Imágenes de páginas

cuttle-fish that builds a shell. There was a very pretty story told of her habits, by Aristotle, the old Greek naturalist; which every one believed until quite lately. He said that she rode on the top of the waves, seated in her boat-like shell, and spreading her broad arms to the winds for sails. But unfortunately the story has no foundation in fact. She either crawls about on the bottom of the sea, or swims quite like any other cuttle-fish, shell foremost, only occasionally coming to the surface. Strangely enough she holds the two broad hand-like extremities of the arms against her body, and it is the inside of these arms that secrete the paper-like shell, which is only a sort of cradle for her eggs. Not so with the pearly Nautilus, which is furnished with a beautiful, coiled up, pearly shell, formed on the outside of the animal. This shell is divided into numerous chambers, and the animal living in the outer one builds a partition across the back part of it as the shell grows.

Cuttle-fishes are sometimes used for food by the Brazilians, and different species may be seen in the markets, where one frequently finds them still alive. Sometimes, as he stoops to examine one, its body is suddenly suffused with a deep pinkish glow. Before he has time to recover from his surprise this color fades, and a beautiful blue takes its place as rapidly as a blush sometimes suffuses a delicate cheek. The blue, perhaps, is succeeded by a green,

and then the whole body becomes pink again. One can hardly conceive anything more beautiful than this rapid play of colors, which is produced by the successive distention of sets of little sacks containing fluids of different colors, which are situated under the skin.

The cuttle-fish is also furnished with a bag containing an inky fluid, which, when the animal is attacked or pursued, it ejects into the water, thus completely blinding its adversary and effectually covering its retreat. It is from this fluid that the color sepia is made. Beside carrying an inkbottle, some species of cuttle-fish are provided with a long, delicate, horny pen, which forms a sort of stiffener to the back. In some species the pen is hard, thick and broad, and the cuttle-fish bone of commerce is a pen of this kind. The species found in our waters is very small, and not at all dangerous, being barely large enough to draw blood from the hand; but in the tropical seas they are very large, powerful and dangerous.

The cuttle-fish is the original of Victor Hugo's devilfish, so vividly described in the "Toilers of the Sea.” If the devil-fish were a beneficent creation, I should be sorry to destroy your faith in it; but as it is, I believe it will be rather a relief than otherwise to know that in some important respects, Victor Hugo's story of it is a fable, The Kraken was a mythical cuttle-fish of fabulous size.



WELL do we remember our boyish sport catching crabs. A stout string, a piece of fresh offal, a hand-net, and another boy with us and a good place on an anchored raft,—then for fun. The meat was dropped to the bottom ; the cancerous varmint took hold, and kept hold ; then we slowly drew the bait up, and, when within a few inches of the surface, chum adroitly slipped the scoop-net under. But would'nt "spiderlegs” run up the sides of the net! It needed all our alertness to secure the prey. What a luxury those crab dinners! But what was that pleasure compared to the delight of our riper years, when we made the acquaintance of the inner life of these entertaining people, Lupa, Libinia, Pagurus, and others. We have spent many health-giving days with them at the "watering-places,” and many hours in the drawing

room, they affording us abundant refined entertainment in return for our aquarian hospitality.

