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Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon by J. Emerson Tennent

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near Ratnapoora.

Pomatorhinus melanurus. Mr. Layard states that the mountain babbler
frequents low, scraggy, impenetrable brush, along the margins of
deserted cheena land. This may turn out to be little more than a local
yet striking variety of P. Horsfieldii of the Indian Peninsula.

Malacocercus rufescens. The red dung thrush added by Dr. Templeton to
the Singhalese Fauna, is found in thick jungle in the southern and
midland districts.

Pycnonotus penicillatus. The yellow-eared bulbul; was found by Dr.
Kelaart at Neuera-ellia.

Butalis Muttui. This very handsome flycatcher was procured at Point
Pedro, by Mr. Layard.

Dicrurus edoliformis. Dr. Templeton found this kingcrow at the Bibloo
Oya. Mr. Layard has since got it at Ambogammoa.

Dicrurus leucopygialis. The Ceylon kingcrow was sent to Mr. Blyth from
the vicinity of Colombo, by Dr. Templeton. A species very closely allied
to D. coerulescens of the Indian continent.

Tephrodornis affinis. The Ceylon butcher-bird. A migatory species found
in the wooded grass lands in October.

Cissa puella. Layard's mountain jay. A most lovely bird, found along
mountain streams at Neuera-ellia and elsewhere.

Eulabes ptilogenys. Templeton's mynah. The largest and most beautiful of
the species. It is found in flocks perching on the highest trees,
feeding on berries.

Munia Kelaarti. This Grosbeak previously assumed to be M. pectoralls of
Jerdon; is most probably peculiar to Ceylon.

Loriculus asiaticus. The small parroquet, abundant in various districts.

Palaeornis Calthropae. Layard's purple-headed parroquet, found at Kandy,
is a very handsome bird, flying in flocks, and resting on the summits of
the very highest trees. Dr. Kelaart states that it is the only parroquet
of the Neuera-ellia range.

Megalaima flavifrons. The yellow-headed barbet, is not uncommon.

Megalaima rubricapilla, is found in most parts of the island.

Picus gymnophthalmus. Layard's woodpecker. The smallest of the species,
was discovered near Colombo, amongst jak-trees.

Brachypternus Ceylonus. The Ceylon woodpecker, is found in abundance
near Neuera-ellia.

Brachypternus rubescens. The red woodpecker.

Centropus chlororhynchus. The yellow-billed cuckoo, was detected by Mr.
Layard in dense jungle near Colombo and Avisavelle.

Phoenicophaus pyrrhocephalus. The malkoha, is confined to the southern

Treron Pompadoura. The Pompadour pigeon. "The Prince of Canino has shown
that this is a totally distinct bird from Tr. flavogularis, with which
it was confounded: it is much smaller, with the quantity of maroon
colour on the mantle greatly reduced."--Paper by Mr. BLYTH, _Mag. Nat.
Hist._ p. 514: 1857.

Carpophaga Torringtoniae. Lady Torrington's pigeon; a very handsome
pigeon discovered in the highlands by Dr. Kelaart. It flies high in long
sweeps, and makes its nest on the loftiest trees. Mr. Blyth is of
opinion that it is no more than a local race, barely separable from C.
Elphinstonii of the Nilgiris and Malabar coast.

Carpophaga pusilla. The little-hill dove a migratory species found by
Mr. Layard in the mountain zone, only appearing with the ripened fruit
of the teak, banyan, &c., on which they feed.

Gallus Lafayetti.--The Ceylon jungle fowl. The female of this handsome
bird was figured by Mr. GRAY (_Ill. Ind. Zool._) under the name of G.
Stanleyi. The cock bird had long been lost to naturalists, until a
specimen was forwarded by Dr. Templeton to Mr. Blyth, who at once
recognised it as the long-looked-for male of Mr. Gray's recently
described female. It is abundant in all the uncultivated portions of
Ceylon; coming out into the open spaces to feed in the mornings and
evenings. Mr. Blyth states that there can be no doubt that Hardwicke's
published figure refers to the hen of this species, long afterwards
termed G. Lafayetti.

Galloperdix bicalcaratus. Not uncommon in suitable situations.



LIZARDS. _Iguana_.--One of the earliest, if not the first remarkable
animal to startle a stranger on arriving in Ceylon, whilst wending his
way from Point-de-Galle to Colombo, is a huge lizard of from four to
five feet in length, the _Talla-goy[=a]_ of the Singhalese, and
Iguana[1] of the Europeans. It may be seen at noonday searching for ants
and insects in the middle of the highway and along the fences; when
disturbed, but by no means alarmed, by the approach of man, it moves off
to a safe distance; and, the intrusion being at an end, it returns again
to the occupation in which it had been interrupted. Repulsive as it is
in appearance, it is perfectly harmless, and is hunted down by dogs in
the maritime provinces, and its delicate flesh, which is believed to be
a specific in dysentery, is converted into curry, and its skin into
shoes. When seized, it has the power of inflicting a smart blow with its
tail. The Talla-goy[=a] lives in almost any convenient hollow, such as a
hole in the ground, or a deserted nest of the termites; and some small
ones, which frequented my garden at Colombo, made their retreat in the
heart of a decayed tree.

[Footnote 1: Monitor dracaena, _Linn._ Among the barbarous nostrums of
the uneducated natives, both Singhalese and Tamil, is the tongue of the
iguana, which they regard as a specific for consumption, if plucked from
the living animal and swallowed whole.]

A still larger species, the _Kabara-goy[=a]_[1], is partial to marshy
ground, and when disturbed upon land, will take refuge in the nearest
water. From the somewhat eruptive appearance of the yellow blotches on
its scales, a closely allied species, similarly spotted, formerly
obtained amongst naturalists the name of _Monitor exanthematicus_, and
it is curious that the native appellation of this one, _kabara_[2], is
suggestive of the same idea. The Singhalese, on a strictly homoeopathic
principle, believe that its fat, externally applied, is a cure for
cutaneous disorders, but that taken inwardly it is poisonous. The
skilfulness of the Singhalese in their preparation of poisons, and their
addiction to using them, are unfortunately notorious traits in the
character of the rural population. Amongst these preparations, the one
which above all others excites the utmost dread, from the number of
murders attributed to its agency, is the potent kabara-tel--a term which
Europeans sometimes corrupt into _cobra-tel_, implying that the venom is
obtained from the hooded-snake; whereas it professes to be extracted
from the "kabara-goy[=a]." Such is the bad renown of this formidable
poison, that an individual suspected of having it in his possession, is
cautiously shunned by his neighbours. Those especially who are on
doubtful terms with him, suspect their servants lest they should be
suborned to mix kabara-tel in the curry. So subtle is the virus supposed
to be, that one method of administering it, is to introduce it within
the midrib of a leaf of betel, and close the orifice with chunam; and,
as it is an habitual act of courtesy for one Singhalese on meeting
another to offer the compliment of a betel-leaf, which it would be
rudeness to refuse, facilities are thus afforded for presenting the
concealed drug. It is curious that to this latent suspicion has been
traced the origin of a custom universal amongst the natives, of nipping
off with the thumb nail the thick end of the stem before chewing the

[Footnote 1: Hydrosaurus salvator, _Laur_. Tail compressed; fingers
long; nostrils near the extremity of the snout. A black band on each
temple; round yellow spots disposed in transverse series on the back.
Teeth with the crown compressed and notched.]

[Footnote 2: In the _Mahawanso_ the hero Tissa, is said to have been
"afflicted with a cutaneous complaint which made his skin scaly like
that of the _godho_."--Ch. xxiv. p. 148. "Godho" is the Pali name for
the Kabara-goy[=a].]

[Illustration: THE KABARA-GOYA.]

In the preparation of this mysterious compound, the unfortunate
Kabara-goya is forced to take a painfully prominent part. The receipt,
as written down by a Kandyan, was sent to me from Kornegalle, by Mr.
Morris, the civil officer of that district; and in dramatic arrangement
it far outdoes the cauldron of _Macbeth's_ witches. The ingredients are
extracted from venomous snakes, the cobra de capello, the Carawilla, and
the Tic-polonga, by making incisions in the head of these reptiles and
suspending them over a chattie to collect the poison as it flows. To
this, arsenic and other drugs are added, and the whole is "boiled in a
human skull, with the aid of the three Kabara-goyas, which are tied on
three sides of the fire, with their heads directed towards it, and
tormented by whips to make them hiss, so that the fire may blaze. The
froth from their lips is then added to the boiling mixture, and so soon
as an oily scum rises to the surface, the _kabara-tel_ is complete."

It is obvious that arsenic is the main ingredient in the poison, and Mr.
Morris reported to me that the mode of preparing it, described above,
was actually practised in his district. This account was transmitted by
him apropos to the murder of a Mohatal[1] and his wife, which had been
committed with the _kabara-tel_, and was then under investigation.
Before commencing the operation of preparing the poison, a cock has to
be sacrificed to the _yakhos_ or demons.

[Footnote 1: A native head-man of low rank.]

This ugly lizard is itself regarded with such aversion by the
Singhalese, that if a _kabara_ enter a house or walk over the roof, it
is regarded as an omen of ill fortune, sickness, or death; and in order
to avert the evil, a priest is employed to go through a rhythmical
incantation; one portion of which consists in the repetition of the

Kabara goyin wan d[=o]sey
Ada palayan e d[=o]sey.

"These are the inflictions caused by the Kabara-goya--let them now be

It is one of the incidents that serve to indicate that Ceylon may belong
to a separate circle of physical geography, that this lizard, though
found to the eastward in Burmah[1], has not hitherto been discovered in
the Dekkan or Hindustan.

[Footnote 1: In corroboration of the view propounded elsewhere (see pp.
7, 84, &c), and opposed to the popular belief that Ceylon, at some
remote period, was detached from the continent of India by the
interposition of the sea, a list of reptiles will be found at p. 319,
including not only individual species, but whole genera peculiar to the
island, and not to be found on the mainland. See a paper by Dr. A.
GUeNTHER on _The Geog. Distribution of Reptiles_. Magaz. Nat. Hist. for
March, 1859, p. 230.]


_Blood-suckers_.--The lizards already mentioned, however, are but the
stranger's introduction to innumerable varieties of others, all most
attractive in their sudden movements, and some unsurpassed in the
brilliancy of their colouring, which bask on banks, dart over rocks, and
peer curiously out of the chinks of every ruined wall. In all their
motions there is that vivid and brief energy, the rapid but restrained
action associated with their limited power of respiration, which
justifies the accurate picture of--

"The green lizard, rustling thro' the grass,
And up the fluted shaft, _with short, quick, spring_
To vanish in the chinks which time has made."[1]

[Footnote 1: ROGERS' _Paestum._]

The most beautiful of the race is the _green calotes_[1], in length
about twelve inches, which, with the exception of a few dark streaks
about the head, is as brilliant as the purest emerald or malachite.
Unlike its congeners of the same family, it never alters this dazzling
hue; whilst many of them possess, but in a less degree, the power, like
the chameleon, of exchanging their ordinary colours for others less
conspicuous. One of the most remarkable features in the physiognomy of
those lizards is the prominence of their cheeks. This results from the
great development of the muscles of the jaws; the strength of which is
such that they can crush the hardest integuments of the beetles on which
they feed. The calotes will permit its teeth to be broken, rather than
quit its hold of a stick into which it may have struck them. It is not
provided, like so many other tropical lizards, with a gular sac or
throat-pouch, capable of inflation when in a state of high excitement.
The tail, too, is rounded, not compressed, thus clearly indicating that
its habits are those of a land-animal.

[Footnote 1: Calotes sp.]

