Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
The Log of the Sun
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo



ONE of the most uncertain of months is October, and most difficult for the beginner in bird study. If we are just learning to enjoy the life of wood and field, we will find hard tangles to unravel among the birds of this month. Many of the smaller species which passed us on their northward journey last spring are now returning and will, perhaps, tarry a week or more before starting on the next nocturnal stage of their passage tropicward Many are almost unrecognisable in their new winter plumage. Male scarlet tanagers are now green tanagers, goldfinches are olive finches, while instead of the beautiful black, white, and cream dress which made so easy the identification of the meadow bobolinks in the spring, search will now be rewarded only by some plump, overgrown sparrows — reedbirds — which are really bobolinks in disguise.

Orchard orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks come and are welcomed, but the multitude of female birds of these species which appear may astonish one, until he discovers that the young birds, both male and female, are very similar to their mother in colour. We have no difficulty in distinguishing between adult bay-breasted and black poll warblers, but he is indeed a keen observer who can point out which is which when the young birds of the year pass.

October is apt to be a month of extremes. One day the woods are filled with scores of birds, and on the next hardly one will be seen. Often a single species or family will predominate, and one will remember "thrush days" or "woodpecker days." Yellow-bellied sapsuckers cross the path, flickers call and hammer in every grove, while in the orchards, and along the old worm-eaten fences, glimpses of red, white, and black show where redheaded woodpeckers are looping from trunk to post. When we listen to the warble of bluebirds, watch the mock courtship of the high-holders, and discover the fall violets under leaves and burrs, for an instant a feeling of spring rushes over us; but the yellow leaves blow against our face, the wind sighs through the cedars, and we realise that the black hand of the frost will soon end the brave efforts of the wild pansies.

The thrushes, ranking in some ways at the head of all our birds, drift through the woods, brown and silent as the leaves around them. Splendid opportunities they give us to test our powers of woodcraft. A thrush passes like a streak of brown light and perches on a tree some distance away. We creep from tree to tree, darting nearer when his head is turned. At last we think we are within range, and raise our weapon. No, a leaf is in the way, and the dancing spots of sunlight make our aim uncertain. We move a little closer and again take aim, and this time he cannot escape us. Carefully our double-barrelled binoculars cover him, and we get what powder and lead could never give us — the quick glance of the hazel eye, the trembling, half-raised feathers on his head, and a long look at the beautifully rounded form perched on the twig, which a wanton shot would destroy forever. The rich rufous colouring of the tail proclaims him a singer of singers — a hermit thrush. We must be on the watch these days for the beautiful wood thrush, the lesser spotted veery, the well named olive-back and the rarer gray-cheeked thrush. We may look in vain among the thrushes in our bird books for the golden-crowned and water thrush, for these walkers of the woods are thrushes only in appearance, and belong to the family of warblers. The long-tailed brown thrashers, lovers of the undergrowth, are still more thrush-like in look, but in our classifications they hold the position of giant cousins to the wrens. Even the finches contribute a mock thrush to our list, the big, spotted-breasted fox sparrow. but he rarely comes in number before mid October or November. Of course we all know that our robin is a true thrush, young robins having their breasts thickly spotted with black, while even the old birds retain a few spots and streaks on the throat.

If we search behind the screen of leaves and grass around us we may discover many tragedies. One fall I picked up a dead olive-backed thrush in the Zoological Park. There were no external signs of violence, but I found that the food canal was pretty well filled with blood. The next day still another bird was found in the same condition, and the day after two more. Within a week I noted in my journal eight of these thrushes, all young birds of the year, and all with the same symptoms of disorder. I could only surmise that some poisonous substance, some kind of berry, perhaps some attractive but deadly exotic from the Botanical Gardens, had tempted the inexperienced birds and caused their deaths.

