Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/December 1878/Popular Miscellany

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 14 December 1878  (1878) 
Popular Miscellany
 

POPULAR MISCELLANY.

A Hairy Water-Tortoise.—The following interesting bit of natural history is from the pen of Mr. Frank Buckland, in Land and Water: "Through the kindness of Mr. White, son of the late lord-mayor, I am enabled to give a representation of a most interesting little creature which he himself brought from China. It is a terrapin, or water-tortoise, which apparently has hairs growing out from its back. When it first arrived it seemed very unwell, and I do not wonder, for the poor little thing had not had anything to eat for some months. Knowing it was very intolerant of cold, I placed it in warm water, and kept it in a warm place, and the little thing shortly, to my delight, began to feed from my hand. It will snap at and devour little bits of meat, fish, shrimps, etc. As the little animal swims, the fibre of the vegetable growth hangs away from him so as to give him the appearance of an animated bunch of weeds. His face is very intelligent.

"Among the collection of Chinese and Japanese bronzes, drawings, pottery, etc., I have observed representations of various monsters, and among them those of tortoises with long tails. It now is certain from this specimen, so kindly given me by Mr. White, that the Chinese really have in their aquaria terrapins covered with this remarkable growth. If the hairy terrapins of the Chinese artists be founded on actual living specimens, may it not be possible that other of these well-known monstrosities—such as dragons—may have their origin from traditions, or may be late survivals of such creatures as the plesiosaurus, etc.? I have read somewhere that the Chinese are the direct descendants of Noah, and that when Shem, Ham, and Japheth, went respectively north, south, and west, Noah himself went east, and founded the great Chinese nation. Certain it is that they have traditions of birds and animals totally unknown to the present inhabitants of the earth. I do not know whether the growth upon this terrapin's back has been produced artificially or naturally. It is simply a water-grass, something like the weedy material growing on decaying wood-work and lock-gates of rivers. It is possible that the ingenious Chinese may have some way of doctoring up the living specimens of terrapins, of which I understand considerable numbers exist in the ditches and marshes of China. These Chinese, as we are all aware, are stated to have the art of making the large fresh-water pearl-bearing mussels secrete pearls, and cover over metal images placed within the shells for that purpose. If they can do this with the pearl shell, I do not see that it is impossible for them to make this vegetable material grow upon the back of a tortoise.

"In 1873 Mr. Sandilands kindly gave me one of these hairy terrapins, and upon that occasion a correspondent, 'A. B.,' kindly sent me the following note: 'In the "Travels of a Pioneer of Commerce in Pigtail and Petticoats," by T. T. Cooper (London, Murray, 1871, page 459), there is a plate of one of these hairy tortoises from the lakes of Hasu, above Hankow. These curious little animals were about two inches long, and covered on the back with a long confervoid growth resembling hair. The tortoise being a sacred emblem in China, the Chinese make pets of the hairy tortoise, which they keep in basins of water during the summer months, and bury in sand during the winter. A small lake in the province of Kiang-su is

PSM V14 D258 The hairy water tortoise.jpg
The Hairy Water-Tortoise.

famous for these so-called hairy tortoises, and many persons earn a livelihood by the sale of these curious little pets. The figure in Mr. Cooper's book looks like an oval door-mat with a tortoise-head sticking out at one end.’

"I have been to the British Museum to see if I could find anything like this hairy terrapin, but could not do so. I shall take the liberty of forwarding this article to his Excellency the Chinese ambassador, who, I have no doubt, with his usual kindness, will obtain some further information about this great curiosity."

 

