Giles Watson

Giles Watson

Posted on 06/23/2014

Photo taken on June 23, 2014

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Aculeated Ant-Eater

Aculeated Ant-Eater
Aculeated Ant-Eater

Aye, I’ve seen ‘em doin’ as the gypsies do
with ‘edgehogs, plasterin’ ‘em wi’ mud,
an’ bakin’ ‘em in a well-raked fire. Then
they peels ‘em like potatoes, all charred
on’t outside, an’ th’ spines crack away:
‘t whole thing opens up like the pod
‘round a conker. They ‘as to catch ‘em
first, mind. They go down vertical, like
a corkscrew, an’ them claws is ter be
watched. ‘Alf the time, they gotta be
levered out wi’ sticks an’ flipped over
on their backs an’ speared. What you say?
‘Ow d’they taste? Depen’s ‘ow ‘ungry
ye’ve got yerself. Ever eaten ‘edgehog?

Henceforth, the porcupine and the anteater must be seen
as one genus, united by this transitional form: a toothed
tongue that drinks ants, and a plethora of serried spines.
How beautiful are these gradations between species!
Paint him, Nodder, with his tongue out, and his rear legs
facing backwards. Here – I’ll put him in the pose,
dripping slighty, looking a little drained, pickled in spirit.

Well, I must say, this still seems to me
to be pure fabrication. Young Everard
claims to have taken the whole thing
to pieces, and found it quite as ridiculous
as the Platypus in most particulars,
and then he has the temerity to suggest
he expects it to be ovoviviparous,
like certain lizards. These upstarts
seem to think the Creator took leave
of his senses when He furnished
the Antipodes with a fauna. Call it
sensational if you will; it arrived
via the Indies, did it not? Pooh!
I can smell a fraud a mile off.
Now, Farnsworth, a spot of port!

Poem by Giles Watson, 2014. Picture: Naturalist’s Pocket Magazine; or, Compleat Cabinet of the Curiosities and Beauties of Nature, 1800-1801, Volume 4. A century before The Origin of Species, Shaw anticipated Darwin by pointing out the multitudes of transitional forms between one genus and another. The Aculeated Anteater (or the Echidna, Tachyglossus aculeatus), he wrote, “is a striking instance of that beautiful gradation, so frequently observed in the animal kingdom, by which creatures of one tribe or genus approach to those of a very different one…” His theory that the Echidna was a transitional form between porcupines and anteaters was, however, entirely incorrect; the Echidna is an egg-laying monotreme, and is related to no other mammal but another species of echidna, and the platypus, all of them confined to Australia and New Guinea. Scientists began to realise quite early on that there was something unusual about the reproductive systems of the Platypus and Echidna, and Everard Home created a sensation at the Royal Society, after conducting the dissections detailed in his paper, ‘Description of the Anatomy of the Ornithorhynchus hystrix’, Philosophical Transactions, 1802, by anticipating that the creature must produce eggs which would hatch in the act of parturition, much after the fashion of the viviparous lizard. Indigenous Australians, of course, already knew from observation that the Platypus and the Echidna laid eggs and suckled their young, and they were also well-versed in how to handle and eat them.