History of Animals
Accordingly, when this season is marked with calm weather, the name of
'halcyon days' is given to the seven days preceding, and to as many
following, the solstice; as Simonides the poet says:
God lulls for fourteen days the winds to sleep
In winter; and this temperate interlude
Men call the Holy Season, when the deep
Cradles the mother Halcyon and her brood.
And these days are calm, when southerly winds prevail at the
solstice, northerly ones having been the accompaniment of the Pleiads.
The halcyon is said to take seven days for building her nest, and
the other seven for laying and hatching her eggs. In our country there
are not always halcyon days about the time of the winter solstice, but
in the Sicilian seas this season of calm is almost periodical. The
bird lays about five eggs.
(The aithyia, or diver, and the larus, or gull, lay their eggs
on rocks bordering on the sea, two or three at a time; but the gull
lays in the summer, and the diver at the beginning of spring, just
after the winter solstice, and it broods over its eggs as birds do
in general. And neither of these birds resorts to a hiding-place.)
The halcyon is the most rarely seen of all birds. It is seen
only about the time of the setting of the Pleiads and the winter
solstice. When ships are lying at anchor in the roads, it will hover
about a vessel and then disappear in a moment, and Stesichorus in
one of his poems alludes to this peculiarity. The nightingale also
breeds at the beginning of summer, and lays five or six eggs; from
autumn until spring it retires to a hiding-place.
Insects copulate and breed in winter also, that is when the
weather is fine and south winds prevail; such, I mean, as do not
hibernate, as the fly and the ant. The greater part of wild animals
bring forth once and once only in the year, except in the case of
animals like the hare, where the female can become superfoetally
In like manner the great majority of fishes breed only once a
year, like the shoal-fishes (or, in other words, such as are caught in
nets), the tunny, the pelamys, the grey mullet, the chalcis, the
mackerel, the sciaena, the psetta and the like, with the exception
of the labrax or basse; for this fish (alone amongst those
mentioned) breeds twice a year, and the second brood is the weaker
of the two. The trichias and the rock-fishes breed twice a year; the
red mullet breeds thrice a year, and is exceptional in this respect.
This conclusion in regard to the red mullet is inferred from the
spawn; for the spawn of the fish may be seen in certain places at
three different times of the year. The scorpaena breeds twice a
year. The sargue breeds twice, in the spring and in the autumn. The
saupe breeds once a year only, in the autumn. The female tunny
breeds only once a year, but owing to the fact that the fish in some
cases spawn early and in others late, it looks as though the fish bred
twice over. The first spawning takes place in December before the
solstice, and the latter spawning in the spring. The male tunny
differs from the female in being unprovided with the fin beneath the
belly which is called aphareus.
Of cartilaginous fishes, the rhina or angelfish is the only one
that breeds twice; for it breeds at the beginning of autumn, and at
the setting of the Pleiads: and, of the two seasons, it is in better
condition in the autumn. It engenders at a birth seven or eight young.
Certain of the dog-fishes, for example the spotted dog, seem to
breed twice a month, and this results from the circumstance that the
eggs do not all reach maturity at the same time.