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 V: Miners and Excavators
"When the cold winter comes and the water plants die,
And the little brooks yield no further supply,
Down in his burrow he cosily creeps,
And quietly through the long winter sleeps."
—(The Water Rat.)
There are many ground-dwellers in the animal world, and foremost among them is the mole. This remarkable little creature is not only gifted as a digger of canals and tunnels, but plans and makes the most extraordinary subterranean homes. Sometimes he unites with his fellow creatures and establishes whole cities with winding passages, chambers, exits and entrances. In fact, he has not only an exquisitely arranged home, but highways and roads that lead to his kingly hunting-grounds which are as elaborate as that of a modern man of wealth and culture. Indeed his subterranean network of tunnels excels in complexity our modern city subways. His engineering calculations never fail, and a cave-in of his hallways is unknown. This little gentleman with the velvet coat is a genius of varied accomplishments!
But this is only true when the mole is in his proper sphere or home. There he can fight like a tiger, catch his prey both below and above ground, build wells to collect and retain water, swim like a fish, and do many things which would seem impossible, judging from his awkward and clumsy manner above ground.
His apparent awkwardness while out of his natural habitat is largely due to the peculiar formation of his limbs, and the stupid appearance of his small half-hidden eyes. These features seem to mark him to the casual observer as a dull animal, yet in reality he is very active and bright, and when at home displays his marvellous genius in many ways! His upturned hands become powerful shovels, and by the aid of an extra bone, the sickle, which belongs to the inside of the thumb, he is enabled to work like an athlete. His velvet-like hair stands straight up, like the pile on velvet, and his tiny eyes are so hidden by hair that they do not get injured. The eyes are not well finished from an optician's point of view—but they serve admirably all the needs of the mole's life. As dull and stupid as he appears, he is, considering his size, the fiercest and most active animal in existence. Imagine him the size of a wild cat! He would be a beast of exceeding ferocity. Even a lion would find him a formidable antagonist. With such an animal tunnelling in his fields and cellars, man would have a terror hard to exterminate.
The mole is an engineer and miner who seems to have a strange sense of direction practically unknown to many other animals. How he manages to form tunnels and burrows in lines of such unusual straightness is unknown; he always works in darkness, unless it is that he can see in the dark. His little hills are not deliberate structures; they are only shaft ends through which this miner throws out the earth that he has scooped from subterranean depths, and in most cases smoothed out so that if an observer examines the burrow he will find only solid earth, and a road into his tunnel which leads to his real habitation.
The home of the mole is usually beneath a tree or hillock, and reminds one of a miniature city of tunnels and engineering feats. The main, or central, room is shaped like a great dome, the upper part of which is level with the earth around the hill, and therefore nowhere near its apex. Mr. Wood has verified the observation that around the keep are two circular passages, one of which is level with the ceiling, while the other is above. The upper circle is decidedly smaller than the lower; and there are five ascending passages which connect the galleries with each other. There is only one entrance, however, and from it three roads lead into the upper part of the keep. When a mole enters the house from one of the tunnels, he must go through the basement in order to get to the upper part of the house and so descend into the keep. There is still another entrance into the keep from below. One passage leads downward directly from the middle of the chamber, then curving upward, leads into a larger tunnel or subway.
Throughout the vast network of tunnels every inch of wall space seems quite smooth and polished. This is due to the continuous pressure of the mole's fur against the walls. Thus there is little danger of the walls collapsing even after a rain-storm. No human being knows just why the mole has such a complex system of underground streets and tunnels; perhaps it is because he finds that a greater feeling of safety surrounds his home when he knows that in case of danger he can escape in a dozen directions. Surely he is the original builder of labyrinths!
How marvellous that so tiny a creature can build such a fortress! The complex chambers and circular galleries do justice to an artist. The space of ground covered by a single mole's roads and galleries is almost unbelievable; in every direction from the fortress they run, and are sunk at various depths, according to the condition of the mole's hunting-grounds, which are really the spaces of ground through which he tunnels. Worms and underground insects are his chief food. Sometimes he ploughs along the surface of the ground, and exposes his back as he works; but if the weather is dry, he ploughs deeply into the earth for worms. He fills his storehouse with earth-worms for winter use, and he finds it necessary to bite their heads off, which leaves them inert but not dead. This cannot be done in the summer months without the heads re-growing and the worms crawling away. The mole knows the exact temperature best suited for keeping his meat fresh!
