Popular Science Monthly/Volume 77/September 1910/The Zoological Station at Naples

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1579427Popular Science Monthly Volume 77 September 1910 — The Zoological Station at Naples1910Charles Lincoln Edwards







TWENTY centuries ago the rain of ashes and pumice-stone from Vesuvius buried Pompeii, and, at the same time, a stream of mud sealed up Herculaneum. Within the period of the last three hundred years, four times in succession, Torre del Greco has been covered by the flowing lava, but each time this town has been rebuilt. The great lava-stream of the eruption of 1906, lying just beyond Torre Annunziata, is an ominous demonstration of the evil possibilities still within old Vesuvius. To-day the small white cloud of smoke above the summit of the volcanic ash-cone merely hints of these latent forces that may again overwhelm some community at the base, while now the great mountain rests in its beauty and historic interest, overlooking the blue waters of the Bay of Naples. To the right are the massive buildings of the city intersected by narrow passage-ways, all crowded between the shore and the high wall of the hills which stretch from the Pallazzo Capoclimonte to the Posilipo. Par away at either side of the Bocca Grande are the islands of Capri and Ischia, at times clearly outlined, or again almost lost in the haze of opalescent mist.

All through the day many groups of fishing-boats are scattered about the bay while the men cast and haul their nets. Over the stone seawall others pull on the end-ropes of a drag-net that has been set far from shore, until at last the great burden of fish is safely unmeshed. Here and there divers go down to scrape" the rocks and sand of the bottom for mussels which are placed in a bag worn at the waist. Prom an anchored skiff a man dredges with a scoop-net attached to a long pole contented with many of the living things that appear, for strange creatures are welcome in the Neapolitan market. Thus, without planting or cultivating, the people gather from the sea an unending harvest. But from under the cliff of Sorento, to the wave-eroded rocks of Ischia,

View of the Zoological Station from the West.

whenever a fisherman finds a strange or curious creature he carefully brings it to the zoological station, sure of ready purchase in an institution that uses every agency for the advancement of the knowledge of the life of the sea.

The opening of the zoological station in 1874, realized the dream of Anton Dohrn of a laboratory for marine biological investigation, and now, in the high development of this institution, we mourn the death of its creator, which occurred on the twenty-sixth of September, 1909. Dohrn himself tells in an article in the Preuszisclie Jahrbücher for 1872, how, during his travels to various European coasts, the necessity was impressed upon him for the erection of marine laboratories suitably equipped for research. In October, 1868, after a journey to Scotland rendered disappointing by bad weather, Dohrn sought the rich faunal region of lower Italy and Sicily where Johannes Müller and his students had been pioneers in marine zoology. Fully realizing that such an institution as he planned does not spring into being completely formed by generatio æquivoca, but rather develops like an organism, Dohrn began to collect money for the erection in Messina of a building which should contain rooms for investigation and also an aquarium for the entertainment of the public. The next step, in January, 1870, was to change the plan so as to locate in Naples where the larger numbers of tourists and citizens would justify a great aquarium, not only for popular education but as a substantial aid in support of the scientific work of the institution. In the Deutsche Rundschau for 1892, Dohrn tells the story of the preliminary work necessary to enlist the interest and support of the Prussian ministry and the government of Naples. Overcoming difficulties and interferences that would have utterly discouraged a less enthusiastic and steadfast nature and valiantly taking his patriotic part in the Franco-Prussian war, it was not until June, 1872, that a contract with the city authorities was executed for the erection by Dr. Dohrn of a building for the zoological station. The original contract has since been modified, so that now the station occupies 4,000 square meters of ground in the Villa Nazionale and is to remain in the possession of the Dohrn family for ninety years, then reverting to the city of Naples, unless otherwise provided for.

While devoting his own life and his estate to the building up of a great central station for marine biology in Naples, Dohrn urged the necessity for similar stations in all lands, to release investigators from the troubles and expenses otherwise involved. These advantages he especially desired for the young men fresh from the university, who might thus increase their powers, widen their knowledge and enlarge their general point of view. If it be possible to remain free from the pressing necessities of life for four or five years, such a young man could demonstrate whether he really had the call to be an investigator. The work would necessitate the wearisome uncovering: of the smallest

facts, together with the placing of large problems before the mind for imagination and criticism to solve. An enthusiast for Darwinism and influenced by the philosophical writings of Leuckart and Milne-Edwards, from the very beginning, Dohrn's conception of the field of work broadly included the investigation of function as well as form, and the phylogeny of both. The dissection of animals, the study of their tissues by the aid of the microscope and the description of their life histories from the fertilized egg through all the changing embryonic and larval stages, should be reinforced by physiological experiment and chemical analysis, together with the observation of the manner of living and behavior of the animals.

The zoological station is situated on the shore of the bay in the Villa Nazionale, on the most beautiful and convenient site in Naples. One approaches by a long walk flanked by rows of stone-oaks whose overarching, intertwining branches produce a grateful shade from the brilliant sunshine. Here and there groups of phoenix palms, spreading, leafy palmettos and cycads, add the appropriate subtropical vegetation. The renaissance architecture is perfectly adapted to the uses of the station, while the beautiful structure fits into the scene as naturally as the palms themselves.

The oldest of the three buildings (A) of the zoological station was opened in 1874 and is now chiefly occupied by the public aquarium (a) and the library (b). The second building (B), finished in 1886, is connected to the western end of the first by bridges and contains the department for collecting and preserving organisms as well as individual laboratories for zoologists. The third addition (C) was built in 1906 for the new science of comparative physiology. This laboratory lies to the east of the aquarium, being connected therewith by a building (D) surrounding a court. It is scarcely necessary to enumerate the rooms and describe them in detail. In fact no one at the station could tell me just how many rooms there are! It is sufficient that each investigator is provided with a laboratory containing large and small aquaria, tables, and all necessary reagents and apparatus for his work. There are also large general laboratories for zoology, physiology, botany and chemistry, with all the equipment necessary for research. The museum, now under charge of Dr. Gast, contains a faunal series of specimens so wonderfully preserved that often they are more beautifully expanded than the living animals themselves.

From the brilliant sunlight one enters the semi-obscurity of the large aquarium hall. Great tanks, with plate-glass fronts, are around the sides of the room, and a double row in the middle partially divides the hall. The only light enters through the water, so that one has the impression of being in a submarine environment. The sea-water is stored in large tanks upon the upper floor, then, mixed with air, circulates

Sectional Plan of the First Two Buildings of the Zoological Station. A, building containing (a) aquarium and (b) library; B, individual laboratories.

Sectional Plan of the Laboratory for Comparative Physiology (C) and connecting Building around the Court.

through the aquaria and finally runs into a sand-filter in the basement to be again pumped into the upper tanks. Every fourteen days a fresh supply is pumped in from the sea. A perfectly developed system of collecting enables the institution to exhibit the most beautiful and interesting animals of the bay of Naples in large numbers and in the best condition. A little book published in Italian, German, French and English gives, in simple language, just such a description of the animals, their habitat and behavior, as will appeal to the public. There are many "happy families" formed upon long observation of the different kinds of animals that may live together without acquiring too marked a taste for one another. The aquarium containing the coral animals is constructed like a grotto under the arch of which one sees the orange-colored polyps spread about like marigolds. Some of the related anemones are actually old, as is shown by their long, wrinkled, thick-skinned bodies, but their straight, or slightly curled tentacles of purple, or lavender, or cream-color, or brown, are most beautiful. Among the echinoderms the methods of feeding are interesting. The sea-cucumber holds fast to a rock by means of the suckers at the tips of its tube-feet, and, with tentacles widely expanded like the branches of a tree, waits for minute crustaceans and the larvae of all sorts of animals to comfortably settle themselves upon the hospitable branches. Then, with the least possible motion, the sea-cucumber very gradually bends a tentacle over and into the mouth, and, as it is again extended one of the two small tentacles scrapes off the resting organisms. So each tentacle, in rhythmical succession, takes its turn in the feeding process. Some species of star-fishes have large mouths and can swallow snails and mussels whole, sometimes consuming as many as twenty-five or thirty mollusks of various kinds at one meal. Other star-fishes have mouths too small to receive the animals commensurate with their appetites and so they simply turn their stomachs inside out, covering over a clump of oysters, and thus forming a sort of external stomach into which the secretion from the digestive glands is poured. When the soft parts are thus dissolved and absorbed the star-fish pulls in its stomach and goes on in its devastating course. The sea-urchin has an apparatus known as Aristotle's lantern providing five strong teeth worked by powerful muscles with which it catches live worms and crabs. The sea-crawfishes, built like lobsters except for the absence of the large pincers, most perfectly convey the impression of life on the bottom of the sea. They seem like uncanny agents of evil as they solemnly stalk about over the rocks, poking their great antennae into each other's affairs and always having several claws out for a fight, yet seldom engaging with one another. Some of the veterans, however, have lost an antenna, or a leg, and the missing parts are being regenerated.

The Palm-like Ringed Worms.
One of the Happy Families in the Aquarium.

The semi-transparent squids, with posterior triangular fins, swim back and forth as delicately poised as submarine monoplanes. When a live fish is placed in the water the squid darts at it, grasps it firmly with the suckers or the tentacles and cuts off the head, eating only the body. The cuttlefish, with broader body, striped like a zebra, and big elephantine head, constantly undulates a fin-like fringe around the border of its mantle, as it nervously drifts here and there. Frequently it wriggles into the sand which it throws upon its back, or, if much disturbed, ejects a cloud of ink in which it disappears. The large octopus has a body that suggests both a toad and a spider, with highly developed eyes and brain projecting above it. Generally this devil-fish lies sleeping in a corner of the rocks, or lazily reaching out and creeping about by means of eight long tentacles that express a giant's strength. With a spurt of water from its siphon the octopus may dart rapidly through the tank, and by directing the tube of its siphon, go whither it wills. Lying upon the bottom of an open trough, often buried in the sand, is the very interesting electric ray. If one presses the fingers upon the broad body where it runs into the tail he will, in the words of a Cook's guide, "get a strike." The electric tissues are descended from muscle fibers which in the course of evolution have come to produce electricity instead of motion. In the embryo ray the primitive muscle cells first appear, then they swell out anteriorly and shrivel up posteriorly until each loses the characteristic striated muscle structure and becomes an electric plate lying in a little compartment embedded in a jelly-like substance. Electricity is produced by some chemical action upon innumerable minute granules stored up in the protoplasmic network pervading the electric plates. The shock is brought about by the stimulation of the electric nerve, which in turn acts upon very minute electric rods that release the electricity.

Above the aquarium is the library. In the north room are found in complete series all the most important biological journals. In the south room are the separate volumes, monographs and authors' reprints. The current numbers of journals and the latest publications from all parts of the world are found upon central tables. The classification and arrangement of the books is simple and the card-catalogue complete. Each worker is given cards bearing his special number in the general list and he inserts one of these cards in the place of the book desired. Dr. Schoebel, the librarian, is always ready with assistance in case of need. On the walls are notable frescoes by Hans v. Marées, one of the group of four especial friends of Dohrn when, in 1871, he was Privatdozent at the University of Jena. In the fresco on the east wall, Dohrn and these four friends, the biologist Kleinenberg, Charles Grant, the author of "Tales of Naples and the Camorra," the artist himself and the sculptor Hildebrand, are represented as grouped about a table at the ruins of the Palazzo di Donn' Anna on the Posilipo. In two other scenes, first Neapolitan fishermen are carrying the net from the shore and launching their boat and then four stalwart fishermen are rowing, standing in their characteristic manner and bending forward with each push upon the oar. On the south wall three ages of man are represented

Echinoderms and Anemones.
Sea-crawfish and other Crustaceans, Medusæ and Coralline Animals.

in an orange grove; the child lying on the sand and playing, the man in his prime gathering the ripe fruit and the old man bending over his spade. The ornamental panels between the frescoes and the frieze, as well as impressive busts of Darwin and Von Baer, are by Hildebrand.

Three very important publications are issued by the zoological station under the able editorship of Professors Dr. P. Mayer and Dr. Giesbrecht. The Fauna und Flora des Golfes von Neapel consists of a series of more than thirty splendid monographs upon the animals and plants of the bay. Following the ideal sketched by Dohrn in 1880 as a foreword to the first volume, each monograph embodies the anatomy, histology, embryology and physiology, as well as the taxonomy, of the animals or plants of the group treated. Beginning with Chun's great work on the ctenophores, these monographs are models of a systematic zoology and botany based upon the whole range of biological science. They are beautifully illustrated by the authors themselves, often assisted by the talented artists of the station, Merculiano, Serino and Manzoni. The Mittheilungen aus der Zoologischen Station zu Neapel, now in its nineteenth volume, is a journal for the publication of shorter papers and contains the earlier annual reports of the director. The annual Jahresberichte contain admirable analyses of all the zoological literature of the year. While these publications contain many most important contributions, yet far beyond the limits of the station, almost every biological journal receives papers based upon investigations carried on, in whole or in part, in Naples, or upon material furnished by the institution.

