THE AMERICAN BLACK BEAR.
All the known species are natives of America, in the vast forests of which they may be said literally to swarm; but happily, like most of the other venomous snakes, they never exert their terrible qualities upon man except in self-defence, and the warning rattle is always heard to give notice of their approach. Their bite is almost uniformly fatal even to the largest animals, and the latter frequently evince such an instinctive dread of them, that, according to M. Bosc, it is almost impossible to compel a horse or a dog to advance towards them. Their food consists principally of the smaller quadrupeds, such as squirrels and rabbits, of other reptiles, and of birds, although they rarely climb trees in pursuit of their prey. It was long believed, and the notion is still popularly current, that they possessed the power of fascinating their victims, which were thought to be so completely under the influence of their glance as to precipitate themselves of their own accord into the open throat of their enemy; but the truth appears to be that they actually inspire so great a degree of terror that the animals selected for their attacks are commonly rendered incapable of offering such resistance as might otherwise be in their power, or even of attempting to escape from their pursuit.
In his habits he partly resembles both the Eagle and the Vulture, but differs from them most completely in the nature of his prey and in his mode of attacking it. Like the former he always prefers live flesh to carrion; but the food to which he is most particularly attached consists of snakes and other reptiles, for the destruction of which he is admirably fitted by his organization. The length of his legs not only enables him to pursue these creatures over the sandy deserts which he inhabits with a speed proportioned to their own, but also places his more vulnerable parts in some measure above the risk of their venomous bite; and the imperfect character of his talons, when compared with those of other rapacious birds, is in complete accordance with the fact that his feet are destined rather to inflict powerful blows, than to seize and carry off his prey. When he falls upon a serpent, he first attacks it with the bony prominences of his wings, with one of which he belabours it, while he guards his body by the expansion of the other. He then seizes it by the tail and mounts with it to a considerable height in the air, from which he drops it to the earth, and repeats this process until the reptile is either killed or wearied out; when he breaks open its skull by means of his beak, and tears it in pieces with the assistance of his claws, or, if not too large, swallows it entire.