Hitherto no branch of the zoology of Ceylon has been so imperfectly investigated as its Ichthyology. Little has been done in the examination and description of its fishes, especially those which frequent the rivers and inland waters. Mr. BENNETT, who was for some years employed in the Civil Service, directed his attention to the subject, and published in 1830 some portions of a projected work on the marine fishes of the island 1 , but it never proceeded beyond the description of thirty individuals. The great work of Cuvier and Valenciennes 2 particularises about one hundred species, specimens of which were procured from Ceylon by Reynard, Leschenault and other correspondents; but of these not more than half a dozen belong to fresh water.
The fishes of the coast, as far as they have been examined, present few that are not in all probability common to the seas of Ceylon and India. A series of drawings, including upwards of six hundred species and varieties of Ceylon fish, all made from recently-captured specimens, have been submitted to Professor Huxley, and [pg 324] a notice of their general characteristics forms an interesting appendix to the present chapter. 3
Of those in ordinary use for the table the finest by far is the Seir-fish 4 , a species of Scomberoids, which is called Tora-malu by the natives. It is in size and form very similar to the salmon, to which the flesh of the female fish, notwithstanding its white colour, bears a very close resemblance both in firmness and flavour.
Mackerel, carp, whitings, mullet both red and striped, perches and soles are abundant, and a sardine (Sardinella Neohowii, Val.) frequents the southern and eastern coast in such profusion that in one instance in 1839, a gentleman who was present saw upwards of four hundred thousand taken in a haul of the nets in the little bay of Goyapanna, east of Point-de-Galle. As this vast shoal approached the shore the broken water became as smooth as if a sheet of ice had been floating below the surface. 5
Poisonous Fishes.—The sardine has the reputation of being poisonous at certain seasons, and accidents ascribed to eating it are recorded in all parts of the island. Whole families of fishermen who have partaken of it have died. Twelve persons in the jail of Chilaw were thus poisoned, about the year 1829; and the deaths of soldiers have repeatedly been ascribed to the same cause. It is difficult in such instances to say with certainty whether the fish were in fault; whether there [pg 325] was not a peculiar susceptibility in the condition of the recipients; or whether the mischief may not have been occasioned by the wilful administration of poison, or its accidental occurrence in the brass cooking vessels used by the natives. The popular belief was, however, deferred to by an order passed by the Governor in Council in February, 1824, which, after reciting that "Whereas it appears by information conveyed to the Government that at three several periods at Trincomalie, death has been the consequence to several persons from eating the fish called Sardinia during the months of January and December," enacts that it shall not be lawful in that district to catch sardines during these months, under pain of fine and imprisonment. This order is still in force, but the fishing continues notwithstanding. 6
Sharks.—Sharks appear on all parts of the coast, and instances continually occur of persons being seized by them whilst bathing even in the harbours of Trincomalie and Colombo. In the Gulf of Manaar they are taken for the sake of their oil, of which they yield such a quantity that "shark's oil" is a recognised export. A trade also exists in drying their fins, for which, owing to the gelatine contained in them, a ready market is found in China; whither the skin of the basking shark is also sent, to be converted, it is said, into shagreen.
Saw Fish.—The huge Pristis antiquorum 7 infests [pg 326] the eastern coast of the island, where it attains a length of from twelve to fifteen feet, including the serrated rostrum from which its name is derived. This powerful weapon seems designed to compensate for the inadequacy of the ordinary maxillary teeth which are unusually small, obtuse, and insufficient to capture and kill the animals which form the food of this predatory shark. To remedy this, the fore part of the head and its cartilages are prolonged into a flattened plate, the length of which is nearly equal to one third of the whole body, its edges being armed with formidable teeth, that are never shed or renewed, but increase in size with the growth of the creature.
The Rays form a large tribe of cartilaginous fishes in which, although the skeleton is not osseous, the development of organs is so advanced that they would appear to be the highest of the class, approaching nearest to amphibians. They are easily distinguished from the sharks by their broad and flat body, the pectoral fins being expanded like wings on each side of the trunk. They are all inhabitants of the ocean, and some grow to a prodigious size. Specimens have been caught of twenty feet in breadth. These, however, are of rare [pg 327] occurrence, as such huge monsters usually retreat into the depths of the sea, where they are secure from the molestation of man. It is, generally speaking, only the young and the smaller species that approach the coasts, where they find a greater supply of those marine animals which form their food. The Rays have been divided into several generic groups, and the one of which a drawing (Aëtobates narinari 8 ) is given, has very marked characteristics in its produced snout, pointed and winged-like pectoral fins, and exceedingly long, flagelliform tail. The latter is armed with a strong, serrated spine, which is always broken off by the fishermen immediately on capture, under the impression that wounds inflicted by it are poisonous. Their fears, however, are utterly groundless,[pg 328]
as the ray has no gland for secreting any venomous fluid. The apprehension may, however, have originated in the fact that a lacerated wound such as would be produced by a serrated spine, is not unlikely to assume a serious character, under the influence of a tropical climate. The species figured on the last page is brownish-olive on the upper surface, with numerous greenish-white round spots, darkening towards the edges. The anterior annulations of the tail are black and white, the posterior entirely black. Its mouth is transverse and paved with a band of flattened teeth calculated to crush the hard shells of the animals on which it feeds. It moves slowly along the bottom in search of its food, which consists of crustacea and mollusca, and seems to be unable to catch fishes or other quickly moving animals. Specimens have been taken near Ceylon, of six feet in width. Like most deep-sea fishes, the ray has a wide geographical range, and occurs not only in all the Indian Ocean, but also in the tropical tracts of the Atlantic.
Another armed fish, renowned since the times of Ælian and Pliny for its courage in attacking the whale, and even a ship, is the sword-fish (Xiphias gladius). 9 Like the thunny and bonito, it is an inhabitant of the deeper seas, and, though known in the Mediterranean, is chiefly confined to the tropics. The dangerous weapon with which nature has equipped it is formed by the prolongation and intertexture of the bones of the upper jaw into an exceedingly compact cylindrical protuberance, [pg 329] somewhat flattened at the base, but tapering to a sharp point. In strange inconsistence with its possession of so formidable an armature, the general disposition of the sword-fish is represented to be gentle and inoffensive; and although the fact of its assaults upon the whale has been incontestably established, yet the motive for such conflicts, and the causes of its enmity, are beyond conjecture. Competition for food is out of the question, as the Xiphias can find its own supplies without rivalry on the part of its gigantic antagonist; and as to converting the whale itself into food, the sword-fish, from the construction of its mouth and the small size of its teeth, is quite incapable of feeding on animals of such dimensions.
In the seas around Ceylon sword-fishes sometimes attain to the length of twenty feet, and are distinguished by the unusual height of the dorsal fin. Those both of the Atlantic and Mediterranean possess this fin in its full proportions, only during the earlier stages of their growth. Its dimensions even then are much smaller than in the Indian species; and it is a curious fact that it gradually decreases as the fish approaches to maturity; whereas in the seas around Ceylon, it retains its full size throughout the entire period of life. They raise it above the water, whilst dashing along the surface in their rapid course; and there is no reason to doubt that it occasionally acts as a sail.
The Indian species (which are provided with two long and filamentous ventral fins) have been formed into the genus Histiophorus; to which belongs the individual figured on the next page. It is distinguished from others most closely allied to it, by having the immense dorsal fin of one uniform dark violet colour; whilst in its congeners, [pg 330] it is spotted with blue. The fish from which the engraving has been made, was procured by Dr. Templeton, near Colombo. The species was previously known only by a single specimen captured in the Red Sea, by Rüppell, who conferred upon it the specific designation of "immaculatus." 10
Ælian, in his graphic account of the strange forms presented by the fishes inhabiting the seas around Ceylon, says that one in particular is so grotesque in its configuration, that no painter would venture to depict it; its main peculiarity being that it has feet or claws rather than fins. 11 The annexed drawing 12 may [pg 331] probably represent the creature to which the informants of Ælian referred. It is a cheironectes; one of a group in which the bones of the carpus form arms that support the pectoral fins, and enable these fishes to walk along the moist ground, almost like quadrupeds.
