Page images

monkeys—which are at the same time pre-eminently tropical and which make themselves perceived as one of the aspects of tropical nature. They are to be met with in all the great continents and larger islands, except Australia, New Guinea, and Madagascar, though the latter island possesses the lower allied form of Lemurs ; and they never fail to impress the observer with a sense of the exuberant vitality of the tropics. They are preeminently arboreal in their mode of life, and are consequently most abundant and varied where vegetation reaches its maximum development. In the East we find that maximum in Borneo, and in the West African forests; while in the West the great forest plain of the Amazon stands pre-eminent. It is near the equator only that the great Anthropoid apes, the gorilla, chimpanzee,

and orang-utan are found, and they may be met with by any persevering explorer of the jungle. The gibbons, or long-armed apes, have a wider range in the Asiatic continent and in Malaya, and they are more abundant both in species and individuals. Their plaintive howling notes may often be heard in the forests, and they are constantly to be seen sporting at the summits of the loftiest trees, swinging suspended by their long arms, or bounding from tree to tree with incredible agility. They pass through the forest at a height of a hundred feet or more, as rapidly as a deer will travel along the ground beneath them. Other monkeys of various kinds are more abundant and usually less shy; and in places where fire-arms are not much used they will approach the houses and gambol in the trees undisturbed by the approach of man.

The most remarkable of the tailed monkeys of the East is

[ocr errors]

the proboscis monkey of Borneo, whose long fleshy nose gives it an aspect very different from that of most of its allies.

In tropical America monkeys are even more abundant than in the East, and they present many interesting peculiarities. They differ somewhat in dentition and in other structural features from all Old World apes, and a considerable number of them have prehensile tails, a peculiarity never found elsewhere. In the howlers and the spider monkeys the tail is very long and powerful, and by twisting the extremity round a branch the animal can hang suspended as easily as other monkeys can by their hands. It is, in fact, a fifth hand, and is constantly used to pick up small objects from the ground. The most remarkable of the American monkeys are the howlers, whose tremendous roaring exceeds that of the lion or the bull, and is to be heard frequently at morning and evening in the primeval forests. The sound is produced by means of a large, thin, bony vessel in the throat, into which air is forced ; and it is very remarkable that this one group of monkeys should possess an organ not found in any other monkey or even in any other mammal, apparently for no other purpose than to be able to make a louder noise than the rest. The only other monkeys worthy of special attention are the marmosets, beautiful little creatures with crests, whiskers, or manes ; in outward form resembling squirrels, but with a very small monkey-like face. They are either black, brown, reddish, or nearly white in colour, and are the smallest of the monkey tribe, some of them being only about six inches long exclusive of the tail.

Bats.-Almost the only other order of mammals that

is specially and largely developed in the tropical zone is that of the Chiroptera or bats ; which becomes suddenly much less plentiful when we pass into the temperate regions, and still more rare towards the colder parts of it, although a few species appear to reach the Arctic circle. The characteristics of the tropical bats are their great numbers and variety, their large size, and their peculiar forms or habits. In the East those which most attract the traveller's attention are the great fruit-bats, or flying-foxes as they are sometimes called, from the rusty colour of the coarse fur and the fox-like shape of the head. These creatures may sometimes be seen in immense flocks which take hours to pass by, and they often devastate the fruit plantations of the natives. They are often five feet across the expanded wings, with the body of a proportionate size ; and when resting in the daytime on dead trees, hanging head downwards, the branches look as if covered with some monster fruits. The descendants of the Portuguese in the East use them for food, but all the native inhabitants reject them.

In South America there is a group of bats which are sure to attract attention. These are the vampyres, several of which are blood-sucking species, which abound in most parts of tropical America and are especially plentiful in the Amazon Valley. Their carnivorous propensities were once discredited, but are too well authenticated. Horses and cattle are often bitten, and are found in the morning covered with blood; and repeated attacks weaken and ultimately destroy them. Some persons are especially subject to the attacks of these bats ; and as native huts are never sufficiently close to keep them out, these unfortunate individuals are

obliged to sleep completely muffled up, in order to avoid being made seriously ill or even losing their lives. The exact manner in which the attack is made is not positively known, as the sufferer never feels the wound. The present writer was once bitten on the toe, which was found bleeding in the morning from a small round hole from which the flow of blood was not easily stopped. On another occasion, when his feet were carefully covered up, he was bitten on the tip of the nose, only awaking to find his face streaming with blood. The motion of the wings fans the sleeper into a deeper slumber, and renders him insensible to the gentle abrasion of the skin either by teeth or tongue. This ultimately forms a minute hole, the blood flowing from which is sucked or lapped up by the hovering vampyre. The largest South American bats, having wings from two to two-and-half feet in expanse, are fruit-eaters like the Pteropi of the East, the true blood-suckers being small or of medium size and varying in colour in different localities. They belong to the genus Phyllostoma, and have a tongue with horny papillæ at the end; and it is probably by means of this that they abrade the skin and produce a small round wound. This is the account given by Buffon and Azara, and there seems now little doubt that it is correct.

Beyond these two great types——the monkeys and the bats—we look in vain among the varied forms of mammalian life for any that can be said to be distinctive of the tropics as compared with the temperate regions. Many peculiar groups are tropical, but they are in almost every case confined to limited portions of the tropical zones, or are rare in species or individuals. Such are the lemurs in Africa, Madagascar, and Southern Asia ; the

tapirs of America and Malaya; the rhinoceroses and elephants of Africa and Asia ; the cavies and the sloths of America; the scaly ant-eaters of Africa and Asia ; but none of these are sufficiently numerous to come often before the traveller so as to affect his general ideas of the aspects of tropical life, and they are, therefore, out of place in such a sketch of those aspects as we are here attempting to lay before our readers.

Summary of the Aspects of Animal Life in the Tropics.—We will now briefly summarize the general aspects of animal life as forming an ingredient in the scenery

and natural phenomena of the equatorial regions. Most prominent are the butterflies, owing to their numbers, their size, and their brilliant colours ; as well as their peculiarities of form, and the slow and majestic flight of many of them. In other insects, the large size, and frequency of protective colours and markings are prominent features; together with the inexhaustible profusion of the ants and other small insects. Among birds the parrots stand forth as the pre-eminent tropical group, as do the apes and monkeys among mammals the two groups having striking analogies, in the prehensile hand and the power of imitation. Of reptiles, the two most prominent groups are the lizards and the frogs ; the snakes, though equally abundant, being much less obtrusive.

Animal life is, on the whole, far more abundant and more varied within the tropics than in any other part of the globe, and a great number of peculiar groups are found there which never extend into temperate regions. Endless eccentricities of form, and extreme richness of


« EelmineJätka »