A Book of Natural History Part 2

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"It is almost impossible to convey in words an idea of the quickness and graceful address of her movements: they may indeed be termed aerial, as she seems merely to touch in her progress the branches among which she exhibits her evolutions. In these feats her hands and arms are the sole organs of locomotion, her body, hanging as if suspended by a rope, sustained by one hand (the right, for example), she launches herself, by an energetic movement, to a distant branch, which she catches with the left hand; but her hold is less than momentary; the impulse for the next launch is acquired; the branch then aimed at is attained by the right hand again, and quitted instantaneously, and so on, in alternate succession. In this manner s.p.a.ces of twelve and eighteen feet are cleared, with the greatest ease and uninterruptedly, for hours together, without the slightest appearance of fatigue being manifested; and it is evident that, if more s.p.a.ce could be allowed, distances very greatly exceeding eighteen feet would be as easily cleared; so that Duvaucel's a.s.sertion that he has seen these animals launch themselves from one branch to another, forty feet asunder, startling as it is, may be well credited.

Sometimes, on seizing a branch in her progress, she will throw herself, by the power of one arm only, completely round it, making a revolution with such rapidity as almost to deceive the eye, and continue her progress with undiminished velocity. It is singular to observe how suddenly this Gibbon can stop, when the impetus giving by the rapidity and distance of her swinging leaps would seem to require a gradual abatement of her movements. In the very midst of her flight a branch is seized, the body raised, and she is seen, as if by magic, quietly seated on it, grasping it with her feet. As suddenly she again throws herself into action.

"The following facts will convey some notion of her dexterity and quickness. A live bird was let loose in her apartment; she marked its flight, made a long swing to a distant branch, caught the bird with one hand in her pa.s.sage, and attained the branch with her other hand, her aim, both at the bird and at the branch, being as successful as if one object only had engaged her attention. It may be added that she instantly bit off the head of the bird, picked its feathers, and then threw it down without attempting to eat it.

"On another occasion this animal swung herself from a perch, across a pa.s.sage at least twelve feet wide, against a window which it was thought would be immediately broken: but not so; to the surprise of all, she caught the narrow framework between the panes with her hand, in an instant attained the proper impetus, and sprang back again to the cage she had left--a feat requiring not only great strength, but the nicest precision."

The Gibbons appear to be naturally very gentle, but there is very good evidence that they will bite severely when irritated, a female _Hylobates agilis_ having so severely lacerated one man with her long canines that he died; while she had injured others so much that, by way of precaution, these formidable teeth had been filed down; but if threatened she would still turn on her keeper. The Gibbons eat insects, but appear generally to avoid animal food. A Siamang, however, was seen by Mr. Bennett to seize and devour greedily a live lizard. They commonly drink by dipping their fingers in the liquid and then licking them. It is a.s.serted that they sleep in a sitting posture.

Duvaucel affirms that he has seen the females carry their young to the water-side and there wash their faces, in spite of resistance and cries. They are gentle and affectionate in captivity--full of tricks and pettishness, like spoiled children, and yet not devoid of a certain conscience, as an anecdote, told by Mr. Bennett will show. It would appear that his Gibbon had a peculiar inclination for disarranging things in the cabin. Among these articles a piece of soap would especially attract his notice, and for the removal of this he had been once or twice scolded. "One morning," says Mr. Bennett, "I was writing, the Ape being present in the cabin, when, casting my eyes toward him, I saw the little fellow taking the soap. I watched him without him perceiving that I did so: and he occasionally would cast a furtive glance toward the place where I sat. I pretended to write; he seeing me busily occupied, took the soap, and moved away with it in his paw. When he had walked half the length of the cabin, I spoke quietly, without frightening him. The instant he found I saw him he walked back again and deposited the soap nearly in the same place from whence he had taken it. There was certainly something more than instinct in that action: he evidently betrayed a consciousness of having done wrong both by his first and last actions--and what is reason if that is not an exercise of it?"

The most elaborate account of the natural history of the Orang-Utan extant is that given in the "_Verhandelingen over de Natuurlijke Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche overzeeche Bezittingen (183945)_," by Dr. Salomon Muller and Dr. Schlegel, and I shall base what I have to say upon this subject almost entirely on their statements, adding here and there particulars of interest from the writings of Brooke, Wallace, and others.

