Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/296

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284
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

wearing away of the tips of the feathers. Of the effect of food and environment upon the colors of bird plumage, Mr. Keeler believes that the direct influence of the environment plays an important part in the evolution of colors, and regarding food he quotes Mr. Frank Beddard, who says in Animal Coloration: "If the nature of animal colors is borne in mind, it seems impossible to doubt the modifying action of food; those that are due to structural peculiarities of the parts colored (e. g., feathers of many birds), may be altered just as much as those that are caused by the deposition of pigment; for the 'structural' colors depend largely upon pigment for their manifestation. . . . When there is an obvious relation between waste matter and the skin pigments, it can not be doubted that variation only in the amount of the food may lead to color changes." 8ome interesting color evolutions are given in the chapter entitled The Direct Influences of the Environment; for instance, if a yellow canary is fed with cayenne pepper, it will cause the feathers to turn red; carmine was given to some canaries and the yellow feathers became white; while Amazon parrots change from green to yellow when fed upon the fat of certain fishes. Notwithstanding the exhaustive manner in which Mr. Keeler has treated the subject, he says that "the paper is written more with the hope of stimulating thought, and Inciting in a new and as yet almost untrodden field of ornithological inquiry, than with the expectation of reaching definite results."

 

Behavior of Young Snakes.—One of the most curious matters connected with the breeding habits of certain snakes is the "egg-tooth," a small tooth fixed to the united premaxillary bones, and projecting slightly forward, beyond the edge of the upper lip. It is present only in the embryo, and is shed very shortly after the escape of the young snake from the egg. This tooth is employed by the little snake in ripping open the tough egg-covering in its efforts to escape from its prison. The young of the Heterodon (a snake closely allied to the copperhead) are perhaps the most amusing youngsters of the snake family. In Volume XV of the United States National Museum, O. P. Hay, in a paper entitled On the Breeding Habits, Eggs, and Young of Certain Snakes, gives a very interesting account of the singular habits of the young Heterodon from personal observation. Having received a consignment of twenty-seven eggs, which were supposed to be those of the copperhead snake, he watched the bursting from the tough, parchment-like egg-covering of the young snakes, and exactly eight days after the receipt they were all hatched, the length varying from seven to eight inches. "From the moment of escape from the egg all were quite active and manifested the characteristics of the adults. . . . A faint hiss was uttered, but that may not have been voluntary. One would sometimes flatten its head and body and rear up with the anterior third of its length from the ground. If one did not know well their inoffensive natures, one would be excused for fearing to handle them. An exceedingly singular habit possessed by the adults (which is also practiced by the young) is that of feigning death." On being struck or teased, they will roll over as if in the intensest agony, and then throw themselves on the back and lie there as if dead. If left undisturbed for a little while they would turn over and creep slyly away. In this paper Mr. Hay treats the peculiar appearance of the eggs of snakes, which bring forth their young alive, very interestingly, and it would seem that even in these also there is present th§ singular egg-tooth.

 

Precautions against the Lizard.—A superstition prevails among the Shuswap Indians of British Columbia that a man who sees a small lizard of a particular species is followed by it wherever he may go during the day, till at length, when he is asleep during the following night, it finds him, and, entering his body, proceeds to tear out his heart, so that he quickly dies. The late Mr. Bennett, of Spallumsheen, told Dr. Dawson in 1877 that the Indians employed by him in making a ditch for purposes of irrigation, on coming into camp in the evening, would jump several times over the fire in order to lead the possibly pursuing lizard to enter the fire and be destroyed in attempting to cross. He also noticed that they carefully tied up the legs of their trousers when retiring. If, while at work during the day, they saw one of these little lizards, which appeared to