Animal Biography

Animal Biography:








English Index

Systematic Index




The title of Amphibia is given by Linnæus to the Reptile and Serpent tribes; or to such animals as have cold blood, and live occasionally both on land and in water. It is true that this may be considered excep­tionable on account of some individuals being confined to only one of those elements: these are, however, so very few as not, with any propriety, to affect their general denomination. None of the animals can exist exclusively in water, since they all breathe the air of our atmosphere.

Their abode is usually in retired, watery, and shady places, where they are, most probably, stationed to prevent the excessive multipli­cation of water animals and insects: and themselves, in many instances, to serve as food for fishes and birds. They do not chew their food, but swallow it whole, the throat and stomach being capable of great distention, sometimes receiving animals of greater thickness than themselves in a natural state. Some, but not many of them, live on plants or flesh. They have a power of enduring abstinence that would III.2 infallibly prove fatal to most other orders of animals. Several of the species have been known to exist, and in apparent health and vivacity, for many months without food.

They are able, from the peculiar structure of their organs, to suspend respiration at pleasure; and thus to support a change of element uninjured.

It is generally asserted, and believed, that the hearts of the Amphibia are furnished with only one ventricle: more accurate physiologists are, however, of opinion that we ought rather to say that they have two ventricles, with an immediate communication between them. The blood is red, but cold, and in small quantity.

The lungs consist, for the most part, of a pair of large bladders or membranaceous receptacles, parted into cancelli or small subdivisions, among which are beautifully distributed their few pulmonary blood-vessels.

Many of the animals possess a high degree of reproductive power, and when their feet, tail, &c. are by any accident destroyed, others will grow in their place.—Their bodies are sometimes defended by a hard horny shield or covering; and sometimes by a coriaceous integument. Some species have scales; and others soft pustular warts, or protu­berances.—Their bones are more cartilaginous than those either of quadrupeds or birds. Several of the species are destitute of ribs.—Some are furnished with formidable teeth, whilst others are entirely without: some again are fierce and predacious; and others perfectly inoffensive. In general, however, III.3 they are of a mild and peaceful disposition.—The bodies of the amphibious animals are cold to the touch. This circum­stance, and their usually squalid and ugly form, have excited so great a disgust as partly to have founded the notion of all of them being venomous. Very few, however, except among the Serpent tribes, and even of these not more than one sixth of the species, possess this dreadful quality.—They are all extremely tenacious of life, and some of them will continue to move and exert animal functions, even destitute of their head or heart.—Their colours are often livid and disgusting; though some are decorated with most splendid skins. Many of them exhale a loathsome odour, owing perhaps to the foulness of their abode, or the substances on which they feed.—Their voices are either harsh and unmusical, or else the animals are entirely dumb.

Most of the Amphibia are oviparous. The Reptiles, therefore, or those that have four legs, are denominated oviparous quadrupeds, to distinguish them from the Mammalia, or viviparous quadrupeds. They are usually very prolific. The eggs of some species are covered with a hard calcareous shell; whilst those of others have a soft tough skin or covering, somewhat resembling parchment: the eggs of several are perfectly gelatinous. As soon as the parent animals have deposited their eggs in a proper place, they take no further care of them, but leave them to be hatched by the sun. In those few species that are viviparous, the eggs are regularly formed, but hatched internally: this is the case with the Viper and some others.


In cold and temperate climates, nearly all the Amphibia pass the winter in a torpid state. During this season they are often found perfectly stiff, in holes under ice, or in water. They continue thus till revived by the returning warmth of spring. They then become reanimated, change their skin, and appear abroad in a new coat. Many of them cast their skins frequently in the year: those Reptiles, however, that have an osseous covering, as the Tortoises, never change it.

The Amphibia, though they are sometimes found in great numbers together, cannot be said to congregate, since they do nothing in common, and in fact do not live in a state of society.—The flesh and eggs of some of the species form a palatable and nutritious food.

The Amphibia are divided by Linnæus into two orders: viz. Reptiles and Serpents.—The Reptiles are furnished with legs. They have flat naked ears without auricles. The principal tribes are the tortoises, lizards, and frogs.—Serpents are destitute of feet, but move by the assistance of scales, and their general powers of contortion. Their jaws are dilatable, and not articulated. They have neither fins nor ears.

Notes and Corrections: Amphibious Animals

As far as Linnaeus was concerned, there was no difference between reptiles and amphibians. He even included a few cartila­ginous fishes in the class. The division between Amphibians (originally called Batracia) and Reptiles was the work of French entomologist Pierre Latreille (1762–1833), writing in 1825.

oviparous quadrupeds, to distinguish them from the Mammalia, or viviparous quadrupeds
[This is a pretty silly thing to say, since Volume I included a description of the Platypus.]


color picture of Snake Tortoise, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 1062:
The Snake Tortoise


This is one of the dullest and most sluggish of all the animated tribes. Those species that live on land subsist on worms and snails; the others, that inhabit the ocean, feed principally on sea-weeds.

Their body is defended by a bony covering, coated with a horny, scaly, or a cartilaginous integument. This consists of two plates; the one above, and the other below, joined together at the edges. The upper one is convex, and, in general, is made up of thirteen plates in the middle, surrounded by a margin containing twenty-four. The ribs and back-bone are ossified into this, and the other, the breast-plate, contains the breast-bones or sternum. At each end of the two united shells is a hole; the one for the head, neck, and fore-feet to pass through, and the other, at the opposite end, for the hind-feet and tail. From these shells the animal is never disengaged, and they defend it sufficiently from every enemy but man.

The head is small, and, in the place of teeth, has hard and bony ridges. The upper jaw closes III.6 over the lower, like the lid of a box, and their strength is said to be so great that it is impossible to open them when once they have fastened. Even when the head is cut off the muscles retain a surprising degree of rigidity.

The legs are short, but inconceivably strong: one of the larger species has been known to carry five men, all at the same time, on his back, with great apparent ease and unconcern.

However clumsy and awkward these animals may appear in their manners, they are, for the most part, extremely gentle and peaceable; and few, except the Loggerhead and Fierce Turtles, make any resistance when taken. No animals whatever are more tenacious of life: even if their head be cut off, and their chest opened, they will continue to live for several days.—They pass the cold season in a torpid state.

The Marine Tortoises, or Turtles, are distinguished from the others by their large and long fin-shaped feet, in which are inclosed the bones of the toes; the first and second only of each foot having visible or projecting claws. The shield, as in the others, consists of a strong bony covering, in which are embedded the ribs: in one or two species this is much thicker and more strong than that of Land Tortoises.

Of these animals, there are in the whole about thirty-six species: four marine, eighteen inhabiting the fresh waters, and the rest residing on land.

⁕1 This tribe commences the Linnean order of Reptiles.

Notes and Corrections: The Tortoise Tribe

Turtles, tortoises and terrapins are order Testudines—or Chelonia, if you prefer Greek to Latin—within class Reptilia. A quirk of this order is that many genera, and even some families, only have one species, implying that they finished their major diverging quite a while ago.

[Footnote] the Linnean order of Reptiles
[Elsewhere in Animal Biography, footnotes of this kind give a listing of the “tribes” (Linnean genera) included within the order. In this case there are only two others: Frogs and Lizards.]


engraving of Common Tortoise, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 1:
Common Tortoise


The Common Tortoise is found in most of the countries near the Mediterranean sea, in Corsica, Sardinia, and some of the islands of the Archipelago, as well as in many parts of the North of Africa.

The length of its shell is seldom more than eight or nine inches, nor does its weight often exceed three pounds. The shell, which, as in most of the other species, is composed of thirteen middle pieces, and about twenty-five marginal ones, is of an oval form, extremely convex, and broader behind than before. The middle part is blackish brown varied with yellow. The under part or belly of the shell is of a pale yellow, with a broad dark line down each side, leaving the middle part plain. The head is not large, nor does the opening of the mouth extend beyond the eyes: the upper part is covered with somewhat irregular scales. The legs are short, and the feet moderately broad and covered with strong ovate scales. The tail is somewhat shorter than the legs: it is also covered with scales, but terminates in a horny tip.

This species resides principally in burrows that it forms in the ground, where it sleeps the greatest part of its time, appearing abroad only a few hours in the middle of the day. In the autumn it hides III.8 itself for the winter, remaining torpid for four or five months, and not again making its appearance till the spring. About the beginning of June, the female scratches a hole in some warm situation, in which she deposits her four or five eggs. These are hatched in September, at which time the young are not larger than a walnut⁕1.

The Common Tortoise is an animal that, for the extreme slowness of its motions, has been ever notorious, both in ancient and modern times. This seems principally occasioned by the position of the legs, which are thrown very much to the sides of the body, and are considerably spread out from each other. It may likewise be in some degree caused by the great weight of the shell pressing on this unfavourable position of the legs.—In walking, the claws of the fore-feet are rubbed separately, and one after another against the ground: when one of the feet is placed on the ground, the inner claw first bears the weight of the body, and so on along the claws in succession to the outermost. The foot in this manner acts somewhat like a wheel, as if the animal wished scarcely to raise its feet from the earth, and endeavoured to advance by means of a succession of partial steps of its toes or claws, for the purpose of more firmly supporting the great weight of its body and shell⁕2.

These animals have often been brought into England. The Rev. Mr. White, of Selborne, attended accurately to the manners of one that was in possession III.9 of a lady of his acquaintance upwards of thirty years. It regularly retired under ground about the middle of November, from whence it did not emerge till the middle of April. Its appetite was always most voracious in the height of summer, eating very little either in spring or autumn. Milky plants, such as lettuces, dandelions and sowthistles, were its principal food. In scraping the ground to form its winter retreat, it used its fore-feet, and threw up the earth with its hinder ones over its back; but the motion of its legs was so slow as scarcely to exceed the hour hand of a clock. It worked with the utmost assiduity, both night and day, in scooping out the earth, and forcing its great body into the cavity; notwithstanding which the operation occupied more than a fortnight before it was completed. It was always extremely alarmed when surprised by a sudden shower of rain during its peregrinations for food. Though its shell would have secured it from injury, even if run over by the wheel of a loaded cart, yet it discovered as much solicitude about rain as a lady dressed in her most elegant attire, shuffling away on the first sprinklings, and always, if possible, running its head up into a corner.—When the Tortoise is attended to, it becomes an excellent barometer: when it walks elate, and, as it were, on tiptoe, feeding with great earnestness, in a morning, it will, almost invariably, be found to rain before night.—Mr. White was much pleased with the sagacity of the above animal, in distinguishing those from whom it was accustomed to receive attention: whenever the good old lady came in sight, who had III.10 waited on it for more than thirty years, it always hobbled, with awkward alacrity, towards its benefactress, whilst to strangers it was entirely inattentive. Thus did the most abject of torpid creatures distinguish the hand that fed it, and exhibit marks of gratitude not always to be found in superior orders of animal being. It was a diurnal animal, never stirring out after dark, and very frequently appearing abroad even a few hours only in the middle of the day. It always retired to rest for every shower, and in wet days never came at all from its retreat. Although he loved warm weather, yet he carefully avoided the hot sun, since his thick shell, when once heated, must have become extremely painful and probably dangerous to him. He therefore spent the more sultry hours under the umbrella of a large cabbage leaf, or amidst the waving forests of an asparagus bed. But, as he endeavoured to avoid the heat in the summer, he improved the faint autumnal beams by getting within the reflection of a fruit-tree wall; and though he had certainly never read that planes inclining to the horizon receive a greater share of warmth, he frequently inclined his shell, by tilting it against the wall, to collect and admit every feeble ray⁕3.

Very ample evidence has been produced of this animal’s living to a most extraordinary age, frequently exceeding even the period of a century. One that was introduced into the garden at Lambeth, in the time of archbishop Laud, was living in III.11 the year 1753, a hundred and twenty years afterwards; and at last it perished, from an unfortunate neglect of the gardener⁕4.—In the year 1765, a Tortoise was living in the garden of Samuel Simmons, Esq. at Sandwich in Kent, which was known to have been there from about the year 1679, but how long before that period no one could say with certainty. There is, however, good reason for supposing it to have been brought thither from the West Indies by a gentleman of the name of Boys, who was owner of the premises several years before the first period. This animal died in the winter of 1767. It appeared that it had endeavoured (according to its annual custom) to burrow into the ground; but having selected for this purpose a spot near an old vine, its progress was obstructed by the roots, and it probably had not strength enough to change its situation, as it was found dead with only half its body covered. About thirty years before its death, it got out of the garden, and was much injured by the wheel of a loaded waggon, which went over it, and cracked its upper shell⁕5.

The horrid experiments of Rhedi, to prove the extreme vital tenacity of the Tortoise, are a disgrace to the philosophic page. In one instance he made a large opening in the skull, and drew out all the brain, washing the cavity, so as not to leave the smallest part remaining, and then, with the hole open, set the animal at liberty. It marched off, as III.12 he says, without seeming to have received the slightest injury, save from the closing of its eyes, which it never afterwards opened. In a short time the hole was observed to close, and in about three days a complete skin covered the wound: in this manner the animal lived, without the brain, for six months, walking about, and still moving its limbs as it did previously to the operation⁕6.

The males of this species are said to fight very often. This is done by butting at each other, and with such force that the blows may be heard at a considerable distance⁕7.

In Greece these Tortoises form an article of food. The inhabitants also swallow the blood without any culinary preparation, and are very partial to the eggs, when made palatable by boiling. In the gardens of some parts of Italy, there are formed for the purpose wells, in which the inhabitants bury the eggs of the Tortoise. These remain till the ensuing spring, when, by the natural warmth of the climate, they are hatched, and the young ones come forth. The Tortoises are kept in banks of earth⁕8.

Synonyms.—Testudo Græca. Linn. Common Land Tortoise. Greek Tortoise.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 1.

⁕1 La Cepede, i. 193.

⁕2 Ib. i. 184. 186.

⁕3 White’s Selborne.

⁕4 Bib. Topog. Brit. No. xxvii.

⁕5 Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. lv. p. 253.

⁕6 La Cepede, i. 189.

⁕7 Shaw’s Gen. Zool. iii. 9.

⁕8 Skippon’s Travels, Churchill’s Coll. vi. 501.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Tortoise

The binomial Testudo græca (“Greek tortoise”) now belongs to the Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoise. It gave its name to its family, Testudinidae, and the overall Testudines order.

it perished, from an unfortunate neglect of the gardener
[Bingley seems to be awfully fond on blaming animals’ fates on the servants.]

The horrid experiments of Rhedi . . . are a disgrace to the philo­sophic page.
[But not so great a disgrace that Bingley will avoid describing them.]

engraving of Snake Tortoise, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 19:
Snake Tortoise


This animal inhabits the stagnant waters of North III.13 America, and when full grown weighs from fifteen to twenty pounds.

The shield is oval, and somewhat depressed: the middle pieces, which are thirteen in number, each rise into a kind of obtuse point. The margin, near the tail, is deeply serrated. The head is large, flat, triangular, and covered with a warty skin. The mouth is wide, and the mandibles are sharp. The neck, though it appears short and thick when the animal is at rest, is capable of being stretched out to a third of the length of the shell. The toes are connected by a web, and the claws are long and stout. The tail is straight, and about two-thirds of the length of the shell. In its general colour this species is of a dull chesnut brown, paler beneath than above.

It preys on fish, young water-fowl, &c. which it seizes with great force, at the same time stretching out its neck and hissing. Whatever it once seizes in its mouth it holds so tenaciously, that it will suffer itself to be raised up rather than quit its hold. It lies concealed in muddy waters in such a manner as to leave out only a part of its back, appearing like a stone, or rough piece of wood; by which means it is enabled the more easily to lay hold of such animals as unguardedly venture near it.

Synonyms.—Testudo serpentina. Linn.—Serrated Tortoise. Penn.—Snapping Tortoise, in some parts of America, Snake Tortoise. Shaw.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 19.

Notes and Corrections: The Snake Tortoise

Testudo serpentina, the snapping turtle, is now Chelydra serpentina. Snapping turtles as a whole are family Chelydridae.


The two following Species are Marine Tortoises, or, as they are usually denominated, Turtles.

engraving of Green Turtle, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 22:
Green Turtle


This species is found in great quantities on the coasts of all the islands and continents on the Torrid Zone, both in the old and new worlds. The shoals which surround these islands, and border the whole coasts of these continents, produce vast quantities of algae, and other marine plants, which, though covered by the water, are near enough to the surface to be readily seen by the naked eye, during calm weather. Amid these submarine pastures, a number of marine animals are found; and, among them, prodigious multitudes of Turtles. In these meadows, as they may be called, the Green Turtle is often seen, in vast numbers, feeding quietly on the plants which they produce⁕1.

As the Turtles find a constant abundance of food, on the coasts which they frequent, they have no occasion to quarrel with animals of their own kind for that which is afforded in such plenty to them all. Being able, like the other species of Amphibia, to live even for many months without III.15 food, they flock peaceably together. They do not however appear, like many other herding animals, to have any kind of association together: they merely collect, as if by accident, and they remain without disturbance.

Their length is often five feet or upwards; and they sometimes exceed five or six hundred pounds in weight. Their shell is broader before than behind, where it is somewhat pointed. It consists of thirteen brownish divisions, surrounded by twenty-five marginal ones. The mouth is so large as to open beyond the ears on each side. This is not armed with teeth, but the bones of which the jaws are composed are very hard and strong, and furnished with points or asperities that serve in some degree the same purpose. With these powerful jaws they brouse on the grass, sea-weed, and other plants which grow on the shoals and sand-banks, and with them they are likewise able to crush the shell-fish on which they sometimes feed.

After having satisfied their appetites with marine plants, they often retire to the fresh water, at the mouth of the great rivers, where they float on the surface, holding their heads above water, apparently for the purpose of breathing the fresh air. But as they are surrounded with many dangers, both from their natural enemies, and from mankind, they are necessitated to use great precaution, in thus indulging themselves with cool air, and with the refreshing streams of river water. The instant they perceive even the shadow of any object, from III.16 which they suspect danger, they dive to the bottom for security⁕2.

The strength of this animal is so great as to allow it to move along with as many men on its back as can stand there. It sleeps upon its back on the surface of the water.—The legs are so far fin-shaped as to be of little other use than to swim with.

The inhabitants of the Bahama islands are peculiarly dexterous in catching the Turtles. In the month of April, they go in their boats to the coasts of Cuba, and some of the neighbouring islands, where, in the evenings and moonlight nights, they watch the going and returning of the animals to and from the shore, where they lay their eggs. They turn them on their backs on the land, and then leave them to perform the same operation on as many others as they can meet; for, when once turned, they are unable again to get on their feet. Many are taken in the sea, at some distance from the shore: these are struck with a kind of spear, whose shaft is about four yards in length. For this work two men usually set out in a small light boat or canoe, one to paddle it gently along and steer, and the other to stand at the head with his weapon. Sometimes the Turtles are discovered swimming with their head and back out of water, but most commonly lying at the bottom where it is a fathom III.17 or more deep. If the animal sees that he is discovered, he immediately attempts to escape: the men pursue and endeavour to keep him in sight; and, in the chase, generally so far tire him, that in the course of half an hour, he sinks to the bottom, which affords an opportunity to strike him with the spear through the shell. The head of the spear, which now slips off and is left in his body, is fastened with a string to the pole; and, by means of this apparatus, they are enabled to pursue him, if he should not be sufficiently spent without: if, however, that is the case, he tamely submits to be taken into the boat, or hauled ashore.—There are men who, by diving to the bottom, will get on the backs of the animals; and then, by pressing them down behind, and raising their fore part, bring them by force to the surface of the water, where some person is in waiting to slip a noose round their neck.

They very seldom go ashore, except for the purpose of depositing their eggs in the sand: this is done in April. They dig a hole, at high-water mark, about two feet deep, and drop into it above a hundred eggs; and at this time they are so intent on the operation that they do not notice any one that approaches them, and they will even drop the eggs into a hat if held under them. If, however, they are disturbed before the commencement of their business, they always forsake the place. They lay their eggs at three, and sometimes four different times, fourteen days asunder, so that the young are hatched and come forth also at different times. III.18 After having deposited the eggs they scratch the hole up with sand, and leave them to be hatched by the heat of the sun, which is generally done in about three weeks. The eggs are each about the size of a tennis-ball, round, white, and covered with a parchment-like skin⁕3.

Sir Hans Sloane has informed us that the inhabitants of Port Royal in Jamaica had formerly no fewer than forty vessels employed in catching these animals; their markets being supplied with Turtle, as ours are with butchers meat.

The introduction of the Turtle, as an article of luxury, into England, appears to have taken place within the last seventy years. We import them principally, if not entirely, from the West India islands.

Synonyms.—Testudo Mydas. Linn.—Common Green Turtle. Common Turtle. Esculent Turtle. Green Turtle. Shaw.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 22.

⁕1 La Cepede, i. 80.

⁕2 La Cepede, 87. 88.

⁕3 Catesby, ii. 38.

Notes and Corrections: The Green Turtle

Testudo mydas is now Chelonia mydas, the principal repre­sentative of its genus, and flagship of the sea-turtle family, Cheloniidae.

engraving of Loggerhead Turtle, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 23:
Loggerhead Turtle


This is one of the largest species, and in its general appearance has a great resemblance to the last: the head however is larger, the shell broader, and the number of segments of the disk is fifteen, of which the middle range is gibbous or protuberant towards their tips. The fore-legs are large and strong, and the hind ones broad and shorter. These Turtles inhabit the seas about the West India islands, and they are found in the Mediterranean, III.19 but particularly about the coasts of Italy and Sicily.

They are very strong and fierce, defending themselves with great vigour with their legs, and being able to divide very strong substances with their mouth. Aldrovandus assures us that, on offering a thick walking-stick to the gripe of one that he saw publicly exhibited at Bologna, the animal bit it in two in an instant⁕1.—Their principal food is shell-fish, which their strong beak enables them to break from the rocks. But their voracity, it is said, even leads them to attack young Crocodiles, which they often mutilate of their limbs or tail. We are informed that, for this purpose, they frequently lurk in the bottom of creeks along the shore, into which the Crocodiles sometimes retire backwards, because the length of their body prevents them from turning readily: and, taking advantage of this posture, the Loggerhead seizes them by the tail, having then nothing to fear from their formidable teeth⁕2.

They range very far over the ocean. One of them was seen in latitude 30° north, sleeping on the surface of the water, apparently about midway between the Azores and the Bahama islands, and these were the nearest possible land. This circumstance was the more remarkable as it happened in the month of April, just at their breeding time⁕3.


Rondeletius, who was a native of Languedoc, informs us that he kept one of this species, which had been caught on the coast of Provence, for a considerable time. It emitted a confused kind of noise, and frequently sighed⁕4.

Like the last species, they lay their eggs in the sand. Their flesh is coarse and rank; but their bodies afford a considerable quantity of oil, which may be used for various purposes, particularly for burning, or for dressing leather. The plates of the shell are not sufficiently thick to be of great use.

Testudo caretta. Linn.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 23.

⁕1 Shaw’s Gen. Zool. iii. 87.

⁕2 La Cepede, i. 132.

⁕3 Catesby, ii. 40.

⁕4 La Cepede, i. 131.

Notes and Corrections: The Loggerhead Turtle

Testudo caretta is now the head of its own genus, Caretta caretta, in the same family as the Green Turtle.

Their flesh is coarse and rank
text has course

engraving of Imbricated Tortoise, no later than 1804

Shaw Miscellany plate 287:
The Imbricated Tortoise

The substance that we call Tortoise-shell is the production of the Imbricated Turtle⁕1, a species considerably allied to the present, that is found in the Asiatic and American seas, and sometimes in the Mediterranean. The plates of this species are far more strong, thick, and clear, than in any other, and these constitute the sole value of the animal. They are semi-transparent, beautifully variegated with different colours, and, when properly prepared and polished, are used for a variety of ornamental purposes. They are first softened by steeping in boiling water, after which they may be moulded into almost any form⁕2.

⁕1 Testudo imbricata of Linnæus.

⁕2 Shaw’s Gen. Zool. iii. 89.

Notes and Corrections: Imbricated Turtle

Testudo imbricata is now Eretmochelys imbricata, the hawksbill, representing a third genus in the same family as green turtles and loggerheads.


engraving of Common Frog (red variety), no later than 1804

Shaw Miscellany plate 864:
The Common Frog, red variety


The animals that compose this tribe feed on insects and worms, residing principally on the ground, or partly in water, in dark and unfrequented places, from whence they crawl forth only in the night. Many of them have an aspect very disgusting and unpleasant. Some, however, less unpleasant to the sight, are furnished with slender limbs, and have their toes terminated by flat circularly expanded tips, which enable them to adhere at pleasure to the surfaces of even the smoothest bodies: these reside generally in the trees, where they adhere to the lower sides of the leaves or branches.—None of them drink, but all the species absorb moisture through the skin.

They are all oviparous, and the eggs are perfectly gelatinous. From the egg proceeds a Tadpole without feet, but furnished with a tail to aid its motion in the water: this drops off as the legs become protruded. In this imperfect state, the animals have also a sort of gills or subsidiary lungs; and several of them a small tube on the lower lip, by means of which they can fix themselves to bodies to eat, or perform other functions. They all arrive at maturity about their fourth year, and very few outlive the age of ten or twelve.

The full-grown animals have four feet, and their body is not covered with either plates or scales, but III.22 is entirely naked. They have a sternum or breastplate, but no ribs. They are destitute of tails, and their hind legs are longer than the others.

The number of species hitherto described is about fifty. These are divided into three sections: namely,

Frogs, which have smooth bodies, longish legs, and discharge their eggs in a mass,

Hylæ, or Tree-Frogs, that have their hind legs very long, and the toes unconnected; and

Toads, which have their bodies puffed up and covered with warts. These have short legs, and do not leap. They discharge their eggs in a very long necklace-like string.

Notes and Corrections: The Frog Tribe

skip to next section

Frogs are amphibians. In fact it would not be far from the truth to say that amphibians are frogs, since order Anura—frogs and toads—has almost ten times as many species as all other amphibians combined. Most toads are one family within this large order; tree frogs are spread over several families.

They are all oviparous
[Today I Learned . . . that frogs of genus Nectophrynoides are viviparous. Fancy that.]

They have a sternum or breastplate, but no ribs.
[This may sound like drivel on the order of Aristotle’s belief that women have fewer teeth than men, but it is perfectly true.]

engraving of Common Frog, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 29:
Common Frog


The Common Frog is found in great quantities in moist situations throughout Europe. Its colour is olive brown, variegated above with irregular blackish spots. Beneath each eye there is a patch or mark that reaches to the setting-on of the fore-legs.

Its appearance is lively, and its form on the whole by no means inelegant. The limbs are well calculated for aiding the peculiar motions of the animal, and its webbed hind-feet assist its progress in the water, to which it occasionally retires during the heats of summer, and again in the frosts of winter. During the latter period, and till the return of warmer weather, it lies in a state of torpor, either deeply plunged in the soft mud at the bottom III.23 of stagnant waters, or in the hollows beneath their banks.

Its spawn, which is cast generally in the month of March, consists of a clustered mass of gelatinous transparent and spherical eggs, from six hundred to a thousand in number, in the middle of each of which is contained the embryo or tadpole, in the form of a black globule. The spawn lies a month or five weeks, according to the heat of the weather, before the larvæ or tadpoles are hatched.

The tadpole, as in several other species, is furnished with a kind of small tubular sucker beneath the lower jaw, by means of which it hangs at pleasure to the under surface of aquatic plants. The interior organs, when closely examined, are found to differ in many respects from those of the future Frog. The intestines, in particular, are coiled into a flat spiral form, somewhat resembling a cable in miniature. When the animal is about six weeks old, the hind-legs appear, and in about a fortnight these are succeeded by the fore-legs: in this state it seems to have alliance both to the Frog and Lizard. Not long afterwards the form is completed, and it, for the first time, ventures upon land. Frogs are at this period often seen wandering about the brinks of the water, in such multitudes as to astonish mankind, and induce a belief, among the vulgar, of their having descended in showers from the clouds.

They now surrender their vegetable food for the smaller species of snails, worms, and insects; and the structure of their tongue is admirably adapted to seize and secure this prey: the root is attached III.24 to the fore-part of the mouth, so that, when unemployed, it lies with the tip towards the throat. The animal by this singular contrivance is enabled to bend it to a considerable distance out of its mouth. When it is about to seize on any object, it darts it out with great agility, and the prey is secured on its broad and jagged glutinous extremity. This it swallows with so instantaneous a motion that the eye can scarcely follow it⁕1.

Nothing can appear more awkward and ludicrous than a Frog engaged with a large Worm or a small Snake; for nature seems to have put a restraint upon the voracity of these animals, by forming them very inaptly for seizing and holding their larger prey. Dr. Townson had a large Frog that one day swallowed in his presence a Blind-worm⁕2 near a span long, which in its struggles frequently got half its body out again: when completely swallowed, its contortions were very visible in the flaccid sides of its victor⁕3.

With respect to the popular superstition that Frogs frequently descend from the clouds, Mr. Ray informs us that, as he was riding one afternoon in Berkshire, he was much surprised at seeing an immense multitude of Frogs crossing the road. On further examination he found two or three acres of ground nearly covered with them; they were all proceeding in the same direction, towards some woods and ditches that were before them. He III.25 however traced them back to the side of a very large pond, which in spawning-time he was informed always abounded so much with Frogs that their croaking was frequently heard to a great distance; and he therefore naturally concluded that instead of being precipitated from the clouds, they had been bred there, and had been invited by a refreshing shower, which had just before fallen, to go out either in pursuit of food or of a more convenient habitation⁕4.

Frogs are numerous in the parts of America, about Hudson’s Bay, as far north as latitude 61°. They frequent there the margins of lakes, ponds, rivers, and swamps; and, as the winter approaches, they burrow under the moss, at a considerable distance from the water, where they remain in a frozen state till spring. Mr. Hearne says, he has frequently seen them dug up with the moss frozen as hard as ice. In this state their legs are as easily broken off as the stem of a tobacco-pipe, without giving them the least sensation: but by wrapping them up in warm skins, and exposing them to a slow fire, they soon come to life, and the mutilated animals gain their usual activity: if, however, they are permitted to freeze again, they are past all recovery⁕5.

The mode of respiration in these animals, in common with many of the other reptiles, is exceedingly curious. The organs adapted to this use are not placed in the belly, nor in the lungs themselves, III.26 but in the mouth. Behind the root of the tongue is the slit-like opening of the trachea: and at the front of the upper part of the head are two nostrils, through which the animal always draws the air, never opening its mouth for this purpose. Indeed the jaws during this action are kept closely locked into each other by grooves; for if the mouth is kept open it cannot respire at all, and the animal will presently be seen struggling for breath. When we observe it carefully, we perceive a frequent dilatation and contraction in the skinny bag-like part of the mouth which covers the under jaw. From this it would appear, at first sight, as if the creature lived all the while on one mouthful of air, which it seems to be playing backwards and forwards betwixt its mouth and lungs. But for each movement in the jaw a corresponding twirling movement may be observed in the nostrils. The mouth seems therefore to form a sort of bellows, of which the nostrils are the air-holes, and the muscles of the jaws by their contraction and dilatation make the draught. The nostrils are so situated that the least motion on them enables them to perform the office of a valve. By the twirl of the nostril the air is let into the mouth, when a dilatation of the bag takes place: it is then emptied from the mouth, through the slit behind the tongue, into the lungs, when there is a slight motion in the sides of the animal, and the muscles of the abdomen again expel it; and soon afterwards a second twirl in the nostrils takes place, and the like motions follow. Thus it appears that III.27 the lungs are filled by the working of the jaws, or, in other words, that Frogs swallow air much in the same manner that we swallow food.

Frogs cast their skins at certain periods.—They arrive at full age in about five years, and are supposed to live to twelve or fifteen.—Their voice is hoarse and unpleasant.—They are so tenacious of life as to survive even the loss of their head for several hours.

This species is not so much in request for food as the following, not being so white, nor altogether so palatable. The hind-legs, however, are eaten, and the fore-legs and livers often form an ingredient in the continental soups.

Synonyms.—Rana temporaria. Linn.—La Rousse, la Muette. La Cepede.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 29.

⁕1 Shaw’s Gen. Zool. iii. 97.

⁕2 Anguis fragilis of Linnæus.

⁕3 Townson’s Tracts.

⁕4 Ray’s Wonders of the Creation, 165.

⁕5 Hearne, 397.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Frog

skip to next section

Rana temporaria (“seasonable frog”), the common or European frog, still has that binomial. It is part of a large genus which in turn belongs to a large family, Ranidae, that includes “true frogs”.

a Blind-worm near a span long
[Corrected from 3d edition. The second edition has “Blind-wormy”, with no footnote marker, and the note itself is also unmarked. Since context demands a † (in both editions it’s the second of three notes on the page), it would have been a safe correction anyway.]

[Synonyms] Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 29.
text has 39

[Footnote] Anguis fragilis of Linnæus.
[Surprisingly, the ”slow worm“ still has that binomial. Obviously something has to—except in the uncommon case where a Linnaean genus has not just been reduced but entirely eliminated. (Simia, for example.) But it is especially unexpected here, since the genus name means “snake” while the animal is in fact a legless lizard, order Squamata, family Anguidae. For a picture, see the Viper, below.]

engraving of Green Frog, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 31:
Green Frog


The Edible Frog is considerably larger than the common species; and, though somewhat rare in England, is found in plenty in Italy, France, and Germany.

Its colour is an olive green, distinctly marked with black patches on the back, and on its limbs with transverse bars of the same. From the tip of the nose, three distinct stripes of pale yellow extend to the extremity of the body, the middle one slightly depressed, and the lateral ones considerably III.28 elevated. The under parts are of a pale whitish colour tinged with green, and marked with irregular brown spots.

The spawn of the present species is not often deposited before the month of June. During this season the male is said to croak so loud as to be heard to a great distance. In some particular places, where these animals are numerous, their croaking is very oppressive to persons unaccustomed to it.—The globules of spawn are smaller than those of the Common Frog, and the young are considerably longer in attaining their complete state, this seldom taking place till November. They arrive at their full growth in about four years, and live to the age of sixteen or seventeen.—They are excessively voracious, frequently seizing young birds, and even mice, which, like the rest of their prey of snails, worms, &c. they swallow whole⁕1.

These creatures are brought from the country, thirty or forty thousand at a time, to Vienna, and sold to the great dealers, who have conservatories for them, which are large holes, four or five feet deep, dug in the ground, the mouth covered with a board, and in severe weather with straw. In these conservatories, even during a hard frost, the frogs never become quite torpid. When taken out and placed on their backs, they are always sensible of the change, and have strength enough to turn themselves. They get together in heaps, one upon III.29 another, instinctively, and thereby prevent the evaporation of their humidity; for no water is ever put to them. In Vienna, in the year 1793, there were only three great dealers; by whom most of those persons were supplied who brought them to the market ready for the cook⁕2.

From their spawning-time being very late in the year, it is supposed that those animals that are brought to market before the month of June for the Edible Frog, are either Common Frogs, or sometimes that they are even Toads.

Synonyms.—Rana esculenta. Linn.—Le Grenouille commune, ou mangeable. La Cepede.—Esculent Frog, Green Frog. Shaw.—Edible Frog. Penn.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 31.

