The Zoologist/4th series, vol 3 (1899)/Issue 694/Notices of New Books
NOTICES OF NEW BOOKS.
This is a very welcome translation of the itinerary and biological observations of a naturalist in—zoologically speaking—some of the most interesting regions of the world. Of the Malay Archipelago we have now a charming literature, which, we might say, was begun by Wallace, and has been continued since the publication of his well-known eastern travels. Of Australia we would fain know more. Its natural history early incited Bennett and Gould; Lumholtz has given us a good book; Saville Kent's recent work is well known; but the subject is far from exhausted. As Mr. Semon observes, Australia to the zoological explorer "will prove Eldorado, unequalled by anything else. For so singular are some aspects of the flora and fauna of Australia as to justify one in opposing the Australian region to all the rest of the world, and practical reasons only have prevented men of science from arranging their hand-books accordingly."
One great advance in the study of zoology is emphasized by the object-lesson of the modern travelling naturalist. The general mise-en-scène of tropical forests and coral seas is now familiar to the ordinary tourist and the most cursory reader; while the pure and simple collector holds a subordinate place in the estimation of naturalists, for men now travel across the globe to study the life-history of one animal form. Embryological studies in oviparous-mammals, and marsupials, and, above all, the developmental history of the "Australian lung-fish" (Ceratodus forsteri), which now inhabits but two small rivers of the east coast, were the main objects of Mr. Semon's visit to the Australian continent; and of Ceratodus in these pages we learn much, and more will be found in the author's strictly scientific publication, 'Zoologische Forschungsreisen in Australien und dem malayischen Archipel.' One observation on Termites is, however, too interesting to pass over. Our author was molested by the inhabitants of a big ant-hill near his encampment, and "strewed a handful of naphthalin crumbs all over the hill, in the certain expectation that this would occasion a general emigration." Conquering disgust, the Termites removed these objectionable deposits from their habitation. Pieces of potassic cyanide were now tried, and the expectation was held that by the morning the place would be deserted by the ants and their belongings. "How astonished was I when I found the whole surface of the heap strewn with dead ants like a battle-field. The pieces of cyanide, however, had totally disappeared! More than one-half of the community had met death in this desperate struggle, but still the death-defying courage of the heroic little creatures had succeeded in removing the fatal poison, the touch of which must have been just as disagreeable to them as it was dangerous.... Once removed from the heap, the poison had been well covered with leaves and pieces of wood, then interred, and thus prevented from doing further damage."
We have not space to follow Mr. Semon through the islands of the Malay Archipelago. As regards Celebes, he prefers the views of Max Weber to those of Wallace, and refuses to associate Celebes with the Australian region, believing its fauna to be an impoverished Oriental one, showing a strong Australian admixture.
The charm of these books lies in the philosophical treatment of natural history narrative, which not only gives us glimpses of exotic nature, but points to its signification.
We recently drew attention in these pages (1898, p. 510) to Mr. Beddard's 'Structure and Classification of Birds,' and if a companion volume is sought to be found to that work, Mr. Evans's book should come under that designation. One supplements the other, and most naturalists will probably place them side by side on their book-shelves for handy reference, in days when a zoologist is expected to know everything about something, and something about everything.
"In accordance with the scheme of the Series generally, the order followed runs from the lowest forms and the Ratite Birds upwards; the Carinate Birds being divided, after Dr. Gadow's plan, into two Brigades or Main Sections, and these again into Legions, Orders, and so forth." The contents of the book are practically an introduction to the birds of the world, and, although such encyclopedic completeness is impossible in a single volume, a distinct success has been achieved in referring to so many species within the confines of 587 pages. All these works have their strong points and their limitations. The first are found in the discriminative care by which a capable ornithologist sifts and rejects recorded narratives; the second inevitably postulates that much is necessarily overlooked. We should have been glad to see under the subject "Struthio camelus" some reference to Mr. Cronwright Schreiner's communication on this bird which appeared in our pages in 1897, and which we have read elsewhere, and, have also been told, corrected some previous misconceptions. Nevertheless we are thankful for a book that tells us so much in a small space, and the evident thorough work of the author is supplemented by the proof-readings of Mr. Howard Saunders and Dr. R.B. Sharpe.
One extract must be given; it expresses a fundamental truth little regarded in current zoological philosophy:—"It cannot be denied that Genera and Species are merely 'convenient bundles,' and that divisions of either, if carried too far, defeat the object for which Classification is intended. Genera are only more distinct from Species, and Species from Races, because the intervening links have disappeared; and, if we could have before us the complete series which, according to the doctrine of Evolution, has at some time existed, neither Genus nor Species would be capable of definition, any more than are Races in many cases; while the same remark will apply to the larger groups." This might well become the esoteric faith of every describer and monographist; most naturalists admit the truth of the doctrine, but specific and generic controversy is not yet a thing wholly of the past.