Spider-Architecture.—The snare of the basilica spider would form an interesting object of study for the architect. In it he will find many a difficult problem of constructive science happily solved, and it may be derive useful hints to guide him in the construction of more substantial edifices. As described in the "Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences," of Philadelphia, by Rev. H. C. McCook, who has studied Epeïra basilica among the hills of the Colorado River, Texas, the snare of this spider is of composite structure, consisting of a pyramid of web, within which, near its base, is suspended a dome of the same material, and hanging beneath the open bottom of the dome is an horizontal sheet of cobweb. The structure is illustrated in Mr. McCook's paper, and the general effect will be understood if the reader will imagine a pyramidal tent of netting, inclosing a spread umbrella, with a screen of web suspended by cords from the inside of the umbrella and the tips of the ribs. The whole structure is usually suspended from a bush, and thoroughly steadied and its form perfectly preserved by means of silken guys. The meshes of the pyramid are irregular and very open; the sheet under the dome is also of irregular structure, but the dome is constructed of a vast number of radii crossed at regular intervals by concentrics, after the manner of the snare of the common orb-weaving garden-spider. At the bottom of the dome the radii are about one-sixteenth of an inch apart, and the concentrics extend entirely and with equal regularity to the summit, the meshes much resembling those of a fisher's net. The diameter of the dome is from seven to eight inches at the base, and its height is about the same. The inhabitant of this most curious structure is thus described by our author: "The fore-part of the body, cephalothorax, is of a golden-yellow color, bordered and marked with blackish bands. The legs are of a delicate green, having the thighs marked by blackish longitudinal bands, and blackish annuli at the joints. On the back of the abdomen the colors within the blackish marginal lines are as follows: at the base, next the cephalothorax, a snowy white; the middle lobes are a light yellow, the lower lobes and the cruciform figure are a golden yellow. The bands and markings on the side of the abdomen are in the following order from the top, viz., crimson, white, dark green with light-green edges, blackish to dark green, yellow." But in the mind of the araneologist the special interest of the basilica spider is not its architectural skill, not its beautiful markings, but the fact that it seems to form a link between the orb-weaving and the line-weaving spiders.

 

Manufacture of Sea-Salt in San Francisco.—At Rock Island, in the bay of San Francisco, works have lately been established for reducing salt from sea-water by solar evaporation. The process of evaporating the salt-water is described as follows in the Engineering and Mining Journal: "The water is let into a large reservoir at high tide, and thence passed into a series of other reservoirs, until it has traversed a distance of fifteen to twenty miles, in the mean time steadily increasing in strength and dropping its limy impurities. In the fourth reservoir the specific gravity is 16°, and it leaves the seventh when it is 25°. Pure chloride of sodium begins to form when the brine attains this density, and continues to do so until it has attained 29°. During the strengthening of the sea-water from its natural specific gravity of about 1.03 to 25, the sulphate of lime held in solution crystallizes and settles to the bottom. It is not until a specific gravity of 29 is reached that chloride and sulphate of magnesia, bromide of soda, and chloride of potassium, begin to concrete. These being the principal if not the only impurities, with the exception of a little water, the manner of securing pure salt appears very simple. When at 25°, the pickle is run into crystallizing ponds or vats, some of which are simply the earth hollowed for the purpose; others are boarded on the bottom, while a third is made wholly of boards. In these the brine is allowed to remain until it is 2812°, when the salt which has formed in the bottom is shoveled into baskets, loaded on cars, and conveyed to another part of the island nearer the wharf, where it is piled up in great pyramidal-shaped mounds. These remain exposed to the sun and weather for a year, which whitens and purifies the crystals preparatory to grinding."

 

Atmospheric Electricity and Plant-Growth.—Atmospheric electricity is, according to M. Grandeau, a powerful agent in the process of assimilation in plants. Plants protected from its influence build up fifty to sixty per cent, less of nitrogenous matter than those subject to ordinary conditions; the proportion of ash is higher and of water lower. In the author's experiments different species of growing plants were inclosed within an electric screen consisting of four triangles of iron. The plants experimented upon were maize, tobacco, and wheat—two specimens of each—of which the one was screened from atmospheric electricity, the other not. The results of these experiments agree fully with the discovery made some time ago by Berthelot, that free nitrogen unites with organic matter under the action of electric currents not only from ordinary induction-coils, but even from feeble voltaic batteries. The proportion of nitrogen thus fixed in seven months in paper and dextrine was 1.92 thousandths.

 

Pure Teas.—The Chinese minister at Washington, Chin-Lan Pin, was lately visited by a delegation representing a firm of tea-importers in Baltimore, who wished to learn his views regarding the importation into this country of pure teas. The minister in his reply said that the various brands of tea sold in America and Europe are unknown to and not used by the tea-consumer in China. They are specially prepared by the Chinese tea-exporters for the foreign market. They are colored by the use of chemicals; and the process, together with the peculiar methods of fixing up tea for foreign markets, not only renders the plant less palatable and beneficial, but more expensive. The adulteration and coloring of teas for the foreign market, he said, are wholly in consequence of the demand which has existed for such teas; and the minister expressed the opinion that if the Boards of Trade in New York and China would make known the fact that pure teas are not only better but cheaper, it would benefit both producer and consumer. There is, he said, really only one kind of tea-plant, and from this both the green and black teas are produced. The equivalents for the two terms "green" and "black" do not signify to the Chinese the color of the tea, as in America, but have reference to the period of gathering, "green" indicating to them, as in "green corn," not a color, but a state of immaturity.

