The Book of the Aquarium/Part 3/Chapter 2

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Implements for Collecting.—Most of the ordinary productions of ponds and brooks may be purchased of the dealers, especially beetles, larger kinds of larvæ, water spiders, and tadpoles; but very little progress can be made in the study of this branch of natural history, without personal visits to the fishing grounds.

An hour spent in dragging a brook or pond, will do more towards stocking a cabinet with wonders than a hundred purchases. To the pleasure of an excursion is added the intellectual profit of learning the nature of the haunts, and many of the habits of the creatures obtained; every haul of the net will bring forth from the oozy bottom, an immense variety of the most curious kinds of life.

Nets, for the purpose, are easily obtainable. At least, two kinds will be necessary, namely, a small hand net attached to a short rod, or made to slip on a common walking stick, and a larger one for a long rod, or for hauling with a line. The small net should be of a fine mesh, and for convenience of carriage, may be fitted on a jointed ring of brass, so as to fold together. The large net need not be very fine in the mesh, but it should be very strong, both in the texture and the fittings, and should be lined inside with muslin so as to prevent the escape of the smallest game. Every variety of pond and drag-nets may be obtained of the dealers in fishing-tackle, at prices varying from one to five or six shillings, and of a quality that may be depended on for serviceableness.

Some water-cord, a jointed rod or walking stick, and a few earthen jars, or live bait cans, make up the stock of implements, the whole of which, with the exception of rods, may be packed into a basket in which suitable divisions are made, and transported easily. Living in the neighbourhood of many prolific brooks and ponds, I have very little experience in the carriage of specimens, and, indeed, seldom use more than a single jar, and a single net at one time; but I should suggest to those who have to travel a distance for the pleasure of beetle fishing, to provide themselves with a basket or box, made after the fashion of the baskets in which bottles are sent out by vintners, the divisions being fitted with stone jars; and one division left the whole length of the basket, for nets, scissors, a pair of forceps, and a few small phials. Each vessel should have a lid of perforated zinc, to prevent the escape of objects during transit; the jolting of a railway train or coach might otherwise waste the contents. The stone jars used for the purpose, should have a cord attached round the rim of each for convenient handling at the brook side.

Pond fishing.—Every variety of stream or stagnant pond may be fished to advantage; but the specimens obtained from clear running brooks will, in general, differ greatly in character from those which the drag net brings from a dark still pool. Ponds which have formed in gravel pits, are generally well stocked with newts, mollusks, and tadpoles; but for the varieties of the beetle family, old ponds in meadows, and which are the resorts of cattle, are the best; ditches and rank brooks are the usual haunts of caddis worms, diving spiders, polypes, and the more beautiful varieties of water bugs; but every locality has its special attractions only to be learnt by experience.

Supposing that you have made a halt beside a pleasantly shaded brook, with hedge sparrows, robins, and black-caps warbling about you. You prepare by selecting a suitable spot free from brushwood, and where the edge of the water may be reached without danger. The first thing to be done is, to fill a few jars with clear water, and to throw into each a few strips of any common water-weed, of which callitriche is always the best, and most generally attainable. If the water is very foul it will be better to travel a little distance for a supply, because the specimens are wanted as cleanly as possible, and if thrown into clean water when caught, their own motions will tend to cleanse them, and fit them for the glass jars at home. The shore should be fished first, and the operation should be conducted with as much quiet as possible; any disturbance will be sure to drive away many of the livelier creatures. Take a small net attached to a walking stick or short rod, and thrust it out from you as far as possible over the water; then quickly dip and draw it towards you, and land it at your feet at some little distance from the edge of the water. Sort out the contents of the haul into separate jars, though, as you cannot have as many jars as the kinds which the net will bring up, a little judicious grouping will be necessary. Spawn of all kinds may be placed together in the same jar with mollusks, tadpoles, caddis worms, and colymbetes; most beetles must be kept by themselves, on account of their voracity, as must also the several kinds of carnivorous larvæ, such as those of the Dytiscus, and the dragon fly, and water worms of the genus Nais.

When the sides have been well fished, the deeper water may be operated on by means of the drag-net, and the produce disposed of in the same way.

On arriving home, sort over the jars seriatim, and dispose of the specimens according to the capacity and arrangement of your cabinet. The glass jars should be each furnished with a few tufts of some growing weeds, and with clear water. Some of the specimens will require to be washed to remove offensive matter, and some few will need a bottom of small pebbles, and a jar nearly filled with healthy vegetation. Anacharis, Myriphyllum, Nitella, Chara, Riccia, and choice Confervoids, are the best for the cabinet, on account of the limited space in which they must be kept, and the elegance they impart to the collection. In the larger jars it would be well to keep some tufts of vallisneria in order to propagate it to supply vacancies in the tanks. When the stock has been housed in the cabinet, whatever is left may be transferred to the bell glass for further examination. It would be better not to wash or disturb the refuse weed and sediment of the collecting jars, but to throw the whole into the vase. After a few hours it will settle down, and a lens will assist in the detection of whatever curiosities may swarm out of the refuse weed. Objects for the compound microscope may in this way be obtained and preserved in plenty.