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them to avoid the destructive influence of cold. But in such ice-bound latitudes, snakes and lizards are of comparatively rare occurrence; while turtles, tortoises, crocodiles, and chameleons, are nearly, if not quite, unknown. As usual, however, in the ongoings of nature, there is a beautiful gradation from group to group, rather than a sudden change of kinds. Thus the chameleon, so common along the African shores of the Mediterranean, is also found, as a connecting link, in the most southern parts of Spain; while the tortoises, which, as a great natural group, may be regarded as characteristic of the warmest regions of Asia and Africa, are still represented in our own continent by the Calabrian and other species. But it is in the torrid zone that we meet not only with the greatest number, but the most gigantic development, of the reptile race. The largest crocodiles and caymans, the hugest boas, the heaviest turtles, as well as the most varied and plentiful supply of venomous serpents, all occur in the warmest regions of the earth.

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Although it was only in recent times that the exact nature of reptiles, and their true relation to the other great divisions of the animal kingdom, came to be clearly apprehended, it cannot be supposed that creatures of such singular and sometimes fearful aspect, should not have excited an early interest in the minds of men. To make no mention of the most ancient Hebrew writers, both Herodotus and Athenæus convey to us several insulated notices of various reptiles; but it is in the works of Aristotle that we first find a knowledge of the subject, not more extensive than profound. Under the title of Oviparous quadrupeds and serpents,' he treats of those great groups which Linnæus, two thousand years afterwards, combined under the unhappy name of Amphibia,—a term so inapplicable not only to the fabled basilisk, in vacua arena, but to a vast majority of authentic species,-dwellers in dry and desert lands, which know not the dew of the morning. The appellation of reptile (from the Latin repo, to crawl or creep) seems to have been first bestowed upon the present class, with systematic signification, about the middle of last century, in the works of Lyonet and Brisson, while the term Erpetology, (from igrηròv—λóyos,) by which the science itself is now distinguished, is of still more modern application.

From the days of Aristotle almost until the eighteenth century, this science may be said to have rather retrograded than progressed, so far at least as concerns the true and simple annals of its subjects. Conrad Gesner, the German Pliny, (monstrum eruditionis, as he is styled by Boerhaave,) overlaid the matter with all kinds of cumbrous lore; while Aldrovandi, the great Italian compiler, whose work on reptiles was published posthu

mously by Ambrosini in 1640, is still more diffuse and disorder.. ly. He gives not only the actual history of reptiles, (according at least to his own views of truth and nature,) but adds every thing that can be made to bear upon that history, whether symbolic, medallic, hieroglyphical, or imaginary. During the eighteenth century a considerable variety of writers contributed in different degrees towards the improvement of the subject; but the excellent arrangement now so generally adopted by naturalists, corresponds in all its leading features with that communicated to the Academy of Sciences by M. Alexandre Brogniart in 1799.

In accordance with that system, all reptiles are arranged into four primary groups or orders, as follows:

I. Chelonian Reptiles, (from xλwn, a tortoise.)-This division contains the tortoises and turtles. The heart, in all the species, is furnished with two auricles, and the body, supported on four legs, is contained within an osseous case, composed as it were of an upper and an under buckler, formed by a peculiarly expanded structure of the ribs and sternum.

II. Saurian Reptiles, (from raugos, a lizard.)—These consist of crocodiles, lizards, chameleons, guanos, and other analogously constructed creatures. Their heart has likewise two auricles, and the legs are four in number, but the body, with rare exceptions, is covered with scales.

III. Ophidian Reptiles, (from öps, a serpent.)-This group contains the various kinds of snakes, whether terrestrial or aquatic, innocuous or endowed with poisonous qualities. The heart is furnished with two auricles, but the body is destitute of legs.


IV. Batrachian Reptiles, (from Bargaxos, a frog.)-In these (which include frogs, toads, newts, salamanders, syrens, &c.) the heart has only a single auricle, the body is naked or without scales, and the majority of the species, as they approach maturity, undergo a transition from a fishlike form with gills, to a quadrupedal state with lungs. A few, however, never lose their gills, and certain species have only a pair of legs.

We do not here propose to enter into any technical details of the subject, but shall rather endeavour to illustrate the general

* The more recent observations of Dr Davy seem to have demonstrated, that the apparently simple auricle of the heart in certain Batrachian reptiles, is in fact divided into two by a complete, though transparent, partition. See Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal. Vol. v. p. 160. We understand that the discovery has been since confirmed by MM. Webert, Martin Saint-Ange, and others.

nature of the preceding great groups, by describing the prevailing character and attributes of a few of the more remarkable species contained in each. At present, however, we must confine our observations to the first and second orders,-reserving to some after opportunity an exposition of the truly singular history of the Ophidians and Batrachians. We commence with the turtle tribes.

The great sea-turtles belong to the genus Chelonia of modern naturalists, and differ from the tortoises, whether terrestrial or aquatic, in having long, flat, finlike feet, the united toes being covered by a membrane. Of all reptiles these are the most useful to the human race. Both the flesh and fat of more than one species, not only supply the epicure with a favourite luxury, but frequently afford a healthful change of diet to seafaring men. The eggs are also nutritious, although of unpleasant aspect, from the green colour of the white, (if we may so express it,) and the uncoagulable nature of that albumen. But the yolk is excellent, although, when much boiled, it becomes oily and translucent. It has been remarked that the eggs of all turtles are good; even of those more carnivorous kinds, of which the flesh is uneatable from its strong and musky odour. Indeed, a similar observation may be made regarding birds. The eggs of the guillemot and other sea fowl, afford excellent eating, although their bodies are distinguished by a rank and fishy flavour.