 

Prof. Winchell on College Education.— Prof. Alexander Winchell, in a recent address, said that the ratio of college graduates to our population is continually diminishing; this, he held, would not be the case if college education were, under the conditions of modern life, as good a preparation for a successful career as it was in former times. But while the requirements of our time are totally different from those of earlier periods in the history of man, our system of education is still, to all intents and purposes, what it was in mediæval times. Among the deficiencies of our collegiate education, the most serious, according to Prof. Winchell, is ignorance of our national organization, laws, and political history, and of the principles and laws of political life; then, insufficient knowledge of the governments and history of modern European states and of their statesmen. Last, but not least, comes comparative ignorance of the natural sciences and of mechanical and free-hand drawing. Our so-called liberal education embraces but a pitiful amount of the systems of knowledge which are moving the world. Nor are these shortcomings confined only to our colleges and universities. In our elementary schools, at the age when every active power is ready to spring forth and seize the living truth, we try to satisfy with syntax, and a list of names from Siberia. "All children like to see pictures, and to make pictures; but, instead of fostering this useful instinct, a picture on the slate is as horrifying to Miss Nancy or Mr. Petrifact as the name of science is to our mediævalized theologian. When a boy is aching to take a locomotive to pieces, we set him to dissecting a verb. Let him gratify his curiosity; let him entertain himself with chemical reagents; give him means to make a telephone or a steam engine; allow him to drive nails and a jack-plane; give him a microscope and a geological hammer. With these things he will unite hand-work with head-work in a most fruitful alliance; and when he becomes a man, he may be either a mechanically expert scholar or a scholarly mechanic. As a scholar he will understand affairs and possess the common-sense which will turn every situation to account. As a mechanic he will understand his business, and make a ' boss ' who may be trusted without misgiving."

 

History of an Ant-Community.—Like Sir John Lubbock, the eminent French chemist Berthelot devotes much of his leisure time to studying the ways of ants. He has for years closely observed an ant hill, which at first presented the form of a little conical hillock, peopled by thousands of inhabitants. The history of this community, as recorded by Berthelot, has a striking resemblance to human history—the same arts of peace and of war, the same distinctions of classes, the same fluctuations of fortune. The ants excel as hunters, as marauders; they have among them skilled architects, thrifty housewives. Division of labor is enforced. There are civilized ants and barbarians. The warriors despise the toil and drudgery of civil life, and they delight in making set raids, taking numbers of prisoners, and reducing them to servitude. While their betters are taking their walks abroad, or carrying on their wars, the slaves care for the young, and attend to the household affairs and economies. It is interesting to observe them while engaged in building. There are superintendents of work, and there are simple workers. Sometimes the latter make mistakes; for instance, suppose they have to build an arch, they make an error in determining the proper curve. But when the superintendent comes he notices the mistake, pulls down the faulty piece of masonry, and corrects the error.

When M. Berthelot first saw this ant-city it had already been in existence for some years, and was in the high tide of prosperity. Ten years later it sent out a colony, which settled at the foot of a young oak, distant a few metres from the mother-city. This colony, at first weak and occupying but little ground, increased year by year. The war of 1870 for a while interrupted the course of M. Berthelot's researches, but on the return of peace there was a new surprise. The mother-city was now in a state of decline, but the colony was thriving wonderfully. In the old home there were but few births and few fruitful unions; the number of inhabitants had grown less, and the survivors were careless of their dwellings. The colony has now become the principal city, it has sent out a sub-colony which is in a flourishing condition. The old city is compared by M. Berthelot to Babylon, with its thriving neighbor cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon.

 

Persian Hair-Dye.—The practice of dyeing the hair is very much in use among the Persians, who mostly employ the plant henna for this purpose. According to Dr. Tholozan, the private physician of the shah, the powdered leaves of the plant are made into a paste with hot water and then applied to the head, the hair, and the nails. This is done in a vapor-bath. This first application lasts an hour and a half to two hours, and then the parts are freely washed in water. The henna gives an orange-red color, very beautiful on a white beard, so that many old men use it. To change the reddish color of hair into a fine, lustrous black, the parts are coated, at the same sitting, with a paste formed of another powder—that from the leaves of a kind of indigo tree cultivated in Persia. This is called reng; it remains applied about two hours. The henna gives different colors according as it acts on white, fair, or dark hair. It alters very quickly in moisture, and loses its properties in long sea-voyages. Experience seems to have proved that it gives suppleness to hair, but it causes it to whiten prematurely. Fair-haired people in Persia always color their hair black, but the black is not so intense as that produced in persons of dark complexion. Skin reddened and blackened with the two pastes soon regains its natural color on being washed with soap and rubbed with the fingers, whereas the dye adheres firmly to the hair, which it penetrates. Reng is sometimes used alone, and gives a blue-violet color.

