A series of articles by Edward Newman.
Zoologist of 1873, Second Series – Vol. VIII.
Part 1. September issue pages 3861-3876.
Part 2. October issue pages 3701-3711
Part 3. November issue pages 3741-3759
Part 1; Official Handbook to the Marine Aquarium of the Crystal Palace Aquarium Company (Limited).
By W. A. Lloyd, Superintendent of the Aquarium. Fifth Edition, revised and enlarged.
The Aquarium is an Institution, a great institution, and in its present form a novel institution; but I venture to believe a lasting institution: it has passed through two eras, and has entered on a third; the first, which endured for a decade, say from 1830 to 1840, was very humble, very instructive - almost wholly utilitarian; the second, which endured for two decades, say from 1840 to 1860, was literary, poetic and fashionable; and the third, upon which we have boldly and vigorously entered, may be styled commercial and ambitious: the first was the humble handmaid of Science; the second the servant of fashion; and the third the child of speculation. I need scarcely say the first decade had my entire and zealous sympathy; the second my amused attention; and the third my boundless admiration of the results obtained, without exciting much interest in its progress as a commercial venture.
Three pitfalls - shall I call them crotchets? - have beset the path of the aquarian author: first, the idea of planting the aquarium as a marine lettuce garden; secondly, the idea of making it the theme of a lecture on taste; and thirdly, the idea of dictating the mode in which the prisoners shall breathe. Mr. Lloyd has not merely avoided the first of these, but has taught others to avoid it, and to allow Nature to be her own gardener; into the second and third, like Quintius Curtius, he has leaped headlong, generously sacrificing himself for the benefit of Science, or what he conscientiously believes to be Science. I will bestow a few lines on each of these crotchets, or ideas, or pitfalls, call them which you will.
i. The Gardening Crotchet. - We all know that botanists divide sea-weeds into three series, the olive, the red, and the green, and our three most esteemed authors on aquariums, Gosse, Rymer Jones, and Warington, have thought it desirable to plant the aquarium with one or other of these series: these eminent naturalists seem equally unaware that you cannot transplant a sea-weed from the ocean into your parlour; much less can you select a peculiar colour: Nature will plant all the sea-weeds she requires, and will brook no advice or assistance from man. I have often smiled at the instructions given under this head, and have wondered whether the authors have discovered and avowed their error. Let us hear Mr Gosse, who has been followed in a like strain by every dabbler in aquarian literature. I quote from 'The Aquarium,' p. 21.
"The first point to be attended to is the procuring of living sea-weeds, the vegetable element in the combination which is displayed in the Aquarium. And this must be the first thing, whether we are stocking a permanent tank, or merely collecting specimens for temporary examination, as we cannot preserve the animals in health for a single day except by the help of plants to re-oxygenate the exhausted water. By their means, however, nothing is easier than to have an Aquarium on almost as small a scale as we please; and every visitor to the sea-side, though there for ever so brief a stay, may enjoy, with the least possible trouble, the amenities of zoological study in a soup-plate, or even in a tumbler. * * * * Suppose the time to be the first or second day after full or new moon, when the tide recedes to its greatest extent, laying bare large tracts of surface that are ordinarily covered by the sea. This is the most suitable time for procuring sea weeds, for these must be taken in a growing state; and hence the specimens that are washed on shore, and which serve very well for laying out on paper, are utterly useless for our purpose. With a large, covered, collecting-basket, a couple of wide-mouthed stone jars, a similar one of glass, two or three smaller phials, a couple of strong hammers, and the same number of what are technically termed cold chisels, tipped with steel, I proceed with an attendant to some one of the ledges of black rock that project like long slender tongues into the sea. An unpractised foot would find the walking precarious and dangerous, for the rocks ore rough and sharp, and the dense matting of black bladder-weed with which they are covered conceals many abrupt and deep clefts beneath its slimy drapery. These fissures, however, are valuable to us. We lift up the hanging mass of olive weed from the edge, and find the sides of the clefts often fringed with the most delicate and lovely forms of sea-weed; such, for example, as the winged Delesseria, which grows in thin, much-cut leaves of the richest crimson hue, and the feathery Ptilota of a duller red. Beneath the shadow of the coarser weeds, delights also to grow the Chondrus in the form of little leafy bushes, each leaf widening to a flattened top. When viewed growing in its native element this plant is particularly beautiful, for its numerous leaves glow with refulgent reflections of azure resembling the colour of tempered steel.* * * *High wading boots are necessary for this purpose. * * * * The most valuable plant of all for our purpose is the sea-lettuce." - 'The Aquarium,' pp. 21 to 28 inclusive.