⁕1 Shaw’s Gen. Zool. iii. 103.

⁕2 Townson’s Travels, 14.

Notes and Corrections: The Edible Frog

Rana esculenta is now Pelophylax ridibundus, in the same Ranidae family as the Common Frog.

engraving of Bull Frog, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 33:
Bull Frog


This is an animal that frequently measures from the nose to the hind-feet a foot and a half, or upwards. The colour of its body is a dusky olive or brown, marked with numerous dark spots, lighter beneath than above. The external membranes of the ears are large, round, and of a brownish red, surrounded by a yellowish margin.

The interior parts of America are the principal residence of this species, where, at the springs or small rills, they are said to sit in pairs. In Virginia they are in such abundance that there is scarcely a III.30 single spring that has not a pair of them. When suddenly surprised, by a long leap or two they enter the hole, at the bottom of which they lie perfectly secure. The inhabitants fancy that they purify the water, and respect them as genii of the fountains⁕1.—Kalm informs us that they frequent only ponds and marshes.

Their croaking is said somewhat to resemble the hoarse lowing of a bull; and when, in a calm night, many of them are making a noise together, they may be heard to the distance of a mile and a half. The night is the time when they croak, and they are said to do it at intervals. In this act they are either hidden among the grass or rushes, or they are in the water, with their heads above the surface⁕2. Kalm informs us that, as he was one day riding out, he heard one of them roaring before him, and supposed it to be a bull hidden in the bushes at a little distance. The voice was indeed more hoarse than that of a bull, yet it was much too loud for him to conceive that it could be emitted by so small an animal as a Frog, and he was in considerable alarm for his safety. He was undeceived a few hours afterwards, by a party of Swedes, to whom he had communicated his fears⁕3.

When alarmed they leap to a most surprising distance at each exertion. A full-grown Bull Frog will sometimes leap three yards. The following III.31 story respecting one of them is well authenticated. The American Indians are known to be excellent runners, being almost able to equal the best horse in its swiftest course. In order, therefore, to try how well the Bull Frogs could leap, some Swedes laid a wager with a young Indian that he could not overtake one of them, provided it had two leaps beforehand. They carried a Bull Frog, which they had caught in a pond, into a field, and burnt its tail. The fire, and the Indian who endeavoured to get up to the frog, had together such an effect upon the animal, that it made its long leaps across the field as fast as it could. The Indian pursued it with all his might. The noise he made in running frightened the poor frog: probably it was afraid of being tortured with fire again, and therefore it redoubled its leaps, and by that means reached the pond, which was fixed on as their goal, before the Indian could overtake it⁕4.

The women are no friends to these frogs, because they kill and eat young ducks and goslings; and sometimes they carry off chickens that venture too near the ponds.—During winter they remain in a torpid state under the mud: and in spring they commence their bellowings.

They are edible, and have frequently as much meat on them as a young fowl.—A few years ago some of them were brought alive into this country.

Synonyms.—Rana Catesbeiana. Shaw.—Rana ocellata. Linn. ? ? La mugissante, ou Grenouille Taureau. La Cepede. Bull Frog. Catesby.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 33.

Dr. Shaw is of opinion that Linnæus has described the Argus Frog of General Zoology under the name of Rana ocellata.

⁕1 Catesby, ii. 72.

⁕2 La Hontan.

⁕3 Kalm, ii. 170.

⁕4 Kalm.

Notes and Corrections: The Bull Frog

Rana catesbeiana is now Lithobates catesbeianus, the American bullfrog, still in the Ranidae family. Rana ocellata, on the other hand, is the Argus frog, variously known as Leptodactylus ocellatus or Leptodactylus latrans, in family Leptodactylidae. In other words, Shaw seems to have been absolutely right

[Synonyms] Rana ocellata. Linn. ? ?
[Question marks in the original. Bingley is following the example of Shaw, who uses three question marks after this binomial.]


color picture of Tree Frog, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 127:
The Tree Frog


The Tree Frog is a native of America, of France, Germany, Italy, and many other European regions, but is not found in Britain.—It is small, and of a slender and very elegant shape. Its upper parts are green, and the abdomen is whitish, marked by numerous granules. The under surface of the limbs are reddish; and on each side of the body there is a longitudinal blackish or violet-coloured streak. The body is smooth above, and the hind legs are very long and slender. At the end of each toe is a round, fleshy, concave apparatus, not unlike the mouth of a leech, by means of which the animal is enabled to adhere even to the most polished surfaces⁕1.

During the summer months it resides principally on the upper branches of the trees, where it wanders among the foliage in quest of insects. These it catches with great dexterity, stealing softly towards them as a cat does towards a mouse, till at a proper distance, when it makes a sudden spring upon them, of frequently more than a foot in height.—It often suspends itself by its feet, or abdomen, to the under parts of leaves, remaining thus concealed among the foliage.

engraving of Tree Frog, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 38:
Tree Frog

The skin of the abdomen is covered with small III.33 glandular granules of such a nature as to allow the animal to adhere as well by these as by the toes. It will even stick to a glass by pressing its belly against it.

Although during summer it inhabits the woods, yet, about the end of autumn, it retires to the waters, and lies concealed in a torpid state in the mud or under the banks, till the spring; when, on the return of warm weather, it emerges, like the rest of the genus, to deposit its spawn in the water. At this period the male inflates its throat in a surprising manner, forming a large sphere beneath its head. It also exerts a very loud and sharp croak, that may be heard to a vast distance. The tadpoles become perfected about the beginning of August, and they soon afterwards begin to ascend the adjacent trees.

During their residence in the trees, these frogs are particularly noisy in the evenings on the approach of rain. They are indeed so excellent as barometers, that, if kept in glasses in a room, and supplied with proper food, they afford sure presage of changes of the weather⁕2.

In order to make some observations on the respiration of the Reptile tribe, Dr. Townson had among others some Tree Frogs. He kept them in a window, and appropriated to their use a bowl of water, in which they lived. They soon grew quite tame; and to two that he had for a considerable length of time, and were particular favourites, he gave the III.34 names of Damon and Musidora. In the hot weather, whenever they descended to the floor, they soon became lank and emaciated. In the evening they seldom failed to go into the water, unless the weather was cold and damp; in which case they would sometimes remain out a couple of days. When they were out of the water, if a few drops were thrown upon the board, they always applied their bodies as close to it as they could; and from this absorption through the skin, though they were flaccid before, they soon again appeared plump. A Tree Frog that had not been in the water during the night was weighed, and then immersed: after it had remained about half an hour in the bowl it came out, and was found to have absorbed nearly half its own weight of water. From other experiments on the Tree Frogs, it was discovered that they frequently absorbed nearly their whole weight of water; and that, as was clearly proved, and is very remarkable, by the under surface only of the body. They will even absorb moisture from wetted blotting-paper. Sometimes they eject water with a considerable force from their bodies, to the quantity of a fourth part or more of their own weight⁕3.

Both Frogs and Toads will frequently suffer their natural food to remain before them untouched, yet on the smallest motion it makes they instantly seize it. A knowledge of this circumstance enabled Dr. Townson to feed his favourite Tree Frog, Musidora, III.35 through the winter. Before the flies, which were her usual food, had disappeared in autumn, he collected for her a great quantity, as winter provision. When he laid any of them before her, she took no notice of them, but the moment he moved them with his breath she sprung upon and ate them. Once, when flies were scarce, the Doctor cut some flesh of a tortoise into small pieces, and moved them by the same means. She seized them, but the instant afterwards rejected them from her tongue. After he had obtained her confidence, she ate, from his fingers, dead as well as living flies.—Frogs will leap at a moving shadow of any small object; and both Frogs and Toads will soon become sufficiently familiar to sit on the hand, and be carried from one side of a room to the other, to catch flies as they settle on the wall.—At Gottingen Dr. Townson made them his guards for keeping these troublesome creatures from his desert of fruit, and they acquitted themselves fully to his satisfaction.—He has even seen the small Tree Frogs eat humble bees, but this was never done without some contest: they are in general obliged to reject them, being incommoded by their stings and hairy roughness; but in each attempt the bee is further covered with the viscid matter from the frog’s tongue, and when pretty well coated with this it is easily swallowed⁕4.

A Tree Frog was kept by a surgeon in Germany for nearly eight years. He had it in a glass vessel covered III.36 with a net, and during the summer he fed it with flies; but in winter it probably did not eat at all, as only a few insects, with grass and moistened hay, were put to it. During this season it was very lean and emaciated; but in summer, when its favourite food could be had in plenty, it soon again became fat. In the eighth winter it pined away by degrees, as was supposed, on account of no insects whatever being to be had.

As Captain Stedman was sailing up one of the rivers of Surinam in a canoe, one of the officers who was with him observed, in the top of a mangrove tree, a battle between a Snake and a Tree Frog. When the captain first perceived them, the head and shoulders of the frog were in the jaws of the snake, which was about the size of a large kitchen poker. This creature had its tail twisted round a tough limb of the mangrove; while the frog, which appeared about the size of a man’s fist, had laid hold of a twig with his hind-feet. In this position they were contending, the one for life, the other for his dinner, forming one straight line between the two branches; and thus they continued for some time, apparently stationary, and without a struggle. Still it was hoped that the poor frog might extricate himself by his exertions: but the reverse was the case. The jaws of the snake gradually relaxing, and by their elasticity forming an incredible orifice, the body and fore-legs of the frog by little and little disappeared, till finally nothing more was seen than the hinder feet and claws, which were at last disengaged from the twig, and III.37 the poor creature was swallowed whole by suction down the throat of his formidable adversary. He passed some inches further down the alimentary canal, and at last stuck, forming a knob or knot at least six times as thick as the snake, whose jaws and throat immediately contracted, and reassumed their former natural shape. The snake being out of reach of musket shot, they could not kill him to make any further examination, but left him, continuing in the same attitude, motionless, and twisted round the branch⁕5.

Synonyms.—Rana arborea. Linn.—Rana bilineata. Shaw.—La Reine vert, ou commune. La Cepede.—Green Tree Frog. Catesby.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 38.

⁕1 Catesby, ii. 71. Shaw’s Gen. Zool. iii. 130.

⁕2 Shaw’s Gen. Zool. iii. 130.

⁕3 Townson’s Tracts, 51.

⁕4 Townson’s Tracts, 113, 114.

⁕5 Stedman’s Surinam.

Notes and Corrections: The Tree Frog

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Rana arborea is now Hyla arborea, the European tree frog, where Hylidae is the main Tree Frog family.

She seized them, but the instant afterwards rejected them
text has aferwards

keeping these troublesome creatures from his desert of fruit
spelling unchanged
[If he uses “desert” to mean “deserted” (like “desert island”), and “desart” for what is now spelled “desert”, I guess he can spell dessert any way he likes.]

they were contending, the one for life, the other for his dinner
[As we all know, the snake only has to be lucky once; the frog has to be lucky every time. Oh, wait, that’s cats and mice.]

engraving of Common Toad, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 40:
Common Toad


The Toad is an animal known to every one: and by his livid appearance, and sluggish and disgusting movements, is easily recognized.

In some countries, as at Carthagena, and Porto Bello in America, Toads are so extremely numerous that, in rainy weather, not only all the marshy grounds, but the gardens, courts, and streets, are almost covered with them; so much so that many of the inhabitants believe that every drop of rain is converted into a Toad. In these countries this animal is of a considerable size, the smallest individuals measuring at least six inches in length. If it happen to rain during the night, all the Toads quit their III.38 hiding places, and then crawl about in such inconceivable numbers as almost literally to touch each other, and to hide the surface of the earth: on such occasions it is impossible to stir out of doors without trampling them underfoot at every step⁕1.

The female Toads deposit their spawn early in the spring, in the form of necklace-like chains or strings of beautifully transparent gluten, three or four feet in length, inclosing the ova in a double series throughout. These have the appearance of so many jet-black globules: they are, however, nothing more than the larvæ or tadpoles lying in a globular form. These break from their confinement in about a fortnight, and afterwards undergo changes very similar to the tadpoles of the frog. They become complete about the beginning of autumn, when the young animals are frequently to be seen in immense multitudes.

When it is irritated, the Toad emits from various parts of its skin a kind of frothy fluid that, in our climate, produces no further unpleasant symptoms than slight inflammation, from its weakly acrimonious nature. Dogs, on seizing these animals, appear to be affected with a slight swelling in their mouth, accompanied by an increased evacuation of saliva. The limpid fluid which the Toad suddenly ejects from his body, when disturbed, has been ascertained to be perfectly free from any noxious qualities whatever: it is merely a watery III.39 liquor, the contents of a peculiar reservoir, that, in case of alarm, appears to be emptied in order to lighten the body, that the animal may the more readily escape⁕2. It is its extremely forbidding aspect only that has obtained for the Toad its present unjust character of being a dangerously poisonous animal. He is persecuted and murdered wherever he appears, on the supposition merely that because he is ugly he must in consequence be venomous. Its eyes are, however, proverbially beautiful, having a brilliant reddish gold-coloured iris surrounding the dark pupil, and forming a striking contrast with the remainder of its body⁕3. Hence Shakespere, in Romeo and Juliet, remarks:

Some say the Lark and loathed Toad change eyes.

Its reputation as a poisonous animal obtained for it, among the superstitious, many preternatural powers; and the reputed dealers in magic art are reported to have made much use of it in their compounds. This circumstance caused it to be inserted among the ingredients adopted by the witches in Macbeth, to raise the spirits of the dead:

Toad that under the cold stone

Days and nights has thirty-one

Swelter’d venom, sleeping got,

Boil thou first i’ th’ charmed pot.

It is no difficult task, singular as it may appear to those who have never attended to this animal, III.40 to render it quite tame, so that it may be taken in the hand, and carried about a room to catch the flies that alight on the walls. A correspondent of Mr. Pennant gave him some curious particulars of a domestic Toad, which was remarked to continue in the same place for upwards of thirty-six years. It frequented the steps before the hall-door of a gentleman’s house in Devonshire. By being constantly fed, it was rendered so tame as always to come out of its hole in an evening when a candle was brought, and look up, as if expecting to be carried into the house, where it was frequently fed with insects. An animal that is so generally detested, being so much noticed and befriended, excited the curiosity of all who came to the house; and even females so far conquered the horrors instilled into them, by their nurses, as generally to request to see it fed. It appeared most partial to flesh maggots, which were kept for it in bran. It would follow them on the table, and, when within a proper distance, would fix its eyes and remain motionless for a little while, apparently to prepare for the stroke, which was instantaneous. It threw out its tongue to a great distance, and the insect stuck by the glutinous matter to its tip, and was swallowed by a motion quicker than the eye could follow. This it was enabled to do from the root of the tongue (as in the Frog) being attached to the fore-part of the mouth, and lying, when at rest, with the tip towards the throat. After being kept above thirty-six years, it was at length destroyed by a tame raven, which one day, seeing it at the III.41 mouth of its hole, pulled it out, and so wounded it that it died not a great while afterwards⁕4.

The Spider was formerly considered an inveterate enemy to the Toad; and it has been said that, whenever these animals met, a contest always took place, in which, from its superior dexterity and address, the former often proved victorious. If this relates to the European Spiders and Toads, it is, most surely, altogether devoid of foundation.

In the conclusion of this article it may be expected that I should not leave entirely unnoticed the observations that have been made respecting living Toads being found inclosed in solid substances.—Though it is necessary that some allowances should be made for that natural love of the marvellous which pervades the great mass of mankind, yet we have too many respectable authorities to vouch for the fact, and too frequent instances of its recurrence, to allow us to doubt that these animals have been discovered alive in blocks of stone, and in the solid trunks of trees.

To account for so extraordinary a phenomenon, a French writer, M. Lecat, says that some philosophers have been of opinion that the eggs of these animals, created at the beginning of the world, and floating about on the watery expanse, have since that time continued inclosed in the interior parts of rocks. But he contradicts this opinion by remarking that the creation of an egg is not sufficient; III.42 and that it must be hatched in order to produce a living creature. He considers it also as impossible that such animals can be as old as the stones or substances in which they are found; and rather thinks that a hatched egg, in all the cases mentioned, may have fallen by chance into some small cavity where it was secured from petrifaction. He remarks that eggs, when rubbed over with varnish, so as to be defended from the effects of the air, may be preserved fruitful for years; and, therefore, believes that an egg, so secured in the centre of a rock, might retain its activity for thousands of years: hence he concludes that the egg is of great antiquity, but not the animal⁕5.

At a period like the present, when so many things are made the subject of experiment, and nature is compelled as it were to discover her most hidden secrets, it is somewhat surprising that she has not been put to the proof in this respect. Such experiments would require little or no expense: it would only be necessary to make a deep hole in a stone, inclose some animal in it, and prevent the air from penetrating it; or eggs only might be put into the stone. As most of the animals found in stones are of the amphibious kind, it would be proper to study the habits, nature, and mode of living peculiar to that class; and it would be attended with most advantage if several experiments were made at the same time, in order that the state of the animals III.43 at different periods might be examined. By these means alone some certain conclusions might be drawn respecting a circumstance which, at present, seems to surpass the powers of comprehension.

Synonyms.—Rana Bufo. Linn.—Le Crapaud commun. La Cepede.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 40.

⁕1 La Cepede ii. 280.

⁕2 Townson’s Tracts.

⁕3 Shaw’s Gen. Zool. iii. 138.

⁕4 Penn. Brit. Zool. App. vol. iii. p. 380. 383.

