Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 84.djvu/294

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By Professor A. S. PEARSE


FOR the naturalist reared in temperate climates the tropics will always be a promised land flowing-with biological milk and honey. The medical men have been pioneers in opening up this terra incognita, though they were not the first to enter it. Tropical diseases are no longer looked upon with the dread characteristic of our grandfathers, but for the most part may be as well controlled as those of cooler climates. Though there is still a small element of uncertainty to add savor to tropical exploration, the naturalist of to-day may travel to the edge of an unknown country in a modern steamship and go forth to discover new things with a complete outfit of the latest scientific equipment—if he has the money to buy it. The tropics are the same as when Bates braved the terrors of the Amazon, but modern commerce and modern medicine have made it possible to travel with more or less comfort, and such simple aids as fly dope, quinine, and mosquito netting permit one to penetrate regions which were impossible fifty years ago.

The present article attempts to describe tropical nature as it exists in northeastern Colombia along the northern end of South America, just south of the Caribbean Sea. The descriptions are based on observations made while the writer was a member of an expedition sent by the museum of zoology, University of Michigan, to explore the region about the old Spanish city of Santa Marta. This portion of South America offers unusual opportunities for zoological study on account of its diversity. A strip of sandy desert overgrown with giant cactus stretches along the coast and extends back into the interior seven or eight miles. Beyond this the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas rise; only twenty miles from the city the peaks attain a height of 8,300 feet above sea level. Many small streams take origin in the mountains and unite to make their way across the lowlands to the coast. Extensive mangrove swamps line the shores of the Cienaga Grande, a great lagoon into which several rivers empty.

The members of the expedition were met as they stepped on Colombian soil by Mr. William A. Trout, the American consul at Santa Marta, Mr. M. A. Carriker, and Mr. O. Flye. These gentlemen and their families did everything they could to make our stay pleasant and profitable. The Colombian government was also extremely courteous, allowing our outfit to pass the customs without inspection.