1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Trap

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

TRAP (O. Eng. treppe or traēppe, properly a step, as that on which an animal places its foot and is caught, cf. Ger. Treppe flight of stairs), a mechanical device for the snaring or catching anything, and especially wild animals. Traps for animals are of great antiquity, and no savage people has ever been discovered, whatever its culture scale, that did not possess some variety of snare. In the most primitive form of trap no mechanism need be present, e.g. a cavity into which the animal walks, as the pitfall of the Arabs and Africans or the snow-hole of the Eskimos. Dr O. T. Mason has divided traps into three classes: enclosing traps, which imprison the victim without injury; arresting traps, which seize the victim without killing it, unless it be caught by the neck or round the lungs; and killing traps, which crush, pierce or cut to death.

Enclosing traps include the pen, cage, pit and door-traps. Pen-traps are represented by the fences built in Africa into which antelopes and other animals are driven; and by fish-seines and pound-nets. Among cage-traps may be mentioned bird-cones filled with corn and smeared with bird-lime, which adhere to the bird's head, blinding it and rendering its capture easy; the fish-trap and lobster-pot; and the coop-traps, of which the turkey-trap is an example. This consists of a roofed ditch ending in a cul-de-sac into which the bird is led by a row of corn-kernels. Over the further end a kind of coop is built; the bird, instead of endeavouring to retrace its steps, always seeks to escape upward and remains cooped. Pitfalls include not only those dug in the earth, at the bottom of which knives and spears are often fixed, but also several kinds of traps for small animals. One of these consists of a box near the top of which a platform is hung, in such a way that, when the animal leaps upon it to secure the bait, it is precipitated into the bottom of the box, while the platform swings back into place. Another kind of pitfall is formed of a sort of funnel of long poles, into which birds fall upon alighting on a perfectly balanced bar, to which a dish of corn is made fast. The door-traps form a large and varied class, ranging in size from the immense cage with sliding door in which such beasts as tigers are caught, to the common box-trap for mice or squirrels, the door of which falls when the spindle upon which the bait is fixed is moved. The box-trap with a simple ratchet door, allowing the animal or bird to push under the door or wires which fall back and imprison them, is alike an enclosing and an arresting trap. There are four general classes of arresting traps, the mesh, the set-hook, the noose and the clutch. The mesh-traps include the mesh and thong toils used of old for the capture of the lion and other large game, and the gill-net in the meshes of which fish are caught by the gills. To the set-hook division are reckoned the set-lines of the angler, several kinds of trawls and the toggle or gorge attached to a line, which the animal, bird or fish swallows only to be held prisoner. The noose-trap class is a very extensive one. The simplest examples are the common slip-noose snares of twine, wire or horsehair, set for birds or small mammals either on their feeding grounds or runways, the victim being caught by the neck, body or foot as it tries to push through the noose. When the noose is used with bait it is generally attached to a stout sapling, which is bent over and kept from springing back by some device of the “figure-4” kind. This is constructed of three pieces of wood, one of the horizontal spindle on which the bait is placed, one of the upright driven into the ground, and the third the connecting cross-piece, fitted to the others so loosely that only the strain of the elastic sapling keeps the trap together. When the victim tries to secure the bait he dislodges the cross-piece and is caught by the noose, which is spread on the ground under the bait. The Patagonians take the vicuna with one variety of this snare, and, before the moose (Cervus alces) was protected by law in North America, even that animal, weighing often 1200 ℔, was caught in snares of wire and rope. There are two widely different types of clutch-traps: bird-lime and other tenacious substances, and jaw and clap-traps. The simplest form of the first is adhesive fly-paper. A common practice in Italy is to smear with bird-lime the branches in the neighbourhood of a captive owl, which results in the capture of numbers of birds, gathered to scold at their common enemy. Examples of the clap-trap are the clap-net, consisting of two nets laid flat on the ground and attached to cords in such a manner that they fly up and close when the draw-cord is pulled by a concealed trapper; and the various other spring-traps used by bird-catchers. The jaw-traps are the most important class of device for the capture of fur-bearing animals, and are the product of civilization. While rude specimens are known to have existed in the middle ages, the steel-trap as used to-day dates from the middle of the 18th century, and reached perfection in the latter half of the 19th, the “Newhouse,” named from the American inventor, having been the first trap of high grade. Steel-traps consist of two jaws, with or without teeth, which are worked by powerful single or double springs and are “sprung” when the victim steps upon the “pan,” which is placed between the jaws and attached to a lever. They are made in many sizes, from the smallest, designed for rats, to the “Great Bear Tamer,” weighing over 40 ℔, with jaws of 16 in. in which lions, tigers and grizzly bears are trapped. The steel-trap is set and concealed in such a manner that the animal must step on its pan in passing over it to secure the bait. In trapping such wary animals as the sable, marten, mink, otter or beaver, great care is taken to obliterate all signs of the trap and of human presence, the scent of the hands being neutralized by smoking the traps or avoided by the use of gloves. In North America castoreum, musk, as afoetida, oil of anise and common fish-oil are used to entice the victims to the traps. Trails of some one of these scents are laid from different directions to the trap.