We must eliminate all this advice and much more which will be found throughout Chapter II. of 'The Aquarium’; we must make a bundle of the collecting-basket, the two strong hammers, the two cold chisels, the two wide-mouthed stone jars, the one glass ditto, and all the paraphernalia of sea-weed collecting, and all aquarium books and aquarium advice, and all aquarium poetry and romance, if we would utilize the aquarium and make it a source of improvement and instruction.
ii. The Lecture on Taste. - Mr, Lloyd has, I think, gone rather out of his way in his lecture on taste: we have become familiar with Mr. Ruskin's idea of imitation; he condemns everything that is not real, not bonâ_fide; a mantelpiece painted to imitate marble is one of his familiar examples; and thus Mr. Lloyd condemns the introduction of imitation cromlechs, imitation grottoes and imitation arches beneath the surface of the water. This section of aquarian literature admits great latitude of opinion, and I am quite willing to allow ornamentation to take its course; all attempts to restrain or direct it must seem rather pragmatical to those who think differently, and will certainly be unavailing.
iii. The Crotchet on Lung-breathing. - My friend introduces a broad distinction between animals that breathe in the sea by means of lungs and by means of gills; and would forbid us to keep porpoises, because their respiratory organs differ from those of sharks. No such restriction as this is rational: a porpoise or dolphin is as legitimate an object for the aquarium as a dog-fish or a skate; I would even introduce a spermaceti whale, did not his magnitude and muscular powers suggest certain difficulties both to his transit and to his captivity. I hope Mr. Lloyd will abandon this crotchet, and will exhibit a school of porpoises careering in his tank as soon as the Company can afford one sufficiently capacious.
Eliminating these three crotchets: the transplanting, because false in principle and impossible in practice; taste, because its laws are not to be defined and dismissed in this off-hand manner; and the rejection of lung-breathers, because their presence would greatly enhance the interest of an aquarium, and because Nature, who knows so much better than ourselves, admits them in abundance, associating lung-breathers and gill-breathers, making them mutually dependent, and we must not expect to improvise a better form of government than her own: it appears to me a very grave if not a fatal mistake to reject the teachings of Nature and substitute others in their stead. It cannot fail to strike the thoughtful mind that this mixing up of creatures differently; constituted, differently organized, is the only method by which each will be constantly provided with the food and conditions adapted for the well-being of itself and the continuance of its kind. If you would confine tenants of the sea, make their cage as like the sea as possible; if you would keep the tenants of a river, make your prison-house a miniature river. Take a lesson from the gardener: associate phanerogams and cryptogams, the orchid and the passion-flower, with the fern and the Lycopodium: Nature does this, and the gardener copies her and succeeds to perfection.
Era I. Utilitarian.