The _Calotes versicolor_; and another, the _Calotes ophioimachus_, of
which a figure is attached, possess in a remarkable degree the faculty,
above alluded to, of changing their hue. The head and neck, when the
animal is irritated or hastily swallowing its food, become of a
brilliant red (whence the latter species has acquired the name of the
"blood-sucker"), whilst the usual tint of the rest of the body is
converted into pale yellow.[1] The _sitana_[2], and a number of others,
exhibit similar phenomena.

[Footnote 1: The characteristics by which the _Calotes ophiomachus_ may
be readily recognised, are a small crest formed by long spines running
on each side of the neck to above the ear, coupled with a green
ground-colour of the scales. Many specimens are uniform, others banded
transversely with white, and others again have a black band on each side
of the neck.]

[Footnote 2: Sitana Ponticereana, _Cuv_.]

The lyre-headed lizard[1], which is not uncommon in the woods about
Kandy, is more bulky than any of the species of Calotes, and not nearly
so active in its movements.

[Footnote 1: Lyriocephalus scutatus, _Linn._]

As usually observed it is of a dull greenish brown, but when excited its
back becomes a rich olive green, leaving the head yellowish: the
underside of the body is of a very pale blue, almost approaching white.
The open mouth exhibits the fauces of an intense vermilion tint; so
that, although extremely handsome, this lizard presents, from its
extraordinarily shaped head and threatening gestures, a most malignant
aspect. It is, however, perfectly harmless.

_Chameleon_.--The true chameleon[1] is found, but not in great numbers,
in the dry districts to the north of Ceylon, where it frequents the
trees, in slow pursuit of its insect prey; but compensated for the
sluggishness of its other movements, by the electric rapidity of its
extensible tongue. Apparently sluggish in its general habits, the
chameleon rests motionless on a branch, from which its varied hues
render it scarcely distinguishable in colour; and there patiently awaits
the approach of the insects on which it feeds. Instantly on their
appearance its wonderful tongue comes into play.

[Footnote 1: Chameleo vulgaris, _Daud_.]

[Illustration: TONGUE OF CHAMELEON.]

Though ordinarily concealed, it is capable of protrusion till it exceeds
in length the whole body of the creature. No sooner does an incautious
fly venture within reach than the extremity of this treacherous weapon
is disclosed, broad and cuneiform, and covered with a viscid fluid; and
this, extended to its full length, is darted at its prey with an
unerring aim, and redrawn within the jaws with a rapidity that renders
the act almost invisible.[1]

[Footnote 1: Prof. RYMER JONES, art. _Reptilia_, in TODD'S _Cyclop. of
Anat_. vol. iv. pt. i. p. 292.]

Whilst the faculty of this creature to assume all the colours of the
rainbow has attracted the wonder of all ages, sufficient attention has
hardly been given to the imperfect sympathy which subsists between the
two lobes of its brain, and the two sets of nerves that permeate the
opposite sides of its frame. Hence, not only has each of the eyes an
action quite independent of the other, but one side of its body appears
to be sometimes asleep whilst the other is vigilant and active; one will
assume a green tinge whilst the opposite one is red; and it is said that
the chameleon is utterly unable to swim, from the incapacity of the
muscles of the two sides to act in concert.

_Ceratophora_.--This which till lately was an unique lizard, known by
only two specimens, one in the British Museum, and another in that of
Leyden, was ascertained by Dr. Kelaart, about five years ago, to be a
native of the higher Kandyan hills, where it is sometimes seen in the
older trees in pursuit of insect larvae. The first specimen brought to
Europe was called _Ceratophora Stoddartii_, after the name of its
finder; and the recent discovery of several others in the National
Collection has enabled me, by the aid of Dr. A. Guenther, to add some
important facts to their history.

This lizard is remarkable for having no external ear; and it has
acquired its generic name from the curious horn-like process on the
extremity of the nose. This horn, as it is found in mature males of ten
inches in length, is five lines long, conical, pointed, and slightly
curved; a miniature form of the formidable weapon, from which the
_Rhinoceros_ takes its name. But the comparison does not hold good
either from an anatomical or a physiological point of view. For, whilst
the horn of the rhinoceros is merely a dermal production, a
conglomeration of hairs cemented into one dense mass as hard as bone,
and answering the purpose of a defensive weapon, besides being used for
digging up the roots on which the animal lives; the horn of the
_ceratophora_ is formed of a soft, spongy substance, coated by the
rostral shield, which is produced into a kind of sheath. Although
flexible, it always remains erect, owing to the elasticity of its
substance. Not having access to a living specimen, which would afford
the opportunity of testing conjecture, we are left to infer from the
internal structure of this horn, that it is an erectile organ which, in
moments of irritation, will swell like the comb of a cock. This opinion
as to its physiological nature is confirmed by the remarkable
circumstance that, like the rudimentary comb of the hen and young cocks,
the female and the immature males of the _ceratophora_ have the horn
exceedingly small. In mature females of eight inches in length (and the
females appear always to be smaller than the males), the horn is only
one half or one line long; while in immature males five inches in
length, it is one line and a half.


Among the specimens sent from Ceylon by Dr. Kelaart, and now in the
British Museum, there is one which so remarkably differs from _C.
Stoddartii_, that it attracted my attention, by the peculiar form of
this rostral appendage. Dr. Guenther pronounced it to be a new species;
and Dr. Gray concurring in this opinion, they have done me the honour to
call it _Ceratophora Tennentii_. Its "horn" somewhat resembles the comb
of a cock not only in its internal structure, but also in its external
appearance; it is nearly six lines long by two broad, slightly
compressed, soft, flexile, and extensible, and covered with a
corrugated, granular skin. It bears no resemblance to the depressed
rostral hump of _Lyriocephalus_, and the differences of the new species
from the latter lizard may be easily seen from the annexed drawing and
the notes given below.[1]

[Footnote 1: The specimen in the British Museum is apparently an adult
male, ten inches long, and is, with regard to the distribution of the
scales and the form of the head very similar to _C. Stoddartii_. The
posterior angles of the orbit are not projecting, but there is a small
tubercle behind them; and a pair of somewhat larger tubercles on the
neck. The gular sac is absent. There are five longitudinal quadrangular,
imbricate scales on each side of the throat; and the sides of the body
present a nearly horizontal series of similar scales. The scales on the
median line of the back scarcely form a crest; it is, however distinct
on the nape of the neck. The scales on the belly, on the extremities,
and on the tail are slightly keeled. Tail nearly round. This species is
more uniformly coloured than _C. Stoddartii_; it is greenish, darker on
the sides.]

_Geckoes_.--The most familiar and attractive of the lizard class are the
_Geckoes_[1], that frequent the sitting-rooms, and being furnished with
pads to each toe, they are enabled to ascend perpendicular walls and
adhere to glass and ceilings. Being nocturnal in their habits, the pupil
of the eye, instead of being circular as in the diurnal species, is
linear and vertical like that of the cat. As soon as evening arrives,
the geckoes are to be seen in every house in keen and crafty pursuit of
their prey; emerging from the chinks and recesses where they conceal
themselves during the day, to search for insects that then retire to
settle for the night. In a boudoir where the ladies of my family spent
their evenings, one of these familiar and amusing little creatures had
its hiding-place behind a gilt picture frame. Punctually as the candles
were lighted, it made its appearance on the wall to be fed with its
accustomed crumbs; and if neglected, it reiterated it sharp, quick call
of _chic, chic, chit,_ till attended to. It was of a delicate gray
colour, tinged with pink; and having by accident fallen on a work-table,
it fled, leaving part of its tail behind it, which, however, it
reproduced within less than a month. This faculty of reproduction is
doubtless designed to enable the creature to escape from its assailants:
the detaching of the limb is evidently its own act; and it is
observable, that when reproduced, the tail generally exhibits some
variation from the previous form, the diverging spines being absent, the
new portion covered with small square uniform scales placed in a cross
series, and the scuta below being seldom so distinct as in the original
member.[2] In an officer's quarters in the fort of Colombo, a geckoe had
been taught to come daily to the dinner-table, and always made its
appearance along with the dessert. The family were absent for some
months, during which the house underwent extensive repairs, the roof
having been raised, the walls stuccoed, and the ceilings whitened. It
was naturally surmised that so long a suspension of its accustomed
habits would have led to the disappearance of the little lizard; but on
the return of its old friends, it made its entrance as usual at their
first dinner the instant the cloth was removed.

[Footnote 1: Hemidactylus maculatus, _Dum_. et _Bib_., H. Leschenaultii,
_Dum_, et _Bib_; H. frenatus, _Schlegel_. Of these the last is very
common in the houses of Colombo. Colour, grey; sides with small
granules; thumb short; chin-shields four; tail rounded with transverse
series of small spines; femoral and preanal pores in a continuous line.
GRAY, _Lizard_, p. 155.]

[Footnote 2: _Brit. Mus. Cat._ p. 143; KELAART's _Prod. Faun. Zeylan.,_
p. 183.]

_Crocodile._--The Portuguese in India, like the Spaniards in South
America, affixed the name of _lagarto_ to the huge reptiles that
infested the rivers and estuaries of both continents; and to the present
day the Europeans in Ceylon apply the term _alligator_ to what are in
reality _crocodiles_, which literally swarm in the still waters and
tanks in the low country, but rarely frequent rapid streams, and have
never been found in the marshes among the hills. The differences,
however, between the two, when once ascertained, are sufficiently
marked, to prevent their being afterwards confounded. The head of the
alligator is broader and the snout less prolonged, and the canine teeth
of the under jaw, instead of being received into foramina in the upper,
as in the crocodile, fit into furrows on each side of it. The legs of
the alligator, too, are not denticulated, and the feet are only

The following drawing exhibits a cranium of each.


The instincts of the crocodiles in Ceylon do not lead to any variation
from the habits of those found in other countries. There would appear to
be two well-distinguished species found in the island, the
_Eli-kimboola_[1], the Indian crocodile, inhabiting the rivers and
estuaries throughout the low countries of the coasts, attaining the
length of sixteen or eighteen feet, and ready to assail man when pressed
by hunger; and the marsh-crocodile[2], which lives exclusively in fresh
water, frequenting the tanks in the northern and central provinces, and
confining its attacks to the smaller animals: in length it seldom
exceeds twelve or thirteen feet. Sportsmen complain that their dogs are
constantly seized by both species; and water-fowl, when shot, frequently
disappear before they can be secured by the fowler.[3] It is generally
believed in Ceylon that, in the case of larger animals, the crocodile
abstains from devouring them till the commencement of decomposition
facilitates the operation of swallowing. To assist in this, the natives
assure me that the reptile contrives to fasten the carcase behind the
roots of a mangrove or some other convenient tree and tears off each
piece by a backward spring.

[Footnote 1: Crocodilus biporcatus. _Cuvier_.]

[Footnote 2: Crododilus palustris, _Less_.]

[Footnote 3: In Siam the flesh of the crocodile is sold for food in the
markets and bazaars, "Un jour je vis plus de cinquante crocodiles,
petits et grands, attaches aux colonnes de leurs maisons. Ils es vendent
la chair comme on vendrait de la chair de porc, mais a bien meilleur
marche."-PALLEGOIX, _Siam_, vol. i. p. 174.]

