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SERPENTS. The accounts left us by the ancients of the terrible devastations of serpents, must not be considered as wholly fabulous. It is probable in early times that serpents, being undisturbed possessors of the forest, grew to an amazing magnitude, and every other tribe of animals fell before them. We are told, that while Regulus led his army along the banks of the river Bagrada, in Africa, an enormous serpent disputed his passage over. We are assured that this serpent measured 120 feet in length.
All serpents have wide mouths, and throats, capable of great distension. The tongue is long and forked. The skin is composed of a number of scales, united to each other, and growing harder till the animal changes its skin, which is done twice a year.
Serpents live to a great age, and some of them grow to an immense size. In Java, one of them readily destroys and devours a buffalo. The poor animal is first seized, and crushed to death in the folds of the serpent. The whole body being reduced to one mass, the serpent untwines its folds, licks the body all over to make it slip down its throat the more easily, and beginning at one end, by degrees, swallows a morsel, three times its own thickness. It then lies torpid for a long time, and may be approached and destroyed with safety.
The most material distinction between serpents, is, that some are venomous, and some are inoffensive ; but not a tenth of their number are actually venomous.
From the noxious qualities of the serpent kind, it is no wonder that man, beasts, and birds carry on an unceasing war against them. The ichneumon and the peccary destroy them in great numbers, by seizing them near the head. The vulture and eagle also prey upon them in great numbers. Dogs also are bred up to oppose them.
In venomous serpents there are two large teeth or fangs issuing from the upper jaw. Wherever these are wanting, the animal is harmless; wherever they are found, it is to be avoided as a most pestilent enemy. The most venomous serpents of tropical climates are, the viper, the rattlesnake, the cabra de cabello, and the whip-snake. If a viper inflicts a wound, the symptoms are not without danger. Much more violent symptoms succeed the bite of a rattlesnake; but when a person is bitten by a cabra de cabello, he dies in an hour. The whip-snake is five feet long, and not thicker than the lash of a whip. It is exceedingly venomous, and its bite will kill a person in six hours.
Serpents without venom never employ their teeth, either as instruments, of attack, or defence; it is by the strong folds of the body and tail, that their enemies are destroyed. They hiss, dart out their forked tongues, erect themselves on the tail, but never attempt to use their teeth.
The black snake of the United States is about six feet in
length, and preys upon squirrels and birds. It may sometimes be seen among bushes, waiting to make a prey of the birds that are hopping among them. It seizes its vic. tim with great quickness, and kills it by coiling around the body, in the manner of the boa constrictor. It is perfectly barmless, and generally seeks an instant retreat when approached by man. The striped snake, blind snake, blind worm, aquatic viper, &c. though some of them have a formidable appearance, are harmless and inoffensive.
The larger tribe of serpents, though without venom, are very much to be dreaded. They never attack, except openly, and conquer by dint of strength. To this class belong the boa, the anaconda, and the depona.
In India, dancing serpents are common. These are carried about in a broad flat vessel, somewhat resembling a sieve. They erect and put themselves in motion at the word of command. When their keeper sings a slow tune, they seem by their heads to keep time; when he sings a quicker measure, they appear to move more briskly. From this trick, successfully practised, it is most probable have arisen all the boasted pretensions, which some have made to the art of charming serpents.
Or all animated beings, man offers the most wonderful variety in his internal conformation ; quadrupeds come next; and other animals follow, in proportion to their powers, or excellences. Insects seem, above all others, the most imperfectly formed ; from their minuteness, the dissecting knife can go but a short way in the investigation.
One thing (argues an evident imperfection; which is, that many of them can live a long time, though deprived of those organs, which are' necessary to life in the higher ranks of nature. Many of them are furnished with lungs and a heart, like noble animals ; yet the caterpillar continues to live, though its heart and lungs, as is often the case, are entirely eaten away.
We may define insects to be little animals without red blood, bones, or cartilages, furnished with a trunk, or else a mouth, opening lengthwise, with eyes, which they are incapable of covering, and with lungs which have their openings on the sides. This definition comprehends the whole class of insects, whether with, or without wings, and whether in their caterpillar, or butterfly state.
In a cursory inspection of the insect tribe, the first animals that offer themselves are those which want wings; that appear crawling about on every plant, and on every spot of earth which we regard with any degree of attention. Those, therefore, that never have wings, but go creeping about till they die, may be considered as constituting the first class of insects.
The econd order insects consists of such as have wings, but which, when produced from the egg, have their wings cased up in such a manner as not to appear. The third order of insects is of the moth and butterfly kind. The fourth order is of those winged insects, which come from a worm, instead of a caterpillar, and yet go through changes similar to those which moths and butterflies are seen to undergo. To these, we may add a fifth order, a numerous tribe, lately discovered, to which naturalists have given the name of zoöphites. They seem to be a set of creatures placed between animals and vegetables, and form the link, which connects animated and insensible nature.
The structure of insects is altogether very curious. They are all annulose animals, that is, they have their bodies divided across into a greater or smaller number of rings, or segments. They are without a spine, or anything like an internal skeleton, and thus, the insertions of all the muscles, by which their parts are moved, are on the external cover