The birth of the aquarium is of such remote antiquity that we fail to ascertain the date with any certainty. The point at which any vessel containing water and fishes becomes an aquarium is equally open to discussion. There is abundant reason to suppose that the Chinese and the Japanese bad their fresh-water aquariums thousands of years before the Christian era; the Romans certainly had theirs; but in neither of these instances is there any evidence of their being considered, as now, a noteworthy institution; by the Romans they were established for economic purposes and nothing more. I do not know whether such vessels are again mentioned until 1669, when Mr. Pepys in his Diary, under date 38 May, 1665, as cited by Mr. Lloyd, observes, "Thence to see my Lady Pen, where my wife and I were shown a fine rarity; of fishes kept in a glass of water, that will live for ever - and finely marked they are, being foreign." I consider this brief passage of infinite interest; were I in a severely critical mood I might object to the expression "live for ever," because I doubt whether any created being enjoys perpetuity of existence; but waiving this objection, I think the passage establishes the fact that fishes were kept in confinement at Lady Pen's in 1665; and that Mr. Pepys was informed that they had this extraordinary vitality. It is rather a notable fact that we know of no instances of fishes dying or being deteriorated by age: we never bear complaints of a sole, or a turbot, or a salmon, being old and hence objectionable: this can scarcely be asserted of our taurine or anserine, or even gallinaceous, food.
Coming down to later times, we find that in 1743 our countryman Baker distinctly represented specimens of Hydra viridis kept in water in an upright glass vessel.
It appears from the works of Esper, published continuously from 1771 to 1784, that that distinguished entomologist constantly kept aquatic insects in water: he has given us most interesting particulars concerning them, and seems to have been delighted in observing their longevity in confinement; he particularly mentions a male individual of Dytiscus marginalis, a carnivorous water beetle, that lived three years and six months in his aquarium; and James Francis Stephens many years subsequently, commenting on this seemingly extraordinary fact, attributes this prolonged life to enforced celibacy. Esper has left no record, so far as I am aware, of the plan or principle of his aquarium, and I believe only this single record of his success.
Simultaneously with Esper, Gilbert White seems to have utilized the aquarium for observation: the first edition of his ' Natural History of Selbome,' printed in 1789, but written in 1781, has the following passage: - "When I happen to visit a family where gold and silver fishes are kept in a glass bowl, 1 am always pleased with the occurrence, because it offers me an opportunity of observing the actions and propensities of those beings with whose lives we can be little acquainted in their natural state. Not long since I spent a fortnight at the house of a friend, where there was such a vivary, to which I paid no small attention, taking every care to remark what passed within its narrow limits." This great naturalist, for great he really was in his singular acuteness of observation and scrupulous truthfulness of narration, thus utilized an aquarium, although calling it by another name: his observations on the manner of death in fishes, on the structure of their eyes, and on their mode of progression, the pectorals being employed for gentle motion, and the caudal for "shooting along with inconceivable rapidity," show to what good purpose he devoted these opportunities of observing.
I have met with no evidence of experiments or arrangements of the same kind until, in 1830, my esteemed and respected friend James Scott Bowerbank, then residing at No. 19, Critchell Place, New North-road, continuously and successfully utilized the aquarium in his researches into the "Circulation of the Blood in Insects." Of all investigators I ever knew, Dr. Bowerbank was the most enthusiastic, the most persevering, the most successful, and the most willing to impart his discoveries to others. I have always considered my introduction to Dr. Bowerbank one of the most fortunate events of my life, and the hours that I have spent under his tuition as the most delightful and most worthy of remembrance. Let us see what Dr. Bowerbank did with his aquarium. Cuvier's 'Règne Animal' was published in 1824, and contains the following paragraph: —
"Dans les animaux qui n'ont pas do circulation, notamment dans les insectes, le fluide nourricier baigne toutes les parties; chacune d'elles y puise les molecules nècessaires à son entretien; s'il faut qae quelqnue liquide soit produit, des vaisseaux propres flottent dans le fluide nourricier, et y pompent, par leur pores, le éléments nécessarires à la composition de ce liquide." - ' Régne Animal,' vol i. p. 37.
The English translation renders the passage thus:-
"In animals that have no circulation, in insects particularly, the parts are all bathed in the nutritive fluid; each of these parts draws from it what it requires, and if the production of a liquid be necessary, proper vessels floating in the fluid take up by their pores the constituent elements of that fluid." - 'Animal Kingdom,' vol. i. p. 18.
