The Animal in Armour
THIS picture of three curious little puppies looking at a tortoise reminds
me of a story told of a countryman who saw some land-tortoises for the
first time at a fair held in a market-place of his native village. Very much
surprised at their queer look, he asked the man who was selling them how
much they were.
“Eighteenpence a pair,” was the answer.
“Eighteenpence!” said the man; “that is a great deal for a thing like a
frog. What will you take for one without the box?”
Little folks would not make such a stupid mistake as this; they would know
that this strange-looking animal between its two shells was a tortoise. There
are different sorts—some that live on land, and some in water. Those that
live in the sea are called turtles, and their shells are not so hard as that of the
land-tortoise. It is easy to see why this is: a turtle would not be able to
swim with so thick a shell; it would be much as if a man in armor were to
try. Their shells are not all in one, but joined together by a sort of gristle,
which enables them to move with greater ease and not so stiffly.
THE PUZZLED PUPPIES.
Directly any one hears the name of tortoise, he begins to think of tortoise-shell.
This ought really to be called turtle-shell, as it is made from the shell
of the hawk’s-bill turtle. Tortoise-shell is made by soaking the plates of the
shell in warm water until they are soft; then they are pressed into the shapes
wanted in warm iron moulds, and taken out and polished.
Some of the sea-turtles are very fierce; and although they have no teeth,
their jaws are so strong that they can bite a walking-stick in half. Land-tortoises
are quite harmless; they only attack the insects they feed upon.
They go to sleep, like the dormouse, in the winter, but they do not make a
burrow; they cover themselves with earth by scraping it up and throwing it
over their bodies. In doing this they would find their heads and tails very
much in the way if it were not that they are able to draw them in between
their shells. No one, of course, knows how they find their way out again in
the spring; but it is supposed that they scratch the earth away and throw it
underneath them, at the same time pushing their way up.
Tortoises live to a very great age. One was given to the Zoological
Gardens in 1833 which had already lived seventy years in Port Louis, in the
island of Mauritius. Its shell, from the head to the tail, measured four feet
four inches and a half, and it weighed two hundred and eighty-five pounds.