Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/March 1881/Correspondence

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Messrs. Editors.

ABOUT four years ago a large, wholesale-grocery firm, doing business on Strand Street, in this city, received a consignment of several barrels of onions. These onions were raised by a German farmer living in one of the counties lying west of the Colorado River, and near the line of the railroad running between Galveston and San Antonio. The onions were grown in a black, sticky soil, as shown by the large quantity adhering to them. In some of the barrels there were a great number of small black ants, which were evidently brought here with the onions from the same place. This particular species of ant was unknown here before. The Island of Galveston is mostly sandy, and the ants heretofore observed here were of light color. These imported colonies have increased enormously, until there is not a counting-room on Strand Street that is not literally infested with them. I am no entomologist, but it seems to me they exhibit some peculiarities that would greatly interest Sir John Lubbock. They do not appear to be very troublesome to the grocerymen—not attacking sugar, cheese, etc., which other small ants delight in—but, like a great many people, they show the most decided fondness for printer's ink on a newly-printed newspaper. If the morning paper is laid down in the counting room on a chair, table, or desk, in a few moments it will be covered by countless thousands of these lively little pests. They seem to extract something from the ink on the paper of which they are excessively fond. The paper itself they do not injure, and it is only a freshly-printed paper that attracts them. They are very active in their pursuit of fresh newspapers, the moment one is thrown down being the signal for hosts of them to rush from the floors and walls to cover it. They do not seem inclined to be quarrelsome with themselves or their "two-footed rivals," unless disturbed in their favorite pastime, by having the morning paper taken away from them, when, in attempting to shake them off, they frequently inflict some punishment on the hands, thus showing that they are not without the means of defensive and offensive warfare. The book-keepers and clerks have discovered that a broad chalk-line drawn around the desk-legs, and repeated daily, will offer an effectual barrier to their ascent of the desk. This is the only preventive yet discovered.

One remarkable fact I desire to call attention to is this: While they have no fondness for the common black writing-ink that does not copy, they are exceedingly fond of a variety of copying writing-ink—such as I am using in this letter—made in Paris, and called "Encre violette noire communicative." When the legs of my desk have not been properly chalked, and I am writing letters to correspondents, these little pests will cover my paper, run over the fresh writing, and frequently drag the ink on their legs, "making some marks" of their own. (You can see the peculiar chirography of one of my little friends on the first page of this letter.) Sometimes one or more will run up the pen-point as it is moving over the paper, and then occurs a very singular phenomenon indeed: The movement of the pen seems to enrage it, and it immediately plunges its forceps into the thick ink, when at once the ink, which was a dark-violet color, changes to a bright litmus color, and seems to have acquired the property of "striking through" the paper, no matter if of extra thickness. This change of color I attribute to the formic acid the insect discharges into the ink in its rage. In about five minutes the writing changes to a dark-violet again, due, I suppose, either to the absorption of oxygen, the evaporation of the formic acid, or some other chemical change. I may send you some more items of interest about these little pests, but in the mean time I would be glad to know how to be rid of them entirely.

Very respectfully yours,
L. C. Fisher,
Galveston, Texas, October 11, 1880.


Messrs. Editors.

On the evening of Wednesday, the 9th instant, I observed a very brilliant meteor, which made its appearance in the south-west, at an elevation of about forty degrees above the horizon. Its rate of motion was very slow, and it was visible fully three quarters of a minute. A long bright line was left in its path, and this remained visible from 5.27 o'clock, when I first observed the meteor, until 5.45 o'clock. This streak seemed to be composed of luminous vapor. About five minutes after its appearance, the line took a zigzag form and resembled a "streak" of lightning. Its form was constantly changing until it disappeared in the approaching darkness. I have never before observed a meteor whose "tail" remained visible so long. The appearance of this meteor created great consternation among the negroes, and many of them imagined that the "last day" had arrived. Nothing has ever been seen to equal it by any one in this neighborhood.

Yours respectfully,
John Hawkins.
Prosperity, S.C., December 10, 1880.