Popular Science Monthly/Volume 12/April 1878/Popular Miscellany

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 12 April 1878  (1878) 
Popular Miscellany


Anticipations concerning the Phonograph.—Dr. William F. Channing, writing to the Providence Journal on Edison's phonograph, thus presents its future: "The sheet of tin-foil or other plastic material receiving the impressions of sound will be stereotyped or electrotyped so as to be multiplied and made durable. Or the cylinder will be made of a material plastic when used, and hardening afterward. Thin sheets of papier-maché, or of various substances which soften by heat, would be of this character. Having provided thus for the durability of the phonotype plate (a better name than phonograph), it will be very easy to make it separable from the cylinder producing it, and attachable to a corresponding cylinder anywhere or at any time. There will doubtless be a standard of diameter and pitch of screw for phonotype cylinders. Friends at a distance will then send to each other phonotype letters, which will talk at any time in the friend's voice when put upon the instrument. How startling, also, it will be to reproduce and hear at pleasure the voice of the dead! All of these things are to be common, every-day experiences within a few years. It will be possible, a generation hence, to take a file of phonotype letters, spoken at different ages by the same person, and hear the early prattle, the changing voice, the manly tones, and also the varying manner and moods of the speaker—so expressive of character—from childhood up!

"These are some of the private applications. For public uses, we shall have galleries where phonotype sheets will be preserved as photographs and books now are. The utterances of great speakers and singers will there be kept for a thousand years. In these galleries, spoken languages will be preserved from century to century with all the peculiarities of pronunciation, dialect, and brogue. As we go now to see the stereopticon, we shall go to public halls to hear these treasures of speech and song brought out and reproduced as loud as, or louder than, when first spoken or sung by the truly great ones of earth. The ease with which the phonotype cylinders may be stereotyped or electrotyped and multiplied, has been spoken of. Certainly, within a dozen years, some of the great singers will be induced to sing into the ear of the phonograph, and the electrotyped cylinders thus obtained will be put into the hand-organs of the streets, and we shall hear the actual voice of Christine Nilsson, of Miss Cary, or even of Jenny Lind and Alboni, ground out at every corner!

"In public exhibitions, also, we shall have reproductions of the sounds of Nature, and of noises familiar and unfamiliar. Nothing will be easier than to catch the sounds of the waves on the beach, the roar of Niagara, the discords of the streets, the noises of animals, the puffing and rush of the rail-road-train, the rolling of thunder, or even the tumult of a battle.

“Edison has recently stated that his best instrument will now talk so as to be heard at a distance of 175 feet. The conditions for increasing the sound are so simple that there can be no doubt of any desirable extension in this direction.”


Garden-Schools.— The New York Academy of Sciences has twice had under consideration plans of using the public parks for scientific and hygienic purposes. One of these purposes was the propagation of febrifuge trees and plants; the other the use of part of these public grounds as garden-schools.

This latter project is to be commended for various reasons: As education becomes general, schoolhouses cannot contain all the scholars. The present school-crowding already necessarily generates or propagates among the pupils various epidemic and other diseases. The shutting of the children in class-rooms when the sun shines, and the air is bracing, is producing leucæmic affections. The eyesight is impaired by concentration on books; and the training of the mind to the exclusion of the exercise of the senses, and of the other active functions, isolates the child from the real world, and feeds him on abstractions which predispose to several forms of insanity.

On the other hand, open-air life, study, and exercise, invigorate all the tissues, organs, and functions of the body.

The plan of such garden-schools must vary, of course, for each locality. For the city of New York, as presented to the Academy of Sciences by Dr. E. Seguin, and by the Academy to the mayor, it would be somewhat as follows: A part of each of the small parks would be planted with specimens of ornamental, edible, medicinal, textile, and other plants, where groups of children could go with their teachers to breathe and learn.

In the Central Park large tracts would be devoted to indigenous and exotic plants, to zoology and ichthyology, mineralogy, and specimen sections of American geology, hydrology, etc. The public-school pupils would visit these places with their teachers; and, when the weather happened to be unfavorable, they could find shelter in the public libraries, museums of painting and natural history, which fringe the park, and where they could continue their studies of Nature.

In a word, the schoolhouse must be used only when it cannot be helped, the rules of physiological education needed by a free people, being: Never to teach in-doors what can be learned out-doors; never to explain in the abstract what can be demonstrated in the concrete; never to teach with books what can be perceived in objects; never to teach by images when Nature itself is at hand; never to show dead Nature when living Nature is obtainable; and never to require belief where seeing and understanding are possible. New York’s beautiful Central Park might thus be made an educational establishment of the highest value. In the Kew Gardens at London, seventy-five acres are given up to the students, without at all impairing the beauty of the landscape. The same might be said of the Gardens of Acclimation of London, Paris, Algiers, Calcutta; of the Botanical Gardens of Montpellier, Brussels, Geneva, which are partly schools and partly pleasure grounds. In this respect we are sadly behind. Once reminded that our parks have been created “equally for the enjoyment of the public, and for the education of the children,” our public authorities, it is to be hoped, will realize the need of preserving them for their original purposes, and so improving them that they may every year become more and more indispensable to our citizens.


