Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/881

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859
POPULAR MISCELLANY.

the lake has no apparent inlet or outlet. It contains fish, and numerous water-fowl were swimming on its surface, the flapping of whose wings, when they took to flight, produced a sound, through confused reverberation in the deep, well-like basin, like the rushing of a distant railway-train. The steep banks, about one thousand feet in height, are well wooded, and vegetation clothes their surface down to the water's edge. There is no mark cf higher water, and it probably keeps the same level all the year round. The cries of birds had a peculiar sound, and Mr. Wray believed that it is these noises that have given rise to the native myth that a Masai village formerly stood here, which was swallowed up by the lake. The people of Taveta believe that they hear voices, the lowing of cattle, etc.

 

Black Bears.—Mr. William Pittman Lent gives an interesting account of the "Black Bear" in the "Transactions" of the Ottawa (Canada) Field Naturalists' Club. The young of bears are produced in March, and no female has been killed by Canadian hunters, before or after the hibernating season, that showed any evidence of being in the gravid state. The cubs are very small—not larger, when two days old, than kittens of the same age. The animals feed principally on vegetable food—grapes, roots, berries, beechnuts, oats, and Indian corn. They sometimes visit the oat or corn fields before sunset, and may be taken there by a skillful hunter. They are inordinately fond of honey, and they feast luxuriously in the fall on the berries of the mountain-ash. When their natural food is scarce they visit the farm-yard and carry off pigs and sheep, and will even kill young cattle when pressed for hunger. They are also fond of fish; they have been known to wade and swim in the rivers for the purpose of catching them, and are frequently to be seen along the coast of the island of Anticosti, devouring herring-spawn. They are active, though clumsy, and will run for a mile or two with astonishing speed. When closely pursued by dogs, a bear will take to a tree, up which he can climb rapidly, but from which he descends more slowly, head upward, as soon as it appears safe to do so. They are very shy and timorous in the presence of man, and will make off rapidly when they perceive a human being by sight or scent, but they are most affected by the scent. The black bear fights with teeth and claws, and by hugging. When in an erect position he is a perfect master of the art of self-defense, and it would puzzle a pugilist to get in a blow at him. His most vulnerable part is the nose, which is provided with many sensitive nerves intimately and directly connected with the brain. When a bear is standing on all-fours, there would be no difficulty in striking him with a club; but, when he is sitting erect, it would be an entirely different matter. In Canada black bears retreat to their dens—generally under the roots of large trees, or occasionally in rocky caves—at about the setting in of the season of confirmed frost and snow. They remain there in a quiescent state, although not—as has been well established by hunters who have killed them in their dens in the depth of winter—in a trance-like condition of torpidity, till the opening of spring. When they first emerge from their four months' slumber they are heavy and fat, and their fur is in prime condition, but shortly afterward they fall off in flesh, and soon become ragged in coat and lanky in appearance. Toward October, if they have had a favorable summer, they are found in good condition, and at any time after the middle of November their skins have the finest color, and the thickest and heaviest coat of fur. Bears are still found within eight or ten miles of the city of Ottawa. Even the black bear, Mr. Lent thinks, is of sufficient importance in the economy of Nature and of man to entitle him to legal protection.

 

Useful Reptiles.—When we have secured protection to the birds, it will be time to teach the people to have more mercy on the reptiles. The popular, almost unconquerable prejudices against this class of animals are regarded by science as mistaken except as to a very few kinds, but the public still need enlightenment on the subject. Professor O. P. Hay has embodied a popular lesson on the innocence and even value of most reptiles in his paper on "The Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana," which, being comprised in the State Agricultural