Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/297

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285
POPULAR MISCELLANY.

even dangerous to metals, and a piece of lead is exhibited at South Kensington which has been eaten into holes by them. Only camphor will keep them away. The destructive powers last during the whole life of the ant, and are exercised, in nearly equal degree, in the stages of larva, pupa, and perfect insect. The termites are extremely productive, and, were it not that they are very easily destroyed, might soon possess the world. One female will lay in the neighborhood of thirty-one million eggs in the course of the year. The males and females are endowed with wings at the pairing-season, when they sometimes fill the air in their flight. The majority of them lose their lives at that time, else they would multiply so as to make other existence intolerable. The females which are not destroyed are taken in hand by "workers," and imprisoned in a large cell, where they lay their eggs, at the rate of eighty thousand a day, which are at once taken by the "workers" to their particular cells. The female holds within her body, when pregnant, all the eggs she is ever going to lay, and there are thirty-one millions of them. The effect of breeding so enormous a mass is to swell her body so that, when she begins to lay, she will weigh a thousand times as much as when she took her pairing-flight. The wood-eating termite makes its home underground, and approaches the object it is going to consume by tunneling to it. Usually it follows the grain of the wood, or whatever course may be most convenient; and sometimes it fills the hollow shell from which it has eaten the substance with a packing of mud; and thus it happens that posts, etc., which the ant has eaten, do not give way. In all its operations it shows high intelligence and a genius for contrivance.

 

African Roads.—According to Colonel Sir C. W. Wilson, the roads over which the land trade of equatorial Africa now passes from the coast to the interior are mere footpaths, described by Prof. Drummond in his book on "Tropical Africa" as being never over a foot in breadth, beaten as hard as adamant, and rutted beneath the level of the forest-bed by centuries of native traffic. "As a rule, these footpaths are marvelously direct, running straight through everything, ridge and mountain and valley, never shying at obstacles, never turning aside to breathe. Yet within this general straightforwardness there is a singular eccentricity and indirectness in detail. Although the African footpath is, on the whole, a bee-line, not fifty yards of it are ever straight. And the reason is not far to seek. If a stone is encountered, no native will ever think of removing it. Why should he? It is easier to walk around it. The next man who comes that way will do the same. . . . Whatever the cause, it is certain that, for persistent straightforwardness in the general, and utter vacillation and irresolution in the particular, the African roads are unique in engineering. No country in the world is better supplied with paths; every village is connected with some other village, every tribe with the next tribe; and it is possible for the traveler to cross Africa without being once off a beaten track."

 

Educational Value of Phonetic Spelling.—Mr. Isaac Pitman, in a paper on economy in education and in writing, stated to the British Association that a million pounds yearly are wasted by the present method of teaching reading in the English elementary schools. The first occupation of children in schools is to learn to read, and they spend, at the lowest reckoning, eight hours a week, during the first four years of their school-life, in gaining a certain amount of reading power. An equal degree of proficiency might be gained by using phonetically printed books during the first two years, and by reading in the present books afterward. The cost of teaching reading to the children in the elementary schools is about two million pounds. One half of this sum would be saved by the use of an alphabet containing a letter for each sound in the language. As reading is now taught, the sound or pronunciation of every word has to be learned independently of the names of the letters that compose it, and generally in spite of the names or sounds of the letters; but, by the use of letters that make up the sound of a word, certainty and celerity in the art of reading take the place of doubt and difficulty. In the discussion on this paper. Dr. J. H. Gladstone said that children should be taught the properties and attributes of things in nature surrounding