This excellent contribution to the natural history of the sea is written to sustain a thesis, which is, that, granting man's unfortunate agency in the extermination of many land animals, his influence on the resources of the sea is infinitely small, almost practically nil. Last year (Zool. 1898, p. 376) we had the pleasure of giving extracts from a lecture by the Professor on that subject, and this book is a demonstration and exemplification on that theme. It is pleasant to find this bracing optimism in relation to at least one of Nature's realms. The enmity of the fisherman to the Star-fish, by "tearing them across the body before returning them to the water, only helped to increase their numbers, for each portion of the disc was regenerated and became a complete five-rayed Star-fish." In fact, "the survey of the sea and its inhabitants, therefore, in the main, affords no grounds for pessimistic views, but, on the contrary, conduces to reliance on the resources of nature (by which we mean Divine Providence) in this vast area." The deadly effects of the "trawl," as we have read elsewhere, on adult Sponges, Zoophytes, Star-fishes, Crabs, and Shell-fishes on the sea bottom is stated to be compensated by the fact that their larvæ and young are pelagic, and quite beyond the reach of injury. Even the "crushing and division of Sponges is not followed by the death of all the fragments, and each of those which survives is capable of flourishing as an independent organism (not to allude to the liberation of ova which may happen to be present)." It seems very necessary to remember that there is a surface as well as a bottom fauna, and that while we may bewail the action of the trawler on the latter, we must not overlook the action of screw-propellers, which must kill myriads of young, and destroy countless floating eggs. After all, our knowledge of even some of our common food-fishes is very incomplete. "Why should we not be in a position to say, in this nineteenth century, that a fish, say, the Haddock, extends in great numbers from either hemisphere into the Atlantic, and, if so, whether the pigmy belt of the three-mile or even the thirteen-mile limit can have any more influence on this form than on the ever-abundant Herring?" In this able defence of the "trawl," we may realize what a destructive, though not altogether exterminative agent it is; but beyond this the book is a welcome addition to a knowledge of the inhabitants of that most romantic and little-known region which we call the Sea.
Hybridity is a problem which lies at the root of a philosophical conception of the much-used and much-vexed term "species." We all agree that the various breeds of Fowls and Pigeons represent but one species, because we know their life-histories. But we describe new forms of animals received from abroad as species on the canon of what is understood as "specific differences." Hence philosophically we are wrong, and systematically we are right, and the same practice and a similar rule are employed by naturalists throughout the animal kingdom. Even mankind have afforded the same problem, and from France also came a suggestive little book by Dr. Paul Broca, which was translated and published in London in 1864 under the title of 'On the Phenomena of Hybridity in the Genus Homo.'
Mons. Suchetet has undertaken a great work, and if succeeding volumes are allied in size to this one devoted to birds, a colossal publication on the subject is assured. The limitations attached to the term "species" are apparent when our author remarks:—"Nous avons substitue les mots 'formes animales' aux mots 'espèces animales,' parce que notre embarras a été grand lorsqu'il's'est agi de distinguer entre l'espèce et la race (ou, pour mieux dire, entre l'espèce et la sous-espèce comme on fait emploi de ce mot en zoologie)." The introduction occupies no fewer than 118 pages, and is a valuable summary of most that has been written on the subject. In the "Liste des Musées Publics et des Collections Particulières dont les Directeurs ou les Propriétaires ont été assez gracieux pour nous envoyer en communication," we notice seventy-eight entries, the cosmopolitan character of which prove that the material has been widely sought; while the "Liste Alphabétique des Personnes avec lesquelles nous avons correspondu au sujet des Hybrides" is a most representative one, including many of our own contributors, some under a new appellation, as, for example, the Curator of the Leicester Museum, who appears as "pasteur à Rotterdam (Hollande)."
Neither time, trouble, nor expense has evidently been withheld in the production of this book, which incorporates a large amount of scattered information in a systematic and judicial manner, and will for a long time prove a recognized reference to a most important factor in zoological philosophy.
In these pages (1897, p. 535) we published an announcement by Mr. Hett that he was preparing a Dictionary of the Call-notes of British Birds, and we have now received a tasteful and inexpensive book—interleaved for the record of observations by the reader—which may well find a place in the ornithological library. The method pursued is as follows:—Firstly, under "Note-Bird" an alphabetical list of the notes, with the name of the avian vocalist attached, is given, and then, under "Bird-Note," the arrangement is reversed. Easy reference is thus afforded, and the equivalents of the sounds themselves will and must be judged by specialists in the appreciation and interpretation of bird-notes. The Glossary of Popular, Local, and Old-fashioned Names of British Birds is a most excellent and useful compilation, which should prevent many errors on the part of too hasty transcribers of observations, and prove a boon to puzzled readers of local notes. A List is given of the 376 Birds accepted as British by the Committee of the British Ornithologists' Union in 1883, and also of the "Terms applied to Wild Fowl," as, for example, "Ruff. 'a hill of,' several."