Popular Science Monthly/Volume 24/January 1884/Popular Miscellany
Origin of the Eastern End of Lake Erie. Mr. Julius Pohlman, starting with the hypothesis that the beds of the Great Lakes were excavated by water in pre-glacial times, has sought for the river which washed out the eastern end of Lake Erie. The discovery of the many large pre-glacial rivers, in Pennsylvania and Ohio, running into the lake-basin, explains well enough how the erosion in general has taken place. "But the most easterly of these ancient water-courses yet discovered, the Alleghany, which ran northerly past Dunkirk, does not account for the forty miles of lake-valley between that place and Buffalo, and another pre-glacial river emptying into the lake-basin near Buffalo was necessary to complete the river system which occupied and excavated the valley of Lake Erie." The maps of the lake survey show that there are no indications of rocks on the shore of the lake between the southern limit of the city of Buffalo and the Horseshoe Reef of the Niagara River, and that the land is low and level for some distance back. The northern and eastern parts of the city and the bed of Buffalo Creek are underlain by a reef of corniferous limestone, which gradually ascends toward the north. Testings that have been made during the course of excavations for canals, of the depth of this rockless land, show that no rock can be found at a less depth than eighty feet below the surface. This probable fact points to the bed, and indicates the depth of the ancient river which we are seeking for. That river could not go north or east, on account of the out-cropping corniferous limestone, but "it must have taken a westerly course through the soft shales of the Devonian epoch; and if we trace an imaginary line along the deepest portion of the eastern end of the lake from this ancient valley, in a direction a little southerly of west, we can connect our pre-glacial river with the ancient outlet of the river system of the Erie Valley opposite Dunkirk, and have a fair explanation of the origin of the eastern end of Lake Erie."
The March of Fever and Ague.—Dr. G. H. Wilson, of Meriden, Connecticut, reviewing the history of epidemic intermittent fever in Connecticut and other parts of New England, traces in it the evidence of a regular progress in a particular direction, and by successive advances from year to year. The advance appears to be "independent of any known or recognized influence, whether atmospheric, telluric, magnetic, or climatic, and through the most diverse conditions of surface, soil, humidity, and temperature, general and local." The direction of the movement appears to be toward the northeast; and in its invasion of Connecticut "the ague crossed, diagonally but decidedly, every one of our main rivers. Starting on the coast, west of the Housatonic, it crossed its valley the next year, but did not ascend it more than about fifteen miles in as many years. It next crossed the Naugatuck, within five miles of its mouth. The Quinepiac it first reached and crossed in South Meriden, sixteen miles from East Haven; the Connecticut at Middletown, twenty-five miles from the Sound; and the tributaries of the Thames in Coventry, forty miles from the sea." In Rhode Island, also, it entered at Westerly and passed through the State to the northeast, leaving the southeast and northwest parts unaffected. The northeast course was pursued during fifteen years, or till 1875, when the malarial influence had reached Windsor, on the Connecticut. After that time, the radiation, or lateral spread of the disease, became more decided, and it finally covered every town in the State, passing the line of Massachusetts at Agawam in 1878. In the next four years it had attacked all the towns in Western Massachusetts, and a few scattered over the eastern part of that State, and had invaded Vermont and New Hampshire, as well as Rhode Island. "It is not too much to suppose that it came over from Long Island and New Jersey, and possibly farther south, as well as from the same region over Westchester County; that its front extends from the Hudson on the west to Buzzard's Bay on the east; that it has moved a hundred miles north and east, and still reaches out its favors to those belated north-men and down-Easters who have hitherto mocked us."
