The Zoologist/4th series, vol 6 (1902)/Issue 737/Notes and Queries

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Notes and Queries  (November, 1902) 
various authors, editor W.L. Distant

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 6, issue 737, p. 432–440




Some Habits of South African Hares.—It seems to me that the habits of South African examples of the Leporidæ are little known. Although I do not know any special facts re the breeding habits of the South African Hares, a few notes derived from my sporting experiences may be welcome.

With regard to Lepus capensis (the common "Vlakhaas," i.e. Flats' Hare), Mr. W.L. Sclater, in his very valuable 'Handbook on South African Mammals,' says:—"This Hare frequents uncultivated land and flats covered with scattered bush; it may often be seen at early dawn and in the evening feeding on the grassy spots along the roads. When pursued it will take refuge in the ground, if it is able to do so, though it does not form a burrow of its own"; ... remarks with which I concur. In addition to these localities, I have seen and shot this Hare among the thick eucalyptus and fir-plantations on the Rand.[1] When chased by Dogs they make off at first with the ears erect, giving curious little skips and hops; but as soon as they feel that the chase is going to be a serious one, they lay the ears flat along the sides of the head and neck, and run steadily; they dodge and double splendidly, and through this, coupled with their speed, afford good sport. The running powers of the Hare is often underrated; my own experience is that they afford good sport, although no doubt their speed is not on a par with that of European Hares, and even here varies individually, as with Horses and other animals. I have had runs of a distance varying from half a mile to three miles and more with a pack of four pure bred greyhounds and several half-bred animals. Times without number I have lost the quarry through its taking to the earth in an Ant-bear ("Aard-vark") or Meerkat hole. This Hare makes delicious eating, notwithstanding the statement so often made that it is a foul feeder. This it may be at times, but I have not seen it yet myself. This species usually sleeps in holes or lairs in grass-tufts on the veld. Their usual feeding-time is early morning and in the evening.

Lepus saxitilis (vernacular name, "Kol-haas"; literally, "Spot-hare").—The running powers of this Hare are considerably greater than those of the preceding species. I have generally found them among scrub, rocks, and stones on koppies, and in plantations. They go out into the flats to feed, but are never found very far from bush or koppies (i.e. cover of some sort), according to my coursing experiences. You will very often see them of an evening skipping about the paths and feeding along roadways, or just outside plantations. Their forms are usually under scrubby bushes, or underneath overhanging stones or rocks. These Hares are very common in the eucalyptus plantations of the Witwatersrand, and form the chief bag of a day's drive.

Lepus crassicaudatus ("Rooi-haas").—This Hare is a denizen of rocky declivities and krantzes on koppies. I have seen a few on Botha's Berg, near Brandford, Orange River Colony, and a couple along the ridge near "Orange Grove," Johannesburg; also at the Klipriversberg. They are shy and retiring, and consequently I have had no chance of making any sporting acquaintance with them. Their bushy and reddish tails are quite enough to distinguish them from the two foregoing species.—Alwin C. Haagner (Johannesburg).


Lesser Grey Shrike in Norfolk.—While Partridge driving at Docking, in Norfolk, on Oct. 11th of this year, I shot a Grey Shrike, which turned out to be the Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor). The bird is evidently a young one, as it has traces of buff tips to the wingcoverts, where the edges are not worn away. I was unable to set it, as it was very high when I skinned it, and was rather heavily shot internally with No. 5. There is no trace of rose colour on the breast, but the sides of upper part of breast are inclined to a pale buff colour, with faint barred markings; no black on forehead, but a broad black streak on cheek and ear-coverts; scapulars grey, with no approach towhite; outside tail-feathers white, even to the shafts; first primary very short, not equalling in length the primary coverts. I exhibited this bird at the last meeting of the British Ornithologists' Club.—G.E. Lodge (5, Thurloe Studios, Thurloe Square, S.W.).

Red-backed Shrike in Anglesea.—On June 19th I saw a pair of this species (Lanius collurio), and found the nest with newly-hatched young in a thick bramble-clump a little inland near Carmel Head. Though the locality where these birds had taken up their abode was a likely one, yet the general character of this part of the island is very bleak, bare, and treeless, and unsuited to the habits of this bird. I again came across a male of this species on June 24th near Point Lynus. I am of course open to correction, but, so far as I can gather, there is no previous record of this bird in Anglesea. Last year I also met with a pair and young near Edeyrn, in Lleyn.—S.G. Cummings (King's Buildings, Chester).