There is another popular belief that the crocodile is exceedingly
sensitive to tickling; and that it will relax its hold of a man, if he
can only contrive to reach and rub with his hand the softer parts of its
under side.[1] An incident indicative of some reality in this piece of
folklore, once came under my own observation. One morning, about
sunrise, when riding across the sandy plain near the old fort of
Moeletivoe, we came suddenly upon a crocodile asleep under some bushes
of the Buffalo-thorn, several hundred yards from the water. The terror
of the poor wretch was extreme, when it awoke and found itself
discovered and completely surrounded. It was a hideous creature, upwards
of ten feet long, and evidently of prodigious strength, had it been in a
condition to exert it, but consternation completely paralysed it. It
started to its feet and turned round in a circle hissing and clanking
its bony jaws, with its ugly green eye intently fixed upon us. On being
struck with a stick, it lay perfectly quiet and apparently dead.
Presently it looked cunningly round, and made a rush towards the water,
but on a second blow it lay again motionless and feigning death. We
tried to rouse it, but without effect, pulled its tail, slapped its
back, struck its hard scales, and teased it in every way, but all in
vain; nothing would induce it to move till accidentally my son, then a
boy of twelve years old, tickled it gently under the arm, and in an
instant it drew the limb close to its side and turned to avoid a
repetition of the experiment. Again it was touched under the other arm,
and the same emotion was exhibited, the great monster twisting about
like an infant to avoid being tickled. The scene was highly amusing, but
the sun was rising high, and we pursued our journey to Moeletivoe,
leaving the crocodile to make its way to the adjoining lake.

[Footnote 1: A native gentleman who resided for a long time at Caltura
tells me that in the rivers which flow into the sea, both there and at
Bentotte, crocodiles are frequently caught in corrals, formed of stakes
driven into the ground in shallow water, and so constructed, that when
the reptile enters to seize the bait placed within, the aperture closes
behind and secures him. A professional "crocodile charmer" then enters
muttering a spell, and with one end of a stick pats the creature gently
on the head for a time. The operator then boldly mounts astride upon its
shoulders, and continues to soothe it with his one hand, whilst with the
other he contrives to pass a rope under its body, by which it is at last
dragged on shore. This story serves to corroborate the narrative of Mr.
Waterton and his alligator.]

The Singhalese believe that the crocodile can only move swiftly on sand
or smooth clay, its feet being too tender to tread firmly on hard or
stony ground. In the dry season, when the watercourses begin to fail and
the tanks become exhausted, the marsh-crocodiles have occasionally been
encountered in the jungle, wandering in search of water. During a severe
drought in 1844, they deserted a tank near Kornegalle and traversed the
town during the night, on their way to another reservoir in the suburb;
two or three fell into the wells; others in their trepidation, laid eggs
in the street, and some were found entangled in garden fences and

Generally, however, during the extreme drought, when unable to procure
their ordinary food from the drying up of the watercourses, they bury
themselves in the mud, and remain in a state of torpor till released by
the recurrence of rains.[1] At Arne-tivoe, in the eastern province,
whilst riding across the parched bed of the tank, I was shown the
recess, still bearing the form and impress of a crocodile, out of which
the animal had been seen to emerge the day before. A story was also
related to me of an officer attached to the department of the
Surveyor-General, who, having pitched his tent in a similar position,
was disturbed during the night by feeling a movement of the earth below
his bed, from which on the following day a crocodile emerged, making its
appearance from beneath the matting.[2]

[Footnote 1: HERODOTUS records the observations of the Egyptians that
the crocodile of the Nile abstains from food during the four winter
months.--_Euterpe_, lviii.]

[Footnote 2: HUMBOLDT relates a similar story as occurring at Calabazo,
in Venezuela.--_Personal Narrative_, c, xvi.]

The fresh water species that inhabits the tanks is essentially cowardly
in it instincts, and hastens to conceal itself on the appearance of man.
A gentleman (who told me the circumstance), when riding in the jungle,
overtook a crocodile, evidently roaming in search of water. It fled to a
shallow pool almost dried by the sun, and, thrusting its head into the
mud till it covered up its eyes, remained unmoved in profound confidence
of perfect concealment. In 1833, during the progress of the Pearl
Fishery, Sir Robert Wilmot Horton employed men to drag for crocodiles in
a pond which was infested by them in the immediate vicinity of Aripo.
The pool was about fifty yards in length, by ten or twelve wide,
shallowing gradually to the edge, and not exceeding four or five feet at
the deepest part. As the party approached the bund, from twenty to
thirty reptiles, which had been basking in the sun, rose and fled to the
water. A net, specially weighted so as to sink its lower edge to the
bottom, was then stretched from bank to bank and swept to the further
end of the pond, followed by a line of men with poles to drive the
crocodiles forward: so complete was the arrangement, that no individual
could have evaded the net, yet, to the astonishment of the Governor's
party, not one was to be found when it was drawn on shore, and no means
of escape for them was apparent or possible except by their descending
into the mud at the bottom of the pond.

The lagoon of Batticaloa, and indeed all the still waters of this
district, are remarkable for the numbers and prodigious size of the
crocodiles which infest them. Their teeth are sometimes so large that
the natives mount them with silver lids and use them for boxes to carry
the powdered chunam, which they chew with the betel leaf. During one of
my visits to the lake a crocodile was caught within a few yards of the
government agent's residence, a hook having been laid the night before,
baited with the entrails of a goat; and made fast, in the native
fashion, by a bunch of fine cords, which the creature cannot gnaw
asunder as it would a solid rope, since they sink into the spaces
between its teeth. The one taken was small, being only about ten or
eleven feet in length, whereas they are frequently killed from fifteen
to nineteen feet long. As long as it was in the water, it made strong
resistance to being hauled on shore, carrying the canoe out into the
deep channel, and occasionally raising its head above the surface, and
clashing its jaws together menacingly. This action has a horrid sound,
as the crocodile has no fleshy lips; and it brings its teeth and the
bones of the mouth together with a loud crash, like the clank of two
pieces of hard wood. After playing it a little, the boatmen drew it to
land, and when once fairly on the shore all courage and energy seemed
utterly to desert it. It tried once or twice to regain the water, but at
last lay motionless and perfectly helpless on the sand. It was no easy
matter to kill it; a rifle ball sent diagonally through its breast had
little or no effect, and even when the shot had been repeated more than
once, it was as full of life as ever.[1] It feigned death and lay
motionless, with its eye closed; but, on being pricked with a spear, it
suddenly regained all its activity. It was at last finished by a
harpoon, and then opened. Its maw contained several small tortoises, and
a quantity of broken bricks and gravel, taken medicinally, to promote

[Footnote 1: A remarkable instance of the vitality of the common
crocodile, _C. biporcatus_, was related to me by a gentleman at Galle:
he had caught on a baited hook an unusually large one, which his coolies
disembowelled, the aperture in the stomach being left expanded by a
stick placed across it. On returning in the afternoon with a view to
secure the head, they found that the creature had crawled for some
distance, and made its escape into the water.

"A curious incident occurred some years ago on the Maguruganga, a stream
which flows through the Pasdun Corle, to join the Bentolle river. A man
was fishing seated on the branch of a tree that overhung the water; and
to shelter himself from the drizzling rain, he covered his head and
shoulder with a bag folded into a shape common with the natives. While
in this attitude, a leopard sprang upon him from the jungle, but missing
its aim, seized the bag and not the man, and fell with it into the
river. Here a crocodile, which had been eyeing the angler is despair,
seized the leopard as it fell, and sunk with it to the
bottom."--_Letter_ from GOONE-RATNE Modliar, interpreter of the Supreme
Court, 10th Jany., 1861.]

During our journeys we had numerous opportunities of observing the
habits of these hideous creatures, and I am far from considering them so
formidable as they are usually supposed to be. They are evidently not
wantonly destructive; they act only under the influence of hunger, and
even then their motions on land are awkward and ungainly, their action
timid, and their whole demeanour devoid of the sagacity and courage
which characterise other animals of prey.

TESTUDINATA. _Tortoise_.--Land tortoises are numerous, but present no
remarkable features beyond the beautiful marking of the starred
variety[1], which is common in the north-western province around Putlam
and Chilaw, and is distinguished by the bright yellow rays which
diversify the deep black of its dorsal shield. From one of these which
was kept in my garden I took a number of flat ticks (_Ixodes_), which
adhere to its fleshy neck in such a position as to baffle any attempt of
the animal itself to remove them; but as they are exposed to constant
danger of being crushed against the plastron during the protrusion and
retraction of the head, each is covered with a horny case almost as
resistant as the carapace of the tortoise itself. Such an adaptation of
structure is scarcely less striking than that of the parasites found on
the spotted lizard of Berar by Dr. Hooker, each of which presents the
distinct colour of the scale to which it adheres.[2]

[Footnote 1: Testudo stellata.]


[Footnote 2: HOOKER'S _Himalayan Journals_, vol. i. p. 37.]

The marshes and pools of the interior are frequented by _terrapins_[1],
which the natives are in the habit of keeping alive in wells under the
conviction that they clear them of impurities. These fresh-water
tortoises, the greater number of which are included in the genus _Emys_
of naturalists, are distinguished by having their toes webbed. Their
shell is less convex than that of their congeners on land (but more
elevated than that of the sea-turtle); and it has been observed that the
more rounded the shell, the nearer does the terrapin approach to the
land-tortoise both in its habits and in the choice of its food. Some of
them live upon animal as well as vegetable food, and those which subsist
exclusively on the former, are noted as having the flattest shells.

[Footnote 1: _Cryptopus granum_, SCHOePF; DR. KELAART, in his _Prodromus_
(p. 179), refers this to the common Indian species, _C. punctata_; but
it is distinct. It is generally distributed in the lower parts of
Ceylon, in lakes and tanks. It is the one usually put into wells to act
the part of a scavenger. By the Singhalese it is named _Kiri-ibba_.]

The terrapins lay about thirty eggs in the course of several weeks, and
these are round, with a calcareous shell. They thrive in captivity,
provided that they have a regular supply of water and of meat, cut into
small pieces and thrown to them. The tropical species, if transferred to
a colder climate, should have arrangements made for enabling them to
hybernate during the winter: they will die in a very short time if
exposed to a temperature below the freezing point.[1]

[Footnote 1: Of the _Emys trijuga_, the fresh water tortoise figured on
preceding page, the technical characteristics are;--vertical plates
lozenge-shaped; shell convex and oval; with three more or less distinct
longitudinal keels; shields corrugated; with areola situated in the
upper posterior corner. Shell brown, with the areolae and the keels
yellowish; head brown, with a yellow streak over each eye.]

The edible turtle[1] is found on all the coasts of the island, and sells
for a few shillings or a few pence, according to its size and abundance
at the moment. A very repulsive spectacle is exhibited in the markets of
Jaffna by the mode in which the flesh of the turtle is sold piece-meal,
whilst the animal is still alive, by the families of the Tamil
fishermen. The creatures are to be seen in the market-place undergoing
this frightful mutilation; the plastron and its integuments having been
previously removed, and the animal thrown on its back, so as to display
all the motions of the heart, viscera, and lungs. A broad knife, from
twelve to eighteen inches in length, is first inserted at the left side,
and the women, who are generally the operators, introduce one hand to
scoop out the blood, which oozes slowly. The blade is next passed round,
till the lower shell is detached and placed on one side, and the
internal organs exposed in full action. A customer, as he applies, is
served with any part selected, which is cut off as ordered, and sold by
weight. Each of the fins is thus successively removed, with portions of
the fat and flesh, the turtle showing, by its contortions, that each act
of severance is productive of agony. In this state it lies for hours,
writhing in the sun, the heart[2] and head being usually the last pieces
selected, and till the latter is cut off the snapping of the mouth, and
the opening and closing of the eyes, show that life is still inherent,
even when the shell has been nearly divested of its contents.

[Footnote 1: Chelonia virgata, _Schweig_.]

[Footnote 2: ARISTOTLE was aware of the fact that the turtle will live
after the removal of the heart.--_De Vita et Morte_, ch. ii.]

At certain seasons the flesh of turtle on the south-western coast of
Ceylon is avoided as poisonous, and some lamentable instances are
recorded of deaths ascribed to its use. At Pantura, to the south of
Colombo, twenty-eight persons who had partaken of turtle in October,
1840, were immediately seized with sickness, after which coma
supervened, and eighteen died during the night. Those who survived said
there was nothing unusual in the appearance of the flesh except that it
was fatter than ordinary. Other similarly fatal occurrences have been
attributed to turtle curry; but as they have never been proved to
proceed exclusively from that source, there is room for believing that
the poison may have been contained in some other ingredient.

In the Gulf of Manaar turtle is frequently found of such a size as to
measure between four and five feet in length; and on one occasion, in
riding along the sea-shore north of Putlam, I saw a man in charge of
some sheep, resting under the shade of a turtle shell, which he had
erected on sticks to protect him from the sun--almost verifying the
statement of AElian, that in the seas off Ceylon there are tortoises so
large that several persons may find ample shelter beneath a single

[Footnote 1: [Greek: "Tiktontai de ara en taute te thalatte, kai
chelonai megistai, onper oun ta elytra orophoi ginontai kai gar esti kai
pentekaideka pechon en cheloneion, os hypoikein ouk oligous, kai tous
helious pyrodestatous apostegei, kai skian asmenois parechei."]--Lib.
xvi. c. 17. AElian copied this statement literatim from MEGASTHESES,
_Indica Frag._ lix. 31. May not Megasthenes have referred to some
tradition connected with the gigantic fossilised species discovered on
the Sewalik Hills, the remains of which are now in the Museum at the
East India House?]

The hawksbill-turtle[1], which supplies the tortoise-shell of commerce,
was at former times taken in great numbers in the vicinity of
Hambangtotte during the season when they came to deposit their eggs.
This gave rise to the trade in tortoise-shell at Point de Galle, where
it is still manufactured into articles of ornament by the Moors; but the
shell they employ is almost entirely imported from the Maldives.

[Footnote 1: Caretta imbricata, _Linn._]

If taken from the animal after death and decomposition, the colour of
the shell becomes clouded and milky, and hence the cruel expedient is
resorted to of seizing the turtles as they repair to the shore to
deposit their eggs, and suspending them over fires till heat makes the
plates on the dorsal shields start from the bone of the carapace, after
which the creature is permitted to escape to the water.[1] In
illustration of the resistless influence of instinct at the period of
breeding, it may be mentioned that the identical tortoise is believed to
return again and again to the same spot, notwithstanding that at each
visit she may have to undergo a repetition of this torture. In the year
1826, a hawksbill turtle was taken near Hambangtotte, which bore a ring
attached to one of its fins that had been placed there by a Dutch
officer thirty years before, with a view to establish the fact of these
recurring visits to the same beach.[2]

[Footnote 1: At Celebes, whence the finest tortoise-shell is exported to
China, the natives kill the turtle by blows on the head, and immerse the
shell in boiling water to detach the plates. Dry heat is only resorted
to by the unskilful, who frequently destroy the tortoise-shell in the
operation--_Journal Indian Archipel_. vol. iii. p. 227, 1849.]

[Footnote 2: BENNETT'S _Ceylon, &c._, c. xxxiv.]

An opportunity is afforded on the sea-shore of Ceylon for observing a
remarkable illustration of instinct in the turtle, when about to deposit
its eggs. As if conscious that if she went and returned by one and the
same line across the sandy beach, her hiding place would be discovered
at its farthest extremity, she resorts to the expedient of curving her
course, so as to regain the sea by a different track; and after
depositing the eggs, burying them about eighteen inches deep, she
carefully smoothes over the surface to render the precise spot
indiscernible. The Singhalese, aware of this device, sound her line of,
march with a rod till they come upon the concealed nest.

_Snakes_.--It is perhaps owing to the aversion excited by the ferocious
expression and unusual action of serpents, combined with an instinctive
dread of attack[1], that exaggerated ideas prevail both as to their
numbers in Ceylon, and the danger to be apprehended from encountering
them. The Singhalese profess to distinguish a great many kinds, of which
they say not more than one half have as yet been scientifically
identified[2]; but so cautiously do serpents make their appearance, that
the surprise of persons long resident is invariably expressed at the
rarity with which they are to be seen; and from my own journeys through
the jungle, often of from two to five hundred miles, I have frequently
returned without observing a single snake. Mr. Bennett, who resided much
in the south-east of the island, ascribes the rarity of serpents in the
jungle to the abundance of the wild peafowl, whose partiality to young
snakes renders them the chief destroyers of these reptiles. It is
likely, too, that they are killed by the jungle-cocks; for they are
frequently eaten by the common barn-door fowl in Ceylon. This is
rendered the more probable by the fact, that in those districts where
the extension of cultivation, and the visits of sportsmen, have reduced
the numbers of the jungle-cocks and pea-fowl, snakes have perceptibly
increased. The deer also are enemies of the snakes, and the natives who
have had opportunities of watching their encounters assert that they
have seen deer rush upon a serpent and crush it by leaping on it with
all its four feet. As to the venomous powers of snakes, DR. DAVY, whose
attention was carefully directed to the poisonous serpents of Ceylon[3],
came to the conclusion that but _four_, out of twenty species examined
by him, were venomous, and that of these only two (the _tic-polonga_[4]
and _cobra de capello_[5]) were capable of inflicting a wound likely to
be fatal to man. The third is the _carawala_[6], a brown snake of about
two feet in length; and for the fourth, of which only a few specimens
have been procured, the Singhalese have no name in their vernacular--a
proof that it is neither deadly nor abundant. But Dr. Davy's estimate of
the venom of the _carawala_ is below the truth, as cases have been
authenticated to me, in which death from its bite ensued within a few
days. The effect, however, is not uniformly fatal; a circumstance which
the natives explain by asserting that there are three varieties of the
carawala, named the _hil-la_, the _dunu_, and the _mal_-carawala; the
second being the largest and the most dreaded.

[Footnote 1: Genesis iii. 15.]

[Footnote 2: This is not likely to be true: in a very large collection
of snakes made in Ceylon by Mr. C.R. Butler, and recently examined by
Dr. Guenther, of the British Museum, only a single-specimen proved to be

There is, however, one venomous snake, of the existence of which I am
assured by a native correspondent in Ceylon, no mention has yet been
made by European naturalists. It is called M[=a]pil[=a] by the
Singhalese; it is described to me as being about four feet in length, of
the diameter of the little finger, and of a uniform dark brown colour.
It is said to be often seen in company with another snake called in
Singhalese _Lay Medilla_, a name which implies its deep red hue. The
latter is believed to be venomous. It would be well if some collector in
Ceylon would send home for examination the species which respectively
bear these names.]

[Footnote 3: See DAVY'S _Ceylon_, ch. xiv.]

[Footnote 4: Daboia elegans, _Daud._]

[Footnote 5: Naja tripudians, _Merr._]

[Footnote 6: Trigonocephalus hypnale, _Merr._]

In like manner, the _tic-polonga_, particularised by Dr. Davy, is said
to be but one out of seven varieties of that formidable reptile. The
word "tic" means literally the "spotted" polonga, from the superior
clearness of the markings on its scales. Another, the _nidi_, or
"sleeping" polonga, is so called from the fact that a person bitten by
it is soon prostrated by a lethargy from which he never awakes.[1] These
formidable serpents so infested the official residence of the District
Judge of Trincomalie in 1858, as to compel his family to abandon it. In
another instance, a friend of mine, going hastily to take a supply of
wafers from an open tin case which stood in his office, drew back his
hand, on finding the box occupied by a tic-polonga coiled within it.
During my residence in Ceylon, I never heard of the death of a European
which was caused by the bite of a snake; and in the returns of coroners'
inquests made officially to my department, such accidents to the natives
appear chiefly to have happened at night, when the animal, having been
surprised or trodden on, inflicted the wound in self-defence.[2] For
these reasons the Singhalese, when obliged to leave their houses in the
dark, carry a stick with a loose ring, the noise[3] of which as they
strike it on the ground is sufficient to warn the snakes to leave their

[Footnote 1: The other varieties are the _getta, lay, alu, kunu,_ and
_nil-polongas._ I have heard of an eighth, the _palla-polonga_.

Amongst the numerous pieces of folk-lore in Ceylon in connexion with
snakes, is the belief that a deadly enmity subsists between the polonga
and the cobra de capello, and that the latter, which is naturally shy
and retiring, is provoked to conflicts by the audacity of its rival.
Hence the proverb applied to persons at enmity, that "they hate like the
polonga and cobra."

The Singhalese believe the polonga to be by far the most savage and
wanton of the two, and they illustrate this by a popular legend, that
once upon a time a child, in the absence of its mother, was playing
beside a tub of water, which a cobra, impelled by thirst during a
long-continued drought, approached to drink, the unconscious child all
the while striking it with its hands to prevent the intrusion. The
cobra, on returning, was met by a tic-polonga, which seeing its scales
dripping with delicious moisture, entreated to be told the way to the
well. The cobra, knowing the vicious habits of the other snake, and
anticipating that it would kill the innocent child which it had so
recently spared, at first refused, and only yielded on condition that
the infant was not to be molested. But the polonga, on reaching the tub,
was no sooner obstructed by the little one, than it stung him to death.]

[Footnote 2: In a return of 112 coroners' inquests, in cases of death
from wild animals, held in Ceylon in five years, from 1851 to 1855
inclusive, 68 are ascribed to the bites of serpents; and in almost every
instance the assault is set down as having taken place _at night_. The
majority of the sufferers were children and women.]

[Footnote 3: PLINY notices that the serpent has the sense of hearing
more acute than that of sight; and that it is more frequently put in
motion by the sound of footsteps than by the appearance of the intruder,
"excitatur pede saepius."--Lib, viii. c. 36.]

_Cobra de Capello._--The cobra de capello is the only one exhibited by
the itinerant snake-charmers: and the truth of Davy's conjecture, that
they control it, not by extracting its fangs, but by courageously
availing themselves of its well-known timidity and extreme reluctance to
use its fatal weapons, received a painful confirmation during my
residence in Ceylon, by the death of one of these performers, whom his
audience had provoked to attempt some unaccustomed familiarity with the
cobra; it bit him on the wrist, and he expired the same evening. The
hill near Kandy, on which the official residences of the Governor and
Colonial Secretary are built, is covered in many places with the
deserted nests of the white ants (_termites_), and these are the
favourite retreats of the sluggish and spiritless cobra, which watches
from their apertures the toads and lizards on which it preys. Here, when
I have repeatedly come upon them, their only impulse was concealment;
and on one occasion, when a cobra of considerable length could not
escape, owing to the bank being nearly precipitous on both sides of the
road, a few blows from my whip were sufficient to deprive it of life.[1]

[Footnote 1: A Singhalese work, the _Sarpados[=a]_, enumerates four
castes of the cobra;--the _raja_, or king: the _bamunu_, or Brahman; the
_velanda_, or trader; and the _gori_, or agriculturist. Of these the
raja, or "king of the cobras," is said to have the head and the anterior
half of the body of so light a colour, that at a distance it seems like
a silvery white. The work is quoted, but not correctly, in the _Ceylon
Times_ for January, 1857. It is more than probable, as the division
represents the four castes of the Hindus, Chastriyas, Brahmans Vaisyas,
and Sudras; that the insertion of the _gori_ instead of the latter was a
pious fraud of some copyist to confer rank upon the Vellales, the
agricultural caste of Ceylon.]

A gentleman who held a civil appointment at Kornegalle, had a servant
who was bitten by a snake and he informed me that on enlarging a hole
near the foot of the tree under which the accident occurred, he
unearthed a cobra of upwards of three feet long, and so purely white as
to induce him to believe that it was an albino. With the exception of
the _rat-snake_[1], the cobra de capello is the only serpent which seems
from choice to frequent the vicinity of human dwellings, doubtless
attracted by the young of the domestic fowl and by the moisture of the
wells and drainage.

[Footnote 1: _Coryphodon Blumenbachii._ There is a belief in Ceylon that
the bite of the rat-snake, though harmless to man, is fatal to black
cattle. The Singhalese add that it would be equally so to man were the
wound to be touched by cow-dung. WOLF, in the interesting story of his
_Life and Adventures in Ceylon_, mentions that rat-snakes were often so
domesticated by the native as to feed at their table. He says: "I once
saw an example of this in the house of a native. It being meal time, he
called his snake, which immediately came forth from the roof under which
he and I were sitting. He gave it victuals from his own dish, which the
snake took of itself from off a fig-leaf that was laid for it, and ate
along with its host. When it had eaten its fill, he gave it a kiss, and
bade it go to its hole." Major SKINNER, writing to me 12th Dec., 1858,
mentions the still more remarkable case of the domestication of the
cobra de capello in Ceylon. "Did you ever hear," he says, "of tame
cobras being kept and domesticated about a house, going in and out at
pleasure, and in common with the rest of the inmates? In one family,
near Negombo, cobras are kept as protectors, in the place of dogs, by a
wealthy man who has always large sums of money in his house. But this is
not a solitary case of the kind. I heard of it only the other day, but
from undoubtedly good authority. The snakes glide about the house, a
terror to thieves, but never attempting to harm the inmates."]

The young cobras, it is said, in the _Sarpa-dosa_, are not venomous till
after the thirteenth day, when they shed their coat for the first time.

The Singhalese remark that if one cobra be destroyed near a house, its
companion is almost certain to be discovered immediately after,--a
popular belief which I had an opportunity of verifying on more than one
occasion. Once, when a snake of this description was killed in a bath of
the Government House at Colombo, its mate was found in the same spot the
day after; and again, at my own stables, a cobra of five feet long,
having fallen into the well, which was too deep to permit its escape,
its companion of the same size was found the same morning in an
adjoining drain.[1] On this occasion the snake, which had been several
hours in the well, swam with ease, raising its head and hood above
water; and instances have repeatedly occurred of the cobra de capello
voluntarily taking considerable excursions by sea. When the
"Wellington," a government vessel employed in the conservancy of the
pearl banks, was anchored about a quarter of a mile from the land, in
the bay of Koodremale, a cobra was seen, about an hour before sunset,
swimming vigorously towards the ship. It came within twelve yards, when
the sailors assailed it with billets of wood and other missiles, and
forced it to return to land. The following morning they discovered the
track which it had left on the shore, and traced it along the sand till
it was lost in the jungle. On a later occasion, in the vicinity of the
same spot, when the "Wellington" was lying at some distance from the
shore, a cobra was found and killed on board, where it could only have
gained access by climbing up the cable. It was first discovered by a
sailor, who felt the chill as it glided over his foot.

[Footnote 1: PLINY notices the affection that subsists between the male
and female asp; and that if one of them happens to be killed, the other
seeks to avenge its death.--Lib. viii. c. 37.]

One curious tradition in Ceylon embodies the popular legend, that the
stomach of the cobra de capello occasionally contains a precious stone
of such unapproachable brilliancy as to surpass all known jewels. This
inestimable stone is called the _n[=a]ga-m[=a]nik-kya_; but not one
snake in thousands is supposed to possess such a treasure. The cobra,
before eating, is believed to cast it up and conceal it for the moment;
else its splendour, like a flambeau, would attract all beholders. The
tales of the peasantry, in relation to it, all turn upon the devices of
those in search of the gem, and the vigilance and cunning of the cobra
by which they are baffled; the reptile itself being more enamoured of
the priceless jewel than even its most ardent pursuers.

In BENNETT'S account of "_Ceylon and its Capabilities_," there is
another curious piece of Singhalese folk-lore, to the effect, that the
cobra de capello every time it expends its poison _loses a joint of its
tail_, and eventually acquires a head resembling that of a toad. A
recent addition to zoological knowledge has thrown light on the origin
of this popular fallacy. The family of "false snakes" (_pseudo
typhlops_, as Schlegel names the group) have till lately consisted of
but three species, of which only one was known to inhabit Ceylon. They
belong to a family intermediate between the serpents and that Saurian
group-commonly called _Slow-worms_ or _Glass-snakes_; they in fact
represent the slow-worms of the temperate regions in Ceylon. They have
the body of a snake, but the cleft of their mouth is very narrow, and
they are unable to detach the lateral parts of the lower jaw from each
other, as the true snakes do when devouring a prey. The most striking
character of the group, however, is the size and form of the tail; this
is very short, and according to the observations of Professor Peters of
Berlin[1], shorter in the female than in the male. It does not terminate
in a point as in other snakes, but is truncated obliquely, the abrupt
surface of its extremity being either entirely flat, or more or less
convex, and always covered with rough keels. The reptile assists its own
movements by pressing the rough end to the ground, and from this
peculiar form of the tail, the family has received the name of
_Uropeltidae_, or "Shield-tails." Within a very recent period important
additions have been made to this family. which now consists of four
genera and eleven species. Those occurring in Ceylon are enumerated in
the List appended to this chapter. One of these, the _Uropeltis grandis_
of Kelaart[2], is distinguished by its dark brown colour, shot with a
bluish metallic lustre, closely approaching the ordinary shade of the
cobra; and the tail is abruptly and flatly compressed as though it had
been severed by a knife. The form of this singular reptile will be best
understood by a reference to the accompanying figure; and there can, I
think, be little doubt that to its strange and anomalous structure is to
be traced the fable of the transformation of the cobra de capello. The
colour alone would seem to identify the two reptiles, but the head and
mouth are no longer those of a serpent, and the disappearance of the
tail might readily suggest the mutilation which the tradition asserts.


[Footnote 1: PETERS, _De Serpentum familia Uropeltaceorum_. Berol, 4.

[Footnote 2: The _Uropeltis grandis_ of Kelaart, which was at first
supposed to be a new species, proves to be identical with _U.
Phillippinus_ of Cuvier. It is doubtful, however, whether this species
be found in the Phillippine Islands, as stated by Cuvier; and it is more
than, probable that the typical specimen came from Ceylon--a further
illustration of the affinity of the fauna of Ceylon to that of the
Eastern Archipelago. The characteristics of this reptile, as given by
Dr. GRAY, are as follows:--"Caudal disc subcircular, with large
scattered tubercles; snout subacute, slightly produced. Dark brown,
lighter below, with some of the scales dark brown in the centre near the
posterior edge. GRAY, _Proceed. Zool. Soc._ 1858, p. 262.]

The Singhalese Buddhists, in their religious abstinence from inflicting
death on any creature, are accustomed, after securing a venomous snake,
to enclose it in a basket woven of palm leaves, and to set it afloat on
a river.

_The Python._--The great python[1] (the "boa," as it is commonly
designated by Europeans, the "anaconda" of Eastern story), which is
supposed to crush the bones of an elephant, and to swallow the tiger, is
found, though not of such portentous dimensions, in the cinnamon gardens
within a mile of the fort of Colombo, where it feeds on hog-deer, and
other smaller animals.

[Footnote 1: Python reticulatus, _Gray_.]

The natives occasionally take it alive, and securing it to a pole expose
it for sale as a curiosity. One that was brought to me tied in this way
measured seventeen feet with a proportionate thickness: but one more
fully grown, which crossed my path on a coffee estate on the Peacock
Mountain at Pusilawa, considerably exceeded these dimensions. Another
which I watched in the garden at Elie House, near Colombo, surprised me
by the ease with which it erected itself almost perpendicularly in order
to scale a wall upwards of ten feet high.

The Singhalese assert that when it has swallowed a deer, or any animal
of similarly inconvenient bulk, the python draws itself through the
narrow aperture between two trees, in order to crush the bones and
assist in the process of deglutition.

It is a singular fact that the small and innocuous ground-snakes called
_Calamariae_, which abound on the continent of India and in the islands
are not to be found in Ceylon; where they would appear to be replaced by
two singular genera, the _Aspidura_ and _Haplocercus_, These latter have
only one series of shields below the tail, whilst most other harmless
snakes (_Calamaria_ included) have a double series of sub-candals. The
_Aspidura_ has been known to naturalists for many years[1]; the
_Haplocercus_ of Ceylon has only recently been described by Dr. Guenther,
and of it not more than three existing specimens are known: hence its
habits and the extent of its distribution over the island are still left
in uncertainty.[2]

[Footnote 1: Boie in Isis 1827 p. 517.]

[Footnote 2: GUeNTH. _Col. Snakes_, p. 14. In the hope that some inquirer
in Ceylon will be able to furnish such information as may fill up this
blank in the history of the haplocercus, the following particulars are
here appended. The largest of the specimens in the British Museum is
about twenty-five inches in length; the body thin, and much elongated;
the head narrow, and not distinct from the neck, the tail of moderate
length. Forehead covered by three shields, one anterior and two
posterior frontals; no loreal shield; one small shield before, two
behind the eye; seven shields along the upper lip, the eye being above
the fourth. The scales are disposed in seventeen longitudinal series;
they are lanceolate and strongly keeled. The upper parts are uniform
blackish or brown, with two dorsal rows of small indistinct black spots;
occiput with a whitish collar, edged with darker. The lower parts
uniform yellowish.]

Of ten species of snakes that ascend trees in Ceylon to search for
squirrels and lizards, and to rifle the nests of birds, one half,
including the green _carawala_, and the deadly _tic polonga_, are
believed by the natives to be venomous; but the truth of this is very
dubious. I have heard of the cobra being found on the crown of a
coco-nut palm, attracted, it was said, by the toddy which was flowing at
the time, it being the season for drawing it. Surrounding Elie House,
near Colombo, in which I resided, were a number of tall _casuarinas_ and
India-rubber trees, whose branches almost touched the lattices of the
window of the room in which I usually sat. These were a favourite resort
of the tree-snakes, and in the early morning the numbers which clung to
them were sometimes quite remarkable. I had thus an opportunity of
observing the action of these creatures, which seems to me one of
vigilance rather than of effort, the tongue being in perpetual activity,
as if it were an organ of feeling; and in those in which the nose is
elongated, a similar mobility and restlessness, especially when alarmed,
affords evidence of the same faculty.

The general characteristic of the Tree-snake is an exceedingly thin and
delicate body, often adorned with colours exquisite as those of the
foliage amongst which they live concealed. In some of the South American
species the tints vie in brilliancy with those of the humming-birds;
whilst their forms are so flexible and slender as to justify the name
conferred on them of "_whip-snakes_." The Siamese, to denote these
combinations of grace and splendour, call them "Sun-beams." A
naturalist[1], describing a bright green species in Brazil (_Philodryas
viridissimus_), writes: "I am always delighted when I find that another
tree-snake has settled in my garden. You look for a bird's nest, the
young ones have gone, but you find their bed occupied by one of these
beautiful creatures, which will coil up its body of two feet in length
within a space no larger than the hollow of your hand. They appear to be
always watchful; for at the instant you discover one, the quick playing
of the long, black, forked tongue will show you that you too are
observed. On perceiving the slightest sign of your intention to disturb
it, the snake will dart upwards through the branches and over the leaves
which scarcely appear to bend beneath the weight. A moment more, and you
have lost sight of it. Whenever I return to Europe, you may be sure that
in my hot-house those harmless, lovely creatures shall not be missing."

[Footnote 1: Dr. WUCHERER of Bahia.]

[Illustration: TREE SNAKE. Passerita fusca.]

Ceylon has several species of Tree-snakes, and one of the most common is
the green _Passerita_, easily recognized from its bright colour and from
the pointed moveable appendage, into which the snout is prolonged. The
snakes of this genus being active chiefly during the night, the pupil of
the eye is linear and horizontal. They never willingly descend from
trees, but prey there upon nocturnal Saurians, geckoes, small birds and
their young; and they are perfectly harmless, although they often try to
bite. It is strange that none of the numerous specimens which it has
been attempted to bring to Europe have ever fed in captivity; whilst in
South America they take their food freely in confinement, provided that
some green plants are placed in their cage.

In Ceylon I have never seen any specimen of a larger size than three
feet; whilst they are known to attain to more than five on the Indian

The inference is obvious, that the green coloration of the majority of
tree-snakes has more or less connection with their habits and mode of
life. Indeed, whenever a green-coloured snake is observed, it may at
once be pronounced, if slender or provided with a prehensile tail, to be
of the kind which passes its life on trees; but if it be short-bodied
then it lives on the prairies. There are nevertheless tree-snakes which
have a very different coloration; and one of the most remarkable species
is the _Passerita fusca_ or _Dryinus fuscus_, of which a figure is
annexed. It closely resembles the green Passerita in form, so that
naturalists have considered it to be a mere variety. It is entirely of a
shining brown, shot with purple, and the yellow longitudinal stripe
which runs along the side of the belly of the green species, is absent
in this one. It is much more rare than the green one, and does not
appear to be found in Hindostan: no intermediate forms have been
observed in Ceylon.

_Water-Snakes._--The fresh-water snakes, of which several species[1]
inhabit the still waters and pools, are all harmless in Ceylon. A
gentleman, who found near a river an agglutinated cluster of the eggs of
one variety (_Tropidophis schistosus_), placed them under a glass shade
on his drawing-room table, where one by one the young reptiles emerged
from the shell to the number of twenty.

[Footnote 1: Chersydrus granulatus, _Merr_.; Cerberus cinereus. _Daud._;
Tropidophis schistosus, _Daud._]

The _sea-snakes_ of the Indian tropics did not escape the notice of the
early Greek mariners who navigated those seas; and amongst the facts
collected by them, AElian has briefly recorded that the Indian Ocean
produces serpents _with flattened tails_[1], whose bite, he adds, is to
be dreaded less for its venom than the laceration of its teeth. The
first statement is accurate, but the latter is incorrect, as there is an
all but unanimous concurrence of opinion that every species of this
family of serpents is more or less poisonous. The compression of the
tail noticed by AElian is one of the principal characteristics of these
reptiles, as their motion through the water is mainly effected by its
aid, coupled with the undulating movement of the rest of the body. Their
scales, instead of being imbricated like those of land-snakes, form
hexagons; and those on the belly, instead of being scutate and enlarged,
are nearly of the same size and form as on other parts of the body.

[Footnote 1: "[Greek: Plateis tas ouras]." AELIAN, L. xvi. c. 8.

AElian speaks elsewhere of fresh-water snakes. His remark on the
compression of the tail shows that his informants were aware of this
speciality in those that inhabit the sea.]

Sea-snakes (_Hydrophis_) are found on all the coasts of Ceylon. I have
sailed through large shoals of them in the Gulf of Manaar, close to the
pearl-banks of Aripo. The fishermen of Calpentyn on the west live in
perpetual dread of them, and believe their bite to be fatal. In the
course of an attempt which was recently made to place a lighthouse on
the great rocks of the south-east coast, known by seamen as the
Basses[1], or _Baxos_, the workmen who first landed found the portion of
the surface liable to be covered by the tides, honeycombed, and hollowed
into deep holes filled with water, in which were abundance of fishes and
some molluscs. Some of these cavities also contained sea-snakes from
four to five feet long, which were described as having the head "hooded
like the cobra de capello, and of a light grey colour, slightly
speckled. They coiled themselves like serpents on land, and darted at
poles thrust in among them. The Singhalese who accompanied the party,
said that they not only bit venomously, but crushed the limb of any
intruder in their coils."[2]

[Footnote 1: The Basses are believed to be the remnants of the great
island of Giri, swallowed up by the sea.--_Mahawanso_, ch. i. p. 4. They
may possibly be the _Bassae_ of Ptolemy's map of _Taprobane_.]

[Footnote 2: Official Report to the Governor of Ceylon.]

Still, sea-snakes, though well-known to the natives, are not abundant
round Ceylon, as compared with their numbers in other places. Their
principal habitat is the ocean between the southern shores of China and
the northern coast of New Holland; and their western limit appears to be
about the longitude of Cape Comorin. It has long since been ascertained
that they frequent the seas that separate the islands of the Pacific;
but they have never yet been found in the Atlantic, nor even on the
western shores of tropical America. And if, as has been stated[1], they
have been seen on a late occasion in considerable numbers in the Bay of
Panama, the fact can only be regarded as one of the rare instances, in
which a change in the primary distribution of a race of animals has
occurred, either by an active or a passive immigration. Being
exclusively inhabitants of the sea, they are liable to be swept along by
the influence of currents; but to compensate for this they have been
endowed with a wonderful power of swimming. The individuals of all the
groups of terrestrial serpents are observed to be possessed of this
faculty to a greater or a less degree; and they can swim for a certain
distance without having any organs specially modified for the purpose;
except, perhaps, the lung, which is a long sac capable of taking in a
sufficient quantity of air, to keep the body of the snake above water.
Nor do we find any peculiar or specially adapted organs even in the
freshwater-snakes, although they can catch frogs or fishes while
swimming. But in the _hydrophids_, which are permanent inhabitants of
the ocean, and which in an adult state, approach the beach only
occasionally, and for very short times, the tail, which is rounded and
tapering in the others, is compressed into a vertical rudder-like organ,
similar to, and answering all the purposes of, the caudal fin in a fish.
When these snakes are brought on shore or on the deck of a ship, they
are helpless and struggle vainly in awkward attitudes. Their food
consists exclusively of such fishes as are found near the surface; a
fact which affords ample proof that they do not descend to great depths,
although they can dive as well as swim. They are often found in groups
during calm weather, sleeping on the sea; but owing to their extreme
caution and shyness, attempts to catch them are rarely successful; on
the least alarm, they suddenly expel the air from their lungs and
descend below the surface; a long stream of rising air-bubbles marking
the rapid course which they make below. Their poisonous nature has been
questioned; but the presence of a strong perforated tooth and of a
venomous gland sufficiently attest their dangerous powers, even if these
had not been demonstrated by the effects of their bite. But fortunately
for the fishermen, who sometimes find them unexpectedly among the
contents of their nets, sea-snakes are unable, like other venomous
serpents, to open the jaws widely, and in reality they rarely inflict a
wound. Dr. Cantor believes, that, they are blinded by the light when
removed from their own element; and he adds that they become sluggish
and speedily die.[2]

[Footnote 1: Proc. Zool. Soc. 1858.]

[Footnote 2: _Catal. Mal. Rept_. p. 136.]

[Illustration: SEA SNAKE Hydrophis subloevis]

Those found near the coasts of Ceylon are generally small,--from one to
three feet in length, and apparently immature; and it is certain that
the largest specimens taken in the Pacific do not attain to greater
length than eight feet. In colour they are generally of a greenish
brown, in parts inclining to yellow, with occasionally cross bands of
black. The species figured in the accompanying drawing is the _Hydrophis
subloevis_ of Gray; or _Hydrus cyanocinctus_ of Boie.[1] The specimen
from which the drawing is taken, was obtained by Dr. Templeton at

[Footnote 1: Its technical characteristics are as follows,--Body rather
slender; ground colour yellowish with irregular black rings. Scales
nearly smooth; ventral plates broad, six-sided, smooth, some divided
into two, by a slight central groove. Occipital shields large,
triangular, and produced, with a small central shield behind them; a
series of four large temporal shields; chin shields in two pairs; eyes
very small, over the fourth and fifth labials; one ante-and two
post-oculars; the second upper labial shield elongated.]

The use of the Pamboo-Kaloo, or snake-stone, as a remedy in cases of
wounds by venomous serpents, has probably been communicated to the
Singhalese by the itinerant snake-charmers who resort to the island from
the coast of Coromandel; and more than one well-authenticated instance
of its successful application has been told to me by persons who had
been eye-witnesses to what they described. On one occasion, in March,
1854, a friend of mine was riding, with some other civil officers of the
Government, along a jungle path in the vicinity of Bintenne, when he saw
one of two Tamils, who were approaching the party, suddenly dart into
the forest and return, holding in both hands a cobra de capello which he
had seized by the head and tail. He called to his companion for
assistance to place it in their covered basket, but, in doing this, he
handled it so inexpertly that it seized him by the finger, and retained
its hold for a few seconds, as if unable to retract its fangs. The blood
flowed, and intense pain appeared to follow almost immediately; but,
with all expedition, the friend of the sufferer undid his waistcloth,
and took from it two snake-stones, each of the size of a small almond,
intensely black and highly polished, though of an extremely light
substance. These he applied, one to each wound inflicted by the teeth of
the serpent, to which they attached themselves closely; the blood that
oozed from the bites being rapidly imbibed by the porous texture of the
article applied. The stones adhered tenaciously for three or four
minutes, the wounded man's companion in the meanwhile rubbing his arm
downwards from the shoulder towards the fingers. At length the
snake-stones dropped off of their own accord; the suffering of the man
appeared to subside; he twisted his fingers till the joints cracked, and
went on his way without concern. Whilst this had been going on, another
Indian of the party who had come up took from his bag a small piece of
white wood, which resembled a root, and passed it gently near the head
of the cobra, which the latter immediately inclined close to the ground;
he then lifted the snake without hesitation, and coiled it into a circle
at the bottom of his basket. The root by which he professed to be
enabled to perform this operation with safety he called the _Naya-thalic
Kalanga_ (the root of the snake-plant), protected by which he professed
his ability to approach any reptile with impunity.

In another instance, in 1853, Mr. Lavalliere, then District Judge of
Kandy, informed me that he saw a snake-charmer in the jungle, close by
the town, search for a cobra de capello, and, after disturbing one in
its retreat, the man tried to secure it, but, in the attempt, he was
bitten in the thigh till blood trickled from the wound. He instantly
applied the _Pamboo-Kaloo_, which adhered closely for about ten minutes,
during which time he passed the root which he held in his hand backwards
and forwards above the stone, till the latter dropped to the ground. He
assured Mr. Lavalliere that all danger was then past. That gentleman
obtained from him the snake-stone he had relied on, and saw him
repeatedly afterwards in perfect health.

The substances used on both these occasions are now in my possession.
The roots employed by the several parties are not identical. One appears
to be a bit of the stem of an Aristolochia; the other is so dried as to
render its identification difficult, but it resembles the quadrangular
stem of a jungle vine. Some species of Aristolochia, such as the _A.
serpentaria_ of North America, are supposed to act as specifics in the
cure of snakebites; and the _A. indica_ is the plant to which the
ichneumon is popularly believed to resort as an antidote when bitten[1];
but it is probable that the use of any particular plant by the
snake-charmers is a pretence, or rather a delusion, the reptile being
overpowered by the resolute action of the operator[2], and not by the
influence of any secondary appliance. In other words, the confidence
inspired by the supposed talisman enables its possessor to address
himself fearlessly to his task, and thus to effect, by determination and
will, what is popularly believed to be the result of charms and
stupefaction. Still it is curious that, amongst the natives of Northern
Africa, who lay hold of the _Cerastes_ without fear or hesitation,
impunity is ascribed to the use of a plant with the juice of which they
anoint themselves before touching the reptile[3]; and Bruce says of the
people of Sennar, that they acquire exemption from the fatal
consequences of the bite by chewing a particular root, and washing
themselves with an infusion of certain plants. He adds that a portion of
this root was given him, with a view to test its efficacy in his own
person, but that he had not sufficient resolution to make the

[Footnote 1: For an account of the encounter between the ichneumon and
the venomous snakes of Ceylon, see Ch. I. p. 39.]

