Popular Science Monthly/Volume 32/November 1887/Notes


President Peckham, of the Natural History Society of Wisconsin, has been investigating the mental habits and peculiarities of wasps. On the question whether these insects have much sympathy with one another, he says: "To be sure, when we caught numbers of them, and painted them within the cage, they at once went to work to clean each other, and this shows that they have some desire to aid and comfort their friends. But we have often seen them continue to eat, with entire composure, near the body of one of their number that had just been crushed to death; and they frequently fall upon a dead relative, cut it up, and carry it into the nest to feed their young."

Mr. H. Stuart Wortley, of the South Kensington Museum, has been led, by long and careful attention given to the observation of animals, to consider that they have true reasoning powers, and says on this subject: "I have frequently seen reasoning power exercised after obvious thought over the best course to pursue. Then, are animals speechless among themselves? I think not, and believe they speak freely to one another at needed times, in their own language. And I certainly with my own domestic animals can understand in a certain sense their language. I clearly know what they ask for, or what they wish to call my attention to, from the tone of the voice and its modulations, and this is, I assume, language as regards them."

Professor Helmholtz has been appointed President of the Kuratorium of the Physical and Technical Imperial Institution which is to be opened at Berlin in 1888, Dr. Werner Siemens, the founder of the Institution, and Dr. Förster, the Director of the Berlin Observatory, will also be curators.

According to Mr. John Ball's "Notes of a Naturalist in South America," the various ports along the arid coast of Peru, destitute of verdure, reveal upon close examination the presence of plant-life. At Coquimbo veritable bushes and a greenish gray tint on the surface of the soil were visible, and specimens were obtained of some curious and rare plants in flower peculiar to the vicinity, among them a dwarf cactus only three or four inches in height, with comparatively large crimson flowers.

An appearance as of being hollowed out has been remarked in the surface of the hard, green sandstone rocks, near Lima, Peru, and was ascribed by Sir Charles Lyell to the result of water-action on ancient and subsequently elevated sea-beaches. Mr. Nation, of Lima, however, who has been observing the rocks for twenty-five years, is satisfied that the hollows are increasing in size and in number. He believes that they are the work of a cryptogamic plant, a lichen, which is in active vegetation during the foggy season, the swelling of whose cells causes a scaling of the rock.

A new telephonic apparatus, called the "Micro-telephone Push-button," has been successfully experimented with in Paris. It has the form of an ordinary electric pushbutton, and is so sensitive that in speaking at short distances there is no need to come close to the instrument. Persons using it may speak in their ordinary tone, walk about, and act as if they were conversing with some person in the room. The paragraph from which we derive this item intimates that the perfection of the instrument is due to the inventor having resided in America, where his inventive talent was stimulated.

Mr. Clement Reed, of Oneglia, believes that the destructive effects of the earthquake in the Riviera may have been more owing to the method of building than to the violence of the shocks. The walls of the houses at Oneglia and at Diano Marina are built of rounded stones or rubble, filled in with stucco, and the floors with brick arches, without sufficient care being given to lateral support; and the houses are usually three or four stories high. It is evident that even a slight shaking would be fatal to buildings thus constructed.

Mr. Chamberlain, in his monograph on the Ainos, asserts, on the authority of the Rev. Mr. Batcheler, who has lived among that people for many years, that intermarriages between them and the Japanese are not fruitful, and conduce to weakly offspring and a short-lived stock. There seems, therefore, to be a kind of reproductive incompatibility between the two races. The occupation of the northern islands by the Japanese in place of the Ainos, who are diminishing, or of a half-breed race which is not found, may be accounted for by the unfruitfulness of the half breeds, and by the superior vigor of the Japanese race to the Ainos.

Mrs. Hardwicke, widow of the founder of "Science Gossip," preserves eggs fresh by carefully oiling them with a soft brush all over, and packing them in a jar with plenty of bran between each layer. A thick brown paper should be tied over the jar when it is full. "When eaten at three months old," she says, "you could not tell them from fresh eggs."

The announcement is provocative of thought that the invitation which the Government of New South Wales gave last year to the British Association to meet in Sydney in January, 1888, has had to be withdrawn, because the matter had been made a party question in the New South Wales Parliament. The fact illustrates anew the truth that science and current politics will not mix.