Migration of Jays.—It seems to be an established fact that Garrulus glandarius does migrate occasionally, if not regularly. It is possible that our home-bred birds are augmented in numbers every autumn by arrivals from the Continent, but sometimes to a much greater extent than at others. Some twenty years ago (Zool. 1883) a marked migration was recorded from various localities—from Heligoland westward to our east coast, and thence inland as far as Hampshire and East Dorset, and possibly much farther west—but I have no personal records of their journey. It is interesting to state that since the beginning of October there has been an unusual number of the birds both in the forest and in the woods to the west of the Avon, far more than were bred in either locality, and of course the "gamekeeper's museum" has been enriched in consequence, one brave fellow boasting that he had killed more Jays in one day (about the middle of October) than he had seen for a couple of years previously. It must be understood that a relentless war has been waged for years past against this beautiful but noisy species, and that in this locality it is much scarcer than it was formerly; but during the past few weeks many people not generally interested in birds have informed me of seeing Jays in most of the woods. It is well known what an omnivorous appetite these birds have, and very little is rejected—young birds or eggs, insects in either stage, fruit, oak-galls, and grain, are all alike devoured; but in my younger days there was an oak-wood in this neighbourhood where I could always find Jays, and where their nests were not uncommon, and it always seemed to me they were fonder of acorns, when they were to be had, than of any other food; but any "hard and fast" rule with regard to the food of birds may be easily broken, as the following fact will prove. We are all well aware how much a Peregrine Falcon prefers a Wood-Pigeon to most other forest birds, and what an exbibition of wing-power is displayed in the dash of pursuer and pursued; but since the Jays first began to appear, a Falcon—or rather two Falcons—were reported to be preying upon them, not because Wood-Pigeons were scarce; and, on making further enquiries, I find the report correct. As a proof, a gamekeeper had seen a Falcon strike down a Jay; he baited a trap with the quarry, and the next morning the Hawk was found in the trap. It was one of the finest female Peregrine Falcons that I have seen.—G.B. Corbin (Ringwood).

Hoopoe near Wick.—An adult male Hoopoe (Upupa epops) was shot on the moor near Wick last August, and is now in my collection.—Geo. Dickinson (23, Abercromby Square, Liverpool).

The Long-eared Owl (Asio otus).—Has it been observed that this handsome species of Owl was commoner than usual during the past summer? In the valley of the Avon it seems to have bred in some numbers, as I saw them in all stages of growth, and especially in the latter half of June and through July, when the majority were almost fully feathered, but the "horns" not entirely developed. In this stage the thing that struck me most was the beautifully varied tints of plumage, especially about the facial disk; no two seemed exactly alike, and one presented a particularly grotesque appearance—around the eyes and underneath the beak was almost entirely black, whilst the margins of the disk seemed whiter than usual, which "threw up" the inky black tips in a remarkable manner. A large number of these Owls must have been killed, as the gamekeeping community aver they come to the coops and carry off their young birds, and no amount of reasoning will convince them that mice and their kin more than young Pheasants are sought after by the Owls. The coops are usually closed when the soft-plumaged, silent Owl is on the wing, and the marauding rodents, in their nocturnal rambles, come for the scattered grain or other food, or even to purloin a chick; but because the Owl is seen in the vicinity he is ruthlessly slaughtered, when in fact he is more guardian than culprit.—G.B. Corbin (Ringwood).

Plumage of Montagu's Harrier.—I should be greatly obliged if anyone having a sexed example of the young female Montagu's Harrier (Circus cineraceus) would tell me if it is marked on the under parts with longitudinal markings or streaks. Yarrell says that young females have the under parts unmarked (like young males); but it seems to me curious that the young birds should be unmarked on the under parts in all cases while the adults are strongly (and heavily in some cases) marked. The tendency in birds of prey is for markings on the under parts to become small, or to disappear, with increasing age of the individual. In the volume for 1901 (p. 476) I recorded the occurrence of a young Montagu's Harrier (not sexed, but believed by me to be a female) in Northamptonshire. In identifying this specimen as Montagu's Harrier, I relied on the shape of the fifth primary (vide Mr. Howard Saunders's 'Manual'), although (as the bird is stuffed) the wings look very short for this species. This example has the under parts well marked with longitudinal streaks, and it has been suggested to me that for this reason it cannot be Montagu's Harrier, and that I identified it wrongly. I should be very glad to hear from anyone who has sexed examples of young Montagu's Harriers.—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).