[Footnote 2: The following narrative of the operations of a
snake-charmer in Ceylon is contained in a note from Mr. Reyne, of the
department of public works: "A snake-charmer came to my bungalow in
1851, requesting me to allow him to show me his snakes dancing. As I had
frequently seen them, I told him I would give him a rupee if he would
accompany me to the jungle, and catch a cobra, that I knew frequented
the place. He was willing, and as I was anxious to test the truth of the
charm, I counted his tame snakes, and put a watch over them until I
returned with him. Before going I examined the man, and satisfied myself
he had no snake about his person. When we arrived at the spot, he played
on a small pipe, and after persevering for some time out came a large
cobra from an ant hill, which I knew it occupied. On seeing the man it
tried to escape, but he caught it by the tail and kept swinging it round
until we reached the bungalow. He then made it dance, but before long it
bit him above the knee. He immediately bandaged the leg above the bite,
and applied a snake-stone to the wound to extract the poison. He was in
great pain for a few minutes, but after that it gradually went away, the
stone falling off just before he was relieved. When he recovered he held
a cloth up which the snake flew at, and caught its fangs in it; while in
that position, the man passed his hand up its back, and having seized it
by the throat, he extracted the fangs in my presence and gave them to
me. He then squeezed out the poison on to a leaf. It was a clear oily
substance, and when rubbed on the hand produced a fine lather. I
carefully watched the whole operation, which was also witnessed by my
clerk and two or three other persons. _Colombo, 13th January_
1860.--H.E. REYNE."]

[Footnote 3: Hasselquist.]

As to the snake-stone itself, I submitted one, the application of which
I have been describing, to Mr. Faraday, who has communicated to me, as
the result of his analysis, his belief that it is "a piece of charred
bone which has been filled with blood perhaps several times, and then
carefully charred again. Evidence of this is afforded, as well by the
apertures of cells or tubes on its surface as by the fact that it yields
and breaks, under pressure; and exhibits an organic structure within.
When heated slightly, water rises from it, and also a little ammonia;
and, if heated still more highly in the air, carbon burns away, and a
bulky white ash is left, retaining the shape and size of the stone."
This ash, as is evident from inspection, cannot have belonged toany
vegetable substance, for it is almost entirely composed of phosphate of
lime. Mr. Faraday adds that "if the piece of matter has ever been
employed as a spongy absorbent, it seems hardly fit for that purpose in
its present state: but who can say to what treatment it has been
subjected since it was fit for use, or to what treatment the natives may
submit it when expecting to have occasion to use it?"

The probability is, that the animal charcoal, when instantaneously
applied, may be sufficiently porous and absorbent to extract the venom
from the recent wound, together with a portion of the blood, before it
has had time to be carried into the system; and that the blood which Mr.
Faraday detected in the specimen submitted to him was that of the Indian
on whose person the effect was exhibited on the occasion to which my
informant was an eye-witness. The snake-charmers from the coast who
visit Ceylon profess to prepare the snake-stones for themselves, and to
preserve the composition a secret. Dr. Davy[1], on the authority of Sir
Alexander Johnston, says the manufacture of them is a lucrative trade,
carried on by the monks of Manilla, who supply the merchants of
India--and his analysis confirms that of Mr. Faraday. Of the three
different kinds which he examined--one being of partially burnt bone,
and another of chalk, the third, consisting chiefly of vegetable matter,
resembled bezoar,--all of them (except the first, which possessed a
slight absorbent power) were quite inert, and incapable of having any
effect except on the imagination of the patient. Thunberg was shown the
snake-stone used by the boers at the Cape in 1772, which was imported
for them "from the Indies, especially from Malabar," at so high a price
that few of the farmers could afford to possess themselves of it; he
describes it as convex on one side, black and so porous that "when
thrown into water, it caused bubbles to rise;" and hence, by its
absorbent qualities, it served, if speedily applied, to extract the
poison from the wound.[2]

[Footnote 1: _Account of the Interior of Ceylon_, ch. iii. p. 101.]

[Footnote 2: _Thunberg_, vol. i. p. 155. Since the foregoing account was
published, I have received a note from Mr. HARDY, relative to the
_piedra ponsona_, the snake-stone of Mexico, in which he gives the
following account of the method of preparing and applying it: "Take a
piece of hart's horn of any convenient size and shape; cover it well
round with grass or hay, enclose both in a thin piece of sheet copper
well wrapped round them, and place the parcel in a charcoal fire till
the bone is sufficiently charred.

"When cold, remove the calcined horn from its envelope, when it will be
ready for immediate use. In this state it will resemble a solid black
fibrous substance, of the same shape and size as before it was subjected
to this treatment.

"USE.--The wound being slightly punctured, apply the bone to the
opening, to which it will adhere firmly for the space of two minutes;
and when it falls, it should be received into a basin of water. It
should then be dried in a cloth, and again applied to the wound. But it
will not adhere longer than about one minute. In like manner it may be
applied a third time; but now it will fall almost immediately, and
nothing will cause it to adhere any more.

"These effects I witnessed in the case of a bite of a rattle-snake at
Oposura, a town in the province of Sonora, in Mexico, from whence I
obtained my recipe; and I have given other particulars respecting it in
my Travels in the Interior of Mexico, published in 1830. R.W.H. HARDY.
_Bath_, 30_th January_, 1860."]

_Coecilia_.--The rocky jungle, bordering the higher coffee estates,
provides a safe retreat for a very singular animal, first introduced to
the notice of European naturalists about a century ago by Linnaeus, who
gave it the name _Coecilia glutinosa_, to indicate two peculiarities
manifest to the ordinary observer--an apparent defect of vision, from
the eyes being so small and embedded as to be scarcely distinguishable;
and a power of secreting from minute pores in the skin a viscous fluid,
resembling that of snails, eels, and some salamanders. Specimens are
rare in Europe owing to the readiness with which it decomposes, breaking
down into a flaky mass in the spirits in which it is attempted to
preserve it.

The creature is about the length and thickness of an ordinary round desk
ruler, a little flattened before and rounded behind. It is brownish,
with a pale stripe along either side. The skin is furrowed into 350
circular folds, in which are imbedded minute scales. The head is
tolerably distinct, with a double row of fine curved teeth for seizing
the insects and worms on which it is supposed to live.

Naturalists are most desirous that the habits and metamorphoses of this
creature should be carefully ascertained, for great doubts have been
entertained as to the position it is entitled to occupy in the chain of

_Batrachians._--In the numerous marshes formed by the overflowing of the
rivers in the plains of the low country, there are many varieties of
frogs, which, both by their colours and by their extraordinary size, are
calculated to excite the surprise of a stranger. In the lakes around
Colombo and the still water near Trincomalie, there are huge creatures
of this family, from six to eight inches in length[1], of an olive hue,
deepening into brown on the back and yellow on the under side. A Kandyan
species, recently described, is of much smaller dimensions, but
distinguished by its brilliant colouring, a beautiful grass green above
and deep orange underneath[2].

[Footnote 1: A Singhalese variety of the _Rana cutipora?_ and the
Malabar bull-frog, _Hylarana Malabarica_. A frog named by BLYTH _Rana
robusta_ proves to be a Ceylon specimen of the _R. cutipora_.]

[Footnote 2: _R. Kandiana_, Kelaart.]

In the shrubberies around my house at Colombo the graceful little
tree-frogs[1] were to be found in great numbers, sheltered under broad
leaves to protect them from the scorching sun;--some of them utter a
sharp metallic sound at night, similar to that produced by smacking the

[Footnote 1: _Polypedates maculatus,_ Gray.]

In the gardens and grounds toads[1] crouch in the shade, and pursue the
flies and minute coleoptera. In Ceylon, as in Europe, these creatures
suffer from the bad renown of injecting a poison into the wound
inflicted by their bite.[2] The main calumny is confuted by the fact
that no toad has yet been discovered furnished with any teeth
whatsoever; but the obnoxious repute still attaches to the milky
exudation sometimes perceptible from glands situated on either side
behind the head; nevertheless experiments have shown, that though acrid,
the secretions of the toad are incapable of exciting more than a slight
erythema on the most delicate skins. The smell is, however, fetid and
offensive, and hence toads are less exposed to the attacks of
carnivorous animals and of birds than frogs, in which such glands do not

[Footnote 1: _Bufo melanostictus_, Schneid.]

[Footnote 2: In Ceylon this error is as old as the third century, B.C.,
when, as the _Mahawanso_ tells us, the wife of "King Asoka attempted to
destroy the great bo-tree (at Magadha) _with, the poisoned fang of a
toad._"--Ch. xx. p. 122.]

In the class of Reptiles, those only are included in the order of
Batrachians which undergo a metamorphosis before attaining maturity; and
as they offer the only example amongst Vertebrate animals of this
marvellous transformation, they are justly considered as the lowest in
the scale, with the exception of fishes, which remain during life in
that stage of development which is only the commencement of existence to
a frog.

In undergoing this change, it is chiefly the organs of respiration that
manifest alteration. In its earliest form the young batrachian, living
in the water, breathes as a fish does by _gills_, either free and
projecting as in the water-newt, or partially covered by integument as
in the tadpole. But the gills disappear as the lungs gradually become
developed: the duration of the process being on an average one hundred
days from the time the eggs were first deposited. After this important
change, the true batrachian is incapable any longer of living
continuously in water, and either betakes itself altogether to the land,
or seeks the surface from time to time to replenish its exhausted

[Footnote 1: A few Batrachians, such as the _Siren_ of Carolina, the
_Proteus_ of Illyria, the _Axolotl_ of Mexico, and the _Menobranchus_ of
the North American Lakes, retain their gills during life; but although
provided with lungs in mature age, they are not capable of living out of
the water. Such batrachians form an intermediate link between reptiles
and fishes.]

The change in the digestive functions during metamorphosis is scarcely
less extraordinary; frogs, for example, which feed on animal substances
at maturity, subsist entirely upon vegetable when in the condition of
larvae, and the subsidiary organs undergo remarkable development, the
intestinal canal in the earlier stage being five times its length in the
later one.

Of the family of tailed batrachians, Ceylon does not furnish a single
example; but of those without this appendage, the island, as above
remarked, affords many varieties; seven distinguishable species
pertaining to the genus _rana_, or true frogs with webs to the hind
feet; two to the genus _bufo_, or true toads, and five to the
_Polypedates_, or East Indian "tree-frogs;" besides a few others in
allied genera. The "tree-frog," whose toes are terminated by rounded
discs which assist it in climbing, possesses, in a high degree, the
faculty of changing its hues; and one as green as a leaf to-day, will be
found grey and spotted like the bark to-morrow. One of these beautiful
little creatures, which had seated itself on the gilt pillar of a lamp
on my dinner-table, became in a few minutes scarcely distinguishable in
colour from the or-molu ornament to which it clung.

