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my little finger nail. Swammerdam gives a most accurate account of the method and situation in which the male impregnates the spawn of the female. How wonderful is the
economy of Providence with regard to the limbs of so vile a reptile! While it is an aquatic it has a fish-like tail, and no legs ; as soon as the legs sprout, the tail drops off as useless, and the animal betakes itself to the land !
Merret, I trust, is widely mistaken when he advances that the Rana arborea is an English reptile ; it abounds in Germany and Switzerland.
It is to be remembered that the Salamandra aquatica of Ray (the water-newt or eft) will frequently bite at the angler's bait, and is often caught on his hook. I used to take it for granted that the Salamandra aquatica was hatched, lived, and died in the water. But John Ellis,
, Esq., F.R.S. (the coralline Ellis), asserts, in a letter to the Royal Society, dated June 5th, 1766, in his account of the Mud inguana, an amphibious bipes from South Carolina, that the water-eft, or newt, is only the larva of the land-eft, as tadpoles are of frogs. Lest I should be suspected to misunderstand his meaning, I shall give it in his own words. Speaking of the opercula or coverings to the gills of the Mud inguana, he proceeds to say that “the form of these pennated coverings approaches very near to what I have some time ago observed in the larva or aquatic state of our English Lacerta, known by the name of eft, or newt; which serve them for coverings to their gills, and for fins to swim with while in this state ; and which they lose, as well as the fins of their tails, when they change their state and become land animale, as I have observed, by keeping them alive for some time myself.”
Linnæus, in his Systema Naturce, hints at what Mr. Ellis advances more than once.
Providence has been so indulgent to us as to allow of but one
venomous reptile of the serpent kind in these kingdoms, and that is the viper. As you propose the good of mankind to be an object of your publications, you will not omit to mention common salad-oil as a sovereign remedy against the bite of the viper. As to the blind worm (Anguis fragilis, so-called because it snaps in sunder with a small blow), I have found, on examination, that it is perfectly innocuous. A neighbouring yeoman (to whom I am indebted for some good hints) killed and opened a female viper about the 27th May : he found her filled with a chain of eleven eggs, about the size of those of a blackbird ; but none of them were advanced so far towards a state of maturity as to contain any rudiments of young. Though they are oviparous, yet they are viviparous also, hatching their young within their bellies, and then bringing them forth. Whereas snakes lay chains of eggs every summer in my melon beds, in spite of all that my people can do to prevent them; which eggs do not hatch till the spring following, as I have often experienced. Several intelligent folks assure me that they have seen the viper open her mouth and admit her helpless young down her throat on sudden surprises, just as the female opossum does her brood into the pouch under her belly, upon the like emergencies; and yet the London viper-catchers insist on it, to Mr. Barrington, that no such thing ever happens. The serpent kind eat, I believe, but once in a year; or rather, but only just at one season of the year. Country people talk much of a water-snake, but, I am pretty sure, without any reason ;
for the common snake (Coluber natrix) delights much to sport in the water, perhaps with a view to procure frogs and other food.
I cannot well guess how you are to make out your twelve species of reptiles, unless it be by the various species, or rather varieties, of our Lacerti, of which Ray enumerates five. I have not had opportunity of ascertaining these ; but remember well to have seen, formerly, several beautiful green Lacerti on the sunny sandbanks near Farnham, in Surrey; and Ray admits there are such in Ireland.
SELBORNE, July 27th, 1768. I RECEIVED your obliging and communicative letter of June 28th, while I was on a visit at a gentleman's house, where I had neither books to turn to, nor leisure to sit down, to return you an answer to many queries, which I wanted to resolve in the best manner that I am able.
A person, by my order, has searched our brooks, but could find no such fish as the Gasterosteus pungitius; he found the Gasterosteus aculeatus in plenty. This morning, in a basket, I packed a little earthen pot full of wet moss, and in it some sticklebacks, male and female; the females big with spawn : some lamperns ; some bull's heads; but I could procure no minnows. This basket will be in Fleet Street by eight this evening; so I hope Mazel will have them fresh and fair to-morrow morning. I gave some directions, in a letter, to what particulars the engraver should be attentive.
Finding, while I was on a visit, that I was within a reasonable distance of Ambresbury, I sent a servant over to that town, and procured several living specimens of loaches, which he brought, safe and brisk, in a glass decanter. They were taken in the gullies that were cut for watering the meadows. From these fishes (which measured from two to four inches in length) I took the following description :-"The loach, in its general aspect, has a pellucid appearance ; its back is mottled with irregular collections of small black dots, not reaching much below the linea lateralis, as are the back and tail fins; a black line runs from each eye down to the nose; its belly is of a silvery white; the upper jaw projects beyond the lower, and is surrounded with six feelers, three on each side; its pectoral fins are large, its ventral much smaller ; the fin behind its anus small; its dorsal-fin large, containing eight spines; its tail, where it joins to the tail-fin, remarkably broad, without any taperness, so as to be characteristic of this genus; the tail-fin is broad, and square at the end. From the breadth and muscular strength of the tail it appears to be an active nimble fish.”
In my visit I was not very far from Hungerford, and did not forget to make some inquiries concerning the wonderful method of curing cancers by means of toads. Several intelligent persons, both gentry and clergy, do, I find, give a great deal of credit to what is asserted in the papers, and I myself dined with a clergy man who seemed to be persuaded that what is related is natter of fact; but, when I came to attend to his account, I though I discerned circumstances which did not a little invalidate the woman's story of the manner in which she came by her skill. She says of herself “that, labouring under a virulent cancer, she went to some church where there was a vast crowd; on going into a pew, she was accosted by a strange clergyman, who, after expressing compassion for her situation, told her that if she would make such an application of living toads as is mentioned she would be well.” Now is it likely that this unknown gentleman should express so much tenderness for this single sufferer, and not feel any for the many thousands that daily languish under this terrible disorder ? Would he not have made use of this invaluable nostrum for his own emolument; or, at least, by some means of publication or other, have found a method of making it public for the good of mankind ? In short, this woman (as it appears to me) having set up for a cancer-doctress, finds it expedient to amuse the country with this dark and mysterious relation.
The water-eft has not, that I can discern, the least appearance of any gills; for want of which it is continually rising to the surface of the water to take in fresh air. I opened a big-bellied one indeed, and found it full of spawn. Not that this circumstance at all in validates the assertion that they are larvce ; for the larvce of insects are full of eggs, which they exclude the instant they enter their last state. The water-eft is continually climbing over the brims of the vessel within which we keep it in water, and wandering away; and people every summer see numbers crawling out of the pools where they are hatched, up the dry banks. There are varieties of them, differing in colour; and some have fins up their tail and back, and some have not.
SELBORNE, August 17th, 1768. I HAVE now, past dispute, made out three distinct species of the willow-wrens (Motacillæ trochili) which constantly and invariably use distinct notes. But at the same time