 

About Oleomargarine.—Mr. John Michels points out, in the American Journal of Microscopy, the differences between butter and oleomargarine as observed with the microscope. Two woodcuts illustrate the paper, the one exhibiting the microscopic appearance of oleomargarine, the other that of butter. In the former substance are seen numerous stellate or feathery crystals, together with globules. In butter none of the crystals are seen, the whole field of the microscope being filled by the globules, with perhaps crystals of common salt. Besides these stellate crystals, Mr. Michels found in all the specimens of oleomargarine examined by him fragments of tissue and muscle, also certain cells of a very suspicious character. What these cells may be the author does not assume to decide, but he appears to suppose that they might possibly be the larval forms or eggs of entozoa. Some of Mr. Michels's observations on oleomargarine and its suitableness for human food having been called in question, in particular his statement that living septic organisms may exist in the artificial butter, he submitted the matter to the Rev. W. H. Dallinger, of Liverpool, a very high authority indeed. Mr. Dallinger's reply is given in full by the author. He writes: "A temperature of 120° [which is the highest temperature employed in the manufacture of oleomargarine] is not by any means seriously, and certainly not permanently, injurious to even the adult forms of the putrefactive organisms." Again: "Quite as serious a matter is that of the introduction, through oleomargarine, into the human intestinal tract of eggs of entozoa. I have made enough experiments to say that the eggs, for example, of the nematoda are practically uninjured by 120° Fahr. This," Mr. Dallinger adds, and his warning will carry great weight, "is an important matter, and, although likely to be in practice neglected at first by the public, may probably impress itself upon them in an unwelcome manner" —that is, by a serious outbreak of trichinosis, or some other form of parasitic disease.

 

Cultivating Disease.—The virulence of the yellow fever in Memphis is easy to account for when the sanitary conditions of that city are understood. Two or three years ago we published some mortality statistics concerning this place, which appeared to show that it is exceptionally unhealthy. It would indeed be nothing short of a miracle if Memphis were a healthy city with its highly insanitary surroundings. The situation is thus described in the Lancet mid Clinic, by Dr. S. H. Collins, a Cincinnati physician, who rendered efficient service in Memphis as a volunteer during the prevalence of the epidemic: "Memphis is situated upon the east bank of the Mississippi, upon a bluff varying from fifteen to fifty feet in height. Upon the crest of this bluff runs Front Street; from this street the ground slopes eastwardly away from the river, so that all rain, surface-gutter washings, slop, and whatever of floatable filth there may be, is drained into the bayou, which winds about through the heart of the city. Across the river the Arkansas shore stretches low and flat, a vast marsh, notorious for its malaria; north and east of Memphis upon the Tennessee side, the land is low and swampy; the soil in and about the city, of clay. The bayou runs through the most thickly-populated parts of Memphis; into this elongated cesspool is collected all the floating filth of a city of 55,000 inhabitants; garbage, the drainings from privy-vaults, gutter and street washings, dead animal matter, all and everything is poured or thrown into this receptacle, there to decay and fester under the broiling sun of that southern climate. Consider it, if possible—ten miles of reeking rottenness! Not a yard of it covered except where crossed by the bridges of the various streets. During a rise of the Mississippi the back-water fills this bayou bank-full, its accumulated filth then soaking into the clay of its banks. When the river falls, the current of the bayou is not of sufficient strength to empty its contents into the river. The streets of the city of Memphis are beyond description filthy, and completely out of repair; the wooden pavement is the one in use, or rather was the pavement originally put down. The streets and yards are heavily shaded—the magnolia being the tree mostly used."