New Fossil Reptiles.— In addition to the remarkable Jurassic reptiles recently described by Prof. Marsh from the Rocky Mountains, several others are announced by him in the March number of the American Journal of Science. One of these, a gigantic Dinosaur (Atlantosaurus immanis), was much larger than any land-animal, recent or fossil, hitherto described. The femur of this monster was over eight feet (2,500 millimetres) in length, and the other remains preserved are equally huge. If this reptile had the proportions of a crocodile, it must have been over a hundred feet long! It was certainly gigantic enough to entirely disprove the theory, generally accepted, that the elephant is as large as any animal can be that moves upon the land, for the bulk of this reptile must have been at least three times that of any known Proboscidian.

Among the other Dinosaurs described in this paper is Morosaurus impar, another herbivore belonging to the same family, and about twenty-five feet in length, and Creosaurus atrox, its carnivorous enemy, nearly as large, each representing a new genus. Two small species, belonging to the new genus Laosaurus, are also described. The large herbivorous Dinosaurs, from the American Jurassic, represent, according to Prof. Marsh, a well-marked family, the Atlantosauridæ, which have but three or four vertebræ in the sacrum, five well-developed digits in each foot, and the hind-feet ungulate and plantigrade—characters not before found in Dinosaurs.


Trees and Health.—Certain observations made by a correspondent of the Chemical News are deserving of the attention of sanitarians. According to him, the cantonment of Goruckpoor, in Northwest India, though situated near the forest and in the neighborhood of a large swamp, was thirty years ago considered a healthy station. A large grove of mango-trees existed between the swamp and the station. For some reason this grove was cut down, and the station became unhealthy. Again, the civil station of Futtehpoor is situated between Allahabad and Cawnpoor, in an arid plain, but near a pretty extensive marsh. This place was considered extremely unhealthy, until the magistrate planted between the station and the swamp a belt of quick-growning babool-trees. As the trees grew, the place became much less unhealthy. In these two cases the trees appear to have acted as a screen or filter, protecting the population from the effects of the malaria generated in the swamps. It may be added that it would be difficult to find trees more dissimilar in foliage than the mango and the babool. "Is it not probable," asks the author, "that where beneficial effects have followed the planting of the eucalyptus, the same may be due as much to the screen which the plantation has interposed, as to any peculiar action of, or exhalation from, the leaves or stem of the tree?" Referring to the changes produced, as regards salubrity, at the Trappist monastery of Tre Fontane, near Rome, which changes have been ascribed to the peculiar virtues of the eucalyptus, the author calls attention to the fact that the deep ploughing of the soil and the removal of seven hundred cart-loads of human bones from the precincts of the monastery may perhaps be credited with some share in producing the change. So, too, the eucalyptus-trees may have served, in this case also, as a screen.


Carnivorous Plants.—Mr. Francis Darwin, in a paper entitled “The Nutrition of Drosera rotundifolia” describes a series of experiments made by himself to determine whether or not insectivorous plants profit by their carnivorous habits. With this object two hundred plants of Drosera rotundifolia were transplanted (June 12, 1877) and cultivated in six soup-plates filled with moss during the rest of the summer. The area of each plate was equally divided by a low wooden partition, one side being destined for the plants to be fed with meat, the other for those to be starved. Access of insects was prevented by inclosing the plants in a gauze case. The method of feeding consisted in supplying each leaf (on the fed sides of the six plates) with one or two small bits of roast-meat, each weighing about one-fiftieth of a grain, every few days. On July 17th it was evident that the leaves on the “fed” side were of a distinctly brighter green, showing that the increased supply of nitrogen had allowed a more active formation of chlorophyll-grains to take place. From this time forward the "fed" sides of the plates were clearly distinguishable by their thriving appearance and their numerous tall and stout flower-stems. On August 7th the ratio between the number of “starved” and “fed” flower-stalks was 100: 149.1. And on comparing the number of stems actually in flower, it was clear that the starved plants were losing the power of throwing up new flower stems at an earlier date than their rivals. In the middle of August the leaves were counted in three plates, and were found to be one hundred and eighty-seven on the starved and two hundred and fifty-six on the fed side. The seeds being ripe at the beginning of September, all the flower-stems were gathered, and the plants of three plates were picked out of the moss and carefully washed. The other three plates were left undisturbed: the relative number of plants which will appear in the spring on their "fed" and "starved" sides will be a means of estimating the relative quantities of reserve material stored up. Mr. Darwin gives in the following table the results of counting, measuring, and weighing, the various parts of the two sets of plants:

Ratio between the number of starved and fed plants 100 : 101.2[1]
Ratio between weights of the plants exclusive of flower-stems 100 : 121.5
Total number of flower-stems 100 : 164.9
Sum of the heights of the flower-stems 100 : 159.9
Total weight of flower-stems 100 : 231.9
Total number of capsules 100 : 194.4
Average number of seeds per capsule 100 : 122.7
Average weight per seed 100 : 157.3
Total calculated number of seeds produced 100 : 241.5
Total calculated weight of seeds produced 100 : 379.7

New Process of Sugar-Manufacture.—Mention is made in the Revue Scientifique of a new process for sugar-manufacture, invented by Prof. Loewig, of Breslau, which greatly simplifies the work. Instead of using lime to defecate the liquor, then having recourse to a double carbonization by carbonic acid, with a view to eliminate this lime in the shape of lime carbonate, and lastly filtering the carbonated liquor through animal charcoal—processes which allow about one-third of the beet-sugar to be transformed into molasses.—Loewig simply adds to the crude liquor hydrate of alumina which he has discovered the means of preparing on the large scale. This hydrate of alumina retains the coloring albuminoid and nitrogenized matters, forming with them a black scum which is removed. All that remains to be done is to concentrate the almost absolutely pure sugary liquid which remains. If this process proves successful, it will revolutionize the sugar-manufacture.


Intensity of Different Colored Lights.—Prof. O. M. Rood describes, in the American Journal of Science. a simple method devised by him for comparing the intensities of light of different colors—a problem that has long been considered one of the most difficult in photometry. To measure the luminosity of vermilion, for example, he attaches a circular disk of vermilion cardboard to the axis of a rotation apparatus, a smaller circular disk of black-and-white cardboard being simultaneously fastened in the same axis, so that by varying the relative proportions of the latter a series of grays might be produced at will. First the compound black-and-white disk is so arranged that, on rotating the machine, a gray decidedly darker than the vermilion is produced. Then the gray is gradually lightened, till the observer becomes doubtful as to which is the more luminous, the gray or the vermilion; the angle occupied by the white sector is then measured. Next, a decidedly more luminous gray is compared with the vermilion, and its luminosity gradually diminished till again there is doubt as to which of the two, the gray or the vermilion, is the more luminous; and then, again, the white sector is measured. The mean of ten such experiments showed that when the luminosity of both disks was the same, the white sector of the black-and-white disk was 23.8 of its whole area, and hence that the luminosity of the vermilion cardboard was in the same ratio, namely, 23.8 per cent, to white. Proper allowance was made by Prof. Rood for the amount of white light reflected by the black disk. The relative luminosity of other colors may, of course, be ascertained in the same way.


Causes of the Chinese Famine.—According to a correspondent of the London Spectator, Frederick H. Barbour, the famine now prevailing in the northern provinces of China began in the fall of 1875. Its immediate cause was the long absence of rain, but the phenomenon to which it was and still is primarily due is the gradual desiccation of the vast plains of Chi-li and Shang-Tung, a process which, commencing in the table-lands of Central Asia, has now reached the densely-peopled northern provinces of China. Mr. Barbour has for the last two years been in constant communication with the famine-stricken districts, and the letters he receives convey appalling intelligence. "Fancy," says he, "a tract of country larger than thirteen Switzerlands a prey to want that it is wellnigh impossible to relieve. The people's faces are black with hunger; they are dying by thousands upon thousands. Women and girls and boys are openly offered for sale; when I left the country, a respectable married woman could be easily bought for six dollars, and a little girl for two. In cases where it was found impossible to dispose of their children, parents have been known to kill them, sooner than witness their prolonged sufferings, in many instances throwing themselves afterward down wells, or committing suicide by arsenic. . . . The population subsisted for a long time on roots and grass; then they found some nourishment in willow-buds, and finally ate the thatches off their cottages. The bark of trees served them for several months, and last July I received specimens of the stuff the unhappy creatures had been by that time reduced to. The most harmless kind was potato-stalks, tough, stringy fibres, which only the strongest teeth could reduce to pulp. The other description was red slate-stone."


Proportion of Theine in Different Kinds of Tea.—It was some time ago asserted by Claus, as the result of his analyses of different grades of tea, that the lower the grade of tea the higher is the proportion of the alkaloid theine it contained. Thus, according to this author, the brick-tea used in Mongolia and Siberia, which is made up of all sorts of refuse, as dead leaves, stalks, and the like, contains far more theine (about 3.5 per cent.) than the higher qualities (in which the proportion found by him was from 1 to 1.3 per cent. only). Very different results have now been obtained by another chemist—Markovnikoff, of Moscow. Having made a series of analyses of one kind of tea by the various analytical methods hitherto in use, he is able to point out the deficiency of these methods. For instance, ether extracts only one-third of the whole amount of theine in a sample of tea, and benzole only one-quarter. Using, therefore, a more perfect method, and analyzing six kinds of tea—some of the very highest, others of the very lowest grades—he arrives at the result that the amount of theine in these varies very little—from 2.08 to 2.44—and that it increases regularly, with one exception, with the quality of the tea; while the amount of ash given by each kind regularly decreases from 6.1 to 5.7 per cent, from the highest to the lowest grade. These differences, however, being very small, Markovnikoff supposes that the quality of tea depends, not at all or only a very little, upon the amount of theine, and far more on the quantity of tannic acid and aromatic oils it contains; but that, on the whole, teas made from younger leaves contain more theine than those from older leaves.


Do Lightning-Rods attract?—The old dogma that a lightning-rod no more attracts electricity than an umbrella attracts rain, is not strictly exact—for, while the umbrella has no influence on the course of the descending rain-drops, it is certain that the presence of a conductor very materially changes the earthward course of the electric fluid. The Vice-President of the British Meteorological Society, Dr. R. J. Mann, in a letter to the London Times, states as follows the rationale of the action of lightning rods in protecting buildings:

"A conductor in the near presence of a charged thunder-cloud becomes inductively excited, a very strong charge of the opposite kind of electricity to that in the cloud being drawn to the top of the rod. When this state of things has been brought about, there certainly is a stronger tendency for a spark or flash to pass across the intervening air-gap than there would be in the absence of any such inductive disturbance. The electricians who still hold this view [namely, that the lightning-rod's attraction is equal to the 'attraction' of an umbrella] would, nevertheless, hesitate to carry their argument home to its ultimate conclusion by saying that there is no attraction between the outer and the inner coating of a Leyden-jar immediately before the electric forces shatter the glass to effect the discharge of the jar. It is indeed almost universally held that the charge of a Leyden-jar is chiefly due to the attraction of the severed electric forces exerting themselves to unite through the insulating barrier of the glass. The charge in the outer coating of the jar comes up from the earth under what, in familiar terms, can hardly be called anything else but the 'attraction' of the inner charge."

Cooking.—Nothing, probably, has more direct influence over our physical and moral well-being than the preparation of the food we eat, and it is not too much to suppose that a proper knowledge of the culinary art would, if tolerably wide-spread, do not a little to diminish crime and drunkenness. Now that ladies are to be admitted without let or hinderance to all the degrees of the University of London, we hope the Senate will see fit to add "cooking" to the list of subjects for the B. Sc. Science in the kitchen has long been a desideratum, and cooking has not hitherto been regarded really as a branch of chemistry, and, as such, an ennobling occupation. The English of all classes have everything to learn on this subject, and even the very best of our cooks seem to go right rather by intuitive talent than by any exact knowledge which they may possess. In the cookery book of the future, however, we may hope to see milligrammes, cubic centimetres, and degrees of Celsius, replace the less exact measurements to which cooks have been accustomed, and then, perhaps, success in cooking will become a certainty.—London Lancet.


Distribution of Color in Animals.—It is not in the least unusual to observe in domesticated mammals asymmetrical distribution of color, while in feral animals the distribution is always symmetrical. A number of facts illustrating this are cited by Mr. J. A. Ryder in the "Proceedings" of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. He instances the case of a raccoon in the collection of the Philadelphia Zoological Society, in which the variation from the typical coloration of the species was great. Here the color areas were disposed symmetrically in the same manner as in the ordinary specimens. The difference was only in the shade, this specimen being of a rich, brownish yellow, except the tail-rings and the lateral bands on the face, which were of a considerably deeper hue. The nose, feet, and eyes, in the ordinary specimens, are black, while in this specimen all the dermal structures were of a much lighter tint. Again, in a specimen of Lepus silvaticus, in the Academy's collection, the fur is cream-colored, and very long and soft, but perfectly symmetrical and uniform in color. In rats, nearly white, the color areas were also found to be very nearly the same on both sides. The same is to be said of specimens of Virginia deer. In many domestic animals there is a decided tendency to preserve the symmetry of the ancestral type, but domestication seems to be at the bottom of the variability and asymmetry of color of animals brought under its influence. In conclusion, the author summed up the facts as follows: 1. Bilateral symmetry of coloration is interfered with in some way by domestication; 2. Where variation of color takes place in feral animals, they are invariably, so far as observed, symmetrically colored; 3. It is possible that the degree of asymmetry is an indication of the length of time that domestication has been operative.


