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Fish Out Of Water
by [?]

Both Doras and Callichthys, too, are well provided with means of defence against the enemies they may chance to meet during their terrestrial excursions; for in both kinds there are the same bony shields along the sides, securing the little travellers, as far as possible, from attack on the part of hungry piscivorous animals. Doras further utilises its powers of living out of water by going ashore to fetch dry leaves, with which it builds itself a regular nest, like a bird’s, at the beginning of the rainy season. In this nest the affectionate parents carefully cover up their eggs, the hope of the race, and watch over them with the utmost attention. Many other fish build nests in the water, of materials naturally found at the bottom; but Doras, I believe, is the only one that builds them on the beach, of materials sought for on the dry land.

Such amphibious habits on the part of certain tropical fish are easy enough to explain by the fashionable clue of ‘adaptation to environment.’ Ponds are always very likely to dry up, and so the animals that frequent ponds are usually capable of bearing a very long deprivation of water. Indeed, our evolutionists generally hold that land animals have in every case sprung from pond animals which have gradually adapted themselves to do without water altogether. Life, according to this theory, began in the ocean, spread up the estuaries into the greater rivers, thence extended to the brooks and lakes, and finally migrated to the ponds, puddles, swamps and marshes, whence it took at last, by tentative degrees, to the solid shore, the plains, and the mountains. Certainly the tenacity of life shown by pond animals is very remarkable. Our own English carp bury themselves deeply in the mud in winter, and there remain in a dormant condition many months entirely without food. During this long hibernating period, they can be preserved alive for a considerable time out of water, especially if their gills are, from time to time, slightly moistened. They may then be sent to any address by parcels post, packed in wet moss, without serious damage to their constitution; though, according to Dr. Guenther, these dissipated products of civilisation prefer to have a piece of bread steeped in brandy put into their mouths to sustain them beforehand. In Holland, where the carp are not so sophisticated, they are often kept the whole winter through, hung up in a net to keep them from freezing. At first they require to be slightly wetted from time to time, just to acclimatise them gradually to so dry an existence; but after a while they adapt themselves cheerfully to their altered circumstances, and feed on an occasional frugal meal of bread and milk with Christian resignation.

Of all land-frequenting fish, however, by far the most famous is the so-called climbing perch of India, which not only walks bodily out of the water, but even climbs trees by means of special spines, near the head and tail, so arranged as to stick into the bark and enable it to wriggle its way up awkwardly, something after the same fashion as the ‘looping’ of caterpillars. The tree-climber is a small scaly fish, seldom more than seven inches long; but it has developed a special breathing apparatus to enable it to keep up the stock of oxygen on its terrestrial excursions, which may be regarded as to some extent the exact converse of the means employed by divers to supply themselves with air under water. Just above the gills, which form of course its natural hereditary breathing apparatus, the climbing perch has invented a new and wholly original water chamber, containing within it a frilled bony organ, which enables it to extract oxygen from the stored-up water during the course of its aerial peregrinations. While on shore it picks up small insects, worms, and grubs; but it also has vegetarian tastes of its own, and does not despise fruits and berries. The Indian jugglers tame the climbing perches and carry them about with them as part of their stock in trade; their ability to live for a long time out of water makes them useful confederates in many small tricks which seem very wonderful to people accustomed to believe that fish die almost at once when taken out of their native element.