National Geographic : 1921 Jan
INTERESTING CITIZENS The male sea-horse carries the eggs in a pouch situated under his tail, until they are hatched and the young large enough to fend for themselves. Sluggish small-mouthed species fre quently have hard nipper-like teeth, as the small animals which they eat are many of them shelly. As it is difficult for them to get out of the way of larger predaceous fish, they are variously protected against attack, mostly being colored more or less in resemblance to their surroundings. The trigger-fishes have a stout dorsal spine which locks erect, as well as a very thick leathery hide which must be of some pro tection. The gaudy colors of the Queen Trigger-fish (Plate V) are an exception among such forms. A somewhat related flat-sided filefish scarcely swims about at all, but drifts with the tides, more or less head down ward, and can be easily captured in the hand. It is so striped as to be readily overlooked, however, among the eel-grass which is drifting with it. HOW THE SWELL-FISH FRIGHTENS ITS ENEMIES The swell-fishes have the power of suddenly inflating the body with water or air until they assume an approximately globular form several times the normal diameter, which must be disconcerting to any enemy about to seize one. The por cupine-fish, in addition to doing this, has the body everywhere covered with long, sharp spines which project in every di rection like the quills of a hedgehog. Many persons who are familiar with the inflated skins of swell-fishes and porcu pine-fish used by the Japanese as pictur esque lanterns will be surprised to learn that both are common in local waters. The trunk-fishes, instead of being pro tected in this way. have the body en cased in a bony shell, like a turtle. In the East Indies there are rectangular species, but ours are all three-cornered, beechnut-shaped. They go by various names-cuckold, shellfish, and so forth, the Cowfish (Plate V) being a species with two hornlike spines projecting from its forehead. They are excellent eating, cooked in the shell like a lobster. The back muscles of the swell-fishes are sometimes eaten, but make a risky OF THE GULF STREAM 73 delicacy, as there are well authenticated instances of severe poisoning from eating these fishes. The poison seems to be localized in the viscera and to permeate the rest of the fish after death. SOME FISH ARE RISKY DELICACIES In some quarters of Japan swell-fish is highly esteemed when prepared for the table with care, but there is a Japanese proverb to the effect that before eating swell-fish one should have one's last will and testament in good order. Poisoning resultant from eating cer tain species of tropical fishes is a subject which will repay further study. In Cuba several kinds are reputed dangerous and their sale prohibited in the larger mar kets. Among them are the Great Barra cuda (see illustration, page 80), Green Moray (Plate III), and certain species of the Carangiidae, or crevally family. On the other hand, this same Barracuda is particularly favored as a food-fish in Porto Rico, as it is known to subsist en tirely on clean, live food. It is said in Cuba that by no means all the fishes of these species are poison ous, and that the smaller ones are safer. The symptoms of poison are sometimes alimentary disorders, sometimes skin troubles. The cause is not known, but Mowbray, writing in the New York Zoological Society Bulletin, November, 1916, presents a strong case in favor of the hypothesis that such tropical fish poisoning is in most cases due to im proper marketing. He says: "It is prob able that if, when caught, the fish were eviscerated and bled, a case of poisoning would be a rarity." Bulletin No. I of the Madras (India) Fisheries Bureau, 1915, thus emphasizes the importance of properly marketing fish in a tropical climate: "Of all general food, fish is most liable to taint and most poisonous when tainted. . . . Fish not kept alive must be cleaned and washed at sea and properly stowed. This brings them to shore with a much decreased chance of taint, even if several hours in tervene." SNAPPERS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT SOUTHERN FOOD-FISH As food-fishes, the snappers are per haps the most important southern family.