The Naturalist in Nicaragua, by Thomas Belt

Chapter 11.

Start on journey to Segovia. Rocky mountain road. A poor lodging. The rock of Cuapo. The use of large beaks in some birds. Comoapa. A native doctor. Vultures. Flight of birds that soar. Natives live from generation to generation on the same spot. Do not give distinctive names to the rivers. Caribs barter guns and iron pots for dogs. The hairless dogs of tropical America. Difference between artificial and natural selection. The cause of sterility between allied species considered. The disadvantages of a covering of hair to a domesticated animal in a tropical country.

IN July of the same year, 1872, I made the longest journey of any I undertook in Nicaragua. It had been for some time difficult to obtain sufficient native labourers for our mines, and, as we contemplated extending our operations, it was very important that it should be ascertained whether or not we could depend upon obtaining the additional workmen that would be required. Nearly all our native miners came from the highlands of the province of Segovia, near to the boundary of Honduras. The inhabitants of the lower country are mostly vacqueros, used to riding on horseback after cattle, and not to be tempted, even by the much higher wages they can obtain, to engage in the toilsome labour of underground mining. The inhabitants of Segovia, on the contrary, have been miners from time immemorial, and it is work they readily take to. I had often desired to see for myself what supply of labour could be obtained, but the journey was a long and toilsome one, and it was not until the labour question became urgent that I resolved to undertake it.


Having determined on the journey, I soon completed my preparations. I took my Mestizo boy, Rito, with me; Velasquez was to join me on the road; a pack-mule carried our equipment, consisting of some bread, rugs, a large waterproof sheet, a change of clothes, and a hammock. We started at seven o’clock on the morning of the 11th July, and, as usual, made very slow progress through the forest as far as Pital, in consequence of the badness of the road, which was now worse than when I had passed over it a month before. After reaching the savannahs, we proceeded more rapidly. We followed the Juigalpa road until we got two leagues beyond Libertad, when we turned more to the north, taking a path that led over mountain ranges. This road was very rocky and steep; we were continually ascending or descending, and as it rained all the afternoon, the footing for our beasts was very bad. I was riding on a horse, and he not being so sure-footed or so cautious as a mule, often stumbled on the steep and slippery slopes. In some places the path led along the top of the narrow ridge of a long hog-backed hill; in others, by a series of zigzags, we surmounted or came down the precipitous slopes. I nearly came to grief at one place. We had climbed up one of the steep hills, and at the top a rocky shelf or cap had to be leaped, at right angles to the narrow path that slanted up the face of the hill. I put my horse to it, but he slipped on the smooth rock and fell. If he had gone back over the narrow path, he must have rolled down the abrupt slope; but he made another spring, fell again, but this time with his fore-feet over the rock, and on the third attempt scrambled over and landed me safely on the top, but, I confess, much shaken in my seat. My straw-hat came off in the struggle, and was rolling merrily down the hill, when it was caught in a low bush, much to Rito’s satisfaction, who was anticipating a long tramp after it. We had a fine view from the top of this range over a deep valley, bounded with precipitous cliffs and dark patches of forest. Over our heads floated drifting rain-clouds from the north-east that sometimes concealed the mountain tops, sometimes lifted and showed their craggy summits.