⁕5 Melanges d’Histoire Naturelle, vol. iv.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Toad

Rana bufo (“frog toad”) is now the head of its own genus, Bufo bufo in family Bufonidae.

every drop of rain is converted into a Toad.
. invisible

Hence Shakespere, in Romeo and Juliet, remarks
[Act III, scene V, towards the end of their long discussion of “It’s the lark! I gotta split” vs. “No, it’s only the nightingale, you can stay longer”.]

color picture of Pipa, no later than 1804

Shaw Miscellany plate 17:
The Pipa


The Pipa is a native of Surinam, and at first view appears an extremely hideous and deformed animal. It is considerably larger than our Toad, has a flattish body, and a somewhat triangular head. The mouth is very wide, and furnished at the edges or corners with a kind of cutaneous appendage. The fore-feet have four long and thin toes, each divided at the tip into four distinct parts, which, when inspected with a magnifier, are found to be each again obscurely subdivided almost in a similar manner. The hind-feet have five toes united by a web.

engraving of Pipa, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 50:

This creature, in the production of its young, affords a very singular deviation from the usual course of nature. On the back of the female are formed certain cavities, opening outward, and somewhat resembling the cells of a bee-hive. They are of a circular form, about half an inch deep, and each nearly a quarter of an inch in diameter. They are at a little distance from each III.44 other, and somewhat irregularly ranged. At a certain period of incubation, if it may be so called, in each of these shells is found a little live Toad, an exact miniature in all respects of its parent; but how it finds subsistence there (for the creature has no adhesion to the parent, but may be easily taken out, as from a case, and again replaced without injury) does not seem as yet to be fully ascertained. Mr. Ferman, who has described this animal, declares himself to have been an eye-witness to the procedure. The eggs are generated within the female, who, when they have attained the proper degree of maturity, deposits them on the ground. The male amasses together the heap, and deposits them, with great care, on the back of the female, where after impregnation they are pressed into the cellules, which are at that period open for their reception, and afterwards close over them. The ova remain in the cellules till the second birth, which takes place in somewhat less than three months, when the young emerge from the back of the parent, completely formed. During the time of concealment they undergo the usual change of the rest of the genus, into the tadpole state, which they entirely put off before their final extrusion.

engraving of Pipa, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 51:

In this singular production of young, the Pipa seems to bear considerable analogy to the different species of Opossum.

Ferman says that the Pipa is only calculated for having one breed. The number of young produced by a female that he observed was seventy-five; and III.45 they were all perfected in the space of five days after they first appeared⁕1.

It would seem that the flesh of this Toad is not unwholesome, as, according to Madame Merian, the negroes of Surinam eat of it with pleasure, and suffer no inconvenience from its use⁕2.

Synonyms.—Rana Pipa. Linn.—Le Pipa, ou Cururu. La Cepede.—Surinam Toad.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 50, 51.

⁕1 Anderson’s Recreations, ii. 32.—Shaw’s Gen. Zool. iii. 167.

⁕2 Dissert. de Generat. et Metamorph. Insect. Surinam. Quoted in La Cepede, ii. 315.

Notes and Corrections: The Pipa

skip to next section

Rana pipa is now Pipa pipa, the flagship of its genus and family, Pipidae or Tongueless Frogs. Their procreation is much as described—preceded by some highly acrobatic mating routines in order to get the eggs first fertilized and then implanted on the mother’s back.

In this singular production of young, the Pipa seems to bear considerable analogy to the different species of Opossum.
[Funny, I was just thinking the same thing: it’s a marsupial amphibian!]

in the space of five days after they first appeared
text has the first

color picture of Crocodile, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 428:
The Crocodile


The Lizards, from in many instances an unpleasant appearance, have, like the Toad, obtained the repute of being venomous. The whole tribe however is perfectly destitute of poison; and, except in three or four of the enormously large species, altogether inoffensive to mankind.

They are chiefly inhabitants of the warmer regions, and in general possess considerable agility. The larger ones live on animals, which they seize by stratagem, and the smaller ones on insects. Many of them serve mankind for food. The aquatic species undergo a metamorphosis, being first in a larva state. Most of them are produced from eggs externally, but some are brought forth alive. In this genus are found nearly the largest and the smallest animals in the creation.


The body is elongated, naked, and furnished with a tail and four equal legs.

Notes and Corrections: The Lizard Tribe

Snakes and lizards make up order Squamata (“scaly things”). Or, at least, they do now. A Linnaeus Lizard, on the other hand, is any cold-blooded vertebrate that walks on four legs, be it lizard, crocodile or salamander.

In the course of this section, it will become apparent that Bingley Did Not Like Lizards.

engraving of Common Crocodile, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 55:
Common Crocodile


The Crocodile is an animal perhaps too commonly found near the large rivers in various parts, both of Asia and Africa, where it attains the amazing length of twenty-five feet and upwards. The armour, with which the upper part of the body is coated, may be accounted among the most elaborate pieces of Nature’s mechanism. In the full-grown animal it is so strong as easily to repel a musquet ball: on the lower part it is much thinner and more pliable. The whole animal appears as if covered with the most regular and curious carved work. The colour of the full-grown Crocodile is blackish-brown above, and yellowish-white beneath. The upper parts of the legs and sides are varied with deep yellow, and in some parts tinged with green. The eyes are provided with a winking membrane, as in the bird tribes. The mouth is of vast width, and furnished with numerous sharp-pointed teeth, thirty or more on each side of the jaws; and these are so disposed as, when the mouth is closed, to fit alternately above and below.

The Crocodile and Alligator have the largest III.47 mouths of almost any animals. It has been asserted, by various writers, that both their jaws are moveable. A single glance, however, at their skeleton will afford sufficient proof that the upper jaw is fixed, and that the motion is altogether confined to the under jaw. They are also generally believed to have no tongue: this again is an error, for the tongue in both species is larger than even that of the Ox; but it is so connected with the sides of the lower jaw as to be incapable of being stretched far forwards, as in other animals.

engraving of Crocodile Skeleton, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 56:
Skeleton of Crocodile

Except when pressed by hunger, or with a view of depositing its eggs, this enormous creature seldom leaves the water. Its usual method is to float along upon the surface, and seize whatever animals come within its reach; but, when this method fails, it then goes closer to the bank. There it waits in patient expectation of some land animal that may come to drink; the dog, the bull, the tiger, or man himself. Nothing is to be seen on the approach, nor is its retreat discovered till it is too late for safety. It seizes the victim with a spring, and goes at a bound much farther than such an unwieldy animal could be supposed to do. Then having secured the prey, it drags it into the water, instantly sinks with it to the bottom, and in this manner quickly drowns it. Sometimes it happens that the creature wounded by the Crocodile makes its escape; in which case, the latter pursues with some celerity, and often takes it a second time. He seldom moves far from rivers, except in covert and marshy places; so that, in many parts of the III.48 East, it is very dangerous to walk carelessly on the banks of unknown rivers, or among sedgy grounds; and still more so to bathe, without the utmost circumspection, in unfrequented places. The Crocodile seldom pursues his prey far on shore; and although his pace is tolerably rapid in a direct line, yet he is not sufficiently swift to overtake an active man who preserves his presence of mind.

All the rivers of Guinea are pestered with vast shoals of Crocodiles. On very hot days, great numbers of them lie basking on the banks of rivers, and as soon as they observe any one approach their place they plunge into the water with great violence.

Bosman says, very quaintly, “As for their crying and subtleties to catch men, I believe them as much as the Jews do the Gospel⁕1.”

They are excessively voracious, and swallow all their food whole; for their mouth is neither furnished with grinding teeth, nor have the jaws any lateral motion. They are said to swallow stones to aid digestion, in the manner of the seed-eating birds; and they are able to sustain abstinence for many weeks together.

engraving of Young Crocodile (hatching from the Egg), no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 57:
Young Crocodile hatching from the Egg

The young are produced from eggs deposited in the sand, and hatched by the heat of the sun, near the bank of some river or lake. The female is said to be extremely cautious in depositing them unobserved. The general number is from eighty to a hundred. They are not larger than those of a Goose, and are covered with a tough white skin. III.49 She fills up the hole carefully before she leaves them. In each of the two succeeding days she lays as many more, which she hides in the same manner. The eggs are hatched generally in about thirty days, when the young immediately run into the water. These young are devoured by various kinds of fish, and their numbers are also lessened by supplying food to their own species. It is however in the destruction of their eggs that the most material service is effected. The Ichneumon⁕2 and the Vultures, which in the hot climates collect in immense numbers, seem peculiarly appointed by Providence to abridge their enormous fecundity, and in this capacity devour and destroy millions of the eggs.

Crocodiles are frequently seen about the rivers in Java in great numbers. The Javanese sometimes catch them with a hook and line; a circumstance that at first would seem almost incredible, since they are able, with great ease, to bite asunder the strongest rope. These people therefore use a very loosely twisted cord of cotton, at the end of which a hook is fastened, baited with raw flesh. When the Crocodile, after having swallowed the hook, endeavours to bite the cord asunder, his teeth only separate the fibres, and all his attempts are of no avail. When he is found to be fastened, his antagonists come upon him in great numbers, and, with the weapons they have for the purpose, soon destroy him⁕3.—In other parts of the world, these animals III.50 are hunted by means of strong dogs properly trained, and armed with spiked collars.

The natives of Siam take Crocodiles by placing three or four strong nets across a river, at proper distances from each other; so that, if the animal breaks through the first, he may be caught in some of the others. When he finds himself fastened, he lashes every thing around him with great violence with his enormous tail. After he has struggled some time, and is become exhausted, the men approach in boats, and pierce him in the most tender parts of his body with spears.

Labat assures us, (but whether his assertion is to be trusted or not I cannot say,) that a negro armed only with a knife in his right hand, and having his left wrapped round with thick leather, will venture boldly to attack the Crocodile in his own element. As soon as he observes his enemy near, the man puts out his left arm, which the beast immediately seizes in its mouth. He then gives it several stabs below the chin, where the skin is very tender; and the water coming in at the mouth, thus involuntarily held open, the creature is soon destroyed.

The Crocodile, from its immense size and voracious habits, is certainly an object of fear; and, by no very uncommon transition of sentiment, has also gradually become an object of veneration; and offerings are in some countries made to it as to a deity. The inhabitants of Java, when attacked by disease, will sometimes build a kind of coop, and fill it with such eatables as they think most agreeable III.51 to the Crocodiles. They place the coop upon the bank of a river or canal, in perfect confidence that, by the means of such offerings, they shall get rid of their complaints; and persuaded that, if any person could be so wicked as to take away those viands, such person would draw upon himself the malady, for the cure of which the offering was made. The worship of Crocodiles was indeed a folly among men of ancient date; as Herodotus expressly says that “among some of the Egyptian tribes the Crocodiles are sacred, but that they are regarded as enemies among others. The inhabitants in the environs of Thebes, and the lake Mœris, are firmly persuaded of their sanctity; and both these tribes bring up and tame a Crocodile, adorning his ears⁕4 with rings of precious stones and gold, and putting ornamental chains about his fore-feet. They also regularly give him victuals, offer victims to him, and treat him in the most respectful manner while living, and, when dead, embalm, and bury him in a consecrated coffin.”

It is said that even at this day Crocodiles are occasionally tamed in many parts of Africa, where they are kept in large ponds or lakes, as an article of magnificence with the monarchs of those regions. The Romans frequently exhibited these animals in their public spectacles and triumphs.

The eggs of the Crocodile are numbered among III.52 the delicacies of some of the African tribes, and are said to form one of their most favourite repasts.

One of the greatest curiosities in the fossil world, which the late ages have produced, is the skeleton of a large Crocodile, almost entire, that was found at a great depth under ground, bedded in stone. This was in the possession of Linkius, who wrote many tracts on natural history, and particularly an accurate description of this curious fossil. It was found in the side of a large mountain in the midland part of Germany, in a stratum of black fossil stone, somewhat like our common slate, but of a coarser texture, the same with that in which the fossil fish in many parts of the world are found. This skeleton had the back and ribs very plain, and was of a much deeper black than the rest of the stone. The part of the stone where the head lay was not found: it was irregularly broken off just at the shoulder, so as, however, in one place, to leave part of the back of the head in its natural form. The two shoulder-bones were very perfect, and three of the feet well preserved; the legs were of their natural shape and size, and the feet preserved, even to the extremities of the five toes of each.

Synonyms.—Lacerta Crocodilus. Linn.—Le Crocodile proprement dit. La Cepede.—Cayman. Bosman.—Nilotic Crocodile. Common Crocodile. Shaw.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 55, 56, 57.

⁕1 Bosman’s Guinea, 239.

⁕2 Viverra Ichneumon of Linnæus.

⁕3 Thunberg, ii. 290.

⁕4 None of the Amphibia have external ears.

Notes and Corrections: The Crocodile

Crocodilians aren’t lizards; they are an order to themselves, Crocodylia, consisting of the single family Crocodylidae. Lacerta crocodilus is now Caiman crocodilus, the common caiman, while the Nile crocodile is Crocodylus niloticus.

[Footnote] Viverra Ichneumon of Linnæus.
[Now better known as the mongoose, the Ichneumon is described in Volume I.]

engraving of Alligator, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 59:


The principal distinction betwixt the Alligator III.53 and the Crocodile, is that it has its head and part of the neck more smooth than the other, and that the snout is considerably more wide and flat, as well as more rounded at the extremity. The length of the full-grown Alligator is seventeen or eighteen feet.

The Alligators are natives of the warmer parts of America: and had it not been for an accident, these inhabitants of the New World would never have been known by any other name than that of Crocodile: for, had the first navigators seen any thing that more resembled their form than a Lizard, they would have adopted that by which the Indians call them, the Cayman; but the Spanish sailors remarking their great resemblance to that little reptile, they called the first of them which they saw Lagarto, or Lizard. When our countrymen arrived, and heard that name, they called the creature a-Lagarto; whence was afterwards derived the word Alligato or Alligator.

They are often seen floating on the surface of the water like logs of wood, and are mistaken for such by various animals, which by this means they surprise, and draw down to devour at leisure. They are said also sometimes to form a hole in the bank of a river, below the surface of the water, and there to wait till the fish, that are fatigued with the strong current, come into the smooth water near to rest themselves, when they immediately seize and devour them⁕1. But since they are not able to obtain a regular supply of food, from the fear in which they are III.54 held by all animals, and the care with which these, in general, avoid their haunts, they are able to sustain a privation of it for a great length of time. When killed and opened, stones and other hard substances are generally found in their stomach. In many that Mr. Catesby examined there was nothing but mucilage and large pieces of wood, some of which weighed seven or eight pounds each: the angles were so worn down that he fancied they must have lain there for several months⁕2. Two Alligators, that Dr. Brickell saw killed in North Carolina, had in their bellies several sorts of snakes, and some pieces of wood; and in one of them was found a stone that weighed about four pounds⁕3.

The voracity of these animals is so great that they do not spare even mankind when opportunity offers. A short time before M. Navarette was at the Manillas, he was told that, as a young woman was washing her feet in one of the rivers, an Alligator seized and carried her off. Her husband, to whom she had been but that morning married, hearing her screams, threw himself headlong into the water, and with a dagger in his hand, pursued the robber. He overtook, and fought him with such success as to recover his wife: but she, unfortunately for her brave rescuer, was found to be dead⁕4.

The Alligators deposit their eggs, like the Crocodile and the Turtles, at two or three different periods, III.55 laying from twenty to about twenty-four at each time. It is said that those of Cayenne and Surinam raise a little hillock on the bank of the river they frequent, and, hollowing this out in the middle, amass together a heap of leaves and other vegetable refuse, in which they deposit their eggs. These being also covered up with leaves, a fermentation ensues, by the heat of which, in addition to that of the atmosphere, the eggs are hatched.—They generally lay their eggs in the month of April⁕5. Multitudes of these are destroyed by the Vultures, and immense numbers of the young animals are devoured, as soon as they reach the water, by the various species of fish.

It appears that the Alligator, when caught very young, may be in some measure domesticated. Dr. Brickell saw one that was caught not long after being hatched, and put into a large pond before a planter’s house. It remained near half a year, during which time it was regularly fed with the entrails of fowls, and raw meat. It frequently came into the house, where it would remain for a short time, and then return again to its shelter in the pond. It was supposed at last to steal away to a creek near the plantation; for it was one day missing, and from that time was never afterwards seen⁕6.

The voice of these animals is very loud and dreadful, being stronger than the roar of a bull. They have an unpleasant and very powerful musky scent: M. III.56 Pagés says that, near one of the rivers in America, where the Alligators were very numerous, the effluvia was so strong as to impregnate his provisions, and even to give them the nauseous taste of rotten musk⁕7.

The teeth are as white as ivory; and snuff-boxes, charges for guns, and several kinds of toys, are made with them. Those persons, who have eaten of their flesh, say that it is white and very delicious; many of the American tribes are in a great measure supported by it.

Synonyms. Lacerta Alligator. Linn.—Jacare. Marcgrave.—Crocodile. La Hontan.—Lacertus maximus. Catesby. American Crocodile.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 59.

⁕1 Du Pratz, 268.

⁕2 Catesby, ii. 63. Browne’s Jamaica, 461.

⁕3 Brickell, 134.

⁕4 Navarette’s Travels, Churchill’s Coll. ii. 263.

⁕5 M. de la Borde, quoted in Shaw’s Gen. Zool. iii. 196.

⁕6 Brickell, 134.

⁕7 Pagés, i. 48.

Notes and Corrections: The Alligator

skip to next section

Alligators are genus Alligator in family Crocodylidae, order Croco­dylia. Bingley’s sources probably didn’t know about the Chinese alligator, so Lacerta alligator is more or less Alligator mississip­piensis.

But since they are not able to obtain a regular supply of food . . . they are able to sustain a privation of it for a great length of time.
[It is suprising how often Bingley says “thing happens because reason” rather than simply “thing happens because God made it that way”.]

hearing her screams, threw himself headlong into the water
text has screams,threw without space

color picture of Guana, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 227:
The Guana


This is an animal that frequently occurs in America, and both the West and East Indies, where it grows to four or five feet in length. The tail is long and round; the back serrated; and the crest denticulated. The individuals vary greatly in colour, but their prevailing tinge is a brownish green. Under the chin they have a pouch capable of great inflation.

