Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/876

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large genus, and is found throughout the greater portion of the north temperate region of both hemispheres from eastern Europe across northern Asia and over the western two thirds of America. About thirty-five species and subspecies are found in the United States, most of which are restricted to the arid and subarid region west of the Rocky Mountains. Throughout their range, wherever the land is under cultivation, they are among the most destructive of mammals, feeding on grain, fruit, and garden vegetables to such an extent that the losses from their depredations must be counted in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Several States have paid large bounties for their destruction, without materially reducing their numbers; and numerous bulletins of agricultural experiment stations have dealt with means of destroying them. Prof. C. P. Gillette has shown, from examination of their stomachs, that the thirteen-striped spermophile is not an unmixed evil, for, besides large quantities of grain, it eats numbers of grasshoppers, wireworms, and other noxious insects, whence he concludes that a large proportion of its food is made up of insects that seem to consist almost exclusively of injurious species, and adds that "the squirrels would be a most valuable adjunct to any cornfield after planting if some method could be devised to prevent them from taking the corn."

Pin Wells and Rag Bushes.—A paper on Pin Wells and Rag Bushes was read in the British Association by Mr. E. Sidney Hartland. Prof. Rhys has lately brought together a number of instances, in Wales and the Isle of Man, in which persons frequenting sacred wells for the cure of disease and other purposes have been in the habit of throwing pins into the water, stuffing rags under stones, or tying rags upon adjacent trees; and he has discussed the reasons for these practices, suggesting that the pins are offerings and the rags are vehicles for the transfer of the disease. These suggestions were discussed in Mr. Hartland's paper, who compared the practices mentioned by Prof. Rhys with ancient and modern observances in Europe and other parts of the world at sacred wells, crosses, trees, temples, and other objects of superstition. He preferred the hypothesis that the object of these usages was to effect unison between the worshiper and the divinity, which was to be effected by the perpetual contact with the god of some article identified with the worshiper. Prof. Sayce mentioned evidences of similar customs in Palestine and Egypt. In the latter country the rags were hung up by the Bedouin and not by the native fellaheen. Colonel Godwin Austen said that throughout the Himalayas, from Cashmere to far in the East, in Bhotau, he had observed the custom of placing rags upon cairns, especially at the passes. Dr. Robert Mensal, president of the section, said that, although the customs mentioned in the paper might seem ridiculous, they all had a meaning, and the science of folklore, as interpreted by men like Mr. Hartland, was enabling us to find out what that meaning was.

Plants and their Seasons.—The philosophy that underlies the association of certain groups and types of plants with certain definite seasons of the year is the subject of a study by Henry L. Clarke, of the University of Chicago, the flora east of the Rocky Mountains alone being considered. The problem is defined: "From March to November, each month brings a new prospect in field and forest, and every careful observer can feel in this succession of forms a harmony into which any decided change would break discordantly. . . . To say that the fall flowers are not the spring flowers or those of summer are neither, merely because they have chosen at random this season or that, is neither science nor common sense. The truth is forced upon us that the various groups of flowering plants are not scattered indiscriminately from one end of the season to the other, but are regulated by definite scientific principles; and that just as relations can be traced between physical geography and geographical distribution, or between plant history and geological periods, so there is a connection between the relations of season to season and the relations of their respective floras." After a careful examination of the phenomena in detail, Mr. Clarke deduces the conclusion that "from early spring to late autumn there is a progression in the general character of the flower groups, from the lower to the higher, successive groups succeeding each other in time, paral-