The Human Side of Animals by Royal Dixon is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here: [LINK TO TABLE OF LINK]. Chapter XII: Tourists and Sight-seeing
"Every night we must look, lest the down slope
Between us and the woods turn suddenly
To a grey onrush full of small green candles,
The charging pack with eyes flaming for flesh.
And well for us then if there's no more mist
Than the white panting of the wolfish hunger."
The desire to travel and see the great world is by no means peculiar to the human race. It is found among animals to such a degree that groups of them will often leave their homes in one country and journey to another. These strange wanderlust habits are noticed even by the casual observer, and no special insight is required to see that these wise creatures have their annual tours excellently arranged and marked out. Their route is possibly as definitely arranged before starting, as is the route of a human traveller. They have their selected eating places arranged, know every danger spot and the enemies they are likely to encounter.
The members of these co-operative tours take life tickets, and each tour lasts about one year. One of the most unusual instances of such co-operation is that of the lemmings of the Scandinavian countries. These are animals of the mouse tribe, which live in the mountainous districts. They live upon roots and grasses. They breed very rapidly. At certain times they go from the centre of Norway to the east and west, crossing valley, hill, and river in great masses. Many are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey, but finally the survivors reach the Atlantic on the Gulf of Bothnia and, for some strange unknown reason, plunge in and die. Only enough remain from one season to another to propagate the species. It is an immense co-operative suicide society.
Rivers and valleys are sometimes effectual barriers. On the plains of the Amazon great numbers of animals are found on one side of the river only; these have not been able to cross to the other. On the north side of the Rio Negro are two varieties of monkeys, the brachiurus conxion and the jacchus bicolor, which are unknown on the south side. Of course, water-loving animals, such as seals, whales, and porpoises are at home in the water and can swim for days without stopping. Quite a few animals can swim for a short distance, but comparatively few for long distances. In the early days in North America it was not uncommon for buffalo to swim across the Mississippi River. Rats and squirrels often migrate in great numbers. It oftentimes happens that Arctic animals travel from one place to another on floating ice. In the South American waters it is a common sight to see floating islands covered with plants and trees upon which there are live animals; and while these animals are likely to perish, they are oftentimes carried safely to land. Eagles have often been instrumental in bringing new species of animals to islands where they had previously been unknown, their purpose being to provide food for their own young. Some of these animals would escape and henceforth become citizens of their new habitation.
An interesting division of migrants is that of the casual travellers, like the men and women who always remain at home except when special business calls them away. Sudden climatic changes, or the scarcity of food, often cause stay-at-home animals to make tours into new territories. As a good instance, I might cite the case of three wolves, which I saw entering Jackson Park in Chicago, during very severe weather when Lake Michigan was frozen over. The morning papers stated that because of forest fires in Michigan, and the extreme cold, which not only made food scarce for the wild animals of Michigan, but froze the Lake, many of them had come across the ice into the great Chicago parks seeking food and shelter.
The subject of animal travel is full of interesting and difficult problems, and not the least interesting nor the least difficult is the question of just how they find their way to and from various places. Many naturalists tell us that these animals are led by inherited instinct along the migration lines followed by their forefathers. But even if this were true, what made them originally follow such a course?
Wild horses when travelling always have a leader as well as several sentinels for each herd. By some unknown code this leader makes known his wishes and directs the movements of the herd. No human army could have greater order or more perfect obedience to commands; and under him there is absolute unity by means of which the carnivorous animals, such as the wolf, the jaguar, and the puma, are repelled. Wild deer invariably have a leader, and while we do not know how he obtains his position, nor how he directs his followers, we do know he is highly successful in his efforts.
No act in the animal world bespeaks more intelligence than that of placing sentinels, especially during a journey. Horses show striking skill and ingenuity in the choosing and placing of their sentinels. Any one who has been fortunate enough to have seen them travelling in the forests of South America, where the wild horses are gregarious, and travel in herds of five hundred to a thousand, has noticed that sentinels are always stationed around the herd. These animals are not well prepared for fighting, and experience has taught them that their greatest safety is in flight, and so, when they graze or sleep, sentinels are always on the look-out for enemies. If a man approaches, the sentinel at first walks toward him, as if to make sure what the enemy is, and what he desires, if the man goes nearer to the herd, the sentinel neighs in a most peculiar tone. Immediately the herd is aroused, and gallops away, not in confusion, but perfect order, as though its members were human soldiers.
