Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/464
By HERMAN L. FAIRCHILD.
ANIMAL COMBUSTION.—Within every living organism there are two opposing forces. The "vital force," which produces all the phenomena of life, holds the material elements in unstable relations—against their will, so to speak—and it is antagonized by the natural chemical affinities of the elements, which tend to break down the organic compounds and rearrange the elements in more stable form. This decomposition takes place in some degree during the life of every organism, and when life ends, or when the vital force ceases to act, it rapidly destroys the structure.
The waste matter resulting from this disintegration must be immediately removed from the body of the living animal, otherwise it clogs and poisons the system. The method of its accomplishment is one of the most admirable functions of the animal economy. To remove the effete matter in the natural liquid or solid state would be very exhausting; consequently it is burned, and the gaseous products of its union with oxygen are then easily carried away. Literally speaking, this makes a furnace of the body of every animal; and the most pressing and ceaseless demand of the system is for oxygen to support its fires. Respiration is hence an absorbing and excreting process, whereby oxygen is received and carbonic acid and water removed. It thus becomes a measure of the amount of combustion.
In the "cold-blooded" animals respiration bears a direct proportion to the activity and the heat of the body, as the former causes a metamorphosis and waste of tissue, and the latter always aids decomposition. The fact is one of common observation. It is well illustrated in the quickened breathing of a tired animal, and in the almost entire suspension of respiration in the hibernating state. The respiration of a "cold-blooded" creature is increased by artificial heat. In
Fig. 1.—Cobitis Fossilis. It swallows air-bubbles which pass through the intestine, where the mucous membrane takes up the oxygen for respiration.
extremely hot weather frogs may have to leave the water entirely, and fishes come to the surface to procure air. Reversely, frogs can be kept for years in a state of suspended animation by a low temperature, and revived by warming. Some low animals can survive freezing or