Page images
PDF
EPUB

the highest tree-tops. Orchids, bromelias, arums, and ferns grow from every boss and crevice, and cover the fallen and decaying trunks with a graceful drapery. Even these parasites have their own parasitical growth, their leaves often supporting an abundance of minute creeping mosses and hepaticae. But the uniformity of climate which has led to this rich luxuriance and endless variety of vegetation is also the cause of a monotony that in time becomes oppressive. To quote the words of Mr. Belt : “Unknown are the autumn tints, the bright browns and yellows of English woods; much less the crimsons, purples, and yellows of Canada, where the dying foliage rivals, nay, excels, the expiring dolphin in splendour. Unknown the cold sleep of winter; unknown the lovely awakening of vegetation at the first gentle touch of spring. A ceaseless round of ever-active life weaves the fairest scenery of the tropics into one monotonous whole, of which the component parts exhibit in detail untold variety and beauty.” " To the student of nature the vegetation of the tropics will ever be of surpassing interest, whether for the variety of forms and structures which it presents, for the boundless energy with which the life of plants is therein manifested, or for the help which it gives us in our search after the laws which have determined the production of such infinitely varied organisms. When, for the first time, the traveller wanders in these primeval forests, he can scarcely fail to experience sensations of awe, akin to those excited by the trackless ocean or the alpine snowfields. There is a vastness, a solemnity, a gloom, a sense of solitude and of human insignificance 1 The Naturalist in Nicaragua, p. 58.

which for a time overwhelm him ; and it is only when the novelty of these feelings have passed away that he is able to turn his attention to the separate constituents that combine to produce these emotions, and examine the varied and beautiful forms of life which, in inexhaustible profusion, are spread around him.

III. ANIMAL LIFE IN THE TROPICAL FORESTS.

Difficulties of the Subject—General Aspect of the Animal life of Equatorial Forests—Diurnal Lepidoptera or Butterflies—Peculiar Habits of Tropical Butterflies—Ants, Wasps, and Bees—Ants—Special Relations between Ants and Vegetation—Wasps and Bees—Orthoptera and other Insects— Beetles—Wingless Insects—General Observations on Tropical Insects— Birds—Parrots—Pigeons—Picariae—Cuckoos—Trogons, Barbets, Toucans and Hornbills—Passeres—Reptiles and Amphibia—Lizards—Snakes— Frogs and Toads—Mammalia–Monkeys—Bats—Summary of the Aspects of Animal life in the Tropics.

THE attempt to give some account of the general aspects of animal life in the equatorial zone, presents far greater difficulties than in the case of plants. On the one hand, animals rarely play any important part in scenery, and their entire absence may pass quite unnoticed; while the abundance, variety, and character of the vegetation are among those essential features that attract every eye. On the other hand, so many of the more important and characteristic types of animal life are restricted to one only out of the three great divisions of equatorial land, that they can hardly be claimed as characteristically tropical; while the more extensive zoological groups which have a wide range in the tropics and do not equally abound in the temperate zones, are few in number, and often include such a diversity of forms, structures, and habits, as to render any typical characterisation of them impossible. We must then, in the first place, suppose that our traveller is on the look out for all signs of animal life ; and that, possessing a general acquaintance as an out-door observer with the animals of our own country, he carefully notes those points in which the forests of the equatorial zone offer different phenomena. Here, as in the case of plants, we exclude all zoological science, classifications, and nomenclature, except in as far as it is necessary for a clear understanding of the several groups of animals referred to. We shall therefore follow no systematic order in our notes, except that which would naturally arise from the abundance or prominence of the objects themselves. We further suppose our traveller to have no prepossessions, and to have no favourite group, in the search after which he passes by other objects which, in view of their frequent occurrence in the landscape, are really more important. General Aspect of the Animal Life of Equatorial Forests.—Perhaps the most general impression produced by a first acquaintance with the equatorial forests, is the comparative absence of animal life. Beast, bird, and insect alike require looking for, and it very often happens that we look for them in vain. On this subject Mr. Bates, describing one of his early excursions into the primeval forests of the Amazon Valley, remarks as follows:—“We were disappointed in not meeting with any of the larger animals of the forest. There was no tumultuous movement or sound of life. We did not see or hear monkeys, and no tapir or jaguar crossed our path. Birds also appeared to be exceedingly scarce.”

Again—“I afterwards saw reason to modify my opinion, founded on first impressions, with regard to the amount and variety of animal life in this and other parts of the Amazonian forests. There is in fact a great variety of mammals, birds, and reptiles, but they are widely scattered and all excessively shy of man. The region is so extensive, and uniform in the forest clothing of its surface, that it is only at long intervals that animals are seen in abundance, where some particular spot is found which is more attractive than others. Brazil, moreover, is throughout poor in terrestrial mammals, and the species are of small size; they do not, therefore, form a conspicuous feature in the forests. The huntsman would be disappointed who expected to find here flocks of animals similar to the buffalo-herds of North America, or the swarms of antelopes and herds of ponderous pachyderms of Southern Africa. We often read in books of travel of the silence and gloom of the Brazilian forests. They

are realities, and the impression deepens on a longer ac

quaintance. The few sounds of birds are of that pensive and mysterious character which intensifies the feeling of solitude rather than imparts a sense of life and cheerfulness. Sometimes in the midst of the stillness, a sudden yell or scream will startle one; this comes from some defenceless fruit-eating animal which is pounced upon by a tiger-cat or a boa-constrictor. Morning and evening the howling monkeys make a most fearful and harrowing noise, under which it is difficult to keep up one's buoyancy of spirit. The feeling of inhospitable wildness which the forest is calculated to inspire, is increased tenfold under this fearful uproar. Often, even in the still midday hours, a sudden crash will be heard

« EelmineJätka »