Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/81

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71
A HALF-CENTURY OF SCIENCE.

which descends to the ground, and makes small galls on the roots of the oak. From these emerge an insect known as Biorhiza aptera, which again gives rise to the common oak-apple.

It might seem that such inquiries as these could hardly have any practical bearing. Yet it is not improbable that they may lead to very important results. For instance, it would appear that the fluke which produces the rot in sheep, passes one phase of its existence in the black slug; and we are not without hopes that the researches, in which our lamented friend Professor Rolleston was engaged at the time of his death, which we all so much deplore, will lead, if not to the extirpation, at any rate to the diminution, of a pest from which our farmers have so grievously suffered.

It was in the year 1839 that Schwann and Schleiden demonstrated the intimate relation in which animals and plants stand to each other, by showing the identity of the laws of development of the elementary parts in the two kingdoms of organic nature.

As regards descriptive biology, by far the greater number of species now recorded have been named and described within the last half century. Dr. Günther has been good enough to make a calculation for me. The numbers, of course, are only approximate, but it appears that, while the total number of animals described up to 1831 was not more than 70,000, the number now is at least 320,000.

Lastly, to show how large a field still remains for exploration, I may add that Mr. Waterhouse estimates that the British Museum alone contains not fewer than 12,000 species of insects which have not yet been described, while our collections do not probably contain anything like one half of those actually in existence. Further than this, the anatomy and habits even of those which have been described offer an inexhaustible field for research, and it is not going too far to say that there is not a single species which would not amply repay the devotion of a lifetime.

One remarkable feature in the modern progress of biological science has been the application of improved methods of observation and experiment, and the employment in physiological research of the exact measurements employed by the experimental physicist. Our microscopes have been greatly improved. The use of chemical reagents in microscopical investigations has proved most instructive, and another very important method of investigation has been the power of obtaining very thin slices by imbedding the object to be examined in paraffine or some other soft substance. In this manner we can now obtain, say, fifty separate sections of the egg of a beetle or the brain of a bee.

At the close of the last century Sprengel published a most suggestive work on flowers, in which he pointed out the curious relation existing between these and insects, and showed that the latter carry the pollen from flower to flower. His observations, however, attracted little notice until Darwin called attention to the subject in 1862. It