Popular Science Monthly/Volume 5/October 1874/Miscellany

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MISCELLANY.

Fritz Müller on Bee-Habits.—A letter to Mr. Darwin from Fritz Müller, dated Itaguahi, Brazil, April 20th, confirms many of the observations of Mr, Belt's remarkable work, "The Naturalist in Nicaragua," on the habits of ants. Further, he gives the following account of a contest between the queen-bee of a hive and the workers: A set of forty-seven cells had been filled, eight on a nearly-completed comb, thirty-five on an adjoining one, and four around the first cell of a new comb. When the queen had laid eggs in all the cells of the two older combs, she went several times round this circumference (as she always does, in order to ascertain whether she has not forgotten any cell), and then prepared to retreat into the lower part of the breeding-room. But, as she had overlooked the four cells of the new comb, the workers ran impatiently from this part to the queen, pushing her, in an odd manner, with their heads, as they did also other workers they met with. In consequence, the queen began again to go around on the two older combs; but, as she did not find any cell wanting an egg, she tried to descend, but everywhere she was pushed back by the workers. This contest lasted for a rather long while, till at last the queen escaped without having completed her work. Thus the workers knew how to advise the queen that something was as yet to be done, but they knew not how to show her where it had to be done. In the same hive there appeared to be two political parties among the workers, dissenting about the construction of the combs, one destroying what the other had begun to build.

 

The Western Grasshopper Plague.—A lady correspondent of a Western journal gives the most graphic description we have anywhere seen of the annoyance and discomfort caused by the grasshoppers during their recent invasion of some of the Western States and Territories. Writing from Northeastern Kansas, under date of August 5th, the correspondent states that then the grasshoppers were flying all around, and alighting on every thing, pelting against doors and windows as fast as hailstones ever came. It was scarcely possible to see through a screen door, on account of the insects swarming on the netting. Out-of-doors, the appearance was as though a severe snow-storm were raging, the wings of the flying grasshoppers looking white like flakes of snow. "They destroy every thing they alight on; every tree and shrub is covered with them. You know we read of Pharaoh's plague, where the insects got into the kneading-trough. I think this is one of them. I went out by the door to try and drive them off, and they flew all over me, and I had to change my dress to get rid of them. Instead of having rain, we are having showers of grasshoppers. Our six windows are completely covered with them, and as I write they are pouring down the chimney, and coming down the stove-pipe."

 

The Flora of the Black Hills.—General Custer, in a dispatch dated August 2d, graphically describes the botanical wonders of the Black Hills country, Dakota. Of "Floral Valley" he says that it surpasses in its display of flowers any public or private park he had ever seen. Every step of the march up that valley was amid flowers of the most exquisite colors and perfume. So luxuriant in growth were they that the troopers plucked them without dismounting. At one of the halting-places. General Forsyth plucked, choosing at random, seventeen beautiful flowers, of different species, and within a space of twenty feet square. The same evening, while seated at the mess-table, an officer called attention to the carpet of flowers under foot, and the question arose, how many different species could be plucked by the company without leaving their seats at table. Seven beautiful varieties were thus gathered. Prof. Donaldson, botanist of the expedition, estimated the number of flowers in bloom in Floral Valley at fifty, while an equal number of varieties had bloomed or were yet to bloom. The number of trees, shrubs, and grasses, was twenty-five, making the total flora of this valley embrace 125 species. Through this beautiful valley meanders a stream of crystal water, so cold as to render ice undesirable, even at noonday. The temperature of two of the many springs found flowing into it was ascertained to be 44° and 4412° respectively.

 

An International Pharmacopœia.—In the American Journal of Pharmacy for July 1st, Dr. Charles H. Thomas, of Philadelphia, calls attention to the serious disagreements existing between the British and United States Pharmacopœia; and strongly advocates the adoption of some measures by which the two books may be brought into greater accord, or, better still, fused into a single one. As they stand at present, the terms employed and the formulæ used are widely different, so that, while in the other departments of medicine what the student finds in the text-books and oral teaching of one country is common to both, in the department of materia medica, and in pharmacy, the variations and discrepancies could hardly be greater were it a case of two different languages. This condition of things operates as a great annoyance to the physician of one country wishing to practise in the other, and is still more aggravating to the teacher, who is unable to lay down any established rules of guidance beyond the limits of his own country, whereas these rules should be coextensive with the language.

