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Curious Animals Of Australia

( Originally Published Ealry 1900's )



KANGAROOS — OPOSSUMS.

MARSUPIALS of gigantic size, larger than a horse, existed on the Australian Island Continent in bygone ages, and were succeeded by others of more moderate proportions. These latter, though acquainted with the naked, wavy-haired aborigines, remained in blissful ignorance of pale and well-clothed Europeans with their deadly firearms, until the year 1770, when a bluff-bowed little ship, the Endeavour, 350 tons, commanded by a certain Captain James Cook, dropped her anchor in the shallow water of Botany Bay, effected a landing, and took possession of the new territory in the name of King George the Third. A few days later, the splendid harbour of Port Jackson, so called after the sailor who from the fore-top first sighted the entrance, was discovered some miles further north along the coast, where, on the site of the future city of Sydney, Captain Cook and his crew looked for the first time upon that strange animal, the kangaroo. The natives, he thought, called it " kangaroo," but he probably misunderstood their pronunciation of the word " koora." However, the former name was adopted and remains, while the animal has become the honored symbol of Australia, just as the lion is that of England and the eagle that of America — though anything more unlike a lion it would be difficult to find.

The kangaroo boasts a height of between five and six feet, and a weight of, sometimes, a hundred and forty pounds. It has a head like a doe's, long sensitive ears, and large expressive, gentle eyes, a graceful grayish-brown body covered with wooly fur, short, slender fore limbs, and very powerful hind-quarters terminating in a rigid tail, three feet long, which helps to balance the animal in its tremendous jumps of twenty or thirty feet. One feature it has in common with the lion—its claws, which are sharp and formidable, one of the four in each hind leg being a veritable dagger of great size and efficiency. But in disposition, the kangaroo is utterly unlike the king of beasts. Mild, peaceable, easily tamed, and adaptable to every climate and to captivity, there is no reason why it should not be extensively domesticated; while, if well fed, the quality of the flesh would be so much improved, that it would form a welcome change in the dietary of eternal beef and mutton. In the wild animal the meat is tasteless and dry, and only the tail, which makes an excellent substitute for hare-soup, is eaten by Europeans.

Of course the pouch, or abdominal bag, in which the female carries her young until able to shift for them-selves, gives the name of " marsupial " to this species of animal; and very funny it is to see the " running Joey," as the growing baby is called, peeping out of its cozy retreat, while its mother is jumping along as fast as she can.

There are over thirty kinds of kangaroos, ranging in height from six feet to one foot, and known by various names, such as the great gray, wallaby, rock-wallaby, paddy-melon, rat, mouse, and the strange tree-kangaroo of North Queensland, which, though a kangaroo, is essentially an arboreal animal, dwelling in trees which it readily climbs, and is called by the blacks the " Bungary."

Were it not for the provision of a pouch, the very young kangaroos—in a normally droughty continent like Australia, where long distances exist between the water-holes -- could not travel with their parents, and would consequently perish.

In the old squatting days, kangaroos were very numerous in some districts, and did a lot of mischief by eating off the grass, though they were to some extent kept in check by the dingoes, or wild dogs, who, however, began to find that the flesh of sheep was superior to kangaroo venison. So the dingoes were ruthlessly destroyed, and the kangaroos multiplied once more. At last it was discovered that their skins made good leather; an export demand arose, and they, were shot down for the British market. Thus, they have become scarce in the vicinity of towns, and are only seen in numbers a Iong way up country.

I recollect noticing years ago when in the district of Schnapper Point, Port Philip, not many miles from Melbourne, that there were plenty of kangaroos. They went about in mobs of from ten to forty, presided over by a big male (" boomer," or " old man," he is called) who kept order. One day my host (in the literal sense that he was the landlord of the hotel) asked me to join him in a kangaroo hunt. So very early the next morning we set off, well mounted and accompanied by several splendid dogs, crosses between deerhound and greyhound, or fox-hound and greyhound with a dash of colley, I forget which.

For some miles we went leisurely along the monotonous plaine each tree looking alike—varying only in size — with their straggling branches and sombre foliage, en-livened, however, by the shrill cries of parrots and parakeets as they flashed past in a blotch of blue, red and green.

