Facts about Animals

From Claudius Aelianus’ On the Characteristics of Animals (second century):

I. On molluscs

The thieving Tree Octopus
If a field, of if trees with fruit upon them are close by the sea, farmers often find that in summer Octopuses…have emerged from the waves, have crept up the trunks, have enveloped the branches, and are plucking the fruit.

The randy Octopus
They say that the Octopus is the most incontinent of fish and copulates until all the strength of its body is drained away, leaving it weak, incapable of swimming, and unable to seek for food; in consequence of which it provides food for others…

Flying squids fly best
Squids, Flying Gurnards, and Flying-fish when scared fly and leap out of the sea. Squids leap furthest with the aid of their fins and rise high and are borne along together in flocks like birds.

Snails creep out of their shells
Snails know that partridges and herons are their enemies; so they escape from them, and in places where these birds feed you would never see snails crawling about. But the snails which they call Areiones deceive and elude the aforesaid enemies by natural astuteness. Thus, they emerge from their native shells and feed without anxiety, while the birds which I have mentioned swoop upon the empty shells as though they were actual snails, but finding nothing, throw them aside as useless and go away. But the Areiones return and pass each to its own house, having eaten their fill of food and having preserved their lives by their deceptive migration.

Octopus vs Crayfish
The Crayfish is the enemy of the Octopus. The reason is this: when the Octopus throws its tentacles round it, it cares nothing for the spines that spring from the back of the Crayfish, but wraps itself round and throttles it till it suffocates.

 

II. Weird gender-related stuff

Caterpillar slain by menstruation
Caterpillars feed upon vegetables and in a short while destroy them. But they in turn are destroyed if a woman with her monthly courses upon her walks through the vegetables.

The hermaphroditic Mongoose
The Ichneumon [Mongoose] is both male and female in the same individual, partaking of both sexes, and Nature has enabled each single same animal both to procreate and give birth. Those that are worsted in a fight are degraded into the less honored class, for the victors mount the vanquished and inseminate them. And the latter carry with them as prize for their defeat endurance of birth-pangs and motherhood for fatherhood.

Female-killer kills scorpions, somehow; Aelian approves
From Theophrastus I learn the following. This great man mentions a certain herb and calls it by the name of ‘Female-killer’; and if one puts it in a scorpion’s back and lets it lie, the creature immediately shrivels. But the same writer says that it revives if you sprinkle some white hellebore upon it. Now I am in favor of ‘Female-killer’, but not at all of white hellebore. The reason is that I detest scorpions but love mankind.

 

III. Misc.: Love, ruses, geometry, etc.

Spiders have no need of Euclid
Spiders…are by nature clever at geometry. Thus, they keep to the centre and fix with the utmost precision the circle with its boundary based upon it, and have no need of Euclid…

The sober Elephant
The Elephant is seldom in love, they say, for, as I have remarked earlier on, it is sober.

When Aesop said it, it was a fable, but now it’s SCIENCE!
But the Ravens of Libya, when men through fear of thirst draw water and fill their vessels and place them on the roof so that the fresh air may keep the water from putrefying, the Ravens, I say, help themselves to drink by bending over and inserting their beaks as far as they will go. And when the water gets too low they gather pebbles in their mouth and claws and drop them into the earthenware vessel. Now the pebbles are borne down by their weight and sink, while the water owing to their pressure rises. So the Raven by a most ingenious contrivance get their drink; they know by some mysterious instinct that one space will not contain two bodies.

A Mule deceived
Thales of Miletus repaid the malice of a Mule which he detected with great subtlety. A Mule was carrying a load of salt and once, when crossing a river, by accident stumbled and was upset. Consequently the salt was soaked and melted, and the Mule was delighted to be eased of its burden. So the Mule realizing the difference between labour and relaxation took a lesson for the future from its accident and deliberately contrived what before it had unwittingly undergone. It was impossible for the muleteer to drive it by any other road away from the river. So when Thales heard the man’s explanation, he thought that he must contrive to punish the Mule for its malice and ordered the man to load it with sponges and wool on top of the salt. But the Mule all unaware of the plot stumbled as usual, and having saturated its burden with water, realized that its trick was turning to its own undoing; so thereafter it made the crossing without disturbance and kept control of its legs and preserved the salt undamaged.

Do Dolphins sleep? Yes.
Even the Dolphin is not unsleeping nor devoid of a share of the god of sleep.

(Translation by A.F. Scholfield, Loeb Classics.)

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