Popular Science Monthly/Volume 11/June 1877/Correspondence

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To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.

SIR: A singular natural phenomenon has recently come under my observation. As I have never heard of it before, and as it appears almost incredible to all who have heard me speak of it, I thought it well to give it publicity through the columns of your monthly.

During the present month, while out on a scouting expedition, I spent three days in Deep Spring Valley, a lonely place in the White Mountains in Inyo County, California. During one day of my stay, the 5th of March, I found that the Indians were catching wild aquatic birds of all sorts in Deep Spring Lake by simply wading into the water and seizing them with the hands. The birds, at that time, had their plumage so heavily coated with a saline compound that they were totally unable to fly, and thus fell an easy prey to the savages. On inquiry, I was told that this salt formed on the birds' breasts and wings, so as to prevent flight, only during a very short season of the year, and then under a peculiar combination of circumstances. The season lasts from about the first of March to the middle of April, and the birds can only be caught from dawn until about nine o'clock in the day, when the previous night has been perfectly clear, with a gentle wind from the north. The birds are then found in the southern part of the lake, incrusted with the salt. On the first night that I spent there the sky was cloudy and the wind was from the north; on the third night the sky was clear and the wind was from the south, and no ducks were caught on the following morning; and from my own observation I can say that none were incrusted. But during the second night of my stay the conditions were exactly favorable, and ducks were caught in abundance next day. In 1875 I visited the same locality in the month of December, and neither heard nor saw anything of this mode of catching water-fowl.

I weighed one duck immediately after it was caught, with all the incrustation intact, and again when the salts were cleaned off, and found that the latter weighed six pounds. The duck seemed to have been drowned by its burden; its eyes and bill were completely closed by a large lump of the salt.

Some small fresh streams enter the lake at the northern end; and on the favorable nights the Indians take the precaution to build fires and hang out cloths at the mouths of these streams, to prevent any of the ducks from entering the fresher water and thus

having the salty incrustation dissolved or washed off. During these favorable nights, also, the Indians collect on the southeastern shore of the lake and perform a duck-dance, in which they artistically imitate the motions, habits, and calls, of different kinds of water-fowl. Throughout my entire sojourn on the shores of the lake, its shallow waters were rendered turbid by the wind; but they were equally turbid with a south as with a north wind.

As the lake of which I speak is the only one known to these Indians where ducks may be caught in this manner, it may be well to describe it more particularly. It lies in a desert valley, 6,200 feet above the sea. It is about one mile in length from north to south, and about three-quarters of a mile wide from east to west. Its average depth does not exceed three feet, although there are a few deeper holes in it. The land around is sandy, and covered with "sage-brush." During the past summer the Indians took from the bottom of the lake several tons of salt, which was sold to quartz-mills in this neighborhood as chloride of sodium, sufficiently pure to be used in the reduction of ores. It is said that the amount obtained in two days was fourteen tons; but this estimate may be taken, in more senses than one, cum grano salts.

I send you a specimen of the salt, which I gathered myself from one of the ducks, and am very anxious that you would have it analyzed. W. W. Wotherspoon,

Lieutenant Twelfth U.S. Infantry. Camp Independence, Into Co., Cal., I March 15, 1877.

The following analysis, made by Dr. Elwyn Waller, of the School of Mines, Columbia College, gives the composition of the deposit above referred to:

Sulphate of soda[1] 57.37 per cent.
Sulphate of potash 8.09 "
Chloride of potassium 0.82 "
Carbonate of lime 2.24 "
Carbonate of magnesia 2.50 "
Sand and clay 10.41 "
Moisture 16.30 "
Bicarbonate of soda (trace) "
Organic matter 2.32 "


To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.

Prof. Tyndall's lecture on "The Relation of Fermentation to Putrefaction and Disease" explains so many phenomena which I have noticed, that I am disposed to accept it with avidity. Nevertheless, there seem to be some contradicting facts. Once, when serving with a troop of cavalry, a young and apparently healthy beef was brought to us, which we slaughtered, and set about cooking immediately. To our surprise, the flesh was tainted. To the senses of taste and smell the taint could not be distinguished from incipient putrescence. A careful examination failed to detect any signs of disease in the entrails or any part of the animal. The time which elapsed from the killing of the beef until the flesh was tasted was only a few minutes, certainly not half an hour. It was in Louisiana, in the month of April, late in the evening, and in cool weather; notwithstanding unprejudiced stomachs and resolute appetites, we were obliged to desist, and make a hungry camp.

