Popular Science Monthly/Volume 62/December 1902/Zoology in America

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


By Professor T. D. A. COCKERELL,


THE articles in the North American Review of January and February on the condition of science in America have naturally aroused a good deal of attention, but no attempt seems to have been made to determine our exact position in any one branch of science. Feeling that the criticisms offered did not apply justly to American zoology, I sought to obtain more exact data upon the subject. Fortunately we have the annual volume of the Zoological Record, which enumerates very fully the zoological contributions of each year, omitting only those which are of little or no value. This work, ably edited by Dr. D. Sharp, is published by the Zoological Society of London, and therefore cannot be suspected of enumerating an undue proportion of American articles. As a matter of fact, it errs somewhat in omitting several works published in this country, which cannot easily be obtained in London; while no doubt its list of European writings is very complete.

The latest volume of the Zoological Record to hand contains the titles for 1900, including also a small proportion of papers accidentally omitted from previous volumes. I have extracted from this volume the following data:

Division. Total titles. American titles. Per cent, of
American titles
General subject, 763    112    14
Mammals, 346 68 19 .6
Birds, 580 105 18
Reptiles and Amphibians, 239 33 13
Fishes, 235 32 13 .6
Mollusca, 588 148 25
Brachiopods, 48 13 27
Bryozoa, 30 9 30
Crustacea, 192 17 8 .8
Arachnida, 131 13 9 .9
Myriapoda, 35 1 2 .8
Prototracheata, 16 1 6 .2
Insects, 1431 235 16
Echinoderms, 370 56 15
Worms, 345 50 14
Cœlenterates, 106 26 24
Sponges, 83 19 21
Protozoa, 167 17 10

I have included among the American titles those published in Europe by residents of America, except when there was reason to believe that they might have been prepared during visits to Europe. I have included papers published in Canada, and one or two from Mexico, but if these were deducted they would not (except in the case of the sponges) materially affect the result. Of course it must be acknowledged that the titles indicate contributions of every size and degree of merit; but as I have looked them over, it has seemed to me that ours were not inferior in quality or size to those of other countries.

The editor of the Popular Science Monthly (March, p. 476) has justly remarked that we ought not to expect to equal the rest of the world in our product; and in his opinion if we contribute one seventh we are doing our share. It will be seen from the above list that we actually are contributing approximately this amount in most of the divisions of zoology, while in some groups the proportion is greater. This conclusion agrees well with the impression gained by the writer through his experience of zoology and zoologists both in England and America.

It may be worth while to add some particulars regarding the workers who represent zoology in America to-day.

General Subject.—The list for 1900 includes 82 workers, and the names of Alexander Agassiz, Calvert, Davenport, B. Dean, Eigenmann, Eisen, Gill, Hyatt, Kingsley, Loeb, Minot, H. F. Osborn, Peckham, Pilsbry and Wilson are as familiar to European zoologists as they are to us. Many of the papers both here and in other groups are the work of the great body of University students, prepared under the guidance of leading zoologists, of whom C. B. Davenport, of Chicago, is especially conspicuous for his large following.

Mammalia.—26 workers, of whom J. A. Allen, D. G. Elliott, C. H. Merriam and H. F. Osborn are perhaps the most widely known. The study of the mammals in this country is being carried on with a zeal and industry which finds no parallel in any previous period; and the careful investigation of the geographical races is giving us material of the greatest value in the study of evolution. The credit for this revival is mainly due to Merriam; and the Europeans, who at first ridiculed his methods, are beginning to follow in his footsteps. American mammalogists have also begun to compete vigorously with Europeans in the study of old-world mammals, and G. S. Miller has even described a number of new ones from Europe.

Birds.—66 workers, including J. A. Allen, F. M. Chapman, E. Coues (now dead), R. Ridgway, R. W. Shufeldt and many others well-known in both hemispheres. We have a first-class journal (The Auk) devoted to birds, together with a number of minor ones.

Reptiles and, Batrachia.—29 workers; the titles including the great work on North American reptiles by the late E. D. Cope. Our principal writer now living is Stejneger of the National Museum.

Fishes.—22 writers; the titles include a part of the great work on the fishes of North America, by Jordan and Evermann. The American fishes have been and are being very thoroughly studied; and Dr. Jordan, with several helpers, is making known the fish-faunæ of Japan and the Hawaiian Islands.

Mollusca.—58 workers, of whom Pilsbry and Dall, in particular, are in the very front rank. H. A. Pilsbry in 1900 published 36 papers, besides three others in cooperation with different workers, and at the same time continued the great Manual of Conchology, which is a monograph of the mollusca of the world. W. H. Dall published 15 papers, and the great value of his work on the bivalves, in particular, is recognized in every country. Other prominent names are those of Beecher, C. T. Simpson, Stearns, Sterki, Verrill, Bush and Whitfield. It must be confessed that there is a lack of good workers on the Pacific coast, though amateur collectors are quite numerous, and are continually discovering wonderful things, which are mostly described by Eastern conchologists.