A most interesting and beautiful family of miner-cousins of the moles are the shrews. They are excavators of great ability, and because of their nocturnal habits are rarely seen alive. They are very similar to the mole, though much more handsome. Their domicile is built of dry grass at the end of a tunnel.
The shrew mole of North America is a ground-digger of great ingenuity. He is second only to the mole in the extent and pretensions of his engineering and tunnelling. His eyes are very small and deeply hidden in his fur. During the day he constantly comes to the surface of the earth, and one may catch him by driving a hoe or spade underneath him.
Another underground-dweller is the elephant shrew of South America. He has a long nose, thick fur, short ears, and, unlike his cousins, he loves to bask in the warm sunshine. At the least signal of alarm he darts away to his subterranean home. As a mining engineer he is unexcelled; he sinks his tunnels by first boring an almost perpendicular shaft, and then making his burrows at an angle. It is a sad day for earth-worms when he decides to locate in their vicinity!
It is not an easy task to classify the homes of animals. Many of them have characteristics that entitle them to be placed under several groupings. The otter, for example, might be classed as a cave-dweller, as he seeks refuge in caves; yet he also rears his young in underground nests as a burrowing animal. But few naturalists believe that he does his own digging. This is not surprising when we remember that there are many other animals that live in caves and grottoes, and like the otter, seek ready-made homes for their convenience. Among these may be mentioned three American salamanders, bats, and a few strange mice, who seek darkness and constant temperature, and therefore find caves best suited to their needs.
The same is true of the weasel, who is thought to be a great burrower, but in fact, like our remote cave-dwelling ancestors, makes his home only in caves, in rocky crevices, and under the gnarled roots of old trees. He is a bright-eyed little creature, with a slender snake-like neck and red body. He is a great friend of mankind, as he does more toward eradicating mice and other nocturnal depredators than all the rat-catchers in the land. His home is quite ordinary compared to that of the more ambitious underground-dwellers.
A near cousin of the weasel, and a most ingenious engineer and miner, is the badger. He is a tenement-dweller and builds his home in the deep, shady woods. His home is rather pretentious with several chambers, and a most delightfully furnished nursery which is warmly padded with dry grass and moss.
The badger, once so plentiful in England and America, is fast passing away because of the increase of towns and cities. As soon as the forest in which he dwells is drained and converted into farm land, the badger disappears. He is driven from the soil where he once held sway, and is one of those unfortunate animals which are eliminated by man-made civilisation.
The fox of the Far North is a famous excavator, and his underground home which shelters and protects him from the extreme cold is most spacious. It is a strange fact that these cunning little animals rarely make their homes away from others of their kind. Sometimes twenty to thirty are found in close proximity. And their owners are unquestionably the smartest, keenest, and quickest creatures that roam the wilds. While some of their deeds are questionable, their quick wits and nimble bodies excite our admiration.
These arctic foxes really build small cities, and their semi-social life may be accounted for by the peculiar suitability of the place which they select for a habitation. Their homes are usually in a sandy hill, where it is very easy for them to burrow; and the strangest part of the whole city is that each burrow is complete and entirely independent in itself. There are many winding paths and tunnels in each house, but each belongs exclusively to its owner and never winds into a neighbour's house. In case of danger the fox has many directions in which he may escape.
The nursery is the most carefully arranged of all the rooms. It is rather small and is directly connected with the main outer chamber somewhat like the nursery of the mole. So skilfully is it situated that it sometimes happens a hunter will dig into a fox's burrow and never discover the nest of young, and later the clever mother will return to carry away her babes, which are usually five to six in number. Adjoining the nursery are two or three storage rooms filled with food for the winter. The number of bones usually found in the basement indicates that a great variety of ducks, fish, hares, lemming, and stoats are regularly eaten, and that the average fox family does not want for food.
The arctic fox is not only a beauty in his coat of pure white, but is unusually brainy. Persecuted animals, like persecuted human beings, become very wise. Nature is kind to the fox in his arctic home, and in the winter turns his coat snow white so that he may easily escape his enemies—especially men, who seek his beautiful fur and edible body. He is skilled in his distrust of wires, sticks, guns and strings! No man knows better than he the meaning of foot-tracks in the snow, and how long they have been there, and which way they lead; thus, those that survive their enemies have acquired extreme wisdom, and keep carefully away from everything that is at all suspicious to their eyes and nostrils.