Portions of the shell of these reptiles are also useful for various ornamental purposes, and the entire covering has been made to serve as the roof of a dwelling, or even as a means of transport over the great waters. Both Strabo and Pliny have recorded its multifarious uses among the Chelonophagi, who dwelt by the shores of the Red Sea, and whose name implies that they fed habitually on turtles.* It is related in Dampier's voyages how the youthful son of a sea captain—

Launch'd from the margin of a bay
Among the Indian Isles, where lay
His father's ship, and had sail'd far,
To join that gallant ship of war,
In his delightful shell:'

while the poet Wordsworth, discarding his 'Tale of a Tub,' has

* Tantæ enim magnitudinis apud eos proveniunt testudines, ut singulæ, singulis casis tegendis sufficiunt, et navigantibus Chelonophagis scapharum usum præbeant.'-Plin. Hist. Anim. Lib. VI. cap.

substituted a similar shell for the more soapy associations of the chosen vessel,' in which he had formerly embarked his Highland boy :

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And, as a coracle that braves

On Vaga's breast the fretful waves,
This shell upon the deep would swim,
And gaily lift its fearless brim

Above the tossing surge.'

Although turtles are of various kinds, (naturalists are now acquainted with seven or eight species,) and differ considerably in their structure and character, they agree in this, that they rarely venture on shore except during the periodical deposition of their eggs. On desert and unpeopled coasts, and the lonely shores of uninhabited islands, they more frequently seek the land; but an innate knowledge of their own defective movements upon terra firma, seems to deter them from leaving the salubrious sea. · All

the species,' says Mr. Audubon, 'move through the water with surprising speed; but the green and hawk-billed in particular remind you, by the celerity and ease of their motions, of the ' progress of birds through the air.' With the exception of the cetaceous tribes, and a few marine serpents, they are probably the most aquatic of all animals not belonging to the class of fishes; being frequently seen floating, as if in a familiar and accustomed home, seven or eight hundred miles from land. Turtles are very prolific. Above three thousand eggs, in various degrees of development, have been counted in the body of a female; of these, however, only a few hundred are laid, after certain intervals, in the course of a single season. Their form is nearly spherical, and they are usually hatched in from fifteen to twenty days. The young, immediately after exclusion, are soft in texture, and pale in colour; the compartments of the shell being only indicated by certain star-like marks. They instinctively make their way towards the water side, where they are said to experience some difficulty in so adjusting their specific gravity as to admit of an immediate submergence; and many find the journey, though short, disastrous; being carried off by birds and beasts of prey, or picked up by an ambuscade of insidious alligators. Youth and innocence are ever beset by perils, and there is little rest for turtles on this side the tureen. These great reptiles are most abundantly distributed over the seas of the torrid zone; and such as are met with in the more temperate parts of the Atlantic ocean, and in the Mediterranean waters, may be said to have pushed their way beyond the usual limits of their kind.



One of the most noted species is Chelonia mydas, commonly called the green turtle, not on account of its external colour, but because its fat assumes, when the creature is in high condition, a peculiar greenish hue. When the face of an alderman, 'celes'tial rosy red,' is glowing benignly with the prospect of the far-famed soup, do his thoughts ever wander to the Bahama islands, or to the far Tortugas, where his undecapitated victims are floating tranquilly on the blue profound, or paddling peacefully towards the sandy shores? Let an eyewitness describe the scenes of turtle life. A blaze,' says Mr Audubon, of ' refulgent glory streams through the portals of the west, and 'the masses of vapour assume the semblance of mountains of 'molten gold. But the sun has now disappeared, and from the east slowly advances the grey curtain which night draws over the world. . . . . Slowly advancing landward, their heads ' alone above water, are observed the heavily-laden turtles, 'anxious to deposit their eggs in the well-known sands. On the surface of the gently rippling streams, I dimly see their broad forms as they toil along, while at intervals may be ‹ heard their hurried breathings, indicative of suspicion and fear. The moon with her silvery light now illumines the scene, and the turtle having landed, slowly and laboriously drags her heavy body over the sand, her flappers being better adapted for motion in the water than on shore. Up the slope, however, she works her way, and see how industriously she removes the sand beneath her, casting it out on either side. Layer ' after layer she deposits her eggs, arranging them in the most 'careful manner, and with her hind paddles brings the sand over them. The business being accomplished, the spot is 'covered over, and with a joyful heart she returns towards the ' shore, and launches into the deep.'


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These maternal duties are rapidly accomplished. Although the eggs are dropped singly, and ranged in layers, to the number of one hundred and fifty and upwards at a time, the entire period occupied does not exceed twenty minutes. The newly hatched young, according to the financial phraseology of the Americans, are at first no bigger than a dollar.' In the adult state, however, they attain to a gigantic size, sometimes measuring above six feet in length, with a weight of eight hundred pounds. The food of the green turtle consists chiefly of that long grass-like sea-weed, called Zostera marina, and the

Ornithological Biography. Vol. ii. p. 370.

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