The colour of kangaroos so exactly assimilates with their surroundings in the bush that it is well-nigh impossible to distinguish them until almost on the top of a "mob." So when my friend whispered, "There they are! " and prepared to loose the dogs from the leash attached to his saddle-bow, I could see nothing.

Off went the hounds, and up jumped the game, visible enough now, as they took flying leaps over every obstacle at great speed. Away we galloped, the horses needing no encouragement; in fact, mine got beyond control, and carried me recklessly under low boughs, nearly bringing me to grief. My eyes were blinded by the thick cobwebs hanging from the thickly-growing trees, and every few minutes I had to put the horse over fallen trees and water-creeks. Mile after mile we held upon our reckless course, and when we came to a clearing, the pace re-doubled.

The bandicoots, frightened out of their wits, scuttled away from our horses' feet to their lair in a hollow tree. Then we swept past a shepherd's hut, and his puppy tried to join us in the chase, thought better of it, and merely barked his encouragement.

The grey figures ahead still held on, until we thought the hunt would never end. But at last the pace began to slacken, the dogs gradually drew upon the kangaroos as their boundings grew shorter and shorter, until, singling out the biggest, they threw themselves upon it, and down he went in a cloud of dust.

In a minute we were upon him. As he sat upright, his tail and hind-quarters defiant, a dexterous thrust of a keen knife soon put him hors de combat, but in his last struggle he contrived with his hind claws to rip up the flanks of two of the best dogs.

Until high noon we repeated these hunts, for kangaroos were swarming in every direction, until, tired out and with a sack full of tails and claws as mementoes, we turned back. My horse was so done upon that I had to lead it, and in crossing a dried-up stream, the poor beast got its hindquarters jammed, in some extraordinary way, sunder an overhanging bank. It either could not or would not move, and so my host had to ride ahead for a spade to dig it out, leaving me alone in the bush. Right glad was I to find myself that evening back in the cosy hotel, sitting over a refreshing cup of tea and a dish of succulent mutton chops.

In various parts of Australia I have shot kangaroos with the rifle but they are very wary, keen of hearing, and their height enables them to see the gunner a long way off. The least noise, such as the snapping of a twig underfoot, startles them. In fact, kangaroo-stalking is almost more tedious than crawling along the Highland moors on the chance of bringing down a stag, which is supposed to be the most fatiguing of all sport. If the hunter's back aches insupportably he may lie down and die, but must not, to save his life, move an inch; and, on occasion, he ought to be able to run like an antelope, or, in a stooping position, at a greyhound pace; and further-more he must be able to breathe steadily as the trade-winds.

Once, and only once, I saw kangaroos fighting. Every year the females select their mates, and then it is that battles royal occur between the males.

I had stalked a mob, when my attention was arrested by a sudden combat between two powerful " old men," the does standing apart as spectators ready to accept the victor. The males danced around each other, waiting, like wrestlers, for a chance to close. To the right and left they hopped for the death grip. At last one caught the other round the neck, but his foe was too quick for him. He planted a paw on the face of his opponent and forced his head back so that he could not raise his formidable hind legs from, the ground. Then, with a terrible slash from his own hind claw, he laid open his rival's side, and, while he rolled over, dead, the conqueror hopped off to receive the congratulations of his newly-acquired harem.

Opossums.—Long before the study of natural history had arrived at its present stage, with its puzzling nomenclature and classifications, the original colonists of Australia, finding animals there somewhat similar to those they were acquainted with in the Old Country, or had read of in books, bestowed upon them the same, names. They called the thyacine, the native wolf ; the common dasyurus, the native cat; the, koala, the native bear; the bandicoot, the native rabbit; the phalanger, the native squirrel; the petaurus, the flying squirrel; the echidna, the native porcupine; the platypus, the water-mole; and the planlanger, the opossum, but we are told by scientists that it is no opossum at all, the genuine article being closely allied to the dasyurus or native cat, and confined to the American continents, ranging from the United States to Argentina. However, the old colonials regarded their " possums," as equal, if not better, than other " possums," and by that name they will be known as long as the new Commonwealth lasts.

