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The enormous Reptile from which this genus derives its name belongs to the same subdivision of that class as the agile Lizard and the many-hued Cham?leon, with which it was comprehended by Linn?us under the single generic title of Lacerta. This group has subsequently been elevated to the rank of an order, consisting of numerous genera, among which the Crocodiles are distinguished by the following characters. Their toes are five in number on the anterior feet, and four on the posterior; their sharp and conical teeth are arranged in a single series in each jaw; their tongue is flat, fleshy, and closely attached almost to its very edge; and their bodies are clothed with large, thick, square scales, the[232] upper of which are surmounted by a strong keel, those of the tail forming superiorly a dentated crest, double at its origin.

In making these observations it is far from our intention to become the apologists of this ferocious beast: our object is simply to place him in the rank which he deserves to hold, on a level with those animals with whom Nature has decreed that he should be associated no less in character than in form. In his wild and unrestricted state, he is unquestionably one of the most terrible of the living scourges, to whose fatal ravages the lower animals, and even man himself, are exposed. But in captivity, and especially if domesticated while young, his temper is equally pliant, his disposition equally docile, and his manners and character equally susceptible of amelioration, with those of any other animal of his class. All the stories that have been so frequently reiterated, until they have at length passed current without examination as accredited truths, of his intractable disposition and insensibility to the kind treatment of his keepers, towards whom it is alleged that he never exhibits the slightest feelings of gratitude, have been proved by repeated experience to be utterly false and groundless. He is tamed with as much facility, and as completely, as the Lion; and soon becomes familiarised with those who feed him, whom he learns to distinguish from others, and by whom he is fond of being noticed and caressed. Like the cat, which he resembles so closely in all his actions, he arches his broad and powerful back beneath the hand that caresses him; he licks his fur and smooths himself with his paws; and purrs in the same mild and expressive manner when he is particularly pleased. He[32] remains perfectly quiet and undisturbed, unless when hungry or irritated, and passes the greater part of his time in listless repose. His roar is nearly similar to that of the Lion, and, like his, is by no means to be regarded as a symptom of anger, which he announces by a short and shrill cry, approaching to a scream.

This tremendous animal appears to be most commonly found in the neighbourhood of the Rocky Mountains, especially on the well wooded plains which skirt the eastern declivity of that lofty and extensive range, among thick copses of brush and underwood, and on the banks of the water-courses which descend in innumerable petty streams from their sources in the hills. In these wild solitudes, rarely trodden by the foot of civilized man, and visited only by the savage Indians of the neighbouring tribes, who have not yet learned to bow the neck beneath the yoke of the exterminating conqueror, he reigns the almost undisputed tyrant of the forest. Few among the animals which share with him his barbarous habitation are fleet enough to escape him in the chase; and none, when fairly placed within his reach, are powerful enough to withstand his overwhelming force. Even the sturdy and formidable Bison, the wild bull of North America, is incapable of offering any effectual resistance to the furious impetuosity of his attack; and[125] an illustration of the extent of his muscular power is afforded by the fact that after having destroyed his victim, he will drag its ponderous carcase to some convenient spot, where he will dig a pit for its reception, and deposit it for a season, returning to his feast from time to time as the calls of hunger may dictate, until his store is exhausted and he is again reduced to the necessity of looking abroad for a fresh supply.

Cervus Equinus. Cuv.

Of all the quadrupeds which inhabit the northern regions of the American continent, the Grizzly Bear is unquestionably the most formidable and the most dreaded. Superior to the rest of his tribe, not excepting even the polar species, in bulk, in power, in agility, and in the ferocity of his disposition, it is not to be wondered at that he should be regarded by the native Indians with an almost superstitious terror, and that some portion of this feeling should have been communicated even to the civilized travellers, who have occasionally met with him in the wild and desolate regions which are subject to his devastations. In the Journals of some of these[124] travellers we find recorded such astonishing instances of his strength, ferocity, and extraordinary tenacity of life as would indeed amaze us, were we not aware how much the human mind is prone, under certain circumstances, to fall into exaggeration, in many cases most certainly unintentional. Making, however, all due allowances for the existence of this very natural feeling, we are bound to acknowledge that there are few animals who can compete with this terrible beast; and that to be made the object of his pursuit is an occurrence well calculated to alarm the stoutest heart, even when provided with the most certain and deadly weapons of human invention, guided by the most experienced eye, and directed by the steadiest hand.

The mother and her whelps are admirably represented in the spirited group of portraits which heads the present article. The latter have all the playfulness of kittens,[15] and are fondled by their dam in a similar manner to that in which the domestic cat caresses her young. While they were small enough she carried them from place to place in her mouth, and showed the greatest solicitude to keep them from the view of strangers; and even now that they are grown too large for this mode of treatment, she continues to pay the strictest attention to the cleanliness of their persons, and licks their fur, as they tumble about her, with all the matronly dignity and gravity of an accomplished nurse.

THE SECRETARY BIRD.