The Orang-Utan would rarely seem to exceed four feet in height, but the body is very bulky, measuring two thirds of the height in circ.u.mference.

The Orang-Utan is found only in Sumatra and Borneo, and is common in either of these islands--in both of which it occurs always in low, flat plains, never in the mountains. It loves the densest and most sombre of the forests, which extend from the seash.o.r.e inland, and thus is found only in the eastern half of Sumatra, where alone such forests occur, though, occasionally, it strays over to the western side.

On the other hand it is generally distributed through Borneo, except in the mountains, or where the population is dense. In favorable places the hunter may, by good fortune, see three or four in a day.

[Ill.u.s.tration: HEAD OF ORANG-UTAN.]

Except in the pairing time, the old males usually live by themselves.

The old females and the immature males, on the other hand, are often met with in twos and threes; and the former occasionally have young with them, though the pregnant females usually separate themselves, and sometimes remain apart after they have given birth to their offspring. The young Orangs seem to remain unusually long under their mother's protection, probably in consequence of their slow growth.

While climbing the mother always carries her young against her bosom, the young holding on by the mother's hair. At what time of life the Orang-Utan becomes capable of propagation, and how long the females go with young is unknown, but it is probable that they are not adult until they arrive at ten or fifteen years of age. A female which lived for five years at Batavia had not attained one-third the height of the wild females. It is probable that, after reaching adult years, they go on growing, though slowly, and that they live to forty or fifty years.

The Dyaks tell of old Orangs which have not only lost all their teeth, but which find it so troublesome to climb that they maintain themselves on windfalls and juicy herbage.

The Orang is sluggish, exhibiting none of that marvellous activity characteristic of the Gibbons. Hunger alone seems to stir him to exertion, and when it is stilled he relapses into repose. When the animal sits, it curves its back and bows its head, so as to look straight down on the ground; sometimes it holds on with its hands by a higher branch, sometimes lets them hang phlegmatically down by its side; and in these positions the Orang will remain for hours together, in the same spot, almost without stirring, and only now and then giving utterance to its deep, growling voice. By day he usually climbs from one tree-top to another, and only at night descends to the ground: and if then threatened with danger he seeks refuge among the underwood. When not hunted, he remains a long time in the same locality, and sometimes stops for many days on the same tree, a firm place among its branches serving him for a bed. It is rare for the Orang to pa.s.s the night in the summit of a large tree, probably because it is too windy and cold there for him; but as soon as night draws on he descends from the height and seeks out a fit bed in the lower and darker part, or in the leafy top of a small tree, among which he prefers Nibong palms, Pandani, or one of those parasitic orchids which gave the primeval forests of Borneo so characteristic and striking an appearance. But whenever he determines to sleep, there he prepares himself a sort of nest; little boughs and leaves are drawn together round the selected spot, and bent crosswise over one another; while to make the bed soft, great leaves of ferns, of orchids, of _Panda.n.u.s fascicularis_, _Nipa fruticans_, etc., are laid over them. Those which Muller saw, many of them being very fresh, were situated at a height of ten to twenty-five feet above the ground, and had a circ.u.mference, on the average, of two or three feet. Some were packed many inches thick with _panda.n.u.s_ leaves; others were remarkable only for the cracked twigs, which, united in a common centre, formed a regular platform. "The rude _hut_," says Sir James Brooke, "which they are stated to build in the trees, would be more properly called a seat or nest, for it has no roof or cover of any sort. The facility with which they form this nest is curious, and I had an opportunity of seeing a wounded female weave the branches together and seat herself within a minute."

According to the Dyaks the Orang rarely leaves his bed before the sun is well above the horizon and has dissipated the mists. He gets up about nine, and goes to bed again about five; but sometimes not till late in the twilight. He lies sometimes on his back, or, by way of change, turns on one side or the other, drawing his limbs up to his body, and resting his head on his hand. When the night is cold, windy, or rainy, he usually covers his body with a heap of _panda.n.u.s nipa_, or fern leaves, like those of which his bed is made, and he is especially careful to wrap up his head in them. It is this habit of covering himself up which has probably led to the fable that the Orang builds huts in the trees.