The Guana inhabits the rocks, and hides itself in cliffs or hollow trees. Its food is almost entirely confined to vegetables and insects, which it swallows whole; and the fat of the abdomen assumes the colour of whatever the animal has last eaten. Its appearance is disgusting, and its motions very III.57 slow; “their holes,” says Catesby, “being a greater security than their heels.” Though not naturally amphibious, it will on necessity continue long under water; in swimming, it keeps its legs close pressed to its body, and urges itself forward by means of the tail.

The females usually quit the woods or mountains about two months after the end of winter, for the purpose of depositing their eggs in the sand of the sea shore. These eggs are always unequal in number, from thirteen to twenty-five. They are longer, but not thicker than pigeons eggs. The outer covering is white and flexible. Most travellers say that these eggs give an excellent relish to sauces, and that their taste is preferable to that of poultry eggs⁕1.

engraving of Common Guana, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 61:
Common Guana

The flesh of the animals constitutes a principal support of the natives of the Bahamas, who go out in their sloops to other islands to take them, which they do by means of dogs trained for the purpose. As soon as caught their mouths are sewed up, to prevent them from biting, and some are carried alive from hence to Carolina for sale; others are salted and barrelled for home consumption⁕2.

Father Labat speaks highly of their delicacy and fine flavor, and describes the mode in which he, and some others that were along with him, saw one of them taken. “We are attended (he says) by a negro who carried a long rod, at one end of III.58 which was fastened a piece of whipcord, with a running knot. After beating the bushes for some time, the negro discovered our game, basking in the sun, on the dry limb of a tree. On this he began whistling with all his might; to which the Guana was wonderfully attentive, stretching out his neck, and turning his head, as if to enjoy it more fully. The negro now approached, still whistling: and, advancing his rod gently, began tickling with the end of it the sides and throat of the Guana, which seemed mightily pleased with the operation; for he turned on his back, and stretched himself out like a cat before the fire, and at length fairly fell asleep. The negro perceiving this, dexterously slipped the noose over his head, and with a jerk brought him to the ground.”

The flesh is sometimes roasted, but more usually boiled, the fat being first taken out, which the natives melt and clarify.

The Guana is an animal easily tamed if taken young. Dr. Browne kept a full-grown one about his house for more than two months. At first it was very fierce and ill-natured; but after some days it grew more tame, and would, at length, pass the greatest part of the day on the bed or couch: but it always went out at night. As it walked along it frequently threw out its forked tongue; but Dr. Browne says that, during all the time he had it, he never observed that it ate any thing⁕3.

Synonyms.——Lacerta iguana. Linn.—L’Iguane. La Cepede.—Leguana. Seba.—Great American Guana. Common Guana. Shaw.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 61.

⁕1 La Cepede, i. 341.

⁕2 Catesby, ii. 64.

⁕3 Browne’s Jamaica, 462.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Guana

Lacerta iguana is now Iguana iguana, the Common Green Iguana. Unlike crocodilians, it really is a lizard—at least in the broader sense of the word, as it’s the flagship of family Iguanidae in order Squamata.


engraving of Brown Lizard, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology vol. III plate 2 (partial):
Brown Lizard


The nimble Lizard is one of the British species. Its general length, from the nose to the end of the tail, is about six inches and a half. The upper part of the head is light brown, and the back and tail are variously striped and spotted with light brown, black, white, and dark brown. The under parts of the body are of a dirty white.

This elegant little creature, which is known to almost every one in the temperate regions of Europe, seems to be the most gentle and inoffensive, and, at the same time, the most useful of all the Lizard tribe. Its motions are so nimble, and it runs with such swiftness as, when disturbed, to disappear in a moment. It is fond of basking in the sun; yet, unable to bear excessive heat, in the hottest weather it seeks shelter. In spring, during fine weather, it is often seen luxuriously extended on a sloping green bank, or on a wall exposed to the sun. In these situations, it enjoys the full effects of the reviving heat; expressing its delight by gently agitating its slender tail; and its lively and brilliant eyes are animated with pleasure. Should any of the minute animals appear on which it feeds, it springs upon them with the quickness of thought; and if any danger occurs, it III.60 seeks a more secure retreat with equal rapidity. On the least noise it turns suddenly round, falls down, and seems, for some moments, perfectly stupified by its fall: or else it suddenly shoots away among the bushes or thick grass, and disappears. Its wonderful rapidity of motion is chiefly to be observed in warm countries, for in the temperate regions its evolutions are much more languid.

This gentle and peaceful animal excites no sensations of terror; and, when taken into the hand, makes not the smallest attempt to bite or offend. In some countries children use it as a play-thing; and, in consequence of its natural gentleness of disposition, it becomes, in a great measure, tame and familiar.

The tail is nearly twice the length of the body, and tapers from the root to the extremity, where it ends in a sharp point. This, from the weakness of the vertebræ, is so brittle as often to snap off on the least roughness in handling. In this case it is sometimes reproduced. When the tail has been split or divided lengthways, it has been known that each of the portions, in healing, has rounded itself, and thus the animal has had a double tail. One of these has contained the vertebræ, and the other only a kind of tendon in the centre.

For the purpose of seizing the insects on which it feeds, this Lizard darts out, with astonishing velocity, its large forked tongue. This is of a reddish colour, and beset with asperities that are scarcely sensible to the sight, but which assist very materially in catching its winged prey.—Like most III.61 other oviparous quadrupeds, it is capable of existing a long time without food. Some of them have been kept in bottles, without any nourishment, for upwards of six months.

In the southern countries of Europe, the Nimble Lizard revives, very early in the spring, from the torpid state in which it had passed the cold weather of the winter; and, recovering its activity, begins its sportive evolutions, which increase in agility in proportion to the heat of the atmosphere. In the beginning of May, the female deposits her eggs, which are nearly spherical, and about five lines in diameter, in some warm situation; as, for instance, at the foot of a wall fronting the south. Here they are hatched by the heat of the sun.

Previously to laying the eggs, both male and female change their skins, which they again do about the beginning of winter.—They pass that season in a state of torpor, more or less complete, according to the rigour of the season, either in holes of trees, or walls, or subterraneous places. They quit these retreats on the first appearance of spring⁕1.

This little animal seems occasionally to lay aside the gentleness and innocence of disposition which is attributed to it; still, however, no further than for the purpose of obtaining food. Mr. Edwards once surprised one of them in the act of fighting with a small bird, as she sate on her nest in a vine against the wall, with newly-hatched young. He III.62 supposed the Lizard would have made them a prey, could he but have driven the old bird from her nest: He watched the contest for some time; but, on his near approach, the Lizard dropped to the ground, and the bird flew off⁕2.

Synonyms.—Lacerta agilis. Linn.—Le Lezard gris. La Cepede.—Little brown Lizard. Edwards.—Scaly Lizard. Penn.—Nimble Lizard. Kerr’s La Cepede.——Penn.’s Brit. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 2.

⁕1 La Cepede, i. 370.

⁕2 Edwards i. 34.

Notes and Corrections: The Nimble Lizard

Lacerta agilis, the sand lizard, still has that binomial. It is the flagship of its family, Lacertidae or “true lizards”.

her eggs, which are nearly spherical
text has spherial

about five lines in diameter
[The “line”, as a unit of measure, is a twelfth of an inch, so five of them is a bit under half an inch—or, if you prefer, just a hair over 1cm.]

as she sate on her nest in a vine against the wall
[Edwards’ book came out in 1743, which accounts for the spelling.]

[Synonyms] Lacerta agilis. Linn.—Le Lezard gris. La Cepede.
text has Lacerta agilis.—Le Lezard gris. La Cepede. Linn.

engraving of Chamæleon, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 76:
Common Chamæleon


The Chamæleon is a native of India, Africa, and some of the warmer parts of Spain and Portugal. The usual length of its body is about ten inches, and that of the tail nearly the same.

Though an animal extremely ugly and disgusting in its appearance, it is perfectly harmless, feeding only on insects, for which the structure of its tongue is peculiarly adapted, being long and missile, and furnished with a dilated, glutinous, and somewhat tubular tip. By means of this it seizes insects with the greatest ease, darting it out, and instantaneously retracting it, with the prey secured on its tip, which it swallows whole. The skin is covered with small warts or granulations, and down the middle of the back it is serrated. The feet have five toes united three and two, to enable it to lay firmly hold of the branches of trees, in which it principally resides; and to this end also its tail is prehensile, and is always coiled round the branch till the animal has secured a firm footing. Its motions III.63 are very slow. The lungs are so large as to allow it to inflate the body to a vast size. The structure and motions of its eyes are singular: these are large and globular, and so formed that at the same instant it can look in different directions. One of them may frequently be seen to move when the other is at rest; or one will often be directed forwards, while the other is attending to some object behind, or in the same manner upwards and downwards.

The Chamæleon is principally celebrated for the singular property that it has of occasionally changing its colour. Not having myself witnessed this operation, I shall present the reader with the accounts of three persons who have: there appears a considerable difference in the relations; this, however, he must reconcile as well as he is able. The writers I allude to are D’Obsonville, Hasselquist, and Dr. Russel.

The colour of the Chamæleon, says D’Obsonville, is naturally green, but it is susceptible of many shades, and particularly of three very distinct ones; Saxon green, deep green, and a shade bordering on blue and yellow green. When free, in health, and at ease, it is a beautiful green, some parts excepted, where the skin, being thicker and more rough, produces gradations of brown, red, or light grey. When the animal is provoked, in open air, and well fed, it becomes blue-green; but when feeble, or deprived of free air, the prevailing tint is the yellow-green. Under other circumstances, and especially at the approach of one of its own III.64 species, no matter of which sex, or when surrounded and teased by a number of insects thrown upon him, he then, almost in a moment, takes alternately the three different tints of green. If he is dying, particularly of hunger, the yellow is at first predominant; but in the first stage of putrefaction this changes to the colour of dead leaves.

It seems that the causes of these different varieties are several: and first, the blood of the Chamæleon is of a violet blue, which colour it will preserve for some minutes on linen or paper, especially on such as have been steeped in alum-water. In the second place, the different tunicles of the vessels are yellow, as well in their trunks as in their ramifications. The epidermis, or exterior skin, when separated from the other, is transparent, without any colour; and the second skin is yellow, as well as all the little vessels that touch it. Hence it is probable that the change of colour depends upon the mixtures of blue and yellow, from which result different shades of green. Thus, when the animal, healthy, and well fed, is provoked, its blood is carried in greater abundance from the heart towards the extremities; and, swelling the vessels that are spread over the skin, its blue colour subsides the yellow of the vessels, and produces a blue green that is seen through the epidermis. When, on the contrary, the animal is impoverished and deprived of free air, the exterior vessels being more empty, their colour prevails, and the animal becomes a yellow-green till it recovers its liberty, is well nourished, and without pain, when it regains the colour; III.65 this being the consequence of an equilibrium in the liquids, and of a due proportion of them in the vessels⁕1.

Hasselquist says, that he never observed the Chamæleon assume the colour of an external object presented to its view, although he made several experiments for the purpose. He says its natural colour is an iron grey, or black, mixed with a little grey. This it sometimes changes, and becomes entirely of a brimstone yellow, which, except the former, is the colour it most frequently assumes. It sometimes takes a darker or greenish yellow, and sometimes a lighter. He did not observe it assume any other colours; such as blue, red, purple, &c. When changing from black to yellow, the soles of its feet, its head, and the bag under its throat, were the first tinged; and then, by degrees, that colour spread over the rest of the body. He several times saw it marked with large spots of both colours all over its body, which gave it an elegant appearance. When it became of an iron grey it dilated its skin, and became plump and handsome; but as soon as it turned yellow, it contracted itself, and appeared empty, lean, and ugly: and the nearer it approached in colour to white, the more empty and ugly it appeared; but its shape was always the most unpleasant when it was speckled.—Mr. Hasselquist kept a Chamæleon for near a month; it was, during the whole time, very nimble and lively, climbing up and III.66 down its cage, fond of being near the light, and constantly rolling about its large eyes. It took no food during the whole of this time; so that, at last, it became lean, and evidently suffered from hunger. It could no longer hold fast by the grating of the cage, but fell through weakness, when a turtle, that was in the same room, bit it and hastened its death. From this animal’s being able to support long abstinence has arisen the vulgar notion of the Chamæleon’s living only on air⁕2.

When the Chamæleon is removed from its place, Dr. Russel also informs us that it does not immediately change colour, nor does it constantly, in changing, assume that of the ground upon which it is laid. Thus, if put into a box lined with white, or with black, it will sometimes in the black become of a lighter colour than before, and vice versa; and sometimes will assume a brimstone colour. When the experiment was made upon a cloth of various colours, but where the animal had a larger field to move about, the event was the same.—It frequently goes through a succession of colours before taking that of the body nearest to it. When laid on the grass it will, perhaps, from a light earthy colour, first become darker, then black, yellow, again darkish, and, last of all, green. At other times it becomes green at once; and so of other colours when laid on other grounds: whence it has been hastily conjectured that the transition was III.67 always sudden. But, notwithstanding this irregularity in its change, especially when hurried or disturbed, its most permanent colour, in repose, was that of the ground on which it lay; provided the ground was not of one of the colours that it never does assume, of red or blue. Little material difference was observable, whether the experiments were made in the shade or in the sun; but the animal appears duller at some times than others, and captivity seems to abate its alacrity in changing⁕3.

Mr. Barrow says that “previously to the Chamæleon’s assuming a change of colour it makes a long inspiration, the body swelling out to twice its usual size; and, as this inflation subsides, the change of colour gradually takes place. The only permanent marks are two small dark lines passing along the sides⁕4.”

Lacerta Chamæleon. Linn.—Le Caméleon. La Cepede.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 76.

⁕1 D’Obsonville, 35.

⁕2 Hasselquist, 217.

⁕3 Russel’s Natural History of Aleppo.

⁕4 Barrow’s Travels in Africa.

Notes and Corrections: The Chamæleon

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Lacerta chamaeleon, the European chameleon, is now the head of its own genus, Chamaeleo chamaeleon, and family, Chamae­leonidae. Some sources group chameleons together with iguanas in a superfamily or suborder Iguania, or even make chameleons a subfamily in the Iguanidae family.

[Illustration] Common Chamæleon
text has Chamœleon
[A lot of Œ:Æ (oe:ae) alternations are variant spellings, but this is a bona fide mistake, since the Greek root is unambiguously χαμαι. Perhaps Shaw’s engraver—unlike his typesetter—couldn’t read his writing, and guessed wrong.]

Saxon green, deep green, and a shade bordering on blue and yellow green
[Depending on whom you ask, “Saxon Green” may be anything from       to      .]

I shall present the reader with the accounts of three persons
[There are at least 150 chameleon species, so there is plenty of room for both d’Obsonville’s and Hasselquist’s observations to be correct.]

two small dark lines passing along the sides*.”
close quote missing

color picture of Salamander, no later than 1804

Shaw Miscellany plate 45:
The Salamander


No animal of the present tribe, except the Crocodile, has been more frequently spoken of than the Salamander. It is found in shady woods in many parts of Germany, Italy, and France, and is easily distinguished by its short cylindrical tail, and deep shining black colour, variegated with large oblong and somewhat irregular patches of bright III.68 orange-yellow. Its general length is seven or eight inches, though sometimes it becomes much larger.

Whilst the hardest bodies are unable to resist the action of fire, the generality of mankind have given full credit to the ridiculous stories that have for ages been circulated of this little Lizard, not only being able to withstand its effects, but even to extinguish it. So small an animal, possessing such very superior privileges, that furnished so many objects of comparison to poetry, so many pretty emblems to love, and so many brilliant devices to valour, seems to have agreeably laid hold on the imaginations of men in such a manner that they were unwilling to retract their belief, and therefore contented themselves with the traditions, without having their curiosity sufficiently roused to satisfy themselves by immediate experiment. The ancients, pretending that it owed its existence to the purest of elements, called it the Daughter of Fire, giving it, at the same time, a body of ice. The moderns adopted the ridiculous tales of the ancients; and, as it is difficult to stop when once the bounds of probability have been passed, some writers have gone so far as to assert that the most violent fire could be extinguished by the Salamander: in the most raging conflagration, it has been said, if one of these small Lizards was but thrown in, its progress would be immediately checked. It was not till after the light of science was diffused abroad that the world began to discredit this wonderful property. Experiment then proved what reason alone might, long before, have demonstrated.

engraving of Salamander and Great Water Newt, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 82:
Salamander (top); Great Water Newt (bottom)


In addition to this, the Salamander was esteemed a poisonous reptile; and has been generally held in terror; but this opinion has been refuted by numerous experiments. M. de Maupertuis, who minutely studied the nature of this Lizard, in order to discover what might be its pretended poison, demonstrated also experimentally that fire acted upon it in the same manner as upon all other animals. He remarked that it was scarcely upon the fire before it appeared to be covered with drops of a kind of milky fluid, which oozed through all the pores of the skin, and immediately became hard. It is needless to say that this fluid is not sufficiently abundant to extinguish even the smallest fire: it possesses some degree of acridity, for when put upon the end of the tongue, it causes an unpleasant burning sensation⁕1.

Shady woods, high mountains, or the banks of unfrequented rivulets, are the usual retreats of these animals; and they are not often seen except during wet weather. In the winter, they lie concealed in hollows about the roots of old trees, in subterraneous recesses, or the cavities of old walls, where several of them have been sometimes discovered, collected, and twisted together. They are often to be seen in the water, where they are able to live as well as on land. Their principal food is insects, snails, &c. Their pace is slow, and in manners they are very sluggish.