No sooner had I read this than I expressed my dissent from such a doctrine; I felt certain that insects possessed a circulation. Whether influenced by a desire to bring Cuvier's dictum to the experimentum crucis, or from a simple and characteristic thirst for truth, Mr. Bowerbank went into the question heart and soul. Throughout the years 1831 and 1832 he worked hard at the important question whether or no insects possess a circulation: to this end he sallied forth on larva-hunting expeditious with the late Mr. Tully, the celebrated optician, with one of whose excellent instruments his microscopic researches were conducted. "He [Mr. Tully] told me," says Mr. Bowerbank, "all about these larvae, and where to obtain them, and that they must be kept in the water to which they were accustomed; so we always adhered to that plan, for we found that if we brought them home in a very little water, and added a considerable quantity from the house cistern, the water thus added generally killed nearly all of them; so I employed a man to take an earthen jar that would hold at least a gallon of the very water in which the larvae were found; this I poured into the glass prepared for it, putting in a little Conferva and a few water-snails, Limnea peregra, and the smaller species of Planorbis, in the water, and floating a little duck-weed on the surface: then the glass was placed in the sun, so as to assimilate the condition of the little captures as nearly as possible to what it had been when in the ponds on Hampstead Heath in which they had been hatched, and in which they were found. Treated thus they continued alive and well, without change of water, and thus I was enabled to continue the observation for nearly two years."
Although in this passage the words "aquarium," "balance of life," and "compensating principle" do not occur, it is very evident that Mr. Bowerbank was aware of the use of vegetation in maintaining life supporting properties in stagnant water and the necessity also of imitating the natural conditions of the animals he desired to keep therein. To this hour none of us have advanced further with fresh water, and success only results from keeping these objects steadily in view. Mr. Bowerbank's paper was finished on the 1st of October, 1832, and was published at p. 239 of the ‘Entomological Magazine’ for April, 1833. 1 need scarcely say that it placed the author at once at the head of all observers in this branch of Entomological Science. I regard it as the best, if not the first instance of thoroughly utilizing the compensation principle of the fresh-water aquarium: plants to evolve oxygen, animals to consume it.
In the same year Professor Daubeny read, at the Cambridge meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, a paper communicating the result of researches he was then making on the subject of confining animals and plants together in water, in the course of which be established beyond dispute that it was the illuminating and not the beating powers of the sun's rays which caused the evolution of oxygen from plants. He then went on to say that the plants not only evolved oxygen but assimilated carbon from the poisonous carbonic-acid gas which results from the respiration of animals, decomposing it and rendering it harmless. Finally, be asserted boldly “that the influence of the vegetable might serve as a complete compensation for that of the animal kingdom.” Thus he seems by inductive reasoning and possibly by seeing the successful results in many parlours in London, to have perceived as clearly, as he expressed happily, the theory and practice of the aquarium; but it must be recorded that while everyone else was succeeding to admiration, Dr. Daubeny utterly failed in reducing his theory to practice, and his establishment for exhibiting the compensatory process was totally unsuccessful.
Imitation is the inevitable tribute, the sweet-smelling incense, offered on the altar of obvious success. I will not presume to express a doubt of the originality of many of those who set up aquariums between 1830 and 1840, but I think that most of us are incited to the act by Mr. Bowerbank's successful example; Goring and Pritchard admit the fact; they even quote Mr. Bowerbank as the authority for their doings. I was a similar imitator of my friend: after seeing his captives, and watching the unspeakable grace and beauty of their movements, I caught at once at this new field of observation. In January, 1832, I commenced operations with a water-net made of cheese-cloth: the Woolwich Marshes and Wandsworth Common were the scenes of my exploits, and a large white basin my first aquarium: some of the results were published at p. 315 of the first volume of the 'Entomological Magazine' in 1833, simultaneously with Mr. Bowerbank's; I made my appearance as an aquarian, as I may truly say, hanging on by the skirts of my leader's coat. I soon became absorbed in the denizens of the white basin, and they were as speedily transferred to a more convenient receptacle, an upright glass jar, where they lived in health for a very considerable time, but the only observation published in 1833 was that "the carnivorous water-beetles, Dytiscus, Colymbetes, Acilius, Hydroporus, &c., in swimming moved their hind legs simultaneously, striking out with great vigour in the same way as a frog; whereas the herbivorous water-beetles. Hydrous, Hydrophilus, &c., moved their hind legs alternately, thus making weaker strokes and progressing in the water much more slowly. Professor Westwood, at pp. 97 and 123 of the first volume of his ‘Modem Classification’, did me the honour to copy, endorse and adopt my observations. I might here introduce a multitude of jottings on the manners and customs of water-beetles in confinement, but I forbear.
