taken from their native beds they are stored in pits formed for the purpose, furnished with sluices; through which, at spring tides, the water is suffered to flow. This water, being stagnant, soon becomes green in warm weather, and in a few days afterwards the oysters acquire the same tinge, which renders them of greater value in the market: but they do not attain their full quality, and become fit for sale, till the end of six or eight weeks. The principal breeding-time of oysters is in the months of April and May, when they cast their spawn, or spats, as the fishermen call them, upon rocks, stones, shells, or any other hard substance that happens to be near the place where they lie, to which the spats immediately adhere. These, till they obtain their film or crust, are somewhat like the drop of a candle, but are of a greenish hue. The substances to which they adhere, of whatever nature, are called cultch. From the spawning-time until about the end of July the oysters are said to be sick, but by the end of August they become perfectly recovered. During these months they are out of season, and are bad eating.

The oyster fishery of our principal coasts is regulated by a court of admiralty. In the month of May the fishermen are allowed to take the oysters, in order to separate the spawn from the cultch, the latter of which is thrown in again, for the purpose of preserving the bed for the future. After this month, it is felony to carry away the cultch, and otherwise punishable to take any oyster, between whose shells, when closed, a shilling will rattle. The reason of the heavy penalty on destroying the cultch is, that when this is taken away, the ouse will increase, and muscles and 'cockles will breed on the bed and destroy the oysters, by gradually occupying all the places on which the spawn should be cast. There is likewise some penalty for not treading on, and killing, or throwing on shore, any star-fish that happen to be seen.


The prickly star creeps op with full deceit,
To force the oyster from his close retreat.
When gaping lids their widened void display,
The watchful star thrusts in a pointed ray,
Of all its treasures spoils the rified case,

And empty shells the sandy hillocks grace. The common oyster (o. edulis) is contented to remain fixed to his first station, surrounded by an innumerable progeny, continually increasing with wonderful fecundity. His motions consist only in turning from one side to the other, which he accomplishes more by sagacity than any natural agility or inherent strength. He contrives to bolster up one side by a gradual deposition of soft mud, till he stands nearly upright; then, availing himself of the flowing or ebbe ing of the tide, he opens his shell, and is tumbled on by the pressure of the water. And as expedition is not his object, this mode may answer well. It has, however, been observed that the young fry possess the power of swimming very swiftly by means of an undulatory motion of the bronchiæ The poet of nature thus characterises the oyster :

Condemned to dwell
For ever in his native shell ;
Ordained to move when others please,
Not for his own content or ease;
But tossed and buffeted about.
Now in the water, and now out :


Yet, in his grotto-work inclosed,
He pothing feels in that rough coat
Save when the knife is at bis throat;
Wherever driven by wind or tide,

Exempt from every ill beside. Strong locomotive powers have been attributed to the scallop, which are, it is said, exerted in a most singular manner. A very rapid progress is effected by the sudden opening and closing of the shell. This is done with so much muscular force as to throw it

· Burrow's Elements of Conchology, p. 66, 2d edit.

four or five inches at a time. In the water, an equal dexterity is evinced by the animal, in raising himself to the surface, directing his course ad libitum, and, suddenly by the shutting of his valves, dropping to the bottom. The scallop was held in high estimation by the antients, and is still sought after in Catholic countries. The pecten maximus is frequently used in England. It is found gregarious in moderately deep water, and is taken up by the dredge. It is pickled and barrelled for sale, and esteemed a great delicacy. The fishermen suppose that they are taken in the greatest quantity after a fall of snow. Another species, the pecten opercularis, is employed for culinåry purposes in Cornwall, where it is known by the name of frills or queens. In the Firth of Forth this species is frequently dredged up along with oysters, but it is thrown, by the Newhaven fishermen, to the 'dunghill, along with sea urchins and star-fish. The scallop was commonly worn by pilgrims on their hat, or the cape of their coat, as a mark that they had crossed the sea in their way to the holy land: in commemoration of which this shell is still preserved in the armorial bearings of many families of distinction.

15. Anomia, This genus is confined to the ocean, the species being often found affixed by a ligament that passes through the perforation to various kinds of fuci, and other substances. There are twelve species, natives' of the ocean which encircles Great Britain. The a. ephippium is used as food in Languedoc, and is there considered preferable to the oyster. 16. Mytilus, muscle; inhabitant allied to an ascidia.

Some of the muscles penetrate into the interior of calcareous rocks, where they reside out of the reach of danger. Others adhere by their beard to the exterior of rocks or stones; and so tenacious is their


hold, that, in the larger species, they cannot be separated without considerable exertion. One species is gathered from the depths of the sea, on account of the pearls which are found within the shells. Of these, the antient Romans were extravagantly fond. • It is not enough' (says Pliny) ‘to despoil the sea of its riches, in order to gorge our appetites; we must likewise, both men and women, carry them about on our hands, in our ears, upon our heads, and on our whole body.' Persons of every rank purchased them with eagerness; they were worn on every part of dress; and there is such a difference, both in size and in value, among pearls, that while such as were large and of superior lustre adorned the wealthy and the great, smaller ones and of inferior quality gratified the vanity of persons in more humble stations of life. Julius Cæsar presented Servilia the mother of Brutus with a pearl for which he paid £48,457. The famous pearl ear-rings of Cleopatra were in value £161,458.

The common or edible muscle (mytilus edulis) is found both in the European and Indian seas, adhering to rocks, by the silky threads which it forms from its body, but it grows to a much larger size between the Tropics than in the northern climates. It abounds on the British shores, being one of the commonest of our shells. All the muscles have, for an instrument of motion, a tongue or foot, capable of considerable elongation, and also of being shortened into the form of a heart. This is marked with a longitudinal furrow, and completely enveloped in a sheath formed of transverse and circular fibres, of an obscure purple colour. When the animal feels inclined to change its place, it thrusts the foot out of the shell, and raises itself on its edge; then, by reaching this to as great a distance as it will extend, it uses it as a kind of arm, drawing the body up to it, and thus it proceeds until it has found a convenient situation. If the muscle be inclined to make this its residence, the instrument of its motion is now put to a very diffe


rent employment, in spinning those silky threads, which fix it firmly to the spot; and, like a ship at anchor, enable it to brave all the agitations of the water. This it accomplishes by seizing with its point the gluten supplied by a gland situated under its base, and drawing it out through the furrow, into threads. When the muscle is thus fixed, it lives upon the little earthy particles, or upon the bodies of such smaller animals as the water transports to its shells.

The common muscle is generally esteemed a rich and wholesome food; but to some constitutions it often occasions disorders, the symptoms of which are great swellings, eruptions of blotches or pimples, shortness of breath, convulsive motions, and sometimes even delirium. A remedy that has been recommended is two spoons-full of oil, and one of lemonjuice (or, in want of this, about two of vinegar), shaken well together, and swallowed as soon as any of the symptoms take place. This unwholesome quality has been attributed to a small species of crab, the cancer pisum of Linnæus, that sometimes is found within the shells. It seems, however, not to have its seat in any thing essential to the muscle; for, when accidents of this kind have happened, some persons have been affected, and others have not, who have eaten at the same time, and at least in equal quantity'.

The mytilus margaritiferus is the pearl-bearing shell of the Indian seas: it is most abundant and in greatest perfection on the coasts of the Persian Gulf, and of the Island of Ceylon. In the great fisheries established to supply the eastern market, the number of fish annually taken up from their beds by divers, whose perilous trade it is to search for them, is almost incredible. Some of the shells contain one or more pearls; others not any. They are usually de

« ElőzőTovább »