Page images
[blocks in formation]

The month of April witnesses every year in northern climates one of the strangest and least understood of the phenomena of wild nature-the resumption by a number of our native animals of their normal functions after a winter's sleep lasting months, which in many cases has been deathlike in the almost complete suspension of vital activities. When the swallows return in spring to flit between the budding hedges and skim again over the pools and rivers, it may be noticed that their place is taken toward dusk in the warmer evenings of the month by the bats which have also been absent during the winter. Our native bats do not, like the swallows, fiy southward after the sun with the waning year. They pass the winter close to their usual haunts. Hidden away in hollow trees, in the roofs of

old houses, and in belfries, caves, and other remote recesses where they are completely free from disturbance, they hang during the cold months of the year packed closely together in large numbers. The condition of bats during this period of winter rest is characteristic, for the bat and the hedgehog share the distinction of being the two of our native animals in which the conditions of true hibernation most thoroughly prevail. A remarkable fact about winter sleep in animals in which the state of torpor becomes profound is that there appears to be all but complete cessation of all the bodily functions. To the ordinary mind it seems hard to imagine a living creature existing without either food or air. Yet a bat or a hedgehog in the midst of its winter torpor goes for months without food and practically ceases to

breathe for considerable intervals. water without awakening it. In cerBoth, for instance, will exist for long in an atmosphere containing no oxygen. The present writer has seen living frogs in conditions of hibernation hermetically sealed in a glass jar from which every trace of oxygen had been burnt out. At the end of forty-eight hours he has seen the jar opened and a lighted taper plunged into it was instantly extinguished as soon as it was lowered below the brim. Yet the frogs on being restored to natural conditions soon revived and appeared none the worse for their immersion.

Hedgehogs, bats, marmots, squirrels, field-mice, and badgers, amongst mammals, and frogs and toads amongst cold-blooded animals, are the best known instances of true hibernation furnished by our native creatures, and in nearly all these cases, in which the physiological disturbance must be profound, the onset of the period of torpor is marked by the same conditions. Towards the end of the period of summer activity great quantities of food are taken and the animals grow fat in consequence. In no case is the condition of complete torpor reached suddenly. Some animals, like squirrels, simply appear to get increasingly drowsy with the decline of the year. Our native squirrel rarely sinks into a state of complete torpor; he will sleep in the coldest part of the year for days and even weeks, but he can nearly always be roused, and in genial weather in mid-winter he comes out to feed, and may be seen in the woods visiting the hoards which he has hidden away in the autumn. The badger's winter sleep much resembles that of the squirrel. The dormouse seems also gradually to sink into a state of chronic torpor with the onset of winter, but its sleep far more nearly resembles death, so much so that it is often quite impossible to rouse it. It may be handled and plunged into

tain experiments which have been tried, it has lived for hours immersed in a poisonous gas such as carbon dioxide, and has awakened apparently none the worse for its curious experience. Bats are soon drowned if placed in water in ordinary conditions, but they will undergo with immunity prolonged immersion in the midst of their winter torpor. A sleeping hedgehog in winter will take no evil effects from a stay of nearly half an hour under water.

It cannot be said that science as yet is able to explain satisfactorily the conditions which prevail in the winter sleep of animals. The subject remains a very obscure one. Many of the explanations given in books on the subject are obviously wrong, and others may easily be proved to be so. Frogs and toads often pass the winter buried in mud, and are sometimes dug out from the bottom of ponds. As both frogs and toads are air-breathing it is usually said that respiration must be carried on through the skin in such cases. The writer, who has seen toads in conditions of hibernation enclosed in sealed jars, has however observed a taper to burn brightly when plunged into the air contained in such a jar at the end of twenty-four hours. There could therefore have been little or no respiration through the skin or otherwise for the period in question. Fishes are not usually supposed to hibernate in the true sense, but many bottom fish certainly sink into a state of torpor during the winter months in our ponds and rivers. Fish may sometimes be seen frozen in blocks of ice, and they are generally supposed to be killed by such conditions, but although it seems strange that it should be so, they undoubtedly often revive and recover their normal activity when the ice thaws.

