Popular Science Monthly/Volume 1/September 1872/Clever Fishes
By FRANCIS FRANCIS.
WHETHER we owe many of the matters we are about to glance at to fishes or no, it is certain that the fishes possessed them long before we did, and though man may be said to have invented them, yet in his savage state he must have taken more or less of hints from Nature, and have adopted the methods which Nature pointed out to him as the most effective in hunting or war (which were his principal occupations) whenever they could be adapted to his needs and appliances. However this may be, it is certainly singular that we should find so many existing similarities of a peculiar kind between the habits and attributes of men and fishes. For example, there is scarcely a sport we practise or a weapon of offence that we use which has not a parallel among fishes. As to weapons—daggers, spears, swords, are all possessed by fish in a very high state of natural perfection, and even guns have a representative institution among fishes. A Shooting-Fish would no doubt be looked upon almost as a lusus naturæ by the average Englishman, who rarely includes ichthyology among his studies—a fact which is very much to be lamented, for we have large national interests bound up in that science; in fact, we owe a great deal more to fishes than any other nation, not even excluding the Dutch, some of whose cities were formerly figuratively described as built on fish-bones, and a professorial chair of Ichthyology at the universities would be by no means an unwise institution. It is not many years since, that a review which was published in an influential paper, dealing, among other things, with this special point, contemptuously dismissed the fact (as a traveller's tale) of there being such a thing as a shooting-fish. The ignorance among the general public on every thing relating to fish is at times perfectly surprising. I have seen small, worthless bass passed off as gray mullet; I have seen even nasty, gravid pond-roach hawked about as gray mullet; I have seen large bass actually sold for salmon at one of our fashionable watering-places. After this, if the Londoner constantly buys coarse, dry, tasteless bull-trout as fine Tay salmon, it is not to be wondered at.
The Eton boy hastening home for the holidays provides himself with a tin tube and a pocketful of peas. We beg the present Etonian's pardon; we should have said he used to do so formerly, when there were boys at Eton, and, backed by some skill as a marksman, therewith constituted himself an intolerable nuisance to every village and vehicle he passed on his road home. The Macoushee Indian makes a better use of his blow-tube; he puffs small arrows and hardened balls of clay through it with unerring aim, doing great execution among birds and other small game. Now, the Chætodon (Chotodon rostratus), which is more or less a native of the Eastern seas from Ceylon to Japan, rather perhaps resembles the Macoushee Indian than the Eton boy, though his gun, shooting-tube, or blow-pipe, or whatever it may be termed, is a natural one. His nose is really a kind of "beak," through which he has the power of propelling a small drop of water with some force and considerable accuracy of aim. Near the edge of the water is perhaps a spray of weed, a twig, or a tuft of grass; on it sits a fly, making its toilet in the watery mirror below. Rostratus advances cautiously under the fly; then he stealthily projects his tube from the water, takes a deadly aim, as though he were contesting for some piscatory Elcho shield, and pop goes the watery bullet.
Knocked over by the treacherous missile, drenched, stunned, half drowned, she drops from her perch into the waters below, to be sucked in by the Chætodon.
