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Lacerta

crocodile, banks, rivers, animal, animals, alligator, eggs, body, means and species

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LACERTA, the lizard, in natural his tory, a genus of Amphibia, of the order Reptiles. Generic character: body four footed, tailed, naked and long, having no secondary integument ; legs equal. There are, according to Gmelin, eighty-one spe cies, of which the following are princi pally deserving of attention. L. crocodi les or the crocodile, is a native both of Africa and Asia, but is most frequently found in the former, inhabiting its vast rivers, and particularly the Niger and the Nile. It has occasionally been seen of the length of even thirty feet, and in stances of its attaining that of twenty are by no means uncommon. It principally subsists on fish, but such is its voracity, that it seizes almost every thing within its reach. The upper part of its body is covered with a species of armour, so thick and firm, as to be scarcely penetra ble by a musket ball, and the whole body exhibits the appearance of an elaborate covering of carved work. It is an ovipa rous animal, and its eggs scarcely exceed in size those of a goose. These eggs are regarded as luxuries by the natives of some countries of Africa, who will also with great relish partake of the flesh of the crocodile itself. When young, the small size and weak state of the crocodile prevent its being injurious to any animal of considerable bulk or strength, as those which have been taken living to England have by no means indicated that ferocious and devouring character which they have been generally described to possess, a cir cumstance, probably, owing to the change of climate, and the reducing effect of confinement. In its native climate its power and propensity for destruction are unquestionably great, and excites in the inhabitants of the territories near its haunts a high degree of terror. It lies in wait near the banks of rivers, and with a sudden spring, seizes any animal that approaches within its reach, swallowing it by an instantaneous effort, and then rush ing back into its watery recesses, till re newed appetite stimulates the renewal of its insidious exertions. These animals were occasionally exhibited by the Ro mans among their collections of the natu ral wonders of the provinces, and Scaurus and Augustus are both recorded to have entertained the people with the sight of these new and formidable objects. It is reported by some travellers, that croco diles are capable of being tamed, and are actually kept in a condition of harmless domestication at the grounds and artificial lakes of some African princes, chiefly as appendages of royal splendour and mag nificence. A single negro will often at tack a crocodile, and by spearing it be tween the scales of the belly, where it is easily penetrable, 'secure its destruction. In some regions these animals are hunted by clogs, which, however, are carefully disciplined to the exercise, and are armed with collars of iron spikes. Aristotle ap pears to have been the first who asserted that the under jaw of the crocodile was immovable, and from him the idea was transmitted and believed for a long suc cession of ages. But the motion of the jaw in this animal is similar to that of all other quadrupeds. The ancients also thought it destitute of a tongue, an idea equally false. The tongue, however, is more fixed in this than in most animals to the sides of the mouth, and less capable therefore of being protruded. The eggs

of the crocodile are deposited on the mud or sand of the banks of rivers, and, immediately on being hatched, the young move towards the water, in their passage to which, however, vast numbers are in tercepted by ichneumons and bi rds, which watch their progress. See Amphibia, Plate L fig. 4.

L. alligator, the alligator, differs from the former species principally in being more smooth on the upper part of the head, and on the snout being much wider and flatter, and rounder at the end. It grows to the length of eighteen feet, and abounds particularly in the torrid zone, but it is found so far north as the river Neils in North Carolina. It is met with both in the fresh and salt parts of rivers, and amidst the reeds along the banks, lurks in ambush for its prey, seizing upon dogs and cattle which approach within the reach of its fatal bound. Alligators are equally forrhidable in their appear ance, and ferocious in their dispositions, seizing both man and beast with almost indiscriminating voracity, and pulling them to the bottom to lessen their means of resistance, and devour them with less interruption. By the close union of the vertebra, this animal can proceed with celerity only in a straight forward direction, so that the intended victims pursued by them, are enabled to elude this destination by lateral and cross move ments. But though the alligator is defi cient in flexibility, it supplies this defect in a great degree by sagacity or cunning, and appearing on the surface of the water like the stock of a tree, he thus attracts various animals within its grasp. Fowls, fishes, and turtle, all are drawn, whether by curiosity or for convenience, towards this object, supposed completely harm less, but from which the jaws of destruc tion are instantly opened to devour them. Alligators arc said to swallow stones and various other substances incapable of af fording nourishment, merely to prevent the contraction of their intestines, and thus allay their hunger ; and Catesby ob serves, that, on opening a great number, he has seen nothing but clumps of light wood and pieces of pine tree coal (in one instance a piece of the weight of eight pounds) worn by attrition to a sur face perfectly smooth, implying that they had long remained in their bodies. Their eggs are deposited on the banks of rivers, and sometimes in a nest composed of vegetables with considerable care, and are hatched by the sun, and the young ones are not only devoured by fishes and birds, but become the victims often of their own voracious species. In Carolina they sel dom attack men or large cattle, but are formidable enemies to hogs. From Oc tober to March they continue in the se questered caverns of the river banks in a state of torpor, re-appearing in the spring with the most violent and terrific- noises. Some parts of them are used by the In dians for food, and the flesh is of an at tractive whiteness, but has a very strong flavour of musk. The growth of this ani mal, and of the crocodile, is extremely slow, and both are imagined to be long lived. The alligator of North America is without doubt specifically distinct from that of South America, and the West India Islands. See Amphibia, Plate I. fig 2.

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