It seems to be the opinion of most

observers that the two conditions which serve to bring on the state of winter sleep and torpidity are failure of food-supply and fall of temperature with the approach of winter. Even this, however, cannot be affirmed as true in all cases. Some animals retire to their winter sleep when food is abundant, and the beginning of hibernation in others appears to be often independent of climate or temperature. Animals, like the marmot or the common squirrel, which usually hibernate, may often be kept in full activity all the year round if the conditions are favorable. There can be no doubt that all forms of winter sleep are protective in their character and help the species in its struggle for existence under adverse surroundings. But it seems very likely that rhythm lies at the root of the adaptation and that winter sleep, just as ordinary sleep, is essentially a rhythmic diminution of the activities of the body.

It is a remarkable fact that while there is in all cases of true winter torpidity a cessation or slowing down of certain of the vital functions, other functions appear to be little diminished, and some to be even greatly increased in activity. In nearly all cases there is a great reduction in the secretions from the body. In bats they nearly entirely cease. The same is true of bears, which are said often to have the end of the alimentary canal entirely closed. Yet some of the internal functions of nutrition continue. Although the animals retire to rest in good condition, they are generally thin on resuming activity and the emaciation as a rule increases rapidly at first on awaking. Frogs convert their stored-up material into eggs, well nourished and ready to be deposited as spawn when they wake up in the spring and before they feed. The fe

The Outlook.

male bear also produces her cubs during winter. While sensation and volition are usually dormant, there is a class of function which seems to be in a state of high activity during the torpor of hibernating animals. Muscular irritability is greatly increased. The slightest touch to the quills on the spine of a torpid hedgehog induces a movement of inspiration. The same effect follows from a slight stimulus to the wing of a hibernating bat. When the marmot is in a state of winter torpor he is far more sensitive to slight stimuli, such as blowing on the hairs of the skin, than when merely sleeping. It is possible that this is not so much a proof of muscular irritability as an indication that all the reflex mechanism of the animal is more excitable. It may be a result, that is to say, which follows simply because unconsciousness is so profound. The brain is so entirely dormant that the inhibition which, to a certain extent, it always exercises on some of the activities of the spinal cord is absent. Some animals, if suddenly awakened from the hibernating condition, speedily die. As the accession of torpidity is gradual in natural conditions, so also must the awakening be to avoid injury. Yet even in the profoundest winter sleep of animals there appears to be a kind of protective sub-consciousness which remains on the alert. Hibernating bats in cold weather maintain a temperature of a few degrees above freezingpoint. But if the temperature is greatly reduced they are found to awake, and if it continues to fall they freeze to death, a result which often happens. A large proportion indeed of the creatures which hibernate never regain consciousness with the returning spring.


From Lt.-Col. Maldemar to Sir Wilson Phillimore, M.D.


Hôtel Superbe, Nice, March 15, 1907. My dear Phillimore,-I am here, in fairly comfortable quarters. The journey was tiring, but I think we have now recovered from the effects. I say "we," but Mrs. Maldemar is a traveller whom nothing can fatigue. The only thing that worries me is your ukase against stimulants. I don't think you really understand how necessary a little stimulant-only a little-has been to me, and to stop them suddenly and completely in this way may, according to a medical treatise which I have been reading, be a dangerous thing. Will you not reconsider this part of your treatment, and name some light and harmless wine that I may take? There is a very dry light champagne in this hotel which the Maître d'Hôtel tells me is a favorite with dyspeptics. Please let me know at your earliest convenience, if possible by wire.

Yours very gratefully,


Hector Maldemar.