But if we have fishes who can shoot their game, we have also fishes who can fish for it; ay, and fish for it with rod and line, and bait, as deftly as ever angler coaxed gudgeons from the ooze of the New River or salmon from the flashing torrent of the Spey. Witness this clumsy-looking monster the Fishing-Frog (Lophius piscatorius). Frightful and hideous is he, according to our vulgar notions of loveliness, which the Lophius possibly might disagree with. The beast is sometimes five or six feet in length, with an enormous head in proportion to the rest of its body, and with huge sacs like bag-nets attached to its gill-covers, in which it stows its victims; and what a cavernous mouth! Surely a fish so repulsive, and with a capacity so vast and apparently omnivorous, would frighten from its neighborhood all other fish, and would, if its powers of locomotion were in accordance with its size, be the terror of the seas to fish smaller than itself; but Providence knoweth how to temper its gifts, and the Lophius is but an indifferent swimmer, and is too clumsy to support a predatory existence by the fleetness of its motions. How, then, is this huge capacity satisfied? Mark those two elongated tentacles which spring from the creature's nose, and how they taper away like veritable fishing-rods. To the end of them is attached, by a line or a slender filament, a small glittering morsel of membrane. This is the bait. The hooks are set in the mouth of the fisherman down below. But how is the animal to induce the fish to venture within reach of those formidable hooks? Now mark this perfect feat of angling. How does the Thames fisherman attract the gudgeons? They are shy; he must not let them see him, yet he must draw them to him, and he does it by stirring up the mud upon the bottom. "In that cloud of mud is food," say the gudgeons. Then the angler plies his rod and bait. Just so the Lophius proceeds, and he too stirs up the mud with his fins and tail. This serves not only to hide him, but to attract the fish. Then he plies his rod, and the glittering bait waves to and fro like a living insect glancing through the turbid water. The gudgeons, or rather gobies, rush toward it. "Beware! beware!" But when did gudgeon attend to warning yet? Suddenly, up rises the cavernous Nemesis from the cloud below, and "snap!" the gobies are entombed in the bag-net, thence to be transferred to the Lophius's stomach, when there are enough of them collected to form a satisfactory mouthful.
But we have still other sportsmen-fish; we have fish who hunt their prey singly, or in pairs, or even in packs, like hounds. The reader, possibly, has never witnessed a skäll in Scandinavia. It is a species of hunt in which a number of sportsmen take in a wide space of ground, where game exists, drawing a cordon around it, and narrowing their circle little by little, and driving the game together into a flock, when they shoot them down. There was some years ago a capital description of porpoises making a skäll upon sand-eels, written by the late Mr. James Lowe, sometime editor of the Critic and "Chronicler" of the Field, who saw the sight while fishing near the Channel Islands with Peter le Nowry, the pilot. Having searched for this passage several times, without being able to find it, I am reluctantly compelled to quote from memory. They were fishing off Guernsey, when Mr. Lowe called Peter's attention to several porpoises, which seemed to he engaged in a water-frolic, swimming after one another in a circle. "That is no frolic, but very sober earnest for the sand-eels," said Peter. "Now," he continued, "I will show you a sight which I have only chanced to see two or three times in my life, and you therefore are very lucky to have the opportunity of seeing it at all. There is a great shoal of sand-eels yonder, and the porpoises are driving them into a mass; for, you see, the sand-eel is only a very small morsel for a porpoise, and to pick them up one by one would not suit Mr. Porpoise, who would get hungry again by the time he had done feeding on them singly; so they drive them into a thick crowd, in order that when they make a dash at them they may get a dozen or two at a mouthful. But, as we want some for bait, we will join in the hunt." And they edged down to the spot till they were within the circle. The porpoises, following one another pretty closely, were swimming round, now rising to the surface, now diving below, and gradually contracting the circle. The terrified sand-eels were driven closer and closer, and in their fear came to the surface all about the boat; and, just as two or three porpoises made a dash into the crowd, snapping right and left, the fishermen plunged their nets into the water, and brought them up quite full of these little fish. Of course the shoal soon broke up and dispersed, but the skill with which the skäll was conducted and the beauty of the sight were much dilated on by Mr. Lowe, and it must have been a very interesting one.