 

The Movements of Plants.—After much patient study of the phenomena known as heliotropism and the sleeping and awaking of plants, M. Paul Bert, in a memoir addressed to the Paris Academy of Sciences, an abstract of which is published in the Revue Scientifique, offers an ingenious theory to account for them. The swelling of the flower or leaf stem just below these organs has long been recognized as the seat of the movements in question, and hence it has been called the "motor-swelling" (renflement moteur). The movements are directly produced by changes in the energy with which the renflement moteur supports the flower or leaf, and this energy is greatest at night. For a long time the author was baffled in his investigation of the matter constituting the "motor-swelling." Nevertheless, after a protracted series of minute observations, he recognized in the glucose the fundamental cause of the periodic movements. It is known that this substance is formed under the action of solar light, that it is decomposed in darkness, or that it migrates and sometimes accumulates at different points of the plant organism. Now, one of these points is the renflement moteur, and it is very plain that its quantity there varies at the different stages of the diurnal life of the plant. Thus the greater part of the phenomenon is due to the storing up and then to the destruction of the glucose, the hydration of which produces the energy of the motor-spring. The same explanation serves to account for heliotropism, another phenomenon due to the action of the highly refracting rays of the spectrum on glucose or on its hydration. Inasmuch as the action of these rays lessens the tension on that side of the "motor-swelling" on which they fall, the opposite side gains a relative increase of energy, and hence results a certain motion; and, as the sun moves on its course, the leaf follows, but the reason is always a diminished tension on the illuminated side. This is true of the stalk as well as of the flower. Hence the two phenomena of periodic movement and of heliotropism depend on variations in the quantity of the glucose contained in the point of movement.

 

Value of the Robin to the Agriculturist. —Like the English sparrow, the "robin" (Turdus migratorius) has human enemies and detractors who will not admit that he is of any use whatever to the gardener and fruit-grower; but assert that he prefers to grow fat on stolen cherries and other small fruits, rather than on an insect-diet. But what are the facts? Lieut. D. A. Lyle, U. S. A., reared a robin from the fledgling state to maturity, in the mean time closely studying the bird's preferences in the matter of food, and here is the result of his observations, as communicated to the American Naturalist: On being taken from the nest, the young bird was placed in a cage, with plenty of boiled eggs and mashed potatoes and pure water. He would neither eat nor drink, but sat drawn up in the bottom of the cage, giving vent to an occasional chirp. The food was then forced down his throat, and this treatment revived the patient somewhat, but did not give entire satisfaction. He then received raw beefsteak three times a day, with bread and egg at intervals. The effect was striking: the eyes brightened, the chirp became loud and strong, and the bird would hop about briskly. He soon learned to open his mouth for the food. Next he was for three days restricted to a diet of earthworms, of which he would eat his fill, and then retire moodily to a corner, there to remain for about fifteen minutes, till the meal was digested. But, as this food acted as a purgative, it was alternated with beefsteak. The June beetle being then in season, that species of food was tried, and the bird preferred it to anything else. As long as June beetles could be procured, they constituted the sole food of the bird, and he thrived marvelously on it. Every day he consumed forty to fifty of these large beetles. "One morning," writes Lieut. Lyle, "at seven o'clock I gave him fifteen; I returned from the office at twelve, and from that time until sunset I fed him all he could eat. During this time he disposed of seventy-two of the large beetles!" When the June bugs were no longer to be had, cherries were given to the bird. These, when he was hungry, he would eat greedily, but they were speedily rejected when a few coleoptera or a piece of raw steak appeared in sight. The author then makes an estimate of the number of insects probably destroyed per diem by the twenty-three pairs of robins occupying the grounds around his residence, taking as the basis of his calculation the performance of his captive robin, and finds that the number would be at least 4,600, or 138,000 per month! Examination of the cherry-trees growing on the grounds showed that only about one cherry in twenty had been injured by the birds—a very low price to pay for their service in exterminating the noxious insects.

 

