Popular Science Monthly/Volume 12/November 1877/Notes


It has been found by Lechartier and Bellamy that zinc is constantly present in appreciable quantities in the liver of the human subject and of many lower animals. It also occurs in hen's-eggs, in wheat, barley, and other grains. These facts are of interest for forensic medicine.

It is to be hoped that the following lucid "directions for the formation of the letter n" are not a fair sample of the kind of instruction given in public schools throughout the United States: "The letter n is one space in height, three spaces in width; commence on the ruled line with a left curve, ascending one space, joined by an upper turn to a slanting straight line, descending to the ruled line joined angularly to a left curve, ascending one space, joined by an upper turn to a slanting line, descending to the rule joined by a base, turn to a right curve ascending one space."

Land that has been flooded by the sea is generally barren for years afterward. According to a German chemist the cause of this barrenness is the presence of an excess of chlorine salts; such land has a tendency to remain damp, and there is a formation of ferrous sulphate, which is highly injurious to plants. The land should be drained as quickly as possible, sown with grass or clover, and allowed to rest.

La Nature cites the great age of an orange-tree in the gardens of the Versailles Palace as an illustration of the longevity of that species of plants. This ancient tree, known as the "Grand-Connétable de Francois I.," and also as the "Grand-Bourbon," has now stood more than four hundred and fifty years. It is sprung from some seed of the bitter-orange sown in a plant-pot, at the beginning of the fifteenth century by Eleanor of Castile, wife of Charles III., King of Navarre. Several plants were produced from the same lot of seeds, and they were all kept in one box at Pampeluna till 1499. In 1684, more than two hundred years after being first grown from the seed, these orange-trees were taken to Versailles. The "Grand-Connétable" is in all probability the oldest orange-tree in existence; it is still in a very healthy state, and does not appear to suffer from the effects of age.

The coal of the Placer Mountains coal-mines in Arizona Territory possesses, according to Prof. Raymond, the hardness, specific gravity, fixed carbon, and volatile matter, of anthracite; it ignites with difficulty, but burns with intense heat. The supply is declared to be "inexhaustible."

A correspondent of the Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club narrates in that journal an instance of the persistency of a house-wren in nest-building. The nozzle of a pump in daily use was repeatedly found to be obstructed with sticks, which on investigation proved to be nest-building material taken in by a wren. One morning the bird was allowed to carry on its work for two hours, and then he had filled the pump so full that water could not be obtained until a part of the sticks had been removed. The nest was three times destroyed before the bird abandoned his work.

The belief that fish is specially adapted to feed the brain, and that fish-eaters are therefore more intellectual than the average, does not find much favor with Dr. Beard. He says that this "delusion is so utterly opposed to chemistry, to physiology, to history, and to common observation, that it is very naturally almost universally accepted by the American people. It was started," he adds, "by the late Prof. Agassiz, who impulsively, and without previous consideration, apparently, as was his wont at times, made a statement to that effect before a committee on fisheries of the Massachusetts Legislature. The statement was so novel, so one-sided, and so untrue, that it spread like the blue-glass delusion, and has become the accepted creed of the nation."

On the question whether birds hibernate, we have received from Mr. L. S. Abbott, of Reading, Michigan, a communication in which he states an observation made by himself, which goes to show that at least some birds do hibernate. While living in the backwoods of Ohio, our correspondent often noticed the swallows toward evening circling around the top of a sycamore-tree, in the hollow of which they would soon disappear. To determine whether the birds remained within the tree during the winter, Mr. Abbott had the tree cut down some time after the beginning of the cold season. The swallows were found within, clinging to the shell of the tree, stiff, motionless, and to all appearance in a state of suspended animation. The tree was hollow from the ground up, and the swallows were attached to the shell along its whole length.

A singular instance of heredity is recorded in a note from M. Martinet to the Paris Academy of Sciences. In 1871 several chickens on a farm held by the author were affected with polydactylism, having a supernumerary claw. This had been transmitted to them by a five-clawed cock raised on the same farm a year or two before. The type was propagated rapidly until in 1873 an epidemic ravaged the poultry-yard. At present, without any selection, this variety is very numerous; it has been propagated among neighboring farms through the exchange of eggs by the farmers; if nothing interrupts its progressive increase, it promises ere long to be predominant. The peculiarity was not so perfect at first as it is now; the modification has been going on progressively.