Dr. Thomas thinks that the general adoption of the metrical, or some other uniform system of weights and measures, must precede the introduction of an international or universal pharmacopœia, but that we are now on a footing for establishing "a unity of standard for the composition of the principal preparations of the pharmacopœias of the English-speaking people, and this notwithstanding the radical differences between the systems of weights and measures in Great Britain and in this country respectively—the expedient needed to be adopted being no other than for the United States and British Pharmacopœial authorities to unite in putting into force the rule established by the Scandinavian nations, at their international convention, held in 1865, when the pharmacopœias of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, were unified, and which rule is, to express the relative quantities used in pharmacy in proportional parts by weight, as, e. g., two parts by any system of weight of the first ingredient, four of the second, and one of the third, etc., thus securing like relative proportions in all standard compounds."

 

The Colorado Potato-Beetle.—Some time since Prof. Charles V. Riley predicted that the dreaded Doryphora decem-lineata, or Colorado potato-beetle, would reach the Atlantic States in 1878, the prediction being based on the average progress eastward of fifty miles per year. But latterly the movements of this pest appear to have been accelerated, for our esteemed contributor, Dr. Samuel Lockwood, has, during the past summer, found potato-vines infested with the larvae of the genuine Colorado beetle in West Freehold, N. J. From a communication by Dr. Lockwood to the Monmouth Democrat, a copy of which, with several additional notes inserted, has been kindly furnished us by the author, we take the following account of the researches which led to the identification of the New Jersey brood with the formidable Western insect-pest. Having secured some specimens of the larvae from West Freehold, Prof. Lockwood placed them in a glass jar with a quantity of potato-leaves. They fed ravenously on these for some time; symptoms of the pupa change were then observed, and, some friable earth having been furnished, the larvae burrowed into it, and soon assumed the pupa form. In due time the perfect beetle appeared. But, as there are two species of Doryphora (D. decem-lineata and D. juncta), one of which, the D. juncta or bogus Colorado beetle, is common in the Atlantic States, and, as both are very much alike in the beetle-form. Dr. Lockwood took every precaution to avoid error in his diagnosis.

In the larva stage the difference between the two species is decisive. Larvæ of the "bogus bug" have on each side the body a row of distinct, round, black spots, while larvae of the true Colorado species have two rows of these spots on each side of the body. To make assurance doubly sure, Dr. Lockwood procured eggs from the beetles he had himself raised, and had larvae hatched from them. There was now no room for doubt, for every one of them had the double row of spots. This conclusion is concurred in by Prof. C. V. Riley.

The capacity of the Colorado beetle for reproduction is amazing. They bear three broods in one season: one female has been known to lay 1,200 eggs. Says the Canadian Entomologist: "If the progeny of a single pair were allowed to increase without molestation for one season, the result would amount to over 60,000,000."

In anticipation of this insect reaching Europe from our Atlantic States, the German Government has made thorough preparation to meet it. Prussia has adopted a system of traveling lecturers on agriculture, Wanderlehrer. Each Wanderlehrer has a district of twenty or thirty miles, and his duties are to visit the farmers personally and instruct them. Specimens of the Colorado beetle have been supplied to these teachers, so that, through their instructions, the German farmers are already well informed as to this insect, in fact, know all about it, and can recognize it when it comes. If such a thing is possible, it will be destroyed on its first appearance.

The original home of this insect was Colorado, It is known that it lived upon the mountains there over fifty years ago, and that it fed upon the Solanum rostratum, a species of wild-potato. When the white man began planting potato-patches on the Rocky Mountains, better food, and in larger quantities, caused the great increase of the insect, which immediately began spreading toward the East. In 1859 it had reached within a hundred miles of Omaha. In 1861 it had entered Iowa, and in 1865 had crossed the Mississippi into Illinois, Thus on it moved eastward, generally at about fifty miles a year, though latterly the movement must have been more rapid. The sad thing is, that every swarm that moves leaves a permanent colony behind.

Every device has been employed to destroy them. Paris-green has been dusted on the plants. This will kill all it touches. But its application is expensive, and not without danger. It was found necessary to use an ingenious machine drawn by two horses. This consisted of a large box supported by wheels. The box was open at the top, over which was a revolving flapper, or fan, that brushed the vines over the box, at the same time striking them, thus causing the beetles to fall to the bottom of the box, where was a pair of revolving rollers, between which they were crushed. There were other kinds of machines, but this was the most effective.

The Colorado beetle is about half an inch long, roundish, and in form much like a lady-bug. It has a series of ten stripes on each wing-cover, being alternately brown and yellow. It is a very beautiful insect; but, alas! it is among the most formidable of those diminutive enemies of the industry of man, whose depredations, even in the brief history of our nation, has cost us, in money loss of crops, more by many times than the sum-total of all our wars. Already, in Maryland, the ravages of the new-comer are filling the farmers with dismay.

 

Prof. Morse on the North American Unionidæ.—In his paper on this subject, at the recent meeting of the American Association, Prof. Morse explained, on the theory of natural selection, why the fresh-water mussels are so much more abundant in this country than in Europe, and why they are so much more numerous west of the Alleghanies than on their eastern slope. The families of fresh-water mollusks are few in number, and are intimately related with those families in the sea that have proved capable of surviving admixture with fresh water, and that commonly occur between high and low water mark. Many animals have adapted themselves to the changing influences which are liable to occur between high and low water mark, such as inundations, fresh water, and rain. Others have adapted themselves to brackish water, and, to those forms that have survived, the freshwater mollusks are closely related. In this struggle for adaptation to new conditions, great modification of form takes place, a fact illustrated and confirmed by what has been observed in the case of the mya or common clam. This belongs between high and low water, and, although never yet so far changed as to live in fresh water, it has passed through almost innumerable modifications of form before giving up the struggle. Now, referring to the past geological history of this continent, we find, from the successive upheavals of the Laurentian hills to the North, the Alleghanies on the East, and the Sierras on the West, a gradual inclosing of wide inland seas, lagoons, whose drainage must have been toward the Mississippi Valley. These, in their gradual transition from briny to fresh water, would furnish all the conditions favorable to a transformation from marine to fresh water species; to be followed by an infinite number of fresh-water forms, according as the subsequent conditions varied.

 

Use of the Actual Cautery.—The "actual cautery" is commonly defined to be a red-hot iron used for burning or disorganizing the parts to which it is applied. The application of a red-hot iron directly to the living tissues is justly regarded as an extremely painful operation; but, if the iron be heated to a white heat, it is absolutely painless. The difference between the two is analogous to the difference between a bullet speeding at its maximum velocity, which may produce mortal injury without pain, and a nearly-spent bullet, which slowly lacerates the tissues and causes agony. Dr. J. S. Camden, writing in the Medical Times and Gazette, recites as follows his own experience with cauteries at different degrees of heat: "When actual cautery," says he, "is to be used, the iron must be heated till it is really of a white heat, and looks almost as white as white paper. If then applied it destroys the part instantaneously, giving no pain; but it must be removed quickly on the heat decreasing, and then another iron employed. If a red-hot iron only is used, the agony is intense. The first time I saw the cautery used, on a girl of fourteen years, no pain was given; the second time, on an elderly person (both for fungus in the upper maxillary bone) her screeching was fearful, till I told the operator his irons were not half hot enough. He requested me to heat them properly, which being done, not a murmur was heard. The last time was opening four or five sinuses in a horse's shoulder. He never flinched and scarcely seemed aware of what was being done. I would suggest using—to obtain the white heat for actual cautery—a large spirit blow-pipe."

 

An Edible Lizard.—Dr. Burt G. Wilder communicates to the American Naturalist a brief note on the Menobranchus maculatus as an article of food. This animal he regards as probably a variety of the banded Proteus, or big water-lizard, but it is never striped, and always spotted. So abundant are they in Cayuga Lake that a single fisherman brought him a hundred of them during the month of March. The animal is held to be poisonous, and the fishermen dislike even to touch them. So far, however, is this from being the case, that they are absolutely harmless in every way. Dr. Wilder and his associate, Dr. Barnard, have eaten one which was cooked, and found it excellent. It is their intention to recommend the Menobranchus for food, but not until all their investigations into the anatomy and embryology of the animal are concluded.

 

Conversion of Wood into Lignite.—In one of the old mines of the Upper Hartz, in Hanover, some of the wood originally employed in timbering has become so far altered as to assume most of the characters of a new lignite, or brown coal. Many of the levels in the ancient workings of this mine are filled with refuse matter, consisting chiefly of fragments of clay-slate, more or less saturated with mine-water, and containing here and there fragments of the old timbering. When wet, this wood is of a leathery consistence, but in the air it soon hardens, having most if not all the characters of lignite. It breaks with a conchoidal fracture, and the parts that are most altered have the black, lustrous appearance of the German "pitch coals." Chemical examination shows that this altered wood is nearer to true coal than some of the younger tertiary lignites. From all this it would appear that the transformation of vegetable matter into coal requires less time than is usually estimated by geologists; in the present instance it cannot have been over four centuries.