Although the Orang resides mostly amid the boughs of great trees during the daytime, he is very rarely seen squatting on a thick branch as other apes, and particularly the Gibbons, do. The Orang, on the contrary, confines himself to the slender leafy branches, so that he is seen right at the top of the trees, a mode of life which is closely related to the const.i.tution of his hinder limbs, and especially to that of his seat. For this is provided with no callosites such as are possessed by many of the lower apes, and even by the Gibbons; and those bones of the pelvis, which are termed the ischia, and which form the solid framework of the surface on which the body rests in the sitting posture, are not expanded like those of the apes which possess callosities, but are more like those of man.

An Orang climbs so slowly and cautiously as, in this act, to resemble a man more than an ape, taking great care of his feet, so that injury of them seems to affect him far more than it does other apes. Unlike the Gibbons, whose forearms do the greater part of the work as they swing from branch to branch, the Orang never makes even the smallest jump. In climbing, he moves alternately one hand and one foot, or, after having laid fast hold with the hands, he draws up both feet together. In pa.s.sing from one tree to another he always seeks out a place where the twigs of both come close together, or interlace. Even when closely pursued, his circ.u.mspection is amazing; he shakes the branches to see if they will bear him, and then bending an overhanging bough down by throwing his weight gradually along it, he makes a bridge from the tree he wishes to quit to the next.

On the ground the Orang always goes laboriously and shakily on all fours. At starting he will run faster than a man, though he may soon be overtaken. The very long arms which, when he runs, are but little bent, raise the body of the Orang remarkably, so that he a.s.sumes much the posture of a very old man bent down by age, and making his way along by the help of a stick. In walking, the body is usually directed straight forward, unlike the other apes, which run more or less obliquely, except the Gibbons, who in these, as in so many other respects, depart remarkably from their fellows.

The Orang cannot put its feet flat on the ground, but is supported upon their outer edges, the heel resting more on the ground, while the curved toes partly rest upon the ground by the upper side of their first joint, the two outermost toes of each foot completely resting on this surface. The hands are held in the opposite manner, their inner edges serving as the chief support. The fingers are then bent out in such a manner that their foremost joints, especially those of the two inner-most fingers, rest upon the ground by their upper sides, while the point of the free and straight thumb serves as an additional fulcrum.

The Orang never stands on its hind legs, and all the pictures representing it as so doing are as false as the a.s.sertion that it defends itself with sticks and the like.

The long arms are of especial use, not only in climbing, but in the gathering of food from boughs to which the animal could not trust his weight. Figs, blossoms, and young leaves of various kinds, const.i.tute the chief nutriment of the Orang; but strips of bamboo two or three feet long were found in the stomach of a male. They are not known to eat living animals.

Although, when taken young, the Orang-Utan soon becomes domesticated, and indeed seems to court human society; it is naturally a very wild and shy animal, though apparently sluggish and melancholy. The Dyaks affirm that when the old males are wounded with arrows only they will occasionally leave the trees and rush raging upon their enemies, whose sole safety lies in instant flight, as they are sure to be killed if caught.

But, though possessed of immense strength, it is rare for the Orang to attempt to defend itself, especially when attacked with firearms. On such occasions he endeavors to hide himself, or to escape along the top-most branches of the trees, breaking off and throwing down the boughs as he goes. When wounded he betakes himself to the highest attainable point of the tree, and emits a singular cry, consisting at first of high notes, which at length deepen into a low roar, not unlike that of a panther. While giving out the high notes the Orang thrusts out his lips into a funnel-shape; but in uttering the low notes he holds his mouth wide open, and at the same time the great throat bag, or laryngeal sac, becomes distended.

According to the Dyaks, the only animal the Orang measures his strength with is the crocodile, who occasionally seizes him on his visits to the water-side. But they say that the Orang is more than a match for his enemy, and beats him to death, or rips up his throat by pulling the jaws asunder!

Much of what has been here stated was probably derived by Dr. Muller from the reports of his Dyak hunters; but a large male, four feet high, lived in captivity under his observation for a month, and receives a very bad character.

"He was a very wild beast," says Muller, "of prodigious strength, and false and wicked to the last degree. If any one approached he rose up slowly with a low growl, fixed his eyes in the direction in which he meant to make his attack, slowly pa.s.sed his hand between the bars of his cage, and then, extending his long arm, gave a sudden grip--usually at the face." He never tried to bite (though Orangs will bite one another), his great weapons of offence and defence being his hands.