Our beasts were tired out with the rough travelling, and we moved along slowly. About five o’clock we came in sight of the rock of Cuapo, an isolated perpendicular cliff rising about 300 feet above the top of a hill that it crowns. After descending a long, steep range, we reached, near dusk, a small hut, called Tablason, and here we determined to pass the night, although the accommodation was about the scantiest possible. A man and his wife, six children, and a woman to grind the maize for tortillas, lived in the hut. The greatest portion of it was quite open at the sides, without even a fence to keep out the pigs. At one end a place about ten feet square was partitioned off from the rest, and surrounded with mud-walls, and in this the whole family slept. Both the people and the house were very dirty. The remains of a broken chair was the only furniture, excepting the rough bedsteads made by inserting four sticks into the ground, on which were laid two long poles, kept apart by two shorter ones at the end, over which rude frame a dry hide was stretched. I was offered one of these couches for the night, and accepted it; though if it had not been for the rain I would rather have slept outside, but all around was sloppy and wet; night had set in; our mules and horse were tired; we ourselves were fatigued, and there was no other shelter within several miles. They had no food to sell us, and appeared to have nothing for themselves, excepting a few tortillas and a little home-made cheese. We opened out some of our preserved meats. Whilst I was eating, the whole family crowded around me, apparently never having seen any one eat with a fork before. Fortunately we had brought candles with us, or we should have been in darkness, for they had none; nor did they appear to use them, as they had no candlesticks, and the children and our host himself took it by turns to hold our lights. All wore ragged, dirty cotton clothes, that only half-covered them. They had four cows, and pigs, dogs, and poultry. The land around was fertile; they might take as much of it as they liked to cultivate, and, with a little trouble, might have grown almost anything; but the blight of Central America — the curse of idleness, was upon them, and they were content to live on in squalid poverty rather than work.

We were so tired that, notwithstanding our miserable and crowded quarters, we slept soundly, but were up at daylight, and soon ready for our journey again, after Rito had made a little coffee, and I had compensated our host for our lodging. The scenery around was very fine, and the place might have been made an earthly paradise. To the north-east a spur of the forest came down to within a mile of the house; in front were grassy hills and clumps of brushwood and trees, with a clear gurgling stream in the bottom; and beyond, in the distance, forest-clad mountains. As usual, the family had a pet animal. Before we left, a pretty fawn came in from the forest to be fed, and eyed us suspiciously, laying its head back over its shoulders, and gazing at us with its large, dreamy-looking eyes. The woman told us it had a wild mate in the woods, but came in daily to visit them, the dogs recognising and not molesting it. Our road still lay within a few miles of the dark Atlantic forest, the clouds lying all along the first range, concealing more than they exposed. There was a sort of gloomy grandeur about the view; so much was hidden, that the mind was left at liberty to imagine that behind these clouds lay towering mountains and awful cliffs. The road passed within a short distance of the rock of Cuapo, and, leaving my horse with Rito, I climbed up towards it. A ridge on the eastern side runs up to within about 200 feet of the summit, and so far it is accessible. Up this I climbed to the base of the brown rock, the perpendicular cliff towering up above me; here and there were patches of grey, where lichens clung to the rock, and orchids, ferns, and small shrubs grew in the clefts and on ledges. There were two fine orchids in flower, which grew not only on the rock, but on some stunted trees at its base; and beneath some fallen rocks nestled a pretty club-moss, and two curious little ferns (Aneimea oblongifolia and hirsuta), with the masses of spores on stalks rising from the pinnules. The rock was the same as that of Pena Blanca, but the vegetation was entirely distinct. To the south-west there was a fine view down the Juigalpa valley to the lake, with Ometepec in the distance, and some sugar-loaf hills nearer at hand. The weather had cleared up, white cumuli only sailed across the blue aerial ocean. The scene had no feature in it of a purely tropical character, excepting that three gaudy macaws were wheeling round and round in playful flight, now showing all red on the under surface, then turning all together, as if they were one body, and exhibiting the gorgeous blue, yellow, and red of the upper side gleaming in the sunshine; screaming meanwhile as they flew with harsh, discordant cries. This gaudy-coloured and noisy bird seems to proclaim aloud that it fears no foe. Its formidable beak protects it from every danger, for no hawk or predatory mammal dares attack a bird so strongly armed. Here the necessity for concealment does not exist, and sexual selection has had no check in developing the brightest and most conspicuous colours. If such a bird was not able to defend itself from all foes, its loud cries would attract them, its bright colours direct them, to its own destruction. The white cockatoo of Australia is a similar instance. It is equally conspicuous amongst the dark-green foliage by its pure white colour, and equally its loud screams proclaim from afar its resting-place, whilst its powerful beak protects it from all enemies excepting man. In the smaller species of parrots the beak is not sufficiently strong to protect them from their enemies, and most of them are coloured green, which makes them very difficult to distinguish amongst the leaves. I have been looking for several minutes at a tree, in which were scores of small green parrots, making an incessant noise, without being able to distinguish one; and I recollect once in Australia firing at what I thought was a solitary “green leek” parrot amongst a bunch of leaves, and to my astonishment five “green leeks” fell to the ground, the whole bunch of apparent leaves having been composed of them. The bills of even the smallest parrots must, however, be very useful to them to guard the entrances to their nests in the holes of trees, in which they breed.

