The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 682/Notes and Queries

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Notes and Queries (April, 1898)
various authors, editor W.L. Distant

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 2, issue 682, p. 187–192

4079748Notes and QueriesApril, 1898various authors, editor W.L. Distant




Stoats (Mustela erminea) turning White in Winter.—A few days before reading Mr. Barrett-Hamilton's note on this subject (ante, p. 122), my keeper told me that he had seen a white Stoat two or three times lately—that is, between the middle of February and the second week in March—in one of my coverts, but had not succeeded in procuring it. Yesterday (March 22nd) I saw several others, lately killed, some of which were almost all white, and some brown and white, in the shop of Mr. Travis, Bury St. Edmunds, who informed me that, notwithstanding the exceptionally mild winter, he had received more white Stoats this season for preservation than usual. There has been no snow worth mentioning in this neighbourhood the whole winter, and it is evident therefore that they turn white in mild as well as in severe winters, a fact I was not aware of before. It seems curious also that such a small percentage of them turn white. One would imagine that if some changed colour all would do so, but that certainly is not the case, as most of the Stoats observed in the eastern and southern counties of England, so far as my experience goes, do not undergo this change; and, although many are killed here all through the winter, it is seldom we get a white or even partially white one. If I do get one I will certainly forward it to the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, as requested.—E.A. Butler (Brettenham Park, Ipswich).

Stoats turning White in Winter.—In reply to Mr. Barrett-Hamilton's query re Stoats turning white during the recent mild winter, I may state that I had one brought to me on Dec. 17th last, which was a very good white colour all over, excepting the top of the head, which was of the normal hue. The tip of the tail was, as usual, black. I noticed that the white hairs were longer and thicker than the brown ones, a peculiarity which I have noticed before in other specimens.—W.G. Clarke (44, Huntriss Row, Scarborough).


Water Pipit in Carnarvonshire.—On Dec. 3rd, 1897, I observed two Pipits feeding on a piece of mud on the Carnarvonshire side of the river Glaslyn. While examining them with my glass they both rose, one flying out of sight, the other alighting on an alder bush close by, from which I shot it. It proved to be an immature example of the Water Pipit (Anthus spipoletta), and was exhibited by Mr. Howard Saunders at a meeting of the British Ornithologists' Club on Jan. 19th last.— G.H. Caton Haigh (Penrhyndeudraeth, Merionethshire, North Wales).

"Horse-match," a name for the Red-backed Shrike.—One of the least-known local English names of the Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) is "Horse-match." The "match" is clearly closely connected with one of the names of the Wheatear, although possibly it may not be cognate with it. A German name for the Wheatear is "Steinschmatzer," and we have the same name in use among early English authors, viz. "Fallow Smich"; Merrett (1667) indeed goes closer still to it with "Smatch." "Steinschmatzer" is of course rendered by the English name "Stone Chacker."

The Shrike may have been called a "match" from its resemblance to the Wheatear in the matter of a conspicuous tail and tail movement; or it may have been so called because it also has a loud chacking note. The prefix "Horse," I believe, often merely signifies a larger or a coarser sort of a particular thing. In this case it might allude to the fact that the Shrike appears considerably larger than the ordinary "Smatch," although there is actually only about an inch difference in the length of the two birds. It would be interesting to know in what parts of England this curious name is in use. Personally, I have only met with it on the borders of Oxfordshire and South Northamptonshire; but a correspondent informed me that it is used in South Warwickshire, which is, however, practically the same district.—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).

Hawfinch near Reigate Railway Station.—I observed a Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) to-day (March 1st, 1898) in the kitchen garden of a villa not three hundred yards away from Reigate Station, South Eastern Railway. If one escaped from confinement it at least appeared to have full use of its wings, &c. It is generally considered a shy bird, although bold enough in its attacks on green peas.—Alfred T. Comber (2, Worcester Terrace, Reigate, Surrey).