Travels in Formosa.—In the island of Formosa the inhabitants of all the level country are Chinese. Wages on the island are 20 per cent, higher than in Amoy. Opium makes up two-thirds of the value of all their foreign imports. Opium-smoking prevails to an extraordinary extent; but a traveler in the island, Mr. James Morrison, affirms that there is not much excess of indulgence in that habit. The coolies that carried his palanquin always smoked opium at night, and continued smoking after he had gone to bed; yet they were always ready to start before six o'clock in the morning, and seemed fresh. A coolie will carry twenty miles a day for ten consecutive days. Smoking in this way costs from ten to fifteen cents a day. The daily wage of a chair-coolie is seventy-five cents. The chair is the usual vehicle for travel in Formosa. Ponies may be used for riding short distances, but the numerous rivers, too deep to ford, and too rapid to swim, render them useless for long journeys. The Formosan chair is very light, but hardly roomy enough for the average man of European race. It is forty inches long, forty-eight inches high in the centre, and forty inches at the sides, twenty-one inches wide inside with a seat about ten inches high. The method of carrying, says Mr. Morrison, is simply diabolical. Four men carry, two being placed at the ends of the poles, and two close to the chair, one in front and one behind, the two latter supporting the chair by means of cross-pieces or yokes passing over the shoulders and attached to the poles by ropes. These ropes are so adjusted that when the men stand still, and the chair is loaded, the poles are bent about three inches. In carrying, the easy swing of the ordinary chair is lost, for, just as the Formosan chair is coming down gently, it is brought up short by the men close to it. The motion is exactly the same as is used for jigging crushed metallic ores.


Chinese Medicines.—The Chinese pharmacopœia contains instructions for preparing sundry very curious medicines, as, for instance, various animal "wines"—mutton wine, dog-wine, deer-wine, tiger-bone wine, snake-wine, tortoise-wine, and so on. These "wines" (chiu) are employed instead of alcohol as a solvent for articles used as medicines. The mode of preparing mutton-wine is described as follows by Dr. D. J. Macgowan, of Shanghai: The ingredients are one sheep, forty catties (a catty equals 113 pound) of cow's-milk wine, a pint of sour skimmed milk, eight ounces brown sugar, four ounces honey, four ounces fruit of dinocarpus, one catty raisins, and about one catty of half a dozen other drugs. The utensils employed are a large cast-iron pot, a wooden barrel (boorher) about two feet high, and tapering, open at both ends, a smaller iron pot, an earthenware jar; felt belts and cow-dung are used for making the apparatus air-tight. The boorher is set on the large pot, the joining being first calked with paper, and then daubed on the outside with cow-dung and ashes; the boorher, too, is made air-tight in the same way. Then pour in the wine, add half the raisins, cut or crushed, half the sugar, the milk, and the bones of the sheep's legs, from the knees down, after breaking them open. From the other bones strip all the fat and most of the flesh, and hang them inside the boorher beyond the reach of the wine. Put in the medicines, the honey, and the remainder of the sugar and raisins. The earthenware jar is then suspended in the centre of the boorher, and the smaller iron pot is set on top, the joint being made air-tight by paper, cloth, and felt bands. A fire is now made under the great pot; when the upper pot feels warm to the touch, fill it with cold water. When this water is too hot to touch, it is ladled out, and the pot filled again with cold water. When this in turn becomes hot, the fire is slackened, the upper pot taken off, and the earthenware pot, which is now found to be full of a dirty brown liquor, is taken out, the liquid poured off, the vessel replaced, and the upper pot, filled with cold water, again set upon the top of the boorher. When the water on top is again heated, the whole operation is completed. The earthenware pot is now again found to be about half full, and its contents are poured off, allowed to cool, and put up in jars.


Utilization of Blast-Furnace Slag.— Within a few years great progress has been made in the utilization of blast-furnace slag, and that material is now applied in many ways with great advantage. Thus, slag "sand" is employed for making concrete, building-bricks, mortar, and cement; slag "shingle" for concrete, also for roadways; slag "wool" for covering steam-boilers and pipes, ice-houses, etc., also for filtering-purposes; blocks of slag-concrete are used for paving, for curbstones and the like; finally, by Britten's process, slag is used in the manufacture of glass for roofing, and for other purposes not requiring pure glass. In making building-bricks of slag, the slag-sand is mixed with selenitic lime, with the addition of iron oxide, and pressed in moulds. The cement is made from the slag-sand, common lime, and iron oxides. It is little inferior to Portland cement in strength, while it does not cost one-fourth as much. The concrete made from this cement, mixed with the "shingle," is an excellent conglomerate for use in monolithic structures. It is stated by Mr. Charles Wood, in a paper read before the British Iron and Steel Institute, that "it took two good men, with steel bars and sledge-hammers, as much as four days to cut through a wall of this concrete about twenty-six inches thick." Mr. Wood exhibited to the Institute bottles of slag-glass, also specimens of slag-wool. The latter product, according to Mr. Wood, is obtained as follows: A jet of steam is made to strike a stream of molten slag as it falls into the slag-bogies or wagons. This jet scatters the molten slag into shot, and as each shot leaves the stream it carries a fine thread or tail; the shot drops to the ground, but the fine woolly fibre is sucked into a large tube, and discharged into a chamber. This chamber is very large, and is covered with fine wire netting. The steam and air carry the woolly particles all over the chamber—the finest into recesses formed for the purpose, the heavier into the body of the chamber. . The wool is of a snowy white appearance.