.As we walk through the October woods a covey of ruffed grouse springs up before us, overhead a flock of robins dashes by, and the birds scatter to feed among the wild grapes. The short round wings of the grouse whirr noisily, while the quick wing beats of the robins make little sound. Both are suited to their uses. The robin may travel league upon league to the south, while the grouse will not go far except to find new bud or berry pastures. His wings, as we have noticed before, are fitted rather for sudden emergencies, to bound up before the teeth of the fox close upon him, to dodge into close cover when the nose of the hound almost touches his trembling body. When he scrambled out of his shell last May he at once began to run about and to try his tiny wings, and little by little he taught himself to fly. But in the efforts he got many a tumble and broke or lost many a feather. Nature, however, has foreseen this, and to her grouse children she gives several changes of wing feathers to practise with, before the last strong winter quills come in.

How different it is with the robin. Naked and helpless he comes from his fine shell, and only one set of wing quills falls to his share, so it behooves him to be careful indeed of these. He remains in the nest until they are strong enough to bear him up, and his first attempts are carefully supervised by his anxious parents. And so the glimpse we had in the October woods of the two pair of wings held more of interest than we at first thought.

In many parts of the country, about October fifteenth the crows begin to flock back and forth to and from their winter roosts. In some years it is the twelfth, or again the seventeenth, but the constancy of the mean date is remarkable. Many of our winter visitants have already slipped into our fields and woods and taken the places of some of the earlier southern migrants; but the daily passing of the birds which delay their journey until fairly pinched by the lack of food at the first frosts extends well into November. It is not until the foliage on the trees and bushes becomes threadbare and the last migrants have flown, that our northern visitors begin to take a prominent place in our avifauna.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom friend of the maturing sun;
Where are the songs of spring!
Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river allows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
                                                               JOHN KEATS.


NO fact comes to mind which is not more impressed upon us by the valuable aid of comparisons, and Nature is ever offering antitheses. At this season we are generally given a brief glimpse — the last for the year — of two creatures one a mammal, the other a bird, which are as unlike in their activities as any two living creatures could well be.

What a type of lazy contentment is the woodchuck, as throughout the hot summer days he lies on his warm earthen hillock at the entrance of his burrow. His fat body seems almost to flow down the slope, and when he waddles around for a nibble of clover it is with such an effort that we feel sure he would prefer a comfortable slow starvation, were it not for the unpleasant feelings involved in such a proceeding.

As far as I know there are but two things which can rouse a woodchuck to strenuous activity; when a dog is in pursuit he can make his stumpy feet fairly twinkle as he flies for his burrow, and when a fox or a man is digging him out, he can literally worm his way through the ground, frequently escaping by means of his wonderful digging power. But when September or October days bring the first chill, he gives one last yawn upon the world and stows himself away at the farthest end of his tunnel, there to sleep away the winter. Little more does he know of the snows and blizzards than the bird which has flown to the tropics. Even storing up fruits or roots is too great an effort for the indolent woodchuck, and in his hibernation stupor he draws only upon the fat which his lethargic summer life bas accumulated within his skin.

As we might expect from a liver of such a slothful life, the family traits of the woodchuck are far from admirable and there is said to be little affection shown by the mother woodchuck toward her young. The poor little fellows are pushed out of the burrow and driven away to shift for themselves as soon as possible. Many of them must come to grief from hawks and foxes. Closely related to the squirrels, these large marmots (for they are first cousins to the prairie dogs) are as unlike them in activity as they are in choice of a haunt.

What a contrast to all this is the trim feathered form which we may see on the mill pond some clear morning. Alert and wary, the grebe paddles slowly along, watchful of every movement. If we approach too closely, it may settle little by little, like a submarine opening its water compartments, until nothing is visible except the head with its sharp beak. Another step and the bird has vanished, swallowed up by the lake, and the chances are a hundred to one against our discovering the motionless neck and the tiny eye which rises again among the water weeds.

