Science (journal)/Volume 5/No. 100/Dr. Haacke's discovery of the eggs of Echidna

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 (1885)  by Henry F. Osborn
Dr. Haacke's discovery of the eggs of Echidna
Science, Vol. V, No. 100 (January 2, 1885), Letters to the Editor, p. 3.
Dr. Haacke’s discovery of the eggs of Echidna.

In the Zoologischer anzeiger of Dec. 1 appears an extremely interesting letter from Dr. Wilhelm Haacke, director of the South-Australian museum at Adelaide. It is dated Sept. 8, and contains an account of the writer’s independent discovery of the oviparous character of the monotremes four days before Professor Liversedge transmitted Mr. Caldwell’s famous cable from Queensland.

On Aug. 3 last, Dr. Haacke received from Kangaroo Island, a point about one day’s journey from Adelaide, a living female Echidna hystrix. With the deliberateness characteristic of his race, he did not examine the animal until Aug. 25. He then ascertained that there were two lateral folds of the mammary pouch, in one of which he felt a small object. In the expectation of finding a young Echidna, he brought it to light; and, to his astonishment, it proved to be an egg, with a membranous shell like that of some of the reptiles, and measuring about two centimetres in diameter. Owing, probably, to the long confinement of the animal, the egg was decomposed, and broke aaprt under a slight pressure.

On Sept. 2 this important discovery was quietly communicated to a meeting of the Royal society of South Australia; and the Adelaide Advertiser of Sept. 4, also the Register of Sept. 5, published the fact in their reports of the meeting. In the same number of the Register appeared a cable-message from London, announcing Mr. Caldwell’s discovery of the eggs of Ornithorhynchus; in which message, probably through a telegraph-operator’s error, the word ‘viviparous’ had been substituted for ‘oviparous.’ Dr. Haacke immediately wrote to the Register in a letter printed on the 6th, pointing out the probable error, and the singular coincidence of the independent discoveries of Mr. Caldwell and himself.

On Sept. 7 the Register published an extended account of Mr. Caldwell’s researches in Australia, and added in a shorter note,—

“It may also be observed that the announcement which has caused such a sensation among European scientists was made from Queensland on Aug. 29, or a few days after the discovery by Dr. Haacke.”

Dr. Haacke closes his paper in the Anzeiger with an expression of pleasure that his discovery had met with such an unexpectedly rapid confirmation at the hands of another observer.

This adds another to the numerous coincidences in the history of scientific discoveries. When it is remembers that Mr. Caldwell, at the time of his discovery, was in the interior, and may have been some distance from any telegraphic station, it seems probable that his observation and Dr. Haacke’s were only a day or so apart. At all events, each investigator is entitled to the full credit of independent discovery, or perhaps, in view of Professor Gill’s recent letter to Science on this subject, we may better say confirmation of an old truth that has been disregarded for half a century. After so long a period of ignorance regarding this most important question concerning the monotremes, it is certainly very extraordinary that at points so distant from each other there should have been made, simultaneously, observations upon different genera, either of which practically solved the question for all time.

Henry F. Osborn.

Princeton, N.J., Dec. 19.


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The author died in 1935, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.