Hygiene in Schools.—An article on this subject in "The Sanitary Record," by John W. Tripe, M. D., contains the following: "Children are now taught, in public, elementary, and other schools, a number of facts concerning the rivers, mountains, coasts, etc., of foreign countries, and many other things which do not immediately concern them, while the merest outlines of the relations existing between the blood and the various organs of the body, and of the changes occurring therein, rarely form any part of their education. It is not necessary to tell children about the size of the liver, the average weight and muscular power of the heart, the diameter and length of the great vessels of the body, the structure of the eye, or any other similar facts; but surely it would be better for children, at any rate in the advanced classes, to be taught as to the action of fermented liquors on the system, and on the organs by which they are excreted from the body, the injuriousness of excesses in eating and drinking, and such like facts, than commit to memory a mass of information which they forget almost as soon as learned. They would also be the better for being instructed in the relations that exist between health and the social habits and customs of those among whom they will pass their lives. They might also be told the reasons why high-heeled boots, constricted waists, unwashed skins, accumulations of refuse, and many other things, are injurious to health as well as opposed to comfort."
How Buzzards find their Prey.—On the debated question as to the particular sense by which turkey-vultures are directed to their prey from great distances, Mr. Samuel N. Rhoads brings strong evidence in the "American Naturalist" in favor of the sense of smell. In digging some sweet-potatoes, he partly uncovered a spot where a horse and cow had been buried some years before. In a few hours afterward the spot became the center over which buzzards hovered by scores, during the whole of the following day, and less numerously for several days afterward. It was a strangely interesting spectacle, he says, "to behold them swoop within a few feet of the horse-hades, and rise again with slow, reluctant flaps, indicative of disappointment, then return to deliberately 'beat' and 'quarter' the ground aërially speaking, with all the tact and persevering sagacity of their canine compeers." Gosse relates an instance that occurred in Jamaica, where vultures circled around a house in which some meat had been allowed to spoil, though they could detect nothing by sight. The smelling power which enables them thus to detect their prey must be very delicate; for Mr. Rhoads could not detect any taint in the atmosphere while he was working over the burial-place. Doubtless the birds also use their eyes, but these instances prove that the olfactory sense alone is sufficient to guide them.
Pond-Mad as a Diarrhœa-Breeder.—A fact is related in the report of the State Board of Health of Connecticut that illustrates the effect upon health of exposing the bottom of a pond. A small village in the town of Union was situated close upon the borders of a pond that was drawn down entirely during the summer and fall, for several years in succession, in order to get the water from another pond lying above it and communicating with it. "When the pond was first drawn down, while the decaying materials at its bottom, which probably extended over twenty or thirty acres at least, were drying, offensive odors were complained of, and it was stated that they caused nausea and vomiting; and diarrhœal and dysenteric troubles were stated to be unusually frequent. But no cases of malaria were reported as having originated in any part of the town. Several large ponds between Palmer, Massachusetts, and Union, have been completely drawn down and had their beds exposed, without any cases of malaria being known to have originated in the region.
Karen Funeral-Weddings.—Among the Shan Karens of Farther India, funerals are made the occasions of grand wedding festivals, in which all the marriageable young men and women of the village areto participate. As it is not always convenient to hold these interesting ceremonies at the exact time when a villager may die, it is customary to deposit the corpse of the deceased in some temporary resting-place, or to burn it and preserve the ashes till the times and the marriage-market are more favorable to giving it obsequies worthy of its former estate. Consequently, six months, or a year, or more, may frequently pass before the memory of the dead Karen receives the honor which is its due. When a good time for weddings comes, the remains are taken from their temporary resting-place and set upon a platform or mat which has been prepared for them, and the eligible bachelors and marriageable young women of the neighborhood having been invited to come and compete in a marrying-match, arrange themselves, dressed in their gayest, in two choirs on opposite sides of them. The "funeral service" is then begun with a chorus of the men celebrating the beauties of the Karen maidens in general. The girls respond in their drawling falsetto, "calmly accepting the eulogy of their graces." These overtures are usually set pieces, handed down from antiquity, or taken and translated from some popular Burmese play. Next, the bachelors, each in his turn, beginning usually, for the sake of peace, with the most muscular one, "deliver themselves of love-stricken solos," directed by name to the several damsels whom they have chosen; if one of them is rejected, he waits till his turn comes again, and addresses, if he sees fit, some other girl. The girls receive the proposals in perfect self-possession, and respond to them in phrases like those with which they have been addressed, the models of which have come down from the old times. All the praise the maiden has received, she appropriates as only her just due, and continuing, she declares that it is a shameful thing not to be married, but that it is worse to be divorced afterward, "to be like a dress that has been washed," but that she will do what she is bid. If the girl rejects the address, she may do so in a tone indicating that she does not consider she has been praised enough, or with some such indirect phrase as "Come to me when the full moon appears on the first day of the month; come dressed in clothes that have never been stitched. Dress and come before you wake. Eat your rice before it is cooked, and come before daylight." Rejections, however, seldom occur, except when some young man makes a mistake and applies to a girl who is known to be reserving herself for another. The "funeral service" goes on in this way till it is plain that no more alliances can be made, when it is closed, all the crockery that belonged to the deceased is broken, and the body is permanently buried. The matches thus made are binding, and no other way of making them is in favor; and, if any preliminary private courting takes place, it is subsidiary to the funereal occasion.