They belong to the family of Lophiads or "anglers," not unfrequent on the English coast; which conceal themselves in the mud, displaying only the erectile ray, situated on the head, which bears an excrescence on its extremity resembling a worm; by agitating which, they attract the smaller fishes, that thus become an easy prey.
On the rocks in Ceylon which are washed by the surf [pg 332] there are quantities of the curious little fish, Salarius alticus 13 , which possesses the faculty of darting along the surface of the water, and running up the wet stones, with the utmost ease and rapidity. By aid of the pectoral and ventral fins and gill-cases, they move across the damp sand, ascend the roots of the mangroves, and climb up the smooth face of the rocks in search of flies; adhering so securely as not to be detached by repeated assaults of the waves. These little creatures are so nimble, that it is almost impossible to lay hold of them, as they scramble to the edge, and plunge into the sea on the slightest attempt to molest them. They are from three to four inches in length, and of a dark brown colour, almost undistinguishable from the rocks they frequent.
But the most striking to the eye of a stranger are those fishes whose brilliancy of colouring has won for them the wonder even of the listless Singhalese. Some, like the Red Sea Perch (Holocentrum rubrum, Forsk) and the Great Fire Fish 14 , are of the deepest scarlet and flame colour; in others purple predominates, as in the Serranus flavo-cæruleus; in others yellow, as in the Choetodon Brownriggii 15 , and Acanthurus vittatus, of [pg 333] Bennett 16 , and numbers, from the lustrous green of their scales, have obtained from the natives the appropriate name of Giraway, or parrots, of which one, the Sparus Hardwickii of Bennett, is called the "Flower Parrot," from its exquisite colouring, being barred with irregular bands of blue, crimson, and purple, green, yellow, and grey, and crossed by perpendicular stripes of black.
Of these richly coloured fishes the most familiar in the Indian seas are the Pteroids. They are well known on the coast of Africa, and thence eastward to Polynesia; but they do not extend to the west coast of America, and are utterly absent from the Atlantic. The rays of the dorsal and pectoral fins are so elongated, that when specimens were first brought to Europe it was conjectured that these fishes have the faculty of flight, and hence the specific name of "volitans" But this is an error, for, owing to the deep incisions between the pectoral rays, the pteroids are wholly unable to sustain themselves in the air. They are not even bold swimmers, living close to the shore and never venturing into the deep sea. Their head is ornamented with a number of filaments and cutaneous appendages, of which one over[pg 334]
each eye and another at the angles of the mouth are the most conspicuous. Sharp spines project on the crown and on the side of the gill-apparatus, as in the other sea-perches, Scorpæna, Serranus, &c., of which these are only a modified and ornate form. The extraordinary expansion of their fins is not, however, accompanied by a similar development of the bones to which they are attached, simply because they appear to have no peculiar function, as in flying fishes, or in those where the spines of the fins are weapons of offence. They attain to the length of twelve inches, and to a weight of about two pounds; they live on small marine animals, and by the Singhalese the flesh (of some at least) is considered good for table. Nine or ten species are known to occur in [pg 335] the East Indian Seas, and of these the one figured above is, perhaps, the most common.
Another species known to occur on the coasts of Ceylon is the Scorpæna miles, Bennett, or Pterois miles, Günther 17 , of which Bennett has given a figure 18 , but it is not altogether correct in some particulars.
In the fishes of Ceylon, however, beauty is not confined to the brilliancy of their tints. In some, as in the /Scarus harid, Forsk 19 , the arrangement of the scales is so graceful, and the effect is so heightened by modifications of colour, as to present the appearance of tessellation, or mosaic work.
Fresh-water Fishes.—Of the fresh-water fish, which inhabit the rivers and tanks, so very little has hitherto been known to naturalists 20 , that of nineteen drawings [pg 336] sent home by Major Skinner in 1852, although specimens of well-known genera, Colonel Hamilton Smith pronounced nearly the whole to be new and undescribed species.
Of eight of these, which were from the Mahawelliganga, and caught in the vicinity of Kandy, five were carps; two were Leucisci, and one a Mastacembelus (M. armatus, Lacep); one was an Ophiocephalus, and one a Polyacanthus, with no serræ on the gills. Six were from the Kalanyganga, close to Colombo, of which two were Helostoma, in shape approaching the Chætodon; two Ophiocephali, one a Silurus, and one an Anabas, but the gills were without denticulation. From the still water of the lake, close to the walls of Colombo, there were two species of Eleotris, one Silurus with barbels, and two Malacopterygians, which appear to be Bagri.
The fresh-water Perches of Europe and of the North of America are represented in Ceylon and India by several genera, which bear to them a great external similarity (Lates, Therapon). They have the same habits as their European allies, and their flesh is considered equally wholesome, but they appear to enter salt-water, or at least brackish water, more freely. It is, however, [pg 337] in their internal organisation that they differ most from the perches of Europe; their skeletons are composed of fewer vertebræ, and the air bladder of the Therapon is divided into two portions, as in the carps. Four species at least of this genus inhabit the lakes and rivers of Ceylon, and one of them, of which a figure is given above, has been but imperfectly described in any ichthyological work 21 ; it attains to the length of seven inches.
In addition to marine eels, in which the Indian coasts abound, Ceylon has some true fresh-water eels, which never enter the sea. These are known to the natives under the name of Theliya, and to naturalists by that of Mastacembelus. They have sometimes in ichthyological systems been referred to the Scombridæ and other marine families, from the circumstance that the dorsal fin anteriorly is composed of spines. But, in addition to the [pg 338] general shape of the body, their affinity to the eel is attested, by their confluent fins, by the absence of ventral fins, by the structure of the mouth and its dentition, by the apparatus of the gills, which opens with an inferior slit, and above all by the formation of the skeleton itself. 22
Their skin is covered with minute scales, coated by a slimy exudation, and the upper jaw is produced into a soft tripartite tentacle, with which they are enabled to feel for their prey in the mud. They are very tenacious of life, and belong, without doubt, to those fishes which in Ceylon descend during the drought into the muddy soil. 23 Their flesh very much resembles that of the eel; and is highly esteemed. 24 They were first made known to European naturalists by Russell 25 , who brought to Europe from the rivers round Aleppo specimens, some of which are still preserved in the collection of the British Museum. Aleppo is the most western point of their geographical range, the group being mainly confined to the East-Indian continent and its islands.
In Ceylon only one species appears to occur, the [pg 339] Mastacembelus armatus. 26 The back is armed with from thirty-five to thirty-nine short, stout spines; there being three others before the anal fin. The ground colour of the fish is brown, and the head has two rather irregular longitudinal black bands; deep-brown spots run along the back as well as along the dorsal and anal fins; and the sides are ornamented with irregular and reticulated brown lines. This eel attains to the length of two feet. The old females do not show any markings, being of a uniform brown colour.
In the collection of Major Skinner, before alluded to, brought together without premeditation, the naturalist will be struck by the preponderance of those genera which are adapted by nature to endure, a temporary privation of moisture; and this, taken in connection with the vicissitudes affecting the waters they inhabit, exhibits a surprising illustration of the wisdom of the Creator in adapting the organisation of his creatures to the peculiar circumstances under which they are destined to exist.
So abundant are fish in all parts of the island, that Knox says, not the running streams alone, but the reservoirs and ponds, "nay, every ditch and little plash of water but ankle deep hath fish in it." 27 But many of these reservoirs and tanks are, twice in each year, liable [pg 340] to be evaporated to dryness till the mud of the bottom is converted into dust, and the clay cleft by the heat into gaping apertures; yet within a very few days after the change of the monsoon, the natives are busily engaged in fishing in those very spots and in the hollows contiguous to them, although the latter are entirely unconnected with any pool or running streams. Here they fish in the same way which Knox described nearly 200 years ago, with a funnel-shaped basket, open at bottom and top, "which," as he says, "they jibb down, and the end sticks in the mud, which often happens upon a fish; which, when they feel beating itself against the sides, they put in their hands and take it out, and reive a ratan through their gills, and so let them drag after them." 28
This operation may be seen in the lowlands, traversed [pg 341] by the high road leading from Colombo to Kandy. Before the change of the monsoon, the hollows on either side of the highway are covered with dust or stunted grass; but when flooded by the rains, they are immediately resorted to by the peasants with baskets, constructed precisely as Knox has stated, in which the fish are entrapped and taken out by the hand. 29
So singular a phenomenon as the sudden re-appearance of full-grown fishes in places that a few days before had been encrusted with hardened clay, has not failed to attract attention; but the European residents have been content to explain it by hazarding conjectures, either that the spawn must have lain imbedded in the dried earth till released by the rains, or that the fish, so unexpectedly discovered, fall from the clouds during the deluge of the monsoon.