Their young are brought into the world alive, having been first hatched from eggs within the parent animal. The females are said to retire to the water to deposit them: at their first exclusion from the body, these are furnished with fins on each side of the neck, which, on the animal’s becoming perfect, drop off. The number of young produced by one Salamander is said sometimes to amount to thirty or forty.

Lacerta Salamandra. Linn.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 82.

⁕1 La Cepede, ii. 138.

Notes and Corrections: The Salamander

Since salamanders aren’t reptiles, they are obviously not lizards. Instead they are several families in order Caudata (“having tails”) within class Amphibia. (Crystal ball says the order name goes back to before people knew about caecilians, so it was only necessary to distinguish newts-and-salamanders from frogs-and-toads.) Lacerta salamandra is now the head of its own genus, Salamandra sala­mandra, and family, Salamandridae, which also includes newts.

it is difficult to stop when once the bounds of probability have been passed
[The previous section’s Mr. Russel would have done well to bear this in mind when describing the chameleon’s color changes.]

color picture of Warted Newt, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 279:
The Warted Newt


This Lizard, which is very common in stagnant and muddy waters in this country, is six or seven inches in length, and entirely covered, except on the belly, with small warts. The under parts are of a bright yellow colour, and the upper mostly black brown, spotted with black. It resides altogether either in the water, or in very damp places, and its tail, being flattened perpendicularly, serves it as a rudder in swimming. It is usually seen crawling along the bottom, but it now and then rises, with a wriggling motion, to the surface.

At certain periods these animals, like many other reptiles, change their skins. Mr. Baker kept some of them in a large jar of water for many months, and found that they generally performed this operation at the end of every fortnight or three weeks.

engraving of Warty Lizard, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. III plate 3:
Warty Lizard


A day or two before the change, the animal always appeared more sluggish than usual, taking no notice of the worms that were given to it, which at other times it greedily devoured. The skin in some parts of the body appeared loose, and its colour not so lively as before. It began the operation of casting the skin, by loosening that part about the jaws; it then pushed it backward gently and gradually, both above and below the head, till it was able to slip out first one leg and then the other. With these legs it proceeded to thrust the skin as far backwards as they could reach. This done, it was under the necessity of rubbing its body against the gravel, till it was more than half freed from the skin, which appeared doubled back, covering the hinder part of the body and the tail. The animal now bent back its head, taking the skin in its mouth, and setting its feet upon it, for firmer hold, by degrees drew it entirely off, the hind-legs being dragged out in the same manner that the fore ones were before.

On examining the skin it was, in every instance, found to be turned with its inside outwards, but without any breach except at the jaws. These creatures do not, however, like some of the snakes, put off the coverings of the eyes along with the skin; for two round holes always appear where the eyes have been.

This operation sometimes occupies near half an hour; and after it is finished the Lizard appears full of life and vigour. If the skin is not taken away very shortly after it is cast the animal usually swallows it whole, as it does other food. Sometimes it III.72 begins with the head part first; and the tail being filled with air and water becomes like a blown bladder, and proves so unmanageable that it is very diverting to see the pains it costs to discharge these, and to reduce it to a condition to be got down the throat⁕1.

Dr. Townson, who had several of these Lizards in a jar for the purpose of trying experiments on their respiration, says that he fed them with worms, and that if they were in the greatest stillness, and a worm was dropped ever so gently among them, they all immediately began to fight, each attacking his neighbour, and seizing it by the head, foot, or tail. This he remarked to be not a contention immediately for the worm, for that often lay for a short time unnoticed, but it seemed to originate in a great acuteness of smell (which in a moment informed them of the presence of their food), and in a singular dullness of their discriminating powers⁕2.

Being never seen in winter, these Lizards are supposed to retire into holes or mud, and become torpid. They deposit their spawn towards the end of May or beginning of June, in small clusters, consisting of several palish yellow-brown globules included in surrounding gluten. The larvæ are furnished with fins on each side of the breast, which fall off when the animals attain a perfect state.

Synonyms.—Lacerta palustris. Linn.—La Salamandre à queu plate. La Cepede.—Ask in Scotland.

⁕1 Paper of Mr. Baker in Phil. Tran. vol. xliv. p. 529.

⁕2 Townson’s Tracts, p. 113.

Notes and Corrections: The Warty Lizard

In spite of its name, the Warty Lizard is a salamander. Shaw calls it the Great Water Newt; its vernacular names in assorted Germanic and Scandinavian languages mostly come down to “lesser water salamander”. Lacerta palustris is now Lissotriton vulgaris, another member of family Salamandridae.


color picture of Great Boa, no later than 1804

Shaw Miscellany plate 51:
The Great Boa


There is much geometrical elegance in the sinuous motions of the Serpent tribe. Their back-bone consists of moveable articulations, and runs through the whole length of their body. The breast and abdomen are surrounded with ribs. Some of the species can make their bodies stiff, and by this means are enabled to spring with great force and velocity on their prey.

The bodies of most of the tribes are covered with scales; and Linnæus has endeavoured to mark the species by the number of scaly plates on the abdomen and beneath the tail, the former he denominates scuta and the latter subcaudal squamæ: but every day’s experience tends to prove that these are too uncertain and variable to be depended on.

The head is connected to the trunk without the intervention of a neck. The jaws are so formed that the animals are able to swallow bodies as thick and frequently even thicker than themselves. The tongue is slender and cleft.

The poisonous Serpents differ from the others in having long tubular fangs on each side of the head, calculated to convey the venom from the bag or receptacle at the base into the wound made by their III.74 bite. The principal distinguishing rule in these tribes is, that the venomous Serpents have only two rows of true or proper teeth (that is, such as are not fangs) in the upper jaw, whilst all others have four.

A head entirely covered with small scales is also in some degree a character, but by no means an universal one, of poisonous species; as are also scales on the head and body furnished with a ridge or prominent middle line. The number of poisonous Serpents is very few when compared with the whole number of the species. Out of about 230 species described in Systema Naturæ there are not 40 that have been discovered to possess the poisonous fangs.

All the species cast their skins at certain periods; and those of cold and temperate climates lie concealed in a torpid state during winter. The flesh of several of the Serpents is innoxious, and even eaten by the natives of many countries. Some of them deposit eggs, which are connected in a kind of chain; and others produce their young perfectly formed from eggs hatched within their bodies.

⁕1 This is the second Linnean Order of the Amphibia.

Notes and Corrections: The Serpents

Whether Linnaeus likes it or not, snakes share the Squamata order with lizards. He probably didn’t know about caecilians, so there was no danger of amphibians sneaking in.


The animals of this tribe, which are very few, are all furnished with poisonous fangs, but their bite is not fatal unless they happen to be much irritated.—They III.75 are confined to the warmer parts of America, where they prey on the smaller birds, lizards, and insects. They give notice of their approach by the rattle at the end of their tail, which is composed of hollow membranaceous articulations, that annually increase in number till they amount to about forty. The head is broad, and covered with large carinated scales, or such as have a prominent middle line: the snout is rounded and obtuse.

Their Linnean generic character is that they have scuta on the abdomen; scuta and squamæ beneath the tail, and the tail terminated with a rattle.

Notes and Corrections: The Rattle-Snake Tribe

Rattlenakes are mostly genus Crotalus in family Viperidae.

The animals of this tribe, which are very few
[I count thirty Crotalus species, which is approximately thirty too many for comfort.]

engraving of Banded Rattle Snake, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 88:
Banded Rattle Snake


This, the most dreaded of all the Serpents, is found both in North and South America, where it usually grows to about five or six feet in length. Its colour is yellowish-brown above, marked with broad transverse bars of black. Both the jaws are furnished with small sharp teeth, and the upper one has four large incurvated and pointed fangs. At the base of each is a round orifice, opening into a hollow, that appears again near the end of the tooth in the form of a small channel: these teeth may be raised or compressed. When the animals are in the act of biting, they force out of a gland near the roots of the teeth the fatal juice: this is received into the round orifice of the teeth, conveyed through the tube into the channel, III.76 and from thence with unerring direction into the wound. The tail is furnished with a rattle, consisting of joints loosely connected: the number of these is uncertain, depending in some measure on the age of the animal, being supposed to increase annually by an additional joint.

Providence has kindly given to mankind a security against the bite of this dreadful reptile; for it generally warns the passenger of its vicinity by the rattling of its tail. In fine weather the notice is always given, but not always in rainy weather: this inspires the Indians with a dread of travelling among the woods in wet seasons. In addition to this circumstance, the odour of the Rattle-snake is so extremely fetid, that when it basks in the sun, or is irritated, it is often discovered by the scent, before it is either seen or heard. Horses and cattle frequently discover it by the scent, and escape at a distance; but when the serpent happens to be to leeward of their course, they sometimes run into great danger⁕1.

The Rattle-snake usually moves with its head on the ground; but, if alarmed, throws its body into a circle, coiling itself with its head in the centre erect, and with its eyes flaming in a most terrific manner. Happily it may be easily avoided; it is slow in pursuit, and has not the power of springing at its assailants⁕2.

The tongue, as in many other serpents, is composed of two long and round bodies joined together III.77 from the root to about half its length. This is frequently darted out and retracted with great agility. There is, besides the fangs with which the Rattlesnakes kill their prey, another kind of teeth, much smaller, and situated in both jaws, which serve for catching and retaining it. There are no grinders: for they do not chew their food, but always swallow it whole.

It is not very uncommon for this creature to come into houses; but the moment any of the domestic animals see or hear it they take alarm, and unite in giving notice of its presence. Hogs, dogs, and poultry, all exhibit the utmost consternation and terror, erecting their bristles and feathers, and expressing by their different notes of alarm that a dangerous enemy is near. Mr. Catesby says that, in a gentleman’s house of Carolina, as the servant was making the bed, on the ground floor, that he had himself left but a few minutes before, he discovered a Rattle-snake lying coiled between the sheets in the middle of the bed⁕3.

When the Rattle-snake has been irritated, or the weather is exceedingly hot, its poison, on being inserted into a wound, often proves fatal in a very short time. In the Philosophical Transactions we have an account of several experiments that were made by Captain Hall, in South Carolina. A snake was tied down to a grass-plot, and made to bite a healthy cur-dog: immediately afterwards the poor animal’s III.78 eyes were fixed, his teeth closed upon his tongue, which was hanging out, his lips were drawn up so as to leave his teeth and gums bare, and in a quarter of a minute he died. The hair was then taken off by means of hot water, and only one small puncture appeared, between his fore-legs, with a bluish-green colour round it.—A second dog was brought about half an hour afterwards, and the snake bit his ear: he exhibited signs of violent sickness, staggered about for some time, then fell down convulsed, and two or three times got up again: he lived near two hours.—Four days after this two dogs, as large as common bull-dogs, were bitten by him: the one in the inside of his left thigh, which died exactly in half a minute; and the other on the outside of the thigh, which died in four minutes.—Captain Hall, after some other experiments, wished at last to try whether its poison would prove mortal to itself. He therefore hung it up in such a manner that it had about half its length on the ground, and irritated it by two needles fastened to the end of a stick. The creature made several attempts to seize the stick, and then bit itself. It was let down, and in eight or ten minutes was found to be lifeless. The snake was afterwards cut into five pieces, which were successively devoured by a hog, but without receiving any injury in consequence.

We are told, by an intelligent American writer, that a farmer was one day mowing with his negroes, when he by chance trod on a Rattle-snake, that immediately turned upon him, and bit his boot. At night, when he went to bed, he was attacked with III.79 a sickness: he swelled, and before a physician could be called in, he died. All his neighbours were surprised at this sudden death, but the corpse was interred without examination. A few days after one of the sons put on his father’s boots, and at night when he pulled them off he was seized with the same symptoms, and died on the following morning. The doctor arrived, but, unable to divine the cause of so singular a disorder, seriously pronounced both the father and the son to have been bewitched. At the sale of the effects, a neighbour purchased the boots, and on putting them on experienced the like dreadful symptoms with the father and son: a skilful physician, however, being sent for, who had heard of the preceding affair, suspected the cause, and, by applying proper remedies, recovered his patient. The fatal boots were now carefully examined, and the two fangs of the snake were discovered to have been left in the leather with the poison-bladders adhering to them.—They had penetrated entirely through, and both the father and son had imperceptibly scratched themselves with their points in pulling off the boots⁕4.

Dr. Brickell says he was a witness to an encounter between a Dog, and a Rattle-snake which was fastened to the ground by a tolerably long string. The snake coiled up, and rattled its tail; and the dog being let loose seized, and attempted to shake it out at full length, but from the weight was prevented III.80 from doing it, and in consequence it bit him in the ear. He seemed somewhat stunned, and left the place, but returned on being encouraged by the company. In the second encounter he received a bite in his lip, after which the snake bit himself. The dog from that moment appeared senseless of every thing around him, even the caresses of his brutal master had now no effect, and in less than half an hour both the animals were found dead⁕5.

A Rattle-snake which had been highly irritated by an Indian Dog, that had both cunning and agility enough always to keep out of his reach, was observed at the time to contract the muscles that moved his scales, in such a manner as to make his body appear extremely bright: but immediately after he had bitten himself all his splendour was gone⁕6.

If they are not provoked, these animals are perfectly inoffensive to mankind, being so much alarmed at the sight of a man as always, if possible, to avoid them, and never commencing an attack. Their anger is said to be easily known from the noise of their rattle, which in this state is always loud and distinct; but when they are pleased it is said to sound like a distant trepidation, in which nothing distinct can be heard. Negroes and others, who have been bitten by them, have also frequently recovered without any assistance; and indeed the Indian medicines are mostly so fanciful that nature III.81 recovers many whose cure is attributed only to these.

Mr. St. John once saw a tamed Rattle-snake as gentle as it is possible to conceive a reptile to be. It went to the water and swam whenever it pleased; and when the boys, to whom it belonged, called it back, their summons was readily obeyed. It had been deprived of its fangs. They often stroked it with a soft brush: and this friction seemed to cause the most pleasing sensations; for it would turn on its back to enjoy it, as a cat does before the fire⁕7.

Rattle-snakes are viviparous, producing their young, generally about twelve in number, in the month of June; and by September these acquire the length of twelve inches. It has been well attested that they adopt the same mode of preserving their young from danger as that attributed to the European Viper, receiving them into their mouth and swallowing them.—M. de Beauvois declares that he was an eye-witness to the process. He saw a large Rattle-snake, which he had disturbed in his walks: it immediately coiled itself up, opened its jaws, and in an instant five small ones that were lying by it rushed into its mouth. He retired in order to watch the snake, and in a quarter of an hour saw her again discharge them. He then approached a second time, when the young rushed into its mouth more quickly than before, and the animal immediately moved off and escaped⁕8.


The Rattle-snake is known to devour several of the smaller animals, and it has generally been believed that it is endowed with the power of fascinating or charming its prey till they even run into its jaws. Mr. Pennant, from Kalm, says that the snake will frequently lie at the bottom of a tree on which a squirrel is seated. He fixes his eyes upon the little animal, and from that moment it cannot escape: it begins a doleful outcry, which is so well known that a person passing by, on hearing it, immediately knows that a snake is present. The squirrel runs up the tree a little way, comes downwards again, then goes up, and afterwards comes still lower. The snake continues at the bottom of the tree with his eyes fixed on the squirrel; with which his attention is so entirely taken up, that a person accidentally approaching may make a considerable noise without so much as the snake’s turning about. The squirrel comes lower, and at last leaps down to the snake, whose mouth is already wide open for its reception. The poor little animal then, with a piteous cry, runs into his jaws, and is swallowed⁕9.

Some colour is given to this by M. Le Vaillant, who says that he saw, on the branch of a tree, a bird trembling as if in convulsions, and at the distance of about four feet, on another branch, a large species of snake, that was lying with out-stretched neck, and fiery eyes, gazing steadily at the poor III.83 animal. The agony of the bird was so great that it was deprived of the power of moving away; and when one of the party killed the snake, it was found dead upon the spot—and that entirely from fear—for on examination it appeared not to have received the slightest wound.

The same gentleman informs us that a short time afterwards he observed a small mouse, in similar agonizing convulsions, about two yards distant from a snake, whose eyes were intently fixed upon it; and on frightening away the reptile, and taking up the mouse, it expired in his hand.

The Hottentots who were with him said that this was very common; and the fact was confirmed by the assertions of all to whom he mentioned these instances⁕10.

Dr. Barton of Philadelphia, however, after having examined with some care into the subject, is of opinion that the report of this fascinating property has had its rise in nothing more than the fears and cries of birds and other animals in the protection of their nests and young. He says that “the result of not a little attention has taught him that there is but one wonder in the business;—the wonder that the story should ever have been believed by any man of understanding and observation⁕11.” But the above facts, if they are such, and, till they are proved otherwise, we must esteem them such, apply so ill to Dr. Barton’s conclusion as to induce a supposition III.84 that his opinion is not so well founded as it might appear to be from the perusal of his paper only, and without comparing it with other accounts.

In summer the Rattle-Snakes are generally found in pairs: in winter they collect in multitudes, and retire into the ground, beyond the reach of the frost. Tempted by the warmth of a spring day, they are often observed to creep out in a weak and languid state. Mr. Pennant mentions that a person has seen a piece of ground covered with them, and that he killed, with a rod, between sixty and seventy; till, overpowered with the stench, he was obliged to retire⁕12.

The American Indians often regale on the Rattle-Snake.—When they find them asleep, they put a small forked stick over their necks, which they keep immoveably fixed to the ground, giving the snake a piece of leather to bite; and this they pull back several times with great force until they observe that the poisonous fangs are torn out. They then cut off the head, skin the body, and cook it as we do eels; and the flesh is said to be extremely white and good⁕13.

