will probably never be determined, as, most unhappily,
the Australians are just now zealously engaged in exterminating their
most wonderful bird for the sake of its miserable flesh; and with less
excuse than the Maories could plead with regard to the moa, since they
cannot deny that they have mutton and rabbit enough to satisfy hunger.

Whether birds fear or have instinctive knowledge of any of their enemies
is a much larger question. Species that run freely on the ground from
the time of quitting the shell know their proper food, and avoid
whatever is injurious. Have all young birds a similarly discriminating
instinct with regard to their enemies? Darwin says, "Fear of any
particular enemy is certainly an instinctive quality, as may be seen in
nestling birds." Here, even man seems to be included among the enemies
feared instinctively; and in another passage he says, "Young chickens
have lost, wholly from habit, that fear of the dog and cat which, no
doubt, was originally instinctive in them." My own observations point to
a contrary conclusion; and I may say that I have had unrivalled
opportunities for studying the habits of young birds.

Animals of all classes, old and young, shrink with instinctive fear from
any strange object approaching them. A piece of newspaper carried
accidentally by the wind is as great an object of terror to an
inexperienced young bird as a buzzard sweeping down with death in its
talons. Among birds not yet able to fly there are, however, some curious
exceptions; thus the young of most owls and pigeons are excited to anger
rather than fear, and, puffing themselves up, snap and strike at an
intruder with their beaks. Other fledglings simply shrink down in the
nest or squat close on the ground, their fear, apparently, being in
proportion to the suddenness with which the strange animal or object
comes on them; but, if the deadliest enemy approaches with slow caution,
as snakes do--and snakes must be very ancient enemies to birds--there is
no fear or suspicion shown, even when the enemy is in full view and
about to strike. This, it will be understood, is when no warning-cry is
uttered by the parent bird. This shrinking, and, in some cases, hiding
from an object corning swiftly towards them, is the "wildness_"_ of
young birds, which, Darwin says again, is greater in wild than in
domestic species. Of the extreme tameness of the young rhea I have
already spoken; I have also observed young tinamous, plovers, coots,
&c., hatched by fowls, and found them as incapable of distinguishing
friend from foe as the young of domestic birds. The only difference
between the young of wild and tame is that the former are, as a rule,
much more sprightly and active. But there are many exceptions; and if
this greater alertness and activity is what is meant by "wildness," then
the young of some wild birds--rhea, crested screamer, &c.--are actually
much tamer than our newly-hatched chickens and ducklings.

To return to what may be seen in nestling birds, n very young, and
before their education has begun, if quietly approached and touched,
they open their bills and take food as readily from a man as from the
parent bird. But if while being thus fed the parent returns and emits
the warning note, they instantly cease their hunger-cries, close their
gaping mouths, and crouch down frightened in the nest. This fear caused
by the parent bird's warning note begins to manifest itself even before
the young are hatched--and my observations on this point refer to
several species in three widely separated orders. When the little
prisoner is hammering at its shell, and uttering its feeble _peep,_ as
if begging to be let out, if the warning note is uttered, even at a
considerable distance, the strokes and complaining instantly cease, and
the chick will then remain quiescent in the shell for a long time, or
until the parent, by a changed note, conveys to it an intimation that
the danger is over. Another proof that the nestling has absolutely no
instinctive knowledge of particular enemies, but is taught to fear them
by the parents, is to be found in the striking contrast between the
habits of parasitical and genuine young in the nest, and after they have
left it, while still unable to find their own food. I have had no
opportunities of observing the habits of the young cuckoo in England
with regard to this point, and do not know whether other observers have
paid any attention to the matter or not, but I am very familiar with the
manners of the parasitical starling or cow-bird of South America. The
warning cries of the foster parent have no effect on the young cow-bird
at any time. Until they are able to fly they will readily devour worms
from the hand of a man, even when the old birds are hovering close by
and screaming their danger notes, and while their own young, if the
parasite has allowed any to survive in the nest, are crouching down in
the greatest fear. After the cow-bird has left the nest it is still
stupidly tame, and more than once I have seen one carried off from its
elevated perch by a milvago hawk, when, if it had understood the warning
cry of the foster parent, it would have dropped down into the bush or
grass and escaped. But as soon as the young cow-birds are able to shift
for themselves, and begin to associate with their own kind, their habits
change, and they become suspicious and wild like other birds.

On this point--the later period at which the parasitical young bird
acquires fear of man--and also bearing on the whole subject under
discussion, I shall add here some observations I once made on a dove
hatched and reared by a pigeon at my home on the pampas. A very large
ombu tree grew not far from the dove-cote, and some of the pigeons used
to make their nests on the lower horizontal branches. One summer a dove
of the most common species, Zenaida maculata, in size a third less than
the domestic pigeon, chanced to drop an egg in one of these nests, and a
young dove was hatched and reared; and, in due time, when able to fly,
it was brought to the dove-cote. I watched it a great deal, and it was
evident that this foster-young, though' with the pigeons, was not nor
ever would be of them, for it could not take kiudly to their flippant
flirty ways. Whenever a male approached it, and with guttural noises and
strange gestures made a pompous declaration of amorous feelings, the
dove would strike vigorously at its undesirable lover, and drive him
off, big as he was; and, as a rule, it would sit apart, afoot or so,
from the others. The dove was also a male; but its male companions, with
instinct tainted by domestication, were ignorant alike of its sex and
different species. Now, it chanced that my pigeons, never being fed and
always finding their own living on the plain like wild birds, were,
although still domestic, not nearly so tame as pigeons usually are in
England. They would not allow a person to approach within two or three
yards of them without flying, and if grain was thrown to them they would
come to it very suspiciously, or not at all. And, of course, the young
pigeons always acquired the exact degree of suspicion shown by the
adults as soon as they were able to fly and consort with the others. But
the foundling Zenaida did not know what their startled gestures and
notes of fear meant when a person approached too near, and as he saw
none of his own kind, he did not acquire their suspicious habit. On the
contrary, he was perfectly tame, although by parentage a wild bird, and
showed no more fear of a man than of a horse. Throughout the winter it
remained with the pigeons, going afield every day with them, and
returning to the dove-cote; but as spring approached the slight tie
which united him to them began to be loosened; their company grew less
and less congenial, and he began to lead a solitary life. But he did not
go to the trees yet. He came to the house, and his favourite perch was
on the low overhanging roof of a vine-covered porch, just over the main
entrance. Here he would pass several hours every day, taking no notice
of the people passing in and out at all times; and when the weather grew
warm he would swell out his breast and coo mournfully by the hour for
our pleasure.

We can, no doubt, learn best by observing the behaviour of nestlings and
young birds; nevertheless, I find much even in the confirmed habits of
adults to strengthen me in the belief that fear of particular enemies is
in nearly all cases--for I will not say all--the result of experience
and tradition.

Hawks are the most open, violent, and persistent enemies birds have; and
it is really wonderful to see how well the persecuted kinds appear to
know the power for mischief possessed by different raptorial species,
and how exactly the amount of alarm exhibited is in proportion to the
extent of the danger to be apprehended. Some raptors never attack birds,
others only occasionally; still others prey only on the young and
feeble; and, speaking of La Plata district, where I have observed hawks,
from the milvago chimango--chiefly a carrion-eater--to the destructive
peregrine falcon, there is a very great variety of predatory habits, and
all degrees of courage to be found; yet all these raptors are treated
differently by species liable to be preyed on, and have just as much
respect paid them as their strength and daring entitles them to, and no
more, So much discrimination must seem almost incredible to those who
are not very familiar with the manners of wild birds; I do not think it
could exist if the fear shown resulted from instinct or inherited habit.
There would be no end to the blunders of such an instinct as that; and
in regions where hawks are extremely abundant most of the birds would bo
in a constant state of trepidation. On the pampas the appearance of the
comparatively harmless chimango excites not the least alarm among small
birds, yet at a distance it closely resembles a henharrier, and it also
readily attacks young, sick, and wounded birds; all others know how
little they have to fear from it. When it appears unexpectedly,
sweeping over a hedge or grove with a rapid flight, it is sometimes
mistaken for a more dangerous species; there is then a little flutter of
alarm, some birds springing into the air, but in two or three seconds of
time they discover their mistake, and settle down quietly again, taking
no further notice of the despised carrion-eater. On the other hand, I
have frequently mistaken a harrier (Circus cinereus, in the brown state
of plumage) for a chimango, and have only discovered my mistake by
seeing the commotion among the small birds. The harrier I have
mentioned, also the C. macropterus, feed partly on small birds, which
they flush from the ground and strike down with their claws. When the
harrier appears moving along with a loitering flight near the surface,
it is everywhere attended by a little whirlwind of alarm, small birds
screaming or chirping excitedly and diving into the grass or bushes; but
the alarm does not spread far, and subsides as soon as the hawk has
passed on its way. Buzzards (Buteo and Urubitinga) are much more feared,
and create a more widespread alarm, and they ars certainly more
destructive to birds than harriers. Another curious instance is that of
the sociable hawk (Rostrhanrus sociabilis). This bird spends the summer
and breeds in marshes in La Plata, and birds pay no attention to it, for
it feeds exclusively on water-snails (Ampullaria). But when it visits
woods and plantations to roost, during migration, its appearance creates
as much alarm as that of a true buzzard, which it closely resembles.
Wood-birds, unaccustomed to see it, do not know its peculiar preying
habits, and how little they need fear its presence. I may also mention
that the birds of La Plata seem to fear the kite-like Elanus less than
other hawks, and I believe that its singular resemblance to the common
gull of the district in its size, snowy-white plumage and manner of
flight, has a deceptive effect on most species, and makes them so little
suspicious of it,

The wide-ranging peregrine falcon is a common species in La Plata,
although, oddly enough, not included in any notice of the avifauna of
that region before 1888. The consternation caused among birds by its
appearance is vastly greater than that produced by any of the raptors I
have mentioned: and it is unquestionably very much more destructive to
birds, since it preys exclusively on them, and, as a rule, merely picks
the flesh from the head and neck, and leaves the untouched body to its
jackal, the carrion-hawk. When the peregrine appears speeding through
the air in a straight line at a great height, the feathered world, as
far as one able to see, is thrown into the greatest commo-tion, all
birds, from the smallest up to species large as duck, ibis, and curlew,
rushing about in the air as if distracted. When the falcon has
disappeared in the sky, and the wave of terror attending its progress
subsides behind it, the birds still continue wild and excited for some
time, showing how deeply they have been moved; for, as a rule, fear is
exceedingly transitory in its effects on animals,

I must, before concluding this part of my subject, mention another
raptor, also a true falcon, but differing from the peregrine in being
exclusively a marsh-hawk. In size it is nearly a third less than the
male peregrine, which it resembles in its sharp wings and manner of
flight, but its flight is much more rapid. The whole plumage, is
uniformly of a dark grey colour. Unfortunately, though I have observed
it not fewer than a hundred times, I have never been able to procure a
specimen, nor do I find that it is like any American falcon already
described; so that for the present it must remain nameless. Judging
solely from the effect produced by the appearance of this hawk, it must
be even more daring and destructive than its larger relation, the
peregrine. It flies at a great height, and sometimes descends vertically
and with extraordinary velocity, the wings producing a sound like a
deep-toned horn. The sound is doubtless produced at will, and is
certainly less advantageous to the hawk than to the birds it pursues. No
doubt it can afford to despise the wing-power of its quarry; and I have
sometimes thought that it takes a tyrannous delight in witnessing the
consternation caused by its hollow trumpeting sound. This may be only a
fancy, but some hawks do certainly take pleasure in pursuing and
striking birds when not seeking prey. The peregrine has been observed,
Baird says, capturing birds, only to kill and drop them. Many of the
Felidae, we know, evince a similar habit; only these prolong their
pleasure by practising a more refined and deliberate cruelty.