As to the latter conjecture; the fall of fish during showers, even were it not so problematical in theory, is too rare an event to account for the punctual appearance of those found in the rice-fields, at stated periods of the year. Both at Galle and Colombo in the south-west monsoon, fish are popularly believed to have fallen from the clouds during violent showers, but those found on the occasions that give rise to this belief, consist of the smallest fry, such as could be caught up by waterspouts, and vortices analogous to them, or otherwise blown on shore from the surf; whereas those which [pg 342] suddenly appear in the replenished tanks and in the hollows which they overflow, are mature and well-grown fish. 30 Besides, the latter are found, under the circumstances I have described, in all parts of the interior, whilst the prodigy of a supposed fall of fish from the sky has been noticed, I apprehend, only in the vicinity of the sea, or of some inland water.
The surmise of the buried spawn is one sanctioned by the very highest authority. Mr. Yarrell in his "History of British Fishes," adverting to the fact that ponds (in India) which had been previously converted into hardened mud, are replenished with small fish in a very few days after the commencement of each rainy season, offers this solution of the problem as probably the true one: "The impregnated ova of the fish of one rainy season are left unhatched in the mud through the dry season, and from their low state of organisation as ova, the vitality is preserved till the recurrence, and contact [pg 343] of the rain and oxygen in the next wet season, when vivification takes place from their joint influence." 31
This hypothesis, however, appears to have been advanced upon imperfect data; for although some fish, like the salmon, scrape grooves in the sand and place their spawn in inequalities and fissures; yet as a general rule spawn is deposited not beneath but on the surface of the ground or sand over which the water flows, the adhesive nature of each egg supplying the means of attachment. But in the Ceylon tanks not only is the surface of the soil dried to dust after the evaporation of the water, but earth itself, twelve or eighteen inches deep, is converted into sun-burnt clay, in which, although the eggs of mollusca, in their calcareous covering, are in some instances preserved, it would appear to be as impossible for the ova of fish to be kept from decomposition as for the fish themselves to sustain life. Besides, moisture in such situations is only to be found at a depth to which spawn could not be conveyed by the parent fish, by any means with which we are yet acquainted.[pg 344]
But supposing it possible to carry the spawn sufficiently deep, and to deposit it safely in the mud below, which is still damp, whence it could be liberated on the return of the rains, a considerable interval would still be necessary after the replenishing of the ponds with water to admit of vivification and growth. Yet so far from this interval being allowed to elapse, the rains have no sooner fallen than the taking of the fish commences, and those captured by the natives in wicker cages are mature and full grown instead of being "small fish" or fry, as supposed by Mr. Yarrell.
Even admitting the soundness of his theory, and the probability that, under favourable circumstances, the spawn in the tanks might be preserved during the dry season so as to contribute to the perpetuation of their breed, the fact is no longer doubtful, that adult fish in Ceylon, like some of those that inhabit similar waters both in the New and Old World, have been endowed by the Creator with the singular faculty of providing against the periodical droughts either by journeying overland in search of still unexhausted water, or, on its utter disappearance, by burying themselves in the mud to await the return of the rains.
It is an illustration of the eagerness with which, after the expedition of Alexander the Great, particulars connected with the natural history of India were sought for and arranged by the Greeks, that in the works both of ARISTOTLE and THEOPHRASTUS facts are recorded of the fishes in the Indian rivers migrating in search of water, of their burying themselves in the mud on its failure, of their being dug out thence alive during the dry season, and of their spontaneous reappearance on the return of the rains. The earliest notice is [pg 345] in ARISTOTLE'S treatise De Respiratione 32 , where he mentions the strange discovery of living fish found beneath the surface of the soil, "[Greek: tôn ichthyôn oi polloi zôsin en tê gê, akinêtizontes mentoi, kai euriskontai oryttomenoi?]" and in his History of Animals he conjectures that in ponds periodically dried the ova of the fish so buried become vivified at the change of the season. 33 HERODOTUS had previously hazarded a similar theory to account for the sudden appearance of fry in the Egyptian marshes on the rising of the Nile; but the cases are not parallel. THEOPHRASTUS, the friend and pupil of Aristotle, gave importance to the subject by devoting to it his essay [Greek: Peri tês tôn ichthyôn en zêrô diamonês], De Piscibus in sicco degentibus. In this, after adverting to the fish called exocoetus, from its habit of going on shore to sleep, "[Greek: apo tês koitês,]" he instances the small fish ([Greek: ichthydia]), that leave the rivers of India to wander like frogs on the land; and likewise a species found near Babylon, which, when the Euphrates runs low, leave the dry channels in search of food, "moving themselves along by means of their fins and tail." He proceeds to state that at Heraclea Pontica there are places in which fish are dug out of the earth, "[Greek: oryktoi tôn ichthyôn]," and he accounts for their being found under such circumstances by the subsidence of the rivers, "when the water being evaporated the fish gradually descend beneath the soil in search of moisture; and the surface becoming hard they are preserved in the damp clay below it, in a state of torpor, but are capable of vigorous movements when disturbed." "In, this manner, too," adds Theophrastus, "the buried fish [pg 346] propagate, leaving behind them their spawn, which becomes vivified on the return of the waters to their accustomed bed." This work of Theophrastus became the great authority for all subsequent writers on this question. ATHENÆUS quotes it 34 , and adds the further testimony of POLYBIUS, that in Gallia Narbonensis fish are similarly dug out of the ground. 35 STRABO repeats the story 36 , and the Greek naturalists one and all received the statement as founded on reliable authority.
Not so the Romans. LIVY mentions it as one of the prodigies which were to be "expiated" on the approach of a rupture with Macedon, that "in Gallico agro qua induceretur aratrum sub glebis pisces emersisse," 37 thus taking it out of the category of natural occurrences. POMPONIUS MELA, obliged to notice the matter in his account of Narbon Gaul, accompanies it with the intimation that although asserted by both Greek and Roman authorities, the story was either a delusion or a fraud, JUVENAL has a sneer for the rustic—
"miranti sub aratro
Piscibus inventis."—Sat. xiii. 63.
And SENECA, whilst he quotes Theophrastus, adds ironically, that now we must go to fish with a hatchet instead of a hook; "non cum hamis, sed cum dolabra ire piscatum." PLINY, who devotes the 35th chapter of his 9th book to this subject, uses the narrative of Theophrastus, but with obvious caution, and universally the Latin writers treated the story as a fable.
In later times the subject received more enlightened attention, and Beekman, who in 1736 published his [pg 347] commentary on the collection [Greek: Peri Thaumasiôn akousmatôn], ascribed to Aristotle, has given a list of the authorities about his own times,—GEORGIUS AGRICOLA, GESNER, RONDELET, DALECHAMP, BOMARE, and GRONOVIUS, who not only gave credence to the assertions of Theophrastus, but adduced modern instances in corroboration of his Indian authorities.