The Siberian fox is one of those wise creatures that has defied in a most extraordinary way his handicaps, and, refusing to admit them, has boldly selected the strangest dwelling-place known to the animal world—the horn of the mountain sheep. This unique dwelling-place has been the home of the Siberian fox for ages, and his ancestors have known no other. The mountain sheep, which are giants among their kind, have the longest horns in proportion to their size of any animal in existence. The argali of Siberia is the largest of all sheep, and is equal in bulk and weight to an average-sized ox, with horns proportionally large. The horns of these animals are strikingly like those of the Rocky Mountain sheep of America, except they are much larger. They spring up from the forehead, tilt backward, then boldly curve below the muzzle, before finally again pointing upward and tapering into a sharp and delicate point. They are hollow, though exceedingly stout and elastic, and strengthened on the outside by a number of ridges or horny rings set very close together. They are found in large numbers in this land of perpetual ice and snow, and it is thought that they break from the sheep's heads very easily.
It is not uncommon to find them lying in a spot which has been a battlefield, where two sheep in attempting to settle some dispute have fought and fallen. It is not long after they have thus fallen before they are utilised by Mr. Fox. He stores himself carefully away in these roomy horns, one of which Mrs. Fox uses as a nursery, finding it a snug, safe, and warm place to rear her little family.
The other varieties of foxes, especially the grey and red, are not so skilled in home-making. This may be due to the fact that they do not have need of such elaborate houses as their arctic cousins. Again, it may be that the existence of numerous deserted homes of badgers, or even rabbits, makes it unnecessary for them to spend their time in building homes of their own. It is much easier to enlarge the ready-made burrow of a rabbit than to dig a new tunnel, of course.
If there is no ready-made burrow to be had, then the wise fox sets to work and scoops out his own. Herein he sleeps all the day, and comes forth only at night. A small chamber from the main room serves as the nursery, and here the babies are born and nurtured. Nothing is more beautiful than to see the entire family—mother, father, and children—come forth at evening to play. The young are as sportive as pups, but they never wander far from home. Their broad heads, grey coats, short tails and awkward appearance would lead no one to think that they were the children of handsome, nimble-limbed, intelligent Mrs. Fox!
Woe to the dog that enters Mrs. Fox's home! She is a pugilist of the first order, and knows how to fight far better than the average bull terrier. It requires a very savage dog to kill her, and he is apt to be minus an ear when the battle is over.
Red and grey foxes are similar in intelligence, but differ in many other ways: the former are like the gipsies in always moving about from place to place, while the latter stick to one general locality, although their hunting-grounds may range for several miles in all directions. Red foxes seem actually to enjoy being hunted by dogs; in most cases they will outrun the dogs, and rarely seek protection from caves or rocks.
The grey fox, on the other hand, cares little for racing, but seeks protection among rocky cliffs where the dogs are at a disadvantage. Here none but the smallest canines may enter the holes and crannies, and they are usually wise enough to stay out. Hunters are thoroughly familiar with the tactics of the fox family, and therefore select the red ones for their sport.
The foxes are truly famed for their cunning, and when other animals try to play tricks on them, the trick usually turns out in the foxes' favour. During the winter season these wise creatures are sometimes hard pressed for food. Birds and small animals are hard to catch, and the farmers' chicken houses are closed. It is then that the wise fox needs all his wit and wisdom, for he oftentimes becomes the hunted as well as the hunter. His chief enemies are the puma and the timber wolf, but they are seldom able to get him.
The prairie-dog is so talented that he might be classed under several headings; he is sociable, a burrower, and especially gifted in the art of constructing underground "dog towns." He is rarely called by his Indian name, Wish-ton-wish, and we know him only as the prairie-dog. Evidently he was given this name because of his yelping bark, which resembles the cry of a young domestic dog.
He is a good-looking but rather curious little animal. He has a round, flat head, and garish-red fur, and a stout little body. He makes an affectionate pet, and loves the society of human beings. When he decides to start a town, he usually succeeds, for he is an exceedingly prolific animal, and his extensive burrows seem to have no ends. They are rather large, and run to great depths. In the western part of the United States, especially on the big prairies, the prairie-dog towns often cover large areas. They are usually dug in a sloping direction, and descend four to six feet in depth, and then suddenly rise upward again. Hundreds of these little tunnels are dug in such close proximity to each other that it is quite unsafe for cattle and horses to pass over them. This is the chief reason why ranchmen do not like the otherwise harmless little animals of the prairies.