The sudden appearance overhead of this hawk produces an effect wonderful
to witness. I have frequently seen all the inhabitants of a marsh struck
with panic, acting as if demented, and suddenly grown careless to all
other dangers; and on such occasions I have looked up confident of
seeing the sharp-winged death, suspended above them in the sky. All
birds that happen to be on the wing drop down as if shot into the reeds
or water; ducks away from the margin stretch out their necks
horizontally and drag their bodies, as if wounded, into closer cover;
not one bird is found bold enough to rise up and wheel about the
marauder--a usual proceeding in the case of other hawks; while, at every
sudden stoop the falcon makes, threatening to dash down on his prey, a
low cry of terror rises from the birds beneath; a sound expressive of an
emotion so contagious that it quickly runs like a murmur all over the
marsh, as if a gust of wind had swept moaning through, the rushes. As
long as the falcon hangs overhead, always at a height of about forty
yards, threatening at intervals to dash down, this murmuring sound, made
up of many hundreds of individual cries, is heard swelling and dying
away, and occasionally, when he drops lower than usual, rising to a
sharp scream of terror.

Sometimes when I have been riding over marshy ground, one of these hawks
has placed himself directly over my head, within fifteen or twenty yards
of me; and it has perhaps acquired the habit of following a horseman in
this way in order to strike at any birds driven up. On one occasion my
horse almost trod on a couple of snipe squatting terrified in the short
grass. The instant they rose the hawk struck at one, the end of his wing
violently smiting my cheek as he stooped, and striking at the snipe on a
level with the knees of my horse. The snipe escaped by diving under the
bridle, and immediately dropped down on the other side of me, and the
hawk, rising up, flew away.

To return. I think I am justified in believing that fear of hawks, like
fear of men, is, in very nearly all cases, the result of experience and
tradition. Nevertheless, I think it probable that in some species which
have always lived in the open, continually exposed to attack, and which
are preferred as food by raptors, such as duck, snipe, and plover, the
fear of the falcon may be an inherited habit. Among passerine birds I am
also inclined to think that swallows show inherited fear of hawks.
Swallows and humming-birds have least to fear from raptors; yet, while
humming-birds readily pursue and tease hawks, thinking as little of them
as of pigeons or herons, swallows everywhere manifest the greatest
terror at the approach of a true falcon; and they also fear other birds
of prey, though in a much less degree. It has been said that the
European hobby occasionally catches swal-lows on the wing, but this
seems a rare and exceptional habit, and in South America I have never
seen any bird of prey attempt the pursuit of a swallow. The question
then arises, how did this unnecessary fear, so universal in swallows,
originate? Can it be a survival of a far past--a time when some
wide-ranging small falcon, aerial in habits as the swallow itself,
preyed by preference on hirundines only ?

[NOTE.-Herbert Spencer, who accepts Darwin's inference, explains how the
fear of man, acquired by experience, becomes instinctive in birds, in
the following passage: "It is well known that in newly-discovered lands
not inhabited by man, birds are so devoid of fear as to allow themselves
to be knocked over with sticks; but that, in the course of generations,
they acquire such a dread of man as to fly on his approach: and that
this dread is manifested by young as well as by old. Now unless this
change be ascribed to the killing-off of the least fearful, and the
preservation and multiplication of the most fearful which, considering
the comparatively small number killed by man, is an inadequate cause, it
must be ascribed to accumulated experience; and each experience must be
held to have a share in producing it. We must conclude that in each bird
that escapes with injuries inflicted by man, or is alarmed by the
outcries of other members of the flock (gregarious creatures of any
intelligence being necessarily more or less sympathetic), there is
established an association of ideas between the human aspect and the
pains, direct and in-direct, suffered from human agency. And we must
further con-clude, that the state of consciousness which compels the
bird to take flight, is at first nothing more than an ideal reproduction
of those painful impressions which before followed man's approach; that
such ideal reproduction becomes more vivid and more massive as the
painful experiences, direct or sympathetic, increase; and that thus the
emotion, in its incipient state, is nothing else than an aggregation of
the revived pains before experience.

"As, in the course of generations, the young birds of this race begin to
display a fear of man before yet they have been injured by him, it is an
unavoidable inference that the nervous system of the race has been
organically modified by these experiences, we have no choice but to
conclude, that when a young bird is led to fly, it is because the
impression produced in its senses by the approaching man entails,
through an incipiently reflex action, a partial excitement of all those
nerves which in its ancestors had been excited under the like
conditions; that this partial excitement has its accompanying painful
consciousness, and that the vague painful consciousness thus arising
constitutes emotion proper--_emotion undecomposable into specific
experiences, and, therefore, seemingly homogeneous"_ (Essays, vol. i. p.

It is comforting to know that the "unavoidable inference" is, after all,
erroneous, and that the nervous system in birds has not yet been
organically altered as a result of man's persecution; for in that case
it would take long to undo the mischief, and we should be indeed far
from that "better friendship" with the children of the air which many of
us would like to see.



Under this heading I have put together several notes from my journals on
subjects which have no connection with each other, except that they
relate chiefly to the parental instincts of some animals I have
observed, and to the instincts of the young at a very early period of

While taking bats one day in December, I captured a female of our common
Buenos Ayrean species (Molossus bonariensis), with her two young
attached to her, so large that it seemed incredible she should be able
to fly and take insects with such a weight to drag her down. The young
were about a third less in size than the mother, so that she had to
carry a weight greatly exceeding that of her own body. They were
fastened to her breast and belly, one on each side, as when first born;
and, possibly, the young bat does not change its position, or move, like
the young developed opossum, to other parts of the body, until mature
enough to begin an independent life. On forcibly separating them from
their parent, I found that they were not yet able to fly, but when set
free fluttered feebly to the ground. This bat certainly appeared more
burdened with its young than any animal I had ever observed. I have seen
an old female opossum (Didelphys azarae) with eleven young, large as old
rats--the mother being less than a cat in size--all clinging to various
parts of her body; yet able to climb swiftly and with the greatest
agility in the higher branches of a tree. The actual weight was in this
case relatively much greater than in that of the female bat: but then
the opossum never quitted its hold on the tree, and it also supplemented
its hand-like feet, furnished with crooked claws, with its teeth and
long prehensile tail. The poor bat had to seek its living in the empty
air, pursuing its prey with the swiftness of a swallow, and it seemed
wonderful to me that she should have been able to carry about that great
burden with her one pair of wings, and withal to be active enough to
supply herself and her young with food.

In the end I released her, and saw her fly away and disappear among the
trees, after which I put back the two young bats in the place I had
taken them from, among the thick-clustering foliage of a small acacia
tree. When set free they began to work their way upwards through the
leaves and slender twigs in the most adroit manner, catching a twig with
their teeth, then embracing a whole cluster of leaves with their wings,
just as a person would take up a quantity of loose clothes and hold them
tight by pressing them against the chest. The body would then emerge
above the clasped leaves, and a higher twig would be caught by the
teeth; and so on successively, until they had got as high as they
wished, when they proceeded to hook themselves to a twig and assume the
inverted position side by side; after which, one drew in its head and
went to sleep, while the other began licking the end of its wing, where
my finger and thumb had pressed the delicate membrane. Later in the day
I attempted to feed them with small insects, but they rejected my
friendly attentions in the most unmistakable manner, snapping viciously
at me every time I approached them. In the evening, I stationed myself
close to the tree, and presently had the satisfaction of seeing the
mother return, flying straight to the spot where I had taken her, and in
a few moments she was away again and over the trees with her twins.

Assuming that these two young bats had, before I found them, existed
like parasites clinging to the parent, their adroit actions when
liberated, and their angry demonstrations at my approach, were very
astonishing; for in all other mammals born in a perfectly helpless
state, like rodents, weasels, edentates, and even marsupials, the
instincts of self-preservation are gradually developed after the period
of activity begins, when the mother leads them out, and they play with
her and Avith each other. In the bat the instincts must ripen to
perfection without exercise or training, and while the animal exists as
passively as a fruit on its stem.

I have observed that the helpless young of some of the mammals I have
just mentioned seem at first to have no instinctive understanding of the
language of alarm and fear in the parent, as all young-birds have, even
before their eyes are open. Nor is it necessary that they should have
such an instinct, since, in most cases, they are well concealed in
kennels or other safe places; but when, through some accident, they are
exposed, the want of such an instinct makes the task of protecting them
doubly hard for the parent. I once surprised a weasel (Galictis barbara)
in the act of removing her young, or conducting them, rather; and when
she was forced to quit them, although still keeping close by, and
uttering the most piercing cries of anger and solicitude, the young
continued piteously crying out in their shrill voices and moving about
in circles, without making the slightest attempt to escape, or to
conceal themselves, as young birds do.

Some field mice breed on the surface of the ground in ill-constructed
nests, and their young are certainly the most helpless things in nature.
It is possible that where this dangerous habit exists, the parent has
some admirable complex instincts to safeguard her young, in addition to
the ordinary instincts of most animals of this kind. This idea was
suggested to me by the action of a female mouse which I witnessed by
chance. While walking in a field of stubble one day in autumn, near
Buenos Ayres, I suddenly heard, issuing from near my feet, a chorus of
shrill squealing voices--the familiar excessively sharp little needles
of sound emitted by young, blind and naked mice, when they are disturbed
or in pain. Looking down, I saw close to my foot a nest of them--there
were nine in all, wriggling about and squealing; for the parent,
frightened at my step, had just sprung from them, overturning in her
hurry to escape the slight loosely-felted dome of fine grass and
thistledown which had covered them. I saw her running away, but after
going six or seven yards she stopped, and, turning partly round so as to
watch me, waited in fear and trembling. I remained perfectly
motionless--a sure way to allay fear and suspicion in any wild
creature,--and in a few moments she returned, but with the utmost
caution, frequently pausing to start and tremble, and masking her
approach with corn stumps and little inequalities in the surface of the
ground, until, reaching the nest, she took one of the young in her
mouth, and ran rapidly away to a distance of eight or nine yards and
concealed it in a tuft of dry grass.

Leaving it, she returned a second time, in the same cautious manner, and
taking another, ran with it to the same spot, and concealed it along
with the first. It was curious that the first young mouse had continued
squealing after being hidden by the mother, for I could hear it
distinctly, the air being very still, but when the second mouse had been
placed with it, the squealing ceased. A third time the old mouse came,
and then instead of going to the same spot, as I had expected, she ran
off in an opposite direction and disappeared among the dry weeds; a
fourth was carried to the same place as the third; and in this way they
were all removed to a distance of some yards from the nest, and placed
in couples, until the last and odd one remained. In due time she came
for it, and ran away with it in a new direction, and was soon out of
sight; and although I waited fully ten minutes, she did not return; nor
could I afterwards find any of the young mice when I looked for them, or
even hear them squeal.