The Mechanics of Nature.—The Rev. J. G. Wood, author of several popular works on zoölogy, has lately published a volume entitled "Nature's Teachings," which is intended to show that nearly every one of man's mechanical inventions has been anticipated by Nature. From a notice of the work in an English journal we copy a few instances of human inventions that have their prototypes in the animal world. Alluding to the principle on which the life-boat is formed, Mr. Wood observes that "the eggs of the gnat, which adhere together by a glutinous coating, are arranged side by side so as to form the figure of a boat; that the lines of the best life-boats are almost identical with those of the gnat-boat; and that both possess the power of righting themselves if capsized." Mr. Wood observes the principle of the screw in a fish's tail; finds a remarkable resemblance in the iron mast to the quill of the porcupine; and explains how the improvement in the construction of iron ships caused by making the outer shell double and dividing it into separate compartments is exemplified in the skull of the elephant. Many of the author's nautical illustrations are curious, and among others he points out that the Boy ton life dress is simply a modification of the Physalis, "which floats on the surface of the ocean like a bubble." The weapons used in war have also their prototypes in the works of Nature. In a chapter on projectile weapons Mr. Wood notices the archer-fish, which gains its livelihood by shooting drops of water at flies, and reminds us that the same principle was employed, though unsuccessfully, on the so-called pneumatic railway at Croydon. From the archer-fish we may pass appropriately to the anglerfish, a creature with an enormous mouth and small body. On the top of its head are some bones set like a ring and staple, and, at the end of these bones, long fleshy appendages, which, on being waved about, look as if they were alive. "The fish darts at the supposed morsel, and is at once in-gulfed in the huge jaws of the angler-fish, which, but for this remarkable apparatus, would be scarcely able to support existence, as it is but a sluggish swimmer, and yet needs a large supply of food." There are different modes of catching fish, and the capture by rod and line is curiously anticipated by the worm known to naturalists as Nemerles Borlasii, which can extend itself, some say, to ninety feet, and looks, as Kingsley has said, a mere knotted lump, small enough to be put in a dessert-spoon. The little fish that chances to touch this "slimy tape of living caoutchouc" has no chance of escape, for he is being "'played' with such a fishing-line as the skill of a Wilson or a Stoddart never could invent." The principle of the baited trap is illustrated by carnivorous plants like the Venus's flytrap of the Carolinas, and the Drosera or sundew of England, and the principle of the spring trap by the jaws of the dolphin. Defensive armor in its several varieties is strikingly illustrated by the protection afforded in many instances by Nature, and Mr. Wood's treatment of this branch of his subject will be found of great interest.


How Ants stand Heat and Cold.—The ability of ants to survive exposure to great cold or great heat, and submersion in water, is shown in a very interesting note by the Rev. H. C. McCook, published in the "Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences " of Philadelphia. In one instance, a few ants, of the species Formica Pennsylvanica (the Pennsylvania carpenter-ant) dropped out of their nest and fell upon ice, in the depth of winter. Forty-eight hours later they were alive, being imbedded in the ice within the small depressions made by their animal heat. They moved about on being taken from the ice, and became quite active when placed in the closed hand. The power of resisting great heat is illustrated by Mr. McCook's own observations, as also by a quotation from manuscript notes on the "Ants of Texas," written by the late Dr. Lincecum. A community of that highly-interesting species, the "agricultural ant" (Myrmica molefaciens), was located near a blacksmith-shop, which had been in operation five years. During all that period the smiths had built their fires for heating wagon-tires on the pavement or flat mound of these ants. This occurred, on an average, as often as two or three times a week. Frequently, as many as nine tires a day had been heated upon the mound. After five years of such experience, Dr. Lincecum records that he saw numbers of ants at work clearing out the entrance to their city before the fire, that had just been used for heating tires, was entirely extinguished. They seemed to have learned all about fire, and knew how to work around and among the half-extinguished coals without injury. In illustration of the third point Mr. McCook writes as follows:

"Last summer (1876) I discovered a formicary of mason-ants, apparently a variety of F. rufa, the fallow-ant. I placed these ants in an artificial formicarium, which was insulated in a tub of water. One night the covering by which the formicarium was protected during bad weather was left off, or removed by some meddler. A heavy shower fell early in the evening. In the morning the formicary was flooded; the ants were dead—dead and lying under five inches of water, mixed up with the mortar, which the rain had formed with the soil that composed the galleries. I poured out the water, and set the box in the sun with a forlorn hope that some of the ants might revive. At noon I chanced to open a paper box in which I had placed a dead female ant of the genus Myrmica. It had fallen into the tub. where it had been floating for many hours, apparently drowned. It was now crawling about the box alive. Thereupon I visited my dead fallow-ants, and found three of them moving about in the slush, endeavoring to extricate themselves. Another was struggling out of the muddy sediment in the jar which formed the lower part of the formicary. In short, the greater part of the drowned ants proved themselves to be veritable Noachians, and survived the flood."