There are many fish which hunt their prey singly, as the pike and trout, and the way in which a large pike or trout will course and run down a smaller fish resembles nothing so much as a greyhound coursing a hare. Now the unhappy little fish turns from side to side in its efforts to escape, while its pursuer bends and turns to every motion, following close upon his track, and cutting him off exactly as a greyhound does a hare. Now he rushes among a shoal of his fellows, hoping to be lost sight of in the crowd and confusion; but the grim foe behind is not to baffled or deceived, and, singling him out and scattering the small fry, which fly in all directions, ruffling the surface of the water like a sudden squall of wind in their fright, follows up his victim with unerring instinct. In an agony of terror the poor little quarry springs again and again frantically from the water, only to fall at last exhausted into the gaping jaws of his ravenous foe, who, gripping his body crosswise in his mouth, sails steadily away to his lair, there to devour his prey at leisure. Other fish hunt their food like dogs or wolves in packs, as does the bonito chase the flying-fish, and one perhaps of the fiercest, most savage, and resolute of these is the Piräi, of South America. So fierce and savage are these little pirates, when their size and apparent capability are taken into consideration, that their feats of destructiveness are little short of the marvellous. Stand north, then, "piräi" of the Carib, "black, saw-bellied salmon" (Serra salmo niger) of Schomburgk; so called, doubtless, from the possession of the peculiar adipose fin, common only to the salmon tribe, though in no other respect does it resemble a salmon, there being positive structural differences between the species. Let us take the portrait of this fish. Doubtless the reader figures to himself a fish of "a lean and hungry look," a very Cassius of a fish, with the lantern-jaws of a pike. But, in fact, the Piräi is somewhat aldermanic and like a bream in figure, with a fighting-looking kind of nose, and a wondrously expressive eye—cold, cruel, and insatiable, and like to that of an old Jew bill-discounter when scrutinizing doubtful paper. There is 70 or 80 per cent, in that eye at the very least, and ruin to widows and orphans unnumbered if they come in its way. If it were a human eye, the owner would be bound sooner or later to figure at Execution Dock. The jaw is square, powerful, and locked into a very large head for the size of the fish; and that is a fat, plump head too, but radiated over with strong bone and gristle. The teeth—ah! they would condemn him anywhere, for here is a fish 16 inches long, with the teeth almost of a shark. Schomburgk speaks thus of its destructive power:
This voracious fish is found plentifully in all the rivers in Guiana, and is dreaded by every other inhabitant or visitant of the river. Their jaws are so strong that they are able to bite off a man's finger or toe. They attack fish of ten times their own weight, and devour all but the bead. They begin with the tail, and the fish, being left without the chief organ of motion, is devoured with ease, several going to participate of the meal. Indeed, there is scarcely any animal which it will not attack, man not excepted. Large alligators which have been wounded on the tail afford a fair chance of satisfying their hunger, and even the toes of this formidable animal are not free from their attacks. The feet of ducks and geese, where they are kept, are almost invariably cut off, and young ones devoured altogether. In these places it is not safe to bathe, or even to wash clothes, many cases having occurred of fingers and toes being cut off by them.
Schomburgk then relates astonishing instances of their voracity, in which the toes of the river Cavia are eaten off: a large sun-fish devoured alive; ducks and geese deprived of their feet, and walking on the stumps. Of course, the lines which are used to capture them have to be armed with metal, to prevent their being cut through. Their voracity is marvellous, and any bait will attract them the instant it is thrown into the water. Precaution is necessary, however, when the fish is lifted-out of the water, or it will inflict serious wounds in its struggles. The fisherman, therefore, has a small bludgeon ready, with which he breaks their skulls as soon as they are caught.
Thus there are fish which shoot their prey, which fish for it, which course it and hunt it, in various ways. There are others which employ other fishes to hunt it up for them, as we use pointers and setters, such as the little Pilot-fish, which leads the huge shark to his prey; though this has been disputed, because the pilot-fish has been known to follow and play about a vessel just as it does usually about the body of a shark. The probability is, that the pilot-fish is a species of parasite or diner-out, who will make particular friends with any big person who will feed him, and no doubt would find food in the refuse cast from the vessel, even as he would from the fragments torn off by the shark when feeding on any large body. Doubtless, too, there is a certain amount of protection obtained from consorting with monsters against other predacious fish. The fact of the pilot-fish conducting the shark to his prey has been disputed, but veritable instances related by eye-witnesses leave no doubt that at times it does fulfil this office for the shark. Nor is there any thing singular in the fact. The pilot-fish is on the lookout for his own dinner probably, but will not venture on it until his protector has helped himself. We have numerous instances of this both in human and beast life.