These dog towns are most curious, and a visit to one of them well repays the traveller. Strangely enough, the prairie-dog is exceedingly inquisitive and this very quality often costs the little animal his life. Mr. Wood, in describing the prairie-dog's habits, says that this wise little Westerner, when perched on the hillocks which we have already described, is able to survey a wide extent of territory and as soon as he sees a visitor, he gives a loud yelp of alarm, and dives into his burrow, his tiny feet knocking together with a ludicrous flourish as he disappears. In every direction similar scenes are enacted. The warning cry has been heard, and immediately every dog within a hundred yards repeats the cry and leaps into his burrow. Their curiosity, however, cannot be suppressed, and no sooner have they vanished from sight than their heads are seen protruding from their burrows. Sometimes hundreds of them will be peeping from their homes at one time, their beautiful eyes sparkling as they cautiously watch the enemy's every movement.
The prairie-dog is truly a tenement dweller, and his home is occupied not only by his own kind, but by owls and rattlesnakes. Most naturalists believe that these incongruous families live in perfect harmony; but it is a well-known fact that the snake occasionally devours the young prairie-dogs, and he must be considered by them as an intruder who procured board and lodging without their consent. The owls, on the other hand, are supposed to do no harm, although it may be that they also occasionally feast on a tender young pup.
The magnificent little animals known to scientists as vizcachas, and whose homes are on the pampas of South America, are the most skilled builders of underground cities in the animal world. Their villages or cities are called "vizcacheras" and are provided with from ten to twenty mouths or subway entrances, with one entrance often serving for several holes. If the ground is soft, it is not uncommon to find twenty to thirty burrows in a vizcachera; but if the ground is rocky and hard, only four or five burrows are found. These wide-mouthed, gaping burrows are dug close together, and the entire town usually covers from one hundred to two hundred square feet.
The vizcacheras are different from other underground animal cities; some of the burrows are large, others are small. Most of them open into a subterranean main-street at from four to six feet from the entrance; from this street other streets wind and turn in all directions, like a man-made subway, and many of them extend clear into other streets or subways, thus forming a complete network of underground passageways. All the tunnelled-out dirt is brought to the surface and forms a large mound to prevent the water from entering the cities.
According to W. H. Hudson, in The Naturalist in La Plata, "in some directions a person might ride five hundred miles and never advance half a mile without seeing one or more of them. In districts where, as far as the eye can see, the plains are as level and smooth as a bowling-green, especially in winter when the grass is close-cropped, and where the rough giant-thistle has not sprung up, these mounds appear like brown or dark spots on a green surface. They are the only irregularities that occur to catch the eye, and consequently form an important feature in the scenery. In some places they are so near together that a person on horseback may count a hundred of them from one point of view."
Unlike some burrowing animals, the vizcacha does not select a spot where there is a bank or depression in the soil, or roots of trees, or even tall grass; knowing that they only attract the opossum, skunk, armadillo, and weasel, he chooses an open level plot of ground where he can watch in all directions for enemies while he works.
The great or main entrance to some of these underground cities is sometimes four to six feet in diameter. A small man stands shoulder deep in them. The going and coming of these little vizcachas would almost lead one to believe that they have a primitive city government, and are ruled according to definite laws. Their cities stand for generations, and many of the old human inhabitants tell of certain vizcacheras around them which existed when their parents were living. The founder of a new village is usually a male; and he goes only a short distance from the other villages to establish his new colony.
These cities are by no means occupied by their builders alone, but have their undesirables within their borders. The unique style of burrowing which the vizcachas employ benefits several kinds of birds, especially the Minerva, and one species of the swallows, which build their nests in the bank-like holes in the sides of the vizcacha's cities. Several insects, among which may be mentioned a large nocturnal bug, with red wings and shiny black body, also seek the same shelter; another foreign inhabitant is a night-roaming cincindela, with dark green wing-cases and pale red legs, which remind one of oriental jewels. There are also no less than six species of wingless wasps, beautifully coloured in red, black, and white. Dozens of spiders and smaller insects that live in and near the vizcacheras, which are everywhere sprinkled over the pampas, pass in and out among the streets recognising their respective friends and enemies.
The home life in these communities is most interesting. The burrowers remain indoors until late in the evening during the winter, but in summer appear before the sun sets. One of the larger males is the first to appear, as if to see if everything is safe from danger; if it is, others immediately pop up and take their places at the entrance to the burrow. The females are smaller than the males, and stand up that they may see everything that happens. Curiosity struggling within them for mastery is often the cause of their death. Tiny swallows hover over the entrances, like myriads of large moths, with never-ending low, mournful cries.
