« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Bahia Blanca-Geology-Numerous gigantic extinct Quadrupeds-Recent Extinction-Longevity of Species-Large Animals do not require a luxuriant vegetation--Southern Africa-Siberian Fossils-Two Species of Ostrich--Habits of Oven-bird-Armadilloes-Venomous Snake, Toad, Lizard-Hybernation of Animals-Habits of Sea-Pen-Indians Wars and Massacres-Arrow-head, antiquarian Relic.
THE Beagle arrived here on the 24th of August, and a week afterwards sailed for the Plata. With Captain Fitz Roy's consent I was left behind, to travel by land to Buenos Ayres. I will here add some observations, which were made during this visit and on a previous occasion, when the Beagle was employed in surveying the harbour.
The plain, at the distance of a few miles from the coast, belongs to the great Pampean formation, which consists in part of a reddish clay, and in part of a highly calcareous marly rock. Nearer the coast there are some plains formed from the wreck of the upper plain, and from mud, gravel, and sand thrown up by the sea during the slow elevation of the land, of which elevation we have evidence in upraised beds of recent shells, and in rounded pebbles of pumice scattered over the country. At Punta Alta we have a section of one of these later-formed little plains, which is highly interesting from the number and extraordinary character of the remains of gigantic land-animals embedded in it. These have been fully described by Professor Owen, in the Zoology of the voyage of the Beagle, and are deposited in the College of Surgeons. I will here give only a brief outline of their nature.
First, parts of three heads and other bones of the Megatherium, the huge dimensions of which are expressed by its name. Secondly, the Megalonyx, a great allied animal. Thirdly, the Scelidotherium, also an allied animal, of which I obtained a
nearly perfect skeleton. It must have been as large as a rhinoceros in the structure of its head it comes, according to Mr. Owen, nearest to the Cape Ant-eater, but in some other respects it approaches to the armadilloes. Fourthly, the Mylodon Darwinii, a closely related genus of little inferior size. Fifthly, another gigantic edental quadruped. Sixthly, a large animal, with an osseous coat in compartments, very like that of an armadillo. Seventhly, an extinct kind of horse, to which I shall have again to refer. Eighthly, a tooth of a Pachydermatous animal, probably the same with the Macrauchenia, a huge beast with a long neck like a camel, which I shall also refer to again. Lastly, the Toxodon, perhaps one of the strangest animals ever discovered: in size it equalled an elephant or megatherium, but the structure of its teeth, as Mr. Owen states, proves indisputably that it was intimately related to the Gnawers, the order which, at the present day, includes most of the smallest quadrupeds: in many details it is allied to the Pachydermata: judging from the position of its eyes, ears, and nostrils, it was probably aquatic, like the Dugong and Manatee, to which it is also allied. How wonderfully are the different Orders, at the present time so well separated, blended together in different points of the structure of the Toxodon!
The remains of these nine great quadrupeds, and many detached bones were found embedded on the beach, within the space of about 200 yards square. It is a remarkable circumstance that so many different species should be found together; and it proves how numerous in kind the ancient inhabitants of this country must have been. At the distance of about thirty miles from P. Alta, in a cliff of red earth, I found several fragments of bones, some of large size. Among them were the teeth of a gnawer, equalling in size and closely resembling those of the Capybara, whose habits have been described; and therefore, probably, an aquatic animal. There was also part of the head of a Ctenomys; the species being different from the Tucutuco, but with a close general resemblance. The red earth, like that of the Pampas, in which these remains were embedded, contains, according to Professor Ehrenberg, eight fresh-water and one saltwater infusorial animalcule; therefore, probably, it was an estuary deposit.
The remains at Punta Alta were embedded in stratified gravel
and reddish mud, just such as the sea might now wash up on a shallow bank. They were associated with twenty-three species of shells, of which thirteen are recent and four others very closely related to recent forms; whether the remaining ones are extinct or simply unknown, must be doubtful, as few collections of shells have been made on this coast. As, however, the recent species were embedded in nearly the same proportional numbers with those now living in the bay, I think there can be little doubt, that this accumulation belongs to a very late tertiary period. From the bones of the Scelidotherium, including even the knee-cap, being intombed in their proper relative positions, and from the osseous armour of the great armadillo-like animal being so well preserved, together with the bones of one of its legs, we may feel assured that these remains were fresh and united by their ligaments, when deposited in the gravel together with the shells. Hence we have good evidence that the above enumerated gigantic quadrupeds, more different from those of the present day than the oldest of the tertiary quadrupeds of Europe, lived whilst the sea was peopled with most of its present inhabitants; and we have confirmed that remarkable law so often insisted on by Mr. Lyell, namely, that the "longevity of the species in the mammalia is upon the whole inferior to that of the testacea.”*
The great size of the bones of the Megatheroid animals, including the Megatherium, Megalonyx, Scelidotherium, and Mylodon, is truly wonderful. The habits of life of these animals were a complete puzzle to naturalists, until Professor Owen† lately solved the problem with remarkable ingenuity. The teeth indicate, by their simple structure, that these Megatheroid animals lived on vegetable food, and probably on the leaves and small twigs of trees; their ponderous forms and great strong curved claws seem so little adapted for locomotion, that some eminent naturalists have actually believed, that, like the sloths, to which they are intimately related, they subsisted by climbing back downwards on trees, and feeding on the leaves. It was a bold,
*Principles of Geology, vol. iv. p. 40.