In weapons of offence, besides the shooting apparatus already mentioned, fish have, first, the sword. This is represented by the blade of the sword-fish (Xiphias gladius). This fish possesses a tremendously powerful weapon, backed as it is by the great weight and impetus which it can bring to bear upon its thrusts. Many instances have been known in which the bottoms of ships have been pierced through by the sword of the Xiphias. Ships sailing quietly along have received a shock as if they had touched a rock, and, when they have been examined after the voyage, the broken blade of the fish has been found sticking in the ship's side. In the United Service Museum there is, or was formerly, a specimen of the sword-fish's handiwork in this respect. A portion of the weapon is shown sticking into the timbers of a ship, having pierced the sheathing and planking, and buried itself deeply in the stout oak knee-timber of the vessel. Xiphias would, however, be terribly bothered with the change in naval architecture; and we are inclined to wonder what he would make of an iron-clad. Perhaps a little rough experience in this direction may make him more chary of indulging naughty tempers, and he may be taught qua Dr. Watts that, like little children, he "should not let his angry passions rise." If so, the cause of humanity will be strongly pleaded by the iron-clads, and the poor, clumsy, harmless whale will be the gainer. The xiphias frequently weighs 500 or 600 pounds. The rapidity with which it can cut through the water is very great. It is a great enemy to the whale, and it is generally surmised that it mistakes a ship sailing through the water for a whale, and dashes at it with indiscriminating rage, often breaking and losing its sword by its blind fury. Persons bathing have not always been entirely safe from this fish, but have been stabbed to death by the xiphias. One instance of this occurred in the Bristol Channel, near the mouth of the Severn, in which a small fish of some 70 or 80 pounds weight was the malefactor. They abound in the Mediterranean, and a hunt after, with the harpooning and slaying of the xiphias, is usually a work of time and much excitement. Akin to the sword-fish in their offensive capabilities are the saw-fishes, though their weapons resemble rather such as are used by certain savage tribes than civilized saws. Nor does the word "saw" correctly describe them. They are terrible weapons, however, and the Indians who edge their spears with shark's teeth almost reproduce artificially the weapon of the saw-fish. The largest of them, Fristis antiquorum, is commonly found to grow to the length of 15 or 16 feet. The elongated snout is set upon either side with sharp spikes, thickly dispersed, and somewhat resembling the teeth of the shark. It forms a most fearful weapon, as the poor whale has good reason to know, to whom it is also a deadly enemy. There are several members of the saw-fish tribe; one of the most peculiar is the Fristis cirratus, or cirrated saw-fish, of New South Wales. In the saw of this fish the teeth are irregular, one long and three short ones being placed alternately.
The weapon of the Narwhal—which, by-the-by, is not strictly a fish, but a member of the Cetacea, found chiefly in the Arctic seas—is the most perfect specimen of a very complete and efficient spear, being composed of the hardest ivory, and tapering gradually to a point. But, what the special purpose of this spear is, is not known; whether it is used as a means of attack upon its enemies, or to secure its prey, or whether it is a mere implement for digging a passage through opposing ice-floes, as is often supposed, we can but conjecture. It is a very singular fact that the spear of the narwhal is always situated on one side of the nose, chiefly the left; it does not project from the middle of the head; it is no long snout or horn, but an elongated tooth or tusk. The narwhal, when young, has the germs of but three teeth. Sometimes two of these become developed and grow out spiked tusks, pointing in divergent directions; oftener, however, but one is the mature result. Whatever the use of this formidable spear may be, we know that it is very excellent and valuable ivory; but, for any minute information as to the natural history of the animal itself, we should have to rely chiefly upon the knowledge of the Kamtchatkans, which amounts to little more than that it is good eating, produces much oil, and is possessed of a valuable tooth.
Of daggers various we have many specimens, more particularly among the family of the Raiidæ; a and fearful weapons they are, some of them being serrated or barbed, and capable of inflicting terrible lacerated wounds. In most of these fish the dagger, or spine, is situated on and some way down the elongated tail; and, as the animal has great muscular power in the tail, and is able to whirl it about in any direction it may desire, it not unfrequently deals forth most savage retribution to its captors. It knows full well, too, how to direct its aim, and it is told of some of the members of this family that, if a hand, or even a finger, be laid upon the fish, it can, by a single turn of the tail, transfix with its spine the offending member. So dangerous are the consequences of these wounds, that it is customary (and in France and Italy it is made compulsory by law on the fishermen) to cut off the tails above the spines of the fish thus armed before they are brought to market; and in this way almost the only specimen of the Eagle Ray (Myliobatis aquila) ever captured alive in this country was mutilated; so that the specimen was useless. The Picked Dogfish is also provided with two short, sharp spines—one on each dorsal fin. Many other fish are furnished with spines, either upon the fins or as horns, or in sharp projections from the gill-covers. The spines of the Greater and Lesser Weaver inflict most painful wounds, and cause such agony that it is commonly reported they are in some way venomous. This has been denied, and demonstrated to be impossible; yet it seems difficult to account for the following facts upon any other hypothesis. Sir W. Jardine, in speaking of the greater weaver, says:
It is much dreaded by the fishermen on account of its sharp spines, which are usually considered as venomous, but without any sufficient reason, as they are quite devoid of all poisonous secretion. Mr. Couch states that he has known three men wounded successively in the hand by the same fish, and the consequences have in a few minutes been felt as high as the shoulder.
