To believers in the Darwin theory it will be of interest to know that in the qniet bays and rivers on the eastern coast of Central and South America there lives an animal, which mig'it be rightfully considered as the connecting link between men and fish. It is the manatee, the water siren, the sea-eaH, or sea-cow, as this strange animal is sometimes called. 1t b(;l(,mgs to the order of tho Cetacea, and is altogether herbivorous ; living on grass which grows under water, or on licrbs which it seeks on shore. The body is pisciform, and measures some fourteen or more feet in length ; the skin being very thick, without hair, and of a dark co-or. The upper part of tlie body, especially of the females, much re sembls that of a woman, the breasts being of the same form. In place of the fins of the ordinary fish, the manatee has a short tirm of only one joint, which terminates in a, sort of hand, on wliich the nails are distinct]' visible, and whicli the animal uses with much dexterity, in moving aljout when on land, and in carrying its young. This lirnl) has caused this animal to be called manatee, from the Latin word " vmnus " the hand. The writer, who for several years resided in those countries where these animals? aliouud, has seen the animal, and has been told r(.;i)eatedly by the natives, that the female holds her cub to sudde as the mother does her babo). Th.-, lail oftlie manatei is shaped like an Ojien fan, and the close observer will perceive ten divisions, which mark the ten toes. Manatees swini by the help of this hroad tail, which moves up and down,it hom right to left like that of the fish. fhis limb, which at first sight appears to be a mere fin or nerve, melts almost entirely into butter when fried in a ps,n, and is highly prized by the natives for ointments and for other medicinal purposes. The animal weigiis from a thousand to fifteen hundred pounds, and the meat, is considered a great relish. It looks and tastes much like pork, and needs a good deal of cooking. It is a strange fact that the flesh keeps lorg er from decay than any other, and it is thcrofore salted and preserved like pork. They are caught with harpoons Iiy the Indians, who know their haunts and customs, and it seems as if they were be-cominjr more scarce every year. Much has been fabled alxsut these water sirens, that needs corroboration from scientific men, who seem to have taken hut little interest in these strange animals. Some have assured me tha t their voice resembles the bellowing of an ox, others that it was perfect music. I am induced to believe the latter, as they are well known under the name of " si-renia," or " sirens," which appellative they couU only derive from their charming voice. Whether this be so or not, remains yet to be confirmed, like the harmonious song of the dying swan.
This article was originally published with the title "The Manatee: The Human Fish"