Synonyms.—Crotalus horridus. Linn.—Boiquira. La Cepede.—Rattle snake. Var.

⁕1 La Cepede, iv. 246.

⁕2 Penn. Arct. Zool. ii. 336.

⁕3 Catesby, ii. 41.

⁕4 Hector St. John, 238.

⁕5 Brickell, 146.

⁕6 Bartram’s Obs. on Pennsylvania, 11.

⁕7 Hector St. John, 239.

⁕8 Phil. Tran. vol. iv.

⁕9 Penn. Arct. Zool. ii. 338.

⁕10 Le Vaillant’s New Travels, i. 33-37.

⁕11 Aimer. Phil. Tran. iv. 74-114.

⁕12 Penn. Arct. Zool.

⁕13 Hector St. John.—Brickell, 145.

Notes and Corrections: The Banded Rattle-Snake

Crotalus horridus is the timber rattler.

The tail is furnished with a rattle
text has furnised

two long and round bodies joined together
text has oined

the corpse was interred without examination
text has corps
[Corrected from 3rd edition]


engraving of Boa, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III (title page vignette)


This is a noble tribe of animals, the largest and strongest of the serpent race. They are altogether destitute of venom, never attack but from necessity, always engage with open courage, and conquer only by superior strength.

Three of the species are found in Asia; the rest are confined to the warmer parts of the new continent.

The Boas are readily distinguished from other serpents in the under surface of the tail being covered with scuta or undivided plates, like those on the belly, and in their body not being terminated by a rattle.

Notes and Corrections: The Boa Tribe

Constrictors are family Boidae, including but not limited to genus Boa. Anacondas, for example, are genus Eunectes; Pythons are genus Python.

engraving of Constrictor Boa, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 92:
Constrictor Boa


This is a most immense animal, the largest of all the Serpent tribe, being frequently from thirty to forty feet in length, and of a proportionate thickness. The ground colour of the body is yellowish-grey, on which is distributed, along the back, a series of large chain-like, reddish-brown, and sometimes perfectly red variegations, with other smaller and more irregular marks and spots. It is a native of Africa, India, the larger Indian islands, and South III.86 America, where it chiefly resides in most retired situations in woods and marshy retreats⁕1.

A gentleman, who had some large concerns in America, assures us of the enormous length of these animals, and informs that he one day sent out a soldier, with an Indian, to kill some wild fowl; and, in pursuing their game, the Indian, who generally went before, beginning to tire, sat down upon what he supposed to be the fallen trunk of a tree. But the monster beginning to move, the poor fellow perceived what it was that he had thus approached, and dropped down in an agony. The soldier, who, at some distance, saw what had happened, levelled his piece at the serpent’s head, and, by a lucky aim, shot it dead; and, going up to the relief of his companion, found that he was also dead from his fright. On his return, he related what had happened: the animal was ordered to be brought, and it was found to be thirty-six feet long. The skin was stuffed, and sent to the cabinet of the Prince of Orange.

In the island of Java we are assured that one of these monsters has been known to kill and devour a buffalo. In a letter, printed in the German Ephemerides, we have an account of a combat between an enormous serpent and a buffalo, by a person who assures us that he was himself a spectator. The serpent had, for some time, been waiting near the brink of a pool, in expectation of its prey; III.87 when a buffalo was the first animal that appeared. Having darted upon the affrighted beast, it instantly began to wrap him round with its voluminous twistings; and at every twist the bones of the buffalo were heard to crack almost as loud as the report of a gun. It was in vain that the animal struggled and bellowed; its enormous enemy entwined it so closely that at length all its bones were crushed to pieces, like those of a malefactor on the wheel, and the whole body reduced to one uniform mass: the serpent then untwined its folds, to swallow its prey at leisure. To prepare for this, and also to make it slip down the throat the more smoothly, it was seen to lick the whole body over, and thus cover it with a mucilaginous substance. It then began to swallow it at the end that afforded the least resistance; and in the act the throat suffered so great a dilation, that it took in at once substance that was thrice its own thickness.

engraving of Constrictor Boa, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 93:
Constrictor Boa

According to the Bombay Courier of August 31, 1799, a Malay prow was making for the port of Amboyna; but the pilot, finding she could not enter it before dark, brought her to anchor for the night close under the island of Celebes. One of the crew went on shore in quest of betel nut in the woods, and on his return laid down, as it is supposed, to sleep on the beach. In the course of the night he was heard, by his comrades, to scream out for assistance. They immediately went on shore, but it was too late; for an immense snake of this species had crushed him to death. The attention of the monster being entirely occupied by his prey, III.88 the people went boldly up to it, cut off its head, and took both it and the body of the man on board their boat. The snake had seized the poor fellow by the right wrist, where the marks of the fangs were very distinct; and the mangled corpse bore evident signs of being crushed by the monster’s twisting itself round the head, neck, breast, and thigh. The length of the snake was about thirty feet; its thickness equal to that of a moderate-sized man; and, on extending its jaws, they were found wide enough to admit at once a body of the size of a man’s head.

We have been assured by travellers that these animals are sometimes found with the body of a stag in their gullet; while the horns, which they are unable to swallow, are seen sticking out at their mouths.

It is happy for mankind that their rapacity is often their own punishment; for, whenever they have gorged themselves in this manner, they become torpid, and may be approached and destroyed with safety. Patient of hunger to a surprising degree, whenever they seize and swallow their prey, they seem, like surfeited gluttons, unwieldy, stupid, helpless, and sleepy. They at that time seek for some retreat, where they may lurk for several days together, and digest their meal in safety. The smallest effort then will destroy them; they scarcely can make any resistance; and equally unqualified for flight or opposition, even the naked Indians do not fear to assail them. But it is otherwise when this sleeping interval of digestion is III.89 over; they then issue, with famished appetites, from their retreats, and with accumulated terrors, while every animal of the forest flies from their presence.

When captain Stedman was on board one of his boats on the river Cottica in Surinam, he was informed, by one of his slaves, that a large snake was lying among the brush-wood on the beach, not far distant; and, after some persuasion, he was induced to land, in order to shoot it. On the first shot the ball, missing the head, went through the body; when the animal struck round, and with such astonishing force as to cut away all the underwood around him with the facility of a scythe mowing grass; and, by flouncing his tail, caused the mud and dirt, in which he lay, to fly over the men’s heads that were with him, to a considerable distance. They started back some way, but the snake was quiet again in a few minutes. Captain Stedman again fired, but with no better success than before; and the animal sent up such a cloud of dust and dirt as he had never seen but in a whirlwind; which caused them once more suddenly to retreat. After some persuasions he was induced, though much against his inclination, being exceedingly weak from illness, to make a third attempt. Having, therefore, once more discovered the snake, they discharged their pieces at once, and shot him through the head. The negro brought a boat-rope to drag him to the canoe which was lying on the bank of the river. This proved no easy undertaking, since the huge creature, notwithstanding his III.90 being mortally wounded, still continued to writhe and twist about in such a manner as to render it dangerous for any person to approach him. The negro made a running noose on the rope, and, after some fruitless attempts to make an approach, threw it over his head with much dexterity; and now, all taking hold of the rope, they dragged him to the beach, and tied him to the stern of the canoe to take him in tow. Being, however, still alive, he there kept swimming like an eel.

The length of this animal, which the negroes declared to be only a young one, and but arrived at half its growth, was upwards of twenty-two feet; and its thickness about that of a boy near twelve years old, as was proved by measuring the creature’s skin round the body of the boy that was with them.

When they came to one of their stations, they hauled him on shore, to skin him, and take out the oil. To effect this purpose, one of the negroes, having climbed up a tree with the end of a rope, let it down over a strong forked branch, and the others hoisted up the snake and suspended him from the tree. This done, the former negro, with a sharp knife between his teeth, left the branch, and clung fast upon the monster, which was still writhing, and began his operations by ripping it up, and stripping down the skin as he descended. “Though I perceived (says the captain) that the animal was no longer able to do him any injury, I confess I could not, without emotion, see a man stark naked, black and bloody, clinging III.91 with his arms and legs round the slimy and yet living monster.” This labour, however, was not without its use; since he not only dexterously finished the operation, but saved from the animal above four gallons of fine clarified fat, or rather oil, which proved of much use to the surgeons at the hospital. As much again as this was also supposed to have been wasted. The negroes cut the animal in pieces, and would have eaten it, had they not been refused the use of the kettle to boil it in.—The bite of this snake is not venomous; nor is it believed to bite at all from any other impulse than that of hunger⁕2.

Synonyms.—Boa Constrictor. Linn.—Le Devin. La Cepede.—Constrictor Boa. Shaw.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 92, 93.

⁕1 Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. iii.

⁕2 Stedman’s Account of Surinam.

Notes and Corrections: The Great Boa

skip to next section

Boa constrictor still has that binomial. The good news is that it is the only species in its genus. The bad news is that, first, there are a great many subspecies—probably just waiting for genetic analysis to break them into distinct species—and, second, there are many other constrictor genera.

the largest of all the Serpent tribe
[Bingley’s sources don’t seem to have distinguished between boas and anacondas—to say nothing of reticulated pythons, which can get almost as big.]

the pilot, finding she could not enter it before dark
[That’s she, the ship, not she, the pilot. Ha ha ha, what an absurd idea.]

engraving of Common Viper, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 101:
Common Viper


This tribe contains a great number of species, (near two hundred) which differ from each other very greatly, both in size and habit. About one-fifth of the whole have been discovered to be poisonous: these are, in general, to be distinguished from the rest by their large, flattish, and somewhat heart-shaped heads, and rather short than long bodies and tails. The harmless species have, for the most part, small heads, with more extended bodies.


All the species have scuta, or undivided plates, under the abdomen; and broad alternate squamæ, or scales, beneath the tail.

In the investigation of this tribe, it is to be remarked that the subcaudal scales, although alternate, are reckoned by pairs; so that the number marked by Linnæus for the respective species always means the number of pairs⁕1.

⁕1 Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. iii.

Notes and Corrections: The Snake Tribe

We have already had rattlers and constrictors, so “Snake Tribe” seems to mean everything that’s left over. This includes several hundred genera in family Colubridae; a few dozen more for the non-rattlesnake members of family Viperidae; and all of family Elapidae (cobras and coral snakes).

engraving of Viper and Blind Worm, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. III plate 4 (partial):
Viper (top); Blind Worm (bottom)


Vipers are pretty generally dispersed over the old Continent, and are by no means uncommon in our own island, particularly in the dry, stony, and chalky counties.

They do not often exceed the length of two feet, though they are sometimes found above three. The ground colour of their bodies is a dirty yellow, deeper in the female than in the male. The back is marked throughout with a series of rhomboidal black spots joining each other at the points; and the sides have triangular ones. The belly is entirely black⁕1.—They are chiefly distinguished from the Common Snake by their darker belly; their head much thicker than the body, and in particular by the tail; which, though it ends in a point, does III.93 not run tapering to so great a length as in the Snake. When, therefore, other distinctions fail, the difference of the tail may be distinguished at a single glance.

The apparatus of poison in the Viper is very similar to that of the Rattle-Snake, and all the other poisonous serpents. The symptoms that follow the bite are an acute pain in the wounded part, with a swelling, at first red, but afterwards livid, which, by degrees, spreads to the adjoining parts; with a great faintness, and a quick, though low, and sometimes interrupted pulse; great sickness at the stomach, with bilious, convulsive vomitings, cold sweats, and sometimes pain about the navel. The most esteemed remedy is common sallad-oil thoroughly rubbed on the wounded part. This is always used by the viper-catchers, and seems far more efficacious than any volatile alkali, as formerly recommended. The bite of the viper in this country, although it produces a painful and troublesome swelling, is rarely attended with any other bad consequence.

The poison, according to Dr. Mead, when diluted with a little warm water, and applied to the tip of the tongue, is very sharp and fiery, a sensation taking place as if the tongue had been struck through with something scalding or burning. This, he says, goes off in two or three hours. One person, mentioned by Dr. Mead, tried a large drop of it undiluted; in consequence of which his tongue swelled, with a little inflammation; and the soreness lasted two days. Other persons, on the contrary, assert it to III.94 have no particular acrimony of taste, but that, in this respect, it rather resembles oil or gum. Contradictions nearly equal have taken place relative to the effect of viperine poison taken into the stomach. Boerhaave affirms it to produce no ill effect whatever; and the abbé Fontana, that it is not to be swallowed with impunity—although he is one of those who assert its being devoid of any thing unpleasant to the taste. We are told, however, that in the presence of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, while the philosophers were making elaborate dissertations on the danger of the poison taken inwardly, a viper-catcher, who happened to be present, requested that a quantity of it might be put into a vessel, and then, with the utmost confidence, and to the astonishment of the whole company, he drank it off in their presence. Every one expected the man instantly to drop down dead; but they soon perceived their mistake, says the relater of the story, and found that, taken inwardly, the poison was as harmless as water.

In ancient times, the poison of the Viper was collected by many of the European nations as a poison for their arrows, as that of other serpents is used, by the inhabitants of savage nations, at the present day.

The Viper is the only one, either of the Reptile or Serpent tribes, in Great Britain, from whose bite we have any thing to fear. All the others are either entirely destitute of poison; or, if they possess any, it is not injurious to man.

These animals are viviparous, and produce their III.95 young towards the close of summer. The eggs, which are hatched in the womb, are usually ten or twelve only in number, and chained together somewhat like a string of beads. When the young have burst the shell, they are said to creep, by their own efforts, from their confinement into the open air, where they continue for several days without taking any food. The Rev. Mr. White, of Selborne, in company with a friend, surprised a large female viper, which seemed very heavy and bloated, as she lay on the grass, basking in the sun. They killed and cut her up, and found in the abdomen fifteen young ones about the size of full-grown earth-worms. This little fry issued into the world with the true viper spirit about them, showing great alertness as soon as disengaged from the belly of the dam. They twisted and wriggled about, set themselves up, and gaped very wide when touched with a stick; exhibiting manifest tokens of menace and defiance, though as yet no fangs were to be discovered even with the help of glasses⁕2.

That the young, for some time after their birth, retreat, when suddenly alarmed, into the mouth of the female, in the same maimer as the young of the Opossum do into the abdominal pouch of their parent, seems to be a fact satisfactorily ascertained.—Vipers arrive at their full growth in about seven years, and produce at the end of their second or third.—Their food consists of reptiles, worms, or III.96 young birds, which they swallow whole, though it sometimes happens that the morsel is thrice the thickness of their own body.

They are capable of supporting long abstinence, one of them having been kept above six months in a box without food; during which time its vivacity was not lessened.—When at liberty they remain torpid throughout the winter; yet, when confined, they have never been observed to take their annual repose.

They are usually caught with wooden tongs by the end of the tail. This is done without danger; for, while they are held in that position, they cannot wind themselves up to injure their enemy.

Their flesh was formerly in high esteem as a remedy for various diseases, but particularly as a restorative. It has, however, of late years lost much of its ancient credit, and is very rarely prescribed by modern practitioners.

Synonyms.—Coluber berus. Linn.—Vipère. La Cepede.—Viper. Penn.—English Viper, Adder. Ray.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 101.—Penn.’s Brit. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 4.

⁕1 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 27.

⁕2 White’s Natural History of Selborne.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Viper

Coluber berus is now Vipera berus, the adder or Northern viper, putting it in the same family, Viperidae, as rattlesnakes.

[Illustration] Pennant
[I’ve retained the “blind worm”—technically a legless lizard—because it was mentioned in a description of the Frog, earlier in this volume.]

They twisted and wriggled about
text has riggled
[Corrected from 3rd edition.]

engraving of Ringed Snake, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. III plate 4 (partial):
Ringed Snake


The Common or Ringed Snakes are well-known inhabitants of moist and warm woods, on the dry banks of which they are often seen during the summer, either sleeping or basking themselves. They are harmless and inoffensive animals, being totally destitute of every means of injuring mankind.


The female deposits her eggs in holes fronting the south, near stagnant waters; but more frequently in dunghills, in the form of a continued chain of ova, to the number of from twelve to twenty. These are about the size of the eggs of the blackbird, of a whitish colour, and covered with a parchment-like membrane. The young ones are rolled up spirally within the middle of the fluid, which greatly resembles the white of a fowl’s egg. They are not hatched till the spring following the time when they are laid⁕1.

In winter these Snakes conceal themselves, and become nearly torpid; re-appearing in spring, when they uniformly cast their skins. This is a process that they also seem to undergo in the autumn. Mr. White says, “About the middle of this month (September) we found in a field, near a hedge, the slough of a large snake, which seemed to have been newly cast. From circumstances it appeared as if turned wrong side outward, and as if it had been drawn off backward like a stocking or woman’s glove. Not only the whole skin, but the scales, from the very eyes, were peeled off, and appeared in the head of the slough like a pair of spectacles. The reptile, at the time of changing his coat, had entangled himself intricately in the grass and weeds; so that the friction of the stalks and blades might promote this curious shifting of his exuviæ.


————’Lubrica serpens

’Exuit in spinis vestem.’ Lucret.

“It would be a most entertaining sight could a person be an eye-witness to such a feat, and see the snake in the act of changing his garment. As the convexity of the eyes in the slough is now inward, that circumstance alone is a proof that the skin has been turned; not to mention that now the present inside is much darker than the outer. If you look through the scales of the snake’s eyes from the concave side, viz. as the reptile used them, they lessen objects much.—Thus it appears, from what has been said, that snakes crawl out of the mouth of their own sloughs, and quit the tail part last, just as eels are skinned by a cook-maid.—While the scales of the eyes are growing loose, and a new skin is forming, the creature, in appearance, must be blind, and feel itself in a very awkward and uneasy situation⁕2.”