I believe that the principal use of the long sharp bill of the toucan is also that of a weapon with which to defend itself against its enemies, especially when nesting in the hole of a tree. Any predatory animal must face this formidable beak if seeking to force an entrance to the nest; and I know by experience that the toucan can use it with great quickness and effect. I kept a young one of the largest Nicaraguan species (Ramphastus tocard) for some time, until it one day came within reach of and was killed by my monkey. It was a most comical looking bird when hopping about, and though evidently partial to fruit, was eager after cockroaches and other insects; its long bill being useful in picking them out of crevices and corners. It used its bill so dexterously that it was impossible to put one’s hand near it without being struck, and the blow would always draw blood. That in the tropics birds should have some special development for the protection of their breeding-places is not to be wondered at when we reflect upon the great number of predatory mammals, monkeys, raccoons, opossums, etc., that are constantly searching about for nests and devouring the eggs and young ones. I have already mentioned the great danger they run from the attacks of the immense armies of foraging ants, and the importance of having some means of picking off the scouts, that they may not return and scent the trail for the advance of the main body, whose numbers would overcome all resistance.

After examining round the rock without finding any place by which it could be ascended, I rejoined Rito in the valley below, and we continued our journey. We passed over some ranges and wide valleys, where there was much grass and a few scattered huts, but very little cattle; the country being thinly populated. On the top of a rocky range we stayed at a small house for breakfast, and they made us ready some tortillas. As usual, there seemed to be three or four families all living together, and there were a great number of children. The men were two miles away at a clearing on the edge of the forest, looking after their “milpas,” or maize patches. The house, though small, was cleaner and tidier than the others we had seen, and in furniture could boast of a table and a few chairs, which showed we had chanced to fall on the habitation of one of the well-to-do class. The ceiling of the room we were in was made of bamboo-rods, above which maize was stored. The women were good-looking, and appeared to be of nearly pure Spanish descent; which perhaps accounted for the chairs and table, and also for the absence of any attempt at gardening around the house — for the Indian eschews furniture, but is nearly always a gardener.

We finished our homely breakfast and set off again, crossing some more rocky ranges, and passing several Indian huts with orange trees growing around them, and at two o’clock in the afternoon reached the small town of Comoapa, where I determined to wait for Velasquez. Looking about for a house to stay at, we found one kept by a woman who formerly lived at Santo Domingo, and who was glad to receive us; though we found afterwards she had already more travellers staying with her than she could well accommodate.

I had shot a pretty mot-mot on the road, and proceeded to skin it, to the amusement and delight of about a dozen spectators, who wondered what I could want with the “hide” of a bird, the only skinning that they had ever seen being that of deer and cattle. A native doctor, who was staying at the house, insisted on helping me, and as the mot-mot’s skin is very tough, he did not do much harm. The bird had been shot in the morning, and some one remarking that no blood flowed when it was cut, the doctor said, with a wise air, that that class of birds had no blood, and that he knew of another class that also had none, to which his auditors gave a satisfied “Como no” (“Why not?”). He also gave us to understand that he had himself at one time skinned birds, for being evidently looked up to as an authority on all subjects by the simple country people, he was unwilling that his reputation should suffer by it being supposed that a stranger had come to Comoapa who knew something that he did not. Having skinned my bird and put the skin out in the sun to dry, I took a stroll through the small town, and found it composed mostly of huts inhabited by Mestizos, with a tumble-down church and a weed-covered plaza. Around some of the houses were planted mango and orange trees, but there was a general air of dilapidation and decay, and not a single sign of industry or progress visible.