Tunicata.—There is one paper by Verrill, of Yale, but Professor W. E. Ritter, of the University of California, has this group practically to himself in this country. He is preparing an elaborate work on the numerous species of the Pacific coast, which at present are almost wholly unknown.

Brachiopoda.—Ten workers; the work relates almost entirely to the fossil forms.

Bryozoa.—Eight workers. J. M. Nickles and R. S. Bassler give a synopsis of all the American fossil species, in a work of 663 pages. The principal work on living species is in two papers by Miss Alice Robertson, who has found the Pacific coast prolific in interesting forms.

Crustacea.—Thirteen writers, of whom the two most active are both women—Miss M. J. Rathbun and Miss H. Richardson, of the National Museum.

Arachnida—(Spiders, Scorpions, Mites, etc.). Only about five workers. This group is much neglected in this country, but Nathan Banks, of the Department of Agriculture, is industrious enough to count for two; while the work of the Peckhams on hunting-spiders is not to be forgotten.

Myriapoda (Centipedes).—Only one paper in 1900, and that bibliographic! In former years O. F. Cook has done important work, but his attention is now diverted elsewhere, at least for the time being.

Insects.—107 writers, not counting a considerable number of papers on economic entomology not seen by the editor of the Zoological Record. The more prominent names include Ashmead, Banks, Beutenmiiller, Casey, Coquillett, Chittenden, Dyar, Fernald, Fox, Bruner, Williston, Holland, Howard, Hulst, Needham, H. Osborn, Schwarz, Scudder, Skinner, J. B. Smith, Strecker, Wheeler and Wickham. Much of the work is descriptive; but the economic work of Howard and his associates is the best in the world 3 if we may accept the opinion of European entomologists; while the new entomology, which combines the study of form with that of habits, finds admirable exponents in Wheeler and Needham. Dyar's work on the immature stages of insects has been freely used and acknowledged in Europe, and parasitic hymenoptera are sent from London and Paris to Ashmead for identification. G. B. King, the janitor of the court-house at Lawrence, Mass., has, with everything against him, made a reputation as a student of scale-insects, and his cooperation has been sought even in Germany.

Echinoderma (Star-fishes, Crinoids, etc.).—43 workers, much of the work relating to fossil forms. Prominent names are those of Clarke, Loeb, Springer, Vaughan and Verrill. F. Springer, our best authority on crinoids, has been able to produce the most elaborate and careful works in the intervals of a busy life as a lawyer; works which, it may be remarked, are much better known in London than in New Mexico, where he resides.

Worms.—37 writers, but it must be confessed that the papers are mostly of minor importance. Verrill has described a large number of new species. The earthworms and flatworms are greatly in need of more attention.

Cœlenterata.—19 writers. The great work of Nutting on hydroids must be mentioned. Professor Nutting has made this subject very much his own, and was even able to go to Plymouth, England, and discover new forms under the eyes of the English zoologists.

Sponges.—15 writers, three being Canadian.

Protozoa.—15 writers. This group is not receiving a fair share of attention.

So, on the whole, it appears that America is not seriously behind in zoology. Yet, I certainly cannot claim that the position of the science in this country is satisfactory. After all, the real question is, not whether we are doing as much as other people, but whether we are doing what we might, and ought. From this standpoint our deficiencies are serious enough. We are not, as yet, nearly able to cope with the work that lies ready to our hands. When the writer was a boy, he used to read and re-read such works as Wallace's 'Malay Archipelago,' and look forward to the time when he too would travel, and would discover something new. To-day, in New Mexico, he would undertake to find something new every day of the year, if he had no other occupation; and hardly a day passes in the laboratory without the determination of some new fact. But alas, thousands of specimens remain in closed boxes because there is nobody to work upon them; dozens of promising investigations are never undertaken because there is nobody to undertake them. Buildings, apparatus and books are well enough in their way; but the great need is for workers to make use of what is already gathered and ready for use, and to take up the threads of thought which flow from every investigation, and follow them to the end.

While we are seeking to add to the number of workers, something should also be said about their quality. Undoubtedly, there is too much narrowness, and too little general culture, an outward and visible sign of which is the bad Latin published by many of the younger men in the form of zoological names. At the meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, there are sections of zoology, botany, geology, anthropology, etc., all in session simultaneously. The writer found it extremely annoying that he could not be in two or more places at the same time, but very few seemed to see any objection to the arrangement. This indicates limitations which must be regretted, and it is hard to believe that they are inevitable. When the zoologist ceases to know anything about the plants animals eat, or the physical environment in which they live, or even the animals of other groups than his own specialty, the broader ideas of biology will become obscured and evolution itself will cease to be intelligible, just as architecture is nothing to him who studies only single and isolated bricks.