Page images
[blocks in formation]

equal lack of success. Finally, the cat was seen to deliberately walk up to the looking-glass, keeping its eyes on the image, and then, when near enough to the edge, to feel carefully with one paw behind for the supposed intruder, whilst with its head twisted round to the front it assured itself of the persistence of the reflection. The result of this experiment fully satisfied the cat that he had been the victim of delusion, and never would he condescend to notice mere reflections, though the trap was more than once laid for him.”

From the anatomy of the bear family, which we may now consider, it might be inferred that this group had undergone considerable modifications in structure. The parts of the skeleton, though robust and immensely strong, preclude that activity combined with prodigious muscular power so marked in the cats. Owing to the position of the feet in walking, the whole of the sole being placed on the ground, they cannot run with anything like the speed of the digitigrade members of the order, and in other respects they are comparatively ill adapted to a predatory life. The teeth correspond to those of the dog, though the canines are relatively smaller. The molars, instead of having the blade-like tubercles on their crowns, are flattened into instruments for grinding their food, the lower jaw also permitting of some lateral motion which enables them to masticate vegetable food. Whether they are flesh or vegetable eaters the teeth are the same. Their diet, however, is much mixed, and may consist of roots, grass, ants, honey, fish, or animal food, so that it is difficult to make any strict distinction on this ground. Probably those which are normally herbivorous, become, in time of need, carnivorous, and vice versâ. Thus, Mr. Leigh Smith relates in his account of the * Eira” expedition, 1881-2, that “the stomachs of the Polar bears were several times found to be full of nothing but grass,” at a time of year when animal food was certainly plentiful; yet this species, if any, would be entitled to be classed as strictly carnivorous. On the other hand, the common American black bear is said on good authority to be solely a vegetable feeder by habit



and preference, subsisting on berries and roots, and will pass animal food untouched when it can procure a sufficiency of these. It readily accommodates its appetite to a miscellaneous fare, including fish, insects, eggs, and small quadrupeds.

The family has a wide geographical range, from the Arctic circle to the tropics, and is well distributed over Europe, Asia, and America; but has no representative in the Australian and Polynesian group of islands, nor in the Eastern group of the Malayan region, and is confined to the northern portions of the African continent. In all the cooler regions the bear appears to hibernate, or at least indicates a tendency to do so; going into winter ers when fat, and remaining ensconced in a hollow tree or cave, in a state of somnolent inactivity, when the respiration becomes slow, and the store of carbonaceous material laid

up in the body is but gradually consumed. It is not, however, so apparent how the evaporation from the lungs is compensated for during a period of sleep extending over three or more months. Hibernation is mainly determined by scarcity of food in the winter months, especially in the case of herbivorous bears. There is good ground for believing that even the American brown bear frequently prowls about during the whole winter, but possibly these are only the males. The old males of the grizzly bear may be commonly seen in winter, while the young and the gravid females hibernate. The same habit, according to some Arctic explorers, prevails with the young

and males of the Polar bear ; while the old females lie up in their winter shelter in a snow drift, and there produce their cubs. Mr. Leigh Smith's party confirmed this in the winter of 1881-82. They never shot a female bear from October to the middle of March, whereas the very large males were numerous throughout the whole winter.

The most formidable' of the family is certainly the American grizzly bear, which has the reputation of attacking man“ at sight.” The beast is immensely strong, no doubt, and a man is crushed instantly in its huge arms; but we must accept with reserve the stories that credit it with killing and dragging a Hibernation of Polar Bears.


buffalo—a weight of more than half a ton, probably-along the ground, though its own weight is said to reach 8001b.