Velasquez arrived at dusk, having ridden from Libertad that day. About a dozen of us slung our hammocks in the small travellers’ room, where, when we had all gone to rest, we looked like a cluster of great bats hanging from the rafters. No one could get along the room without disturbing every one else, and the next morning all were early astir. We got our animals saddled as soon as possible, and set off on our journey. It was a clear and beautiful morning, and a cool breeze from the north-east fanned us as we rode blithely over grassy savannahs and hills. High up in the air soared a couple of large black vultures, floating on the wind, and describing large circles without apparent movement or exertion, scanning from their airy height the country for miles around, on the look-out for their carrion food. Like all birds that soar, both over sea and land, when it is calm the vultures are obliged to flap their wings to fly; but when a breeze is blowing they are able to use their specific gravity as a fulcrum, by means of which they present their bodies and outstretched wings and tails at various angles to the wind, and literally sail. How often, when becalmed on southern seas, when not a breath of air was stirring and the sails idly flapped against the mast, have I seen the albatross, the petrel, and the Cape-pigeon resting on the water, or rising with difficulty, and only by the constant motion of their long wings able to fly at all. But when a breeze sprang up they were all life and motion, wheeling in graceful circles, now presenting one side, now the other to view, descending rapidly with the wind, and so gaining velocity to turn and rise up again against it. Then, as the breeze freshened to a gale, the petrels darted about, playing round and round the scudding ship, at home on the wings of the storm, poising themselves upon the wind as instinctively and with as little effort as a man balances himself on his feet. The old times recurred as I rode over the savannah, and the soaring vultures brought back to my mind the wheeling stormy petrels that darted about whilst under close-reefed topsails we struggled against the gale, rounding the stormy southern cape; when great blue seas, “green glimmering towards the summit,” towered on every side, or struck our gallant ship like a sledge, making it shiver with the blow, and sending a driving cloud of spray from stem to stern. Then the petrels were in their element; then they darted about — above, below, now here, now there — all life and motion; as if their chief pleasure was, like Ariel, “to ride on the curled cloud” and “point the tempest.”1

1 The Duke of Argyll, in his “Reign of Law”, has some excellent remarks on the flight of birds that soar, or hover. My remarks, of which the above account is a paraphrase, were written out in my journal in 1852, but were not published.

We were travelling nearly parallel with the edge of the great forest which was two or three miles away on our right; in all other directions the view was bounded by ranges, some grassed to their tops, others with forests climbing up their steep sides, excepting where white cliffs gave no foothold for the trees. We passed several grass-thatched huts inhabited by half-clad Indians or Mestizos, who generally possess a few cows, and, away on the edge of the forest, small clearings of maize. These people, with unlimited fertile land at their disposal, were all sunk in what looked like squalid poverty; but they had a roof over their heads, and sufficient, though coarse, food, and they cared for nothing more. Our road lay a couple of miles to the north of the village of Huaco, where much of the maize of the province is grown; the road then led over many swampy valleys, and our beasts had hard work plunging through the mud. We passed through La Puerta, a scattered collection of Indian huts; then over a river called the Aguasco, running to the east, and probably emptying into the Rio Grande. There were a few orange trees about some of the huts, but most of the people were Mestizes, or half-breeds, and nothing but weeds grew around their habitations. Their plantations of maize were always some miles distant, and they never seem to think of moving their houses nearer to their clearings on the edge of the forest. Nearly always when I asked the question, I found that the grown-up people had been born on the spot where they lived, and they are evidently greatly attached to the localities where they have been brought up. Probably when the settlements were first made, forest land lay near, in which they made their clearings and raised their crops of corn. Since then the edge of the forest has been beaten back some miles to the north-east; but the people cling to the old spots, where, generation after generation, their ancestors have lived and died. A new house could be built in a few days, closer to the forest; but they prefer travelling several miles every day to and from their clearings, rather than desert their old homes.