This little grebe comes of a splendid line of ancestors, some of which were even more specialised for an aquatic life. These paid the price of existence along lines too narrow and vanished from the earth. The grebe, however, has so far stuck to a life which bids fair to allow his race safety for many generations, but he is perilously near the limit. Every fall he migrates far southward, leaving his northern lakes, but if the water upon which he floats should suddenly dry up, he would be almost as helpless as the gasping fish; for his wings are too weak to lift him from the ground. He must needs have a long take-off, a flying start, aided by vigorous paddling along the surface of the water, before he can rise into the air.

Millions of years ago there lived birds built on the general grebe plan and who doubtless were derived from the same original stock, but which lived in the great seas of that time. Far from being able to migrate, every external trace of wing was gone and these great creatures, almost as large as a man and with sharp teeth in their beaks, must have hitched themselves like seals along the edge of the beach, and perhaps laid their eggs on the pebbles as do the terns to-day.

The grebe, denied the power to rise easily and even to run about on land without considerable effort, is, however, splendidly adapted to its water life, and the rapidity of its motions places it near the head of the higher active creatures, — with the woodchuck near the opposite extreme.


THROUGHOUT the depths of the sea, silence, as well as absolute darkness, prevails. The sun penetrates only a short distance below the surface, at most a few hundred feet, and all disturbance from storms ceases far above that depth. Where the pressure is a ton or more to the square inch, it is very evident that no sound vibration can exist. Near the surface it is otherwise. The majority of fishes have no lungs and of course no vocal chords, but certain species, such as the drum-fish, are able to distend special sacs with gas or air, or in other ways to produce sounds. One variety succeeds in producing a number of sounds by gritting the teeth, and when the male fish is attempting to charm the female by dashing round her, spreading his fins to display his brilliant colours, this gritting of the teeth holds a prominent place in the performance, although whether the fair finny one makes her choice because she prefers a high-toned grit instead of a lower one can only be imagined! But vibrations, whether of sound or of water pressure, are easily carried near the surface, and fishes are provided with organs to receive and record them. One class of such organs has little in common with ears, as we speak of them; they are merely points on the head and body which are susceptible to the watery, vibrations. These points are minute cavities, surrounded with tiny cilia or hairs, which connect with the ends of the nerves.

The ears of the frogs and all higher animals are, like the tongue-bone and the lower jaw, derived originally from portions of gills, which the aquatic ancestors of living animals used to draw the oxygen from the water. This is one of the most wonderful and interesting changes which the study of evolution has unfolded to our knowledge.

The disproportionate voices are produced by means of an extra amount of skin on the throat, which is distensible and acts as a drum to increase the volume of sound. In certain bullfrogs which grow to be as large as the head of a man, the bellowing power is deafening and is audible for miles. In Chile a small species of frog, measuring only about an inch in length, has two internal vocal sacs which are put to a unique use. Where these frogs live, water is very scarce and the polliwogs have no chance to live and develop in pools, as is ordinarily the case. So when the eggs are laid, they are immediately taken by the male frog and placed in these capacious sacs, which serve as nurseries for them all through their hatching and growing period of life. Although there is no water in these chambers, yet their gills grow out and are reabsorbed, just as is the case in ordinary tadpoles. When their legs are fully developed, they clamber up to their father's broad mouth and get their first glimpse of the great world from his lower lip. When fifteen partly developed polliwogs are found in the pouches of one little frog, he looks as if he had gorged himself to bursting with tadpoles. To such curious uses may vocal organs be put.

Turtles are voiceless, except at the period of laying eggs, when they acquire a voice, which even in the largest is very tiny and piping, like some very small insect rather than a two-hundred pound tortoise. Some of the lizards utter shrill, insect-like squeaks.

A species of gecko, a small, brilliantly coloured lizard, has the back of its tail armed with plates. These it has a habit of rubbing together, and by this means it produces a shrill, chirruping sound, which actually attracts crickets and grasshoppers toward the noise, so that they fall easy prey to this reptilian trapper. So in colour, sound, motion, and many other ways, animals act and react upon each other, a useful and necessary habit being perverted by an enemy, so that the death of the creature results. Yet it would never be claimed that the lizard thought out this mimicking. It probably found that certain actions resulted in the approach of good dinners, and in its offspring this action might be partly instinctive, and each generation would perpetuate it. If it had been an intentional act, other nearly related species of lizards would imitate it, as soon as they perceived the success which attended it.

That many animals have a kind of language is nowadays admitted to be a truism, but this is more evident among mammals and birds, and, reviewing the classes of the former, we find a more or less defined ascending complexity and increased number of varying sounds as we pass from the lower forms kangaroos and moles — to the higher herb-and-flesh-eaters, and particularly monkeys.

Squeaks and grunts constitute the vocabulary, if we dignify it by that name, of the mammals. The sloths, those curious animals whose entire life is spent clinging to the underside of branches, on whose leaves they feed, may be said almost to be voiceless, so seldom do they give utterance to the nameless wail which constitutes their only utterance. Even when being torn to pieces by an enemy, they offer no resistance and emit no sound, but fold their claws around their body and submit to the inevitable as silently and as stoically as did ever an ancient Spartan.

Great fear of death will often cause an animal to utter sounds which are different from those produced under any other conditions. When an elephant is angry or excited, his trumpeting is terribly loud and shrill; but when a mother elephant is "talking" to her child, while the same sonorous, metallic quality is present, yet it is wonderfully softened and modulated. A horse is a good example of what the fear of death will do. The ordinary neigh of a horse is very familiar, but in battle when mortally wounded, or having lost its master and being terribly frightened, a horse will scream, and those who have heard it, say it is more awful than the cries of pain of a human being.

Deer and elk often astonish one by the peculiar sounds which they produce. An elk can bellow loudly, especially when fighting; but when members of a herd call to each other, or when surprised by some unusual appearance, they whistle — a sudden, sharp whistle, like the tin mouthpieces with revolving discs, which were at one time so much in evidence.

The growl of a bear differs greatly under varying circumstances. There is the playful growl, uttered when two individuals are wrestling, and the terrible "sound" — no word expresses it — to which a bear, cornered and driven to the last extremity, gives utterance — fear, hate, dread, and awful passion mingled and expressed in sound. One can realise the fearful terror which this inspires only when one has, as I have, stood up to a mad bear, repelling charge after charge, with only an iron pike between one's self and those powerful fangs and claws. The long-drawn moan of a polar bear on a frosty night is another phase; this, too, is expressive, but only of those wonderful Arctic scenes where night and day are as one to this great seal-hunter.

The dog has made man his god, — giving up his life for his master would be but part of his way of showing his love if he had it in his power to do more. So, too, the dog has attempted to adapt his speech to his master's, and the result is a bark. No wild coyotes or wolves bark, but when bands of dogs descended from domesticated animals run wild, their howls are modulated and a certain unmistakable barking quality imparted. The drawn-out howl of a great gray wolf is an impressive sound and one never to be forgotten. Only the fox seems to possess the ability to bark in its native tongue. The sounds which the cats, great and small, reproduce are most varied. Nothing can be much more intimidating than the roar of a lion, or more demoniacal than the arguments which our house-pets carry on at night on garden fences.

What use the sounds peculiar to sea-lions sub-serve in their life on the great ocean, or their haunts along the shore, can only be imagined, but surely such laudable perseverance, day after day, to out-utter each other, must be for some good reason!

Volumes have been written concerning the voices of the two remaining groups of animals — monkeys and birds. In the great family of the four-handed folk, more varieties of sound are produced than would be thought possible. Some of the large baboons are awful in their vocalisations. Terrible agony or remorse is all that their moans suggest to us, no matter what frame of mind on the part of the baboon induces them. Of all vertebrates the tiny marmosets reproduce most exactly the chirps of crickets and similar insects, and to watch one of these little human faces, see its mouth open, and instead of, as seems natural, words issuing forth, to hear these shrill squeaks is most surprising. Young orangutans, in their "talk," as well as in their actions, are counterparts of human infants. The scream of frantic rage when a banana is offered and jerked away, the wheedling tone when the animal wishes to be comforted by the keeper on account of pain or bruise, and the sound of perfect contentment and happiness when petted by the keeper whom it learns to love, — all are almost indistinguishable from like utterances of a human child.

But how pitiless is the inevitable change of the next few years! Slowly the bones of the cranium thicken, partly filling up the brain cavity, and slowly but surely the ape loses all affection for those who take care of it. More and more morose and sullen it becomes until it reaches a stage of unchangeable ferocity and must be doomed to close confinement, never again to be handled or caressed.


WHEN, during the lazy autumn days, the living creatures seem for a time to have taken themselves completely beyond our ken, it may be interesting to delve among old records and descriptions of animals and see how the names by which we know them first came to be given. Many of our English names have an unsuspected ancestry, which, through past centuries, has been handed down to us through many changes of spelling and meaning, of romantic as well as historical interest.

How many people regard the scientific Latin and Greek names of animals with horror, as being absolutely beyond their comprehension, and yet how interesting these names become when we look them squarely in the face, analyse them and find the appropriateness of their application.

When you say "wolf" to a person, the image of that wild creature comes instantly to his mind, but if you ask him why it is called a wolf, a hundred chances to one he will look blankly at you. It is the old fault, so common among us human beings, of ignoring the things which lie nearest us. Or perhaps your friend shares the state of mind of the puzzled old lady, who, after looking over a collection of fossil bones, said that she could understand how these bones had been preserved, and millions of years later had been discovered, but it was a mystery to her how anyone could know the names of these ancient animals after such a lapse of time!

Some of the names of the commonest animals are lost in the dimness of antiquity, such as fox, weasel, sheep, dog, and baboon. Of the origin of these we have forever lost the clew. With camel we can go no farther back than the Latin word camelus, and elephant balks us with the old Hindoo word eleph, which means an ox. The old root of the word wolf meant one who tears or rends, and the application to this animal is obvious. In several English and German names of persons, we have handed down to us a relic of the old fashion of applying wolf as a compliment to a warrior or soldier. For example, Adolph means noble-wolf, and Rudolph glory-wolf.

Lynx is from the same Latin word as the word lux (light) and probably was given to these wildcats on account of the brightness of their eyes. Lion is, of course, from the Latin leo, which word, in turn, is lost far back in the Egyptian tongue, where the word for the king of beasts was tabu. The compound word leopard is first found in the Persian language, where pars stands for panther. Seal, very appropriately, was once a word meaning "of the sea"; close to the Latin sal, the sea.

Many names of animals are adapted from words in the ancient language of the natives in whose country the creatures were first discovered. Puma, jaguar, tapir, and peccary (from paquires) are all names from South American Indian languages. The coyote and ocelot were called coyoti and ocelotl by the Mexicans long before Cortes landed on their shores. Zebra, gorilla, and chimpanzee are native African words, and orangutan is Malay, meaning Man of the Woods. Cheetah is from some East Indian tongue, as is tahr, the name of the wild goat of the Himalayas. Gnu is from the Hottentots, and giraffe from the Arabic zaraf. Aoudad, the Barbary wild sheep, is the French form of the Moorish name audad.

The native Indians of our own country are passing rapidly, and before many years their race may be extinct, but their musical, euphonious names of the animals they knew so well, often pleased the ear of the early settlers, and in many instances will be a lasting memorial as long as these forest creatures of our United States survive.

Thus, moose is from the Indian word mouswah, meaning wood-eater; skunk from seganku, an Algonquin term; wapiti, in the Cree language, meant white deer, and was originally applied to the Rocky Mountain goat, but the name is now restricted to the American elk. Caribou is also an Indian word; opossum is from possowne, and raccoon is from the Indian arrathkune (by further apheresis, coon).

Rhinoceros is pure Greek, meaning nose-horned, but beaver has indeed had a rough time of it in its travels through various languages. It is hardly recognisable as bebrus, babbru, and bbru. The latter is the ultimate root of our word brown. The original application was, doubtless, on account of the colour of the creature's fur. Otter takes us back to Sanskrit, where we find it udra. The significance of this word is in its close kinship to udan, meaning water.

The little mouse hands his name down through the years from the old, old Sanskrit, the root meaning to steal. Many people who never heard of Sanskrit have called him and his descendants by terms of homologous significance! The word muscle is from the same root, and was applied from a fancied resemblance of the movement of the muscle beneath the skin to a mouse in motion — not a particularly quieting thought to certain members of the fair sex! The origin of the word rat is less certain, but it may have been derived from the root of the Latin word radere, to scratch, or rodere, to gnaw. Rodent is derived from the latter term. Cat is also in doubt, but is first recognised in catalus, a diminutive of canis, a dog. It was applied to the young of almost any animal, as we use the words pup, kitten, cub, and so forth.

Bear is the result of tongue-twisting from the Latin fera, a wild beast. Ape is from the Sanskrit kapi; kap in the same language means tremble; but the connection is not clear. Lemur, the name given to that low family of monkeys, is from the plural Latin word !mares, meaning ghost or spectre. This has reference to the nocturnal habits, stealthy gait, and weird expression of these large-eyed creatures. Antelope is probably of Grecian origin, and was originally applied to a half-mythical animal, located on the banks of the Euphrates, and described as "very savage and fleet, and having long, saw-like horns with which it could cut down trees. It figures largely in the peculiar fauna of heraldry."

Deer is of obscure origin, but may have been an adjective meaning wild. Elk is derived from the same root as eland, and the history of the latter word is an interesting one. It meant a sufferer, and was applied by the Teutons to the elk of the Old World on account of the awkward gait and stiff movements of this ungainly animal. But in later years the Dutch carried the same word, eland, to South Africa, and there gave it to the largest of the tribe of antelopes, in which sense it is used by zoologists to-day.

Porcupine has arisen from two Latin words, porous, a hog, and spina, a spine; hence, appropriately, a spiny-hog. Buffalo may once have been some native African name. In the vista of time, our earliest glimpse of it is as bubalus, which was applied both to the wild ox and to a species of African antelope. Fallow deer is from fallow, meaning pale, or yellowish, while axis, as applied to the deer so common in zoological gardens, was first mentioned by Pliny and is doubtless of East Indian origin. The word bison is from the Anglo-Saxon wesend, but beyond Pliny its ultimate origin eludes all research.

Marmot, through various distortions, looms up from Latin times as mus montanus, literally a mountain mouse. Badger is from badge, in allusion to the bands of white fur on its forehead. The verb meaning to badger is derived from the old cruel sport of baiting badgers with dogs.

Monkey is from the same root as manna, a woman; more especially an old crone, in reference to the fancied resemblance of the weazened face of a monkey to that of a withered old woman. Madam and madonna are other forms of words from the same root, so wide and sweeping are the changes in meaning which usage and time can give to words.

Squirrel has a poetic origin in the Greek language; its original meaning being shadow-tail. Tiger is far more intricate. The old Persian word tir meant arrow, while tighra signified sharp. The application to this great animal was in allusion to the swiftness with which the tiger leaps upon his prey. The river Tigris, meaning literally the river Arrow, is named thus from the swiftness of its current.

As to the names of reptiles it is, of course, to the Romans that we are chiefly indebted, as in the case of reptile from reptiles, meaning creeping; and crocodile from dilus, a lizard. Serpent is also from the Latin serpens, creeping, and this from the old Sanskrit root, carp, with the same meaning. This application of the idea of creeping is again found in the word snake, which originally came from the Sanskrit raga.