In the side-splitting farce, Charley's Aunt," the chief character describes Brazil as the place " where the nuts come from." So, to many people, Tasmania is the land where " possum rugs came from. I say came from, because to get hold of one now is impossible, with-out paying an exorbitant price.

'Possums exist all over the Australian continent, but those in Tasmania have the, thickest and best fur. The first thing a visitor to Hobart does, after gazing at Mount Wellington and admiring its snow-speckled peak, is to explore the streets in search of a shop where rugs and skins are sold. The idea in their minds is that a 'possum-rug is the present most coveted by their friends in Sydney or Melbourne, and that in Tasmania it can be purchased at a moderate price; but they soon discover that to secure a really good one they must pay half as much again as they would anywhere in Australia or London, where $50 will buy a very fair specimen of the black opossum carriage-wrap.

This particular 'possum, the black variety, is restricted to Tasmania, and would long ago have become extinct but for the stringent restrictions regarding its slaughter. On the Island Continent the aborigines aid in its destruction, not for the sake of its fur, but for its flesh. No 'possum, be it ever so cunning in " lying low," escapes them, a scratch on the bark of a hollow gum-tree (their favorite resort), or a scrap of fur at the base, being sufficient guide to their practised eye. Climbing the bare trunk of a tree with wonderful agility, they ascertain, by tapping, the exact spot where 'possum is reposing; then, cutting a hole in the usually rotten wood, they drag the prize out, knock it on the head, and proceed to cook it after a very primitive fashion, flinging it, skin and all, upon a wood fire. When half-roasted they tear it in pieces and eat it without the aid of knife and fork.

The flesh is rank, opossums' food consisting chiefly of strongly-flavoured leaves, varied by, perhaps, small birds, but when Australia became settled the 'possum developed a decided taste for fruit, not the native fruit, which is tasteless, but the products of cultivated orchards.

Up country in Victoria, I used to stay with a farmer. My bedroom was at the back of the house in the bachelor's quarter, shut off from the main building, the door facing the courtyard, and the French window a large fruit garden. One morning, in the chilly small hours I was awakened by a furious barking, and, looking out, I saw that two of the dogs had tree'd something which they were frantically endeavoring to reach.

Taking my gun from its rack, and donning a dressing-gown, I went out, and by the bright moonlight could see,, crouched motionless on the lowest branch of a peach-tree a 'possum. Down it came, and, with visions of rugs, I leisurely went to pick it up. But I had forgotten the dogs, and by the time I had rescued the carcass from " Jack " and " Bill," hardly a scrap of fur remained on the worthless skin.

The next night I took care that the " pack " was chained up. They smelt the quarry, and gave me the tip in good time, and all night at intervals I was able to bag a number of these queer little beasts. Queer in many respects, like all marsupials, are opossums. They have prehensile tails, and frequently the skin-hunter, after wandering about for hours at night in districts where they are scarce, scrutinising the trees overhead, and getting into line with the moon every likely-looking fork that might harbor a 'possum, at last finds one, and kills it. But, alas ! in falling its tail catches, and contracts round a branch, and it swings inaccessible and useless.

Opossums love warmth, and one winter morning (for it can be very cold in Australia) my host's wife got up early to attend to some domestic duty, and went into the kitchen where a huge wood fire was kept burning all the year round, only partly dying out at night. In front of it stood a large clothes'-horse, which during the day had borne sundry well-washed garments, and to the good woman's intense surprise she saw a 'possum with its tail tightly curled round the top rail, asleep. It woke up with a start, stared hard at her for a second, and vanished through the door.

Native Bears.— I daresay many of my readers picture the native bear to be a fair-sized animal with formidable claws, a thick fur, no perceptible tail, and an insatiable appetite for cake — in fact, an Antipodean representative of the well-known bears at the Zoo; but as the koala (to give it the correct name) has rarely been brought over alive to England for many years, their ignorance is excusable.