Beyond the Aguasco, we had to travel over a swampy plain for about a mile, our animals plunging all the time through about three feet of mud. This plain was covered with thousands of guayava trees, laden with sufficient fruit to make guava jelly for all the world. After floundering through the swamp, we reached more savannahs, and then entered a beautiful valley, well grassed, and with herds of fine cattle, horses, and mules grazing on it. The grass was well cropped, and looked like pasture-land at home. The ground was now firmer, and we got more rapidly across it. A flock of wild Muscovy ducks flew heavily across the plain, looking very like the tame variety. I do not wonder at sportsmen sometimes being unwilling to fire at them, mistaking them for domestic ducks. The tame variety is very prolific, and sits better on its eggs than the common duck. I have seen twenty ducklings brought out at a single hatching. They are good eating, and a large one has nearly as much flesh upon it as an average-sized goose.

About dusk on these plains, which extended around for several miles, we reached the cattle hacienda of Olama, where was a large tile-roofed house, near a river of the same name. The natives of Nicaragua seldom give distinctive names to their rivers, but call them after the towns or villages on their banks. Thus, at Olama, the river was called the Olama river; higher up, at Matagalpa, the same stream is called the Matagalpa river; and at Jinotego the Jinotego river. The Caribs, however, who live on the rivers, and use them as highways, have names for them all; but to the agricultural Indians and Mestizos of the interior, they are but reservoirs of water, crossed at distant points by their roads, and everywhere amongst them I found the greatest ignorance prevailing as to the connection of the different streams, and their outflow to the ocean. All the streams about Olama flow eastward, and join together to form the Rio Grande, that reaches the Atlantic about midway between Blewfields and the river Wanks. It is very incorrectly marked on all the maps of Nicaragua that I have seen.

The Caribs from the lower parts of the river occasionally come up in their canoes to Olama, and bring with them common guns and iron pots that they have obtained from the mahogany cutters at the mouth of the river. These they barter for dogs. I could not ascertain what they wanted with the dogs, but both at this place and at Matagalpa I was told of the great value the Caribs put on them. Although the people of Olama expressed great surprise that the “Caritos,” as they call the river Indians, should take so much trouble to obtain dogs, they had not had the curiosity to ask them what they wanted them for. Some people near the river have even commenced to rear dogs to supply the demand. The Caribs had a special liking for black ones, and did not value those of any other colour so much. They would barter a gun or a large iron pot for a single dog, if it was of the right colour.

The common dogs of Central America are a mongrel breed — not differing, I believe, from those of Europe. There are usually a number of curs about the Indian houses that run out barking at a stranger, but seldom bite.

The hairless dogs, mentioned by Humboldt, as being abundant in Peru,1 are not common in Central America, but there are a few to be met with. At Colon I saw several. They are of a shining dark colour, and are quite without hair, excepting a little on the face and on the tip of the tail. Both in Peru and Mexico this variety was found by the Spanish conquerors. It would be interesting to have these dogs compared with the hairless dogs of China, which Humboldt says have certainly been extremely common since very early times. Perhaps another link might be added to the broken chain of evidence that connects the peoples of the two countries.

1 “Aspects of Nature” volume 1 page 109.

