Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/March 1879/Notes


Among the results of the labors of the United States Fish Commission during the year 1878 is to be reckoned the discovery of fifty new species of fishes in our Atlantic waters. These species are enumerated by Messrs. G. Brown Goode and Tarleton H. Bean, in the "American Journal of Science." Full descriptions of the fishes, with discussions of sundry questions of classification, will appear in the publications of the United States National Museum.

A new danger to health is found in the use of artificial flowers colored with aniline dyes. The bronze-green and other colors now so much in vogue are not "fixed," and the dye is apt to be transferred to the skin of the head, producing much annoyance, unpleasant irritation, or even inflammation.

Professor Leidy, having examined with the microscope a "black mildew" found growing on brick walls in shaded situations, found it to be a species of alga closely allied to Protococcus viridis, which gives the bright-green color to the trunks of trees, fences, etc. The species which produces the black discoloration may be only viridis in a different state, but, until it is proved to be such, he proposes to distinguish it by the name of Protococcus lugubris. The latter consists of minute round or oval cells, from 0·006 to 0.009 millimetre in diameter, isolated or in pairs or in groups of four, the result of division; or it occurs in short irregular chains of four or more cells up to a dozen, occasionally with a lateral offset of two or more cells. In mass, to the naked eye, the alga appears as an intensely black powder.

In certain districts of Austria where cretinism exists the skulls of the wretches who have been afflicted with that disease are disinterred a few years after death and preserved by their nearest relatives. A like custom prevailed in Peru in times prior to the discovery of America, as we learn from an article in "La Nature," on the Anthropological Exposition lately held in Paris. Two crania were there exhibited, one of them overlaid with gold and the other with silver. The evidences of cretinism in these skulls are unmistakable, and there can be no doubt that they were at one time objects of pious care. The custom in Austria is to write the name of the deceased cretin across the forehead of the skull, to paint a fillet of leaves and flowers around the latter, and to engrave on it different emblems, as crosses and the like.

When the committee of scientific men who had been charged with the organization of the Anthropological Exposition connected with the Paris World's Fair called on M. Krantz, the Director-General, to obtain his approval of the plan, his reply was: "Gentlemen, I must confess that I have never heard anything but evil about you. This has satisfied me that your work is of value; this has led me to infer that it is useful, and has given me a bias in its favor."

To test the correctness of the statement which has been made that the leather covers of books in libraries are injured by the combustion products of coal-gas, Professor Wolcott Gibbs has examined the books in different libraries, in some of which gas is burned, in others not; and his conclusion is that the effects supposed to be attributable to the burned gas are in reality due to other causes. The trouble is more probably in the tanning of the leather than in the action of the gas; the older kinds of leather used by binders being of poor quality and badly tanned.

In 1871 a vessel laden with Italian marble was wrecked off Long Island. Specimens of this marble, presenting certain very interesting appearances, having been presented to the Peabody Museum of Yale College, they are described in the "American Journal of Science" by Professor Verrill. The exposed portions of the slabs are, he says, thoroughly penetrated to the depth of one or two inches by the crooked and irregular borings or galleries of the sponge Cliona sulphurea (V.), so as to reduce it to a complete honeycomb, readily crumbled by the fingers. Beyond these borings the marble is perfectly sound and unaltered. Professor Verrill has long been familiar with the fact that this sponge can destroy the shells of oysters, mussels, etc., but this is the first instance he has noticed of its attacking marble or limestone, for calcareous rocks do not occur along the portions of our coast inhabited by it. Its ability to rapidly destroy such rocks might have a practical bearing in case of submarine structures of limestone or similar material.

"Blasting gelatine," a new explosive agent, is formed by dissolving collodion cotton in nitro-glycerine in the proportion of 10 per cent, of the former to 90 per cent, of the latter. The product is a gelatinous, elastic, transparent, pale-yellow substance, having the density of 1·6 and the consistence of a stiff jelly. "It is in itself," says the "Engineering and Mining Journal," "much less easily affected than Kieselguhr dynamite, but it may be made far more insensible to mechanical impulse by an admixture of 4 to 10 per cent, of camphor. Experiments prove that the new explosive possesses weight for weight 25 per cent., and bulk for bulk 40 per cent., more explosive power than ordinary dynamite."

Professor Emerson Reynolds proposes this simple test of the purity of water: Put into a perfectly clean bottle of white glass one half litre of water, and a piece of loaf-sugar the size of a pea. Then set it on a sheet of white paper in a window exposed to the sun's rays for eight or ten days. If the water is then turbid it contains foreign substances, impurities, probably sewage.

The Marquis of Tweeddale (Hay), Fellow of the London Royal Society and President of the Zoölogical Society, who died last December, at the age of fifty-five years, was a distinguished ornithologist, being one of the best authorities on the birds of India and the Eastern Archipelago. He was a voluminous contributor to the "Ibis," the "Proceedings" and the "Transactions" of the Zoölogical Society, the "Annals of Natural History," and other scientific periodicals.

Sixty years ago a farmer in Monmouth County, New Jersey, planted with locust-trees several acres of untillable land; the result of that planting, as related in the "Gardener's Monthly," is a good lesson in rural economy. Years ago the trees first set out were cut down, but the second growth quickly covered the ground, and last year this second growth was cut. This timber was worked into farm-fence posts, garden fence posts, and fence-stakes, the whole worth about $2,000—the cost of cutting being offset by the fuel value of the tops which were unfit for other uses. One grove thirty-seven hundredths of an acre in area yielded 1,400 "five-hole posts," 150 garden fence posts, and 200 fence-stakes: at this rate the product of an acre would be about $3,000.

James McNab, Curator of the Botanic Garden at Edinburgh, died in November, aged sixty-eight years. His predecessor in the curatorship was his father, from whom McNab received a thorough botanical training. Deceased was a frequent contributor to horticultural and scientific periodicals.

Colonel P. W. Norris lately exhibited at Detroit the head and antlers of a huge animal killed in the Yellowstone National Park. The antlers are webbed, and the animal to which they belong is believed to have been a cross between the elk and the moose.