Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 9.djvu/381

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359
ANIMAL POWERS OF OFFENSE AND DEFENSE.

has recklessly ventured across the graceful monster's path, too soon writhes in prickly torture. Every struggle," he continues, "but binds the poisonous threads more firmly round his body, and then there is no escape;" for, as the naturalist informs us, even when the arms or tentacles are cast loose from the body of the jelly-fish, they "sting as fiercely as if their original proprietor itself gave the word of attack." The Abbé Dicquemare, an observant French naturalist, found that some species can only sting the more sensitive parts of the body, such as the eyes. But Forbes's remark of the abbé's experiment, that most people would prefer "keeping their eyes intact, to poking medusæ into them," will coincide, we imagine, with the opinions of most of our readers. It is equally worthy of remark that "appearances" in natural history, as in ordinary life, are apt to be "deceptive;" and, looking at the grace and beauty of the jelly-fishes, we could hardly credit them with such virulent powers.

The most notable offenders of the jelly-fish class, in respect of their stinging powers, are the Physaliœ, or Portuguese-men-of-war, as they are popularly termed—a group of beautiful oceanic forms, met with floating far out at sea, especially in tropical latitudes, and presenting the appearance of a bladder-like structure, provided with a crest and trailing streamers, and colored of the most ethereal and beautiful of hues. When the tentacles of a physalia are allowed to come in contact with the human skin, the thread-cells—which are of large relative size, and measure in diameter about the three-thousandth of an inch—sting so severely that the effects of the irritation may persist for a considerable time, and may give rise in some cases to very painful after-effects. The thread-cells in the tentacles of the common species of sea-anemones have no effect on the skin of man; but, as the writer has frequently demonstrated on his own person, if the tentacle be allowed to touch the more delicate mucous membrane of the lips, a slight stinging sensation, accompanied by temporary numbness, may be felt. To the curious this is worth trying.

Passing in review the higher groups of the animal kingdom, we find an endless variety of contrivances subserving offensive purposes, or limited to the milder purposes of defense. Shells, scales, and plates of every kind, with special modifications for special purposes, may thus readily be selected as examples; spines and allied armaments of all shapes and sizes; poison-secretions and fangs of centipedes and serpents, and the sting of scorpions and bees, possessing sure and sometimes deadly effect on those they attack; and, in quadrupeds, strong claws and teeth united to equally powerful muscles—such are a few examples of the endless stores of weapons contained in animal armories.—Chambers's Journal.