His intelligence was very great; and Muller remarks that, though the faculties of the Orang have been estimated too highly, yet Cuvier, had he seen this specimen, would not have considered its intelligence to be only a little higher than that of a dog.

His hearing was very acute, but the sense of vision seemed to be less perfect. The under lip was the great organ of touch, and played a very important part in drinking, being thrust out like a trough, so as either to catch the falling rain or to receive the contents of the half cocoanut sh.e.l.l full of water with which the Orang was supplied, and which, in drinking, he poured into the trough thus formed.

In Borneo, the Orang-Utan of the Malays goes by the name of "_Mias_"

among the Dyaks, who distinguish several kinds as _Mias Pappan_, or _Zimo_, _Mias Ka.s.su_, and _Mias Rambi_. Whether these are distinct species, however, or whether they are mere races, and how far any of them are identical with the Sumatran Orang, as Mr. Wallace thinks the Mias Pappan to be, are problems which are at present undecided; and the variability of these great apes is so extensive that the settlement of the question is a matter of great difficulty. Of the form called "Mias Pappan," Mr. Wallace observes: "It is known by its large size, and by the lateral expansion of the face into fatty protuberances, or ridges, over the temporal muscles, which have been mistermed callosites, as they are perfectly soft, smooth, and flexible. Five of this form, measured by me, varied only from 4 feet 1 inch to 4 feet 2 inches in height, from the heel to the crown of the head, the girth of the body from 3 feet to 3 feet 7 inches, and the extent of the outstretched arms from 7 feet 2 inches to 7 feet 6 inches; the width of the face from 10 to 13 inches. The color and length of the hair varied in different individuals, and in different parts of the same individual; some possessed a rudimentary nail on the great toe, others none at all; but they otherwise present no external differences on which to establish even varieties of a species.

"Yet, when we examine the crania of these individuals, we find remarkable differences of form, proportion, and dimension, no two being exactly alike. The slope of the profile, and the projection of the muzzle, together with the size of the cranium, offer differences as decided as those existing between the most strongly marked forms of the Caucasian and African crania in the human species. The orbits vary in width and height, the cranial ridge is either single or double, either much or little developed, and the zygomatic aperture varies considerably in size. This variation in the proportions of the crania enables us satisfactorily to explain the marked difference presented by the single-crested and double-crested skulls, which have been thought to prove the existence of two large species of Orang. The external surface of the skull varies considerably in size, as do also the zygomatic aperture and the temporal muscle: but they bear no necessary relation to each other, a small muscle often existing with a large cranial surface, and vice versa. Now those skulls which have the largest and strongest jaws, and the widest zygomatic aperture, have the muscles so large that they meet on the crown of the skull, and deposit the bony ridge which separates them, and which is the highest in that which has the smallest cranial surface. In those which combine a large surface with comparatively weak jaws, and small zygomatic aperture, the muscles, on each side, do not extend to the crown, a s.p.a.ce of from 1 to 2 inches remaining between them, and along their margins small ridges are formed. Intermediate forms are found, in which the ridges meet only in the hinder part of the skull. The form and size of the ridges are therefore independent of age, being sometimes more strongly developed in the less aged animal. Professor Temminck states that the series of skulls in the Leyden Museum shows the same result."

Mr. Wallace observed two male adult Orangs (Mias Ka.s.su of the Dyaks), however, so very different from any of these that he concludes them to be specially distinct; they were respectively 3 feet 8 inches and 3 feet 9 inches high, and possessed no sign of the cheek excrescences, but otherwise resembled the larger kinds. The skull has no crest, but two bony ridges, 1 to 2 inches apart, as in the _Simia morio_ of Professor Owen. The teeth, however, are immense, equalling or surpa.s.sing those of the other species. The females of both these kinds, according to Mr. Wallace, are devoid of excrescences, and resemble the smaller males, but are shorter by 1 to 3 inches, and their canine teeth are comparatively small, subtruncated and dilated at the base, as in the so-called _Simia morio_, which is, in all probability, the skull of a female of the same species as the smaller males. Both males and females of this smaller species are distinguishable, according to Mr. Wallace, by the comparatively large size of the middle incisors of the upper jaw.

