21 DECEMBER 1901, Page 11


There is a strong prejudice on the part of many stock- breeders against pure white animals, though there are some pleasure farms the owners of which prefer to have only white Cattle, horses, pigeons, fowls, and other creatures. It is said that they are delicate and difficult to rear, and at least one white herd has shown congenital defects in the progeny of kind which seemed to indicate that the lack of colour was accompanied by u want of vital force, and a large proportion of the heifers were sterile. These were not albinos, in which ' colour was omitted which ought to have been there, but merely a white breed. In cases of albinism weaknesses might be expected, and are often found, though by no means always, the com- monest being deafness in cats, and short-sight or eye defects of various kinds in other animals, notably the horse. Looking to Nature first, the fewness of white animals is very remark- able. Sea birds and dwellers where ice and darkness reign for the greater part of the year form the majority. In nearly all sea fowl white greatly predominates, probably as the best protective colouring which they can assume. Nearly all gulls have grey backs and white breasts, and gaunets are almost pure white. Guillemots, razorbills, auks, puffins, some divers, mergansers, goosanders, terns, sandpipers, and many others have either black-and-white or grey-and-white plumage with white breasts, and swans and pelicans are white all over. Both the latter species are so strong that they are unmolested by • any creature but man; but the grey-and-white sea fowl find their coloration the best protection possible when at rest on the water. It is almost as difficult to see a flock of gulls resting on an ordinary dimpled heaving sea as it is to see partridges in a ploughed field, so closely do the grey and white match the broken lights on the wave slopes and hollbrv-s. The white breasts of these birds may also aid them in securing the fish on which they prey, which may be less able to see a light than a dark bird above them. This seems the more probable because the bnly very ' dark sea -birds which we hive, such as the cormorant, dive-for their fish,' and do -not catch it by 'hovering, and the same is trite of the groat northern diver. The large darkv- 5 - brown skua gulls are much fonder of - robbing ether gulls of fish and of picking up offal on the shore. than of fishing them. selves, perhaps from experience that their colour fri,ghtens the shoals below. So, too, the beautiful fishing eagles of Chili.and South America, and the sea eagle of West Africa,. hale, white breasts and bellies. The Chilian sea eagle is coloured much like a gull, and the West :African sea eagle is white beneath and has a white head, and the osprey's breast and head also appear white from beneath. Clearly in the case of the sea birds of all kinds the white colouring is a pro. 'vision of Nature for their benefit. There remain the few and isolated cases in which land birds and mammals have the same snowy tint. Of these the greater number are creatures living in the Arctic regions which either assume the white colour, like the Arctic fox and the erraine, during the winter, or spend most of their time on the snows, such as the Iceland falcon and the snowy owls, one of which when it had strayed into this eountry when there was no snow on the ground was described as looking " like a milestone." The assumption of • the white colour is not absolutely necessary, for the raven, one of the very few creatures which endure the whole of the Aretic winter of darkness and cold, remains as black as a coaL Probably that is because no other creature is likely to kill the raven, while the bird itself lives there on carrion and dead creatures of sorts, to get which concealment is not needed. For the rest, whether to avoid their enemies or to • deceive their prey, the assumption of the white is almost a con- dition of existence. A Polar bear would not have a chance in stalking seals if it were of a darker colour. The only black spot about it is the tip of its nose. The sailors who first landed on various unknown Arctic shores and bays stated that the bears used to take them for seals, and begin to stalk them at - a considerable distance, lying down flat on their bellies in the attitude in which the well-known photograph by Mr. Gambier Bolton shows the old Polar bear at the "Zoo," and wriggling along in that position until they came to an ice hummock, when they would get up, peer over to see if the " seals " were alarmed, and wriggle on again. 'The sailors added that they could always see the black nose when the bear got near, and vowed that the bear put his paw over his muzzle to hide it! The Arctic foxes, the " blue " hare, the ptarmigan, ryper, and ermine all undergo the seasonal change to white by an identical process. The hair or feathers, as the case may be, loses its colour and turns pure white by what may almost be described as an instantaneous process. In the foxes and birds the white comes in patches; but the speed, of the colour change is remarkable. There are many stories of people whose hair has turned white from shock "in a single night." Judging by the birds and foxes, these stories must be true. No one ever sees the process of fading going on. The feather or patch of fur which was brown or smoky-grey suddenly whitens. Yet no one has actually seen the `colour going. The explanation usually given is that it takes place by night. There seems no " half-way " tint between the white and the original colour. The bares in the Alps are of the grey species, and like them turn as white as the snow on Hermon, except that the tips of the ears remain black. When the March sun begins to shine the colour returns gradually. First a grey line appears along the back ; then grey hairs mingle with the white on the sides, and the change to grey and brown is slowly completed. The whitening process is not so rapid as in the Arctic fox ; it lasts through October till mid-November,

• but a heavy snowfall is said to hurry on the assumption of the winter garb very rapidly. The Arctic fox and mountain hare, like the ptarmigan and the ryper, become show-white. It is impossible to distinguish their colour from that which • covers all Nature round them. The stoat, on the other hand, • does not as rule take the pure tint. It is yellowish below,. and much pervaded by greenish lights, which make it extremely trying wear for some complexions. It should be noted that there is one Arctic bird which comes to otu- coasts in winter and undergoes a very slight change to

- white. This is the snow bunting, which appears in small flocks on the sandhills of the East Coast in winter, and then shows a mote marked black-and-white in its plumage than it does in summer. But though the white is conspicuous; it is not in any sense a white bird. There is not e tingle land bird in Europe which is pure white throughout the year, and very -few. elsewhere, The coekatooa are the most striking instance to the contrary._ These seem to suffer under no disabilities on account of their colour, though there are plenty of hawks and eagles to kill them, and even the white men who first explored Australia did not despise cockatoo soup.' It is the dark-coloured cockatoos which are scarcest, showing that in this case colour has no effect on the survival of the more conspicuous races. The tropical forest produces the bell birds, most beautiful of all the birds clad in white apparel. They are elegant in shape, snow-white in colour, with a solitary ornament of black or bide on the beak or under it, and large black eyes. Their habits are modest and their disposition- as quiet and sedate as might be expected from birds which Eve in the gloom of the great forests and not on the tope of the trees. One of these birds has a note exactly-like the tollef a bell; another at intervals can emit fram its throat a sound. like the stroke of a hammer On an anCiL It Can be 'heard-for miles, and any one who heard it would be ready; to affirm that what he heard was the actual ring of the hammer on the steel.

At the fur sales there are always one er two rooms, entirely devoted to the furs of white animals. They look like folly palaces of children's dreams., With the walls covered with snowy Arctic fox, and, the floors with the skins Of Polar bears. But the number of species is very small, though the total of Skins is great. The ermine is sent over in baskets, the foxes are hung up, the' bears lie either in piles, or.if very fine skins, are suspended, and besides these there are ninnbers of white wolf skins. Wolves vary in colour from almost black' to pure. white. They seem only partly affected by climate, for though far more white wolf skins are sent from the North, nearly white wolves are seen far South in America. From the general scarcity of wild white species other than those living in Arctic conditions, it would seem that the colour is a dis- advantage to Most animals which.bear it elsewhere. A white pigeon is always the first to be killed from a flock by hawks, and white pheasants are invariably marked and killed when the covers are shot. _ Pied partridges never have a chance of escaping notice when the rest of the covey is invisible, and, generally speaking, the white bird, otherwise than at sea or on the water, is handicapped in the struggle for existence. In domestication the white colour generally tends to appear, evidence of a kind that the so-called " wild " white cattle are probably descendants of a very early and highly prized tame race.