Steel-Iron.—Professor M. Keil has produced a composite material of iron and steel in which the valuable qualities of the two substances are combined, and the combination is made available for a variety of uses. The principle of his process is exemplified in a cast-iron mold divided centrally by a thin sheet of iron, on one side of which sheet fluid iron is poured, and on the other side fluid steel. The dividing plate should be thick enough to prevent the glowing masses on either side from burning through it, and yet so thin that those masses and it shall become thoroughly welded together. The combination has been produced in five shapes: steel by the side of iron; steel between two layers of iron; iron between two layers of steel; a core of steel with the surrounding shell of iron; and a core of iron with the surrounding shell of steel. This steel-iron may be used for a great variety of purposes in which the hard qualities of steel, enabling it to resist wear and tear, or adapting it to cutting purposes, need to be backed by a tougher material competent to resist strains and great vibration.
Hedgehogs and their History.—Professor Grant Allen, writing in an English paper of the structure and habits of the hedgehog, observes that the curious spines the animal wears on his back are a feature very apt to recur among animals of different classes the world over, which are much exposed to carnivorous enemies. The porcupine, a rodent in no way related to the hedgehog, and the Australian echidna, allied to the ornithorhynchus, have precisely similar spines. "The fact is, almost all surviving members of very low and early groups are extremely likely to have such peculiar spiny or armor-plated bodies, because only those which happened to be so protected have managed to escape the persistent attention of a million generations of vermin-eating carnivores. Hence they are apt to be either prickly, as in these instances, or else protected by a regular covering of bone-like hardness, as in the armadillo, the poyou, the pangolin, and the scaly ant-eaters. The spines of the hedgehog are in reality very hard, bristly hairs, specially developed for purposes of defense. Of course, however, he did not get these most effective chevaux-de-frise all at a single blow. They are the result of slow and constant modification in a long line of ancestors, and not a few intermediate forms are still in existence to show us, either directly or by analogy, the fashion in which the defensive prickles were originally evolved. The bulau, of Sumatra, has a few stout bristly hairs scattered among the fur of its back, and gives the first indication of a tendency toward the production of spines. It can not, however, roll itself up into a ball, like the hedgehog. The tanrec, of Madagascar, is covered with a mixture of hairs, bristles, and true spines; while another animal of the same island still more closely approaches the hedgehog in the greater spininess of its body and in the possession of the power of rolling itself up. "Finally, we get in Europe and Asia several kinds of genuine, fully developed hedgehogs, of which our own English specimen here in the ditch is a typical example. It is not often that all the intermediate stages between two distinct animal types have been so well preserved for us by nature as in this interesting instance."