I have frequently observed newly-born lambs on the pampas, and have
never failed to be surprised at the extreme imbecility they display in
their actions; although this may be due partly to inherited degeneracy
caused by domestication. This imbecile condition continues for two,
sometimes for three days, during which time the lamb apparently acts
purely from instincts, which are far from perfect; but after that,
experience and its dam teach it a better way. When born its first
impulse is to struggle up on to its feet; its second to suck, but here
it does not discriminate like the newly-hatched bird that picks up its
proper food, or it does not know what to suck. It will take into its
mouth whatever comes near, in most cases a tuft of wool on its dam's
neck; and at this it will continue sucking for an indefinite time. It is
highly probable that the strong-smelling secretion of the sheep's udder
attracts the lamb at length to that part; and that without something of
the kind to guide it, in many cases it would actually starve without
finding the teats. I have often seen lambs many hours after birth still
confining their attention to the most accessible locks of wool on the
neck or fore legs of the dams, and believe that in such cases the long
time it took them to find the source of nourishment arose from a
defective sense of smell. Its next important instinct, which comes into
play from the moment it can stand on its feet, impels it to follow after
any object receding from it, and, on the other hand, to run from
anything approaching it. If the dam turns round and approaches it from
even a very short distance, it will start back and run from her in fear,
and will not understand her voice when she bleats to it: at the same
time it will confidently follow after a man, dog, horse, or any other
animal moving from it. A very common experience on the pampas, in the
sheep-country, is to see a lamb start up from sleep and follow the
rider, running along close to the heels of the horse. This is
distressing to a merciful man, tor he cannot shake the little simpleton
off, and if he rides on, no matter how fast, it will keep up him, or
keep him in sight, for half a mile or a mile, and never recover its dam.
The gaucho, who is not merciful, frequently saves himself all trouble
and delay by knocking it senseless with a blow of his whip-handle, and
without checking his horse. I have seen a lamb, about two days old,
start up from sleep, and immediately start off in pursuit of a puff ball
about as big as a man's head, carried past it over the smooth turf by
the wind, and chase it for a distance of five hundred yards, until the
dry ball was brought to a stop by a tuft of coarse grass. This
blundering instiuct is quickly laid aside when the lamb has learned to
distinguish its dam from other objects, and its dam's voice from other
sounds. When four or five days old it will start from sleep, but instead
of rushing blindly away after any receding object, it first looks about
it, and will then recognize and run to its dam.

I have often been struck with the superiority of the pampa or
creolla--the old native breed of sheep--in the greater vigour of the
young when born over the improved European varieties. The pampa descends
to us from the first sheep introduced into La Plata about three
centuries ago, and is a tall, gaunt bony animal, with lean dry flesh,
like venison, and long straight wool, like goats' hair. In their
struggle for existence in a country subject to sudden great changes of
temperature, to drought, and failure of grass, they have in a great
measure lost the qualities which make the sheep valuable to man as a
food and wool-producing animal; but on the other hand they have to some
extent recovered the vigour of a wild animal, being hardy enough to
exist without any shelter, and requiring from their master man only
protection from the larger carnivores. They are keen-scented, swift of
foot and Wonderfully active, and thrive where other breeds would quickly
starve. I have often seen a lamb dropped on the frosty ground in
bitterly cold windy weather in midwinter, and in less than five seconds
struggle to its feet, and seem as vigorous as any day-old lamb of other
breeds. The dam, impatient at the short delay, and not waiting to give
it suck, has then started off at a brisk trot after the flock, scattered
and galloping before the wind like huanacos rather than sheep, with the
lamb, scarcely a minute in the world, running freely at her side.
Notwithstanding its great vigour it has been proved that the pampa sheep
has not so far outgrown the domestic taint as to be able to maintain its
own existence when left entirely to itself. During the first half of
this century, when cattle-breeding began to be profitable, and wool was
not worth the trouble of shearing, and the gaucho workman would not eat
mutton when beef was to be had, some of the estancieros on the southern
pampas determined to get rid of their sheep, which were of no value to
them; and many flocks were driven a distance out and lost in the wilds.
Out of many thousands thus turned loose to shift for themselves, not one
pair survived to propagate a new race of feral sheep; in a short time
pumas, wild dogs, and other beasts of prey, had destroyed them all. The
sterling qualities of the pampa sheep had their value in other times; at
present the improved kinds are alone considered worth having, and the
original sheep of the country is now rapidly disappearing, though still
found in remote and poor districts, especially in the province of
Cordova; and probably before long it will become extinct, together with
the curious pug-nosed cow of the pampas.

I have had frequent opportunities of observing the young, from one to
three days old, of the Cervus campestris--the common deer of the pampas,
and the perfection of its instincts at that tender age seem very
wonderful in a ruminant. When the doe with, fawn is approached by a
horseman, even when accompanied with dogs, she stands perfectly
motionless, gazing fixedly at the enemy, the fawn motionless at her
side; and suddenly, as if at a preconcerted signal, the fawn rushes
directly away from her at its utmost speed; and going to a distance of
six hundred to a thousand yards conceals itself in a hollow in the
ground or among the long grass, lying down very close with neck
stretched out horizontally, and will thus remain until sought by the
dam. When very young if found in its hiding-place it will allow itself
to be taken, making no further effort to escape. After the fawn has run
away the doe still maintains her statuesque attitude, as if resolved to
await the onset, and only when the dogs are close to her she also rushes
away, but invariably in a direction as nearly opposite to that taken by
the fawn as possible. At first she runs slowly, with a limping gait, and
frequently pausing, as if to entice her enemies on, like a partridge,
duck or plover when driven from its young; but as they begin to press
her more closely her speed increases, becoming greater the further she
succeeds in leading them from the starting-point.

The alarm-cry of this deer is a peculiar whistling bark, a low but
far-reaching sound; but when approaching a doe with young I have never
been able to hear it, nor have I seen any movement on the part of the
doe. Yet it is clear that in some mysterious way she inspires the fawn
with sudden violent fear; while the fawn, on its side, instead of being
affected like the young in other mammals, and sticking closer to its
mother, acts in a contrary way, and runs from her.

Of the birds I am acquainted with, the beautiful jacana (Parra jacana)
appears to come into the world with its faculties and powers in the most
advanced state. It is, in fact, ready to begin active life from the very
moment of leaving the shell, as I once accidentally observed. I found a
nest on a small mound of earth in a shallow lagoon, containing four
eggs, with the shells already chipped by the birds in them. Two yards
from the small nest mound there was a second mound covered with coarse
grass. I got off my horse to examine the nest, and the old birds,
excited beyond measure, fluttered round me close by pouring out their
shrill rapidly-reiterated cries in an unbroken stream, sounding very
much like a policeman's rattle. While I was looking closely at one of
the eggs lying on the palm of my hand, all at once the cracked shell
parted, and at the same moment the young bird leaped from my hand and
fell into the water. I am quite sure that the young bird's sudden escape
from the shell and my hand was the result of a violent effort on its
part to free itself; and it was doubtless inspired to make the effort by
the loud persistent screaming of the parent birds, which it heard while
in the shell. Stooping to pick it up to save it from perishing, I soon
saw that my assistance was not required, for immediately on dropping
into the water, it put out its neck, and with the body nearly submerged,
like a wounded duck trying to escape observation, it swam rapidly to the
second small mound I have mentioned, and, escaping from the water,
concealed itself in the grass, lying close and perfectly motionless like
a young plover.

In the case of the pampa or creolla sheep, I have shown that during its
long, rough life in La Plata, this variety has in some measure recovered
the natural vigour and ability to maintain existence in adverse
circumstances of its wild ancestors. As much can be said of the creolla
fowl of the pampas; and some observations of mine on the habits of this
variety will perhaps serve to throw light on a vexed question of Natural
History--namely, the cackling of the hen after laying, an instinct which
has been described as "useless" and "disadvantageous." In fowls that
live unconfined, and which are allowed to lay where they like, the
instinct, as we know it, is certainly detrimental, since egg-eating dogs
and pigs soon learn the cause of the outcry, and acquire a habit of
rushing off to find the egg when they hear it. The question then arises:
Does the wild jungle fowl possess the same pernicious instinct?

The creolla is no doubt the descendant of the fowl originally introduced
about three centuries ago by the first colonists in La Plata, and has
probably not only been uncrossed with any other improved variety, such
as are now fast taking its place, and has lived a much freer life than
is usual with the fowl in Europe. It is a rather small, lean, extremely
active bird, lays about a dozen eggs, and hatches them all, and is of a
yellowish red colour--a hue which is common, I believe, in the old
barn-door fowl of England. The creolla fowl is strong on the wing, and
much more carnivorous and rapacious in habits than other breeds; mice,
frogs, and small snakes are eagerly hunted and devoured by it. At my
home on the pampas a number of these fowls were kept, and were allowed
to range freely about the plantation, which was large, and the adjacent
grounds, where there were thickets of giant cardoon thistle, red-weed,
thorn apple, &c. They always nested at a distance from the house, and it
was almost impossible ever to find their eggs, on account of the extreme
circumspection they observed in going to and from their nests; and when
they succeeded in escaping foxes, skunks, weasels, and opossums, which,
strange to say, they often did, they would rear their chickens away out
of sight and hearing of the house, and only bring them home when winter
deprived them of their leafy covering and made food scarce. During the
summer, in my rambles about the plantation, T would occasionally
surprise one of these half-wild hens with her brood; her distracted
screams and motions would then cause her chicks to scatter and vanish in
all directions, and, until the supposed danger was past, they would lie
as close and well-concealed as young partridges. These fowls in summer
always lived in small parties, each party composed of one cock and as
many hens as he could collect--usually three or four. Each family
occupied its own feeding ground, where it would pass a greater portion
of each day. The hen would nest at a considerable distance from the
feeding ground, sometimes as far as four or five hundred yards away.
After laying an egg she would quit the nest, not walking from it as
other fowls do, but flying, the flight extending to a distance of from
fifteen to about fifty yards; after which, still keeping silence, she
would walk or run, until, arrived at the feeding ground, she would begin
to cackle. At once the cock, if within hearing, would utter a responsive
cackle, whereupon she would run to him and cackle no more. Frequently
the cackling call-note would not be uttered more than two or three
times, sometimes only once, and in a much lower tone than in fowls of
other breeds.

If we may assume that these fowls, in their long, semi-independent
existence in La Plata, have reverted to the original instincts of the
wild Gallus bankiva, we can see here how advantageous the cackling
instinct must be in enabling the hen in dense tropical jungles to rejoin
the flock after laying an egg. If there are egg-eating animals in the
jungle intelligent enough to discover the meaning of such a short,
subdued cackling call, they would still be unable to find the nest by
going back on the bird's scent, since she flies from the nest in the
first place; and the wild bird probably flies further than the creolla
hen of La Plata. The clamorous cackling of our fowls would appear then
to be nothing more than a perversion of a very useful instinct.



It might possibly give the reader some faint conception of the odious
character of this creature (for adjectives are weak to describo it) when
I say that, in talking to strangers from abroad, I have never thought it
necessary to speak of sunstroke, jaguars, or the assassin's knife, but
have never omitted to warn them of the skunk, minutely describing its
habits and personal appearance.

I knew an Englishman who, on taking a first gallop across the pampas,
saw one, and, quickly dismounting, hurled himself bodily on to it to
effect its capture. Poor man! he did not know that the little animal is
never unwilling to be caught. Men have been blinded for ever by a
discharge of the fiery liquid full in their faces. On a mucous membrane
it burns like sulphuric acid, say the unfortunates who have had the
experience. How does nature protect the skunk itself from the injurious
effects of its potent fluid? I have not unfrequently found individuals
stone-blind, sometimes moving so briskly about that the blindness must
have been of long standing--very possibly in some cases an accidental
drop discharged by the animal itself has caused the loss of sight. When
coming to close quarters with a skunk, by covering up the face, one's
clothes only are ruined. But this is not all one has to fear from an
encounter; the worst is that effluvium, after which crushed garlic is
lavender, which tortures the olfactory nerves, and appears to pervade
the whole system like a pestilent ether, nauseating one until
sea-sickness seems almost a pleasant sensation in comparison.