Gelatine as a Food-Preservative.—Dr. Campbell Morfit's "gelatine process" for preserving articles of food—as milk, vegetables, fruits, etc.—possesses many advantages which will undoubtedly win for it a very general acceptance. It consists in adding to the substances to be preserved a certain proportion of gelatine, and then drying the mixture till it does not contain over 10 or 12 per cent, of moisture. The mode of applying the process to the preservation of milk is described as follows in Nature: One pound of gelatine is dissolved in a gallon of milk at a temperature of 130° to 140° Fahr., and the solution is then allowed to set into a jelly, which is cut into slices and dried. By employing the product of this first operation in place of fresh gelatine for gelatinizing a second gallon of milk, a jelly is obtained in which the milk solids are just doubled in amount. As a gallon of milk contains about 6,400 grains of these solid matters, viz., casein, milk-sugar, milk-fat, and phosphates, their ratio to the gelatine will become as 12,800 to 7,000 after the second operation just described. If, then, the dried milk jujube, as it may be now called, be again and again employed with successive quantities of milk, a limit is reached when the one pound of gelatine has been incorporated with ten gallons. At this stage the mixture will contain no more than one part of gelatine to ten of the nutritive matters of milk—a proportion of added preservative material which contrasts very favorably with the 25 to 28 per cent, of sugar found in ordinary condensed milk. If the one pound of gelatine required could be at once dissolved in the whole eight or ten gallons of milk, the process would be simplified and cheapened; but gelatinization could not then be secured, for it is the gradual drying up of the slabs of jelly, with which the animal and vegetable food materials have been uniformly incorporated, that envelops every particle of changeable substance with an adequate protective coating of gelatine.

 

Notes on Afghanistan.—Afghanistan is happily described by a writer in the Geographical Magazine as a star of valleys radiating from the stupendous peaks of the Koh-i-Baba, and bounded all round by very rugged and difficult mountains. These valleys are traversed by streams which flow in various directions, the most important of them being the Cabool and its tributary the Kunar, the Argandab, the Helmund, the Harirud, and the Murghab. The appalling grandeur of some of the defiles north of the Hindoo-Koosh—a name applied to the whole line of Alpine water-shed stretching southwest from the southern end of Pamir—is not surpassed anywhere, while many of the sheltered glens on the southern slopes of that range are the delight of travelers. The general elevation of the country, which is considerable, diminishes toward the frontiers, and as its face becomes lower the rivers are absorbed by irrigation or lost by evaporation, and a belt of very barren, desert-like land is thus formed, bounding Afghanistan on all sides except the northeast corner. The spurs of the Hindoo-Koosh run out on both sides into the basins of the Oxus and the Cabool. Its peaks in all probability rise throughout to the region of perpetual snow, and the loftiest attain 20,000 feet in height, or over. This mighty range is pierced by upward of twenty passes, all leading from the basin of the Oxus to that of the Cabool. The climate is very diversified, but this is due to difference of elevation rather than of latitude. At Ghazin (7,730 feet) the winters are very severe, and here, as well as in the Hazarajat, the people stay in their houses during the cold season. The summer heat is everywhere very great, except in the most elevated parts of the Hindoo-Koosh and other lofty mountains. A deadly hot wind blows over the southwestern portion of the country, which is a sandy and almost uninhabited desert. For nine months the sun shines with the greatest possible splendor in Afghanistan, and the nights are even more beautiful than the days. The geology of the country is but little known. Antimony, iron, and lead, are found in the Ghorband Valley, and quarries of white marble in the hills near Maidan. Copper is found in various localities, but the deposits are unworked. Lead is obtained from the Hazara country; sulphur from Pir-Kisri, on the eastern confines of Seistan; and zinc and nitre from the Zhob Valley and Herat respectively. The main wealth of Afghanistan consists in the domestic animals—the horse, camel, cow, etc. The population is estimated at a little below 5,000,000. Wheat is the staple food; rice is largely grown; other agricultural products are turnips, ginger, turmeric, sugarcane, castor-oil plant, madder, asafœtida, tobacco, and fruits.

 

