Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/April 1891/Notes


Prof. F. V. Riley takes a hopeful view of the promise of good results to come in apiculture from experiment and investigation. He pointed out, in his address last fall before the Society of Economic Entomologists, as one of the most inviting fields the search for new varieties or species of bees and their introduction; "for just as American apiculture has profited in the past by the importation of races like the Italians, Syrians, and Carniolans, there is every prospect of further improvement by the study and introduction of such promising races as are either known to occur or may be found in parts of Africa and Asia." The further study of desirable bee forage plants, and the introduction and acclimatization of such as are known to be valuable to parts of the country where they do not yet occur, are very desirable.

A new spice adulterant is described by Frank A. Hennesey, Ph. G., in The Pharmaceutical Era. It consists of ground crackers made from a very low grade of wheat—but little better than cattle-feed. The powder thus obtained is colored yellow with turmeric, black with charcoal, brown with Spanish brown and turmeric, etc., according to the spice it is to adulterate. The biscuits are made in a steam bakery in Philadelphia, and large quantities of them have been delivered to a certain spice house in the same city. The presence of this adulterant can not be detected except by a chemical analysis of some difficulty. Ordinary cracker dust has also been used for this purpose.

A correspondent of La Nature, from Bagdad, describes a shower of rain accompanied by a fall of "manna," that took place in August, 1890, around Mardeen and Diarbekir. A surface about ten kilometres in circumference was visited. The nutritious substance was picked up by the people and made by some of them into bread, which had a pleasant taste and was easily digested. A specimen of it sent to La Nature was in the form of spherules, about as large as millet-seed, agglutinated together; was yellowish on the outside and white within. It proved, after a botanical examination, to be a lichen (Lecanora esculenta), which, according to Decaisne, is common in the arid mountainous regions of the Tartarian desert, where it lies on the ground, distinguishable only by the most practiced eyes from the gravel with which it is mingled. Parrot told, in 1828, of a shower of it which fell in Persia, where it was collected by the people and was greedily eaten by cattle. The particles had probably been taken up by some whirlwind and separated from the accompanying sand while passing through the atmosphere.

A bold device, which will also furnish a new source of excitement, is suggested by M. Aristide Berges, a French engineer, in the shape of an elevator-car to fall, with its passengers, through a thousand feet, or the height of the Eiffel Tower. During its fall the machine will acquire a velocity of about 250 feet per second, or more than twice that of the swiftest express train. The car will be built in the form of a long cone, strengthened by inner cones which will act to prevent the sudden compression of the air within the chamber, and will be about thirty feet high. To break its fall, a well of water will be provided, 160 feet deep, into which the machine will descend, and sink so gradually as to remove the sensation of shock. A picture is published by the designer showing the car carrying fifteen people in its headlong journey.

A unique collection of migrating birds formed at Heligoland during forty years by Herr Gätke has been bought for England by Mr. Henry Sebohm, and is to be deposited in the natural history department of the British Museum.

Observations made on Venus to test the conclusions of M. Schiaparelli respecting its rotation, indicate that the rotation is slow, and is made in such a way that the relative position of the spots and terminator do not go through any notable change during many days; that the time of rotation of the planet does not differ more than thirty days from its sidereal period of revolution (about 225 days); and that the axis of rotation of the planet is almost perpendicular to the plane of its orbit. These conclusions support those deduced by Schiaparelli from an extended discussion of all the observations of the planet.

A curious instance of protective mimicry in a toad is described by Mr. Robert Snordy, of Durham, England. The muscles of the batrachian's body were (as usual) arranged in such a fashion that the back of its head "looked like minute nodules of dark gravel imbedded in a damp path below trees." On top of this gravel-like arrangement of muscles was spread a mesh or network of very fine lichen, with oval-shaped leaves of lightish-green color, connected more or less to each other by a hair-like process of stems. This lichen spread irregularly over the toad's back, and odd sprays of it were also to be seen on the legs and upper surfaces of the feet. "Now," says Mr. Snordy, "had the toad been in its regular haunts under t e trees and shrubs, with this wonderful counterfeit of gravel and protective coloring, it would have been almost impossible to discriminate its form from the dark gravel, lichens, moss, wood, sorrel, and dead leaves of the place; and I doubt not that this animal's unobtrusive attire would aid it materially in capturing the insects necessary for its subsistence."

In Paris compressed air is supplied to houses through pipes for working elevators, and also for refrigerating purposes.

An Edinburgh physician writes to the London Times that he has driven a horse, without shoes, on a tour of over four hundred miles, and afterward used him on paved and macadamized streets, without the animal showing any signs of lameness or tenderness. With two larger horses the experiment failed. In slippery weather the unshod horse proves far more sure-footed than a horse with roughened shoes. The doctor concludes that where the growth of the hoofs is strong and rapid, horses are the better for not being shod, especially in the country. The front of the hoofs may have to be rasped away a little, but the sole of the foot is left untouched.

The ratio of the circumference to the diameter of the circle was calculated by Archimedes as 22:7; P. Metius made it 355:113. Now Shanks has fixed it, after a very long calculation, as far as 530 decimals, and Rutherford has verified his results up to the 440th decimal. Omitting the integer and taking only the fractional part of π, in the decimal notation, he has found that the first twenty figures added together give 100; the alternate figures in the odd series (first, third, etc.) give 45; and the alternates of the even series (second, fourth, etc.) give 55. A curious triple coincidence, but one that has no meaning.

A number of experiments on the comparative palatability of insects, etc., are recorded in Nature, by E. B. Tichener and F. Finn. The insects experimented upon—consisting of beetles, moths, bees, etc.—were offered to domestic mice, common toads, and a common mynah (Acridotheres tristis). The results evinced considerable variability and some caprice in the tastes of the animals fed, but do not indicate that their appetites were voracious for the delicacies given them. The stronger beetles were taken with some hesitation. The mice declined to take bumble-bees; the mynah ate wasps greedily; the toads readily took wasps and bees, and were often stung, without seeming to pay much attention to the accident. The cockroach was eaten by the toads. The mynah for a long time refused it, and only took it, as well as the earthworm, finally, in the dearth of other insects. A few centipeds were given to the mice and the mynah, but were never eaten, though the mice, in one case, eagerly seized and killed a large specimen.

A striking example of law-making defeating its own purpose is furnished in India, where a bounty offered for killing poisonous serpents has led the natives to breed the reptiles as a source of income. This recalls a former practice in Australia, where a reward was paid in one district for the feet of rabbits, and in another district for their heads. As a result the heads and feet became objects of exchange between the inhabitants of the two sections.

An instance of transmission of an acquired mental peculiarity is given by Pastor Handtmann, of Seedorf on the Elbe, to the German Anthropological Society. It occurred in the case of a farmer who always wrote his first name "Austug" instead of "August," and his daughter. Inspecting the school, some years after his first acquaintance with it, the author heard a little girl read "Leneb" for "Leben," "Naled" for "Nadel," etc. She was the daughter. The farmer had been remarkable for his habit of shifting the consonant sounds of words, which had originated in a fall some time before the birth of the daughter.