This section is from the book "A Library Of Wonders And Curiosities Found In Nature And Art, Science And Literature", by I. Platt. Also available from Amazon: A library of wonders and curiosities.
See, thro' this air, this ocean, and this earth,
All matter quick, and bursting into birth.
Above, how high progressive life may go!
Around, how wide! how deep extend below!
Vast chain of Being! which from God began,
Nature s ethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see,
No glass can reach; from Infinite to thee,
From thee to nothing. Pope.
In entering upon the subject of Curiosities respecting Animals, we shall first introduce to the reader some interesting observations respecting the generation, formation, preservation, destruction, and reproduction, of animals in general; and, first, of animal generation.
Animal generation holds the first place among all that raise our admiration when we consider the Works of the Creator, and chiefly that appointment by which he has regulated the propagation, which is wisely adapted to the disposition and mode of life of every different species of animals, that people earth, air, or sea.
"Increase and multiply," said the benevolent Author of nature, when he pronounced his blessing on the new made world. By virtue of this powerful mandate, all the various tribes of sentient beings have not only been preserved, but increased in an astonishing degree.
It is not in our province to describe the laws of gestation; we will content ourselves with a few brief hints upon this subject; and we shall find, that in different animals, nature operates in different ways, in order to produce the same general end.
The human female, and the female of quadrupeds, are possessed of a temperate cherishing warmth; this fits them for easy gestation, and enables them to afford proper nourishment to their young, till the time of birth.
Birds are intended to soar in the air, or to flit from place o place in search of food. Gestation, therefore, would be burdensome to them. For this reason, they lay eggs, covered with a hard shell: these, by natural instinct, they sit upon, and cherish till the young be excluded. The ostrich and the cassowary are said to be exempt from this law; as they commit their eggs to the sand, where the intense heat of the sun hatches them.
Fishes inhabit the waters, and most of them have cold blood, unfit for nourishing their young. The all-wise Creator, therefore, has ordained that most of them should lay their eggs near the shore; where, by means of the solar rays, the water is warmer, and also fitter for that purpose; and also because water insects abound more there, which afford nourishment to the young fry.
Salmon, when they are about to deposit their eggs, are led by instinct .to ascend the stream, where purity and freshness are to be found in the waters: and to procure such a situation for its young, this fish will endure incredible toil and hazard.
The butterfly-fish is an exception to this general law, for that brings forth its young alive. The species of fish whose residence is in the middle of the ocean, are also exempt. Providence has given to these, eggs that swim; so that they are hatched among the sea-weeds, which also swim on the surface.
The various kinds of whales have warm blood, and therefore bring forth their young alive, and suckle them with their teats.
Some amphibious animals also bring forth their young alive, as the viper, etc. But such species as lay eggs, deposit them in places where the heat of the sun supplies the want of warmth in the parent. Thus the frog, and the lizard, drop their's in shallow waters, which soon receive a genial heat by the rays of the sun; the common snake, in dunghills, or other warm places. The crocodile and sea-tortoise go ashore to lay their eggs in the sand : in these cases, Nature, as a provident nurse, takes care of all.
The multiplication of animals is not restrained to the same rule in all; for some have a remarkable power of increase, while others are, in this respect, confined within very nar-row limits. Yet, in general, we find, that nature observes this order, that the least animals, and those which are most useful for food to others, usually increase with the greatest rapidity. The mite, and many other insects, will multiply to a thousand within the compass of a few days; while the elephant hardly produces a young one in two years.
Birds of the hawk-kind seldom lay more than two eggs; while poultry will produce from fifteen to thirty. The diver, or loon, which is eaten by few animals, lays also only two eggs; but the duck-kind, moor game, partridges, etc. and small birds in general, lay a great many. Most of the insect tribes neither bear young nor hatch eggs; yet they are the most numerous of all living creatures ; and were their bulk proportionable to their numbers, there would not be room on the earth for any other animals. The Creator has wisely ordained the preservation of these minute creatures. The females lay not their eggs indiscriminately, but are endued with instinct to choose such places as may supply their infant offspring with proper nourishment: in their case, this is absolutely necessary, for the mother dies as soon as she has deposited her eggs, the male parent having died before this event takes place; so that no parental care ever falls to the lot of this orphan race. And indeed, were the parents to.live, it does not appear that they would possess any power to assist their young. Butterflies, weevils, tree-bugs, gall-insects, and many others, lay their eggs on the leaves of plants; and every different tribe chooses its own species of plants. Nay, there is scarce any plant which does not afford nourishment to some insect; and still more, there is hardly any part of a plant which is not preferred by some of them. Thus one feeds upon the flower; another upon the leaves ; another upon the trunk ; and still another upon the root. But it is particularly curious to observe how the leaves of some trees of plants are formed into dwellings for the convenience of these creatures. Thus the gall-insect fixes her eggs in the leaves of an oak; the wounded leaf swells, and a knob arises like an apple, which includes, protects, and nourishes the embryo. In the same manner are the galls produced, which are brought from Asiatic Turkey, and which are used both as a medicine, and as a dye in several of our manufactories.