 

Indictment of the English Sparrows.—In his "Key to North-American Birds," Mr. Coues expressed his apprehensions that the English sparrow would molest and drive away our native species. He now writes to the American Naturalist that these apprehensions have already been verified. From a letter written by Mr. Thomas G. Gentry, it appears that, in the neighborhood of Germantown, Pa., the English sparrows are driving away the robins, blue-birds, and native sparrows. "They increase so rapidly, and are so pugnacious, that our smaller native birds are compelled to seek quarters elsewhere." It is chiefly on this account that Mr. Coues has always been opposed to the introduction of the English sparrow, but also for other reasons. He holds that there is no occasion for them in this country, and that the good they do in destroying certain insects has been overrated. The time will come, he says, when it will be deemed advisable to take measures to get rid of these birds, or at least to check their increase.

 

Anatomy of the Porpoise.—Mr. Frank Buckland, having dissected a porpoise, gives some interesting information on the structure of that animal. In the matter of bowels it is well provided for, the specimen examined having 62 feet 2 inches of intestine. The stomach was so complicated that it could not be made out by ordinary dissection. To get round the difficulty, Mr. Buckland hung it up by the œsophagus, and filled it with plaster of Paris, of which nearly a pailful was required before the organ was fully distended. It was then found that the porpoise has two stomachs—one in which the prey is kept, and the other in which it is digested. A careful section of the head showed the blow-hole to be a most complicated mechanism. The porpoise, being a pure mammal, has a four-cavitied heart, and a pair of lungs. Now, Nature has ordained that he shall live in the sea; the problem is, how to keep water out of the lungs. In the first place, his nose is guarded by a valve placed on top of his head, and when the porpoise breathes he comes to the surface, and takes a deep inspiration. Not a drop of water ever gets in. But how does he work his valve, and keep the water out of his lungs, when he is asleep? The answer to this question cannot be given yet. Mr. Buckland intends to study the subject when next he has a live porpoise at the Brighton Aquarium.

 

Reproduction of Ancient Colors.—A remarkable and very beautiful shade of blue is noticeable upon many of the ornaments found in the tombs of Egypt. Analysis, some time since, proved the color to be formed by a combination of soda, sand, and lime, with certain proportions of copper. From these substances the ancient Egyptians obtained three different products: first, a peculiar kind of red, green, and blue glass; second, a brilliant enamel; and lastly, this blue color, which was used for painting. By synthetic experiments, Peligot has succeeded in reproducing this peculiar shade of blue by heating together seventy-three parts of silica, with sixteen of oxide of copper, eight of lime, and three of soda. The temperature should not exceed 800° Fahr., as, in such case, a valueless black product is the result.

 

Prof. Huxley on Female Education.—A lady, Miss Sophia Jex-Blake, having failed to pass successfully an examination at the Edinburgh University, brought the charge of unfairness against the examining board. One of the lady's papers, that on natural history, having been submitted to Prof. Huxley for his opinion, he expressed his full concurrence in the decision of the board, so far as this paper was concerned. In a letter to the Times, giving a history of the affair, Prof. Huxley remarks as follows on the question of woman's education: "Without seeing any reason to believe that women are, on the average, so strong physically, intellectually, or morally, as men, I cannot shut my eyes to the obvious fact that many women are much better endowed in all these respects than many men, and I am at a loss to understand on what grounds of justice or public policy a career which is open to the weakest and most foolish of the male sex should be forcibly closed to women of vigor and capacity. We have heard a great deal lately about the physical disabilities of women. Some of these alleged impediments, no doubt, are really inherent in their organization, but nine-tenths of them are artificial—the product of their mode of life. I believe that nothing would tend so effectually to get rid of these creations of idleness, weariness, and that 'over-stimulation of the emotions,' which, in plainer-spoken days, used to be called wantonness, than a fair share of healthy work, directed toward a definite object, combined with an equally fair share of healthy play, during the years of adolescence; and those who are best acquainted with the acquirements of an average medical practitioner, will find it hardest to believe that the attempt to reach that standard is likely to prove exhausting to an ordinarily intelligent and well-educated young woman."

 

Do Dogs perspire?—It is frequently urged, as an argument against the ordinary method of muzzling dogs, that it closes the mouth, and thereby prevents perspiration, which, in the dog, is said to take place only through the mouth. This, according to Land and Water, is an error; perspiration going on through the skin, as in other animals. The idea of perspiratory glands in the tongue is characterized as absurd, these organs being only found in the dog's skin, which is abundantly supplied with them. The real cruelty of the close or strap muzzle is, that it hinders free respiration, rather than free perspiration.