A square metre of the wall of a surgical ward in the Paris Hospital la Pitié was washed—an operation that had not been performed during two years previously—and the liquid wrung out of the sponge was immediately examined. It contained micrococci in abundance, some micro-bacteria, epithelial cells, pus-globules, and ovoid bodies of unknown nature. The sponge used was new, and had been washed in distilled water.

Ernst Haeberlein, to whom the world of science is indebted for the discovery of the first Archæopteryx, has now discovered another and more perfect specimen of the same curious reptile-like bird. As we learn from Die Natur, the new Archæopteryx has a head, which was wanting in the first individual discovered. Hence the hitherto undecided point whether the animal had the head of a bird or of a reptile can now be determined.

A Norwegian engineer, Meinerk, has invented an ice-breaker for keeping far northern harbors open through the winter. The machine, as briefly described in the Moniteur Industriel Belge, is in form like a plough-share, and is driven by two engines. Two centrifugal pumps throw a stream of water on the fragments of ice as they retreat behind the vessel, and drive them back into the channel made by the plough. In summer the plough may be converted into a powerful dredge.

In a case of poisoning by colored stockings which is recorded in the Lancet, the patient suffered a severe itching of the feet with great pain, "like penknives darting into the feet and legs." The cuticle was raised in several places on the soles and sides of the feet, and there was a discharge of fetid pus. Chemical analysis proved that the stockings worn by the patient had been colored with coralline, which is known to produce poisonous effects on the skin.

The following "death-notice" is translated literally from a Zurich newspaper:

"I communicate to all my friends and acquaintances the sad news that at 3 p. m. to-morrow I shall incinerate, according to all the rules of art, my late mother-in-law, who has fallen asleep with faith in her Lord. The funeral-urn will be placed near the furnace.

"The profoundly afflicted son-in-law,


"Zurich. August 3d."

A new malady of the grape-vine has made its appearance in Switzerland, where it has already done considerable damage in the vineyards. It is known as blanc de la vigne, or white-sickness of the vine, and is caused by the development of a mycelium which overspreads every part of the diseased vine. Recent researches, says La Nature, show that the cause of this infection resides in the props used for supporting the vines; the germs of the parasite find a shelter in the cracks of the wood. They may be destroyed by saturating the props with a solution of copper sulphate.

In presenting to Mr. Walter Weldon the Lavoisier medal of the French Society for encouraging National Industry, Prof. Lamy stated that, at the date of the introduction of Mr. Weldon's invention seven or eight years ago, the total bleaching-powder made in the world was only 55,000 tons per annum, whereas now it is over 150,000 tons; and of this fully 90 per cent, is made by the Weldon process. By this process every sheet of white paper and every yard of calico made in the world have been cheapened.

The city of Dunkirk, New York, possesses a Microscopical Society which, with a small membership and very slender resources, has already earned a name in the world of science. At a meeting of this society held in the early part of summer, Dr. George E. Blackham and Dr. C. P. Alling were reëlected respectively president and secretary of the society.

The gorilla of the Berlin Aquarium is now at the Westminster Aquarium, London, "on a visit." His face is by Mr. Buckland pronounced tb be very human, but as black as ebony; the nose is snub, the lips thick and heavy. During sleep, as we are informed by Mr. Buckland, "a pleasant smile every now and then lights up the countenance" of the animal.

Prof. Parlatore, the eminent botanist, and for some time Director of the Museum of Natural History at Florence, died suddenly on Sunday, September 9th.

A new use has been found for dynamite, in the slaughter-house. Experiments made at Dudley, England, show that a small quantity of dynamite—a thimbleful—placed on the forehead of an animal and exploded, instantly causes death. In one experiment, two large horses and a donkey, unfit for work, were placed in a line about half a yard apart, the donkey being in the middle. A small primer of dynamite, with electric fuse attached, was placed on the forehead of each, and fastened by a string under the jaw. The wires were then coupled in circuit and attached to the electric machine. The three charges were exploded simultaneously, the animals falling dead instantly without a struggle.