Page 28
Natural History of the Mammalia of India and Ceylon - by Robert A. Sterndale F.R.G.S., F.Z.S. (1884)

prev page   next page contents


These are mostly small animals of, with few exceptions, nocturnal habits.

Their chief characteristic lies in their pointed dentition, which enable them to pierce and crush the hard-shelled insects on which they feed. The skull is elongated, the bones of the face and jaw especially, and those of the latter are comparatively weak. Before we come to the teeth we may notice some other peculiarities of this order.

The limbs are short, feet five-toed and plantigrade, with the entire sole placed on the ground in running, and these animals are all possessed of clavicles which in the next order are but rudimentary; in this respect they legitimately follow the Bats. The mammæ are placed under the abdomen, and are more than two. None of them (except Tupaia) have a cæcum (this genus has been most exhaustively described in all its osteological details by Dr. J. Anderson: see his 'Anatomical and Zoological Researches'); the snout is usually prolonged and mobile. The dentition is eccentric, and not always easy to determine; some have long incisors in front, followed by other incisors along the sides of their narrow jaws and canines, all shorter than the molars; others have large separated canines, between which are placed small incisors. In Blyth's additions to Cuvier he states that "in this group we are led to identify the canine tooth as simply the first of the false molars, which in some has two fangs, and, as in the Lemurs, to perceive that the second in the lower jaw is in some more analogous in size and character to an ordinary canine than that which follows the incisors. The incisor teeth are never more than six in number, which is the maximum throughout placental mammalia (as opposed by marsupial), and in several instances one or two pairs are deficient. (It should be remarked that a single tooth with two fangs is often represented by two separate teeth, each with one fang.) The canines, with the succeeding false molars, are extremely variable, but there are ordinarily three tuberculated molars posterior to the representative of the carnivorous or cutting grinder of the true Carnivora." All the molar teeth are studded with sharp points or cusps; the deciduous teeth are developed and disappear before birth. This order is divided into four families, viz., Talpidæ or Moles, Sorecidæ or Shrews, Erinaceidæ or Hedgehogs, and the Tupaiadae, Banxrings or Tree-shrews. Of all these well-defined types are to be found in India, but America and Africa possess various genera which we have not, such as the Condylures (Condylura, Illiger), the Shrew-moles (Scalops, Cuvier), belonging to Talpidæ; the Solendons, Desmans, and Chrysochlores to Sorecidæ; the Sokinahs, Tenrecs and Gymnures to Erinaceidæ; and the Macroscelles or Elephant-mice of the Cape Colony form another group more allied to Tupaia than the rest. This last family is the most interesting. Anatomically belonging to this order, they externally resemble the squirrels so closely as to have been frequently mistaken for them. The grovelling Mole and creeping Shrew are as unlike the sprightly Tupaia, as it springs from branch to branch, whisking its long bushy tail, as it is possible to conceive. I intend further on to give an illustration of this little animal. The first we have on record concerning it is in the papers relating to Captain Cook's third voyage, which are now in the British Museum, where the animal is described and figured as Sciurus dissimilis; it was obtained at Pulo Condore, an island 100 miles from Saigon, in 1780.

Sir T. Stamford Raffles was the next to describe it, which he did under the generic name Tupaia—tupai being a Malayan word applied to various squirrel-like small animals—but he was somewhat forestalled in the publication of his papers by MM. Diard and Duvaucel. Dr. Anderson relates how Sir T. Raffles engaged the services of these two naturalists to assist him in his researches, on the understanding that the whole of the observations and collections were to be the property of the East India Company; but ultimately on this point there arose a disagreement between them, and the paper that was first read before the Asiatic Society of Bengal on the 10th of March, 1820, was drawn up by MM. Diard and Duvaucel, though forwarded by Sir T. Raffles, whose own paper on the subject was not read before the Linnean Society until the 5th of December of that year, nor published till 1821; therefore to the others belongs the credit of first bringing this curious group to notice.

They regarded it in the light of a true Shrew, disguised in the form and habits of a squirrel, and they proposed for it the name Sorex-Glis, i.e. Shrew-squirrel (Glis properly means a dormouse, but Linnæus used it for his rodential group which he termed Glires); this was afterwards changed by Desmarest and Giebel to Gli Sorex and Glisosorex, which latter stands for one of the generic terms applied to the group. F. Cuvier, objecting to Tupaia, proposed Cladobates (signifying branch walkers), and Temminck, also objecting to Tupaia, suggested Hylogale (from Gr. hyla, forest, and gale, a weasel), so now we have four generic names for this one small group. English naturalists have however accepted Tupaia; and, as Dr. Anderson fairly remarks, though it is a pity that some definite rules are not laid down for the guidance of naturalists for the acceptance or rejection of terms, still those who reject Tupaia on the ground of its being taken from a savage tongue should be consistent, and refuse all others of similar origin. He is quite right; but how many we should have to reject if we did so—Siamanga in Quadrumana, Kerivoula in Cheiroptera, Tupaia in Insectivora, Golunda in Rodentia, Rusa in Ruminantia, and others! At the same time these names are wrong; they convey no meaning; and had they a meaning (which only Kerivoula or Kelivoulha, i.e. plantain-bat, has) it is not expressed in languages common to all western nations, such as the Latin and Greek. Tupaia is an unfortunate selection, inasmuch as it does not apply to one type of animal, but reminds me somewhat of the Madras puchi, which refers, in a general way, to most creeping insects, known or unknown.

prev page     next page

Birds Bird Diagram Ornithology Indian Sites Bird Watching Migration North India Birds of India Haryana

All rights reserved.  Copyright © 2005-2013  Birds and birding in India.   Disclaimer

website: Free Java Guide & Tutorials