Poisonous Leguminous Plants.—Dr. Rothrock, of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, calls attention to the fact that certain leguminous plants existing in our Southwestern Territories possess poisonous properties. In the vicinity of Fort Gartland, in Southern Colorado, cattle have repeatedly manifested symptoms of poisoning, the cause of which has been found to be the plant Oxytripis lamberti. The effects of eating this plant appear to be long enduring, the animal becoming demented, and wasting away, as its fondness for the poison increases to something like the opium-habit in man. Dr. Rothrock found at New Camp Grant, Arizona, another plant (Hosackia purshiana) whose effects are similar. From Sophora speciosa, another poisonous leguminous plant from Texas, Prof. H. C. Wood, Jr., has obtained an alkaloid which he names Sophoria, from the bean; its effects are not unlike those of the Calabar-bean. The Indians of Texas use the Sophora-bean to induce an intoxication, which lasts from two to three days. Half a bean will, it is said, cause intoxication, and a whole one may be productive of dangerous symptoms.


The Value of Scientific Weather-Observations.—Three daily observations of weather phenomena are made at eighty-three stations of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads and their branches, the area covered by the observations extending through eight degrees of latitude and twelve degrees of longitude. New observing-stations are set up in proportion as a new line of road advances. The records of these stations form the basis of a singularly interesting and important paper by Mr. B. B. Redding, which was read at a meeting of the California Academy of Sciences on January 21st. In illustration of the financial value of systematic observations of this kind, the author gives two cases where even superficial study of the meteorological records would have demonstrated in advance the inevitable failure of certain enterprises. For instance, in 1869 a large sum of money was expended in covering over some lakes near Summit Station with sheds, under which to cut ice for the San Francisco market. No sheds of sufficient width could be built that could bear the weight of snow falling at that point, and consequently the undertaking ended in disastrous failure. The meteorological records of the railroad companies show that the average rainfall at this point is over five feet! "Nearly all of this falls in the form of snow, and is equal, if the snow that falls did not become compact or melt, to a bank of snow each winter of sixty feet in depth!" A similar instance of the value of these records is furnished by the experience of the farmers settled on the west side of the San Joaquin River. For years they have tried in vain to raise crops without artificial irrigation. That section of the State of California is an exemplification of the law thus expressed by Guyot, that "when a mountain-chain opposes an horizontal wind the air is forced up along the slopes, its vapors are condensed, and water the side exposed to the wind, while on the opposite slope the same wind descends into the valley dry and cloudless." The author considers very fully the operation of the chief laws of meteorology as applied to California in general, and to special localities in particular. Among the subjects discussed by him, we would mention the conflict between polar and equatorial winds; the influences of the Gulf of California; the comparative rainlessness of the Colorado and Mohave Deserts and the Tulare Valley; the rainfall in the great valleys and on' the mountain-sides; the influence of the great deserts on temperature and rainfall; why the summer temperature of San Francisco is so low as it is, the mean temperature of summer at the Golden Gate being only 56°.


Purification of Illuminating Gas.—The method in common use for separating from coal-gas foreign suspended matter is founded on the principle of condensation by reduction of temperature on contact with water-cooled surfaces, or with water itself. But the liquid globules held in suspension in the gas may be condensed by causing a jet of gas to impinge upon any resisting surface, as a leaf of paper, or a plate of metal, and an apparatus for purifying gas according to this method has been constructed by Messrs. Pelouze & Audouin. The condenser of this apparatus consists mainly of an outer casing with a gas inlet at the lower part, and an outlet at the upper. Suspended within the casing is an annular water-tank, in which is balanced a miniature gas-holder, or bell, formed with four circumference-plates, two of which are perforated in rows with small holes, and two with large holes, the latter being opposite the blank spaces between the rows of the former. The gas from the inlet passes through the central space within the annular lank, and through the four perforated plates of the bell; the tar, etc., which condense on the non-perforated portions of the surface trickle down the plates into the water-tank. It has been found that if the perforated bell has a capacity of 35,317 cubic feet, it will suffice for works producing 3,531, 700 cubic feet per twenty-four hours, or in the proportion of 1 to 100,000.


Properties and Production of Honey.—There was lately held in New York a convention of bee-masters from all parts of the United States, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the important industry with which they are identified. Among the papers read at this convention was one by Mr. F. B. Thurber, in which the commercial history of honey was given with considerable detail. The use of honey antedates that of sugar, going back many centuries before the Christian era, while the general use of sugar is of comparatively recent date. There are evidences of the high antiquity of sugar in China and India, but it appears to have been only vaguely known to the Greeks and Romans. The art of refining sugar was discovered by the Venetians in the sixteenth century. It is hard to say why the production of honey should have fallen so far behind the production of sugar. It is in the highest degree healthful and palatable, and its sources are as plentiful and as sure as those of sugar. In America, within the last few years, a wonderful advance has been made in the production of honey, as regards both quality and quantity.