If only the creature would eat something besides gum-leaves and twigs, it could easily be conveyed abroad, but it will not, and the fodder stored up for it in the steamer's chilled room has a tiresome knack of going bad, or giving out, just at the critical moment — say when crossing the Bay of Biscay— and the bear declines to survive, a mishap which I have always thought could be prevented by the exercise of a little more care and forethought. Once safely landed fresh gum-leaves could be obtained for it, though at some cost, for unfortunately the eucalyptus that the bear prefers is not the common kind, but a peppermint variety rarely cultivated. It is a pity that the importation cannot be accomplished, as the koala is a most comical-looking beast and would be a safe card in a menagerie.

About as big as a moderate-sized dog, with a tail (can we call it a tail!) about the size and shape of a coat-button hidden in its fur, a grey wooly hide, sharp claws, weak jaw and small teeth, large staring eyes, and big ears furnished with a fringe of erect hairs, it looks for all the world like a testy old gentleman who has been ruthlessly wakened out of his after-dinner sleep and wants to know the reason why !

The koala's habits are sluggish, and though able to climb well, it moves about the trees in a most deliberate manner. Seldom coming to the ground, except to climb another tree, or to search for roots, it walks awkwardly, shuffling along (though pretty quickly) like a plantigrade.

Though koalas are said to be nocturnal, I have seen in the daytime a good many of both sexes. Sometimes one of them selects a branch so low down as to permit of close inspection, betraying no fear unless molested, when it quickly mounts to the top, almost out of range of a shotgun.

The female often sits with her solitary babe on her back in comical fashion.

Henry Kingsley, in " Geoffrey Hamlyn," gives a true picture of the bear's seeming indifference, or philosophy, call it what you will. A little child strays in the bush and is not found until days afterwards, dead. " A wee little native bear," he says, " hardly eight inches long, a little grey beast, comical beyond expression, with broad flat ears, sits on a tree within reach. He makes no resistance, but cuddles into the child's bosom and eats a leaf as they go along; while his mother sits aloft, grunting indignant at the abstraction of her offspring, but on the whole taking it pretty comfortably, and goes on with her dinner of peppermint leaves."

An English friend commissioned me to bring him back the finest native-bear rug procurable, and I had to scour the district for skins in good condition.

Not far from Melbourne lie the thickly-wooded Plenty ranges, and there was my happy hunting-ground. Day after day I went out, sometimes on foot, more often on a steady old horse, for I soon found that dead bears were too ponderous to drag about., To lessen the weight I used to skin some of them, a disagreeable and tedious work, the pelt being so firmly attached to the flesh ; while countless blow-flies buzzed about, appearing from goodness knows where, directly they scented a " kill."

Gradually I obtained the full tale of skins, for which I wandered far into the bush, sometimes finding only one bear in every hundred trees.

Once I bagged a female bear, not knowing she had a little one with her. It was uninjured, however, and clung to me with inconvenient ardor all the way home. I tried to rear it on cow's milk, and succeeded for a week, keeping the poor thing dry and warm; but it lacked something unprocurable, became very bilious, and, after sitting up with it for two nights, I had to mourn its loss.

My best capture was a fine, almost full-grown bear, with beautiful light gray fur. I conveyed it to my home, where it was placed in a large open air cage, and fed with leaves, the children of course making a great fuss over it; but when teased, though usually silent, it would give a kind of growling hiss. It escaped once, but after running a good distance was ignominiously brought back in a sack. Mr. Bear was at last set at liberty, and took up his quarters on a large gum-tree in front of the house, as if fond of human society.

Wombats.— In one of the small outlying enclosures of the London Zoo is a curious Australian animal, which, however, cannot always be seen, being, like so many interesting creatures, provokingly nocturnal in its habits. It is the wombat, a bulky marsupial, whose brethren in Australia attain to a weight of seventy pounds, and a length of three feet eight inches.

A hairy, ungraceful animal is the wombat, something like a giant mole or marmot, stout, clumsy, with short legs and small feet, its color sandy brown in various shades mingled with black, its ears small, eyes far apart and insignificant, the profile of head not unlike a guinea-pig's, a jaw in which the teeth grow continuously (not from roots), each jaw being furnished with a single pair of powerful incisors, thus completing its likeness to the rodent. It is apparently tailless, though it has a ridimentary one hidden beneath its long hair.