Of all the incongruous inhabitants of the vizcacheras, the fox is the most dreaded and the least welcome. To appease his growls and snarls the vizcachas are sometimes forced to let him occupy one of their rooms for a season, or even permanently. During a part of the year he appears quite unassuming and indifferent to the general affairs of the household, and he really goes quite unnoticed, even though he may be sitting on the mound in the family group. But when the vizcachas appear in the spring, the fox begins to become interested in the nursery and as soon as the older animals are away he devours the young. Occasionally, if the fox is hungry, or if he has another friend to aid him, he will hunt the vizcachera from end to end, battling with the old, and usually killing all the young. It often happens that the mother vizcacha, when her babes are large enough to follow her, will take them away to another place that is safer.
The language of these city-builders is most unusual; the males frequently utter the most varied and astonishing cries. They are jarring in the extreme, and are produced in the most leisurely manner, growing louder and louder and finally ending with a slow quaver. At other times, they grunt like small pigs. Hudson says that any quick noise, like the report of a gun, produces a most startling effect among these little animals. As soon as the report is broken on the stillness of the night a perfect furore of cries issues forth from every direction. In a few seconds it ceases for a momentary lull, and then suddenly breaks forth again, louder than before. The tones of the different ones are so different that the cries of nearby individuals may be plainly distinguished amidst the babel of voices coming from the distance. It sounds as if thousands upon thousands of them were striving to express every emotion with their tiny tenor voices. No words can describe the effect that these sounds produce. One of the most peculiar calls is the special alarm-note, which is sharp, sudden, and shrill. It is reported from one to another until every vizcacha is safe in his burrow.
But with all the kind and sociable qualities of these little animals, they have characteristics which seem rather paradoxical, and chief among these is their resentment of any intrusion of neighbours into their burrows. Although a number of individuals may reside in adjoining compartments in the same burrow, yet if one enters a burrow not his own—woe is he! Even when pursued by fierce dogs a vizcacha will rarely enter a room of another. If he does, he is immediately pounced upon by the angry owner, and is usually driven clear out of the burrow. These animals are undoubtedly far the most versatile and intelligent rodents in the world.
A most unusual miner and underground dweller is the pocket gopher of North and Central America. He is a rat-like animal, and is most plentiful on the plains of the Mississippi region. He is unusual in appearance, dressed in brown and grey fur, with tiny white feet, small eyes and ears, and a short stubby tail. His feet are wonderfully strong, and his fore-paws are armed with strong, curved claws. But he is famed for his wonderful fur-lined pouches which open inside his cheeks and serve a peculiar use.
His entire life, with rare exceptions, is spent underground. There he makes long tunnels for the purpose of securing tender roots for food; these tunnels are about twelve to eighteen inches below the surface, and usually wind under the foot of a tree where a sinking passage goes down four to five feet further and leads to a large living-room. This is the family nest and nursery, lined with grass and soft fur which Mrs. Gopher has taken from her own body. Adjoining the living-room is a storage bin filled with nuts, dried bits of roots, tobacco, and potatoes.
Much that is exaggerated has been said in regard to the adaptability of the gopher for his work. But it is a fact that he is of all the diggers best suited for his task. He uses his strong teeth, like a trench-digger uses a pick, to loosen the earth; and while his fore-feet are kept constantly at work in digging and pressing the dirt back under the body, the hind feet also aid in shovelling it still farther back. When a sufficient amount has heaped up behind him, he performs the strangest of all his feats—he turns around, and places his hands vertically against his chin, thus forcing himself backwards, pushing the dirt ahead of himself until it is forced out of the tunnel. At the outer end of the tunnel is formed a little hillock.
Dr. Merriam has made a special study of the gopher, and in speaking of the strange habit of running backwards, he says that even in carrying food to one of his barns or storehouses the gopher rarely turns round but usually runs backwards and forwards, over and over again like a shuttle on its track.
The gopher uses his pouches for carrying food, not dirt. When he has eaten a sufficient amount of food, he fills his pouches. If a potato is too large to be carried in this way, he trims it off to the right size. His method of emptying his pouches is most interesting; with his two tiny paws he delicately presses the food from his cheeks.
The woodchuck is an American basement-dweller of considerable renown. His peculiar whistling cry has won for him from the French the name of siffleur; and we sometimes call him by the very inappropriate name of ground-hog. He is a skilled weather prophet, and his appearance in the early spring signifies that the winter is over. He never shows himself until the cold is gone.