Science in Brazil.—M. de Quatrefages recently improved the occasion of presenting to the French Academy of Sciences a number of documents from the Brazilian museum at Rio Janeiro, to speak in praise of the scientific progress that has been made in that country under the wise encouragement of the Emperor Dom Pedro II. The government, societies, municipalities, and a host of individuals, are rivaling one another in their zeal for the multiplication of educational establishments and for endowing them as richly as possible. Nearly one sixth of the revenue of the country is applied to purposes of public instruction. The first four volumes of the archives of the National Museum are marked by many valuable essays, among which were spoken of, as particularly deserving attention, the studies of Dr. Pizzarro on a curious batrachian, and of M. Frederick Muller on insects; of M. Lacerda on the poison of different snakes and of a toad; the anthropological labors of MM. Lacerta and Peixoto on the tribe of the Botocudos, and on some skulls found in ancient funeral urns; and a memoir by M. Ladislau Netto regarding American origins and migrations. The last study is based upon the strange custom, which is observed in a large number of tribes from the extreme northwestern part of the continent to Brazil, of boring the lower lip and hanging from it ornaments of different forms and natures. A paper also appears in this volume by M. Fireira Penna on the ceramios of Para, low tumuli, which are wholly composed of urns or other vessels of terra-cotta, laid together and arranged in beds. The recent Brazilian Anthropological Exhibition, which was very successful, is to be followed by another, in which it is hoped the whole American Continent will be represented.
Magnetism of a Great City.—Mr. Richard Jeffries, in his essays on "Nature near London," remarks upon the way in which the magnetism of London is a force in its remotest suburbs, and the influence of the mighty city is felt in its most rural environments. "In the shadiest lane," he says, "in the still pine-woods, on the hills of purple heath, after brief contemplation there arose a restlessness, a feeling that it was essential to be moving. In no grassy mead was there a nook where I could stretch myself in slumberous ease and watch the swallows ever wheeling, wheeling in the sky. The something wanting in the fields was the absolute quiet, peace, and rest which dwell in the meadows, and under the trees, and on the hill-tops in the country." The inevitable end of every foot-path round about London is London; the proximity of the immense city induces a mental, a nerve restlessness; and, as you sit and dream, you can not dream for long, for something plucks at the mind with constant reminder "that the inland hills, and meads, and valleys, are like Sindbad's ocean, but that London is like the magnetic mountain which draws all ships to it."
Bacteria and Cholera.—Dr. Koch, of the German Cholera Commission, has made a report of the commission's examinations of cholera cases in Egypt. The disease was on the decline when the commission began its work, and this may partly account for the unsatisfactory character of the results. Twelve unquestionable cholera patients were examined, and autopsies were held on the bodies of ten persons who had died of cholera. No micro-organisms were found in the blood of the patients, and but few in the matters vomited up, but a considerable number were found in the dejections. In the autopsies, no infectious organic matter, except a few probably accidental bacteria in the lungs, was noticed in the lungs, the spleen, the kidneys, or the liver. A well-determined species of bacteria was, however, found in the walls of the intestines, and in some cases had penetrated to the tubular glands of the mucous coat, and provoked an irritation there, and had even reached the deeper layers of the mucous coat, and sometimes the muscular coat. It seemed evident that they had a connection with cholera, but whether as cause or merely as an accompaniment or result was still uncertain. To test this question, inoculations were made upon mice and monkeys, and a few dogs and chickens, and the bacterial poison was administered to some of the animals, but without effect in producing symptoms of cholera; although in a few of the cases septic affections followed. The results actually obtained, however, seem to Dr. Koch to afford a good reason why the experiments should be continued.
Superstitions about Infants.—Dr. H. Ploss remarks, in his book (in German) on "The Child in the Customs and Usages of Peoples," that the birth of a child impresses its relatives with the feeling that they are brought into the immediate presence of one of the mysterious powers of Nature, whose kindness in conferring the gift is acknowledged, and whose favor is invoked with observances in which feasts and offerings nearly always have a place; and the ceremonies observed on such occasions, and the toys that are given the child, have frequently an ingenious, sometimes an educational significance. The natural process of birth is brought, in the imagination of the people, into relation with hidden or supernatural causes: by many tribes it is supposed to be superintended by particular divinities; and the dangers and diseases to which the child is subject are ascribed to similar mysterious agencies. The accidents of pregnancy, the cries and calls, the influence of the evil-eye, the substitution of a changeling for the child, the ill-omened significance attached to certain acts, form a stock of superstitions deeply impressed in the popular imagination. From the search for supernatural means of driving away the evil spirits supposed to be working harm to the child have arisen very curious and wide-spread doctrines which are of great value in the history of customs. The little being who has come into the world is not always believed to be pure, and to have a clear right to existence. Many peoples regard it as "unclean" and not to be touched for a certain time. Others require it to be expressly recognized by the father; and some give the parents a right to expose or kill it immediately. Among most people it is considered essential to perform some kind of ceremony for formally adopting the child into the family and society. Such ceremonies are generally dietetic, or relate to washing and bathing, anointing the skin, giving the first food, circumcision, putting on clothing, or cutting the hair, and are observed as important mysteries favorable to bodily endurance and mental vigor. Here we approach the transition from the instinctive hygiene of popular customs to religious ceremonies. Survivals of the notions here pointed to are traced by Herr Ploss among popular customs that have not yet died out in the more retired districts of Europe.