Japanese Fermented Liquors.—Some time ago Prof. De Bary, of Strasburg, discovered that alcoholic fermentation can be effected by the growth of a species of Mucor. Singularly enough, as we learn from a communication in Nature, by Prof. R. W. Atkinson, of the University of Tokio, this agency for bringing about alcoholic fermentation has long been known in Japan breweries, where it is employed in preparing from rice the alcoholic liquid called saké. In the breweries at Hachiôji the main room is usually one hundred and twenty by fifty feet, and twenty-five or thirty feet high; along the middle of it is a platform about twelve feet from the ground; on this are ranged wooden tubs, which serve for the preparation of the ferment, an operation repeated several times during the brewing-season. At the close of the previous season a quantity of green mould is produced on rice by exposing steamed rice mixed with ashes, and over which the spores of this fungus have been scattered in a well-closed chamber—the "fungus-chamber"—a small room about seven feet high, six feet broad, and eight feet long, well lined and covered with straw and matting, so that its high temperature may be kept up for a considerable time. In this chamber the rice and spores are left about ten days, and then they are found to be covered with a green fungus full of spores. This product is called in Japanese tané, or seed. When it is required to commence operations a similar method is adopted—that is, a quantity of steamed rice is placed on wooden trays in the "fungus-chamber," but not mixed with wood-ashes, and then tané is scattered over it, and the chamber kept closed for from two to four days. The rice-grains are then found to be covered with large quantities of fine, hair-like threads—the mycelium of the fungus. In this state it is called koji. To prepare his yeast, the brewer mixes steamed rice with thirty per cent, of its weight of koji and sufficient water to make a thick mud, in shallow tubs, which are kept on the central platform. It is frequently stirred with wooden tools for about ten days, and thus the grains of rice are broken down, the whole assuming a much thinner consistence, and the liquor becoming decidedly sweet. This is a change for which the author cannot yet fully account. After the end of the ten days this product is mixed with freshly-steamed rice, water, and koji, and placed in larger wooden vessels, in which the mixture is heated by means of closed wooden tubs containing hot water; and the temperature is maintained for from eight to thirteen days at about 95° Fahr. Meanwhile there is continuous development of gas, and a scum gradually forms on the surface till it is about an inch thick, and under the microscope presents the usual appearance of brewers' ferment—saccharomyces. The product of this operation is called moto—source, or origin—the yeast. The actual fermentation has three stages, called "beginning," "middle," and "end," the proportions of steamed rice varying slightly in each, but giving a final result of one hundred parts of steamed rice to thirty of ferment. This mixture, with the proper quantity of water, is placed in large tuns, and allowed to remain fifteen days, during which there is active fermentation, and the liquid becomes strongly alcoholic, at the end of which time it is drawn off from the grains of rice which have subsided, and put in other tuns, where it stands till the remainder of the rice is separated. The liquor is now heated to 140° Fahr., after which it is kept in store vats, carefully sealed up. This saké contains about fifteen per cent, alcohol.

 

A French Agricultural School.—It is a true remark that in France sundry matters of practical administration are better understood than elsewhere, and it may be that an account of a French agricultural school will suggest a few useful ideas to those who conduct similar institutions in this country. At Grignon, near Versailles, is an institution of this kind, concerning which the Revue Scientifique gives the following notes: There are three classes of students, viz., internes, or boarders, who constitute the majority; externes, who live outside of the institution, but who are required to attend all the exercises of the school; and auditeurs libres, who are free to select among the different courses of instruction such as they prefer. Students of the first class pay 1,200 francs per annum for board, lodging, and tuition, and those of the other two pay 200 francs. The course of study extends over a period of two and a half years, and pupils are admitted in October after passing an examination. In March, at the close of the first semester, they are examined on the subjects they have studied during this first term, and those who do not pass this ordeal successfully are dismissed. Similar eliminatory examinations take place at the end of each semester. The final examination is in March, thirty months after admission, the most meritorious students receiving diplomas, and the others a certificate of study. The number of branches taught is considerable, viz.: Chemistry, both general and agricultural; rural economy; agriculture; rural engineering; botany; technology; silviculture; zoötechny; meteorology, and geology. In addition, instruction is given in book-keeping and in hygiene, and there are lectures on special subjects. The instruction given in each branch of study is fortified by practical applications under the direction of the professors and their assistants, and the students are familiarized with chemical manipulation, the determination of the different kinds of minerals and plants, draughting, land-surveying, the management of animals, agricultural machines, etc. The farm attached to the school comprises 300 hectares (about 750 acres).

 

Noxious Vapors and Health.—In the report of an English commission on noxious vapors given off in the course of various manufactures, a principle is laid down which, if accepted by courts, would afford a speedy remedy for many of the ills of modern life. What the report says with special reference to alkali and copper works may be applied to such nuisances as fat rendering and petroleum-refining establishments; also to such destroyers of quiet as elevated railroads. "To be free from bodily discomfort," says the report, quoting the words of Mr. Simon, "is a condition of health. If a man gets up with a headache, pro tanto he is not in good health; if a man gets up unable to eat his breakfast, pro tanto he is not in good health. When a man is living in an atmosphere which keeps him constantly below par, as many of those trade-nuisances do, all that is an injury to health." But it is more than doubtful whether the commission will be able to enforce any measures that will effectually abate these nuisances. It is admitted that, besides the direct injury to the public health, noxious factory gases are chargeable with doing serious damage to agriculture. Cattle die from grazing on poisoned herbage, farms become parched up, yellow, and cannot be tenanted; parks, woodlands, and hedges, are slowly annihilated. But the factories give employment to the population, and working people are content to labor even in an unwholesome atmosphere for their daily bread. To require the entire suppression of nuisances involves outlay of money, and, in the present depressed state of manufacturing industry in Britain, proprietors are unwilling to incur expense. They would close their establishments, so throwing people out of employment, rather than burden themselves with the cost of carrying out the provisions of such a law as the sanitarians demand. Said the President of the Salt Chamber of Commerce: "We are taking no steps whatever to consume our own black smoke. The local authority must fine me as long as they can; if they fine me to too great an extent I shall have to shut up. This will be the case with all of us, and the trade will be driven from the district."