So far as I am aware, no one has attempted to dispute the accuracy of the statements which I have just quoted regarding the habits of the two Asiatic man-like Apes; and if true, they must be admitted as evidence that such an ape--

1stly, May readily move along the ground in the erect, or semi-erect, position, and without direct support from its arms.

2dly, That it may possess an extremely loud voice--so loud as to be readily heard one or two miles.

3dly, That it may be capable of great viciousness and violence when irritated; and this is especially true of adult males.

4thly, That it may build a nest to sleep in.

Such being well-established facts respecting the Asiatic anthropoids, a.n.a.logy alone might justify us in expecting the African species to offer similar peculiarities, separately or combined; or, at any rate, would destroy the force of any attempted _a priori_ argument against such direct testimony as might be adduced in favor of their existence.

And if the organization of any of the African apes could be demonstrated to fit it better than either of its Asiatic allies for the erect position and for efficient attack, there would be still less reason for doubting its occasional adoption of the upright att.i.tude, or of aggressive proceedings.

[Ill.u.s.tration: HEAD OF CHIMPANZEE.]

From the time of Tyson and Tulpius downward the habits of the young Chimpanzee in a state of captivity have been abundantly reported and commented upon. But trustworthy evidence as to the manners and customs of adult anthropoids of this species, in their native woods, was almost wanting up to the time of the publication of the paper by Dr.

Savage, to which I have already referred, containing notes of the observations which he made, and of the information which he collected from sources which he considered trustworthy, while resident at Cape Palmas, at the north-western limit of the Bight of Benin.

The adult Chimpanzees, measured by Dr. Savage, never exceeded, though the males may almost attain, five feet in height.

"When at rest, the sitting posture is that generally a.s.sumed. They are sometimes seen standing and walking, but when thus detected, they immediately take to all fours and flee from the presence of the observer. Such is their organization that they cannot stand erect, but lean forward. Hence they are seen, when standing, with the hands clasped over the occiput, or the lumbar region, which would seem necessary to balance or ease of posture.

"The toes of the adult are strongly flexed and turned inward, and cannot be perfectly straightened. In the attempt the skin gathers into thick folds on the back, showing that the full expansion of the foot, as is necessary in walking, is unnatural. The natural position is on all fours, the body anteriorly resting upon the knuckles. These are greatly enlarged, with the skin protuberant and thickened like the sole of the foot.

"They are expert climbers, as one would suppose from their organization. In their gambols they swing from limb to limb at a great distance, and leap with astonis.h.i.+ng agility. It is not unusual to see the 'old folks' (in the language of an observer) sitting under a tree regaling themselves with fruit and friendly chat, while their 'children' are leaping around them, and swinging from tree to tree with boisterous merriment.

"As seen here, they cannot be called _gregarious_, seldom more than five, or ten at most, being found together. It has been said, on good authority, that they occasionally a.s.semble in large numbers, in gambols. My informant a.s.serts that he saw once not less than fifty so engaged, hooting, screaming, and drumming with sticks upon old logs, which is done in the latter case with equal facility by the four extremities. They do not appear ever to act on the offensive, and, seldom, if ever, really on the defensive. When about to be captured, they resist by throwing their arms about their opponent, and attempting to draw him into contact with their teeth."

With respect to this last point Dr. Savage is very explicit in another place:

"_Biting_ is their princ.i.p.al art of defence. I have seen one man who had been thus severely wounded in the feet.

"The strong development of the canine teeth in the adult would seem to indicate a carnivorous propensity; but in no state save that of domestication do they manifest it. At first they reject flesh, but easily acquire a fondness for it. The canines are early developed, and evidently designed to act the important part of weapons of defence.

When in contact with man almost the first effort of the animal is--_to bite_.

"They avoid the abodes of men, and build their habitations in trees.

Their construction is more that of _nests_ than _huts_, as they have been erroneously termed by some naturalists. They generally build not far above the ground. Branches or twigs are bent, or partly broken, and crossed, and the whole supported by the body of a limb or a crotch. Sometimes a nest will be found near the _end_ of a _strong leafy branch_ twenty or thirty feet from the ground. One I have lately seen that could not be less than forty feet, and more probably it was fifty. But this is an unusual height.

A Book of Natural History Part 2

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A Book of Natural History Part 2 summary

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