BLTC Press Titles

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Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller

Vanity Fair

William Thackery

Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois

A popular history of reptiles

by Popular history


Some physiologists adopt the term Spini-cerebrata, in preference to the term Vertebrata. The term Spinicerebrata, means possessing a spinal chord and brain, and is expressive of the great characteristics of this section. Works on two classes of the Vertebrata, namely, Quadrupeds and Birds, have already been published by the Religious Tract Society; and following up the series, we devote the present volume to the Reptiles.

Reptiles form one of the most remarkable of the vertebrate classes of the animal kingdom; and a general survey of these creatures will show the wonderful variety of form and structure, which adapts them for different localities.



The beauty of some, resplendent with burnished hues, glittering in the sun like steel and gold; the size, strength, and ferocity of others; the deadly weapons of some, which render them terrible even to man; the strange and uncouth aspect of others; and the habits of all, combine to render them both interesting and instructive to the observant mind.

Some are tenants of the land, some of the ocean, many of the river and the morass, and some are even arboreal in their habits, living amidst the foliage of the trees, intertwined with the branches, or flitting with birdlike celerity from leaf to leaf, and spray to spray, in pursuit of their insect food. The hotter regions of our globe are the great nursery of the reptiles; they teem within the tropical latitudes : there, they swarm in sandy deserts, among dense and tangled brushwood, in humid forests, and wide-spread and pestilential swamps; they colonize the mouldering ruins of ancient towns and cities, temples and palaces; and often lurk in the abodes of man, unsuspected till discovered by accident. It is in these regions that the largest, the most terrible, and the most deadly of their race abound. Tortoises and turtles of huge bulk there crawl on the land, or row themselves through the water. Crocodiles and alligators dart through the broad river, or skulk, waiting for their prey, among the luxuriant herbage of its banks; there the boa and the python are ever ready to entwine the unwary victim in their sinewy folds; there the cerastes lies concealed in the sand, the lance-headed viper lurks in the plantations of sugar-cane, and the cobra, with its hooded head and fiery eyes, startles the wanderer among the ruins of antiquity, and hisses threats and defiance. But if the most terrific abound in these regions, the elegant and the beautiful abound also: tortoises with painted shells; harmless little lizards, enamelled with glossy green and gold, and active as the bird; innoxious snakes, freckled, ringed, and spotted with the most lively tints in exquisite contrast; tree frogs, dyed with azure, green, and rosy red, springing, all life and activity, from leaf to leaf; and flying lizards, sweeping on expanded parachutes from tree to tree, the tiny mimics of the fabulous dragons of romance and superstition.

As we approach the more temperate latitudes of the globe, we observe a gradual diminution in the number of the reptile part of its animal population; we find none terrible from their size, and but a small number to be dreaded for their poison. As we pass still farther northwards, a few species which are harmless, and one or two besides, furnished with poison fangs, but capable of destroying creatures of small size only, or of a weak frame, constitute the representatives of the fierce, the gigantic, and the deadly, which revel in the thronged regions of the intertropics.

The viper, for example, of England, and northern Europe, is the representative in our latitude of the numerous deadly snakes which infest the countries of the hotter latitudes; and the common ringed snake, a harmless animal, takes the place of the mighty python of Bengal and Java.

Leaving these colder latitudes, the outskirts, so to speak, of the reptile world, and advancing to the countries of the polar circles, we no longer find the snake, the lizard, the toad, or the frog: the low state of the temperature, the condition of the land and the water, and the deficiency of such creatures as constitute their food, namely, snails, insects, and small animals, combine to exclude them from these desolate regions.

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