To those who know the skunk only from reputation, my words might seem
too strong; many, however, who have come to close quarters with the
little animal will think them ridiculously weak. And consider what must
the feelings be of one who has had the following experience--not an
uncommon experience on the pampas. There is to be a dance at a
neighbouring house a few miles away; he has been looking forward to it,
and, dressing himself with due care, mounts his horse and sets out full
of joyous anticipations. It is a dark windy evening, but there is a
convenient bridle-path through the dense thicket of giant thistles, and
striking it he puts his horse into a swinging gallop. Unhappily the path
is already occupied by a skunk, invisible in the darkness, that, in
obedience to the promptings of its insane instinct, refuses to get out
of it, until the flying hoofs hit it and sand it like a well-kicked
football into the thistles. But the forefoot of the horse, up as high as
his knees perhaps, have been sprinkled, and the rider, after coming out
into the open, dismounts and walks away twenty yards from his animal,
and literally _smells_ himself all over, and with a feeling of profound
relief pronounces himself Not the minutest drop of the diabolical spray
has touched his dancing shoes! Springing into the saddle he proceeds to
his journey's end, is warmly welcomed by his host, and speedily
forgetting his slight misadventure, mingles with a happy crowd of
friends. In a little while people begin exchanging whispers and
significant glances; men are seen smiling at nothing in particular; the
hostess wears a clouded face; the ladies cough and put their scented
handkerchiefs to their noses, and presently they begin to feel faint and
retire from the room. Our hero begins to notice that there is something
wrong, and presently discovers its cause; he, unhappily, has been the
last person in the room to remark that familiar but most abominable
odour, rising like a deadly exhalation from the floor, conquering all
other odours, and every moment becoming more powerful. A drop _has_
touched his shoe after all; and fearing to be found out, and edging
towards the door, he makes his escape, and is speedily riding home
again; knowing full well that his sudden and early departure from the
scene will be quickly discovered and set down to the right cause.

In that not always trustworthy book _The Natural History of Chili,_
Molina tells us how they deal with the animal in the trans-Andine
regions. "When one appears," he says, "some of the company begiu by
caressing it, until an opportunity offers for one of them to seize it by
the tail. In this position the muscles become contracted, the animal is
unable to eject its fluid, and is quickly despatched." One might just as
well talk of caressing a cobra de capello; yet this laughable fiction
finds believers all over South and North America. Professor Baird
gravely introduces it into his great work on the mammalia. I was once
talking about animals in a rancho, when a person present (an Argentine
officer) told that, while visiting an Indian encampment, he had asked
the savages how they contrived to kill skunks without making even a life
in the desert intolerable. A grave old Cacique informed him that the
secret was to go boldly up to the animal, take it by the tail, and
despatch it; for, he said, when you fear it not at all, then it respects
your courage and dies like a lamb--sweetly. The officer, continuing his
story, said that on quitting the Indian camp he started a skunk, and,
glad of an opportunity to test the truth of what he had heard,
dismounted and proceeded to put the Indian plan in practice. Here the
story abruptly ended, and when I eagerly demanded to hear the sequel,
the amateur hunter of furs lit a cigarette and vacantly watched the
ascending smoke. The Indians aro grave jokers, they seldom smile; and
this old traditional skunk-joke, which has run the length of a
continent, finding its way into many wise books, is their revenge on a
superior race.

I have shot a great many eagles, and occasionally a carancho (Polyborus
tharus), with the plumage smelling strongly of skunk, which shows that
these birds, pressed by hunger, often commit the fearful mistake of
attacking the animal. My friend Mr. Ernest Gibson, of Buenos Ayres, in a
communication to the _Ibis,_ describes an encounter he actually
witnessed between a carancho and a skunk. Riding home one afternoon, he
spied a skunk "shuffling along in the erratic manner usual to that
odoriferous quadruped;" following it at a very short distance was an
eagle-vulture, evidently bent on mischief. Every time the bird came near
the bushy tail rose menacingly; then the carancho would fall behind,
and, after a few moments' hesitation, follow on again. At length,
growing bolder, it sprung forward, seizing the threatening tail with its
claw, but immediately after "began staggering about with dishevelled
plumage, tearful eyes, and a profoundly woe-begone expression on its
vulture face. The skunk, after turning and regarding its victim with an
I-told-you-so look for a few moments, trotted unconcernedly off."

I was told in Patagonia by a man named Molinos, who was frequently
employed by the Government as guide to expeditions in the desert, that
everywhere throughout that country the skunk is abundant. Some years ago
he was sent with two other men to find and treat with an Indian chief
whose whereabouts were not known. Far in the interior Molinos was
overtaken by a severe winter, his horses died of thirst and fatigue, and
during the three bitterest months of the year he kept himself and his
followers alive by eating the flesh of skunks, the only wild animal that
never failed them. No doubt, on those vast sterile plains where the
skunk abounds, and goes about by day and by night careless of enemies,
the terrible nature of its defensive weapon is the first lesson
experience teaches to every young eagle, fox, wild cat, and puma.

Dogs kill skunks when made to do so, but it is not a sport they delight
in. One moonlight night, at home, I went out to where the dogs, twelve
in number, were sleeping: while I stood there a skunk appeared and
deliberately came towards me, passing through the dogs where they lay,
and one by one as he passed them they rose up, and, with their tails
between their legs, skulked off. When made to kill skunks often they
become seasoned; but always perform the loathsome task expeditiously,
then rush away with frothing mouths to rub their faces in the wet clay
and rid themselves of the fiery sensation. At one time I possessed only
one dog that could be made to face a skunk, and as the little robbers
were very plentiful, and continually coining about the house in their
usual open, bold way, it was rather hard for the poor brute. This dog
detested them quite as strongly as the others, only he was more
obedient, faithful, and brave. Whenever I bade him attack one of them
he would come close up to me and look up into my face with piteous
pleading eyes, then, finding that he was not to be let off from the
repulsive task, he would charge upon the doomed animal with a blind fury
wonderful to see. Seizing it between his teeth, he would shake it madly,
crushing its bones, then hurl it several feet from him, only to rush
again and again upon it to repeat the operation, doubtless with a
Caligula-like wish in his frantic breast that all the skunks on the
globe had but one backbone.

I was once on a visit to a sheep-farming brother, far away on the
southern frontier of Buenos Ayres, and amongst the dogs I found there
was one most interesting creature, He was a great, lumbering, stupid,
good-tempered brute, so greedy that when you offered him a piece of meat
he would swallow half your arm, and so obedient that at a word he would
dash himself against the horns of a bull, and face death and danger in
any shape. But, my brother told me, he would not face a skunk--he would
die first. One day I took him out and found a skunk, and for upwards of
half an hour I sat on my horse vainly cheering on my cowardly follower,
and urging him to battle. The very sight of the enemy gave him a fit of
the shivers; and when the irascible little enemy began to advance
against us, going through the performance by means of which he generally
puts his foes to flight without resorting to malodorous
measures--stamping his little feet in rage, jumping up, spluttering and
hissing and flourishing his brush like a warlike banner above his
head--then hardly could I restrain my dog from turning tail and flying
home in abject terror. My cruel persistence was rewarded at last.
Continued shouts, cheers, and hand-clappings began to stir the brute to
a kind of frenzy. Torn by conflicting emotions, he began to revolve
about the skunk at a lumbering gallop, barking, howling, and bristling
up his hair; and at last, shutting his eyes, and with a yell of
desperation, he charged. I fully expected to see the enemy torn to
pieces in a few seconds, but when the dog was still four or five feet
from him the fatal discharge came, and he dropped down as if shot dead.
For some time he lay on the earth perfectly motionless, watched and
gently bedewed by the victorious skunk; then he got up and crept whining
away. Gradually he quickened his pace, finally breaking into a frantic
run. In vain I followed him, shouting at the top of my lungs; he stayed
not to listen, and very speedily vanished from sight--a white speck on
the vast level plain. At noon on the following day he made his
appearance, gaunt and befouled with mud, staggering forward like a
galvanized skeleton. Too worn out even to eat, he flung himself down,
and for hours lay like a dead thing, sleeping off the effects of those
few drops of perfume.

Dogs, I concluded, like men, have their idiosyncrasies; but I had gained
my point, and proved once more--if any proof were needed--the truth of
that noble panegyric of Bacon's on our faithful servant and companion.



There is in La Plata a large handsome grasshopper (Zoniopoda tarsata),
the habits of which in its larva and imago stages are in strange
contrast, like those in certain lepidoptera, in which the caterpillars
form societies and act in concert. The adult has a greenish protective
colouring, brown and green banded thighs, bright red hind wings, seen
only during flight. It is solitary and excessively shy in its habits,
living always in concealment among the dense foliage near the surface of
the ground. The yonng are intensely black, like grasshoppers cut out of
jet or ebony, and gregarious in habit, living in bands of forty or fifty
to three or four hundred; and so little shy, that they may sometimes be
taken up by handfuls before they begin to scatter in alarm. Their
gregarious habits and blackness--of all hues in nature the most obvious
to the sight--would alone be enough to make them the most conspicuous of
insects; but they have still other habits which appear as if specially
designed to bring them more prominently into notice. Thus, they all keep
so close together at all times as to have their bodies actually
touching, and when travelling, move so slowly that the laziest snail
might easily overtake and pass one of their bands, and even disappear
beyond their limited horizon in a very short time.

They often select an exposed weed to feed on, clustering together on its
summit above the surrounding verdure, an exceedingly conspicuous object
to every eye in the neighbourhood. They also frequently change their
feeding-ground; at such times they deliberately cross wide roads and
other open spaces, barren of grass, where, moving so slowly that they
scarcely seem to move at all, they look at a distance like a piece of
black velvet lying on the ground. Thus in every imaginable way they
expose themselves and invite attack; yet, in spite of it all, I have
never detected birds preying on them, and I have sometimes kept one of
these black societies under observation near my house for several days,
watching them at intervals, in places where the trees overhead were the
resort of Icterine and tyrant birds, Guira cuckoos, and other species,
all great hunters after grasshoppers. A young grasshopper is, moreover,
a morsel that seldom comes amiss to any bird, whether insect or seed
eater; and, as a rule, it is extremely shy, nimble, and inconspicuous.
It seems clear that, although the young Zoniopoda does not mimic in its
form any black protected insect, it nevertheless owes its safety to its
blackness, together with the habit it possesses of exposing itself in so
open and bold a manner. Blackness is so common in large protected
insects, as, for instance, in the un-palatable leaf-cutting ants,
scorpions, mygale spiders, wasps, and other dangerous kinds, that it is
manifestly a "warning colour," the most universal and best known in
nature; and the grasshopper, I believe, furthermore mimics the fearless
demeanour of the protected or venomous species, which birds and other
insect-eaters know and respect. It might be supposed that the young
Zoniopoda is itself unpalatable; but this is scarcely probable, for when
the deceptive black mask is once dropped, the excessive shyness, love of
concealment, and protective colouring of the insect show that it is much
sought after by birds.