Tortoise harks back to the Latin tortus, meaning twisted (hence our word tortuous) and came to be applied to these slow creatures because of their twisted legs. In its evolution through many tongues it has suffered numbers of variations; one of these being turtle, which we use to-day to designate the smaller land tortoises. Terrapin and its old forms terrapene and turpin, on the contrary, originated in the New World, in the language of the American Redskin.

Cobra-de-capello is Portuguese for hooded snake, while python is far older, the same word being used by the Greeks to denote a spirit, demon, or evil-soothsayer. This name was really given to designate any species of large serpent. Boa is Latin and was also applied to a large snake, while the importance of the character of size is seen, perhaps, in our words bos and bovine.

The word viper is interesting; coming directly from the Romans, who wrote it vipera. This in turn is a contraction of the feminine form of the adjective vivipera, in reference to the habit of these snakes of bringing forth their young alive.

Lizard, through such forms as lesarde, lezard, lagarto, lacerto, is from the Latin lacertus, a lizard; while closely related is the word alligator by way of lagarto, aligarto, to alligator. The prefix may have arisen as a corruption of an article and a noun, as in the modern Spanish el lagarto, — a lizard.

Monitor is Latin for one who reminds, these lizards being so called because they are supposed to give warning of the approach of crocodiles. Asp can be carried back to the asps of the Romans, no trace being found in the dim vistas of preceding tongues.

Gecko, the name of certain wall-hunting lizards, is derived from their croaking cry; while iguana is a Spanish name taken from the old native Haytian appellation bivana.

Of the word frog we know nothing, although through the medium of many languages it has had as thorough an evolution as in its physical life. We must also admit our ignorance in regard to toad, backward search revealing only tale, tole, ted, tootle, and tadie, the root baffling all study. Polliwog and tadpole are delightfully easy. Old forms of polliwog are pollywig, polewiggle, and pollwiggle. This last gives us the clew to our spelling — pollwiggle, which, reversed and interpreted in a modern way, is wigglehead, a most appropriate name for these lively little black fellows. Tadpole is somewhat similar; toad-pole, or toad's-head, also very apt when we think of these small-bodied larval forms.

Salamander, which is a Greek word of Eastern origin, was applied in the earliest times to a lizard considered to have the power of extinguishing fire. Newt has a strange history; originating in a wrong division of two words, "an emote," the latter being derived from eft, which is far more correct than newt, though in use now in only a few places. Few fishermen have ever thought of the interesting derivation of the names which they know so well. Of course there are a host of fishes named from a fancied resemblance to familiar terrestrial animals or other things; such as the catfish, and those named after the dog, hog, horse, cow, trunk, devil, angel, sun, and moon.

The word fish has passed through many varied forms since it was piscis in the old Latin tongue, and the same is true of shark and skate, which in the same language were carcharus and squatus. Trout was originally tructa, which in turn is lost in a very old Greek word, meaning eat or gnaw. Perch harks back to the Latin perca, and the Romans had it from the Greeks, among whom it meant spotted. The Romans said minutus when they meant small, and nowadays when we speak of any very small fish we say minnow. Alewife in old English was applied to the women, usually very stout dames, who kept alehouses. The corpulency of the fish to which the same term is given explains its derivation.

The pike is so named from the sharp, pointed snout and long, slim body, bringing to mind the old-time weapon of that name; while pickerel means doubly a little pike, the er and el (as in cock and cockerel) both being diminutives. Smelt was formerly applied to any small fish and comes, perhaps, from the Anglo-Saxon smeolt which meant smooth — the smoothness and slipperiness of the fish suggesting the name.

Salmon comes directly from the Latin salmo, a salmon, which literally meant the leaper, from salire — to leap. Sturgeon, from the Saxon was stiriga, literally a stirrer, from the habit of the fish of stirring up the mud at the bottom of the water. Dace, through its mediζval forms darce and dors, is from the same root as our word dart, given on account of the swiftness of the fish.

