Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/January 1877/Correspondence



To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.

IN my paper on "The Fertilization of Flowers by Insect Agency" ("Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science," 1875, pp. 244, 245), I say: "On my first visit to the Rocky Mountain region, the absence of insects proved very annoying to the entomologists who accompanied me. Indeed, the paucity of animal life of all kinds in the Rocky Mountains is well known; but there is no more scarcity of seed in the colored flowering plants than in similar ones elsewhere." At the conclusion of my address, Prof. Riley objected to the accuracy of this statement—not from his own personal experience, as I believe, and from overlooking, as I supposed, that I was referring to insects relating to the cross-fertilization of flowers—chiefly Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera. Mr. Charles R. Dodge, editor of Field and Forest, was one of the entomologists I referred to. In vol. i., No. 12, page 89, he describes that expedition in the summer of 1871: "The route carried us through Golden City and Idaho Springs to South Park, thence to Pike's Peak and the Garden of the Gods, where we emerged from the mountains and returned to Denver over the level plateau known as the 'Divide;' and, from the time we passed the foot-hills near Golden City, and entered the first canon in the mountains, we were struck with the comparative paucity of the insect fauna. ... In the mountains, the marked absence of insect-life in variety, except in favorable localities, was the rule, and not the exception." Traveling was not so easy then as now, and I think it took us nearly three weeks. The party comprised thirty persons, all of whom were interested in aiding the collectors. Mr. Dodge sums up his remarks by especially noting that "the entire mountain-trip yielded so small a number of nocturnal Lepidoptera that they are hardly worth mentioning." He adds, "I have conversed with a few other entomologists on this subject, and they agree with me perfectly."

Now, if we turn to Hayden's "Report of the Survey of Colorado," for 1873, we find Lieutenant Carpenter substantially recording the same thing. Here are the doings of a whole season, and not for three weeks merely, and only five species of butterflies are found; and, indeed, he remarks that "Lepidoptera are undoubtedly peculiar to high latitudes and great elevations." This leaves us with scarcely anything but bees to do the whole work of flower-fertilization in the Rocky Mountain region. But even these seem to be confined to some considerable elevation. In an expedition in 1873 I saw Bombus termarius in abundance, but on no other flowers than Polygonum bistorta, on Gray's Peak, on the flats near the timber-line. I was struck by the fact that they seemed to visit only this species, evidently getting all they required from it, and neglecting everything else. I did not see bees anywhere in our expedition of 1871 in lower altitudes, nor do I think there were any in 1873, except in this high region near the timber-line. Of course, there might have been, but, if so, they were so scarce as to attract little attention. This seems to have been the experience of Lieutenant Carpenter. He says, "The bumble-bee was always to be seen in midsummer at the verge of the Alpine flora, busily engaged in collecting its store of pollen from the few flowers to be found." This does not certainly say they might not be found lower down, but it is a fair inference. My collections in this district embraced over seven hundred species of flowering plants and ferns. I can say that among these were quite as large a proportion of colored flowers as in an equal number gathered East, where insects are conceded to be numerous.

But just here Prof. Gray steps in with the following note: "A propos to Mr. Meehan's suggestion that, although the Alpine plants of the Colorado Rocky Mountains are mostly high colored, insects are there so rare that they can be of no material aid to fertilization, and therefore these plants must self-fertilize, it may not be amiss to introduce testimony. An entomologist now at my side, who has passed four summers among these mountains, and made frequent visits to the Alpine regions, informs me that 'he has always found insects of all orders quite abundant in the Rocky Mountains'" (Silliman's Journal, 1876, pp. 397, 398). The route which I have described can hardly be called the "Alpine" region, unless it be in so far as it relates to Pike's Peak, which, however, I did not join my companions in ascending, having chosen in preference to explore alone what was then an unknown canon, and which I named after my good friend Dr. Engelmann, whose name it still bears. There is nothing in my paper, as referred to by Prof. Asa Gray, to warrant the statement that I was confining myself to "Alpine" regions. Indeed, the "suggestion," so far as it relates to the paucity of insects, should refer to the "entomologists who accompanied me," and not to myself. All I claim is that the "entomologists" found no insects, while I found colored flowers seeding abundantly.