The same is true of the white-legged peccaries, so plentiful in Guiana. They congregate by the thousands, choose a leader whose position is always at the front, and travel for hundreds of miles through the great forests. If they come to a river, the leader halts, as if to make sure that all is well for crossing, then he plunges into the water and is followed by his immense army. The sureness of the leader would suggest that he has been over the same route many times before—perhaps this is why he has been chosen! If an enemy appears, or any form of danger is approached, they carry on an immense amount of chattering and proceed only when they have talked it out. Any hunter that should be foolish enough to attack them, unless he were already up a tree, would be torn to pieces with their terrible teeth and tusks. They are as bloodthirsty as the wild boars of the Black Forest of Germany, and will sometimes actually tear down a tree up which an enemy has escaped, that they may kill him.
The African apes have an interesting way of sending their sentinel to the top of an adjacent rock or tree, that he may look over the surrounding valleys and plantations before they go to plunder a garden or field. If he sees any danger, he utters a loud shriek, and the entire troop immediately runs away. The monkeys of Brazil post a guard while they sleep; the same is true of the chamois and other species of wild antelope.
A few years ago, many of the sheep in the northern part of Wales had become quite wild, and they usually grazed in parties of twelve to twenty, always having a sentinel so stationed as to command a prominent view of the surrounding territory. If any animal or person came near, he would give a peculiar hiss or whistle, repeating it two or three times, at which the whole herd would scamper away to places of safety.
One of the most striking facts about migration is its never-failing regularity and success. Most animals migrate at the recurrence of the breeding season. Of these, the great sea-turtle, which seeks the shallow water and deep sandy hills when ready to lay her eggs, is well known. Notwithstanding the great risks that practically all travelling animals assume, they are successful as a whole in their travels, and many return to bear testimony to a successful trip even across continents and sometimes the ocean. They migrate, for a variety of reasons. When it is not for a more desirable climate, nor more food, nor even better breeding grounds, we must either believe it is because of the natural desire to travel, or frankly admit that we do not understand it.
The Icelandic mice have probably the most curious methods of travelling of all migratory animals. Dr. Henderson, an authority on Iceland, not only verifies the fact himself, but gives the names of many prominent investigators who have seen the mice crossing small rivers and streams on thin pieces of dry board, dragging them to the water, launching them, and then going aboard their little rafts. They then turn their heads to the centre, and their tails, which hang in the water, are used as paddles and rudders until they reach the destined shore.
Among travellers none are more famed than the camels. In their sphere and use they are supreme, and Nature has prepared them especially for travelling on the dry, hot, and barren deserts. They are truly the "ships of the desert" for they travel on a sea of sand, and their pad-like feet, so poorly adapted for travel on moist soil, is admirably suited to the desert sands. They are capable of travelling many days without food or water, and are used extensively in the desert regions of the East not only as beasts of burden but for their milk, which is an important article of diet in those countries where the camel is at home.
Animals that do not migrate, especially those living in cold climates, change their clothing at regular intervals. Their hair or fur increases in thickness in winter. If we compare the Indian and African elephants of to-day, whose delicate thin hair is scarcely noticeable, with the great extinct mammoth, which had an enormous amount of woolly fur, we readily see the great difference in their clothing. Yet these animals are members of the same great family. The same difference may be noted with horses: the Arabian horse, for example, has short, glistening fur, while those of Iceland and Norway have very thick fur; the same is true of Northern and Southern sheep. Animals which live in temperate regions, put on much thicker coats in winter, and shed them as summer approaches.
American Museum of Natural History, New York
THE BLACK BEAR IS NOT ONE OF THE GREAT MIGRATING ANIMALS. THE THICKNESS OF HIS COAT MUST THEREFORE CHANGE WITH THE SEASONS.
American Museum of Natural History, New York
RABBITS SEEM TO HAVE A WELL-DEVISED SYSTEM IN THEIR ROAD-BUILDING, RUNNING THEIR PATHS IN AND OUT OF UNDERBRUSH IN A TRULY INGENIOUS MANNER.
The love of their original homes is one of the most striking features of certain animal travellers. The fierce struggle for existence and the territory required for an animal's home largely determine the amount of effort they make to seize and hold certain possessions. A pair of wildcats, for example, require a comparatively small hunting ground. But this they will defend against invasion even to the point of death. There are many more evidences showing the animals' love of home, and that they also know the meaning of home-sickness.
