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Volume 34, 1901
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Natural History Notes from Dusky Sound.

4. “Natural-history Notes from Dusky Sound,” by Richard Henry.


1. Pilchards.—In reading back numbers of the Transactions I notice an account of the Picton herring which says that they remain in Queen Charlotte Sound all the year round, which implies that they must get their food there; and when they have no teeth their food must be small and soft; and when they flourish it implies that some

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combination of circumstances relieves them from any very destructive enemies. I have seen pilchards in many places, and always wondered at their immense numbers and where they came from, for wherever I have seen them they seem to have thousands of enemies who could easily catch them. I dipped a baker's basket in the sea off Queenscliffe and got it half-full of pilchards, while the air was alive with birds and the water thick with porpoises and all sorts of fish following them. Surely they must have some peaceful places to breed in or they could not spare such losses without extinction. Cook Strait may be one of those. They represent the Home herring, and the herring is an old acquaintance of the salmon; therefore if the salmon have not been tried in Queen Charlotte Sound it might be a good plan to try some when you have the salmon, for they might meet with some favourable conditions that we do not understand. I have not seen pilchards on this southern coast, where we put most of the salmon, but Mr. Sutherland says that they come into Milford. It might also be a good plan to try a few salmon on this west coast if they never have been tried there, for there is great variety of conditions between such rivers as the Hollyford and those coming into the heads of the sounds. The temperature may be of great importance to give the young ones a start; and though there is a warm current coming down the coast the heads of the sounds are often frozen in winter. I think that owing to the quantity of food that sometimes comes in it is far the best coast for fish; but the rain brings a colouring matter out of the bush that darkens the water, and I think the fish do not like it, because it is only when the water clears that the shoals of migratory fish come in. However, this dark water is always much colder than the clear sea water, and that may be why the fish dislike it.

2. Vegetable Caterpillar.—I exhibit an aweto or vegetable caterpillar in a tube. Sometimes live ones are plentiful here in the spring about the roots of the Veronica hedges, but they do not appear to grow fungi every year, for lately I cannot find one in that state, though the first years we were here they were plentiful, yet we saw no live ones. The one I exhibit is a fine big one, and was very lively when I got it, so I put it in the tube. I exhibit it now to show how fond it must be of growing fungi when it will grow it in a spirit-jar. When the fungus starts to grow in the ground it seems as if the caterpillar had laid itself out for it, for it often forms a cavity around its head as if to accommodate the fungus, and I would not wonder if they are friendly relations instead of enemies. If they ever do turn into moths it is curious that I have not seen any of them when I can see all the others so readily. I do not know what caterpillar the moth breeds from. I have tried to nurse the live caterpillars into moths, but they take so long that I have never succeeded. They have grown fungus several times, until I began to think that that was the destiny of all of them, but I cannot see how the fungus could lay caterpillars' eggs.

Sir James Hector remarked that the “Picton herring” spawned from twenty to thirty miles off the coast of New South Wales. It was a true pilchard; it was not a herring. There was no herring in these waters. It would be a valuable achievement if the herring could be introduced.

Mr. H. N. McLeod said he saw the fish in question at Picton a week ago. They were in such numbers that they made the water phosphorescent as far as the eye could reach.

Sir James Hector said the fish had put in an early appearance. There were no fish in these seas which deposited their eggs, as the herring did, at the bottom of the sea. The reason, he thought, was the absence of such natural banks as extended from England to Denmark, and the acclimatisation of the herring, desirable as it was, would probably on this account be a matter of great difficulty.