While setting this down as an undoubted case of "mimicry," although it
differs in some respects from all other cases I have seen reported, I
cannot help remarking that this most useful word appears to be in some
danger of losing the meaning originally attached to it in zoology. There
are now very few cases of an accidental resemblance found between two
species in nature which are not set down by someone to "mimicry," some
in which even the wildest imagination might well fail to see any
possible benefit to the supposed mimic. In cases where the outward
resemblance of some feeble animal to a widely different and
well-protected species, or to some object like a leaf or stick, and
where such resemblance is manifestly advantageous and has reacted on and
modified the life habits, it is conceivable that slight spontaneous
variations in the structure and colouring of the unprotected species
have been taken advantage of by the principle of natural selection, and
a case of "mimicry" set up, to become more and more perfect in time, as
successive casual variations in the same direction increased the

The stick-insect is perhaps the most perfect example where resemblance
to an inanimate object has been the result aimed at, so to speak, by
nature; the resemblance of the volucella fly to the humble-bee, on which
it is parasitical, is the most familiar example of one species growing
like another to its own advantage, since only by means of its deceptive
likeness to the humble-bee is it able to penetrate into the nest with
impunity. These two cases, with others of a similar character, were
first called cases of "mimicry" by Kirby and Spence, in their
ever-delightful _Introduction to Entomology--_an old book, but,
curiously enough in these days of popular treatises on all matters of
the kind, still the only general work on insects in the English language
which one who is not an entomologist can read with pleasure.

A second case of mimicry not yet noticed by any naturalist is seen in
another grasshopper, also common in La Plata (Rhomalea speciosa of
Thun-berg). This is an extremely elegant insect; the head and thorax
chocolate, with cream-coloured markings; the abdomen steel-blue or
purple, a colour I have not seen in any other insects of this family.
The fore wings have a protective colouring; the hind wings are bright
red. When at rest, with the red and purple tints concealed, it is only a
very pretty grasshopper, but the instant it takes wing it becomes the
fac-simile of a very common wasp of the genus Pepris. These wasps vary
greatly in size, some being as large as the hornet; they are solitary,
and feed on the honey of flowers and on fruit, and, besides being
furnished with stings like other wasps--though their sting is nok so
venomous as in other genera--they also, when angry, emit a most
abominable odour, and are thus doubly protected against their enemies.
Their excessive tameness, slow flight, and indolent motions serve to
show that they are not accustomed to be interfered with. All these
strong-smelling wasps have steel-blue or purple bodies, and bright red
wings. So exactly does the Rhomalea grasshopper mimic the Pepris when
flying, that I have been deceived scores of times. I have even seen it
on the leaves, and, after it has flown and settled once more, I have
gone to look at it again, to make sure that my eyes had not deceived me.
It is curious to see how this resemblance has reacted on and modified
the habits of the grasshopper. It is a great flyer, and far more aerial
in its habits than any other insect I am acquainted with in this family,
living always in trees, instead of on or near the surface of the ground.
It is abundant in orchards and plantations round Buenos Ayres, where its
long and peculiarly soft, breezy note may be heard all summer. If the
ancient Athenians possessed so charming an insect as this, their great
regard for the grasshopper was not strange: I only wish that the
"Athenians of South America," as my fellow-townsmen sometimes call
themselves in moments of exaltation, had a feeling of the samo kind--the
regard which does _not_ impale its object on a pin--for the pretty
light-hearted songster of their groves and gardens.

When taken in the hand, it has the habit, common to most grasshoppers,
of pouring out an inky fluid from its mouth; only the discharge is
unusually copious in this species. It has another habit in defending
itself which is very curious. When captured it instantly curls its body
round, as a wasp does to sting. The suddenness of this action has more
than once caused me to drop an insect I had taken, actually thinking for
the moment that I had taken hold of a wasp. Whether birds would be
deceived and made to drop it or not is a question it would not be easy
to settle; but the instinct certainly looks like 'one of a series of
small adaptations, all tending to make the resemblance to a wasp more
complete and effective.



One of the most curious things I have encountered in my observations on
animal life relates to a habit of the larger species of dragon-flies
inhabiting the Pampas and Patagonia. Dragon-flies are abundant
throughout the country wherever there is water. There are several
species, all more or less brilliantly coloured. The kinds that excited
my wonder, from their habits, are twice as large as the common widely
distributed insects, being three inches to four inches in length, and as
a rule they are sober-coloured, although there is one species--the
largest among them--entirely of a brilliant scarlet. This kind is,
however, exceedingly rare. All the different kinds (of the large
dragon-flies) when travelling associate together, and occasionally, in a
flight composed of countless thousands, one of these brilliant-hued
individuals will catch the eye, appearing as conspicuous among the
others as a poppy or scarlet geranium growing alone in an otherwise
flowerless field. The most common species--and in some cases the entire
flight seems to be composed of this kind only--is the Aeschna
bonariensis Raml, the prevailing colour of which is pale blue. But the
really wonderful thing about them all alike is, that they appear only
when flying before the southwest wind, called _pampero_--the wind that
blows from the interior of the pampas. The pampero is a dry, cold wind,
exceedingly violent. It bursts on the plains very suddenly, and usually
lasts only a short time, sometimes not more than ten minutes; it comes
irregularly, and at all seasons of the year, but is most frequent in the
hot season, and after exceptionally sultry weather. It is in summer and
autumn that the large dragon-flies appear; not _with_ the wind, but--and
this is the most curious part of the matter--in advance of it; and
inasmuch as these insects are not seen in the country at other times,
and frequently appear in seasons of prolonged drought, when all the
marshes and watercourses for many hundreds of miles are dry, they must
of course traverse immense distances, flying before the wind at a speed
of seventy or eighty miles an hour. On some occasions they appear almost
simultaneously with the wind, going by like a flash, and instantly
disappearing from sight. You have scarcely time to see them before the
wind strikes you. As a rule, however, they make their appearance from
five to fifteen minutes before the wind strikes; and when they are in
great numbers the air, to a height of ten or twelve feet above the
surface of the ground, is all at once seen to be full of them, rushing
past with extraordinary velocity in a north-easterly direction. In very
oppressive weather, and when the swiftly advancing pampero brings no
moving mountains of mingled cloud and dust, and is consequently not
expected, the sudden apparition of the dragon-fly is a most welcome one,
for then an immediate burst of cold wind is confidently looked for. In
the expressive vernacular of the gauchos the large dragon-fly is called
_hijo del pampero_--son of the south-west wind.

It is clear that these great and frequent dragonfly movements are not
explicable on any current hypothesis regarding the annual migrations of
birds, the occasional migrations of butterflies, or the migrations of
some mammals, like the reindeer and buffalo of Arctic America, which,
according to Rae and other observers, perform long journeys north and
south at regular seasons, "from a sense of polarity." Neither this
hypothetical sense in animals, nor "historical memory" will account for
the dragon-fly storms, as the phenomenon of the pampas might be called,
since the insects do not pass and repass between "breeding and
subsistence areas," but all journey in a north-easterly direction; and
of the countless millions flying like thistledown before the great
pampero wind, not one solitary traveller ever returns.

The cause of the flight is probably dynamical, affecting the insects
with a sudden panic, and compelling them to rush away before the
approaching tempest. The mystery is that they should fly from the wind
before it reaches them, and yet travel in the same direction with it.
When they pass over the level, treeless country, not one insect lags
behind, or permits the wind to overtake it; but, on arriving at a wood
or large plantation they swarm into it, as if seeking shelter from some
swift-pursuing enemy, and on such occasions they sometimes remain
clinging to the trees while the wind spends its force. This is
particularly the case when the wind blows up at a late hour of the day;
then, on the following morning, the dragon-flies are seen clustering to
the foliage in such numbers that many trees are covered with them, a
large tree often appearing as if hung with curtains of some brown
glistening material, too thick to show the green leaves beneath.

In Patagonia, where the phenomenon of dragon-fly storms is also known,
an Englishman residing at the Rio Negro related to me the following
occurrence which he witnessed there. A race meeting was being held near
the town of El Carmen, on a high exposed piece of ground, when, shortly
before sunset, a violent pampero wind came up, laden with dense
dust-clouds. A few moments before the storm broke, the air all at once
became obscured with a prodigious cloud of dragon-flies. About a hundred
men, most of them on horseback, were congregated on the course at the
time, and the insects, instead of rushing by in their usual way, settled
on the people in such quantities that men and horses were quickly
covered with clinging masses of them. My informant said--and this agrees
with my own observation--that he was greatly impressed by the appearance
of terror shown by the insects; they clung to him as if for dear life,
so that he had the greatest difficulty in ridding himself of them.

Weissenborn, in London's _Magazine of Natural History_ (N. S. vol. iii.)
describes a great migration of dragon-flies which he witnessed in
Germany in 1839, and also mentions a similar phenomenon occurring in
1816, and extending over a large portion of Europe. But in these cases
the movement took place at the end of May, and the insects travelled due
south; their migrations were therefore similar to those of birds and
butterflies, and were probably due to the same cause. I have been unable
to find any mention of a phenomenon resembling the one with which we are
so familiar on the pampas, and which, strangely enough, has not been
recorded by any European naturalists who have travelled there.



There cannot be a doubt that some animals possess an instinctive
knowledge of their enemies--or, at all events, of some of their
enemies--though I do not believe that this faculty is so common as many
naturalists imagine. The most striking example I am acquainted with is
seen in gnats or mosquitoes, and in the minute South American sandflies
(Simulia), when a dragon-fly appears in a place where they are holding
their aerial pastimes. The sudden appearance of a ghost among human
revellers could not produce a greater panic. I have spoken in the last
chapter of periodical storms or waves of dragon-flies in the Plata
region, and mentioned incidentally that the appearance of these insects
is most welcome in oppressively hot weather, since they are known to
come just in advance of a rush of cool wind. In La Plata we also look
for the dragon-fly, and rejoice at its coming, for another reason. We
know that the presence of this noble insect will cause the clouds of
stinging gnats and flies, which make life a burden, to vanish like

When a flight of dragon-flies passes over the country many remain along
the route, as I have said, sheltering themselves wherever trees occur;
and, after the storm blows over, these strangers and stragglers remain
for some days hawking for prey in the neighbourhood. It is curious to
note that they do not show any disposition to seek for watercourses. It
may be that they feel lost in a strange region, or that the panic they
have suffered, in their long flight before the wind, has unsettled their
instincts; for it is certain that they do not, like the dragon-fly in
Mrs. Browning's poem, "return to dream upon the river." They lead
instead a kind of vagabond existence, hanging about the plantations, and
roaming over the surrounding plains. It is then remarked that gnats and
sand-flies apparently cease to exist, even in places where they have
been most abundant. They have not been devoured by the dragon-flies,
which are perhaps very few in number; they have simply got out of the
way, and will remain in close concealment until their enemies take their
departure, or have all been devoured by martins, tyrant birds, and the
big robber-flies or devil's dykes--no name is bad enough for them--of
the family Asilidaa. During these peaceful gnatless days, if a person
thrusts himself into the bushes or herbage in some dark sheltered place,
he will soon begin to hear the thin familiar sounds, as of "horns of
elf-land faintly blowing"; and presently, from the ground and the under
surface of every leaf, the ghost-like withered little starvelings will
appear in scores and in hundreds to settle on him, fear not having
blunted their keen appetites.