As regards the fresh-water fishes of India and Ceylon, the fact is now established that certain of them possess the power of leaving the rivers and returning to them again after long migrations on dry land, and modern observation has fully confirmed their statements. They leave the pools and nullahs in the dry season, and led by an instinct as yet unexplained, shape their course through the grass towards the nearest pool of water. A similar phenomenon is observable in countries similarly circumstanced. The Doras of Guiana 38 have been seen travelling over land during the dry season in search of their natural element 39 , in such droves that the negroes fill baskets with them during these terrestrial excursions. PALLEGOIX in his account of Siam, enumerates three species of fishes which leave the tanks and channels [pg 348] and traverse the damp grass 40 ; and SIR JOHN BOWRING, in his account of his embassy to the Siamese kings in 1855, states, that in ascending and descending the river Meinam to Bankok, he was amused with the novel sight of fish leaving the river, gliding over the wet banks, and losing themselves amongst the trees of the jungle. 41
The class of fishes endowed with this power are chiefly those with labyrinthiform pharyngeal bones, so disposed in plates and cells as to retain a supply of moisture, which, whilst they are crawling on land, gradually exudes so as to keep the gills damp. 42
The individual most frequently seen in these excursions in Ceylon is a perch called by the Singhalese Kavaya or Kawhy-ya, and by the Tamils Pannei-eri, or Sennal. It is closely allied to the Anabas scandens of Cuvier, the Perca scandens of Daldorf. It grows to about six inches in length, the head round and covered with scales, and the edges of the gill-covers strongly denticulated. Aided by the apparatus already adverted to in its head, this little creature issues boldly from its native pools and addresses itself to its toilsome march generally at night or in the early morning, whilst the grass is still damp with the dew; but in its distress it is sometimes compelled to move by day, and Mr. E.L. Layard on one occasion encountered a number of them travelling along a hot and dusty road under the midday sun. 43[pg 349]
Referring to the Anabas scandens, DR. HAMILTON BUCHANAN says, that of all the fish with which he was acquainted it is the most teliacious of life; and he has known boatmen on the Ganges to keep them for five or six days in an earthen pot without water, and daily to use what they wanted, finding them as lively and fresh as when caught. 44 Two Danish naturalists residing at [pg 350] Tranquebar, have contributed their authority to the fact of this fish ascending trees on the coast of Coromandel, an exploit from which it acquired its epithet of Perca scandens. DALDORF, who was a lieutenant in the Danish East India Company's service, communicated to Sir Joseph Banks, that in the year 1791 he had taken this fish from a moist cavity in the stem of a Palmyra palm, that grew near a lake. He saw it when already five feet above the ground struggling to ascend still higher;—"suspending itself by its gill-covers, and bending its tail to the left, it fixed its anal fin in the cavity of the bark, and sought by expanding its body to urge its way upwards, and its march was only arrested by the hand with which he seized it." 45
There is considerable obscurity about the story of this ascent, although corroborated by M. JOHN. Its motive for climbing is not apparent, since water being close at hand it could not have gone for sake of the moisture contained in the fissures of the palm; nor could it be in search of food, as it lives not on fruit but on aquatic insects. 46 The descent, too, is a question of difficulty.[pg 351]
The position of its fins, and the spines on its gill-covers, might assist its journey upwards, but the same apparatus would prove anything but a facility in steadying its journey down. The probability is, as suggested by Buchanan, that the ascent which was witnessed by Daldorf was accidental, and ought not to be regarded as the habit of the animal. In Ceylon I heard of no instance of the perch ascending trees 47 , but the fact is well established that both it, the pullata (a species of polyacanthus), and others, are capable of long journeys on the level ground. 48
Burying Fishes.—But a still more remarkable power possessed by some of the Ceylon fishes, is that already alluded to, of secreting themselves in the earth in the dry season, at the bottom of the exhausted ponds, and there awaiting the renewal of the water at the change of the monsoon. The instinct of the crocodile to resort to the same expedient has been already referred to 49 , and in like manner the fish, when distressed by the evaporation of the tanks, seek relief by immersing first their heads, [pg 352] and by degrees their whole bodies, in the mud; sinking to a depth at which they find sufficient moisture to preserve life in a state of lethargy long after the bed of the tank has been consolidated by the intense heat of the sun. It is possible, too, that the cracks which reticulate the surface may admit air to some extent to sustain their faint respiration.
The same thing takes place in other tropical regions, subject to vicissitudes of drought and moisture. The Protopterus 50 , which inhabits the Gambia (and which though demonstrated by Professor Owen to possess all the essential organisation of fishes, is nevertheless provided with true lungs), is accustomed in the dry season, when the river retires into its channel, to bury itself to the depth of twelve or sixteen inches in the indurated mud of the banks, and to remain in a state of torpor till the rising of the stream after the rains enables it to resume its active habits. At this period the natives of the Gambia, like those of Ceylon, resort to the river, and secure the fish in considerable numbers as they flounder in the still shallow water. A parallel instance occurs, in Abyssinia in relation to the fish of the Mareb, one of the sources of the Nile, the waters of which are partially absorbed in traversing the plains of Taka. During the summer its bed is dry, and in the slime at the depth of more than six feet is found a species of fish without scales, different from any known to inhabit the Nile. 51[pg 353]
In South America the "round-headed hassar" of Guiana, Callicthys littoralis, and the "yarrow," a species of the family Esocidæ, although they possess no specially modified respiratory organs, are accustomed to bury themselves in the mud on the subsidence of water in the pools during the dry season. 52 The Loricaria of Surinam, another Siluridan, exhibits a similar instinct, and resorts to the same expedient. Sir R. Schomburgk, in his account of the fishes of Guiana, confirms this account of the Callicthys, and says "they can exist in muddy lakes without any water whatever, and great numbers of them are sometimes dug up from such situations." 53
In those portions of Ceylon where the country is flat, and small tanks are extremely numerous, the natives are accustomed in the hot season to dig in the mud for [pg 354] fish. Mr. Whiting, the chief civil officer of the eastern province, informs me that, on two occasions, he was present accidentally when the villagers were so engaged, once at the tank of Malliativoe, within a few miles of Kottiar, near the bay of Trincomalie, and again at a tank between Ellendetorre and Arnitivoe, on the bank of the Vergel river. The clay was firm, but moist, and as the men flung out lumps of it with a spade, it fell to pieces, disclosing fish from nine to twelve inches long, which were full grown and healthy, and jumped on the bank when exposed to the sun light.
Being desirous of obtaining a specimen of fish so exhumed, I received from the Moodliar of Matura, A.B. Wickremeratne, a fish taken along with others of the same kind from a tank in which the water had dried up; it was found at a depth of a foot and a half where the mud was still moist, whilst the surface was dry and hard. The fish which the moodliar sent to me is an Anabas, closely resembling the Perca scandens of Daldorf; but on minute examination it proves to be a species unknown in India, and hitherto found only in Boreno and China. It is the A. oligolepis of Bleek.[pg 355]
But the faculty of becoming torpid at such periods is not confined in Ceylon to the crocodile sand fishes;—it is also possessed by some of the fresh-water mollusca and aquatic coleoptera. One of the former, the Ampullaria glauca, is found in still water in all parts of the island, not alone in the tanks, but in rice-fields and the watercourses by which they are irrigated. When, during the dry season, the water is about to evaporate, it burrows and conceals itself 54 till the returning rains restore it to activity, and reproduce its accustomed food. There, at a considerable depth in the soft mud, it deposits a bundle of eggs with a white calcareous shell, to the number of one hundred or more in each group. The Melania Paludina in the same way retires during the droughts into the muddy soil of the rice lands; and it can only be by such an instinct that this and other mollusca are preserved when the tanks evaporate, to re-appear in full growth and vigour immediately on the return of the rains. 55[pg 356]
Dr. John Hunter 56 has advanced an opinion that hybernation, although a result of cold, is not its immediate consequence, but is attributable to that deprivation of food and other essentials which extreme cold occasions, and against the recurrence of which nature makes a timely provision by a suspension of her functions. Excessive heat in the tropics produces an effect upon animals and vegetables analogous to that of excessive cold in northern regions, and hence it is reasonable to suppose that the torpor induced by the one may be but the counterpart of the hybernation which results from the other. The frost that imprisons the alligator in the Mississippi as effectually cuts it off from food and action as the drought which incarcerates the crocodile in the sun-burnt clay of a Ceylon tank. The hedgehog of Europe enters on a period of absolute torpidity as soon as the inclemency of winter deprives it of its ordinary supply of slugs and insects; and the tenrec 57 of Madagascar, its tropical representative, exhibits the same tendency during the period when excessive heat produces in that climate a like result.[pg 357]
The descent of the Ampullaria, and other fresh-water molluscs, into the mud of the tanks, has its parallel in the conduct of the Bulimi and Helices on land. The European snail, in the beginning of winter, either buries itself in the earth or withdraws to some crevice or overarching stone to await the returning vegetation of spring. So, in the season of intense heat, the Helix Waltoni of Ceylon, and others of the same family, before retiring under cover, close the aperture of their shells with an impervious epiphragm, which effectually protects their moisture and juices from evaporation during the period of their æstivation. The Bulimi of Chili have been found alive in England in a box packed in cotton after an interval of two years, and the animal inhabiting a land-shell from Suez, which was attached to a tablet and deposited in the British Museum in 1846, was found in 1850 to have formed a fresh epiphragm, and on being immersed in tepid water, it emerged from its shell. It became torpid again on the 15th November, 1851, and was found dead and dried up in March, 1852. 58 But exceptions serve to prove the accuracy of Hunter's opinion almost as strikingly as accordances, since the same genera of animals that hybernate in Europe, where extreme cold disarranges their oeconomy, evince no symptoms of lethargy in the tropics, provided their food be not diminished by the heat. Ants, which are torpid in Europe during winter, work all the year round in India, where sustenance is uniform. 59 The shrews of Ceylon (Sorex montanus and S. ferrugineus of Kelaart), like [pg 358] those at home, subsist upon insects, but as they inhabit a region where the equable temperature admits of the pursuit of their prey at all seasons of the year, unlike those of Europe, they never hybernate. A similar observation applies to bats, which are dormant during a northern winter when insects are rare, but never become torpid in any part of the tropics. The bear, in like manner, is nowhere deprived of its activity except when the rigour of severe frost cuts off its access to its accustomed food. On the other hand, the tortoise, which in Venezuela immerses itself in indurated mud during the hot months shows no tendency to torpor in Ceylon, where its food is permanent; and yet it is subject to hybernation when carried to the colder regions of Europe.