Hôtel Superbe, Nice, March 21. My dear Phillimore,-I am sorry that you feel so strongly about my total abstinence. I think you ought to know that I met at lunch to-day a very delightful and well-informed man, a retired Indian Civil servant, who seems to have had very much the same kind of turn that I have, and you know, of course, what India is when a man has a good liver, to say nothing of any one predisposed to dyspepsia. Well, I was astonished to see him drinking claret freely, and he said that, prejudicial as

he finds all other wines and spirits, claret has never done him any harm, and is allowed by his medical adviser. It seems to me that he and I resemble each other very closely-so closely, in fact, that there would probably be no harm in my adopting his régime. But of course I do not care to do so without your sanction.

I am, yours sincerely,

Hector Maldemar.


Hôtel Superbe, Nice, March 25. My dear Phillimore,-I am sorry about the claret. Since I wrote I have met another man, at the English Club here, whose capacity to digest is practically nil, and yet he was putting away whiskey and seltzer with perfect composure and confidence. He had three during one rubber, and when I left in order, by your rules, to be in bed by halfpast ten (an infernal bore), he was beginning another. From the few words I was able to get with him between the games, I should say that his case was as like mine as two peas. This being so, don't you think I might try, say, one whiskey and seltzer every day? Life is very dull as things are, especially as Mrs. Maldemar will not (as I certainly should were she confined to water as I am) give up her halfbottle of champagne at lunch and dinner.

Yours despondently,

Hector Maldemar. P.S.-I am very flat, and my ital processes seem to me dangerously slow.


Hôtel Superbe, Nice, March 26. Dear Phillimore,-One meets with kindred sufferers in strange places.

Yesterday, in the train, on the way to Mentone, I found myself seated next to a very decent fellow, a chauffeur from Glasgow, on his way to a new employer. Gradually we got into conversation, and I found him, like myself, although otherwise a strong man, a martyr to defective alimentation, which, I need hardly say, he called by another name. Notwithstanding, he was continually nipping at a flask, containing, as I ascertained, neat brandy -which is, he says, the only thing that he can take with safety. Now it seems to me that if he (a man very similar to myself in physique) can take neat brandy with impunity if not profit, I should run no risk in taking some diluted with mineral water: say the admirable St. Galmier or Eau d'Evian, which one can get here so easily. Pray let me know-if possible by wire. Yours sincerely,


Hector Maldemar.

Hôtel Superbe, Nice, April 2. Dear Phillimore,-I was pained to read your wire. Things are getting very bad with me. I write now to tell you that a cousin of my wife's has just arrived here on a visit, and I am astonished and deeply interested to find that she suffers with her liver alPunch.

most identically as I do with mine. (What a little world it is!) But the curious thing is that so far from being denied any stimulant by her doctor she has actually been advised by him to take a dry Sauterne called Carbonnieux with every meal. As I said, she is a cousin of my wife's, which brings her case very near my own. Surely I might venture to try a similar treatment? Awaiting your reply,

I am, yours sincerely,

Hector Maldemar.


Hôtel Superbe, Nice, April 5. Dear Phillimore,-I do not wish to do anything unfriendly, as I am sure you will agree, but the advisability of having a medical man on the premises is urged upon me by Mrs. Maldemar, and, unwilling as I am to leave you, I have , at length consented. (You know what it is when one's wife insists.) The physician in question is a most capable man, highly spoken of here, and since he lives here and understands the climate, and as I am no better, I am disposed to give him a trial. I thought you ought to know this, but feel sure it will make no difference to our old and cordial relations.

Yours always sincerely,
Hector Maldemar.


An Italian study of the "Life and Works of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning," by the Countessa Zampini-Salazar, has just been published. The author was at one time editor of the extinct "Italian Review."

"Dining and its Amenities" is a title suggestive of the behavior book, but the "Lover of Good Cheer" who uses

the title discourses learnedly of foods, their history and value; of liquors and condiments, of table jests and superstitions, of such other topics as might interest those who have dined well, for the thirty-two papers in the volume were written to amuse a little group of friends who met to dine. It is an agreeable volume of trifling, to be read slowly, and to be read many times, and

« PreviousContinue »