Moorhens feeding Young.—On July 13th I watched a pair of Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus) swimming about in a small pond with their brood of six newly-hatched young ones—tiny balls of black fluff with red bills. Both the old birds were feeding the youngsters with insects taken from the surface of the water, and, as far as I could see, with small pieces of water-weed; also on one occasion with a morsel off a lump of bread which was floating on the water. Swimming in the same pond were three full-grown young birds of the year (in the grey-brown plumage, with green bill and legs), presumably the first brood of the old pair, and I was interested to observe that these fed the newly-hatched young ones with as great assiduity as did the old birds, and that the young ones followed them about quite as much as they did their parents. I see that this habit, which was new to me, is not unknown, for Mr. Howard Saunders, in his 'Manual' (p. 518), says:—"Two, if not three, broods are produced in the season, the young from the first nest assisting their parents in building another, and even in taking care of the second brood." The method of feeding struck me as peculiar. The old bird, on catching an insect, swam up, and presented it to the youngster, who picked it out of his (or her) bill. Never once did the old bird place it in the young one's mouth, as is usually the case in birds which feed their young, nor the young one open its bill to receive it.—Bernard B. Riviere ("Flaxley," 82, Finchley Road, N.W.).

Ornithological Incidents at Petersfield.—Noteworthy incidents have been singularly scarce in this locality during the present year. I have only to record an instance of two Cuckoo's eggs in the nest of a Hedge-Sparrow containing two eggs of the rightful owner. This occurred early in June in a hedge by the roadside near Theale, Berkshire. A little later in the month two more Cuckoo's eggs were found in a Hedge-Sparrow's nest, close to the site of the first nest.—H. Marmaduke Langdale (The Vicarage, Compton, Petersfield).


Morphological Interpretation.—Dear Mr. Distant,—In the introtroduction to your first volume on the 'Rhynchota of British India' (p. xxx) you say:—"In some Reduviids the antennæ are apparently 8-jointed, the maximum number of about twenty-five being attained in the males of some Coccidæ." I have seen this statement repeated in various entomological works, but I believe it to be quite erroneous, and founded upon the fact that in many male Monophlebids the joints are 3-nodose, each node giving rise to a prominent whorl of hairs. Ten is the normal number of joints in the males of the Coccidæ. I know of no species in which this number is exceeded. I give a sketch below of the antenna of a male Monophlebus, which will show you how the misconception has arisen.—E. Ernest Green (Royal Botanic Garden, Peradeniya, Ceylon).

[Mr. Green appears to be quite correct in his contention on this point, as may be seen from the above figure, and from microscopical examination made since the receipt of his letter. I had unquestionably followed the opinions of very high authorities. Latreille ('Le Règne Animal,' tome v. p. 232 (1829)), who appears to have been the first to give a diagnosis of the genus, which he writes "Monophleba," refers to a species from Java, "remarquable par ses antennes, composées d'environ vingt-deux articles." Burmeister ('Handbuch der Entomologie,' ii. p. 80 (1835)) describes the males of Monophlebus as having up to twenty-five joints. Westwood, who paid much attention to the genus ('Vigors' Zool. Journ.' v. p. 452 (1835)), describes the antennæ of the male of one species as "26 articulatæ." Recently Dr. Sharp ('Cambridge Nat. Hist.' vol. vi. p. 539 (1899)) has described the maximum number of antennal joints in some males as about twenty-five. The issue rests on the method of morphological interpretation, and Mr. Green has done a very useful service.—Ed.]

A Remarkable West African Leaf-Gall.—The gall illustrated in the accompanying photograph is very noticeable, owing to its resemblance to an inflorescence. It is common enough in this locality, and I have met with more than a dozen specimens of it. It is always found on the same plant (apparently a species of Ficus), and I have only seen one specimen of the plant not infested by the gall-fly. The part attacked seems to be always the base of the leaf, or possibly an unopened leaf-bud. The gall-capsules at first are pale yellowish green, with irregular reddish staining. As they mature they become dark green, and are aggregated together into a dense mass, through which the leaves continue to grow, but in a stunted and irregular manner; in some instances abortive leaves or bracts occur between the individual capsules.