A wonderful thing, so considered, is told in the court journals of the Empress Eugenie on public days; how that she appears in sumptuous array, and then will disappear, and in an incredibly short space of time reappear in an entire and elaborate change of dress. Her admirers gaze as if it were magical. But suspended from the ceiling of the boudoir, garment within garment is the awaiting suit. The Empress has but to doff, and then to don, while many zealous and tasteful fingers are busy all around - a little readjustment of her coiffure, and presto! all is done! and the changed creature is again among her astonished admirers. But suppose an old knight could put off as one unbroken suit his iron encasement, with not so much as the unlacing of his gear, and then on the nonce should appear in a new suit of mail of high finish and faultless fit, — would not this man in iron beat my dame in silk? And yet the knightly and the queenly feat are nowhere when we instance the exuviation and redressing of Mrs. Lupa dicantha, the common edible crab. During the first year of its life, this crab puts off its hard shelly encasing several times. That is to say, when a youngster, it requires several new suits. After the first year until it gains the fully matured age, an annual suit suffices. When fully grown, its case is permanent. We knew some years ago an old crabber, wholly illiterate, but whose intelligence was above the average. He had "crabbed” for the market many years. Often when supplying our family with fish, has he been closely questioned by us about the crabs, and always have his statements tallied one with another. In our notes occur the following in the fisherman's own words :-"I hev ketched soft crabs for market many a year. The crab sheds every year, chiefly in early summer. At that time the he one is mighty kind to his mate. When she shows signs of shedding, the he one comes along and gits on the she one's back, quite tenderly-like, and entirely protects her from all enemies, whether of fishes, or of their own kind. She is now getting ready to shed, and is called a shedder. Soon the back begins to burst nigh to the tail. She is then called a buster. The he one is then very anxious to find a good place for her, either by digging a hole in the sand or mud, or else looking up a good cover under some sea-weed. Here he brings her, all the time hovering nigh, and doing battle for her if anything comes along. She now —and it only takes a few minutes— withdraws from the old shell. And she comes out perfect, every part, even to the inside of the hairs, eyes and long feelers, almost like the whiskers of a cat. At the first tide she is fat, and the shell is soft, just like a thin skin. She is then called a soft shell, and it is the first-tiders that bring the high price. At the second. tide she is perfectly watery and transparent, and is called a buckler; but she is not worth much then. At the third tide she is again a hard shell, just as she always was, only bigger.”

"Have you seen all this with your own eyes ?” we asked. "Lor, sir, yes, hundreds and hundreds of times.”

For the sake of contrast with these observations of an illiterate man, let us give the gist of an entertaining passage from Gosse :

* Peering into a hole I saw a fine large crab. Though he made vigorous efforts to hold fast to the angles of his cave, I pulled him out, and carried him home. I noticed that there came out with him the claw of a crab of a similar size, but quite soft, which I supposed might have been carried in there by my gentleman to eat, or accidentally washed in. After I had got him out-it was a male-I looked in and saw another at the bottom of the hole. Arrived at home I discovered that I had left my pocket-knife at the mouth of the crab-hole. I returned, the crab had not moved. I drew it out, as I had done the others. But lo! it was a soft crab, the shell being of the consistence of wet parchment. It was a female, too, without any sign of spawn, and had lost one

claw. I carefully put the helpless creature into the hole again.

"What then are we to infer from this association? Do the common crabs live in pairs ? And does one keep guard at the mouth of the cavern while its consort is undergoing its change of skin? If this is the case it is a pretty trait of cancrine sagacity, and one not unworthy of their acute instinct and sagacity in other respects. I have no doubt that the claw of its mate was unintentionally torn off in its efforts to grasp some hold when resisting my tugs in dragging him out.”

See, then, the beautiful parallel — the simple remark of the illiterate observer, and the learned queries of the practised naturalist.

Not a little interest have we felt in an individual known to us as the "Sea Spider," or "Spider Crab.” Wishing to make a good introduction for our friend, and as some who have no desire to know Mrs. John Smith might perhaps feel flattered if presented to the lady of Johannes Smythius, Esq., so we would say, that by Spider Crab, we mean no less a personage than Libinia canaliculata. She is regarded by some as a pest on the oyster beds, and is accused of eating the oyster spat or young. How much truth there may be in this is to us unknown. At any rate we have never seen the slightest evidence to sustain the charge. We have regarded her appetencies as omnivorous. But, as our acquaintance has been chiefly in the drawing-room, it may be that there her tastes became fastidious. One peculiarity of habit is all that we have time to describe. The Spider Crab will grow as large as one's hand. A pet that we had a long time was only an inch wide across the shell. We must tell the truth, and say that her aspect was not the most tidy or even cleanly. Her back looked much as if she had taken a glue bath, and then, like a chicken, a dust bath afterwards. Through this agglutinous coat sundry small sharp spines appear. She does not covet society, and so withdraws to

« AnteriorContinuar »