Again, in treating of the lesser weaver, "If trodden on by bathers, as frequently happens, it inflicts," says Dr. Parnell, "a severe and painful wound, causing the part to swell and almost immediately to assume a dark-brown appearance, which remains for five or six hours."
In the teeth of the confident assertion of great authorities it would be rash to say that any poisonous secretion exists. But, if the above facts be quoted as proofs or instances of the absence of venom, they would appear to be singularly infelicitous ones.
Perhaps one of the most formidable weapons possessed by any fish is the natural and terrible pair of shears formed by the jaws of the Shark. The only parallel weapon of offence that can be cited as used by man would, perhaps, be the spiked portcullis, but the future may present us with steam shears with blades ten feet long, and intended to receive cavalry—who knows? There is no telling where the ingenuity of modern inventors in the destructive line may lead us. But there are not many instruments so efficient for their purpose as the tooth of a shark. It is difficult to handle one freely without cutting one's fingers; and when we consider the tremendous leverage of a shark's jaws employed against each other like scissors, armed with rows of lancets, it is evident that nothing in the shape of flesh, gristle, or bone, could withstand them. Their capacity, too, is equal to their powers, for a pair of jaws taken from a shark of not more than nine feet long has been known to be passed down over the shoulders and body of a man six feet high without inconvenience. It was thought to be an act of very unusual strength and dexterity on the part of the Emperor Commodus to cut a man in two at one blow, but the jaws of the white shark find no difficulty whatever in executing that feat. The vast number of teeth contained within the shark's jaw has been accounted for by some writers on the hypothesis that they are erected when the shark seizes its prey, at all other times lying flat on their sides. It is now, however, more generally admitted that the shark only employs the outer row of teeth, and that the inner ones are a provision of Nature against an accident which is, and must be, a very common one when the implements are considered, and the force with which they are employed—viz., the breaking of a tooth. In this case the corresponding tooth on the inside becomes erect, and is by degrees pushed forward into the place of the broken one—a wondrous and very necessary provision to keep so delicate and powerful an apparatus as the shark's jaw always in order. The voracity of the shark forms an endless resource for the writers on the marvellous whose bent lies toward natural history. Whole ships' crews have been devoured by sharks ere now, while their omnivorousness is extraordinary. This is well exemplified by the observation once made to me by an old tar, who was dilating on the variety of objects he had found at one time or another inside the bellies of sundry sharks. "Lord love ye, sir," quo' Ben, "there bain't nothin' as you mightn't expec' to find in the insides o' a shirk, from a street pianny to a milestone!"
Continuing the description of the variety of weapons exemplified in fishes, we have a rival of that terrible scourge the knout in the tail of the Thresher, or Fox-shark (Alopias vulpes). The upper lobe is tremendously elongated, being nearly as long as the body of the fish, and amazingly muscular. It is curved like the blade of a scythe in shape, and the blows which it can and does inflict with this living flail can be heard at a great distance; a herd of dolphins are scattered as though they were mere sprats, by one stroke of the thresher's tail, and stories of the combats between the whale on the one side and a combination of threshers and sword-fish on the other are too common to need more than a reference here. The form of battle usually consists in the sword-fish stabbing the whale from beneath, and so driving him up to the surface, when the fox-sharks spring upon him, and with resonant blows from their fearful knouts drive him below again upon the weapons of their allies.