Not a few animals have learned definitely to lay out and obtain recognition for the boundaries of their respective ranging-grounds. This is amply proven by their respect and recognition of rights of way. Animals of certain farms seem to know the exact boundaries of their grazing lands and pastures, and to teach this knowledge to their young. In addition they often police their lands and pastures against intruders. Woe unto any traveller found on the wrong highway! It is not uncommon for the transgressor to be pushed from a right of way to the rocks below. More than once a court's decision regarding disputable territory has been based on the sheep's recognition of boundary; those sheep slain in battle or otherwise injured while trying to invade the questionable territory have been paid for by the owner of the transgressing sheep.
It is easy to understand how sheep can recognise their rights of way, but somewhat difficult to account for their knowledge of boundaries. Sheep and goats have for ages been the greatest mountain-path and road-makers. Whether or not they have engineers, we are not sure, but they seem to select the shortest, easiest, and best route across the trackless hills, and never seem to change the way. In these localities, the sheep are almost in a primitive condition, and "not the least interesting feature of their conduct in this relapse to the wild life is that, in spite of the highly artificial condition in which they live to-day, they retain the primitive instincts of their race."
That this "peremptory and path-keeping" instinct is shown by the habits of the musk-ox, is clear. He is as much akin to the sheep as to cattle, and in habits more like those of the great prehistoric sheep as we imagine these to have been. The musk-ox naturally assembles in large flocks, and is migratory, just as the domesticated flocks of Spain are, and those of Thrace and the Caspian steppe. These flocks always return from the barren lands in the far north by the same road, and cross rivers by the same fords. Nothing but too persistent slaughter at these points by the enemies who beset them, induces them to desert their ancient highways. Pictures and anecdotes of the migrations of these animals, and of the bison in former days, represent them as moving on a broad front across the prairie or tundra. The examples of all moving multitudes suggest that this was not their usual formation on the march, and their roads prove that they moved on a narrow front or in file. On the North American prairie, though the bison are extinct, their great roads still remain as evidence of their former habits. These trails are paths worn on the prairie, nearly all running due north and south (the line of the old migration of the herds), like gigantic rabbit tracks. They are hard, the grass on them is green and short, and, if followed, they generally lead near water, to which a diverging track runs from the highway.
How interesting must have been the life on this great animal highway, before the Indian made the deadly arrow to destroy these nature-loving travellers! There is no doubt but that, in their own way, these animals felt all the emotions known to a human traveller; that they enjoyed the flowery road, rested and played when weary, looked forward with joy to their favourite watering and bathing places, and recognised old watering places that they had visited for years.
The great roads and highways made by graminivorous animals, from those which the hippopotamus cuts through the mammoth canes and reeds of the African streams, to the smaller rabbit highways of England and America, all tell their own story of how these animals live and travel. The principal roads of rabbits over hills are as permanent as sheep and buffalo roads. These roads, however, should not be confused with the little trails that lead to their play and feeding grounds.
My friend and fellow-naturalist, Ralph Stuart Murray, in writing to me from Quebec, says: "In speaking of animal road builders, I might say that the rabbit or hare of the north woods deserves much attention, for greatly interesting are his highways. The life of the north woods brings one constantly in touch with these roads, which, after generations upon generations of constant use, are worn deep and smooth into the moose grass and muskeg through which they run. At places, several distinct paths intersect, and it is curious to note that while these roads wind in and out underneath the low hanging evergreens, the 'cross-roads' will invariably be located in a clear open space, often on the top of some small hillock.
"The great age of these roads is very evident when compared with the newer, shallower paths of more recent years. So deep are the old ones, in fact, that the quiet watcher in the woods will occasionally see two large, upright ears—unmistakably those of a rabbit, seemingly sticking out of a hole in the ground—yet moving at a rapid pace, and all the while no rabbit in view. For all the world these vertical ears belonging to an unseen owner resemble in use and appearance the periscope of a submarine—the difference being that the rabbit uses his 'periscopes' for hearing, in order to locate and avoid his foe, the submarine its periscope to locate and attack its enemy."
The sheep terraces, which are so common on the sides of hills, though made by sheep, are not roads, but feeding grounds. Sheep, when walking on a hillside, invariably graze on the upper side, as they cannot reach the lower grass. Therefore they walk backwards and forwards on the slope, just as a reaping machine is driven over a hillside wheat-field. As the sheep takes a "neck's length" each time, the little ridges or roads correspond exactly with the measurements of the sheep's neck.