f. This theory was first developed in the Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle, and subsequently in Professor Owen's Memoir on Mylodon ro bustus.
not to say preposterous, idea to conceive even antediluvian trees, with branches strong enough to bear animals as large as elephants. Professor Owen, with far more probability, believes that, instead of climbing on the trees, they pulled the branches down to them, and tore up the smaller ones by the roots, and so fed on the leaves. The colossal breadth and weight of their hinder quarters, which can hardly be imagined without having been seen, become, on this view, of obvious service, instead of being an incumbrance: their apparent clumsiness disappears. With their great tails and their huge heels firmly fixed like a tripod on the ground, they could freely exert the full force of their most powerful arms and great claws. Strongly rooted, indeed, must that tree have been, which could have resisted such force! The Mylodon, moreover, was furnished with a long extensile tongue like that of the giraffe, which, by one of those beautiful provisions of nature, thus reaches with the aid of its long neck its leafy food. I may remark, that in Abyssinia the elephant, according to Bruce, when it cannot reach with its proboscis the branches, deeply scores with its tusks the trunk of the tree, up and down and all round, till it is sufficiently weakened to be broken down.
The beds including the above fossil remains, stand only from fifteen to twenty feet above the level of high-water; and hence the elevation of the land has been small (without there has been an intercalated period of subsidence, of which we have no evidence) since the great quadrupeds wandered over the surrounding plains; and the external features of the country must then have been very nearly the same as now. What, it may naturally be asked, was the character of the vegetation at that period; was the country as wretchedly sterile as it now is? As so many of the co-embedded shells are the same with those now living in the bay, I was at first inclined to think that the former vegetation was probably similar to the existing one; but this would have been an erroneous inference, for some of these same shells live on the luxuriant coast of Brazil; and generally, the character of the inhabitants of the sea are useless as guides to judge of those on the land. Nevertheless, from the following considerations, I do not believe that the simple fact of many gigantic quadrupeds having lived on the plains round Bahia Blanca, is
FOOD OF LARGE QUADRUPEDS.
any sure guide that they formerly were clothed with a luxuriant vegetation: I have no doubt that the sterile country a little southward, near the Rio Negro, with its scattered thorny trees, would support many and large quadrupeds.
That large animals require a luxuriant vegetation, has been a general assumption which has passed from one work to another ; but I do not hesitate to say that it is completely false, and that it has vitiated the reasoning of geologists on some points of great interest in the ancient history of the world. The prejudice has probably been derived from India, and the Indian islands, where troops of elephants, noble forests, and impenetrable jungles, are associated together in every one's mind. If, however, we refer to any work of travels through the southern parts of Africa, we shall find allusions in almost every page either to the desert character of the country, or to the numbers of large animals inhabiting it. The same thing is rendered evident by the many engravings which have been published of various parts of the interior. When the Beagle was at Cape Town, I made an excursion of some days' length into the country, which at least was sufficient to render that which I had read more fully intelligible.
Dr. Andrew Smith, who, at the head of his adventurous party, has lately succeeded in passing the Tropic of Capricorn, informs me that, taking into consideration the whole of the southern part of Africa, there can be no doubt of its being a sterile country. On the southern and south-eastern coasts there are some fine forests, but with these exceptions, the traveller may pass for days together through open plains, covered by a poor and scanty vegetation. It is difficult to convey any accurate idea of degrees of comparative fertility; but it may be safely said that the amount of vegetation supported at any one time* by Great Britain, exceeds, perhaps even tenfold, the quantity on an equal area, in the interior parts of Southern Africa. The fact that bullock-waggons can travel in any direction, excepting near the coast, without more than occasionally half an hour's delay in cutting down bushes, gives, perhaps, a more definite
I mean by this to exclude the total amount, which may have been successively produced and consumed during a given period.