A large naked dog-like animal is figured by Clavigero as one of the indigenous animals of Mexico. It was called Xoloitzcuintli by the Mexicans; and Humboldt considers it was distinct from the hairless dog, and was a large dog-like wolf. Its name does not support this view; Xoloitzcuintli literally means “a servant dog,” from “Xolotl,” a slave or servant, and itzcuintli, a dog; and we find the word Xolotl in Huexlotl, the Aztec name of the common turkey, which was domesticated by them, and largely used as food. I am led to believe from this that Xolotl was applied to any animal that lived in the house or was domesticated, and that the Xoloitzcuintli was merely a large variety of the hairless dog. Clavigero’s description of it would fit the hairless dog of the present day very well, excepting the size; he says it was four feet long, totally naked, excepting a few stiff hairs on its snout, and ash coloured, spotted with black and tawny.

Tschudi makes two races of indigenous dogs in tropical America.

1. The Canis caraibicus (Lesson), without hair, and which does not bark. 2. The Canis ingae (Tschudi), the common hairy dog, which has pointed nose and ears, and barks.1

1 J.J. von Tschudi quoted by Humboldt “Aspects of Nature” English edition volume 1 page 111.)

The small eatable dog of the Mexicans was called by them Techichi; and Humboldt derives the name from Tetl, a stone, and says that it means “a dumb dog,” but this appears rather a forced derivation. Chichi is Aztec for “to suck;” and it seems to me more probable that the little dogs they eat, and which are spoken of by the Spaniards as making very tender and delicate food, were the puppies of the Xoloitzcuintli, and that Techichi meant “a sucker.”

Whether the hairless dog was or was not the Techichi of which the Mexicans made such savoury dishes is an open question, but there can be no doubt that the former was found in tropical America by the Spanish conquerors, and that it has survived to the present time, with little or no change. That it should not have intermixed with the common haired variety, and lost its distinctive characters, is very remarkable. It has not been artificially preserved, for instead of being looked on with favour by the Indians, Humboldt states that in Peru, where it is abundant, it is despised and ill-treated. Under such circumstances, the variety can only have been preserved through not interbreeding with the common form, either from a dislike to such unions, or by some amount of sterility when they are formed. This is, I think, in favour of the inference that the variety has been produced by natural and not by artificial selection, for diminished fertility is seldom or never acquired between artificial varieties.

Man isolates varieties, and breeds from them, and continuing to separate those that vary in the direction he wishes to follow, a very great difference is, in a comparatively short time, produced. But these artificial varieties, though often more different from each other than some natural species, readily interbreed, and if left to themselves rapidly revert to a common type. In natural selection there is a great and fundamental difference. The varieties that arise can seldom be separated from the parent form and from other varieties until they vary also in the elements of reproduction. Thousands of varieties probably revert to the parent type, but if at last one is produced that breeds only with its own form, we can easily see how a new species might be segregated. As long as varieties interbreed together and with the parent form, it does not seem possible that a new species could be formed by natural selection, excepting in cases of geographical isolation. All the individuals might vary in some one direction, but they could not split up into distinct species whilst they occupied the same area and interbred without difficulty. Before a variety can become permanent, it must be either separated from the others or have acquired some disinclination or inability to interbreed with them. So long as they interbreed together, the possible divergence is kept within narrow limits, but whenever a variety is produced, the individuals of which have a partiality for interbreeding, and some amount of sterility when crossed with the parent form, the tie that bound it to the central stock is loosened, and the foundation is laid for the formation of a new species. Further divergence would be unchecked, or only slightly checked, and the elements of reproduction having begun to vary, would probably continue to diverge from the parent form, for Darwin has shown that any organ in which a species has begun to vary is liable to further change in the same direction.1 Thus one of the best tests of the specific difference of two allied forms living together is their sterility when crossed, and nearly allied species separated by geographical barriers are more likely to interbreed than those inhabiting the same area. Artificial selection is more rapid in its results, but less stable than that of nature, because the barriers that man raises to prevent intermingling of varieties are temporary and partial, whilst that which nature fixes when sterility arises is permanent and complete.