Hobbling and awkward in its usual gait, the wombat, when under fire, runs back to its hole as fast as a rabbit. It is essentially a burrower, and excavates on its own ac-count with its sharp claws, though the Tasmanian variety sometimes makes use of natural clefts and holes.

A harmless beast, living on grass and roots, its fur is of no value, and its red flesh, though said by some people — chiefly bushmen — to be delicate eating and worth introducing into this country, is by more fastidious people pronounced to be too rich and fat.

At one time wombats were plentiful, living sociably together in families, but they are becoming scarce.

Almost all Australian children are fond of pets, and my farmer friend's children were no exception to the rule. So when the native bear was discarded, they petitioned the authorities to let them have a tame wombat. This was rather a large order, as there was not one in the district or anywhere near it. After much delay, however, rendered endurable by the advent of some young 'possums, a wombat arrived from a remote sheep station, and was welcomed with acclamation.

In spite of its thick skin, the creature seemed a chilly subject, always—when not burrowing in the sandy soil and covering itself up with it, and having to be dug out — running about and nestling in straw or in any clothes that it happened to find lying about indoors. The children fed it with potatoes, carrots, and hay, which last it nibbled bit by bit with its beaver-like front teeth. It seemed to know us, and would respond to its name Joey," and so far divested itself of nocturnal habits as to trot about in the daytime like a dog after the young people, who would pull it about mercilessly, and then, to make amends, take it up, heavy as it was, on their lap, where it usually fell fast asleep.

Like all marsupials, Joey was silent, except when unduly teased, then it would utter a low hiss. It once bit the farmer's eldest boy rather severely, which really served him right, for he would persist in offering it a succulent carrot, and just as Joey was licking his lips in anticipation, would withdraw it with a jerk, at the same time pulling him back by his hind legs.

Native Dogs.— Next to droughts, the greatest trouble that beset the early squatters and farmers of Australia was the native dogs, or dingoes. They swarmed in certain localities, and finding sheep easier to kill than kangaroos, and mutton more tasty than " old man " venison, harassed the flocks right and left, destroying many more than they could devour, and frightening the remainder out of their wits. It was no uncommon thing for a squat-ter to find in a morning dozens and dozens of sheep with their throats torn open. A single dingo has been known to run-amuck on a " run," snapping at the sheep as he went, but only eating a paunch or two — a favourite morsel. What with these pests, and kangaroos that ate the grass, and caterpillars that ruined every green thing, the original settlers had substantial ground for grumbling, a privilege much indulged in by farmers generally, who sometimes invent a cause of complaint, if none exist.

The origin of the dingo (a non-marsupial) is rather doubtful, but it is the only true wild dog in the world, and lives in such absolute savagery that even the aborigines can only bring up the pups, which they steal, in a semi-domesticated state.

Some think that the dingo is indigenous to Australia (in Tasmania it is unknown) ; others, that it was introduced at a very remote period from Asia by early Malayan settlers. But the fact remains that, as a dog, it holds an unique position, resembling that of the Barbary ape, or the Rock of Gibraltar.

In appearance the dingo is like a fair-sized dog with a curled bushy tail, a fox-like head, and erect ears. It has no voice but a dismal howl; it is a cowardly brute, and, like the fox, when run down, feigns death, so that old bushmen take care to cut its throat at once.

Strychnine, applied as bait and scattered about the runs, nearly abolished these plagues, and, except in very out-of-the-way parts of the colonies, it is rare to catch a glimpse of a dingo sneaking through the bush.

Native Cats.—Native cats appropriately follow the subject of native dogs; but we must not think of them as well-behaved Tabbies and Tibbies basking in the sun, or comfortably stretched on the hearthrug in front of a bright winter fire. No; these weasel-like, slender pussies are ferocious marauders, about eighteen inches long, with a bushy tail, and are the pest of housewives, and, in the creed of all Australian dogs worth their keep, fit only to be classed with opossums and other obnoxious animals, and to be hunted into holes, whenever possible.