In the years 1836, 1837 and 1838 my friend Mr. Edwards, a most accurate and painstaking observer, then residing at 17, High-street, Shoreditch, by means of his aquarium, made himself thoroughly acquainted with one of the most deeply interesting and unexpected facts ever discovered in the entire range of Natural History - I allude to the nidification of sticklebacks. It was not until fourteen years afterwards that Mr. Warington, going over the same ground, observed the same facts, and recorded in the 'Zoologist' (Zool. 3635) the wonderful results. In the course of his communication Mr. Warington incidentally observes, "Mr.Edwards, of Shoreditch, whose London garden-pond has afforded much interesting matter to many microscopists, informs me, in a note dated August 27, 1803, that it is fourteen years since he first noticed the fact of the stickleback building a nest, guarding and defending the young ones." Mr. Gratton, Mr. Bowerbank, and I, as well as microscopists out of number, were in the habit of visiting Mr. Edwards, and took great interest in his aquarian researches.
I should, however, here record that Mr. Edwards's first aquarium was, as Mr. Warington has described it, a "London garden-pond"; in fact, it was a stuccoed basin through which a small stream of New River water was constantly flowing. This plan, perfectly successful as regards the health and rigour of his captives, was soon supplemented by the glass jar, so much more convenient for patient, continuous and accurate investigation. Mr. Edwards was a watchmaker, and his sticklebacks were kept in a delightful little parlour behind the shop. It was not until some years later that Mr. Gratton set up a similar stickleback observatory at 67, Shoreditch; and the late respected Matthew Marshall another, at his official residence in the Bank of England, so that I enjoyed abundant opportunities of watching the proceedings of these "wonderful fishes."
I mention Mr. Edwards as the first scientific man who observed the nesting of sticklebacks. I say "scientific," because I am aware that from time immemorial the boys hunting "stitlers," and bringing them home in a quadrate pickle-bottle suspended from a stick, were perfectly cognizant of a fact which seemed to have been unknown to naturalists: from them I had learned, long, long before, that there were "cock stitlers" and "hen stitlers," and that the former were also called "redbreasts," and were famous for their fighting propensities: often as I watched the exhibition of these propensities in the aquariums of Mr. Edwards, Mr. Oratton and Mr. Marshall, and often as my fingers itched to write an account of them, I always forbore, for the discovery was the property of these gentlemen, and not mine; and to them, and not to me, of right belonged the honour and glory that must result from making the revelation. Alas! these excellent men have passed away, and have left no record of their doings except in the memories of their survivors.
Our stickleback doings at that early period not only engrossed the attention of the little company of Aquarians who met at Mr. Bowerbank’s hospitable mansion on a Monday evening, but attracted the notice of an outside public, to which they were the never-failing source of pleasantry: very refreshing was that incessant fusillade of small jokes to those who fired them, and very harmless to those who received them. Even the "inimitable" author of the 'Pickwick Papers,' whom nothing amusing, or ludicrous, or note-worthy, or instructive, ever escaped, took the tide of this little mania on the flood, and rendered Hampstead Heath and its ponds and its sticklebacks immortal in his pages. Mr. Pickwick is described as the author of a paper intituled "Speculations on the Source of Hampstead Ponds, with some Observations on the Theory of Tittlebats," and the Club of which he was the enlightened President sent forth that eminent man to make further researches. The author adds, "There sat the man who had traced to their source the mighty ponds of Hampstead, and agitated the world with his Theory of Tittlebats, as calm and unmoved as the deep waters of the one on a frosty day or a solitary specimen of the other in the inmost recesses of an earthen jar." This shows that the new fancy had taken so deep a hold on the public mind that it was worthy of good-humoured banter by a man who never fought with shadows.