For the purpose of meeting current expenses, in addition to the receipts from visitors to the aquarium, Dohrn conceived and developed the "table" plan by means of which various governments, universities or associations may rent tables at which naturalists may work. By this means the station assumed an international character and remained free from governmental control, to develop under the wise direction and tireless energy of its founder, unimpeded by bureaucratic interference or the cumbersome machinery of a commission. At the cost of $500 a year a table may be taken and allotted to investigators in succession for the longer or shorter periods desired. All the resources of the institution are thus available to such an occupant without cost to himself. At present fifty tables are under contract. Germany has twenty-two tables, of which eleven are provided for by an imperial grant of twenty thousand Marks, while, in addition, Prussia has four and Bavaria, Saxony, Württemburg, Baden, Hessen, Hamburg and the University of Strassburg, one each. Italy has twelve tables, Russia four, Austria two, Hungary, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and the Roumanian Academy, each one.' In England the universities of Oxford

Squids and Octopi,
Roman and Conger Eels.
View of Library, looking East.

and Cambridge and the British Association for the Advancement of Science have each a table. In the United States, the Smithsonian Institution has one, the Carnegie Institution two, Columbia University and the Association for Maintaining the American Woman's Table at the Zoological Station in Naples, one each.

For the erection of the new laboratory of comparative physiology citizens of Germany have given 300,000 Marks, and with also at present an annual payment of 20,000 Marks, this country has shown implicit faith in Dohrn and his work. Of the 2,000 workers up to 1910, more than one half have been Germans. Besides supporting her tables, Italy has contributed 100,000 francs to the second building, and for over thirty years has given 5,000 francs annually to the library. During the thirty-six years since the founding of the station biological research has been awakened in Italy, until now her workers stand in the foremost ranks. In the early stages of the station English naturalists, headed by Darwin, gave £1,000 and thus assured Dohrn of international sympathy and support in his splendid work.

Dohrn, as owner and chief of the station, established the most complete system for the transaction of its business so that he always maintained the utmost confidence of the contributing governments and institutions. By the death of the founder, the directorship of the zoological station has descended to Dr. Reinhard Dohrn. That this great trust will be faithfully executed in the spirit of the founder's high ideals and will continue its remarkable development is evident to any one who knows Dr. Reinhard Dohrn. Each department is under the direction of a member of the scientific staff, who is at the same time devoting his life to research in his own special field of natural history. At present the staff is organized as follows: Professor Dr. Mayer and Dr. Gross, morphology; Dr. Burian, comparative physiology; Dr. Henze, chemistry; Dr. Gast, the museum. One of the founder's first associates, Professor Dr. Eisig, now enjoying the benefit of the station's pension system, is still pursuing his life-work upon the annelids. The veteran secretary, Hermann Linden, assists in looking after the voluminous correspondence, and the local business with the city authorities, the railway, post and customs. A trained engineer and assisting machinists care for the electric motors, steam-engines, pumps and complicated network of gas, salt-and fresh-water pipes. In an especially equipped workshop a trained mechanic makes the instruments for experimental investigations. Dr. Lo Bianco developed beyond rivalry the department for the supply of animals and plants, either living for exhibition in the aquarium, or for the many workers in the various laboratories, or as perfectly preserved specimens for museums and investigators all over the world. Since the recent death of Dr. Lo Bianco his former assistant Sig. Santorelli has taken charge of this department. For collecting there is a fleet of well-manned boats, including the steamers Johannes Müller and Francis Balfour supplied with steam winding reel for the dredges and trawls, and all sorts of nets and other necessary apparatus.

In 1885 Dohrn elaborated a plan of a floating laboratory for the extension of the work in marine biology. For this purpose a war-ship is too expensive to maintain and too ill adapted to the needs of investigation besides generally involving political and other interests distracting to biological research. An ordinary steamship would not be much better, so Dohrn planned a specially constructed and well-equipped

View of the Library, looking West.
The Laboratory of an Investigator.