When the capsules are mature they burst and expand like the corolla of a flower, eventually showing a bright apricot-coloured interior of velvety texture, and the whole has quite the appearance of a brilliant inflorescence. The colour of the interior of the capsules deepens from primrose-yellow, on first opening, through nankeen-yellow, to a deep apricot, and then fades to brown and black as the mass withers. The mature capsules seem usually to contain one insect and one cast skin each, but sometimes two capsules coalesce internally before bursting, and in one such combined capsule I found two insects and three cast skins.—W. Henry Hillyer (Princisu, Wassau District, Gold Coast Colony, West Africa. Lat. 5·54° 57' N.; long. 2·6° 40' W.).

[This insect was described by Walker in 1851, from specimens received from Sierra Leone, under the name of Psylla? lata. The genus in which it should be placed is certainly not Psylla, but that question need not be discussed here. Réaumur, in 1737 ('Mémoires,' t. iii. mém. x. pl. xxix. figs. 17–24), has detailed the history of a species (Anisotropha ficus) which lives on the fig. Recently Mr. C. P. Lounsbury, the Government Entomologist of Cape Colony, has described the ravages of the Citrus Psylla (Trioza sp.), which attacks any kind of citrus trees, and causes a great distortion of foliage (Cape of Good Hope, Department of Agriculture, Reprint No. 21, 1898).—Ed.]

"Making the best of Difficulties."—With regard to the communication on this subject (ante, p. 392), my own experience may be of interest. I have had many larvæ of Dicranura vinula at various times, and have always found that they can be persuaded to manufacture their cocoons out of any material which is given to them, in default of the natural supply. If one of these larvæ be put in a tin, with pieces of coloured paper, a very pretty result may be obtained. I have in my possession cocoons composed of pink paper, another of blue and white, and a third of bright yellow. I have also a very singular cocoon which is made entirely of white muslin and brown elastic, although this specimen was quite unintentional as far as I was concerned. The larva was enclosed in a glass jam-jar, over the top of which I had placed a piece of muslin, with an elastic band round it, to prevent the larva from making its escape. The captive was ready to spin before I was aware of the fact, and, finding nothing in the bottle but leaves, endeavoured to escape by biting a hole through the muslin. Even then the caterpillar found that it could not get away, as the overhanging edges of the muslin did not reach near enough to the ground to enable it to climb down, and apparently it did not like to risk a drop. Doubtless it wandered round and round the edge of the muslin many hundreds of times before it finally decided to make the best of a bad job, and compose its cocoon of muslin and elastic. A friend of mine had another caterpillar which made its escape, and, after wandering round the room disconsolately, set to work, and composed its cocoon out of his best table-cloth!—H.W. Shepheard-Walwyn (Dalwhinnie, Kenley).


In his interesting paper on the "Colouring of Stercorarius crepidatus," Mr. Edmund Selous gives it as his opinion that the gradations of plumage in this species are due to sexual selection. He finds no evidence in favour of natural selection in the case before him, and consequently he sets aside all probability of that agency. "Without evidence," he writes, "such a view is a mere supposition, and therefore not worth while considering. The main facts suggest choice in a certain direction."

It is the plain statement of personally observed facts which has made Mr. Selous' papers in 'The Zoologist' so valuable; but what facts does he bring forward as evidence of the influence of sexual selection on these birds? He gives a detailed account of the links which connect the extreme dark and the extreme pale colouring, and from this he concludes that sexual selection must have been at work. But is not this "mere supposition"? for the ascertained facts are too meagre to favour either natural or sexual selection. Does not Mr. Selous advocate the latter because at the outset he was "a believer in the reality of that power"?

It is to be hoped that Mr. Selous will write a paper on sexual selection, giving in support of that theory examples of actual choice in sexual matters as observed by himself in wild nature.

May I point out a slight slip in his choice of words? Would it not be preferable to speak of this species as polymorphic rather than multimorphous?—W. Storrs Fox (St. Anselm's, Bakewell).


I have in preparation a catalogue of the vertebrate animals of Oxfordshire, and should be grateful for any information relating to the occurrence in the county of the following species:—Harvest Mouse, Dormouse, Black Bat, Lesser Shrew, Bank-Vole, Polecat (recent occurrences), Viper, Lizard, Sand-Lizard, Palmate Newt, Natterjack Toad, Crucian Carp, Rudd, Bream, White Bream, Grayling, Barbel.—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).

  1. Was common at and near Pretoria before the war, and generally to be found at the back of the town, in a small stretch of thorn and other trees near the then Boer Artillery Camp. It was there I shot my last Hare in the Transvaal.—Ed.