It was not until the year 1842 that the nest-building talents of the stickleback were fully revealed to the world, and then it was another species of stickleback, Gasterosteus spinachia, through another medium of observation (the open sea), and another hand (that of R. Q. Couch) that held the pen (Zool. 796). Mr. Couch, like his predecessors, has passed away, but unlike them has left a trace of his handy-work which will endure as long as Ichthyology is a science.
Again, Mr. Kinahan, addressing the Dublin Natural History Society, years afterwards, observes of Gasterosteus leiurus, "Concerning the manner in which this little fish preserves its spawn not the slightest notice, if I may judge from the silence of our latest authorities, has been taken by any naturalist." Alas! that it should have been so; yet numbers of us, I can positively assert, were as intimately acquainted with the facts which Mr. Kinahan recorded (Zool. 8&26) as he could possibly have been.
In 1851 Mr. Warington repeated these observations (Zool. 8686), and thus accomplished a task which Mr. Edwards was fully competent to have undertaken and completed twenty years previously. All honour to them both: these gentlemen, like Mr. Couch and Mr. Kinahan, and subsequently M. Conte of Paris, have given us abundant evidence that they observed accurately the facts which they have recorded so graphically. I trust that no confusion of dates will arise from my coupling the observations of 1838 with the records of 1851. It is really difficult to do otherwise, for a succession of observations were being carried on during the whole of the intervening period, although no contemporary record appears to have been made.
No one who has not witnessed, I may say who has not gloated over, the procreative and educational proceedings of the sticklebacks, can form any conception of their absorbing interest: no one who has not seen the "redbreast" in all his glory and pride of place, can possibly picture to himself the exceeding beauty of this little fish; it only endures while the cares of paternity are upon him: then, and then only, I might address to him the lines of Lord Byron's dedication of Childe Harold to Ianthe; -
" Shall I vainly seek
To paint those charms which varied as they beamed ?
To such as see thee not my words were weak,
To those who gaze on thee what language could they speak?
Oh, let that eye which, wild as the gazelle's.
Now brightly bold, now beautifully shy,
Wins as it wanders, dazzles where it dwells."
It may be a strange conceit to transfer this picture to a fish, and to a male rather than a female, but it is appropriate; the female is a nonentity, a being without attraction; a provision for the continuance of her kind, and nothing more; she fulfils her destination without love, without sentiment, without sensation, a perfect apathet: but with the male it is not so; his eye is more resplendent than the throat of a humming bird, and like that beautiful object varies with every change of position; it is now a burning sapphire, now a living emerald; his breast and belly are brilliant crimson thrown up by contrast with the delicate translucent green of his back; his entire body seems diaphanous, his eye alone retaining its solidity; the rest is glowing, aye, melting, with internal incandescence. Strange, but sad, this male Ianthe is possessed by a demon! Can he be jealous of his inornate mate? jealous of the advent of other Ianthes? Yes, but be is only jealous of their meddling with his nursery: the loves of the fishes are wonderful, and man's sagacity cannot understand them.
But I am putting the cart before the horse: I have prepared a receptacle for this Ianthe, a lozenge-glass eight inches in diameter and twelve inches in height; two inches of loam cover the bottom, and perhaps an inch of very clean and very fine gravel covers the loam; a plant of Valisneria spiralis is rooted in the loam, and sends up its sword-like leaves and its corkscrew like petioles to the surface of the water, each producing a single flower destined to float in company with innumerous green circular disks of duck-weed, and a dozen leaves of frog's-bit, each doing its best to take firm hold of the water with its roots; those of the duck-weed are simple threads; those of the frog's-bit generally tend downwards in an oblique direction, and are thickly fringed throughout with lateral fibres, making them look like minute bottle-brushes of rather unusual proportions; imagine small water-beetles treading the water in an orderly and business-like manner, and now and then rising to the surface like pigmy water-balloons, each with a bobble of air annexed to his posterior extremity: be is the manufacturer of his own gas: imagine half-a-dozen other water-beetles crawling deliberately, belly upwards, among the duck-weed, and add a few smaller living creatures floating, or walking, or darting in the water just as fancy or instinct guides them, and you will have a tolerably correct notion of the sort of aquarium in general use amongst us Bowerbankians, and into the depths of which we gazed with boundless and un-wearying satisfaction. Next witness the arrival of a quadrate pickle-bottle, with a wet string twisted three or four times round its neck and once or twice across its wide mouth, this transverse portion of string serving as a handle by which to carry it: the boy who brings this recommends the contents as being "prime stitlers, all cocks." We take his word, and carefully pouring off the superfluous water, empty the living contents of the pickle-bottle into our aquarium.
Success is neither certain nor immediate: my feelings at Deptford, where all my manual acquaintance with the aquarium was gained, have many times been cut to the quick by finding the sticklebacks chevying one another for days and nights round and round the lozenge-glass, until they died apparently from sheer exhaustion; at first the amount of vital energy was excessive, far too great, but it was the old story, the sword wore out the scabbard; more frequently complete success was the result. We will suppose a dozen of these little fishes turned into the upright aquarium I have describe; an hour will scarcely elapse before one of the fiery red breasted asserts himself master, selects a part of the establishment "for building purposes" and drives off all intruders: if a second redbreast should call his supremacy in question and contest the point, he must be removed at the risk of disarranging the establishment, but this disarrangement is of less importance than it appears: after stirring up the contents of the glass in a most violent manner in your determination to eject an objectionable tenant of any kind, they will settle down in half an hour and arrange themselves as prettily and as naturally as before you converted their dwelling-place into a miniature Maelstrom. Leaving one redbreast master of the situation, he immediately commences building operations, but at first these operations do not seem to be conducted on any definite plan; and you begin to think the work is aimless and objectless: half a dozen nests will be begun and deserted; the structure is then pulled to pieces and the materials are carried elsewhere: what are these materials? little gravel-stones, roots of water-plants, hair-like Confervae spontaneously generated out of nothing, decaying leaves of Valisneria, and all manner of fragments, which we should characterize as rubbish: by-and-bye an event occurs, unseen and unnoticed, which concentrates all the attentions of the redbreast to one spot : this event is the deposition of spawn by a gravid female; I could never witness the operation, but have no doubt whatever that this event is the governing cause of future proceedings: a foundation, a circular wail or rim, is then constructed around the precious deposit, and this is increased, and improved, and consolidated, in the most wonderful manner, the builder being incessant in his labours; sometimes he will bite off a root of the duck-weed or frog's-bit, and will set it floating in the water; he will then contemplate this fragment, remaining stationary at a little distance, and will hover like a kestrel over a mouse, supported by the incessant fan-like motion of his pectoral fins: should the fragment bear (his rigid inspection he proceeds to utilise it; sometimes, however, the fragment does not meet with his entire approval, and then it is at once abandoned. Mr. Kinahan has observed that after a fragment has been thus abandoned by one fish no other will use it; they take hold of it, examine its capabilities, and invariably reject it; thus proving that these little creatures share some instinctive knowledge of its adaptability or otherwise to the purpose required; the occupations of searching, finding, testing, examining, selecting and rejecting materials seems incessant; sometimes, however, it will be interrupted by the appearance of an intruder, who is