Use of Salt.—Among other follies of the day, some indiscreet persons are objecting to the use of salt, and propose to do without it. Nothing could be more absurd. Common salt is the most widely-distributed substance in the body; it exists in every fluid and in every solid; and not only is it everywhere present, but in almost every part it constitutes the largest portion of the ash when any tissue is burned. In particular, it is a constant constituent of the blood, and it maintains in it a proportion that is almost wholly independent of the quantity that is consumed with the food. The blood will take up so much and no more, however much we may take with our food; and, on the other hand, if none be given, the blood parts with its natural quantity slowly and unwillingly. Under ordinary circumstances, a healthy man loses daily about twelve grains by one channel or the other, and, if he is to maintain his health, that quantity must be introduced. Common salt is of immense importance in the processes ministering to the nutrition of the body, for not only is it the chief salt in the gastric juice, and essential for the formation of bile, and may hence be reasonably regarded as of high value in digestion, but it is an important agent in promoting the processes of diffusion, and therefore of absorption. Direct experiment has shown that it promotes the decomposition of albumen in the body, acting, probably, by increasing the activity of the transmission of fluids from cell to cell. Nothing can demonstrate its value better than the fact that, if albumen without salt is introduced into the intestine of an animal, no portion of it is absorbed, while it all quickly disappears if salt be added. If any further evidence were required, it would be found in the powerful instinct which impels animals to obtain salt. Buffaloes will travel for miles to reach a "salt-lick"; and the value of salt in improving the nutrition and the aspect of horses and cattle is well known to every farmer. The popular notion that the use of salt prevents the development of worms in the intestine has a foundation in fact, for salt is fatal to the small threadworms, and prevents their reproduction by improving the general tone and the character of the secretions of the alimentary canal. The conclusion, therefore, is obvious that salt, being wholesome, and indeed necessary, should be taken in moderate quantities, and that abstention from it is likely to be injurious.—Lancet.
Intelligence of a Turret-Spider.—The nest of the Tarentula arenicola, or American turret-spider, is a vertical tube, extending twelve or more inches into the ground, and projecting half an inch to an inch above the surface. The projecting portion, or turret, is in the form of a pentagon, more or less regular, and is built up of bits of grass and straw, small twigs, etc., cemented with mud, like a miniature old-fashioned chimney. The upper part of the tube has a thin lining of web-silk. A nest was exhibited by Vice-President H. C. McCook, D. D., at a meeting of the Academy of Natural Sciences, of Philadelphia, which, during its journey from Vineland, New Jersey, where it was found, had been plugged at top and bottom with cotton. Upon the arrival of the nest in Philadelphia, the plug guarding the entrance had been removed, but the other had been forgotten. The spider, which still inhabited the tube, immediately began removing the cotton from the lower end, and cast some of it out. But guided, apparently by its sense of touch, to the knowledge that the soft fibers would be an excellent material with which to line ita tube, it speedily put in a cotton padding for about four inches downward from the opening. Dr. McCook pointed out the very manifest inference that the spider must, for the first time, have come in contact with such a material as cotton, and had immediately utilized its new experience by adding the soft fiber to the ordinary silken lining.