There are as many kinds of roads and terminals in the animal world as there are in the human, and lest our pride make us forget, we should remember that even the Panama Canal is dug according to the plan of a crawfish's canal, such as may be seen near any muddy stream. It is strange that no animal has learned to build elevated roads, though animals that live in trees, like flying squirrels, monkeys, and flying foxes, are very skilled in going from one tree to another. They have regular aerial highways, and some of the tree frogs are veritable wonders in the accuracy of their leaps from tree to tree. Even more skilled than these are the agamid lizards of India, whose chief means of travel is a folding parachute, which at a moment's notice can be erected and carry to another tree its lucky possessor. In Borneo is an aviator tree-snake which is able to so spread his ribs and inflate his body that he can actually sail from branch to branch in the tree-tops.
There are night travellers as well as day travellers; in fact, there are more animals that roam around in a great forest at night than in the daytime. They sleep during the day, when the day animals are roaming about, and go forth to roam when it is night. It is then they seek for prey, and are much feared by day animals. They see well in the dark, and travel so lightly that their footsteps cannot be heard.
On the Island of Java are found a family of strange, dwarfish little beings, which are called by the natives malmags, or hobgoblins. And they are well named, for they look like creatures of a distorted imagination more than real, living animals. They travel only at night, and so superstitious are the natives of their evil influence that if one of these uncanny little creatures appears near their rice fields, the plantation is immediately abandoned. However, these small creatures are no larger than squirrels, and are perfectly harmless. They are very rare even in their native lands—the Oriental Archipelago and the Philippine Islands. They rear their young in the hollow roots of bamboo trees, and to disturb their nests means to incur the evil of all the land.
Night animals do not go forth to travel and seek prey until the night is far advanced, and their prey is soundly sleeping. They seem to know the exact time of the night, as if they had watches or clocks, and they usually go forth to hunt about midnight and return to their homes about four o'clock. Only in cases of extreme hunger do they vary from this rule.
How marvellously skilled are they in finding their way! They pass through a crowded forest as though it were daytime, and strangely enough know just how to return to their lairs. This special sense or gift is not possessed by man; he must have marks and signs to return to a definite place.
These night-travellers number among their lot bats, flying squirrels, leopards, and prowling snakes.
Bats are not only the most interesting of the night-travellers, but by far the most curious and wonderful animals in the world. They are hideously ugly, reminding one more of a miniature, closed-up umbrella than an animal! They are coarse, awkward, when not in flight, and repellent; yet they have such highly developed senses that they have no rivals in the animal world. They excel most birds in flight, are able to make long nightly journeys, in which they use their wings not only for flight, but as air-bags in which they catch all kinds of flying insects. Their sense of touch as we know it is really a combination of touch, sight, and hearing.
A bat is a paradox par excellence! Nature seems to have started to make a little bear or fox, and suddenly forgot how and changed it into a winged freak, with tail, claws, fur, sharp teeth, small ears that stand up, and tiny, half-buried eyes. Its queer angular-edged wings look like an umbrella, with the cloth stretched over steel ribs; but in the case of the bat, this framework is made of delicate bones which are covered with a thin skin. The skin contains numerous little sense organs dotted over its surface, which give the bat his strange power.
Bats look more like mice than they do like birds, and they are sometimes called flittermice. But they are mammals, and the young are fed with milk by the mother, just as a cow feeds her calf. There is no danger that a bat will ever fly against you in the dark; for they can avoid all mishap even when their eyes are put out. They have special sense organs that tell them when they are nearing an object, and can fly at headlong speed with the accuracy of a rifle bullet directly into a small opening. This power is all due to the mysterious sense located in their wings and ears, which causes even man to consider his senses weak in comparison.
Bats are sociable creatures and huddle together and sleep in vast numbers during the day, but when night comes on they come forth for their nocturnal travels and sport by the millions. I have seen them leaving caves just at dusk in such numbers as to look like one immense volume of smoke, twenty to thirty feet wide, and lasting for more than five minutes. Mrs. Bat often takes her babies with her on these nightly travels. I found one with two young clinging to her breast. How they must enjoy these lovely trips!
There are many kinds and varieties of bats, ranging in size from the flying foxes of the tropical world, with wings five feet in length, to the wood bat of North America, which is not over six inches long. These interesting friends of man are his greatest scavengers of the air. They are doing much to check the mosquitoes throughout the regions of the world, and in more civilized communities man makes shelters for them, that they may eradicate mosquitoes.
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Dixon, Royal, 2006. The Human Side of Animals. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/19850/19850-h/19850-h.htm#Page_181
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