The lasso is a weapon of some efficacy among various people; a form of lasso was even used by the Hungarians, and with great effect, in the War of Independence. It consisted of a kind of long-lashed whip, with a bullet slung at the end of the lash. And we have a sort of living lasso in the foot of the Cephalopod. The cephalopods are the polypes of Aristotle, and belong to the mollusks. They are of the first order of invertebrate, or spineless animals. Mollusca cephalopoda is the style and titles of the family Cephalopoda, in English meaning "foot-headed"—that is, its organs of locomotion, or the greater part of them, are attached to its head, whence they radiate for the most part in long, tough, and pliant tentacles or arms, of great muscular powers. On these tentacles are placed rows of suckers of very singular construction, which singly or simultaneously adhere with great tenacity to any object they come in contact with. The arms are extended in all directions when seeking prey. In the centre of them, in the middle of the stomach as it were, is the mouth of the creature, which is fully as curious as the rest of its anatomy, and consists of a large and strong-hooked beak, similar to a hawk's or parrot's. A fish or other creature comes within reach, and is instantly lassoed by one of the tentacles, the others winding around it also, to secure it in their folds. It is compressed tightly and drawn down to the beak, which rends and devours it at leisure, escape from these terrible folds being almost impossible.
The arms are also the means of propulsion, and are used as oars, by the aid of which the Octopus manages to progress through the water with considerable rapidity. Mr. Wood, in his popular natural history, treats on this point as follows: "All the Squids are very active, and some species, called 'flying squids' by sailors, and ommastrephes by naturalists, are able to dash out of the sea and to dart to considerable distances;" and he quotes Mr. Beale to show that they sometimes manage to propel themselves through the air for a distance of 80 or 100 yards, the action being likened to a something which might be achieved by a live corkscrew with eight prongs. In the account given m Bennett's "Whaling Voyage" they are often spoken of as leaping on board the ship, and even clear over it into the water on the other side. Nature has also furnished the cephalopod with another curious weapon of offence, or defence rather, in the shape of a bag of black fluid, or sepia, commonly termed by fishermen the ink-bag; and what a dreadful weapon of offence or defence ink may be, in many cases, there are few of us unaware. The cuttle when closely pursued sends out a cloud of it to hide him from view, and escapes under cover of it.
Some of the cephalopods possess extraordinary powers of muscular contraction, as the common squid, for example, which is spread out at one moment in a body and volume larger round than a large man's fist, and the next moment will contract itself so that it can easily pass through the cork-hole in a boat or the neck of a wine-bottle. Great sensational attraction has been directed to the octopus by the tremendous description of the combat in Victor Hugo's "Toilers of the Sea." No doubt a large octopus, such as are found in the Pacific and elsewhere, and which sometimes have arms of eight or nine feet in length, could drown a man with the greatest ease, if he had no weapon, and were caught by one under water. From remote ages the deeds of the polypus have been chronicled by poets and writers of strong imaginative powers; and thus we have, probably, the partially fabulous story of the Lernæan hydra, which, if it ever existed at all, had its origin no doubt in the impossible deeds of some improbable octopus. Then there is the story of the king's daughter and the noble diver, who dived for a gold cup and the love of his princess, but profited by neither, since he never came up again, being supposed to have been lassoed by some monster octopus at the bottom of the whirlpool, and many other well-known stories. The beast forms a very great attraction at the Crystal Palace aquarium, where the ladies, of course, insist on calling him "the Devil-Fish" (but that distinguished title belongs to another fish); and where he is poked up daily for their inspection, it being one of his diabolical tendencies to dwell "under ebon shades and low-browed rocks." What a life for a poor devil who wants nothing but solitude and retirement, to be a show-devil and at the beck and call of the ladies!
Among other offensive powers commanded by fish and men alike is the very remarkable one of electricity; it is slightly used in warlike as well as useful purposes. But the possible uses to which we may put electricity ourselves hereafter as an offensive weapon we cannot at present even guess at. It is a powerful agent to several kinds of fish, and yet ichthyologists are greatly at fault to settle the exact purpose for which it is given to them—whether it be for the purpose of killing the animals they prey on, or of facilitating their capture, or whether it be intended to render them more easy of digestion.
