The Atoll of Funafuti, Ellice group : its zoology, botany, ethnology and general structure based on collections made by Charles Hedley of the Australian Museum, Sydney, N.S.W.
Tetrodon nigropunctatus, Bloch.
Tetrodon nigropunctatus, Bloch, Schn., p. 507; Bleeker, Atlas Ichth., pl. ccvi., fig. 4.
The Collection includes two adult examples, both of which when alive exhibited a beautiful lemon colour on the entire ventral surface, thus approaching the. variety citronella. One of the two specimens is very spiny, and the other is in part almost naked. Although it is known that some Diodons are able to erect their spines independently of the inflation of the body, personally I had no idea that Tetrodons could accomplish a similar result to such an extent as is exhibited by our specimens. Examining the two side by side one was seen to be exceedingly spiny, while the other as indicated appeared to be devoid of such armaments; it was not until the last named example was turned over that I realised they were of the same species. The right side of this specimen has the spines fully protruded, while on the left side they are deeply imbedded, but can be readily found and protruded by means of a knife or other instrument. A Tetrodon killed with its spines erected may present a very different appearance to one of the same species killed while the spines were imbedded beneath the skin. As the spiniferous character is used in describing or determining the various species, it has been thought advisable to indicate that it may not be so constant as has been imagined.
I find that Günther has drawn attention to the fact that this species varies in its spiny character, but was apparently unaware page 198that an individual might exhibit each variation as circumstances altered. He writes as follows *:—
" This species varies in a remarkable manner in the extent of the spines over the body: sometimes they project much out of the skin, and cover nearly the entire body like bristles: some-times they are much less numerous, and nearly entirely hidden in the skin, the greater part of which appears to be smooth."
Tetrodon nigropunctatus is included in a division characterised by the presence on each side of the snout of "two solid nasal tentacles without opening." Of this species I would rather say that there is a single tentacle on each side of the snout, each tentacle consisting of a stalk separated at about half its height into two lobes. On examining these lobes with a lens they were seen to be distinctly porous at the apex, and suspecting the presence of a canal one of the tentacles was removed, when two depressions were observable in the pedicle, each depression corresponding with one of the lobes. On cutting sections, the microscope revealed the presence of two black spots which may have been the pigmental and juxtaposed walls of two canals. The tentacles had however been so shrivelled, that nothing more satisfactory could be made out.
The native name of the species, which is very common around the Atoll, is "Soui."
Tetrodon immaculatus, Bloch.
Tetrodon immaculatus, Bloch., Schn., p. 507; Bleeker, Atlas Ichth., p. 75, pl. ccxi., fig. 1
One half-grown example is included in the Collection. The stomachs of all these Tetrodons were crowded with coral, which grated together when the body was touched. In T. nigro-punctatus the coral consisted of the finer branchlets of a Pocillopora, found growing in the shallower water where the Tetrodons were obtained. Some of the pieces swallowed, measured nearly 3/4| inch in length, and were much branched.
The food of T. immaculatus, as exhibited by our specimen, was composed of pieces of the stock of a coral unbranched, and not exceeding a pea in size. With these were associated some Fora-minifera, which my colleague, Mr. Thomas Whitelegge, has identified as Orbitolites complanata and Tinoporus baculatus.
Darwin has noticed two species of Scarus as browsing upon corals.*
* Günther—Cat. of Fishes, viii., p. 293.
* Darwin—Coral Reefs, 1874, p. 19.
The fifty-four species here enumerated are those brought to Sydney, but this number does not exhaust even the common fishes of the Atoll, many different kinds not obtained were observed swimming about the coral growth, or in the deep water beyond. Other species were obtained, but for various reasons were not preserved. We are told (page 65) how a giant ray (probably Ceratoptera) was harpooned in shoal water in the Lagoon, and the large fins cut off to make a meal for the families of its captors. It is also mentioned that the "Bonito" (Thynnus), is attracted and caught with pearl-shell hooks trailed unbaited over the surface, their gleaming nacre being a sufficient temptation. The Barracouta or Barracuda (Sphyrœna) is also mentioned, and the flying-fish (Exocœtus), attracted in the lagoon by torches, and caught in nets, formed a valuable source of food. A shark was caught and can be readily identified as the "Thresher" (Alopias vulpes) from a drawing made by Mr. Hedley. This shark is known as "Mungo" to the natives. There is evidence of another shark, for the swords figured by Edge-Partington,* as possibly from the Ellice Group, are armed with teeth, evidently those of Galeocerdo rayneri.
Mr. Hedley described to me a fish which there was small difficulty in recognising, and on showing him illustrations of Epibulus insidiator, he at once identified them as portraying the fish he described. A species extremely variable in colour, the example seen was wholly yellow.
A Diodon (or rather portion of the skin) was brought home; it was found on the beach, and as it consists of nothing more than spines held together with skin, the species cannot be determined.