 

A Defense of the Sparrows.—Dr. Elliott Coues's "railing accusations" against the English sparrow have called forth many a hot-tempered reply from the friends of that bird, some of whom are so unpatriotic as to prefer the foreign intruder to the feathered songsters of their native land. Among these partisans of the English sparrow must be numbered Mr. Robert B. Roosevelt, who, in a late number of Forest and Stream, scruples not to answer "railing with railing." Dr. Coues, it will be remembered, makes five distinct categories of the sparrow's friends; Mr. Roosevelt does not care to differentiate the bird's enemies, but lumps them in one class, the "sparrow-hawks." The sparrows are worthless idlers, say these sparrow-hawks; but what, asks Mr. Roosevelt, was the condition of our city parks and tree shaded streets before the advent of the sparrows? Were they not practically impassable from the numbers of disgusting measuring-worms which hung in festoons from the limbs of the trees? The parks were abandoned absolutely to the worms, which by June had stripped every leaf, often killing the trees, and making them as bare and denuded as in mid-winter. The sparrows came, and everything was changed. "But," say the sparrow-hawks, "our native birds might have done the same service." "Might have done!" exclaims Mr. Roosevelt, contemptuously; "they never did." On the other hand, the sparrows "did not pave the parks with good intentions, but set about their appointed work and did it. They did not idle on bush or limb to squeak a feeble attempt at harmony" (such is the fling the author makes at our native feathered songsters); "they did not slip off to steal fruit; they did not satisfy their minds and feel that they had performed the whole duty of birds by setting up their feathers and saying, 'How pretty I am!' They were expected to kill worms, and they killed them. Early and late, without folly or idleness or wicked indulgences, they performed their duty till the measuring-worms ceased to be, and the place that knew them knows them no more. Go on, good sparrow! "But we have not the space to give the eloquent apostrophe in which the author encourages the sparrow to go on with his good work.

 

Death of Mr. Thomas Belt.—With deep regret we have to announce the death of Thomas Belt, geologist and naturalist. He died, September 22d, at Denver, Colorado, of rheumatic fever. The following biographical notice is from the London Athenæum: "The son of the late Mr. George Belt, nurseryman and seedsman of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Thomas Belt was a practical botanist almost from his infancy, and his scientific tastes were further developed in the two schools which he attended—the earliest presided over by Dr. J. C. Bruce, of antiquarian fame, and the second by the late John Storey, a man second to none of his day as a north-country botanist. In the latter establishment young Belt had as schoolfellows two boys who have since stamped their names in the annals of science—Prof. G. S. Brady and H. B. Brady, F.R.S. In 1851 Thomas Belt joined in the first great gold rush to Australia, and since that time his life has been that of a hard-working, successful mining engineer. He visited all parts of the world in the course of his profession, but whether as a digger in Victoria, as a manager of mines in Central America, or as a prospector in the wilder parts of Russia, the engineer was always a naturalist at heart. He was an excellent observer, and a certain speculative tendency led him to group his observations so as to bring out their full theoretical bearings. He was minutely accurate in his description of facts, and bold in his generalizations. He covered so much ground that some of his theories may not bear the test of further research, but some will stand, and all bear witness to the singular grasp of his mind. The chief results of his work are to be found in his papers read before the Geological Society (of which he became a Fellow in 1866), and in a most interesting book entitled 'The Naturalist in Nicaragua,' and published in 1874. In biology Mr. Belt was an advanced evolutionist, and in geology an ultra-glacialist. In both branches of science his papers were suggestive m the highest degree. What he did was so good that much was expected of him, and his sudden loss is an irreparable one to the rapidly-thinning group of eminent Tyneside naturalists to which, by right of birth, he belonged."