To the fish in the detached tanks and pools when the heat, by exhausting the water, deprives them at once of motion and sustenance, the practical effect must be the same as when the frost of a northern winter encases them in ice. Nor is it difficult to believe that they can successfully undergo the one crisis when we know beyond question that they may survive the other. 60
Hot-water Fishes.—Another incident is striking in connection with the fresh-water fishes of Ceylon. I have described elsewhere the hot springs of Kannea 61 , in the [pg 359] vicinity of Trincomalie, the water in which flows at a temperature varying at different seasons from 85° to 115°. In the stream formed by these wells M. Reynaud found and forwarded to Cuvier two fishes which he took from the water at a time when his thermometer indicated a temperature of 37° Reaumur, equal to 115° of Fahrenheit. The one was an Apogon, the other an Ambassis, and to each, from the heat of its habitat, he assigned the specific name of "thermalis." 62
In the following list, the Acanthopterygian fishes of Ceylon has been prepared for me by Dr. G&ÜNTHER, and will be found the most complete which has appeared of this order. I am also indebted to him for the correction of the list of Malacopterygians, which I hope ere long to render still more extended, as well as that of the Cartilaginous fishes.[pg 360]
The late Dr. Buist, after enumerating cases in which fishes were said to have been thrown out from volcanoes in South America and precipitated from clouds in various parts of the world, adduced the following instances of similar occurrences in India. "In 1824," he says, "fishes fell at Meerut, on the men of Her Majesty's 14th Regiment, then out at drill, and were caught in numbers. In July, 1826, live fish were seen to fall on the grass at Moradabad during a storm. They were the common cyprinus, so prevalent in our Indian waters. On the 19th of February, 1830, at noon, a heavy fall of fish occurred at the Nokulhatty factory, in the Daccah zillah; [pg 363] depositions on the subject were obtained from nine different parties. The fish were all dead; most of them were large; some were fresh, others were rotten and mutilated. They were seen at first in the sky, like a flock of birds, descending rapidly to the ground; there was rain drizzling, but no storm. On the 16th and 17th of May, 1833, a fall of fish occurred in the zillah of Futtehpoor, about three miles north of the Jumna, after a violent storm of wind and rain. The fish were from a pound and a half to three pounds in weight, and of the same species as those found in the tanks in the neighbourhood. They were all dead and dry. A fall of fish occurred at Allahabad, during a storm in May, 1835; they were of the chowla species, and were found dead and dry after the storm had passed over the district. On the 20th of September, 1839, after a smart shower of rain, a quantity of live fish, about three inches in length and all of the same kind, fell at the Sunderbunds, about twenty miles south of Calcutta. On this occasion it was remarked that the fish did not fall here and there irregularly over the ground, but in a continuous straight line, not more than a span in breadth. The vast multitudes of fish, with which the low grounds round Bombay are covered, about a week or ten days after the first burst of the monsoon, appear to be derived from the adjoining pools or rivulets, and not to descend from the sky. They are not, so far as I know, found in the higher parts of the island. I have never seen them, (though I have watched carefully,) in casks collecting water from the roofs of buildings, or heard of them on the decks or awnings of vessels in the harbour, where they must have appeared had they descended from the sky. One of the most remarkable phenomena of this kind occurred during a tremendous deluge of rain at Kattywar, on the 25th of July, 1850, when the ground around Rajkote was found literally covered with fish; some of them were found on the tops of haystacks, where probably they had been drifted by the storm. In the course of twenty-four successive hours twenty-seven inches of rain fell, thirty-five fell in twenty-six hours, seven [pg 364] inches within one hour and a half, being the heaviest fall on record. At Poonah, on the 3rd of August, 1852, after a very heavy fall of rain, multitudes of fish were caught on the ground in the cantonments, full half a mile from the nearest stream. If showers of fish are to be explained on the assumption that they are carried up by squalls or violent winds, from rivers or spaces of water not far away from where they fall, it would be nothing wonderful were they seen to descend from the air during the furious squalls which occasionally occur in June."
The large series of beautifully coloured drawings of the fishes of Ceylon, which has been submitted to my inspection, possesses an unusual value for several reasons.
The fishes, it appears, were all captured at Colombo, and even had those from other parts of Ceylon been added, the geographical area would not have been very extended. Nevertheless there are more than 600 drawings, and though it is possible that some of these represent varieties in different stages of growth of the same species, I have not been able to find definite evidence of the fact in any of those groups which I have particularly tested. If, however, these drawings represent six hundred distinct species of fish, they constitute, so far as I know, the largest collection of fish from one locality in existence.
The number of known British fishes may be safely assumed to be less than 250, and Mr. Yarrell enumerates only 226, Dr. Cantor's valuable work on Malayan fishes enumerates not more than 238, while Dr. Russell has figured only 200 from [pg 365] Coromandel. Even the enormous area of the Chinese and Japanese seas has as yet not yielded 800 species of fishes.
The large extent of the collection alone, then, renders it of great importance: but its value is immeasurably enhanced by the two circumstances,—first, that every drawing was made while the fish retained all that vividness of colouring which becomes lost so soon after its removal from its native element; and secondly, that when the sketch was finished its subject was carefully labelled, preserved in spirits, and forwarded to England, so that at the present moment the original of every drawing can be subjected to anatomical examination, and compared with already named species.
Under these circumstances, I do not hesitate to say that the collection is one of the most valuable in existence, and might, if properly worked out, become a large and secure foundation for all future investigation into the ichthyology of the Indian Ocean.
It would be very hazardous to express an opinion as to the novelty or otherwise of the species and genera figured without the study of the specimens themselves, as the specific distinctions of fish are for the most part based upon character—the fin-rays, teeth, the operculum, &c., which can only be made out by close and careful examination of the object, and cannot be represented in ordinary drawings however accurate.
There are certain groups of fish, however, whose family traits are so marked as to render it almost impossible to mistake even their portraits, and hence I may venture, without fear of being far wrong, upon a few remarks as to the general features of the ichthyological fauna of Ceylon.