Though naturally bush-dwellers, where amongst the trees they prey upon birds and eggs, they must needs locate themselves near the habitations of man, whose feathered live stock saves them the trouble of working hard to procure food. Thus, after lying up snugly by day in hollow logs or holes they make for the poultry-house and work terrible havoc in no time. I recollect being awakened by a terrific row in the farmyard — the frantic barking of dogs, and the spitting and swearing of some wild animal, almost drowned by the cackling of terrified cocks and hens. In the fowlhouse were two native cats fiercely defending themselves against a plucky terrier, who, mauled about the face, would have found the task too much for him, had I not arrived on the scene just in time to knock on the head a pair of miniature tigers, which animals they resemble both in stubbornness and in their indifference to danger, fearing neither anybody nor anything.

One of the farmhands once brought to the house three native cats he had trapped. With no little difficulty they were manoeuvred into a strong cage and left there foodless for twenty-four hours, to quiet down. At the expiration of that period two only remained, each in a corner glaring at one another in the most watchful and savage manner. The cage was sound, but bits of fur scattered about revealed the fact that the missing one had been eaten; and each survivor was simply watching and waiting for the least sign of exhaustion on the part of the other, to pounce upon it.

While 'possum shooting, my dogs often put up native cats on the margin of swampy ground. They always made for small trees, though poor climbers and not having — like some marsupials — prehensile tails. One good attribute they possess, and that is a soft and pretty gray fur, at one time much used for lining ladies' cloaks.

Tasmanian Wolf.— The Tasmanian wolf is the biggest of the carnivorous marsupials. It is confined to the island formerly called Van Diemen's Land, and is all but extinct. Being difficult to find and difficult to trap, it is rarely seen in any collection. There were two specimens at the Zoo in London many years ago, but they have gone the way of all flesh.

It is a handsome beast, from four to five feet long over all, and resembles an ordinary wolf. It has transverse bars or stripes across and down its hind-quarters, which explains its alternative names, tiger and zebra. Its tail is peculiar, being carried as if it were solid and jointless, and serves merely as a balance when running. Its large, intelligent eyes are placed far apart and give a some-what pathetic and gentle expression to its face, which belies its disposition, for its ferocity is so great that several dogs together often decline to attack a big old male.

Formerly these wolves abounded, harboring in the rocks of inaccessible glens on the lofty Tasmanian mountains, descending at night to ravage the flocks and poultry-yards. until war was declared against them, and they were almost exterminated.

When in picturesque Tasmania I used to hear the most extraordinary yarns about these wolves, and the feats of strength and daring attributed to them were equal to those of full-grown Bengal tigers. But the only one I ever saw alive was in the fine Melbourne menagerie.

Tasmanian Devils.— Even the worst tempered man is occasionally, say, after a good dinner, mild and placable. Not so the little black creature aptly named the Tasmanian Devil, whose all-night growl is varied only by its all-day yell and snarl, and who, when captive, tries to bite everybody who approaches it.

With its misshapen body (two feet long over all), thick-set muzzle, and formidable teeth, the Tasmanian devil is more dreaded by dogs than the wolf though only half its size, and its bite is no joke, for it holds on like a badger with its crushing teeth. It is difficult to tell why it requires such formidable means of offence, feeding as it does on the flesh of harmless animals and dead fish, and having few enemies other than man, who easily secures it in traps set in lonely parts of the bush.

The devil's voracity and strength, in comparison with its size, is immense. A good authority on Tasmania says : " One of them, and by no means a large one, escaped not long ago from captivity (it was in the convict days!) and killed during the night fifty-four fowls, six geese, an albatross on the beach, and a cat. Having been recaptured, in what was considered a stout trap with a door constructed of iron bars as thick as a big lead-pencil, he made his escape by twisting these obstacles on one side, almost doubling them up with his powerful teeth. To give some idea of the strength of the animal, I may mention that the blacksmith who repaired the trap could not bend the bars back into their position without proper tools."

Platypus.— Amongst the extraordinary forms of Antipodean animal life, none surpass the platypus, humorosly described by Sydney Smith as " a quadruped as big as a cat, with the eyes, skin, and colour of a mole, and the bill and web-feet of a duck, puzzling Dr. Shaw and rendering the latter half of his life miserable, from his utter inability to determine whether it was a bird or a beast." So that the name Ornithorhynchus paradoxes, given to it by naturalists, is certainly appropriate to a creature that puzzled even so great an anatomist as Sir Richard Owen.