Hybrid Finches at the Crystal Palace Show.—There was a remarkable exhibition of hybrid British Finches at the show held last February at the Crystal Palace, no fewer than thirty birds being figured in the catalogue. The exhibits included such rare hybrids as the Siskin and Greenfinch and the Linnet and Redpoll, and also a most beautiful series of crosses between the Goldfinch and Bullfinch. This cross has never, I believe, occurred in a wild state, but is the most popular of all with breeders for exhibition. Descriptions in catalogues are often very loose, and there is no doubt that exhibitors sometimes erroneously describe hybrids of which the male parent is a Goldfinch as crosses between the "Bullfinch and Goldfinch." Some case was probably the Goldfinch. A correspondent, who has had long experience as a breeder, judge, and exhibitor, assures me that he has never known an authentic case of any cross bred from a cock Bullfinch. I have seen a large number of hybrid Finches, and have on many occasions examined birds described as crosses between "Bullfinch and Goldfinch,"

"Bullfinch and Linnet," and (occasionally) "Bullfinch and Redpoll" and "Bullfinch and Greenfinch"; but it is just possible that in each of these cases the order in which the parents' names were given should have been reversed. If it be the fact that no hybrids have been raised from the cock Bullfinch, it is very curious. Further information would be interesting. — A. Holte Macpherson (51, Gloucester Terrace, Hyde Park).

Chickens reared by Partridges.—On a farm in this parish two chickens were last summer hatched by Partridges, a hen from the farmyard having no doubt laid in their nest. The chickens, which were both pullets, throve well, and were reared to maturity, growing into big lusty birds; but, as might be expected, were as wild as the Partridges with which they lived. This interesting family were in the habit of frequenting some low-lying meadows adjoining a piece of barley. On the first occasion of my meeting with them I was much puzzled by seeing out in the middle of the meadow, which was at some distance from the house, two big dark-looking birds, which from their actions were evidently neither Hooks nor Waterhens. From the length of the grass little else could be seen of them but their heads and necks, and their little foster-parents were at first entirely concealed. On seeing me, however, the two big black pullets at once started off running, accompanied by one of the Partridges, which soon outran them, got up, and flew off, the other Partridge having squatted in the grass. The fowls ran at full speed towards a broad ditch full of water, but choked with sedge and other plants, where I lost sight of them. On arriving at the place where they had disappeared, I distinctly heard them in the ditch, apparently about the middle, but could do nothing towards rescuing them. The broken-down sedges, however, afforded them, no doubt, sufficient support to prevent their drowning. Usually, when disturbed on the open meadows, the whole family would get up and fly into the middle of the barley. These wild-reared pullets seemed to be decidedly stronger on the wing, and able to take longer flights than would have been the case if reared in the ordinary way.—G.T. Rope (Blaxhall, Suffolk).

Birds which nest in London.—With reference to the article in the January number of the 'Edinburgh Review,' mentioned in 'The Zoologist' (ante, p. 91), I observe the writer divides London birds into three classes: (1) casual stragglers, (2) regular birds of passage, (3) birds nesting in London, which is defined as being within four miles of Charing Cross. As to the first two classes, I have nothing to say, and it would be difficult to add to Dr. Hamilton's list (Zool. 1879, p. 273). The third class includes the names of twenty-six species, and T am curious to know whether readers of 'The Zoologist ' can confirm these or add to them. The list is most interesting: —

Thrush (Turdus musicus); Blackbird (T. merula); Redbreast (Erithacus rubecula); Hedgesparrow (Accentor modularis). These four species nest in all the parks.

Whitethroat (Sylvia cinerea). Said to have nested for some years in Battersea Park.

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus phragmitis). Said to have "recently" nested by the Serpentine. I cannot help wondering how long ago this was.

Reed Warbler (A. streperus). Said to have nested in the Botanic Gardens. I should be curious to know the last occasion it did so.

Great Tit (Parus major); Coal Tit (P. ater); Blue Tit (P. cæruleus); Wren (Troglodytes parvulus); Starling (Sturnus vulgaris); Jackdaw (Corvus monecula).

Crow (C. corone). I fear this species runs some risk of being destroyed by the park authorities, which surely should be prevented.

Rook (C. frugilegus). The writer of the article is wrong in saying there are only three nests left in Gray's Inn. There are many more, but I have not counted them exactly. This is the last London rookery, and I think only continues because the Rooks are regularly fed. When did the Rooks desert Holland House?

Flycatcher (Muscicapa grisola).

Swallow (Hirundo rustica). Nests in Battersea Park, but there must be other places within four miles of Charing Cross.

Martin (Chelidon urbica). I never saw a nest in London that I can remember.

Greenfinch (Ligurinus chloris). Said still to nest in Battersea Park.

Sparrow (Passer domesticus); Chaffinch (Fringilla cœlebs).

Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). I heard a Cuckoo in the Temple Gardens about 8 a.m. last April. It is said a Cuckoo deposited her egg in the Whitethroat's nest at Battersea a year or two ago.

Wild Duck (Anas boscas). I question whether there are any genuinely wild specimens on the London waters.

Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus). One has been sitting 6ince the last week of February on a nest in a plane tree in Fountain Court, Temple. No explanation seems ever to have been given to account for the strange increase of Wood Pigeons in London.

Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus).

Dabchick (Podicipes fluviatilis). St. James's Park.—C. Meade King (3, Harcourt Buildings, Temple).


Yarrell's Blenny and the Two-spotted Goby at Scarborough.—While poking about in the rock-pools in the South Bay, Scarborough, last July, I captured two small fishes, with which I was unacquainted, I sent them to Dr. Günther, who kindly named them for me as Yarrell's Blenny (Carelophus ascanii), and the Two-spotted Goby (Gobius ruthensparri). Both species, he says, are not very common, and are somewhat local. Since then I have seen two otber specimens of the former, but have not succeeded in finding any more of the latter.—W.G. Clarke (44, Huntriss Row, Scarborough).


Abnormal Scalariformity in Shells.—In August, 1893, whilst examining the dykes at Pevensey, I came to a spot where the weeds were particularly dense, and here met with an irregularly scalariform shell (immature) of Planorbis complanatus, and another regularly scalariform specimen of P. vortex var. compressa (Mich.), both being dead shells. Having examined tbese closely, and mentally ruminated as to the probable cause of this kind of deformity, I drew a decided conclusion that the animal from some cause or other—possibly a deformity or a wart at the back of the head—was induced to direct the head downwards, in which case the shell-whorls would be formed at an angle. Being impressed with this idea, and hoping to obtain a living specimen, I went again to the same place, and obtained another similar specimen of P. complanatus, alive. On examining it with a one-inch objective (which I always use as a pocket-lens), I saw distinctly several minute white worms attached exactly where I had expected to find the causa mali, that is to say, on the head between and around the tentacles. They attached themselves by the hinder portion of their bodies, the front part being free and waving about, as if on the look-out for anything in the shape of food. The action was exactly similar to that of a caterpillar, and they looped their bodies similarly also. The lip of the shell evidently formed a capital shelter, from under which they could protrude or withdraw their bodies. On examining one of the worms under the microscope—for they were rather minute, perhaps a line or so in length—I found that the setæ were placed more on the ventral surface than usual, and that they occupied only the posterior half of the animal, with the exception of a pair of oral tufts, which were directed forward. There were some seven pairs of bristle-tufts in the hind portion of the body, and an average of ten bristles in each tuft, making 140 bristles in all. With a quarter-inch objective it could be seen that each bristle was terminated by a double hook or grappling-iron, and when in the act of gripping the tufts expanded like a hand. It was evident therefore that these worms were specially adapted for clinging firmly to their host, and I found it rather difficult to detach them; but with the assistance of a friend, who is rather clever in manipulating for the microscope, I managed to get one mounted. The head of the worm, I noticed, was ciliated, and there were from four to six worms on this specimen, if I remember correctly. I omitted to make a note of it, although on others I found fully six worms.

The conclusion one would naturally draw from the above facts is, I think, that the irritation produced by several of such worms, or possibly the desire of the mollusc to accommodate them, is sufficient to account for the depression of the head and the consequent distortion of the shell. On examining two normally formed specimens of Planorbis complanatus, I found that one carried worms and that the other did not. It does not, however, follow that because one animal carried worms and had a normal shell, that therefore my theory will not hold good, since the worms might have only recently attached themselves, and the amount of irritation would naturally be proportionate to the number of worms. I may here mention that the Planorbis was only half-grown, and that the head and tentacles were strongly ciliated. It may be that the worms derived some advantage from this circumstance, since in very stagnant water the currents set up would bring both food and oxygen. But I imagine that the main benefit derived would be from the fact of being transported about, and that from a position of great security, Under irritation the worms evinced an uncontrollable desire to divide. This operation was performed once, and almost a second time. A constriction took place at a certain point in the body, and gradually became more and more pronounced. Then the body from time to time gave some spasmodic twitches and bent upon itself at the constricted point. A few more spasmodic twitches followed, and the trick was done.

From the facts here stated I think a fairly good prima facie case is made out, and if other observers who happen to meet with scalariform Helices, &c, would examine the head closely, they would most likely find some irritating parasite to account for the abnormality.

On mentioning the above circumstances to a gentleman at South Kensington Museum, he cited the case of a scalariform Turritella, which when found had on its head a parasitic crustacean. The name of the worm above alluded to is Chætogaster limnæi, Von Baer.—P. Rufford (The Croft, Hastings).