In our own seas rather less than a tenth of the species of fishes belong to the cod tribe. I have not found one represented in these drawings, nor do either Russell or Cantor mention any in the surrounding seas, and the result is in general harmony with the known laws of distribution of these most useful of fishes.
On the other hand, the mackerel family, including the tunnies, [pg 366] the bonitas, the dories, the horse-mackerels, &c., which form not more than one sixteenth of our own fish fauna, but which are known to increase their proportion in hot climates, appear in wonderful variety of form and colour, and constitute not less than one fifth of the whole of the species of Ceylon fish. In Russell's catalogue they form less than one fifth, in Cantor's less than one sixth.
Marine and other siluroid fishes, a group represented on the continent of Europe, but doubtfully, if at all, in this country, constitute one twentieth of the Ceylon fishes. In Russell's and Cantor's lists they form about one thirtieth of the whole.
The sharks and rays form about one seventh of our own fish fauna. They constitute about one tenth or one eleventh of Russell's and Cantor's lists, while among these Ceylon drawings I find not more than twenty, or about one thirtieth of the whole, which can be referred to this group of fishes. It must be extremely interesting to know whether this circumstance is owing to accident, or to the local peculiarities of Colombo, or whether the fauna of Ceylon really is deficient in such fishes.
The like exceptional character is to be noticed in the proportion of the tribe of flat fishes, or Pleuronectidæ. Soles, turbots, and the like, form nearly one twelfth of our own fishes. Both Cantor and Russell give the flat fishes as making one twenty-second part of their collection, while in the whole 600 Ceylon drawings I can find but five Pleuronectidæ.
When this great collection has been carefully studied, I doubt not that many more interesting distributional facts will be evolved.
Since receiving this note from Professor Huxley, the drawings in question have been submitted to Dr. Gray, of the British Museum. That eminent naturalist, after a careful analysis, has favoured me with the following memorandum of [pg 367] the fishes they represent, numerically contrasting them with those of China and Japan, so far as we are acquainted with the ichthyology of those seas:—
|Ceylon.||China and Japan.|
In Bhootan, at the south-eastern extremity of the Himalayas, a fish is found, the scientific name of which is unknown to me, but it is called by the natives the Bora-chung, and by European residents the "ground-fish of Bhootan." It is described in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for 1839, by a writer (who had seen it alive), as being about two feet in length, and [pg 368] cylindrical, with a thick body, somewhat shaped like a pike, but rounder, the nose curved upwards, the colour olive-green, with orange stripes, and the head speckled with crimson. 63 This fish, according to the native story, is caught not in the rivers in whose vicinity it is found, but "in perfectly dry places in the middle of grassy jungle, sometimes as far as two miles from the banks." Here, on finding a hole four or five inches in diameter, they commence to dig, and continue till they come to water; and presently the bora-chung rises to the surface, sometimes from a depth of nineteen feet. In these extemporised wells these fishes are found always in pairs, and I when brought to the surface they glide rapidly over the ground with a serpentine motion. This account appeared in 1839; but some years later, Mr. Campbell, the Superintendent of Darjeeling, in a communication to the same journal 64 , divested the story of much of its exaggeration, by stating, as the result of personal inquiry in Bhootan, that the bora-chung inhabits the jheels and slow-running streams near the hills, but lives principally on the banks, into which it penetrates from one to five or six feet. The entrance to these retreats leading from the river into the bank is generally a few inches below the surface, so that the fish can return to the water at pleasure. The mode of catching them is by introducing the hand into these holes; and the bora-chungs are found generally two in each chamber, coiled concentrically like snakes. It is not believed that they bore their own burrows, but that they take possession of those made by land-crabs. Mr. Campbell denies that they are more capable than other fish of moving on dry ground. From the particulars given, the bora-chung would appear to be an Ophiocephalus, probably the O. barka described by Buchanan, as inhabiting holes in the banks of rivers tributary to the Ganges.
A Selection of the most Remarkable and Interesting Fishes found on the Coast of Ceylon. By J.W. BENNETT, Esp. London, 1830.
Histoire Naturelle des Poissons.
See note B appended to this chapter.
Cybium (Scomber, Linn.) guttatum.
These facts serve to explain the story told by the friar ODORIC of Friuli, who visited Ceylon about the year 1320 A.D., and says there are "fishes in those seas that come swimming towards the said country in such abundance that for a great distance into the sea nothing can be seen but the backs of fishes, which casting themselves on the shore, do suffer men for the space of three daies to come and to take as many of them as they please, and then they return again into the sea."—Hakluyt, vol. ii. p. 57.
There are other species of Sardine found at Ceylon besides the S. Neohowii; such as the S. lineolata, Cuv. and Val. and the S. leiogaster, Cuv. and Val. xx. 270, which was found by M. Reynaud at Trincomalie. It occurs also off the coast of Java. Another Ceylon fish of the same group, a Clupea, is known as the "poisonous sprat;" the bonito (Thynnus affinis, Cang.), the kangewena, or unicorn fish (Balistes?), and a number of others, are more or less in bad repute from the same imputation.
Two other species are found in the Ceylon waters, P. cuspidatus and P. pectinatus.
Raja narinari, Bl. Schn. p. 361. Aëtobates narinari, Müll. und Henle., Plagiost. p. 179.
ÆLIAN tells a story of a ship in the Black Sea, the bottom of which was penetrated by the sword of a Xiphias (L. xiv. c. 23); and PLINY (L. xxxii. c. 8) speaks of a similar accident on the coast of Mauritania. In the British Museum there is a specimen of a plank of oak, pierced by a sword-fish, and still retaining the broken weapon.
Trans. Zool. Soc. ii. p. 71. Pl. 15.
[Greek: Podas ge mên chêlas ê pterygia.]
—Lib. xvi. c. 18.
The fish from which this drawing of the Cheironectes was made, was taken near Colombo, and from the peculiarities which it presents it is in all probability a new and undescribed species. Dr. G&ÜNTHER has remarked, that in it, whilst the first and second dorsal spines are situated as usual over the eye (and form, one the angling bait of the fish, the other the crest above the nose), the third is at an unusual distance from the second, and is not separated, as in the other species, from the soft fin by a notch.
Cuv. and VALEN., Hist. Nat. des Poissons, tom. xi. p. 249. It is identical with S. tridactylus, Schn.
Pterois muricata, Cuv. and Val. iv. 363. Scarpæna miles, Bennett; named, by the Singhalese, "Maharata-gini," the Great Red Fire, a very brilliant red species spotted with black. It is very voracious, and is regarded on some parts of the coast as edible, while on others it is rejected.
Glyphisodon Brownriggii, Cuv. and Val. v. 484; Choetodon Brownriggii, Bennett. A very small fish about two inches long, called Kaha hartikyha by the natives. It is distinct from Choetodon, in which BENNETT placed it. Numerous species of this genus are scattered throughout the Indian Ocean. It derives its name from the fine hair-like character of its teeth. They are found chiefly among coral reefs, and, though eaten, are not much esteemed. In the French colonies they are called "Chauffe-soleil." One species is found on the shores of the New World (G. saxatalis), and it is curious that Messrs. QUOY and GAIMARD found this fish at the Cape de Verde Islands in 1827.
This fish has a sharp round spine on the side of the body near the tail; a formidable weapon, which is generally partially concealed within a scabbard-like incision. It raises or depresses this spine at pleasure. The fish is yellow, with several nearly parallel blue stripes on the back and sides; the belly is white, the tail and fins brownish green, edged with blue.
It is found in rocky places; and according to BENNETT, who has figured it in his second plate, it is named Seweya. It has been known, however, to all the old ichthyologists, Valentyn, Renard, Seba, Artedi, and has been named Chætodon lineatus, by Linné. It is scarce on the southern coast of Ceylon.
The fish from the Sea of Pinang, described by Dr. CANTOR with this name (Catal. Mal. Fish. p. 42), is again different, and belongs to a third species.
Fishes of Ceylon, Pl. ix.
This is the fish figured by BENNETT as Sparus pepo. Fishes of Ceylon, Plate xxviii.