Stuffed specimens give but a poor idea of the graceful glistening platypus that revels in the still waters of rivers and lakes, and leisurely constructs a tunnel thirty feet long, one entrance below the surface, the other on the banks, ending in an oval grass-lined nest where the female deposits her two eggs, for this is the only known mammal that is oviparous. Dr. Bennett, an authority on the question, denies this, maintaining that the platypus produces its young in the ordinary way of mammals. But to complete the paradox, the young ones when hatched, are brought up on milk, which, it is said, the mother diffuses around her when floating to the surface of the water, her offspring sucking it up.

About twenty-four inches long, including the tail, the body of the platypus is clothed in beautiful glossy fur usually of an amber or dark brown color, somewhat resembling a mole's. Fill up the mole's spade-like fore feet with strong webbing for swimming, enlarge its tail, and provide, in place of a muzzle, a queer kind of beak expanded and flattened, covered with soft skin, and furnished, like a dog's snout, with delicate and highly sensitive nerves, add a spur (the use of which has not been determined) inside the male's hind leg, and you have a fair idea of the platypus or duck-bill.

For the sake of its skin, the platypus is mercilessly shot down or caught with baited hooks, and as thirty or forty skins are required to make a rug, these innocent animals are becoming scarce.

Their favourite haunts are the quiet parts of rivers — called " ponds " in Australia, pools " elsewhere — where the leaves of plants cover the surface, and the shaded banks are good for their burrows.

Warily creeping to the margin of a Murray river affluent, I remained motionless while my black guide pointed out several dark objects with heads slightly raised in the pool below, while little rings in the water showed they were paddling about. An insect crept up my nose and I sneezed ! In an instant, not a platypus was to be seen; but we kept perfectly quiet, and saw them again in about five minutes —five months it seemed to me ! a little way from where I had first observed them.

The platypus does not bear captivity well, even in its native land, its food being a kind of water-insect difficult to procure. So, as things are at present, it cannot be exported. Dr. Bennett kept a pair of young ones alive in Sydney for five weeks. They loved to dabble about in a dish filled with water and furnished with a tuft of grass. They slept a great deal, especially during the day. Their food consisted of bread soaked in water, of hard-boiled eggs, and meat chopped very fine.

Flying Foxes.--There is an old story of a sailor's aged mother, who upon listening to his ridiculous yarn about having seen one of Pharoah's chariot-wheels dug up from the bottom of the Red Sea, and to his genuine description of the flying-fish he had seen in the Atlantic, believed the yarn, and rejected the true story. The good old dame's scepticism would have been even greater had her son discoursed about flying foxes, though they are simply large frugiferous bats called kalongs by the Australian aborigines.

They resemble foxes in face, have small ears, but no nasal leaf such as vampires possess. They are covered with a fine and, apparently, clean orange-coloured fur; but, let the skin-collector beware, for it swarms with parasitic insects, and its fetid odour deters anybody but a black from even touching it, though it does not deter the native from devouring the flesh of the animal.

The stretch of wing of a flying-fox is about two feet, and, like all the bat tribe, it can hang all day by its hooked wings, folded over its body in such a manner as to look like a suspended leather bottle.

The branches of trees selected by flying foxes as sleeping places are often bent by the weight of their number. The foliage shrivels and dies, and long before one can see the tree one can scent the musky odor of the foxes and hear their sharp cries as they squabble for places to hang from.

In orchards and gardens flying foxes are a great nuisance, devouring quantities of fruit and spoiling the rest by a simple touch of their wings as they flit among the branches, tainting the apricots and peaches, and rendering them unfit for market.

Flying foxes abound throughout Australia, but are scarce in Tasmania, which is unaccountable, it being the land of orchards. It is said that not many years ago flying foxes could be seen constantly in the Sydney Botanical Gardens; but their visits to the city are now periodical. I recollect that during a prolonged drought (and most likely as a result of it) the suburbs were beseiged by them, and every orchard denuded of fruit. Our garden suffered like the rest, until having consumed all they could get, the flying foxes vanished as suddenly and mysteriously as they came.



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