Honey differs greatly in color and consistence. In the recent state it is fluid, but on being kept it is apt to form a crystalline deposit, and to be converted into a soft, granular mass; its color varies, being sometimes white, but usually yellowish, and occasionally of a brown or reddish tinge. When the bees are very young the honey undergoes less change, and remains nearly white: in this state it is called virgin honey. Ordinary honey is obtained both by pressure and by heat. Recently, however, a process has been invented by which honey is forced from the cells of the comb by centrifugal force, and the combs are then restored to the hives, to be again used by the bees for storing their honey. When honey is extracted from poisonous plants, it partakes of their noxious properties. An instance of this recently befell a newspaper correspondent in Armenia. Having drunk some honey-sweetened water he was shortly afterward seized with headache, vomiting, coldness of the extremities, and temporary blindness, followed by a cataleptic state. Inquiry showed that the honey had come from the Botum Valley, where hemlock and henbane grow abundantly. Mr. Thurber points out the singular coincidence that more than 2,000 years ago Xenophon's soldiers met with a similar accident in the same locality.


Beavers in Colorado.—Mr. E. A. Barber, connected with Prof. Hayden's survey of the Territories, in the year 1874 had an opportunity of examining, on the banks of the Grand River, in Northwestern Colorado, the work of a colony of beavers. His observations, as published in the American Naturalist, are highly interesting, and we present the substance of them to our readers. He was first apprised of the vicinity of the beavers by watching a timber-shoot or clearing scooped out from a willow-brake to the water. Through this slide Mr. Barber passed into a grove of slender willows forming a thicket. About fifty feet from the river was a circular clearing where the animals had been at work; here the trees were larger, and many of them had been cut off obliquely within six inches of the ground—the logs had been hauled away. Farther on larger trees had been felled, which were still lying there, most of them measuring six and eight inches diameter, and one at least fourteen inches. The wood had been gnawed around the circumference, a few inches from the base, the deepest cutting having been done on the side next the water, so that the tree might fall in that direction. "I noticed," writes Mr. Barber, "that, wherever there were trees which had been felled some time past and fallen in the wrong direction, the newer work had been accomplished, without exception, in a systematic manner, all of the logs being cut so as to fall toward the dam. As I passed along the bank of the stream, I observed about ten timber-shoots running parallel at right angles to the course of the current, and separated by about fifteen feet. The larger trees had been cut near the water and above the dam for the purpose of floating them down, to save the labor of dragging from the interior. . . . I picked up several chunks of wood, six or eight inches in diameter and about as much in length, the ends being obliquely parallel; these had probably been prepared to fill up chinks in the walls of the dam. The trees had been, for the most part, cut into sections averaging ten feet in length, and the branches and twigs had been trimmed off as cleanly as a wood-chopper could have done them. Along the banks of the White River, some weeks before, I noticed several artificial canals which had been dug out in the absence of natural side-channels in the river. These were designed for floating down logs. One canal was four feet in width, seven in length, and several feet deep."


How the Spiders spin.—Happening to be in the fields during a sunshiny day in autumn, while a gentle wind was blowing, the Rev. H. C. McCook, of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, took occasion to observe the aeronautic flights of the young spiders, whose silken filaments were floating from every stalk of grass. He found that many of the young arachnids—mostly of the family Lycosidæ, which are ground-spiders—selected the tops of the fence-posts as their starting-point. Having reached this "point of vantage," the spider always turned the face toward the wind. Then the abdomen was elevated to an angle of about 45°, and at the same time the eight legs were stiffened, thus pushing the body upward. From the spinnerets at the apex of the abdomen a single thread was ejected and rapidly drawn out by the breeze, often to the length of five or even six feet. Gradually the legs were inclined in the direction of the breeze, and the joints straightened out. The foremost pair of legs sank almost to the level of the post. Suddenly the eight claws were released and the spider mounted with a bound into the air, and was quickly carried out of view. The author distinctly noticed that at the instant of beginning its aërial journey, the spider would make an upward spring. He was also so fortunate as to be able to follow the flight of a spider for a distance of about eighty feet, and observed that the position of the body was soon reversed, that is, with the head turned in the direction toward which the wind was blowing. Thus the long thread which streamed out above the aëronaut inclined forward, and at the top was in advance of its head. It was also observed that the legs were spread out, and that they had been united at the feet by delicate filaments of silk; this gave to the body increased buoyancy, owing to the increased surface thus offered to the resistance of the air. Before, or rather during its descent to the earth, a small white ball of silk was seen accumulated at the mouth of the spider, which, with the peculiar movements of the forefeet, palps, and mandibles, suggested the drawing in of a thread. The spider was, so to speak, taking in sail. Exactly the same effect was thus produced by the spider aëronaut, and by a strikingly analogous mode, as the human aëronaut accomplishes when he contracts the surface of his balloon by causing the inflating gas to escape.


  1. In all cases "starved" = 100.