When riding over the pampas on a hot still day, with a pertinacious
cloud of gnats or sandflies hovering just above my head and keeping me
company for miles, I have always devoutly wished for a stray dragon-fly
to show himself. Frequently the wish has been fulfilled, the dragon-fly,
apparently "sagacious of his quarry from afar," sweeping straight at his
prey, and instantly, as if by miracle, the stinging rain has ceased and
the noxious cloud vanished from overhead, to be re-formed no more. This
has always seemed very extraordinary to me; for in other matters gnats
do not appear to possess even that proverbial small dose of intellect
for which we give most insects credit. Before the advent of the
dragon-fly it has perhaps happened that I have been vigorously striking
at them, making it very unpleasant for them, and also killing and
disabling many hundreds--a larger number than the most voracious
dragon-fly could devour in the course of a whole day; and yet, after
brushing and beating them off until my arms have ached with the
exertion, they have continued to rush blindly on their fate, exhibiting
not the faintest symptom of fear. I suppose that for centuries
mosquitoes have, in this way, been brushed and beaten away with hands
and with tails, without learning caution. It is not in their knowledge
that there are hands and tails. A large animal is simply a field on
which they confidently settle to feed, sounding shrill flourishes on
their little trumpets to show how fearless they are. But the dragon-fly
is very ancient on the earth, and if, during the Devonian epoch, when it
existed, it preyed on some blood-sucking insect from which or Culicidae
have come, then these stupid little insects have certainly had ample
time in which to learn well at least one lesson.

There is not in all organic nature, to my mind, any instance of wasted
energy comparable in magnitude with the mosquito's thirst for blood, and
the instincts and elaborate blood-pumping apparatus with which it is
related. The amount of pollen given off by some wind-fertilized
trees--so great in some places that it covers hundreds of square miles
of earth and water with a film of yellow dust---strikes us as an amazing
waste of material on the part of nature; but in these cases we readily
see that this excessive prodigality is necessary to continue the
species, and that a sufficient number of flowers would not be
impregnated unless the entire trees were bathed for days in the
fertilizing cloud, in which only one out of many millions of floating
particles can ever hit the mark. The mosquito is able to procreate
without ever satisfying its ravenous appetite for blood. To swell its
grey thread-like abdomen to a coral bead is a delight to the insect, but
not necessary to its existence, like food and water to ours; it is the
great prize in the lottery of life, which few can ever succeed in
drawing. In a hot summer, when one has ridden perhaps for half a day
over a low-lying or wet district, through an atmosphere literally
obscured with a fog of mosquitoes, this fact strikes the mind very
forcibly, for in such places it frequently is the case that mammals do
not exist, or are exceedingly rare. In Europe it is different. There, as
Reaumur said, possibly one gnat in every hundred may be able to gratify
its appetite for blood; but of the gnats in many districts in South
America it would be nearer the mark to say that only one in a hundred
millions can ever do so.

Curtis discovered that only the female mosquito bites or sucks blood,
the male being without tongue or mandibles; and he asks, What, then,
does the male feed on? He conjectures that it feeds on flowers; but, had
he visited some swampy places in hot countries, where flowers are few
and the insects more numerous than the sands on the seashore, he would
most probably have said that the males subsist on decaying vegetable
matter and moisture of slime. It is, however, more important to know
what the female subsists on. We know that she thirsts for warm mammalian
blood, that she seeks it with avidity, and is provided with an admirable
organ for its extraction--only, unfortunately for her, she does not get
it, or, at all events, the few happy individuals that do get it are
swamped in the infinite multitude of those that are doomed by nature to
total abstinence.

I should like to know whether this belief of Curtis, shared by Westwood
and other distinguished entomologists, but originally put forward merely
as a conjecture, has ever been tested by careful observation and
experiment. If not, then it is strange that it should have crept into
many important works, where it is stated not as a mere guess, but as an
established fact. Thus, Van Beneden, in his work on parasites, while
classing female mosquitoes with his "miserable wretches," yet says, "If
blood fails them, they live, like the males, on the juices of flowers."
If this be so, it is quite certain that the juices fail to satisfy them;
and that, like Dr. Tanner, who was ravenously hungry during his forty
days' fast, in spite of his frequent sips of water, the mosquito still
craves for something better than a cool vegetarian diet. I cannot help
thinking, though the idea may seem fanciful, that mosquitoes feed on
nothing. We know that the ephemerae take no refreshment in the imago
state, the mouth being aborted or atrophied in these short-lived
creatures; but we also know that they belong to an exceedingly ancient
tribe, and possibly, after the earth had ceased to produce their proper
nourishment there came in their history a long hungry period, which did
not kill them, but lasted until their feeding instincts became obsolete,
the mouth lost its use, and their life in its perfect state dwindled to
its present length.

In any case, how unsatisfactory is the mosquitoes' existence, and what a
curious position they occupy in nature! Let us suppose that, owing to
some great change in the conditions of the earth, rapacious birds were
no longer able to capture prey, and that, by a corresponding change in
their organizations, they were able to subsist on the air they breathed,
with perhaps an occasional green leaf and a sip of water, and yet
retained the old craving for solid food, and the old predatory instincts
and powers undiminished; they would be in the position of mosquitoes in
the imago state. And if then fifty or a hundred individuals were to
succeed every year in capturing something and making one hearty meal,
these few fortunate diners would bear about the same proportion to all
the raptors on the globe as the mosquitoes that succeed in sucking blood
to their unsuccessful fellows. In the case of the hawks, the effect of
the few meals on the entire rapacious family or order would certainly be
_nil;_ and it is impossible to believe for a moment that the
comparatively infinitesimal amount of blood sucked by mosquitoes can.
serve to invigorate the species. The wonder is that the machinery, which
accomplishes nothing, should continue in such perfect working order.

When we consider the insect's delicate organ, so admirably fitted for
the purpose to which it is applied, it becomes difficult to believe that
it could have been so perfected except in a condition of things utterly
unlike the present. There must have been a time when mosquitoes found
their proper nourishment, and when warm mammalian blood was as necessary
to their existence as honey is to that of the bee, or insect food to the

This applies to many blood-sucking insects besides mosquitoes, and with
special force to the tick tribes (Ixodes), which swarm throughout
Central and South America; for in these degraded spiders the whole body
has been manifestly modified to fit it for a parasitical life; while the
habits of the insect during its blind, helpless, waiting existence on
trees, and its sudden great development when it succeeds in attaching
itself to an animal body, also point irresistibly to the same
conclusion. In the sunny uplands they act (writes Captain Burton) like
the mosquitoes of the hot, humid Beiramar. "The nuisance is general; it
seems to be in the air; every blade of grass has its colony; clusters of
hundreds adhere to the twigs; myriads are found in the bush clumps. Lean
and flat when growing to the leaves, the tick catches man or beast
brushing by, fattens rapidly, and, at the end-of a week's good living,
drops off, _plena cruoris."_ When on trees, Belt says, they
instinctively place themselves on the extreme tips of leaves and shoots,
with their hind legs stretching out, each foot armed with two hooks or
claws, with which to lay hold of any animal brushing by. During this
wretched, incom-plete existence (from which, in most cases, it is never
destined to emerge), its greatest length is about one-fourth of an inch;
but where it fastens itself to an animal the abdomen increases to a
globe as big as a medium-sized Barcelona nut. Being silvery-grey or
white in colour, it becomes, when thus distended, very conspicuous on
any dark surface. I have frequently seen black, smooth-haired dogs with
their coats, turned into a perfect garden of these white spider-flowers
or mushrooms. The white globe is leathery, and nothing can injure it;
and the poor beast cannot rub, bite, or scratch it off, as it is
anchored to his flesh by eight sets of hooks and a triangle of teeth.

The ticks inhabiting regions rich in bird and insect life, but with few
mammals, are in the same condition as mosquitoes, as far as the supply
of blood goes; and, like the mosquitoes, they are compelled and able to
exist without the nourishment best suited to them. They are nature's
miserable castaways, parasitical tribes lost in a great dry wilderness
where no blood is; and every marsh-born mosquito, piping of the hunger
gnawing its vitals, and every forest tick, blindly feeling with its
grappling-irons for the beast that never brushes by, seems to tell us of
a world peopled with gigantic forms, mammalian and reptilian, which once
afforded abundant pasture to the parasite, and which the parasite
perhaps assisted to overthrow.

It is almost necessary to transport oneself to the vast tick-infested
wilderness of the New World to appreciate the full significance of a
passage in Belt's _Naturalist in Nicaragua,_ in which it is suggested
that man's hairless condition was perhaps brought about by natural
selection in tropical regions, where he was greatly troubled with
parasites of this kind. It is certain that if in such a country as
Brazil he possessed a hairy coat, affording cover to the tick and
enabling it to get a footing on the body, his condition would be a very
sad one. Savages abhor hairs on the body, and even pluck them off their
faces. This seems like a survival of an ancient habit acquired when the
whole body was clothed with hair; and if primitive man ever possessed
such a habit, nature only followed his lead in giving him a hairless

Is it not also probable that the small amount of mammalian life in South
America, and the aquatic habits of nearly all the large animals in the
warmer districts, is due to the persecutions of the tick?

The only way in which a large animal can rid itself of the pest is by
going into the water or wallowing in the mud; and this perhaps accounts
for the more or less aquatic habits of the jaguar, aguara-guazu, the
large Cervus paluclosus, tapir, capybara, and peccary. Monkeys, which
are most abundant, are a notable exception; but these animals have the
habit of attending to each other's skins, and spend a great deal of
their time in picking off the parasites. But how do birds escape the
ticks, since these parasites do not confine their attacks to any one
class of aninials, but attach themselves impartially to any living thing
coming within reach of their hooks, from snake to man? My own
observations bearing on this point refer less to the Ixodes than to the
minute bete-rouge, which is excessively abundant in the Plata district,
where it is known as _bicho colorado,_ and in size and habits resembles
the English Leptus autumnalis. It is so small that, notwithstanding its
bright scarlet colour, it can only be discerned by bringing the eye
close to it; and being, moreover, exceedingly active and abundant in all
shady places in summer--making life a misery to careless human
beings--it must be very much more dangerous to birds than the larger
sedentary Ixodes. The bete-rouge invariably lodges beneath the wings of
birds, where the loose scanty plumage affords easy access to the skin.
Domestic birds suffer a great deal from its persecutions, and their.
young, if allowed to run about in shady places, die of the irritation.
Wild birds, however, seem to be very little troubled, and most of those
I have examined have been almost entirely free from parasites. Probably
they are much more sensitive than the domestic birds, and able to feel
and pick off the insects with their beaks before they have penetrated
into the skin. I believe they are also able to protect themselves in
another way, namely, by preventing the parasites from reaching their
bodies at all. I was out under the trees one day with a pet oven-bird
(Furnarius rufus), which had full liberty to range about at will, and
noticed that at short intervals it went through the motions of picking
something from its toes or legs, though I could see nothing on them. At
length I approached my eyes to within a few inches of the bird's feet,
and discovered that the large dry branch on which it stood was covered
with a multitude of parasites, all running rapidly about like foraging
ants, and whenever one came to the bird's feet it at once ran up the
leg. Every time this happened, so far as I could see, the bird felt it.
and quickly and deftly picked it off with the point of its bill. It
seemed very astonishing that the horny covering of the toes and legs
should be so exquisitely sensitive, for the insects are so small and
light that they cannot be felt on the hand, even when a score of them
are running over it; but the fact is as I have stated, and it is highly
probable, I think, that most wild birds keep themselves free from these
little torments in the same way.

Some observations of mine on a species of Orni-thomyia--a fly
parasitical on birds--might possibly be of use in considering the
question of the anomalous position in nature of insects possessing the
instincts and aptitudes of parasites, and organs manifestly modified to
suit a parasitical mode of life, yet compelled and able to exist free,
feeding, perhaps, on vegetable juices, or, like the ephemerae, on
nothing at all. For it must be borne in mind that I do not assert that
these "occasional" or "accidental" parasites, as some one calls them,
explaining nothing, do not feed on such juices. I do not know what they
feed on. I only know that the joyful alacrity with which gnats and
stinging flies of all kinds abandon the leaves, supposed to afford them
pasture, to attack a warm-blooded animal, serves to show how strong the
impulse is, and how ineradicable the instinct, which must have had an
origin. Perhaps the habits of the bird-fly I have mentioned will serve
to show how, in some cases, the free life of some blood-sucking flies
and other insects might have originated.

Kirby and Spence, in their _Introduction,_ mention that one or two
species of Ornithomyia have been observed flying about and alighting on
men; and in one case the fly extracted blood and was caught, the species
being thus placed beyond doubt. This circumstance led the authors to
believe that the insect, when the bird it is parasitical on dies,
takes to flight and migrates from body to body, occasionally tasting
blood until, coming to the right body--to wit, that of a bird, or of a
particular species of bird--it once more establishes itself permanently
in the plumage. I fancy that the insect sometimes leads a freer life and
ranges much more than the authors imagined; and I refer to Kirby and
Spence, with apologies to those who regard the _Introduction_ as out of
date, only because I am not aware that we have any later observations on
the subject.

There is in La Plata a small very common Dendrocolaptine bird--Anumbius
acuticaudatus--much infested by an Ornithomyia, a pretty, pale insect,
half the size of a house-fly, and elegantly striped with green. It is a
very large parasite for so small a bird, yet so cunning and alert is it,
and so swiftly is it able to swim through the plumage, that the bird is
unable to rid itself of so undesirable a companion. The bird lives with
its mate all the year round, much of the time with its grown-up young,
in its nest--a large structure, in which so much building-material is
used that the bird is called in the vernacular Lenatero, or
Firewood-gatherer. On warm bright days without wind, during the absence
of the birds, I have frequently seen a company of from half a dozen to a
dozen or fifteen of the parasitical fly wheeling about in the air above
the nest, hovering and gambolling together, just like house-flies in a
room in summer; but always on the appearance of the birds, returning
from their feeding-ground, they would instantly drop down and disappear
into the nest. How curious this instinct seems! The fly regards the
bird, which affords it the warmth and food essential to life, as its
only deadly enemy; and with an inherited wisdom, like that of the
mosquito with regard to the dragon-fly, or of the horse-fly with regard
to the Monedula wasp, vanishes like smoke from its presence, and only
approaches the bird secretly from a place of concealment.

The parasitical habit tends inevitably to degrade the species acquiring
it, dulling its senses and faculties, especially those of sight and
locomotion; but the Ornithomyia seems an exception, its dependent life
having had a contrary effect; the extreme sensitiveness, keenness of
sight, and quickness of the bird having reacted on the insect, giving it
a subtlety in its habits and motions almost without a parallel even
among free insects. A man with a blood-sucking flat-bodied flying
squirrel, concealing itself among his clothing and gliding and dodging
all over his body with so much artifice and rapidity as to defeat all
efforts made to capturo it or knock it off, would be a case parallel to
that of the bird-fly on the small bird. It might be supposed that the
Firewood-gatherer, like some ants that keep domestic pets, makes a pet
of the fly; for it is a very pretty insect, barred with green, and with
rainbow reflections on its wings--and birds are believed by some
theorists to possess aesthetic tastes; but the discomfort of having such
a vampire on the body would, I imagine, be too great to allow a kindly
instinct of that nature to grow up. Moreover, I have on several
occasions seen the bird making frantic efforts to capture one of the
flies, which had incautiously flown up from the nest at the wrong
moment. Bird and fly seem to know each other wonderfully well.

Here, then, we have a parasitical insect specialized in the highest
degree, yet retaining all its pristine faculties unimpaired, its love of
liberty, and of associating in numbers together for sportive exercises,
and well able to take care of itself during its free intervals. And
probably when thrown on the world, as when nests are blown down, or the
birds get killed, or change their quarters, as they often do, it is able
to exist for some time without avian blood. Let us then imagine some of
these orphaned colonies, unable to find birds, but through a slight
change in habits or organization able to exist in the imago state
without sucking blood until they laid their eggs; and succeeding
generations, still better able to stand the altered conditions of life
until they become practically independent (like gnats), multiplying
greatly, and disporting themselves in clouds over forests, yet still
retaining the old hunger for blood and the power to draw it, and ready
at any moment to return to the ancestral habit. It might be said that if
such a result were possible it would have occurred, but that we find no
insect like the Ornithomyia existing independently. With the bird-fly it
has not occurred, as far as we know; but in the past history of some
independent parasites it is possible that something similar to the
imaginary case I have sketched may have taken place. The bush-tick is a
more highly specialized, certainly a more degraded, creature than the
bird-fly, and the very fact of its existence seems to show that it is
possible for even the lowest of the fallen race of parasites to start
afresh in life under new conditions, and to reascend in the scale of
being, although still bearing about it the marks of former degeneracy.

The connection between the flea and the mammal it feeds on is even less
close than that which exists between the Ornithomyia and bird. The fact
that fleas are so common and universal--for in all lands we have them,
like the poor, always with us; and that they are found on all mammals,
from the king of beasts to the small modest mouse--seems to show a great
amount of variability and adaptiveness, as well as a very high
antiquity. It has often been reported that fleas have been found hopping
on the ground in desert places, where they could not have been dropped
by man or beast; and it has been assumed that these "independent" fleas
must, like gnats and ticks, subsist on vegetable juices. There is no
doubt that they are able to exist and propagate for one or two years
after being deprived of their proper aliment; houses shut up for a year
or longer are sometimes found infested with them; possibly in the
absence of "vegetable juices" they flourish on dust. I have never
detected them hopping on the ground in uninhabited places, although I
once found them in Patagonia, in a hamlet which had been attacked and
depopulated by the Indians about twenty months before my visit. On
entering one of the deserted huts I found the floor literally swarming
with fleas, and in less than ten seconds my legs, to the height of my
knees, were almost black with their numbers. This proves that they are
able toincrease greatly for a period without blood; but I doubt that
they can go on existing and increasing for an indefinite time; perhaps
their true position, with regard to the parasitical habit, is midway
between that of the strict parasite which never leaves the body, and
that of independent parasites like the Culex and the Ixodes, and all
those which are able to exist free for ever, and are parasitical only
when the opportunity offers.

Entomologists regard the flea as a degraded fly. Certainly it is very
much more degraded than the bird-borne Ornithomyia, with its subtle
motions and instinct, its power of flight and social pastimes. The poor
pulex has lost every trace of wings; nevertheless, in its fallen
condition it has developed some remarkable qualities and saltatory
powers, which give it a lower kind of glory; and, compared with another
parasite with which it shares the human species, it is almost a noble
insect. Darwin has some remarks about the smallness of the brain of an
ant, assuming that this insect possesses a very high intelligence, but I
doubt very much that the ant, which moves in a groove, is mentally the
superior of the unsocial flea. The last is certainly the most teachable;
and if fleas were generally domesticated and made pets of, probably
there would be as many stories about their marvellous intelligence and
fidelity to man as we now hear about our over-praised "friend" the dog.

With regard to size, the flea probably started on its downward course as
a comparatively large insect, probably larger than the Ornithomyia. That
insect has been able to maintain its existence, without dwindling like
the Leptus into a mere speck, through the great modification in organs
and instinct, which adapt it so beautifully to the feathery element in
which it moves. The bush-tick, wingless from the beginning, and
diverging in another direction, has probably been greatly increased in
size by its parasitical habit; this seems proven by the fact, that as
long as it is parasitical on nothing it remains small, but when able to
fasten itself to an animal it rapidly developes to a great size. Again,
the big globe of its abdomen is coriaceous and elastic, and is probably
as devoid of sensation as a ball of india-rubber. The insect, being made
fast by hooks and teeth to its victim, all efforts to remove it only
increase the pain it causes; and animals that know it well do not
attempt to rub, scratch, or bite it off, therefore the great size and
the conspicuous colour of the tick are positive advantages to it. The
flea, without the subtlety and highly-specialized organs of the
Ornithomyia, or the stick-fast powers and leathery body of the Ixodes,
can only escape its vigilant enemies by making itself invisible; hence
every variation, i.e. increase in jumping-power and diminished bulk,
tending towards this result, has been taken advantage of by natural



Two humble-bees, Bombus thoracicus and B. violaceus, are found on the
pampas; the first, with a primrose yellow thorax, and the extremity of
the abdomen bright rufous, slightly resembles the English B. terrestris;
the rarer species, which is a trifle smaller than the first, is of a
uniform intense black, the body having the appearance of velvet, the
wings being of a deep violaceous blue.

A census of the humble-bees in any garden or field always shows that the
yellow bees outnumber the black in the proportion of about seven to one;
and I have also found their nests for many years in the same proportion;
about seven nests of the yellow to one nest of the black species. In
habits they are almost identical, and when two species so closely allied
are found inhabiting the same locality, it is only reasonable to infer
that one possesses some advantage over the other, and that the least
favoured species will eventually disappear. In this case, where one so
greatly outnumbers the other, it might be thought that the rarer species
is dying out, or that, on the contrary, it is a new-comer destined to
supplant the older more numerous species. Yet, during the twenty years I
have observed them, there has occurred no change in their relative
positions; though both have greatly increased in numbers during that
time, owing to the spread of cultivation. And yet it would scarcely be
too much to expect some marked change in a period so long as that, even
through the slow-working agency of natural selection; for it is not as
if there had been an exact balance of power between them. In the same
period of time I have seen several species, once common, almost or quite
disappear, while others, very low down as to numbers, have been exalted
to the first rank. In insect life especially, these changes have been
numerous, rapid, and widespread.

In the district where, as a boy, I chased and caught tinamous, and also
chased ostriches, but failed to catch them, the continued presence of
our two humble-bees, sucking the same flowers and making their nests in
the same situations, has remained a puzzle to my mind.

The site of the nest is usually a slight depression in the soil in the
shelter of a cardoon bush. The bees deepen the hollow by burrowing in
the earth; and when the spring foliage sheltering it withers up, they
construct a dome-shaped covering of small sticks, thorns, and leaves
bitten into extremely minute pieces. They sometimes take possession of a
small hole or cavity in the ground, and save themselves the labour of

Their architecture closely resembles that of B. terrestris. They make
rudely-shaped oval honey-cells, varying from half an inch to an inch and
a half in length, the smaller ones being the first made; later in the
season the old cocoons are utilized for storing honey. The wax is
chocolate-coloured, and almost the only difference I can find in the
economy of the two species is that the black bee uses a large quantity
of wax in plastering the interior of its nest. The egg-cell of the
yellow bee always contains from twelve to sixteen eggs; that of the
black bee from ten to fourteen; and the eggs of this species are the
largest though the bee is smallest. At the entrance on the edge of the
mound one bee is usually stationed, and, when approached, it hums a
shrill challenge, and throws itself into a menacing attitude. The sting
is exceedingly painful.

