The crows are a remarkable feature of Colombo life. They live in thousands in the banyan and other trees on the outskirts of the town, and make their appearance in the streets every morning soon after daybreak. Here they fly about all day or perch in rows on the roofs and coconut-trees, cawing clamorously, or hop about with heads awry and beady eyes askance. They are the scavengers of the city, but do not confine their activities to the disposal of offal. Nothing eatable, or which glitters and is portable, can be safely left unguarded. Many ladies have had to deplore the loss of valuable trinkets left exposed on dressing-tables before open windows. Crows are credited with a sense of humour, and often do whimsical things. They have been seen carrying round stones in their bills to the ridges of tiled houses, and dropping them there, for the fun of seeing them roll down the roof!
New-comers to the East are always on the lookout for snakes, but these, as a matter of tact, are seldom seen, except, perhaps, harmless rat-snakes. There are a number of poisonous snakes, such as cobras, tic-polongas, green polongas, karavillas, small banded snakes, and others.
Cobras are spoken of by natives as the "good snakes," and they have curious ideas about them. One is that they are always found in pairs, and that, if one is killed, its mate is sure to be seen soon after seeking revenge, and another is that every time a cobra expends its venom it looses a joint of its tail. The Singhalese are very averse to killing cobras, and will sometimes permit them to live in a hollow tree near their houses without molestation. Sometimes fear of the creature will induce a man to catch one in a trap, when he will place it alive in a basket and set it afloat on a river, to the imminent peril of anyone who may take it up !
Natives believe in the existence of a snake called the mapilla, which lives in the roofs of houses, but which is never seen. It seems to have a particularly malignant disposition, for it is said to often bite people without the least provocation. Seeing a man lying asleep, a mapilla will call together two or three of its relatives, one of which takes a turn with its tail round a rafter, and hangs over the sleeping man. The others then form a sort of snake-rope, and the last to descend will bite their victim and then coil upwards, followed by the others, and all retreat to their hiding-places. Thus it is, say the natives, that so many die of snake-bites who never see the reptiles which bit them!
Scorpions are not often seen, but centipedes are common enough. The bites of both are very painful, but seldom cause death, except in the case of young children. Lizards are to be seen everywhere, green creatures with scarlet heads and frills, of formidable appearance, but harmless ; also little house-lizards, which dart about the walls, catching flies in the most familiar fashion.
The teeming insect-life to be everywhere seen very soon impresses one unfamiliar with the tropics. Black ants, some of which bite most painfully, cross the road in armies ; red ants swarm in the trees, making leaf-houses for themselves ; carpenter-bees are busy drilling tunnels into any soft, dry wood they can find ; mason-wasps build their curious little mud nurseries against the walls of houses ; scavenger-beetles work on the road, rolling to their burrows balls of ordure, many times bigger than themselves, in which to lay their eggs ; praying mantises perch on the bushes in devotional attitudes, while they tear their insect-victims limb from limb ; leaf-insects crawl about, pretending to be dead leaves, also grey moths, which look like bits of lichen-covered bark. The air is filled with flights of butterflies, mostly saffron-hued, all making their way, according to native ideas, to Sri Pada, the sacred mountain.
At night the weird cries of jackals, which haunt the neighbourhood of inhabited places, begin to be heard. The flying-foxes appear, and flit about men, and then by the women and children, under a tree. Fingers are always used to convey the rice and curry to the mouth, and plantain leaves are often employed instead of metal dishes or plates. Natives, however, do not like to be overlooked while they are eating.