In extenuation of the little that is known of the fresh-water fishes of Ceylon, it may be observed that very few of them are used at table by Europeans, and there is therefore no stimulus on the part of the natives to catch them. The burbot and grey mullet are occasionally eaten, but they taste of mud, and are not in request.
Some years ago the experiment was made, with success, of introducing into Mauritius the Osphromenus olfax of Java, which has also been taken to French Guiana. In both places it is now highly esteemed as a fish for table. As it belongs to a family which possesses the faculty, hereafter alluded to, of surviving in the damp soil after the subsidence of the water in the tanks and rivers, it might with equal advantage be acclimated in Ceylon. It grows to 20 lbs. weight and upwards.
Holocentrus quadrilineatus, Bloch. It is allied to Helotes polytoenia, Bleek., from Halmaheira which it can be readily distinguished by having only five or six blackish longitudinal bands, the black humeral spot being between the first and second; another blackish blotch is in the spinous dorsal fin. There are two specimens in the British Museum collection, one of which has recently arrived from Amoy; of the other the locality is unknown. See G&ÜNTHER, Acanthopt. Fishes, vol. i. p. 282, where mention of the black humeral spot has been omitted.
See G&ÜNTHER'S Acanthopt. Fishes, vol. iii. (Family Mastacembelidæ).
See post, p. 351.
CUV. and VAL., Hist. Poiss. vol. iii. p. 459.
Nat. Hist. Aleppo, 2nd edit. Lond. 1794, vol. ii. p. 208, pl. vi.
Macrognathus armatus, Lacép.; Mastacembelus armatus, Cuv., Val.
Knox's Historical Relation of Ceylon, Part i. ch. vii. The occurrence of fish in the most unlooked-for situations, is one of the mysteries of other eastern countries as well as Ceylon and India. In Persia irrigation is carried on to a great extent by means of wells sunk in line in the direction in which it is desired to lead a supply of water, and these are connected by channels, which are carefully arched over to protect them from evaporation. These kanats, as they are called, are full of fish, although neither they nor the wells they unite have any connection with streams or lakes.
Knox, Historical Relation of Ceylon, Part i. ch vi.
As anglers, the native Singhalese exhibit little expertness; but for fishing the rivers, they construct with singular ingenuity fences formed of strong stakes, protected by screens of ratan, that stretch diagonally across the current; and along these the fish are conducted into a series of enclosures from which retreat is impracticable. MR. LAYARD, in the Magazine of Natural History for May, 1853, has given a diagram of one of these fish "corrals," as they are called, of which a copy is shown on the next page.
I had an opportunity, on one occasion only, of witnessing the phenomenon which gives rise to this popular belief. I was driving in the cinnamon gardens near the fort of Colombo, and saw a violent but partial shower descend at no great distance before me. On coming to the spot I found a multitude of small silvery fish from one and a half to two inches in length, leaping on the gravel of the high road, numbers of which I collected and brought away in my palankin. The spot was about half a mile from the sea, and entirely unconnected with any watercourse or pool.
Mr. Whiting, who was many years resident in Trincomadie, writes me that he "had often been told by the natives on that side of the island that it sometimes rained fishes; and on one occasion" (he adds) "I was taken by them, in 1849, to a field at the village of Karrancotta-tivo, near Batticaloa, which was dry when I passed over it in the morning, but, had been covered in two hours by sudden rain to the depth of three inches, in which there was then a quantity of small fish. The water had no connection with any pond or stream whatsoever." Mr. Cripps, in like manner, in speaking of Galle, says: "I have seen in the vicinity of the fort, fish taken from rain-water that had accumulated in the hollow parts of land that in the hot season are perfectly dry and parched. The place is accessible to no running stream or tank; and either the fish or the spawn from which they were produced, must of necessity have fallen with the rain."
Mr. J. PRINSEP, the eminent secretary to the Asiatic Society of Bengal, found a fish in the pulviometer at Calcutta, in 1838.—Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bengal, vol. vi. p. 465.
A series of instances in which fishes have been found on the continent of India under circumstances which lead to the conclusion that they must have fallen from the clouds, have been collected by the late Dr. BUIST of Bombay, and will be found in the appendix to this chapter.
YARRELL, History of British Fishes, introd. vol. i. p. xxvi. This too was the opinion of Aristotle, De Respiratione, c. ix.
Lib. vi. ch. 15, 16, 17.
Lib. viii. ch. 2.
Ib. ch. 4.
Lib. iv. and xii.
Lib. xlii. ch. 2.
D. Hancockii, CUV. et VAL.
Sir R. Schomburgk's Fishes of Guiana, vol. i. pp. 113, 151, 160. Another migratory fish was found by Bose very numerous in the fresh waters of Carolina and in ponds liable to become dry in summer. When captured and placed on the ground, "they always, directed themselves towards the nearest water, which they could not possibly see, and which they must have discovered by some internal index. They belong to the genus Hydrargyra and are called Swampines.—KIRBY, Bridgewater Treatise, vol. i. p. 143.
Eels kept in a garden, when August arrived (the period at which instinct impels them to go to the sea to spawn) were in the habit of leaving the pond, and were invariably found moving eastward in the direction of the sea.—YARRELL, vol. ii. p. 384. Anglers observe that fish newly caught, when placed out of sight of water, always struggle towards it to escape.
PALLEGOIX, vol. i. p. 144.
Sir J. BOWERING'S Siam, &c., vol. i. p. 10.
CUVIER and VALENCIENNES, Hist. Nat. des Poissons, tom. vii. p. 246.
Annals and Mag. of Nat. Hist., May, 1853, p. 390. Mr. Morris, the government-agent of Trincomalie, writing to me on this subject in 1856, says—"I was lately on duty inspecting the kind of a large tank at Nade-cadua, which, being out of repair, the remaining water was confined in a small hollow in the otherwise dry bed. Whilst there heavy rain came on, and, as we stood on the high ground, we, observed a pelican on the margin of the shallow pool gorging himself; our people went towards him and raised a cry of fish! fish! We hurried down, and found numbers of fish struggling upwards through the grass in the rills formed by the trickling of the rain. There was scarcely water enough to cover them, but nevertheless they made rapid progress up the bank, on which our followers collected about two bushels of them at a distance of forty yards from the tank. They were forcing their way up the knoll, and, had they not been intercepted first by the pelican and afterwards by ourselves, they would in a few minutes have gained the highest point and descended on the other side into a pool which formed another portion of the tank. They were chub, the same as are found in the mud after the tanks dry up." In a subsequent communication in July, 1857, the same gentleman says—"As the tanks dry up the fish congregate in the little pools till at last you find them in thousands in the moistest parts of the beds, rolling in the blue mud which is at that time about the consistence of thick gruel."
"As the moisture further evaporates the surface fish are left uncovered, and they crawl away in search of fresh pools. In one place I saw hundreds diverging in every direction, from the tank they had just abandoned to a distance of fifty or sixty yards, and still travelling onwards. In going this distance, however, they must have used muscular exertion sufficient to have taken them half a mile on level ground, for at these places all the cattle and wild animals of the neighbourhood had latterly come to drink; so that the surface was everywhere indented with footmarks in addition to the cracks in the surrounding baked mud, into which the fish tumbled in their progress. In those holes which were deep and the sides perpendicular they remained to die, and were carried off by kites and crows."
"My impression is that this migration takes place at night or before sunrise, for it was only early in the morning that I have seen them progressing, and I found that those I brought away with me in chatties appeared quiet by day, but a large proportion managed to get out of the chatties at night—some escaped altogether, others were trodden on and killed."
"One peculiarity is the large size of the vertebral column, quite disproportioned to the bulk of the fish. I particularly noticed that all in the act of migrating had their gills expanded."
Fishes of the Ganges, 4to. 1822.
Transactions Linn. Soc. vol. iii. p. 63. It is remarkable, however, that this discovery of Daldorf, which excited so great an interest in 1791, had been anticipated by an Arabian voyager a thousand years before. Abou-zeyd, the compiler of the remarkable MS. known since Renaudot's translation by the title of the Travels of the Two Mahometans, states that Suleyman, one of his informants, who visited India at the close of the ninth century, was told there of a fish which, issuing from the waters, ascended the coco-nut palms to drink their sap, and returned to the sea. "On parle d'un poisson de mer qui, sortant de l'eau, monte sur la cocotier et boit le suc de la plante; ensuite il retourne á la mer." See REINAUD, Rélations des Voyages faits par les Arabes et Persans dans le neuvième siècle, tom. i. p, 21, tom. ii. p. 93.
Kirby says that it is "in pursuit of certain crustaceans that form its food" (Bridgewater Treatise, vol i. p. 144); but I am not aware of any crustaceans in the island which ascend the palmyra or feed upon its fruit. The Birgus latro, which inhabits Mauritius, and is said to climb the coco-nut for this purpose, has not been observed in Ceylon.
This assertion must be qualified by a fact stated by Mr. E.A. Layard, who mentions that on visiting one of the fishing stations on a Singhalese river, where the fish are caught in staked enclosures, as described at p. 342, and observing that the chambers were covered with netting, he asked the reason, and was told "that some of the fish climbed up the sticks and got over."—Mag. Nat. Hist, for May 1823, p. 390-1.
Strange accidents have more than once occurred at Ceylon arising from the habit of the native anglers; who, having neither baskets nor pockets in which to place what they catch, will seize a fish in their teeth whilst putting fresh bait on their hook. In August, 1853, a man was carried into the Pettah hospital at Colombo, having a climbing perch, which he thus attempted to hold, firmly imbedded in his throat. The spines of its dorsal fin prevented its descent, whilst those of the gill-covers equally forbade its return. It was eventually extracted by the forceps through an incision in the oesophagus, and the patient recovered. Other similar cases have proved fatal.
See ante, p. 285.
Lepidosiren annectans, Owen. See Linn. Trans. 1839.
This statement will be found in QUATREMERE'S Mémoires sur l'Egypte, tom. i. p. 17, on the authority of Abdullah ben Ahmed ben Solaim Assouany, in his History of Nubia, "Simon, héritier présomptif du royanme d'Alouah, m'a assuré que l'on trouve, dans la vase qui couvre fond de cette rivière, un grand poisson sans écailles, qui ne ressemble en rien aux poissons du Nil, et que, pour l'avoir, il faut creuser à une toise et plus de profondeur." To this passage, there is appended this note:—"Le patriarche Mendes, cité par Legrand (Relation Hist. d' Abyssinie, du P. LOBO, p. 212-3) rapporte que le fleuve Mareb, après avoir arrosé une étendue de pays considérable, se perd sous terre; et que quand les Portugais faisaient la guerre dans ce pays, ils fouilloient dans le sable, et y trouvoient de la bonne eau et du ban poisson. An rapport de l'auteur de l' Ayin Akbery (tom. ii, p. 146, ed. 1800), dans le Soubah do Caschmir, pres du lieu nommé Tilahmoulah, est une grande pièce de terre qui est inondée pendant la saison des pluies. Lorsque les eaux se sont évaporées, et que la vase est presque séche, les habitans prennant des bâtons d'environ une aune do long, qu'ils enfoncent dans la vase, et ils y trouvent quantité de grands et petits poissons." In the library of the British Museum there is an unique MS. of MANOEL DE ALMEIDA, written in the sixteenth century, from which Balthasar Tellec compiled his Historia General de Ethiopia alta, printed at Coimbra in 1660, and in it the above statement of Mendes is corroborated by Almeida, who says that he was told by João Gabriel, a Creole Portuguese, born in Abyssinia, who had visited the Mareb, and who said that the "fish were to be found everywhere eight or ten palms down, and that he had eaten of them."
See Paper "on some Species of Fishes and Reptiles in Demerara," by J. HANDCOCK, Esq., M.D., Zoological Journal, vol. iv. p. 243.
A curious account of the borachung or "ground fish" of Bhootan, will be found in Note (C.) appended to this chapter.
A knowledge of this fact was turned to prompt account by Mr. Edgar S. Layard, when holding a judicial office at Point Pedro in 1849. A native who had been defrauded of his land complained before him of his neighbour, who, during his absence, had removed their common landmark, diverting the original watercourse and obliterating its traces by filling it up to a level with the rest of the field. Mr. Layard directed a trench to be sunk at the contested spot, and discovering numbers of the Ampullaria, the remains of the eggs, and the living animal which had been buried for months, the evidence was so resistless as to confound the wrong-doer, and terminate the suit.
For a similar fact relative to the shells and water beetles in the pools near Rio Janeiro, see DARWIN'S Nat. Journal, ch. v. p. 99. BENSON, in the first vol. of Gleanings of Science, published at Calcutta in 1829, describes a species of Paludina found in pools, which are periodically dried up in the hot season but reappear with the rains, p. 363. And in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for Sept. 1832, Lieut. HUTTON, in a singularly interesting paper, has followed up the same subject by a narrative of his own observations at Mirzapore, wherein June, 1832, after a few heavy showers of rain, that formed pools on the surface of the ground near a mango grove, he saw the Paludinæ issuing from the ground, "pushing aside the moistened earth and coming forth from their retreats; but on the disappearance of the water not one of them was to be seen above ground. Wishing to ascertain what had become of them he turned up the earth at the base of several trees, and invariably found the shells buried from an inch to two inches below the surface." Lieut. Hutton adds that the Ampullariæ and Planorbes, as well as the Paludinæ are found in similar situations during the heats of the dry season. The British Pisidea exibit the same faculty (see a monograph in the Camb. Phil. Trans. vol. iv.). The fact is elsewhere alluded to in the present work of the power possessed by the land leech of Ceylon of retaining vitality even after being parched to hardness during the heat of the rainless season. LYELL mentions the instance of some snails in Italy which, when they hybernate, descend to the depth of five feet and more below the surface. Princip. of Geology, &c, p. 373.
HUNTER'S Observations on parts of the Animal Oeconomy, p. 88.
Centetes ecaudatus, Illiger.
Annals of Natural History, 1860. See Dr. BAIRD'S Account of Helix desertorum; Excelsior, &c., ch. i. p. 345.
Colonel SKYES has described in the Entomological Trans. the operations of an ant in India which lays up a store of hay against the rainy season.
YARRELL, vol. i. p. 364, quotes the authority of Dr. J. Hunter in his Animal Oeconomy, that fish, "after being frozen still retain so much of life as when thawed to resume their vital actions;" and in-the same volume (Introd. vol. i. p. xvii.) he relates from JESSE'S Gleanings in Natural History, the story of a gold fish (Cyprinus auratus), which, together with the a marble basin, was frozen into one solid lump of ice, yet, on the water being thawed, the fish became as lively as usual. Dr. RICHARDSON in the third vol of his Fauna Borealis Americana, says the grey sucking carp, found in the fur countries of North America, may be frozen and thawed again without being killed in the process.
See SIR J. EMERSON TENNET's Ceylon, &c., vol. ii. p. 496.
CUV. and VAL., vol. iii. p. 363. In addition to the two fishes above named, a loche Cobitis thermalis, and a carp, Nuria thermoicos, were found in the hot-springs of Kannea, at a heat 40° Cent., 114° Fahr., and a roach, Leuciscus thermalis, when the thermometer indicated 50° Cent, 122° Fahr.—Ib. xviii. p. 59, xvi. p. 182, xvii. p. 94. Fish have been taken from a hot spring at Pooree when the thermometer stood at 112° Fahr., and as they belonged to a carnivorous genus, they must have found prey living in the same high temperature.—Journ. Asiatic Soc. of Beng. vol. vi. p. 465. Fishes have been observed in a hot spring at Manila which raises the thermometer to 187°, and in another in Barbary, the usual temperature of which is 172°; and Humboldt and Bonpland, when travelling in South America, saw fishes thrown up alive from a volcano, in water that raised the temperature to 210°, being two degrees below the boiling point. PATTERSON'S Zoology, Pt. ii. p. 211; YARRELL'S History of British Fishes, vol. i. In. p. xvi.
Paper by Mr. J.T. PEARSON, Journ. Asiat. Soc. Beng., vol. viii p. 551.
Journ. Asiat. Soc. Beng., vol. xi. p. 963.