Mr. Hedley brought us some account of a large fish found off the Coral Atolls, known to the natives as " Palu," and to the traders as "Oil fish." It is only caught in the deepest water, and is described as having an immense head, enormous jaws, and large scales. I would hazard the suggestion that it is one of the Macruridŝ, and as little, if any, information has been published about the "Palu," have pleasure in transcribing the following account, for which we are indebted to Mr. W. S. Crummer, of the Department of Lands, Sydney, who received it from the well known traveller and author, Mr. Louis Becke:—
* J. Edge-Partington—Ethnological Album (1), i., pl. xxxvii., figs. 6-11.
"A full-grown 'Palu' would weigh up to 1501bs., and be 6ft. long; it being by no means a thick fish; as far as shape goes it is much like the Australian Jew fish. In place of scales it possesses a tough black skin, thickly covered with bright silvery and small horny excresences growing in the same manner as the feathers of a French fowl—that is, these scales, or whatever you can call them, curl upwards, and feel loose to the touch. The most peculiar features of the 'Palu' are the enormous eyes; the jaws are toothless; the fins resemble those of a Jew fish. The average size is about 3 or 4ft., and weight 40 to 601bs.
"The ingeniously constructed wooden 'Palu' hook you are already familiar with, so I need not here say anything about it. The line most in favour for 'Palu' fishing is made from the very best cocoanut fibre, 4 or 6 plait. This is of great strength, and above all very light, for it is not unusual to fish in 150 to 200 fathoms, and at such a depth as that the lines, made from 'fetau' (Hibiscus), would be too heavy to pull in. A stone sinker, 3 to 51bs., is attached to the line.
"A calm smooth night is chosen, and after catching flying fish for ' Palu' bait, the canoes pull out into the open—always on the lee side. It is customary to observe the strictest silence, the natives having many superstitions in regard to 'Palu' catching, which is always conducted in a quiet, noiseless manner, different from 'Bonito' fishing, where everyone yells and howls, and works himself into a frenzy.
"The bite of the 'Palu' is hardly perceptible, but on the Island of Nanomaga, in the Ellice Group, where I was left twelve months, I do not remember an instance where we did not touch bottom at 120 fathoms, and almost immediately pull up with a 'Palu' hooked. The hauling up is done very slowly till the fish is within 30 or 40 fathoms, and then as fast as possible to avoid the big Tanifa sharks that would seize the fish. Sometimes in 'Palu' fishing we have hooked immense brown eels which, unless our united strength was put on the line, would tie themselves round the coral and cut the line. In one of these eels we found a 'Palu' weighing 201bs., just dead, showing that these brutes page 201prey on the 'Palu.' When each canoe has caught two 'Palu' they paddle ashore.
"The fish are apportioned out to the community with the greatest exactitude—every portion of it is edible; the head, bones, and fins, when cooked, turning into a rich mass of jelly. The flesh of the 'Palu,' if left uncooked, never putrefies; it simply dissolves into a colourless and odourless oil—I believe chemists would like to get hold of 'Palu' oil. When cooked, it is not easy to detect any great difference from the flesh of other fish, except that it looks very rich and is dully transparent. Its almost immediate effect on the bowels I have described to you before.
"It is prized above all other fish in the Line and Ellice Groups. In the Line Islands it is called 'Te icka ne peka'—hardly translatable in polite English; but not to be too coarse we will say it means' the fish that makes you obey the call of nature in double quick time.'
"When I was living on Savage Island, the people then told me that in the older times 'Palu' were caught there, but of late years very rarely, and that the strong currents racing round the island made them (the natives) afraid to venture out at night; but I surprised them when, with two old warrior fishermen, I caught five 'Palu' in one night, in 80 fathoms only, and with a steel fish-hook. I set the fashion, and the extinct art was revived during my stay there, and I sold any amount of fishing lines and 8-in. hooks, as the Nuie people hate to make anything they." can buy or steal."
Three types of Funafuti native instruments, in which portions of fishes have been made use of, have been submitted to me.
One, called a rasp, is simply a dried portion of the tail of Urogymnus asperrimus. The skin of this ray, as is well known, is in common use for covering sword and spear handles, etc.
A second, described as a thatching needle, is formed of about nine inches of the beak of a Sword Fish (Histiophorus). Another needle used for a similar purpose is the caudal spine of one of the larger Sting Rays (Trygonidŝ), the serrations having been ground down to render the tool sufficiently smooth. The native name of the ray is "Feimanu."
A number of lancets form a third type. They are very neatly made of a piece of stick cleft at the end, into which is lashed a shark's tooth. The teeth are possibly from Carcharias lamia; those from the lower jaw would make admirable lancets, but personally I should not care to be operated upon by the serrated teeth of the upper jaw—both types of teeth having been similarly utilised.