The white, or rather cream-coloured, Polar bear, has no such reputation for ferocity, though, like all the family, it fights courageously when brought to bay, or in defence of its cubs. The Eskimo have no hesitation in pursuing these bears single handed in their sledges. When they come up with the quarry, the dogs are unharnessed and rush to the attack. Surrounded and worried by these, an opportunity presents itself to the hunter, who plunges his spear under the left shoulder of the beast as it turns to seize him. In spite of the skill and determination of these men, however, they sometimes fall into the clutches of a wounded bear and get severely mauled. Stories are told, too, of bears creeping silently over the ice on their hair-padded feet, and surprising an Eskimo as he sits watching a seal hole by giving him a tap on the shoulder to remind him that his hour is come. The hunter then, it is said, has only one chance-to roll over and feign death, and take an opportunity, while his enemy is unsuspectingly surveying him, of dealing him a fatal blow. In the days of my confiding youth I read in some book on natural history of an infallible method of escaping from a bear. The fugitive had only to lie down and pretend to be dead, when Bruin would come up and carefully smell the body to ascertain whether it was breathing. So long as one could hold one's breath there was no danger, and the bear, too magnanimous to slay the slain, would pass on his way peacefully. I have never met with any trustworthy confirmation of this, though the stories current among the Eskimo are very closely related to it. So deeply did the infallibility of everything I read impress me, that I used to train hard in the exercise of holding my breath, in preparation for the time when I should go bear hunting, and should have lain down quite confidently before the most savage grizzly. However, the opportunity has never occurred, and somehow my faith in the method has departed. If the natives of North America are to be believed, we must


alter our notions of physiology very materially, for both they and the Eskimo entertain the opinion that the hibernating bears have no evacuations--stopping up all the natural outlets with grass, moss, or earth ; and the Chinese assert that they lick their paws as a substitute for food," and thence the goodness in the paws,” which, however, is not a very obvious consequence.

The Eskimo account of the hibernation of the female Arctic bear is probably substantially correct. At the beginning of winter, the female, already with young, and in excellent condition, either scoops out a hole in the snow drift, or lies down and allows herself to become buried by falling

In course of time an accumulation many feet deep takes place, and the inmate of this natural hut is to a great extent protected from the intense cold. Her breath and the warmth of her body thaw a space around her, and a communication is also thus kept up with the external air by a small aperture overhead. In this singular lair the young are born, after an unknown period of gestation, and subsist on their mother entirely until they come forth in the spring as cubs of considerable growth. From three to four months has been given as the probable term of gestation. In answer to my inquiries, Dr. John Rae, F.R.S., whose journeys on foot and by sledge along the Arctic coasts and among the islands exceeded 6000 miles, and brought him more into contact with the Eskimo than any other traveller, informs me that he has been unable to ascertain the duration of the period.

There is something so remarkable in these circumstances of reproduction that we cannot but wonder how they were brought about. It would seem to be more advantageous to both mother and young that the family should come into the world when the spring is well advanced, and food both plentiful and accessible, than that they should subsist on her for possibly two months, and reduce her to a living skeleton at a time when she cannot

procure food.

Geology may perhaps throw some light on the subject. The latest British Arctic Expedition brought home a valuable

Intelligence of Bears.


collection of fossil plants. The evidence from these and others points conclusively to a mean temperature for Greenland of quite 30deg. Fahrenheit higher than at present in Meiocene, or at the earliest late Eocene times, when the lime, maple, plane, and even the evergreen magnolia flourished in those high latitudes. Trees and shrubs covered those far northern regions with abundant vegetation; the Grinnell Land bed of lignite indicates a peat moss, and in those now desolate and mostly glacier-covered wastes the delicate water-lily put forth its beautiful blossoms in spring. How different the picture of lands within the Arctic circle then and at present! The period of rich vegetation in those regions must have been co-existent with, and dependent on, very different seasonal conditions, arising from the varying eccentricity of the earth's orbit and the fluctuating position of its axis, as Dr. James Croll has so ably shown in his work, “ Climate and Time.” A luxuriant flora is not conceivably possible with months of unbroken darkness, and the alternations of the seasons must then have approximated to those prevailing now in the British Isles.

The Polar bear may be a survival from this Meoicene period of temperate climate, when hibernation, if it took place, was of short duration, including the term of gestation, but not extending to the birth of the young. The advent of a progressively colder winter temperature and decreasing supplies of food may then have forced the gravid, and in that condition less active, female bears to prolong the time of hibernation until the cubs, which in former times would have been born into a world waking with a genial spring, now enter upon their independent existence buried beneath a snow drift, and must there wait their release by the warmth of the sun.

The recorded examples of intelligence on the part of bears are not nearly so numerous as those of some other animals, but enough are extant to show that their mental powers are of a high character. I recollect when a boy seeing a bear go through a performance which implied probably as much intelligence as that possessed by the average dog at least. The

« PreviousContinue »