The earliest time of the snakes making their appearance is in the month of March, from which period till the middle of May they are to be found in vast numbers on warm banks, in moist and shady places. From this time, probably on account of the great heat of summer, they are not so often seen.

Several instances have occurred of the Common Snake being in a great degree domesticated. Mr. White says that he knew a gentleman who had one III.99 in his house quite tame. Though this was usually as sweet in its person as any other animal, yet whenever a stranger, or a dog or cat entered, it would begin to hiss, and soon filled the room with an effluvia so nauseous as to render it almost insupportable⁕3.

An intimate friend of mine⁕4 had a Common Snake in his rooms at Cambridge near three months. He kept it in a box of bran; and, during all that time, he never could discover that it ate any thing, although he frequently put both eggs and frogs, the favourite food of this species, into the box. Whenever he was in the room he used to let the animal out of its prison: it would first crawl several times round the floor, apparently with a desire to escape; and, when it found its attempts fruitless, it would climb up the tables and chairs, and not unfrequently even up the chair of its owner as he sate at his table. At length it became so familiar as to lie in a serpentine form on the upper bar of his chair: it would crawl through his fingers if held at a little distance before its head, or lie at full length upon his table, while he was writing or reading, for an hour or more at a time. When first brought into the room, it used to hiss and dart out its forked tongue; but it in no instance emitted any unpleasant vapour. It was in all its actions remarkably cleanly. Sometimes it was indulged with a III.100 run upon the grass, in the court of the college; and sometimes with a swim in a large bason of water, which it seemed to enjoy very much. When this gentleman left the University, he gave his bedmaker orders to turn it out into the fields; which, he believes, was done.

These animals prey on frogs, insects, worms, and mice; for the former of which they often go into the water, where they swim with great elegance. After a snake has devoured a tolerably large frog, or a small bird, its prey will be seen to form a knot in its body; and it then becomes so stupid and inactive as easily to be caught.—The gentleman who favoured me with the preceding account of a tame snake was witness to one of these animals seizing a frog. It laid hold of it by surprise, by one of the legs, and immediately began to swallow it. He watched them for near a quarter of an hour; when the poor frog cried out so piteously that he determined to release it; but in the struggle the leg and thigh had been torn off and devoured.—The Common Snakes are said to be particularly fond of milk, so much so that they will occasionally creep into dairies to drink the milk from the vessels. It is even said that they will twine themselves round the legs of cows to reach their udders, and that they will sometimes suck them till the blood follows⁕5.

It is supposed to be of a species nearly allied to this, called the French Snake, that an interesting. III.101 anecdote is related by Bomare. He says that one of these had been so completely tamed by a lady as to come to her whenever she called it, to follow her in her walks, writhe itself round her arms, and sleep in her bosom. One day, when she went in a boat to some distance up a large river, she threw the snake into the water, imagining that its fidelity would lead it to follow her, and that, by swimming, it would readily overtake the boat. The poor animal exerted all its efforts; but the current proving at that juncture unusually strong, owing to the advance of the tide, in spite of all its struggling to effect its purpose, it was borne down the stream, and was unfortunately drowned⁕6.

Synonyms. Coluber natrix. Linn.—Ringed Snake. Penn.——Penn.’s Brit. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 4.

⁕1 Shaw’s Gen. Zool. iii.

⁕2 White’s Naturalist’s Calendar.

⁕3 White’s Natural History of Selborne.

⁕4 Mr. Revett Sheppard, F. L. S. of Gonvil and Caius College, Cambridge.

⁕5 La Cepede, iii. 354.

⁕6 Dictionnaire Raisonné Universel d’Histoire Naturelle.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Snake

Coluber natrix has been promoted and is now Natrix natrix, the European Grass Snake, in family Colubridae.

Shaw identifies the French Snake as Coluber atrovirens, which would make it Hierophis viridiflavus (“green and yellow sacred snake”), the Whip Snake or Dark Green Snake, yet another member of family Colubridae.

[Thanks for the pointer, Bingley. Conveniently Lucretius wrote only one work—or only one that has survived—taking us directly to De Rerum Natura, IV:59-60.]

up the chair of its owner as he sate at his table
[Spelling unchanged, although the 3rd edition does modernize to “sat”.]

she threw the snake into the water, imagining that its fidelity would lead it to follow her
[Stupid lady.—Ed.]

engraving of Spectacle Snake, no later than 1804

Shaw Miscellany plate 74:
The Spectacle Snake


This dreadful serpent is very common in many parts of India. Its general length is three or four feet, and thickness somewhat more than an inch. The head is rather small; and a little beyond it there is a lateral dilation of the skin, which is continued to the length of about four inches downwards, where it gradually sinks into the cylindrical form of the rest of the body.

This part is capable of being extended by the animal at pleasure. It is usually marked on the III.102 top by a very large and conspicuous patch resembling a pair of spectacles. The usual colour of the Hooded Snake is a pale rusty brown above, and beneath a blueish white, tinged with yellow. The tail tapers to a slender and sharply-pointed extremity.

engraving of Spectacle Snake, no later than 1804

Shaw Zoology Vol. III plate 107:
Spectacle Snake

When it is irritated or preparing to bite, this animal raises up the fore part of its body, bends down its head, and seems, as it were, hooded by the expanded skin of the neck: hence its name of Cobra di Capello, or Hooded Serpent⁕1.

From its frequently moving along with great part of its body erect, and with its head in continual action, as if looking around with great circumspection, this species is in India esteemed the emblem of prudence. It is also an object of superstitious veneration among the Gentoo Indians, founded on some traits of legendary mythology: they seldom name it without adding some epithet, such as the royal, the good, the holy. Some of them are happy when they see it running about their houses; from whence many have received irreparable injuries; for it is very possible to hurt it unintentionally, either without seeing it, or during sleep, and it immediately revenges itself with fury. Its bite is sometimes mortal in two or three hours, especially if the poison has penetrated the larger vessels, or muscles.—A dog bitten by one of them died in twenty-seven minutes; and another, larger, survived III.103 fifty-six minutes. A chicken died in less than half a minute, though others survived a couple of hours, depending probably on the heat of the weather, and the condition of the serpent at the time.

engraving of Spectacle Snake, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 181:
The Spectacle Snake

In India the Hooded Snake is carried about in a basket to be publicly exhibited as a show, being first deprived of its fangs to secure the men from the danger of its bite. At the sound of a flageolet it is taught to assume a kind of dancing attitude and motions, which it continues as long as its master continues his music.

Synonyms. Coluber Naja. Linn.—Cobra di Capello. Var.—Spectacle Snake. Shaw.——Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. 3. tab. 107.

⁕1 Shaw’s Gen. Zool. iii.

Notes and Corrections: The Hooded Snake

Coluber naja has been promoted to its own genus and is now Naja naja, the Indian cobra. (The spelling suggests a certain confusion about how to pronounce naga, नग, “snake”.) It is in a venomous-snake family we haven’t previously met, Elapidae, which also includes coral snakes; most cobras are in genus Naja.


The Black Snake is a North American serpent, that grows to a great length, but possesses no poisonous qualities. It is very smooth and slender, black on the upper parts, and of a pale blue beneath, except the throat, which is white.

Its activity is astonishing; and in speed it will sometimes equal a horse. The different motions of these creatures are very diverting: they will at times climb the trees in quest of the Tree Frogs; or, for other prey, glide at full length along the ground. On some occasions they present themselves half erect, and in this posture their eyes and their heads appear to great advantage. The former display a fiery brightness, by means of which we are told they are able to fascinate birds, and the smaller quadrupeds, III.104 in a manner similar to the Rattle-Snake. Their body is said to be so brittle that if, when pursued, they get their head into a hole, and a person seizes hold of the tail, this will often twist itself to pieces⁕1.

The Black Snake is sometimes bold enough to attack a man, but may be driven off by a smart stroke from a stick, or whatever other weapon he may chance to have in his hand. When it overtakes a person who has endeavoured to escape (not having had courage enough to oppose it), it is said to wind itself round his legs in such a manner as to throw him down, and then to bite him several times in the leg, or wherever it can lay hold of, and run off again.

During professor Kalm’s residence at New York, Doctor Colden told him that, in the spring of 1748, he had several workmen at his country-seat, and among them one just arrived from Europe, who, of course, knew but little of the qualities of the Black Snake. The other workmen, who observed a male and female lying together, engaged their new companion to kill one of them. He accordingly approached them with a stick in his hand: this the male observed, and made towards him. The man little expected to find such courage in the reptile, and flinging away his stick, ran off as fast as he was able. The Snake pursued, overtook him, and, twisting several times round his legs, threw him down, and almost frightened the poor fellow out of III.105 his senses. He could not rid himself of the animal without cutting it through in two or three places with a knife. The other workmen laughed heartily at the incident without ever offering to help their companion, looking upon the whole affair only as a scene of the highest amusement.

This Snake, which is altogether harmless, except in the spring, is very greedy of milk, and it is difficult to keep it out when once it is accustomed to get into a cellar where milk is kept. It has been seen eating milk out of the same dish with children without biting them, though they often gave it blows with their spoons upon the head, when it was too greedy.

It is said to be found extremely useful in America in clearing houses of rats, which it pursues with wonderful agility, even to the very roofs of barns and out-houses; for which good services it is cherished by the generality of the Americans, who are at great pains to preserve and multiply the breed. It is also said to destroy the rattle-snakes by twisting round their bodies, and suffocating them by the violence of its contractile force. It is so swift that there is no escaping its pursuit, but its bite has no more effect than a scratch with a pin. All the mischief this species does is to the farmers wives, in skimming the milk-pans of the cream, and robbing the hen-roosts of their eggs. It is not very uncommon to find it coiled up in a nest under a sitting hen⁕2.


The following description of a contest between the Black Snake, and another species, is extracted from the Letters of an American Farmer: “One of my constant walks when I am at leisure (says this gentleman) is in my lowlands, where I have the pleasure of seeing my cattle, horses, and colts. Exuberant grass replenishes all my fields, the best representative of our wealth. In the middle of that tract, I have cut a ditch eight feet wide. On each side of this I carefully sow every year some grains of hemp, which rise to the height of fifteen feet, so strong and full of limbs as to resemble young trees; I once ascended one of them four feet above the ground. These produce natural arbours, rendered often still more compact by the assistance of an annual creeping plant, which we call a vine, that never fails to entwine itself among the branches, and always produces a very desirable shade. As I was one day sitting, solitary and pensive, in this primitive arbour, my attention was engaged by a strange sort of rustling noise, at some paces distance. I looked all around without distinguishing any thing, until I climbed up one of my great hemp-stalks; when, to my astonishment, I beheld two snakes of considerable length, the one pursuing the other with great celerity through a hemp stubble field. The aggressor was of the black kind, six feet long; the fugitive was a Water Snake, nearly of equal dimensions. They soon met, and, in the fury of their first encounter, appeared in an instant firmly twisted together; and, whilst their united tails beat the ground, III.107 they mutually tried with open jaws to lacerate each other. What a fell aspect did they present! Their heads were compressed to a very small size, their eyes flashed fire; and, after this conflict had lasted about five minutes, the second found means to disengage itself from the first, and hurried toward the ditch. Its antagonist instantly assumed a new posture, and half creeping, half erect, with a majestic mien, overtook and attacked the other again, which placed itself in a similar attitude, and prepared to resist. The scene was uncommon, and beautiful, for thus opposed they fought with their jaws, biting each other with the utmost rage; but, notwithstanding this appearance of mutual courage and fury, the water snake still seemed desirous of retreating towards the ditch, its natural element. This was no sooner perceived by the keen-eyed black one than, twisting its tail twice round a stalk of hemp, and seizing its adversary by the throat, not by means of its jaws, but by twisting its own neck twice round that of the water snake, he pulled it back from the ditch. To prevent a defeat, the latter took hold likewise of a stalk on the bank, and, by the acquisition of that point of resistance, became a match for his fierce antagonist. Strange was this to behold: two great snakes strongly adhering to the ground, mutually fastened together by means of the writhings which lashed them to each other, and stretched at their full length, they pulled, but pulled in vain; and, in the moments of greatest exertion, that part of their bodies which was entwined seemed extremely small, while the rest appeared III.108 inflated, and now and then convulsed with strong undulations rapidly following each other. Their eyes appeared on fire, and ready to start out of their heads. At one time the conflict seemed decided; the water-snake bent itself into great folds, and by that operation rendered the other more than commonly outstretched; the next minute the new struggles of the black one gained an unexpected superiority, it acquired two great folds likewise, which necessarily extended the body of its adversary in proportion as it had contracted its own. These efforts were alternate, victory seemed doubtful, inclining sometimes to one side, sometimes to the other; until at last the stalk to which the black snake was fastened, suddenly gave way, and, in consequence of this accident, they both plunged into the ditch. The water did not extinguish their vindictive rage, for by their agitations I could still trace, though I could not distinguish, their attacks. They soon re-appeared on the surface, twisted together, as in their first onset: but the black snake seemed to retain its wonted superiority; for its head was exactly fixed above that of the other, which it incessantly pressed down under the water, until it was stifled, and sunk. The victor no sooner perceived its enemy incapable of further resistance than, abandoning it to the current, it returned to the shore and disappeared⁕3.”

Synonyms. Coluber Constrictor. Linn.—Knot. Kerr’s La Cepede.—Le Lin. La Cepede.—Black Snake, in America.

⁕1 Brickell, 153.

⁕2 Catesby, ii. 48. Brickell, 153. Penn. Arct. Zool. ii. 342.

⁕3 Hector St. John, 244.

Notes and Corrections: The Black Snake

Coluber constrictor still has that binomial; its English name is Eastern Racer.

to the

Those marked with an * are varieties of some other species; and those printed in Italics are Synonyms.

Adder 92
Amphibious Animals 1
Ask 70
Boa Tribe 85
—— great 85
—— constrictor 85
—— Le Devin 85
Boiquira 95
Chamæleon 62
Cobra di capello 101
Le Crapaud commun 37
Crocodile 46, 52
—— American 52
Le Devin 85
Frog Tribe 21
—— common 22
—— edible 27
—— bull 27
—— tree 32
—— Common toad 37
—— Pipa 43
—— La Crapaud commun 37
—— esculent 27
—— green 27
—— green tree 32
—— La Grenouille commune, ou mangeable 27
—— La Mugissante, ou Grenouille Taureau 29
—— La Reine vert, ou commune 32
—— Le Pipa, ou Cururu 43
—— Surinam-Toad 43
La Grenouille commune, ou mangeable 27
Guana, common 56
—— great American 56
Gymnotus Tribe 12
—— electrical 12
—— Beave Aal 12
—— Cold Eel 12
—— Cramp fish 12
—— Electrical Eel 12
—— Numbing-fish 12
Jacare 52
L’Iguane 56
Le Devin 85
Lizard Tribe 45
—— Crocodile 46, 52
—— Alligator 52
—— Common Guana 56
—— nimble 56
—— Chamæleon 69
—— Salamander 67
—— warty 70
—— American Crocodile 52
—— Cayman 46
—— Le Caméleon 62
—— Le Crocodile proprement dit 62
—— Jacare 52
—— L’Iguane 56
—— Leguana 56
—— Le Lezard gris 59
—— little brown 59
—— Nilotic Crocodile 46
—— scaly 45
La Mugissante, ou Grenouille Taureau 29
Pipa 43
Rattle-snake Tribe 74
—— banded 75
—— Boiquira 75
La Reine vert, ou commune 32
Roach 105
La Rousse, la Muette 22
Salamander 67
Serpents 73
Snake Tribe 91
—— Common Viper 92
—— common 96
—— hooded 101
—— black 103
—— Adder 92
—— Cobra di capello 101
—— English Viper 92
—— Knot 103
—— Le Lin 103
—— ringed 96
—— spectacle 101
—— Vipère 92
Toad, common 37
—— Surinam 43
Tortoise Tribe 5
—— common 7
—— snake 12
—— Green Turtle 14
—— Loggerhead Turtle 18
—— Imbricated Turtle 20
—— common Green Turtle 14
—— common Land 7
—— common 14
—— esculent 14
—— Greek 7
—— serrated 12
—— snapping 12
Trout 107
Turtle, green 14
—— loggerhead 18
—— imbricated 20
—— common 14
—— common green 14
—— esculent 14
Viper 92
—— English 92
Notes and Corrections: English Index

text has Boqiuira

Crocodile 46. 52
[The second page—here, and again under Lizard—is the Alligator, or “American Crocodile”]

[Frog Tribe] La Crapaud commun
text unchanged

[Lizard Tribe] Leguana
text has Leguand

[Snake Tribe] Le Lin
text has Lien
[As long as I was correcting typos, I put this and the preceding “Knot” into italics, since they’re both listed in a Synonyms footnote.]


Reptilia 4
Testudo Genus 5
—— græca 7
—— serpentina 12
—— mydas 14
—— caretta 18
—— imbricata 20
Rana Genus 21
—— temporaria 22
—— esculenta 27
—— Catesbeiana 29
—— arborea 32
—— bufo 37
—— pipa 43
—— Ocellata?? 29
—— bilineata 32
Lacerta Genus 45
—— crocodilus 46
—— Alligator 52
—— iguana 56
—— agilis 59
—— chamæleon 62
—— salamandra 67
—— palustris 70
Serpentes 73
Crotalus Genus 74
—— horridus 75
Boa Genus 85
—— constrictor 85
Coluber Genus 91
—— berus 92
—— natrix 96
—— naja 101
—— constrictor 103
Notes and Corrections: Linnean Index

[Rana Genus] Ocellata??
[Question marks in the original, both here and in the main text (in a Synonyms footnote).]


You don’t need me to tell you that lizards, snakes, turtles and crocodilians are reptiles, while frogs and salamanders are amphibians. Sorry, Linnaeus. You win some, you lose some.

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.