Selected writings of A. Jackson Howe.
The following interesting excerpt is gleaned from Dr. Howe's "Conversations on Animal Life." It is but a small portion of the chapter on the reptilian family. The method of the teacher is plainly evident, and it is to be regretted that the bulk of the issue of this valuable work was destroyed by fire when only a few copies had been distributed. No better book could have been placed in the hands of the young as a spur to arouse their interest in the things which are natural.—Ed. Gleaner.
REPTILES.—As it happened, the first specimen taken when the students went to get representatives of the reptilian family was a small green snake. Lucy and Sam pronounced the reptile hideous, and professed to be afraid of it, but Uncle Dan assured them it was harmless. He placed the little ophidian in a covered jar for future reference
At the brink of a pond, with the aid of a sieve-like net, they captured a fresh water turtle—sharp-nosed and thin-shelled. It would do to typify the order of reptiles—chelonians, if no other variety was found. A spotted frog and a common green frog were seized and tumbled into a receptacle for short-tailed batrachuns. A small toad was discovered with its nose projecting from the soft loam, where the warty creature had nearly buried itself by backing into the earth. This was put in the vase assigned to frogs.
"I should think toads ought to be arranged by themselves," said Tom.
"Toads are not so aquatic as frogs," said his uncle, "but they deposit their eggs in water, and the young are there hatched. The tadpole state is brief While very small the little creatures abandon gills, and hop forth on land as tailless toads, and do not revisit the water except for a season in spring. Adult toads are seen generally at night, and frequent damp and shady places Sometimes during a heavy shower, when the water overflows the weeds, so many toads are driven from their hiding places that the saying has arisen, 'they rain down.' "
"I have been told that toads were poisonous," said Lucy.
"An acrid fluid is said to be given out from the warts on their backs, but in other respects they are harmless," replied the uncle.
"Please tell us about the spotted and striped frog we have just caught," besought Sam.
"It is called leopard frog, on account of its markings. It lives in grass and weeds, and often is seen long distances from ponds and streams. It will span several yards at a leap."
The clatter of a tree toad in an apple tree near at hand was heard.
"That is the voice of a batrachian that would make an interesting addition to our specimens," said the uncle. "It is not a toad, but a frog, and spends most of its time in trees, resting on the larger branches."
Tom climbed the tree, where he could see the bright-eyed clucker half buried in the lichens that grew on the balk of an old bough. It was among colors which resembled the hues of its skin, and remained silent. He threw a net over the timid frog, and placed the captive in a wide-mouthed vial. In its attempts to crawl up the sides of the vase there was an opportunity to see The discs at the ends of the toes. These suckers enable the animal to suspend itself on the under surfaces of the branches of trees.
"Can the tree frog change the color of its skin like the chameleon?" asked Tom.
"I think this kind of mimicry may be practiced to a limited extent," said his uncle, "but, as I suggested on another occasion, creatures may select such resting places as correspond quite closely in color with that of their bodies.
"Now we have at least three varieties of tailless batrachians; if we can find a tailed species, our collection will be somewhat extended in range."
The hunters had been looking for this object of interest when Tom's eyes lighted upon a salamandrine newt. It was a female, having spots on the back and no fringe.
"A toe of this animal may be cut off," said Uncle Dan, after it had been assigned to a place among the other specimens, "and another will grow in its place in a surprisingly short time. Possibly the four limbs would be reproduced if they were amputated. Spotted salamanders, usually found on land, have similar characteristics. They seek fens and ponds in spring to deposit their eggs in water. A red variety with black spots is apt to hide under the bark of decayed logs.
"Although newts and kindred creatures move slowly, they can use their tongues so quickly in capturing insects that the motion can not be seen. Salamanders swim in the water with ease. In summer, when the blood circulates actively, they have to come to the surface every few minutes to breathe. During cold weather they can bury themselves in mud, and maintain restricted aeration through the agency of the skin."
Tom caught a tadpole and also a young frog with a fin-like tail. "How is this?" inquired he. "Do some little frogs have tails?"
"This tailed frog is not completely transformed from its immature tadpole state," replied Uncle Dan "The eggs of all batrachians are laid in water. The eggs of frogs may be known by the jelly-like substance that encompasses them; the ova of toads are held in beaded chains. Newly-hatched tadpoles swim like fish, and feed on vegetable food. They swim in groups, but move independently when approaching the period of transition, after which they are frogs. While undergoing this change the head, body, and legs of the frogs may be reached before the tail is lost. The specimen taken is one that still retains the tail, though otherwise a mature frog."
"I have often wondered where frogs lived in winter," said Lucy. "All batrachians bury themselves in the mud at the bottom of ponds and streams when cold weather comes," said her uncle, "and they stay in a state of hibernation till the warmth of spring arouses them from their long sleep, and stimulates them to come to the surface and the light of day again. During the winter's torpor their blood hardly moves, and what little aeration is needed is carried on through their skin. Turtles go into the mud in the same way, and continue there for months without eating or breathing."—HOWE, Conversations on Animal Life.
The Biographies of King, Howe, and Scudder, 1912, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M. D.