immediately made an object of attack, seized, bitten, and compelled to retreat: the victor will chase him round the glass for a few seconds, and then return and survey his building; he is ever suspicious that it may have suffered injury during ever to short an absence, and will hang in water, like a Syrphus in air, with his head pointed towards his nest, until he is assured that his nursery is intact: this Syrphus-like suspension is well worth studying; the little fellow, although perfectly still at intervals, will often, with a kind of start, change his position, hand take up a new one on the other side of the glass, but still with his nose pointing towards the object of attraction, "true as the needle to the pole," and there be will hang hovering, and winnowing the water with his fins, just as he had hung hovering before. After a while, assured that his building is intact, he will resume his architectural labours. How often have I seen him, like a tailor-bird, carry some little plant-fibre, or perhaps a fragment of thread which I had dropped into the water for his especial use and benefit, and watched him pass the end through and through the walls of the nest, until it was adjusted to his mind; how often have I seen him stop when his body was half-way through the nest, his head projecting on one side, and his tail on the other; how often have I wondered by what seemingly miraculous power he passed through the nest he had taken so much pains to construct - yes! pass through it in any direction, as though, like Pepper's ghost, the nest itself were an "airy nothing" which offered no resistance to his compact body, thews and sinews, muscles and spines. From time to time would he come forth, his eyes flashing fire, his breast glowing with rosy red, and if no disturbing element was near would contemplate his work with unmixed satisfaction; then he would go to work again.
The question when or how the eggs are deposited, whether before or after the building of the nest, is by no means finally ascertained. Something like a love chase occasionally takes place, proving that fishes are not altogether insensible to the tender passion, but such scenes are rarely witnessed, and only revealed to those who have an unlimited allotment of time and patience: I have seen a male seize a female by the small of the back, by which I mean that slender part of the body which succeeds the last dorsal fin and precedes the caudal fin; and sometimes also by the sharp spike or spine which we call the ventral fin, and having thus seized her he seems disposed to say by force, not by words, "Come into my bower;" but these scenes are not understood: as I have already said, we know next to nothing of the loves of the fishes, and only imagine them by the results. As to the period required by the eggs in coming to maturity, we have evidence of a rather partial kind." Mr. Gratton had a fine brood hatched in fourteen or fifteen days, the nest having been formed immediately after the introduction of the fish." This is the only record I possess.
These little fishes are wondrous creatures when they first assume the parental figure; they look like spicules of silver or bright motes in sunshine, as they float in your aquarium: no one seeing them for the first time, and without the aid of a magnifier, could imagine them to be fishes: then as to number; we are accustomed to count the spawn of fishes by thousands and hundreds of thousands, but 1 think this is not the case with sticklebacks; I have taken some pains to ascertain, and have concluded that the average number of a brood does not exceed twenty: I have never counted more than fourteen. But I admit they may be more numerous: I have caught hundreds of these atomic fishes in my water-net, but then I know not how many broods composed the school.
One word more: in 1843 Mr. Frederick Holme, then at Oxford, published (Zool. 200) his account of keeping water-beetles in confinement: no description of the prison-house is attempted, but Mr. Holme speaks of it as a "glass": he says of his prisoners, "They speedily become familiarized to a certain extent, and will follow the finger round the glass in expectation of food." He continued his observations during summer and winter for a long period. “When I kept a pair together," thus he continues, "I always found the male died first, and that his dead body had generally been mutilated and pretty nearly devoured by his widow. The females were at all times much more voracious than the males. I generally fed them with raw beef, of which they sucked the juices, but in summer I sometimes supplied them with small aquatic insects, which they seized with their fore feet and tore to pieces with their mandibles, rejecting the elytra and other hard parts." It will be seen from several expressions in this brief account that Mr. Holme's observations were continuous, extending over summers and winters; we also learn with pleasure that the widows of water-beetles are not utterly inconsolable. I wish here to invite attention to the fact that up to this period (1844), although the aquarium was thoroughly utilized, more so indeed than ever since, its name had not been mentioned.
© Nothing from this site may be used for commercial purposes or financial gain. Anything downloaded for distribution or display must be attributed to www.ParlourAquariums.org.uk