Mr. Couch, in speaking of the properties of electricity and the digestive capability of the Torpedo, has the following: "One well-known effect of the electric shock is to deprive animals killed by it of their organic irritability, and consequently to render them more easily disposed to pass into a state of decomposition, in which condition the digestive powers more speedily and effectively act upon them. If any creature more than others might seem to require such preparation of its food, it is the cramp ray, the whole canal of whose intestine is not more than half as long as the stomach." This is certainly very curious, and, if it should be found that the same deficiency in point of digestive accommodation exists in the gymnotus and the other fishes of electric powers, the hypothesis would be converted almost into a certainty. In hunting up authorities to verify this curious fact, we find, in the article on the gymnotus in Chambers's Encyclopædia, that "all the gymnotidæ are remarkable for the position of the anus, which is so very far forward as, in the electrical eel, to be before the gill-openings" which would certainly seem to confirm Mr. Couch's supposition.
Of the tremendous powers which can be given off in one shock, it may be stated that Faraday, having made experiments with the specimen which was shown several years ago at the Adelaide Gallery, estimated that an average shock emitted as great a force as the highest force of a Leyden battery of fifteen jars, exposing 3,500 inches of coated surface.
There are five different fish endued with electrical powers. Of the torpedo there are two species—the old and new British torpedo; one of the Gymnotus electricus, or electric eel, as it is called; and two of the Malapterurus—viz., M. electricus of the Nile, called Raash, or thunder-fish, by the Arabs, and the Malapterurus Beninensis—the smallest of the electrical fishes, found in the Old Calabar River, which falls into the Bight of Benin, on the coast of Africa. The latter fish is a comparatively recent discovery, having been known to us only some fifteen or sixteen years. We have no very good account of either of these latter fish. A specimen of the last was sent to me three or four years ago. It is a curious little fish, about five or six inches in length, and very much resembles the Siluridæ in general appearance, about the head especially. It has long barbules, three on each side of the mouth, and has a very bloated, puffy appearance, caused, it is to be presumed, by the electric apparatus which is deposited between the skin and the frame of the fish. In the torpedo the electric battery is placed in two holes, one on either side of the eyes. Here a number of prismatic cells are arranged in the fashion of a honey-comb, the number being regulated by the age of the fish. These represent the jars in the battery, and they are capable of giving out a terrible shock, as many an incautious fisherman has experienced to his cost. We may trust also that the torpedoes with which our coasts and harbors are likely to be thronged will be capable of giving off even a severer shock; and though gunpowder and gun-cotton will be the shocking agents in these cases, yet electricity will play no unimportant part in their process. Formerly quacks galvanized their patients by the application of the natural torpedo, applying it to the joints and limbs for gout, rheumatism, etc. That the electricity is true electricity has been proved by a host of experiments. The electrometer has shown it, and needles have been magnetized just as if a battery had been employed.
There are many other points of similarity which might be enlarged upon; but, if one were to attempt to set down all the strange and various considerations which come under cognizance in this subject, they would soon swell the matter much beyond the limits of a magazine article.—Fraser's Magazine.
- These spears were brought home formerly and imposed upon the credulous as the horn of the unicorn.
- There are three species of rays in this country which have these weapons—the Sting Ray, the Eagle Ray, and the Horned Ray.
- This fish was captured at Ramsgate some years ago and sent to me; it was 18 inches long, exclusive of the tail, which was missing, and about 2½ feet broad. Previous to this the tail of one was examined by Pennant, and a small one was found dead off Berwick by Dr. Johnson, but no living specimen had been captured. Since this was penned, however, but a few months ago, another was caught and attracted a good deal of notice. This fish was taken off the Devonshire coast, and was about the same size as, or a trifle larger than, mine. It was preserved in the Exeter Museum, where it now is. Mr. Buckland very kindly sent me an excellent photograph of the fish. The colors appear to have been most brilliant.
- Witness the story of the Magpie schooner, very well told in the "Shipwreck" series of the "Percy Anecdotes." This vessel was capsized in a squall, and most of the crew took refuge in a boat, which was upset by overcrowding. They were surrounded by sharks at the time, and every man, save two, who managed to right the boat and escape, was devoured by the sharks.