Page images

fifty. Insects, there were none at all; and other good birds excessively rare.

"My canoe is now getting ready for a further journey up to near the sources of the Rio Negro in Venezuela, where I have reason to believe I shall find insects more plentiful, and at least as many birds as here. On my return from there I shall take a voyage up the great river Uaupés, and another up the Isanna, not so much for my collections, which I do not expect to be very profitable there, but because I am so much interested in the country and the people that I am determined to see and know more of it and them than any other European traveller. If I do not get profit, I hope at least to get some credit as an industrious and persevering traveller."

I then go on to describe the materials I was collecting for books on the palms and on the fishes of these regions, and also for a book on the physical history of the Amazon valley. Only the "Palms" were published, but I give here a few copies of the drawings I made of about two hundred species of Rio Negro fishes, which I had hoped to increase to double that number had I remained in the country.

The two first figures (Cynodon scombroides and Xiphostoma lateristriga) belong to the family Characinidæ, a group which abounds in the fresh waters of tropical America and Africa, where it replaces the carps (Cyprinidæ) of Europe and the Old World generally, though not very closely allied to them. Many of the species are very like some of our commonest riverfish, such as gudgeons, dace, roach, tench, and bream, and I have drawings of no less than sixty-five species of the family. They are all, I believe, eatable, but are not held to be fishes of the best quality.

The next figure (Pimelodus holomelas) is an example of the family Siluridæ, which is found in the fresh waters of all parts of the world. The cat-fishes of North America and the sturgeons of Eastern Europe belong to it. I obtained thirty-four species on the Rio Negro, many being of a large size. They are generally bottom-feeding fishes and are

greatly esteemed, the flesh being very fat and rich, quite beyond any of our English fishes.

The next figure (Plecostomus guacari) is one of the Loricariidæ, which are allied to the Siluridæ, but characterized by hard bony scales or plates, and dangerous bony spines to the dorsal and pectoral fins. Many are of very strange and repulsive forms, and though eatable are not esteemed. obtained seven species of these curious fishes.


The remaining two figures serve to illustrate the family Cichlidæ, one of the most abundant and characteristic groups of South American fishes. All are of moderate size, and feed partially or entirely on vegetable substances, especially fruits which grow on the river-banks and when ripe fall into the water. They are caught with fruits as a bait, and the fisherman gently lashes the water with his rod so as to imitate the sound of falling fruit, thus attracting the fish. Some of these are the most delicious fish in the world, both delicate and fat, to such an extent that the water they are boiled in is always served at table in basins, and is a very delicious broth, quite different to any meat broth and equal to the best. It is more like a very rich chicken broth than anything else. I obtained twenty-two species of this family of fishes, the little Pterophyllum scalaris, called the butterfly fish, being one of the most fantastic of fresh-water fishes. The other, Cichlosoma severum, is one of the best for the table.

I have presented my collection of fish drawings to the British Museum of Natural History, and I am indebted to Mr. C. Tate Regan, who has charge of this department, for giving me the names of the species represented. In a paper read before the Zoological Society in August, 1905, he states that he has named about a hundred species, and that a large portion of the remainder are probably new species, showing how incomplete is our knowledge of the fishes of the Amazon and its tributaries.

Looking back over my four years' wanderings in the Amazon valley, there seem to me to be three great features which especially impressed me, and which fully equalled or

[merged small][graphic]

4. PLECOSTOMUS GUACARI. FAM. LORICARIIDE. (One-third natural size.)

[To face p. 286, VOL. I.



even surpassed my expectations of them. The first was the virgin forest, everywhere grand, often beautiful and even sublime. Its wonderful variety with a more general uniformity never palled. Standing under one of its great buttressed trees-itself a marvel of nature-and looking carefully around, noting the various columnar trunks rising like lofty pillars, one soon perceives that hardly two of these are alike. The shape of the trunks, their colour and texture, the nature of their bark, their mode of branching and the character of the foliage far overhead, or of the fruits or flowers lying on the ground, have an individuality which shows that they are all distinct species differing from one another as our oak, elm, beech, ash, lime, and sycamore differ. This extraordinary variety of the species is a general though not universal characteristic of tropical forests, but seems to be nowhere so marked a feature as in the great forest regions which encircle the globe for a few degrees on each side of the equator. An equatorial forest is a kind of natural arboretum where specimens of an immense number of species are brought together by nature. The western half of the island of Java affords an example of such a forest-region which has been well explored, botanically; and although almost all the fertile plains have been cleared for cultivation, and the forests cover only a small proportion of the country, the number of distinct species of forest-trees is said to be over fifteen hundred. Now the whole island is only about as large as Ireland, and has a population of over twenty millions; and as the eastern half of the island has a much drier climate, where there are forests of teak and much more open country, it is certain that this enormous variety of species is found in a wonderfully small area, probably little larger than Wales. I have no doubt that the forests of the Amazon valley are equally rich, while there are not improbably certain portions of their vast extent which are still richer.

The second feature, that I can never think of without delight, is the wonderful variety and exquisite beauty of the butterflies and birds, a variety and charm which grow upon one month after month and year after year, as ever new and

« EelmineJätka »