steamer of 300-400 tons of burden with an engine of from 150-200 horse-power and room for from six to ten investigators. Two laboratories, one above and the other below deck, completely outfitted for a six months' voyage together with a library would furnish ideal conditions for work. With such a floating biological station unknown regions could be entered with all the resources of modern equipment for both morphological and physiological work and investigations thus carried on which would not be possible upon land. To accomplish these results most economically the floating laboratory would be used, at first at least, in conjunction with the Naples Station, for the exploration of the bay of Naples, and the neighboring waters of the bays of Salerno and Gaeta. During the day-time the great depths would be searched with dredge and trawl and fished with long lines, each bearing many baited hooks, and the pelagic animals caught from the side of the vessel. Small boats would be sent out to gather from the rocks and grottoes under the water-line such organisms as the sponges, corals, worms, echinoderms, mollusks and algae. A portion of the catch would be examined by the naturalists on board, another part kept in well aerated aquaria to be taken in the early morning by the Johannes Müller to the Naples Station. In the night-time silk townets would collect from the vast numbers of minute living things that then reappear after having gone below the surface waters to escape the intense sunlight. Stone-plates could be lowered to the sea-bottom in various places to be taken up and examined at regular intervals in order to study the assembling and growth of the sessile organisms that seek such locations. Then these stone-plates might be changed from one place to another, varying the depth, light and other conditions of existence in accord with the method of experimental zoology, with results of the greatest value to the knowledge of the distribution and evolution of marine organisms and scarcely possible except by means of such a floating laboratory. After exploring the sea around Naples the floating laboratory might be taken to the coasts of Sardinia, Tunis, Crete, Cyprus and other regions. The moment anchor is cast the vessel serves as dwelling house and laboratory from which would center all the activities of a marine station. If needed, a portable house, carried on board, could be quickly placed upon any desired shore. In connection with biology other kinds of scientific work such as geology, paleontology and philology might be advanced, with the best possible conservation of all the collections on board the ship, whereas it is often so difficult and dangerous to transport such things from isolated regions by the ordinarily available means. It is easily seen that such a combination would greatly advance the various sciences concerned at the least cost to each. This plan, always in Dohrn's mind, was temporarily laid in the background by the more pressing need of the erection of the building for comparative physiology which absorbed much time in the last years of Dohrn's life. Through the death of F. A. Krupp his promise to build a 700-ton yacht for this deep sea investigation came to naught. Now, although the Prince of Monaco is devoting much time and money to the development of oceanography, and various governments are sending out vessels, yet the field is so large and so important that it is to be. hoped Dohrn's plan will be carried out not alone at Naples, but in America and other countries.

In spite of the time consumed in directing the affairs of the zoological station and in traveling and making addresses in its behalf, Dohrn was always an investigator of the foremost rank. During the half-century of continuous production his bibliography numbers eighty titles. Following in the footsteps of his father, the entomologist Karl August Dohrn, his first two papers, published in his eighteenth year, were upon Hemiptera. Until 1881 his work was mostly concerned with the insects and other arthropods including his monograph on the Pantopoda for the Fauna and Flora of the Bay of Naples. However, as early as 1876, appeared the first of Dohrn's brilliant and suggestive papers on the origin of the vertebrates. Working upon the basis of embryological studies in such forms as the Ascidians, Amphioxus, the

The Zoological Station from the East.

Cyclostomes, sharks, bony-fishes, and other vertebrates, Dohrn traced the phylogeny of the vertebrates to the annelid worms. Beyond their theoretical bearing upon a question still debatable, his discoveries constitute substantial additions to comparative anatomy and embryology.

The investigators at the station find intellectual and esthetic enjoyment in historic Naples and its neighborhood. Among the marbles and bronzes of the National Museum one finds such masterpieces as the Hera Farnese and the Narcissus. In Pompeii the uncovered auditorium and the uncurtained stage of the great theater seem to voice the awful tragedy of 79 in spite of the roses and larkspurs blooming again in the peristyle of the house of the Vettii. In the present excavations one sees the volcanic debris removed from an atrium wall revealing in its pristine freshness a fresco of the brief period of reconstruction after the earthquake of 63. After the excursions from Naples certain pictures will always linger in the mind. The wonderful panorama from the Camaldulensian monastery extending from the Ponza Islands in the west to Monte Sant' Angelo in the southeast, and embracing the City of Naples with omnipresent Vesuvius in the background, and the islands of Nisida, Procida, Ischia and Capri. The view from the rose-garden of the Palazzo Eufolo, at Ravello, on the heights of Monti Lattari, with the fishing-boats of the bay of Salerno like winged creatures suspended just above the waves and gliding back to the gods who sent them forth. The temple of Neptune at Paestum, having withstood the devastation of wind and storm for twenty-five centuries, rising from the green meadows, with its massive yet graceful fluted Doric columns, sepia tinted by age, outlined against the blue sky and bluer sea. The blue grotto of Capri entered by a hole in the cliff so small that our little skiff scraped the rock, lighted by the sunshine which permeates the water from the one opening, and transformed into a great hall of fairyland with an atmosphere of silvery greenish-blue so clear that the primeval rock of the vaulted cavern is reflected in the shimmering depths below. The naturalists from many countries, all representing different phases of biological work and thought, create a cosmopolitan atmosphere most profitable and inspiring to each investigator. During the year ending March, 1910, there were 163 workers at the zoological station. Thus there is a perpetually changing and yet permanent congress wherein the exchange of ideas is not by means of formal lectures but rather in the conversation of two or three workers in some nook about the buildings, or upon the deck of the Johannes Müller. For the thirty-six years of its existence the Naples Zoological Station has been one of the most potent factors in the development of modern biology, and now this institution world-wide in its influence, stands as the chief monument to the remarkable personality of Anton Dohrn.