According to the observations of M. Cazeneuve, the aniline dyes—fuchsine, Bordeaux red, red, purple-red, etc.—employed in coloring wines, may persist for many years in certain wines, and be obtained intact therefrom by analysis. The chemical changes that wine undergoes, especially in the "stripping" of new wines, lead to the precipitation of a greater or less amount of the artificial coloring agent. The diseases produced by microphytes also cause a disappearance of color.

"Since the introduction of the water closet, and, I believe, as a direct consequence of it," said Dr. G. V. Poore, at the anniversary meeting of the Sanitary Institute of Great Britain, "we have had four severe epidemics of cholera (a disease not previously known), and enteric or typhoid fever (previously almost or quite unrecognized) has risen to the place of first importance among fevers in this country (England). The evils which have arisen from cesspools and sewers have caused an enormous amount of attention to be devoted to what are known as 'sanitary appliances,' 'sewer constructions,' etc., and so great and so well recognized are the evils of sewers that many of our friends are anxious that we should be compelled by act of Parliament to protect ourselves from the mischief which previous acts of Parliament have produced."

The preliminary steps have been taken for the organization of an Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science on the same lines as the British Association. The first and inaugural meeting is to be held in Sydney in 1888, which will be the centennial year of the foundation of the colony of New South Wales. The Royal Society of New South Wales, already in operation, is pursuing a system of offering medals and money prizes for original researches on scientific subjects, particularly for investigations relating to Australia. Four prizes are offered every year, consisting of the society's medal and £25, to be awarded for as many researches of superior merit.

A grass resembling the Canadian "sweet grass," but of finer texture and fragrance has been discovered growing at Ocean Beach, New Jersey, and is utilized by a family of Indians there for making fancy baskets. It is identified by Dr. Samuel Lockwood with the Herochloa borealis, or "holy grass" of Europe, and as probably the same colony which Dr. Knieskern announced several years ago that he had discovered near Squan Village. As the name "holy" or "sacred" grass would be without significance in this country, and the fragrance of the plant is like that of vanilla. Dr. Lockwood suggests that it be called "vanilla-grass."

Dr. J. W. Stickler, in the "Report of the New Jersey State Board of Health," finds that persons who work in hat-factories are subject to lung-complaints arising from the inhalation of fur-dust. Silk-weaving in dwelling-houses is deleterious, but ought to be a healthy occupation in properly lighted, heated, and ventilated factories, the hackling of flax and jute fills the air with a dust of dirt and minute fibers, leading to paroxysms of coughing, and often to early death; and the spinning process is attended with similar evils. According to Dr. J. P. Davis, the disorders arising from India-rubber manufacturing are chiefly due to the lead compounds used in the work, accompanied with heat and defective ventilation, to the introduction of naphtha, and to mechanical conditions.

Biscuits appear to have been the most ancient form of bread. It is not known how early fermentation was introduced, but it appears certain that cakes made simply of flour and water preceded it. Such cakes, of the Neolithic age, are found in the lake-beds of Switzerland—and these are the oldest surviving specimens of bread. Most of the ancient peoples used biscuits on special occasions, as of war and long voyages. The Greeks called them arton dipuron, or bread exposed twice to the fire. The Romans had their panis nauticus or capta. Our word biscuit—bis, twice, and codus, French cuit, cooked, twice cooked, the same in meaning as the Greek name, is a survival from the original method of preparing the cakes, which is no longer in use.

Professor Emil Du Bois-Reymond, the twentieth anniversary of whose appointment as Secretary of the Academy of Sciences of Berlin is celebrated this year, has had the privilege of introducing a succession of famous representatives of science in speeches which gave proof of his great ability as an author. He is one of the oldest members of the physico-mathematical class of the Academy; the only member of older standing being Chevreul, whose patent antedates Lis seventeen years.

The city of Nancy, in France, on the 21st of July, suffered the strange visitation of a rain cf wood-ants. It was about five o'clock in the afternoon when the "shower" came up, and the insects, both winged and unwinged, fell upon the streets and public places, and on the heads of passers-by, like a snow-squall, for about an hour. Most of the town was literally covered with ants. They are supposed to have been taken up somewhere and brought to the place by the strong gusts which preceded a severe storm that fell upon the city during the night.

Professor Tyndall, expressed a doubt, in his last Royal Institution lecture, as to whether extensive reading and study had not a tendency to hamper original genius; whether doctrines handed down for generations as articles of faith, which it would be heresy to dispute, had not materially cheeked the progress of science.

Pilocarpine is an alkaloid obtained from the leaves of Pilocarpus primatus. It is a viscous substance, giving finely-crystallized salts, and has been applied to various therapeutic uses.