Monday, February 25, 2013

Were/are the rabbits invasive? Pliny the Elder reports on biocontrol

Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 AD – August 25, 79 AD), better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian. The Natural History (Latin: Naturalis Historia) is an encyclopedia published circa AD 77–79 [1]

The translation from book 8 chapter 81 is mine and quite literal; the latin original is copied from a page that is part of a website belonging to Bill Thayer.[2]

Lessons on biocontrol, overpopulation and even perhaps invasive species impact on ecosystem services from 2000 years ago

217       Et leporum plura sunt genera.
There are many kinds of hares.

in Alpibus candidi, quibus hibernis mensibus pro cibatu nivem credunt esse;
in the Alps there are white ones which people think feed on snow during the winter months;

certe liquescente ea rutilescunt annis omnibus,
for certainly as it thaws there they grow reddish [in color] the rest of the year,

 et est alioqui animal intolerandi rigoris alumnum.
but somehow the animal is nourished in the intolerable cold.

leporum generis sunt et quos Hispania cuniculos appellat,
And there is a type of hare which the Spanish call 'cuniculi' [rabbit].[3]

fecunditatis innumerae famemque Baliarum insulis populatis messibus adferentis.
its fecundity is uncountable and brought famine to the Balearic Islands [Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera] during harvest time.

 — (Fetus ventri exectos vel uberibus ablatos, non repurgatis interaneis, gratissimo in cibatu habent; laurices vocant) —
— (They have a very pleasing food [dish] which [is made] either by cutting the unborn rabbit from the [mother's] womb or removing the plentiful just born young without washing the intestines. They call [the dish] laurices.) —

218       certum est Baliaricos adversus proventum eorum auxilium militare a Divo Augusto petisse.
Indeed the Balearians petitioned Divine Augustus for military aid against this increase of them [rabbits]

magna propter venatum eum viverris gratia est;
a great favorite for hunting it is with a ferret;[4]

iniciunt eas in specus, qui sunt multifores in terraunde et nomen animali —,
they put them into the holes, which are the many entrances in the earth  — from where comes the name[5] —    

atque ita eiectos superne capiunt.
and thus when they are driven up above, they are captured.

Archelaus auctor est,
Archelaus is the authority for:

quot sint corporis cavernae ad excrementa lepori, totidem annos esse aetatis;
as many tunnels of the warren there may be for the excrement of the hare, so many years old it is.

varius certe numerus reperitur.
a varying number indeed [of years] will be discovered.

idem utramque vim singulis inesse ac sine mare aeque gignere.
The same writer [says that within the rabbit] is the singular power to procreate equally both with and without a male.

219       benigna circa hoc natura innocua et esculenta animalia fecunda generavit.
       For all of this, nature obligingly generates harmless and edible fecund animals

lepus, omnium praedae nascens, solus praeter dasypodem superfetat,
The hare, born a prey for all, alone, save for the dasypodem,[6] able to conceive anew while still with young,

aliud educans, aliud in utero pilis vestitum, aliud inplume, aliud inchoatum gerens pariter.
one coming forth, another hairy in the uterus, one bald, another equally ready to be born.

nec non et vestes leporino pilo facere temptatum est, tactu non perinde molli ut in cute, propter brevitatem pili dilabidas.
There is a temptation to make cloth from the rabbit fur, however, it is not soft to the touch of the skin because the short hairs fall part.

Europena rabbit - image from wikipedia

[3] Oryctolagus cuniculus  Synonyms: Lepus cuniculus Linnaeus, 1758
[4]  Mustella furo Linn.
[5] cuniculi - a complex of tunnels
[6] no idea what a dasypodem is  perhaps a poetical reference to a soft footed rabbit, which makes no sense, but I digress.

1 comment:

Sandy C said...

Nice translation! Invasive or not, they are certainly prevalent. And now it seems they are becoming more prevalent on menus: