History of Animals

Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


Of viviparous quadrupeds the porcupine and the bear retire into concealment. The fact that the bear hides is well established, but there are doubts as to its motive for so doing, whether it be by reason of the cold or from some other cause. About this period the male and the female become so fat as to be hardly capable of motion. The female brings forth her young at this time, and remains in concealment until it is time to bring the cubs out; and she brings them out in spring, about three months after the winter solstice. The bear hides for at least forty days; during fourteen of these days it is said not to move at all, but during most of the subsequent days it moves, and from time to time wakes up. A she-bear in pregnancy has either never been caught at all or has been caught very seldom. There can be no doubt but that during this period they eat nothing; for in the first place they never emerge from their hiding-place, and further, when they are caught, their belly and intestines are found to be quite empty. It is also said that from no food being taken the gut almost closes up, and that in consequence the animal on first emerging takes to eating arum with the view of opening up and distending the gut.

The dormouse actually hides in a tree, and gets very fat at that period; as does also the white mouse of Pontus.

[Of animals that hide or go torpid some slough off what is called their ’old-age’. This name is applied to the outermost skin, and to the casing that envelops the developing organism.]

In discussing the case of terrestrial vivipara we stated that the reason for the bear’s seeking concealment is an open question. We now proceed to treat of the tessellates. The tessellates for the most part go into hiding, and if their skin is soft they slough off their ’old-age’, but not if the skin is shell-like, as is the shell of the tortoise- for, by the way, the tortoise and the freshwater tortoise belong to the tessellates. Thus, the old-age is sloughed off by the gecko, the lizard, and above all, by serpents; and they slough off the skin in spring-time when emerging from their torpor, and again in the autumn. Vipers also slough off their skin both in spring and in autumn, and it is not the case, as some aver, that this species of the serpent family is exceptional in not sloughing. When the serpent begins to slough, the skin peels off at first from the eyes, so that any one ignorant of the phenomenon would suppose the animal were going blind; after that it peels off the head, and so on, until the creature presents to view only a white surface all over. The sloughing goes on for a day and a night, beginning with the head and ending with the tail. During the sloughing of the skin an inner layer comes to the surface, for the creature emerges just as the embryo from its afterbirth.

All insects that slough at all slough in the same way; as the silphe, and the empis or midge, and all the coleoptera, as for instance the cantharus-beetle. They all slough after the period of development; for just as the afterbirth breaks from off the young of the vivipara so the outer husk breaks off from around the young of the vermipara, in the same way both with the bee and the grasshopper. The cicada the moment after issuing from the husk goes and sits upon an olive tree or a reed; after the breaking up of the husk the creature issues out, leaving a little moisture behind, and after a short interval flies up into the air and sets a-chirping.

Of marine animals the crawfish and the lobster slough sometimes in the spring, and sometimes in autumn after parturition. Lobsters have been caught occasionally with the parts about the thorax soft, from the shell having there peeled off, and the lower parts hard, from the shell having not yet peeled off there; for, by the way, they do not slough in the same manner as the serpent. The crawfish hides for about five months. Crabs also slough off their old-age; this is generally allowed with regard to the soft-shelled crabs, and it is said to be the case with the testaceous kind, as for instance with the large ’granny’ crab. When these animals slough their shell becomes soft all over, and as for the crab, it can scarcely crawl. These animals also do not cast their skins once and for all, but over and over again.

So much for the animals that go into hiding or torpidity, for the times at which, and the ways in which, they go; and so much also for the animals that slough off their old-age, and for the times at which they undergo the process.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "Book 8, Chapter 17," History of Animals, trans. D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson Original Sources, accessed August 8, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SGC9QNYE6U1GNU.

MLA: Aristotle. "Book 8, Chapter 17." History of Animals, translted by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, Original Sources. 8 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SGC9QNYE6U1GNU.

Harvard: Aristotle, 'Book 8, Chapter 17' in History of Animals, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 8 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SGC9QNYE6U1GNU.