The home of the woodchuck is usually found under a hill, with a sheltering rock to protect the entrance, which leads into a tunnel, from twenty to thirty feet in length, finally ending by entering his home proper. The tunnel descends obliquely for several feet, and again rises towards the surface. His nest is rather large, and nicely lined with dry grass and leaves, which serve as a carpet for the young woodchucks when they come into the world. The young remain in the underground home until they are about five months old, then they go out into the world for themselves.
The ground squirrel long ago decided that he would rather have a dwelling under the ground than in the tree-tops, for in an underground home he would have more protection, a better place for storing food, and a far safer nursery for rearing his precious babes. So snug, cosy and hidden are the tiny quarters to which his runs or subways lead that his family is quite safe against most enemies. The ingenuity and skill shown in the construction of his home entitles him to rank among the leading animal miners and excavators.
The most unusual of all the underground and basement dwellers is the polar bear. This wise inhabitant of the Far North has long ago learned that no animal needs to freeze to death in the snow. To him the snow is a constant means of warmth and protection, and as winter approaches, he seeks a position, usually near a big rock, where he digs out a hole of small dimensions, and allows the snow to cover his body. Strangely enough it is only the female bear that seeks this permanent snow hut; the males do not care to spend so much time in seclusion. The same is true of the unmated females. But the mated females always have snow huts in which they give birth to their young, and where they reside until early spring; then the mother bear comes forth with them to seek food and teach them the ways of the world.
American Museum of Natural History, New York
TO THE POLAR BEAR THE ICE AND SNOW OF THE FAR NORTH MEAN WARMTH AND PROTECTION. THE MOTHER BEAR DIGS HERSELF INTO A SNOWBANK, WHERE SHE LIVES QUITE COMFORTABLY THROUGHOUT THE WINTER.
THE SHARP CLAWS OF THE GROUND SQUIRREL ARE EFFICACIOUS TOOLS IN DIGGING HIS COSY UNDERGROUND BURROW.
There is no danger that the bears will stifle for air under the snow, because the warmth of their breath always keeps a small hole open at the top of the snow-cell. This snow-house increases as time goes on, the heat exhaled from their bodies gradually melting the snow. Often Mrs. Bear's home is discovered by means of the tiny hole in the roof around which is collected quantities of hoar frost.
Hibernation is one of the strangest phenomena of the animal world, and bears, especially the white bear of the polar regions, the black bear of North America, and the brown bear of Europe, agree in the curious habit of semi-hibernation. In the late fall of the season, the bears begin to eat heavily and soon become enormously fat, preparatory for the long winter of semi-sleep.
During the winter, at least for three months, the polar bear takes no food, but lives entirely upon the store of fat which her body had accumulated before she went into retirement. The same is true of many hibernating animals, but in case of the bears it is more remarkable because the mother bear must not only support herself but nourish her young for a long period without taking any food for herself.
Another good example of a ground-dweller is the aard vark of Southern Africa. He is as curious as his name, and scoops out immense quantities of earth to form his home. This dwelling might be termed a cave, as he heaps up the earth in the shape of a mammoth artificial ant-hill; on one side is the entrance, which is so skilfully formed that it looks far more like the work of man than of an animal.
His name is Dutch and means earth-hog. It is applied to him because his head looks somewhat like that of a pig. His claws are powerful and enormous, and with them he is able to dig into the hardest soil, and to destroy the giant ant-hills which are dotted over the plains of South Africa, and which can withstand the weight of a dozen men.
This strange creature sleeps during the day, and comes forth at evening to seek his food. The first thing he does is to burst a hole in the stony side of an ant-hill, to the utter dismay of its tiny inhabitants. As they run among the ruins of their fallen city, he throws out his slimy tongue and catches them by the hundreds. In a short time only the shell of a half-destroyed wall remains.
These once stately ant-homes metamorphosed into caves, form homes for the jackals and large serpents of the plains. The Kaffirs of Africa use them as vaults into which are thrown their dead. The aard vark outrivals, with his great claws, the most skilled burrowing tools of man. These animals are therefore rarely captured. It is not uncommon for a horse to fall into their excavations and be killed.
Miners, excavators, and underground dwellers teach us the great lesson that, while many of them sought the ground as a protection, and found there many difficulties to overcome, they not only have won in the great struggle of life but have so skilfully adapted themselves to their environment and surroundings as to become entire masters, even artists, in their methods of living.
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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_61
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