One summer I was so fortunate as to discover two nests of the two kinds
within twelve yards of each other, and I resolved to watch them very
carefully, in order to see whether the two species ever came into
collision, as sometimes happens with ants of different species living
close together. Several times I saw a yellow bee leave its own nest and
hover round or settle on the neighbouring one, upon which the sentinel
black bee would attack and drive it off. One day, while watching, I was
delighted to see a yellow bee actually enter its neighbour's nest, the
sentinel being off duty. In about five minutes' time it came out again
and flew away unmolested. I concluded from this that humble-bees, like
their relations of the hive, occasionally plunder each other's sweets.
On another occasion I found a black bee dead at the entrance of the
yellow bees' nest; doubtless this individual had been caught in the act
of stealing honey, and, after it had been stung to death, it had been
dragged out and left there as a warning to others with like felonious

There is one striking difference between the two species. The yellow bee
is inodorous; the black bee, when angry and attacking, emits an
exceedingly powerful odour: curiously enough, this smell is identical in
character with that made when angry by all the wasps of the South
American genus Pepris--dark blue wasps with red wings. This odour at
first produces a stinging sensation on the nerve of smell, but when
inhaled in large measure becomes very nauseating. On one occasion, while
I was opening a nest, several of the bees buzzing round my head and
thrusting their stings through the veil I wore for protection, gave out
so pungent a smell that I found it unendurable, and was compelled to

It seems strange that a species armed with a venomous sting and
possessing the fierce courage of the humble-bee should also have this
repulsive odour for a protection. It is, in fact, as incongruous as it
would be were our soldiers provided with guns and swords first, and
after with phials of assafoatida to be uncorked in the face of an enemy.

Why, or how, animals came to be possessed of the power of emitting
pestiferous odours is a mystery; we only see that natural selection has,
in some mstances, chiefly among insects, taken advantage of it to
furnish some of the weaker, more unprotected species with a means of
escape from their enemies. The most stinking example I know is that of a
large hairy caterpillar I have found on dry wood in Patagonia, and
which, when touched, emits an intensely nauseous effluvium. Happily it
is very volatile, but while it lasts it is even more detestable than
that of the skunk.

The skunk itself offers perhaps the one instance amongst the higher
vertebrates of an animal in which all the original instincts of
self-preservation have died out, giving place to this lower kind of
protection. All the other members of the family it belongs to are
cunning, swift of foot, and, when overtaken, fierce-tempered and well
able to defend themselves with their powerful well-armed jaws.

For some occult reason they are provided with a gland charged with a
malodorous secretion; and out of this mysterious liquor Nature has
elaborated the skunk's inglorious weapon. The skunk alone when attacked
makes no attempt to escape or to defend itself by biting; but, thrown by
its agitation into a violent convulsion, involuntarily discharges its
foetid liquor into the face of an opponent. When this animal had once
ceased to use so good a weapon as its teeth in defending itself,
degenerating at the same time into a slow-moving creature, without fear
and without cunning, the strength and vileness of its odour would be
continually increased by the cumulative process of natural selection:
and how effective the protection has become is shown by the abundance of
the species throughout the whole American continent. It is lucky for
mankind--especially for naturalists and sportsmen--that other species
have not been improved in the same direction.

But what can we say of the common deer of the pampas (Cervus
campestris), the male of which gives out an effluvium quite as
far-reaching although not so abominable in character as that of the
Mephitis? It comes in disagreeable whiffs to the human nostril when the
perfumer of the wilderness is not even in sight. Yet it is not a
protection; on the contrary, it is the reverse, and, like the dazzling
white plumage so attractive to birds of prey, a direct disadvantage,
informing all enemies for leagues around of its whereabouts. It is not,
therefore, strange that wherever pumas are found, deer are never very
abundant; the only wonder is that, like the ancient horse of America,
they have not become extinct.

The gauchos of the pampas, however, give _a reason_ for the powerful
smell of the male deer; and, after some hesitation, I have determined to
set it down here, for the reader to accept or reject, as he thinks
proper. I neither believe nor disbelieve it; for although I do not put
great faith in gaucho natural history, my own observations have not
infrequently confirmed statements of theirs, which a sceptical person
would have regarded as wild indeed. To give one instance: I heard a
gaucho relate that while out riding he had been pursued for a
considerable distance by a large spider; his hearers laughed at him for
a romancer; but as I myself had been attacked and pursued, both when on
foot and on horseback, by a large wolf-spider, common on the pampas, I
did not join in the laugh. They say that the effluvium of C. campestris
is abhorrent to snakes of all kinds, just as pyrethrum powder is to most
insects, and even go so far as to describe its effect as fatal to them;
according to this, the smell is therefore a protection to the deer. In
places where venomous snakes are extremely abundant, as in the Sierra
district on the southern pampas of Buenos Ayres, the gaucho frequently
ties a strip of the male deer's skin, which retains its powerful odour
for an indefinite time, round the neck of a valuable horse as a
protection. It is certain that domestic animals are frequently lost here
through snake-bites. The most common poisonous species--the
Craspedo-cephalus alternatus, called _Vivora de la Cruz_ in the
vernacular--has neither bright colour nor warning rattle to keep off
heavy hoofs, and is moreover of so sluggish a temperament that it will
allow itself to be trodden on before stirring, with the result that its
fangs are not infrequently struck into the nose or foot of browsing
beast. Considering, then, the conditions in which C. campestris is
placed--and it might also be supposed that venomous snakes have in past
times been much more numerous than they are now--it is not impossible to
believe that the powerful smell it emits has been made protective,
especially when we see in other species how repulsive odours have been
turned to account by the principle of natural selection.

After all, perhaps the wild naturalist of the pampas knows what he is
about when he ties a strip of deer-skin to the neck of his steed and
turns him loose to graze among the snakes.

The gaucho also affirms that the deer cherishes a wonderful animosity
against snakes; that it becomes greatly excited when it sees one, and
proceeds at once to destroy it; _they say,_ by running round and round
it in a circle, emitting its violent smell in larger measure, until the
snake dies of suffocation. It is hard to believe that the effect can be
so great; but that the deer is a snake hater and killer is certainly
true: in North America, Ceylon, and other districts deer have been
observed excitedly leaping on serpents, and killing them with their
sharp cutting hoofs.



_(Monedula punctata.)_

Naturalists, like kings and emperors, have their favourites, and as my
zoological sympathies, which are wider than my knowledge, embrace all
classes of beings, there are of course several insects for which I have
a special regard; a few in each of the principal orders. My chief
favourite among the hymenopteras is the one representative of the
curious genus Monedula known in La Plata. It is handsome and has
original habits, but it is specially interesting to me for another
reason: I can remember the time when it was extremely rare on the
pampas, so rare that in boyhood the sight of one used to be a great
event to me; and I have watched its rapid increase year by year till it
has come to be one of our commonest species. Its singular habits and
intelligence give it a still better claim to notice. It is a big, showy,
loud-buzzing insect, with pink head and legs, wings with brown
reflections, and body encircled with alternate bands of black and pale
gold, and has a preference for large composite flowers, on the honey of
which it feeds. Its young is, however, an insect-eater; but the Monedula
does not, like other burrowing or sand wasps, put away a store of
insects or spiders, partially paralyzed, as a provision for the grub
till it reaches the pupa state; it actually supplies the grub with
fresh-caught insects as long as food is required, killing the prey it
captures outright, and bringing it in to its young; so that its habits,
in this particular, are more bird- than wasp-like.

The wasp lays its solitary egg at the extremity of a hole it excavates
for itself on a bare hard piece of ground, and many holes are usually
found close together. When the grub--for I have never been able to find
more than one in a hole--has come out from the egg, the parent begins to
bring in insects, carefully filling up the mouth of the hole with loose
earth after every visit. Without this precaution, which entails a vast
amount of labour, I do not believe one grub out of every fifty would
survive, so overrun are these barren spots of ground used as
breeding-places with hunting spiders, ants, and tiger-beetles. The grub
is a voracious eater, but the diligent mother brings in as much as it
can devour. I have often found as many as six or seven insects,
apparently fresh killed, and not yet touched by the pampered little
glutton, coiled up in the midst of them waiting for an appetite.

The Monedula is an adroit fly-catcher, for though it kills numbers of
fire-flies and other insects, flies are always preferred, possibly
because they are so little encumbered with wings, and are also more
easily devoured. It occasionally captures insects on the wing, but the
more usual method is to pounce down on its prey when it is at rest. At
one time, before I had learnt their habits, I used frequently to be
startled by two or three or more of these wasps rushing towards my face,
and continuing hovering before it, loudly buzzing, attending me in my
walks about the fields. The reason of this curious proceeding is that
the Monedula preys largely on stinging flies, having learnt from
experience that the stinging fly will generally neglect its own safety
when it has once fastened on a good spot to draw blood from. When a man
or horse stands perfectly motionless the wasps take no notice, but the
moment any movement is made of hand, tail, or stamping hoof, they rush
to the rescue, expecting to find a stinging fly. On the other hand, the
horse has learnt to know and value this fly-scourge, and will stand very
quietly with half a dozen loud Avasps hovering in an alarming manner
close to his head, well knowing that every fly that settles on him will
be instantly snatched away, and that the boisterous Monedula is a better
protection even than the tail--which, by the way, the horse wears very
long in Buenos Ayres.

I have, in conclusion, to relate an incident I onco witnessed, and which
does not show the Monedula in a very amiable light. I was leaning over a
gate watching one of these wasps feeding on a sunflower. A small
leaf-cutting bee was hurrying about with its shrill busy hum in the
vicinity, and in due time came to the sunflower and settled on it. The
Monedula became irritated, possibly at the shrill voice and bustling
manner of its neighbour, and, after watching it for a few moments on the
flower, deliberately rushed at and drove it off. The leaf-cutter quickly
returned, however--for bees are always extremely averse to leaving a
flower unexplored--but was again driven away with threats and
demonstrations on the part of the Monedula. The little thing went off
and sunned itself on a leaf for a time, then returned to the flower,
only to be instantly ejected again. Other attempts were made, but the
big wasp now kept a jealous watch on its neighbour's movements, and
would not allow it to come within several inches of the flower without
throwing itself into a threatening attitude. The defeated bee retired to
sun itself once more, apparently determined to wait for the big tyrant
to go away; but the other seemed to know what was wanted, and spitefully
made up its mind to stay where it was. The leaf-cutter then gave up the
contest. Suddenly rising up into the air, it hovered, hawk-like, above
the Monedula for a moment, then pounced down on its back, and clung
there, furiously biting, until its animosity was thoroughly appeased;
then it flew off, leaving the other master of the field certainly, but
greatly discomposed, and perhaps seriously injured about the base of the
wings. I was rather surprised that they were not cut quite off, for a
leaf-cutting bee can use its teeth as deftly as a tailor can his shears.

Doubtless to bees, as to men, revenge is sweeter than honey. But, in the
face of mental science, can a creature as low down in the scale of
organization as a leaf-cutting bee be credited with anything so
intelligent and emotional as deliberate anger and revenge, "which
implies the need of retaliation to satisfy the feelings of the person
(or bee) offended?" According to Bain _(Mental and Moral Science)_ only
the highest animals--stags and bulls he mentions-can be credited with
the developed form of anger, which, he describes as an excitement caused
by pain, reaching the centres of activity, and containing an impulse
knowingly to inflict suffering on another sentient being. Here, if man
only is meant, the spark is perhaps accounted for, but not the barrel of
gunpowder. The explosive material is, however, found in the breast of
nearly every living creature. The bull--ranking high according to Bain,
though I myself should place him nearly on a level mentally with the
majority of the lower animals, both vertebrate and insect--is capable of
a wrath exceeding that of Achilles; and yet the fact that a red rag can
manifestly have no associations, personal or political, for the bull,
shows how uniutcllectual his anger must be. Another instance of
misdirected anger in nature, not quite so familiar .as that of the bull
and red rag, is used as an illustration by one of the prophets: "My
heritage is unto me as a speckled bird; the birds round, about are
against it." I have frequently seen the birds of a thicket gather round
some singularly marked accidental visitor, and finally drive him with
great anger from the neighbourhood. Possibly association comes in a
little here, since any bird, even a small one, strikingly coloured or


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