* * * * *

_List of Ceylon Reptiles._

I am indebted to Dr. Gray and Dr. Guenther, of the British Museum, for a
list of the reptiles of Ceylon; but many of those new to Europeans have
been carefully described by the late Dr. Kelaart in his _Prodromus Fauna
Zeylanicae_ and its appendices, as well as in the 13th vol. _Magaz. Nat.
Hist._ (1854).


salvator, _Wagler._
dracaena, _Linn._
punctata, _Linn._
Hardwickii, _Gray._
Bonitae, _Dum. & Bib._
rufescens, _Shaw._
Taprobanius, _Kel._
Burtoni, _Gray._
Layardi, _Kelaart._
bramicus, _Daud._
fallax, _Peters._
oxyrhynchus, _Schn._
punctatus, _J. Muell_
philippinus, _J. Muell_
homolepis, _Hempr._
planiceps, _Peters._
Blythii, _Kelaart._
melanogaster, _Gray._
grandis, _Kelaart._
_saffragamus, Kelaart._
Ceylonica, _Cuv._
frenatus, _Schleg._
Leschenaultii, _Dum. & Bib._
trihedrus, _Daud._
maculatus, _Dum. & Bib._
Piresii, _Kelaart._
Coctoei, _Dum. & Bib._
pustulatus, _Dum._
sublaevis, _Cantor._
Peronii, _Dum. & Bib._
Kandianus, _Kelaart._
Ponticereana, _Cuv._
scutatus, _Linn._
Stoddartii, _Gray._
Tennentii, _Guenther._
bivittata, _Wiegm._
_Salea Jerdoni, Gray._
ophiomachus, _Merr._
nigrilabris, _Peters._
versicolor, _Daud._
Rouxii, _Dum. & Bib._
mystaceus, _Dum._
vulgaris, _Daud._


trigonocephala, _Latr._
hypnalis, _Merr._
elegans, _Daud._
_bicolor, Daud._
_lapemoides, Gray._
sublaevis, _Gray._
cyanocinctus, _Daud._
granulatus, _Schneid_.
cinereus, _Daud._
schistosus, _Daud._
reticulatus, _Gray._
rufa, _Schneid._
maculata, _Linn._
brachyorrhos, _Boie._
trachyprocta, _Cope._
Ceylonensis, _Guenth._
subquadratus, _Dum. & Bib._
subgriseus, _Dum. & Bib._
sublineatus, _Dum. & Bib._
Russellii, _Daud._
purpurascens, _Schleg._
collaris, _Gray._
quincunciatus, _Schleg._
var. funebris.
var. carinatus.
stolatus, _Linn._
chrysargus, _Boie._
Helena, _Daud._
Blumenbachii, _Merr._
calamaria, _Guenth._
ornata, _Shaw._
picta, _Gm._
mycterizans, _Linn._
Ceylonensis, _Guenth._
aulicus, _Linn._
carinata, _Kuhl._
fasciatus, _Schneid._
var. Ceylonensis, _Gthr._
tripudians, _Merr._


stellata, _Schweig._
Sebae, _Gray._
trijuga, _Schweigg._
imbricata, _Linn._
virgata, _Schweigg._


biporcatus. _Cuv._
palustris, _Less._


hexadactyla, _Less._
Kuhlii, _Schleg._
cutipora, _Dum. & Bib._
tigrina, _Daud._
vittigera, _Wiegm._
Malabarica, _Dum. & Bib._
Kandiana, _Kelaart._
Neuera-elliana, _Kel._
melanostictus, _Schneid._
Kelaartii, _Guenth._
variabilis, _Guenth._
leucorhinus, _Martens._
poecilopleurus, _Mart._
aurifasciatus, _Schleg._
schmardanus, _Kelaart._
maculatus, _Gray._
microtympanum, _Gth._
eques, _Guenth._
lividus, _Blyth._
macularis, _Blyth._
mutabilis, _Kelaart._
maculatus, _Kelaart._
pulchra, _Gray._
balteata, var. _Guenth._
stellata, _Kelaart._
badioflavus, _Copr._
fodiens, _Jerd._
rubrum, _Jerd._


glutinosa, _Linn._

NOTE.--The following species are peculiar to Ceylon (and the genera
Ceratophora, Otocryptis, Uropeltis, Aspidura. Cercaspis, and Haplocercus
would appear to be similarly restricted);--Lygosoma fallax; Trimesurus
Ceylonensis, T. nigromarginatus; Megaera Trigonocephala; Trigonocephalus
hypnalis; Daboia elegans; Rhinophis punctatus, Rh. homolepis, Rh.
planiceps, Rh. Blythii, Rh. melanogaster; Uropeltis grandis; Silybura
Ceylonica; Cylindrophis maculata; Aspidura brachyorrhos; Haplocercus
Ceylonensis; Oligodon sublineatus; Cynophis Helena; Cyclophis calamaria;
Dipsadomorphus Ceylonensis; Cercaspis carinata; Ixalus variabilis, I.
leucorhinus, I. poecilopleurus; Polypedates microtympanum. P. eques.



Hitherto no branch of the zoology of Ceylon has been so imperfectly
investigated as its Ichthyology. Little has been done in the examination
and description of its fishes, especially those which frequent the
rivers and inland waters. Mr. BENNETT, who was for some years employed
in the Civil Service, directed his attention to the subject, and
published in 1830 some portions of a projected work on the marine fishes
of the island[1], but it never proceeded beyond the description of
thirty individuals. The great work of Cuvier and Valenciennes[2]
particularises about one hundred species, specimens of which were
procured from Ceylon by Reynard, Leschenault and other correspondents;
but of these not more than half a dozen belong to fresh water.

[Footnote 1: _A Selection of the most Remarkable and Interesting Fishes
found on the Coast of Ceylon._ By J.W. BENNETT, Esp. London, 1830.]

[Footnote 2: _Histoire Naturelle des Poissons._]

The fishes of the coast, as far as they have been examined, present few
that are not in all probability common to the seas of Ceylon and India.
A series of drawings, including upwards of six hundred species and
varieties of Ceylon fish, all made from recently-captured specimens,
have been submitted to Professor Huxley, and a notice of their general
characteristics forms an interesting appendix to the present chapter.[1]

[Footnote 1: See note B appended to this chapter.]

Of those in ordinary use for the table the finest by far is the
Seir-fish[1], a species of Scomberoids, which is called _Tora-malu_ by
the natives. It is in size and form very similar to the salmon, to which
the flesh of the female fish, notwithstanding its white colour, bears a
very close resemblance both in firmness and flavour.

[Footnote 1: _Cybium_ (_Scomber_, Linn.) _guttatum_.]

Mackerel, carp, whitings, mullet both red and striped, perches and soles
are abundant, and a sardine (_Sardinella Neohowii_, Val.) frequents the
southern and eastern coast in such profusion that in one instance in
1839, a gentleman who was present saw upwards of four hundred thousand
taken in a haul of the nets in the little bay of Goyapanna, east of
Point-de-Galle. As this vast shoal approached the shore the broken water
became as smooth as if a sheet of ice had been floating below the

[Footnote 1: These facts serve to explain the story told by the friar
ODORIC of Friuli, who visited Ceylon about the year 1320 A.D., and says
there are "fishes in those seas that come swimming towards the said
country in such abundance that for a great distance into the sea nothing
can be seen but the backs of fishes, which casting themselves on the
shore, do suffer men for the space of three daies to come and to take as
many of them as they please, and then they return again into the
sea."--_Hakluyt_, vol. ii. p. 57.]

_Poisonous Fishes._--The sardine has the reputation of being poisonous
at certain seasons, and accidents ascribed to eating it are recorded in
all parts of the island. Whole families of fishermen who have partaken
of it have died. Twelve persons in the jail of Chilaw were thus
poisoned, about the year 1829; and the deaths of soldiers have
repeatedly been ascribed to the same cause. It is difficult in such
instances to say with certainty whether the fish were in fault; whether
there was not a peculiar susceptibility in the condition of the
recipients; or whether the mischief may not have been occasioned by the
wilful administration of poison, or its accidental occurrence in the
brass cooking vessels used by the natives. The popular belief was,
however, deferred to by an order passed by the Governor in Council in
February, 1824, which, after reciting that "Whereas it appears by
information conveyed to the Government that at three several periods at
Trincomalie, death has been the consequence to several persons from
eating the fish called Sardinia during the months of January and
December," enacts that it shall not be lawful in that district to catch
sardines during these months, under pain of fine and imprisonment. This
order is still in force, but the fishing continues notwithstanding.[1]

[Footnote 1: There are other species of Sardine found at Ceylon besides
the _S. Neohowii_; such as the _S. lineolata_, Cuv. and Val. and the _S.
leiogaster_, Cuv. and Val. xx. 270, which was found by M. Reynaud at
Trincomalie. It occurs also off the coast of Java. Another Ceylon fish
of the same group, a Clupea, is known as the "poisonous sprat;" the
bonito (_Thynnus affinis_, Cang.), the kangewena, or unicorn fish
(_Balistes?_), and a number of others, are more or less in bad repute
from the same imputation.]

_Sharks._--Sharks appear on all parts of the coast, and instances
continually occur of persons being seized by them whilst bathing even in
the harbours of Trincomalie and Colombo. In the Gulf of Manaar they are
taken for the sake of their oil, of which they yield such a quantity
that "shark's oil" is a recognised export. A trade also exists in drying
their fins, for which, owing to the gelatine contained in them, a ready
market is found in China; whither the skin of the basking shark is also
sent, to be converted, it is said, into shagreen.

_Saw Fish._--The huge _Pristis antiquorum_[1] infests the eastern coast
of the island, where it attains a length of from twelve to fifteen feet,
including the serrated rostrum from which its name is derived. This
powerful weapon seems designed to compensate for the inadequacy of the
ordinary maxillary teeth which are unusually small, obtuse, and
insufficient to capture and kill the animals which form the food of this
predatory shark. To remedy this, the fore part of the head and its
cartilages are prolonged into a flattened plate, the length of which is
nearly equal to one third of the whole body, its edges being armed with
formidable teeth, that are never shed or renewed, but increase in size
with the growth of the creature.

[Footnote 1: Two other species are found in the Ceylon waters, _P.
cuspidatus_ and _P. pectinatus_.]


The _Rays_ form a large tribe of cartilaginous fishes in which, although
the skeleton is not osseous, the development of organs is so advanced
that they would appear to be the highest of the class, approaching
nearest to amphibians. They are easily distinguished from the sharks by
their broad and flat body, the pectoral fins being expanded like wings
on each side of the trunk. They are all inhabitants of the ocean, and
some grow to a prodigious size. Specimens have been caught of twenty
feet in breadth. These, however, are of rare occurrence, as such huge
monsters usually retreat into the depths of the sea, where they are
secure from the molestation of man. It is, generally speaking, only the
young and the smaller species that approach the coasts, where they find
a greater supply of those marine animals which form their food. The Rays
have been divided into several generic groups, and the one of which a
drawing (_Aetobates narinari_[1]) is given, has very marked
characteristics in its produced snout, pointed and winged-like pectoral
fins, and exceedingly long, flagelliform tail. The latter is armed with
a strong, serrated spine, which is always broken off by the fishermen
immediately on capture, under the impression that wounds inflicted by it
are poisonous. Their fears, however, are utterly groundless, as the ray
has no gland for secreting any venomous fluid. The apprehension may,
however, have originated in the fact that a lacerated wound such as
would be produced by a serrated spine, is not unlikely to assume a
serious character, under the influence of a tropical climate. The
species figured on the last page is brownish-olive on the upper surface,
with numerous greenish-white round spots, darkening towards the edges.
The anterior annulations of the tail are black and white, the posterior
entirely black. Its mouth is transverse and paved with a band of
flattened teeth calculated to crush the hard shells of the animals on
which it feeds. It moves slowly along the bottom in search of its food,
which consists of crustacea and mollusca, and seems to be unable to
catch fishes or other quickly moving animals. Specimens have been taken

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