 

New Species by Sudden Variations.—A paper was read by Mr. Meehan, at the American Association, entitled "Change by Gradual Modification not the Universal Law," in which, after recounting a large number of facts in botany which go to show that varieties and new species are not always the result of imperceptible gradations, but, on the contrary, may be produced at a single leap, the author draws the following conclusions:

1. Morphological changes in individual plants are not always by gradual modifications. 2. Variations from specific forms follow the same law. 3. Variations are often sudden, and also of such decided character as to seem generic. 4. These sudden formations perpetuate themselves similarly in all respects to forms springing from gradual modifications. 5. Variations of similar character occur in widely-separated localities. 6. Variations occur in communities of plants simultaneously by conditions affecting nutrition, and perhaps by other causes. From these premises Mr. Meehan argues that new and widely-distinct species may be suddenly evolved from preëxisting forms without the intervention of natural selection, and, of course, without the existence of connecting links.

Many who heard this paper were at first disposed to consider it an attack on Darwinism, its tendency being to lessen the importance of the principle of natural selection. But its discussion showed that such was not the view of those best able to judge; Profs. Morse, Riley, Gill, Gray, and even Mr. Meehan himself, regarded the argument as a contribution to the theory of evolution, while all but the author were of the opinion that it was quite consistent with the principle of natural selection, and, indeed, had already been taken into the account by Mr. Darwin.

 

Nitrogen of the Soil.—Prof. H. B. Armsby read at the American Association meeting a paper on the "Nitrogen of the Soil," in which, after stating that no plant has the power, so far as we know, of taking its nitrogenous materials directly from the atmosphere, he investigates the sources from which the nitrogen of plants is derived. Nitrogenous organic substances, such as exist "in freshly-manured soils, may yield free nitrogen by decomposition, though the particulars of the process are as yet not fully ascertained. Under some circumstances these organic substances are capable of causing free nitrogen so to enter into combination with them as to increase their nitrogenous contents. This increase has generally been attributed to the formation of nitric acid from free nitrogen by oxidation. The author made a series of experiments on the loss and gain of nitrogen, his method being to allow organic matter containing a known amount of nitrogen to decay, under circumstances allowing measurement of the nitrogen given off or accumulated. The organic matter consisted of dried and sifted barn-yard manure, mixed with one-quarter its weight of dried and pulverized flesh. There were eight experiments in all, four of which were conducted in purified air, and four in purified nitrogen. The quantities and materials used for the two series of experiments were as follows:

I.
No. of
Experiments.
Organic
Matter.
Gypsum. Potash. Water. Total
Nitrogen.
Grammes. Grammes. Grammes. Cubic
centimetres.
Grammes.
1 15 . . . . . . 6 0.486
2 15 . . 0.798 6 0.486
3 15 15 . . . . 6 0.486
4 15 15 0.798 6 0.486
II.
1 15 . . . . . . 6 0.453
2 15 . . 0.798 6 0.453
3 15 15 . . . . 6 0.453
4 15 15 0.798 6 0.453

The result of the experiments shows a loss of nitrogen in Nos. 1, 3, and 4 of Series I., amounting to 11.11, 6.21, and 13.09 per cent, respectively; and in Nos. 3 and 4, of Series 11., of 1.14 and 1.94 per cent. No. 2, of Series I., shows a gain of 15.22 per cent.; and Nos. 1 and 2, of Series II., a gain of 1.48 and 19.34 per cent, respectively. The author's conclusions are: 1. The loss of free nitrogen during the decomposition of nitrogenous organic matter is generally due to oxidizing action. 2. An increase of combined nitrogen in soil may take place by oxidation of free nitrogen to nitric acid. 3. Some organic substances in the presence of a caustic alkali are able to fix free nitrogen without the agency of oxygen, or the formation of nitric acid.

 

Tea-Production in Bengal, British India.—In the entire presidency about 800,000 acres are "held for purposes connected with the tea-industry." Of this only about 70,000 acres are occupied with tea-plants in bearing. This portion is subdivided into "mature-plant land" and "immature-plant land." The average yield of the mature-plant land is about 237 pounds per acre; that of the immature, about 80 pounds; of the whole, 208 pounds per acre. The total production is about 15,000,000 pounds.