With the exception of the Opossums, which are natives of America, the tribe is peculiar to New Holland and its appendages, and to some of the islands which form the great chain of connexion between that insular continent and South-eastern Asia. The former is, however, their head quarters, and the species which are found beyond its limits are few in number compared with those which people its territory, and, what is more remarkable, people it to the exclusion of nearly all the other Mammalia; the dog alone, the universal concomitant of man, and one or two species of rats, disputing with them their title to its exclusive possession; for those paradoxical creatures, the Ornithorhynchus and Echidna, if really mammiferous, approximate closely in structure to the Marsupial tribe.
THE AMERICAN BLACK BEAR.
These animals are by nature sociable, and congregate together in herds, which frequently amount to more than a hundred. The imposing spectacle furnished by such a collection of these immense masses of animated matter may well be imagined. They generally seek the shade of the forest, in which they find additional means of subsistence in the young shoots of the trees, which supply the place of other and more congenial herbs. They frequently issue from it, however, in quest of the latter, and also to indulge in a propensity possessed by them in common with all those animals which like them are furnished with thick and almost naked, or with bristly, skins, that of bathing in the water or wallowing in the mud. It is for this reason that they are usually met with in the neighbourhood of large streams, which their great size and the quantity of fat with which they are commonly loaded enable them to swim with facility. Their trunk is also extremely serviceable in this operation, as it enables them to bury as it were the whole of their body beneath the water, retaining above the surface no more than the extremity of that organ for the admission and expulsion of the air. After having been for some time in the water, it is said that their skin loses the dusky hue by which it is usually distinguished in consequence of the dirt and other matters with which it is incrusted, and assumes a perfect flesh-colour marked with numerous round and blackish spots. This natural colour is, however, lost almost immediately on their reaching the land, when they uniformly scatter themselves all over by means of their trunk with the mud or dust which first falls in their way. So fond are they of this process that they commonly recur to it whenever an opportunity offers. The bathing appears to be absolutely necessary in order to keep their skins to a certain extent supple and flexible; for which purpose their keepers, in captivity, occasionally have recourse to the smearing them with oil as a substitute.
True it is that on some occasions the Lion has been known, in the capriciousness of his disposition, to suffer his prostrate prey to escape but little injured from his clutch; but these instances are of rare occurrence, and may safely be referred either to his natural indolence, when excited neither by hunger nor by provocation, or to that intellectual debasement which among brutes is the usual concomitant of increased bulk and formidable strength. But to conclude from such whims and freaks, unaccountable as they may sometimes appear, that he is actuated by feelings of mercy, or by the natural impulse of a generous mind, would be about as reasonable as it would be to assume from the instances which are recorded of the justice and generosity of a Tamerlane or a Tippoo, that those monsters of sanguinary cruelty were in reality the mildest and most merciful of despots.
THE INDIAN BOA.
Their habits in a state of nature are, in all probability, perfectly similar to those which characterize their immediate neighbours, from which, in captivity, they differ in no remarkable degree. Like the common kind, they are exceedingly voracious, tearing their meat and swallowing it in large gobbets, and afterwards gnawing the bones (for which they frequently quarrel) with truly wolvish avidity. Although they have been so long confined, they retain their original ferocity undiminished: a circumstance, it may be mentioned by the way, which has prevented us from giving their measurement. Judging, however, from the eye, we may confidently venture to assert that their size, especially that of the male, is considerably superior to that of the specimen described by Mr. Say, which measured about four feet and a quarter from the tip of the nose to the origin of the tail.下载
The mother and her whelps are admirably represented in the spirited group of portraits which heads the present article. The latter have all the playfulness of kittens, and are fondled by their dam in a similar manner to that in which the domestic cat caresses her young. While they were small enough she carried them from place to place in her mouth, and showed the greatest solicitude to keep them from the view of strangers; and even now that they are grown too large for this mode of treatment, she continues to pay the strictest attention to the cleanliness of their persons, and licks their fur, as they tumble about her, with all the matronly dignity and gravity of an accomplished nurse.下载
The Serpents form a division of the Reptile Class too well known by their elongated scaly bodies, and their total deprivation of external members, to require any minute description of their organization. They are also held by the generality of mankind in so much abhorrence, and regarded for the most part with such strong feelings of unmitigated disgust, that we feel but little inclined to dwell upon their history, how much soever they may on many accounts be considered as deserving of a more extended notice.
The habits and manners of the Black Bear resemble those of the brown almost as closely as his physical characters. In a state of nature he seeks the recesses of the forest, and passes his solitary life in wild and uncultivated deserts, far from the society of man, and avoiding even that of the animal creation. His usual food consists of the young shoots of vegetables, of their roots, which he digs up with his strong and arcuated claws, and of their fruits, which he obtains by means of the facility with which the same organs enable him to climb the loftiest trees. He possesses indeed the faculty of climbing in a most extraordinary degree, and frequently exercises it in the pursuit of honey, of which he is passionately fond. When all these resources fail him, he will attack the smaller quadrupeds, and sometimes even animals of considerable size; familiarity with danger diminishing his natural timidity, and the use of flesh begetting a taste for its continued enjoyment. He is also said, like the Polar Bear, to have a peculiar fondness for fish, and is frequently met with on the borders of lakes and on the coast of the sea, to which he has resorted for the gratification of this appetite. Notwithstanding his apparent clumsiness, he swims with the greatest dexterity, the excessive quantity of fat with which he is loaded serving to buoy him up in the water; in this way he frequently crosses the broadest rivers, or even very considerable arms of the sea.