1 “See Animals and Plants under Domestication” volume 2 page 241.

For these reasons I think that the fact that the hairless dog of tropical America has not interbred with the common form, and regained its hairy coat, is in favour of the inference that the variety has been produced by natural and not by artificial selection. By this I do not mean that it has arisen as a wild variety, for it is probable that its domestication was an important element amongst the causes that led to its formation, but that it has not been produced by man selecting the individuals to breed from that had the least covering of hairs. I cannot agree with some eminent naturalists that the loss of a hairy covering would always be disadvantageous. My experience in tropical countries has led me to the conclusion that in such parts at least there is one serious drawback to the advantages of having the skin covered with hair. It affords cover for parasitical insects, which, if the skin were naked, might more easily be got rid of.

No one who has not lived and moved about amongst the bush of the tropics can appreciate what a torment the different parasitical species of acarus or ticks are. On my first journey in Northern Brazil, I had my legs inflamed and ulcerated from the ankles to the knees from the irritation produced by a minute red tick that is brushed off the low shrubs, and attaches itself to the passer-by. This little insect is called the “Mocoim” by the Brazilians, and is a great torment. It is so minute that except by careful searching it cannot be perceived, and it causes an intolerable itching. If the skin were thickly covered with hair, it would be next to impossible to get rid of it. Through all tropical America, during the dry season, a brown tick (Ixodes bovis), varying in size from a pin’s head to a pea, abounds. In Nicaragua, in April, they are very small, and swarm upon the plains, so that the traveller often gets covered with them. They get upon the tips of the leaves and shoots of low shrubs, and stand with their hind-legs stretched out. Each foot has two hooks or claws, and with these it lays hold of any animal brushing past. All large land animals seem subject to their attacks. I have seen them on snakes and iguanas, on many of the large birds, especially on the curassows. They abound on all the large mammals, and on many of the small ones. Sick and weak animals are particularly infested with them, probably because they have not the strength to rub and pick them off, and they must often hasten, if they do not cause their death. The herdsmen, or “vacqueros,” keep a ball of soft wax at their houses, which they rub over their skin when they come in from the plains, the small “garrapatos” sticking to it, whilst the larger ones are picked off. How the small ones would be got rid of if the skin had a hairy coat I know not, but the torment of the ticks would certainly be greatly increased.

There are other insect parasites, for the increase and protection of which a hairy coating is even more favourable than it is for the ticks. The Pediculi are specially adapted to live amongst hair, their limbs being constructed for clinging to it. They deposit their nits or eggs amongst it, fastening them securely to the bases of the hairs. Although the pediculi are almost unknown to the middle and upper classes of civilised communities, in consequence of the cleanliness of their persons, clothing, and houses, they abound amongst savage and half-civilised people. A slight immunity from the attacks of acari and pediculi might in a tropical country more than compensate an animal for the loss of its hairy coat, especially in the case of the domesticated dog, which finds shelter with its master, has not to seek for its food at night, and is protected from the attacks of stronger animals. In the huts of savages dogs are greatly exposed to the attacks of parasitical insects, for vermin generally abound in such localities. Man is the only species amongst the higher primates that lives for months and years — often indeed from generation to generation — on the same spot. Monkeys change their sleeping places almost daily. The ourang-outang, that makes a nest of the boughs of trees, is said to construct a fresh one every night. The dwelling places of savages, often made of, or lined with, the skins of animals, with the dusty earth for a floor, harbour all kinds of insect vermin, and produce and perpetuate skin disease, due to the attacks of minute sarcopti. If the dog by losing its hair should obtain any protection from these and other insect pests, instead of wondering that a hairless breed of dogs has been produced in a tropical country, I am more surprised that haired ones should abound. That they do so must, I think, be owing to man having preferred the haired breeds for their superior beauty and greater variety, and encouraged their multiplication.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32