In view of the testimony of the entomologist at Dr. Asa Gray's side, that insects of all orders are quite abundant in the Rocky Mountains, I should be glad to have, through The Popular Science Monthly, a list of the Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera that are abundant enough, in the particular part of the Rocky Mountain region covered by my experience, to probably act as cross-fertilizers of flowers, noting those which may perhaps be introduced since 1871, as it is well known that, with the introduction of agriculture and horticulture, insects often follow.

I do not suppose that, in the large number of observations I have placed on record, there will not be now and then one found "imperfect." Not one of us who are working in this field but, with all our care, must expect such annoyances. As the relation of insects to plants in the flora of Colorado is an important one, and I never heard the view I have taken of it questioned except as now stated, I think it important to science to know exactly how far my statement is imperfect, if imperfect at all.Thomas Meehan.

Germantown, Pa., November 27, 1876.


To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.

There are floating in the American press some ill-natured remarks of the octogenarian, Carlyle, that merit a little attention. The remarks reported are as follows: "I have known three generations of the Darwins—grandfather, father, and son: atheists all. . . . I saw the naturalist not many months ago; I told him that I had read his 'Origin of Species' and other books; that he had by no means satisfied me that men were descended from monkeys, but had gone far toward persuading me that he and his so-called scientific brethren had brought the present generation of Englishmen very near to monkeys. A good sort of a man is this Darwin, and well-meaning, but with very little intellect."

Remark 1. If a "very little intellect" can change the present generation of Englishmen to monkeys, what are those Englishmen made of?

Remark 2. Carlyle has known the three generations of the Darwins, beginning with the grandfather. Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather, died in 1802, about six or seven years after Carlyle was born! Is it exactly the right thing for the old gentleman to say he knew him?

Remark 3. "They are atheists all." Now, two years before Mr. Carlyle was born, to wit, 1794, the grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, published the great work of his life, "The Zoönomia, or Laws of Organic Life," and on the first page he says: "The great Creator of all things has infinitely diversified the works of his hands, but has, at the same time, stamped a certain similitude on the features of Nature, that demonstrates to us that the whole is one family of one parent." And, on page 77, he says expressly: "I do not wish to dispute about words, and am ready to allow. . . and to believe that the ultimate cause of all motion is immaterial, that is, God." Mr. Carlyle may be a well-meaning man, but his knowledge of that grandfather, although at the ripe age of six years, must have been rather imperfect.

But the charge of atheism includes the naturalist, Charles Darwin. The candid readers of Charles Darwin's works know better. Many people, on reading the books of Genesis and Job, grow skeptical; but no one who reads the marvelous revelations of the works of God which this learned naturalist has published can for a moment doubt the existence of the divine wisdom which pervades the realms of Nature.

R. M. K. Ormsby.
Chester Hill, N. T., November 27, 1876.

To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.

Dear Sir: In a letter addressed to you, and published in your columns, from the pen of Thomas Meehan, Esq., in which he is "getting right on the record," I am disturbed by the following expression in reference to my Buffalo address: "Prof. Morse could only help me with the audience by remarking, 'We all know that Mr. Meehan is a Darwinian, and an evolutionist, but must say he has an odd way of putting it.' That my good friend does not regard me as much of either is, however, clear, from his making no reference to any of my labors in his 'History of Evolution.'"

The reader of this might think that I had either overlooked the interesting contributions of Mr. Meehan in the "Proceedings" of the Philadelphia Academy, and his own journal, or else had done him a manifest injustice. That I am not guilty, either of oversight or injustice in this matter, the following lines from my Buffalo address will prove:" A review of the work accomplished by American students, bearing upon the doctrine of descent, must of necessity be brief. Even a review of a moiety of the work is beyond the limits of an address of this nature. And for obvious reasons I must needs here restrict it to one branch of biology, namely, zoölogy. The obvious reason is that I am not a botanist, therefore no reference is made to the works of Dr. Gray, Mr. Meehan, Prof. Beal, and others, who have made valuable contributions to the subject. In the solitary case where I alluded to the fertilization of yucca, it was to show the curious moth Pronuba, so admirably described by Prof. Riley, as an insect showing peculiar adaptations for the work in hand.

Edward S. Morse.
Salem, Massachusetts, November 4, 1876.