Anchovy is interesting as perhaps from the Basque word antzua meaning dry; hence the dried fish; and mullet is from the Latin mullus. Herring is well worth following back to its origin. We know that the most marked habit of fishes of this type is their herding together in great schools or masses or armies. In the very high German heri meant an army or host; hence our word harry and, with a suffix, herring.

Hake in Norwegian means hook, and the term hake or hook-fish was given because of the hooked character of the under-jaw. Mackerel comes from macarellus and originally the Latin macula spotted, from the dark spots on the body. Roach and ray both come from the Latin raria, applied then as in the latter case now to bottom-living sharks.

Flounder comes from the verb, which in turn is derived from flounce, a word which is lost in antiquity. Tarpon (and the form tarpum) may be an Indian word; while there is no doubt as to grouper coming from garrupa, a native Mexican name. Chubb (a form of cub) meant a chunky mass or lump, referring to the body of the fish, Shad is lost in sceadda, Anglo-Saxon for the same fish.

Lamprey and halibut both have histories, which, at first glance, we would never suspect, although the forms have changed but little. The former have a habit of fastening themselves for hours to stones and rocks, by means of their strong, sucking mouths. So the Latin form of the word lampetra, or literally lick-rock, is very appropriate. Halibut is equally so. But or bot in several languages means a certain flounder-like fish, and in olden times this fish was eaten only on holidays (i.e., holy days). Hence the combination halibut means really holy-flounder.

The meaning of these words and many others are worth knowing, and it is well to be able to answer with other than ignorance the question "What's in a name?"


WHEN a radical change of habits occurs, as in the sapsucker, deviating so sharply from the ancient principles of its family, many other forms of life about it are influenced, indirectly, but in a most interesting way. In its tippling operations it wastes quantities of sap which exudes from the numerous holes and trickles down the bark of the wounded tree. This proves a veritable feast for the forlorn remnant of wasps and butterflies, — the year's end stragglers whose flower calyces have fallen and given place to swelling seeds.

Swiftly up wind they come on the scent, eager as hounds on the trail, and they drink and drink of the sweets until they become almost incapable of flying. But, after all, the new lease of life is a vain semblance of better things. Their eggs have long since been laid and their mission in life ended, and at the best their existence is but a matter of days.

It is a sad thing this, and sometimes our heart hardens against Nature for the seeming cruelty of it all. Forever and always, year after year, century upon century, the same tale unfolds itself, — the sacrifice of the individual for the good of the race. A hundred drones are tended and reared, all but one to die in vain; a thousand seeds are sown to rot or to sprout and wither; a million little codfish hatch and begin life hopefully, perhaps all to succumb save one; a million million shrimp and pteropods paddle themselves here and there in the ocean, and every one is devoured by fish or swept into the whalebone tangle from which none ever return. And if a lucky one which survives does so because it has some little advantage over its fellows, — some added quality which gives just the opportunity to escape at the critical moment, — then the race will advance to the extent of that trifle and so carry out the precept of evolution. But even though we may owe every character of body and mind to the fulfillment of some such inexorable law in the past, yet the witnessing of the operation brings ever a feeling of cruelty, of injustice somewhere.

How pitiful the weak flight of the last yellow butterfly of the year, as with tattered and battered wings it vainly seeks for a final sip of sweets! The fallen petals and the hard seeds are black and odourless, the drops of sap are hardened. Little by little the wings weaken, the tiny feet clutch convulsively at a dried weed stalk, and the four golden wings drift quietly down among the yellow leaves, soon to merge into the dark mould beneath. As the butterfly dies, a stiffened Katydid scratches a last requiem on his wing covers — "katy-didn't — katy-did — kate-y" — and the succeeding moment of silence is broken by the sharp rattle of a woodpecker. We shake off every dream of the summer and brace ourselves to meet and enjoy the keen, invigorating pleasures of winter.

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.