Another instance, and much more incompatible with the bacterial theory of putrefaction as set forth by Prof. Tyndall, I find in Dr. Kane's narrative of his Arctic expedition. I have not the work at hand to refer to the page, but it is where, in the early dawn of the arctic morning, he watched several times for a reindeer which had been indistinctly seen, in the faint light, haunting a valley about a mile or two from the ice-bound ship. He finally succeeded in killing it, and his men ate one meal; but the carcass putrefied before they could eat again. This, and the temperature of the air many degrees below zero! He goes on to say that the sudden putrefaction of meat in the arctics is common; that sometimes a bear or a deer would spoil before it could be flayed. Can it be that there are arctic bacteria?—that in warmer countries there are exceptional kinds which hasten putrefaction at such a rate? Can it be that the cells of the flesh in certain circumstances produce putrefaction, somewhat as the cells of fruit produce fermentation? Or, finally, is it so that, both in the case of Dr. Kane's reindeer and in that of my beef, the animal had eaten something which gave the flesh a bad flavor, and our imagination supplied much more than we supposed? The facts need some explanation, and, in the case of Dr. Kane, are of such weight as should challenge the general attention of observers.

M. M. Kenney.
Beenham, Texas, March 25, 1877.


Dear Sir: Mr. Darwin says, in his last work, "Cross and Self Fertilization in the Vegetable Kingdom," page 402: "Many years ago I suggested that, primarily, the saccharine matter in nectar was excreted as a waste product of chemical changes in the sap; and that, when the excretion happened to occur within the envelopes of a flower, it was utilized for the important object of cross-fertilization, being subsequently much increased in quantity and stored in various ways. This view is rendered probable by the leaves of some trees excreting, under certain climatic conditions, without the aid of special glands, a saccharine fluid, often called honey-dew." In the mountains of North Carolina there is a species of honeydew eagerly sought for by bees, which is rarely seen by persons who have written of it, and is by many supposed to be a myth; but Mr. Rufus Morgan, one of the best informed and most successful apiarians of that section, who has for several years examined it in all its stages, is convinced that it is an animal, not a vegetable exudation. In reply to my questions respecting it, he writes:

"The phenomenon is not only well known in my section of the State, but is of annual recurrence. I have frequently studied it on green leaves, generally in the month of June or July, and invariably found it in close vicinity to the well-known aphides, or plant-lice, always below them, whence I concluded they wounded the leaves and caused this sap or 'honey' to flow. But, on further examination, I was fortunate enough to witness an actual shower of dew, in almost infinitesimal globules; and, on getting the sunlight at the right angle, these particles could be traced to these little creatures.

"It was a perfectly quiet day, and they seemed to eject the globules with some force, making them fly clear of the leaf and fall on the leaves below. Of course, such small particles would be wafted away by even a gentle wind, and, not being accompanied by their cause, their origin would necessarily be obscure.

"Last spring, before any leaves were out, I witnessed a most extraordinary yield of it on the pines. It hung in great drops, and fell off like real dew when the branches were shaken. At first I was mystified as to its origin, as I could find no aphides, which, according to my theory, ought to be present; but on a closer inspection I found them in abundance, not on the green, but on the dark or woody part of the twig. As these little insects are of the same color as the substance on which they are found, they are noticed only by close observers; but there is no doubt in my mind that the honeydew is an exudation from them. These insects are also called 'ant-cows,' from the fact of ants seeming to suck them, when they are only gathering this sweet secretion. It will be hard to convince the public of this simple origin of the honey-dew, as, of the hundreds with whom I conversed respecting it last year, none would accept my views, except the few whom I took to the trees and showed the philosophy of it, and even they seemed to regret that I had spoiled a pet delusion."

In his "Origin of Species," page 97, Mr. Darwin, in speaking of the inability of the hive-bee to suck nectar from the red-clover flowers, says: "I have been assured that when red clover has been mown, the flowers of the second crop are somewhat smaller, and that these are visited by many hive-bees. I do not know whether this statement is accurate, nor whether another published statement can be trusted, namely, that the Ligurian bee, which is generally considered a mere variety, and which freely crosses with the common hive-bee, is able to reach and suck the nectar of the common red clover."

Both of these statements Mr. Morgan confirms, and, acting on the fact that the Ligurian or Italian bee can procure honey not only from the red clover but other flowers of his section, in which the nectar is inaccessible to the common or black bee, he has Italianized his whole apiary by crossing the black and Ligurian bees, and finds the cross stronger and better honey-gatherers than the common bee. These facts, as coming from a practical apiarian, may be interesting to the readers of The Popular Science Monthly, and therefore I have ventured to send them to you.M. B. C.

New Berne, North Carolina.


  1. Calculated from the data afforded by the weight of the combined sulphates, and a determination of the sulphuric acid present.