With the clutch-traps must also be reckoned the oldest form of steel-trap, now to be seen only in museums, the man-trap, which was used first about the middle of the 18th century when the systematic preservation of game rendered protection against poachers a necessity. Such a trap, from Gloucestershire, is over 6 ft. long, has 19-in. serrated jaws and weighs 88 ℔. Another form of man-trap, the spring-gun, belongs to the next category, the killing traps, which are divided into traps of weight, point and edge. The most important of the weight class is the dead-fall, of which the typical form consists of a pen over whose narrow entrance one or more logs are laid across a lighter log, which is balanced upon a spindle necessarily struck by the entering animal, causing the logs to fall upon its back. In some cases the bait is attached to the spindle itself. The dead-fall was always the favourite trap of the American Indians, and is in use among many aboriginal tribes in Africa and South America. A slab of stone is often used as a weight. The common mouse-trap which kills either by a blow or strangulation is a variety of dead-fall. Of point-traps may be mentioned those of the impaling and the missile classes. An example of the former is the stake or spear placed by Arab and African tribes at the bottom of pitfalls for big game. Another impaling trap common in Africa is the harpoon down-fall, generally used for the hippopotamus. It consists of a heavily weighted harpoon suspended in such a way that the animal, passing beneath, breaks a cord and precipitates the harpoon upon itself. Another example of impalement is the hawk-trap, consisting of a circle of stout sharp wires, in the centre of which a live fowl is placed. A bird of prey attempting to secure the fowl is impaled upon the wires. Of missile traps the most universal are the ancient spring bow and its modern representative the spring gun. This is fixed upon stakes, or against a tree, with a line attached to the trigger and stretched immediately in front of the muzzle. An animal pressing against the string pulls the trigger and discharges the piece into its own body. An arrangement of sticks holding the bait in front of the muzzle is sometimes substituted for the string. Of edge-traps a curious example is the wolf-knife of Western America, which consists of a very sharp blade embedded in frozen fat. One of the wolves, licking the fat, cuts its tongue and a flow of blood ensues, with the result that not only the wolf itself but its companions become infuriated by the smell and taste, and the wounded beast, and often many of the others, are killed and devoured. The Alaskan knife-trap for large game consists of a heavy blade attached to a lever, which, when released by the animal biting at the bait, flies over and kills the victim.

See Shifts and Expedients of Camp Life, by W. B. Lord (1871); Camp Life and the Tricks of Trapping, by W. H. Gibson (1902); O. T. Mason, “Traps of the American lndians," Annual Regort, Smithsonian Institution, for 1901; The Story of the Trapper, by A. C. Laut (1903).