Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/October 1896/Minor Paragraphs


The recent death of Lord Lilford, Thomas Lyttleton Powys, at the age of sixty-three, has removed one of the most devoted and conscientious of English ornithologists. He was interested in natural history from his earliest years, and was President for many years of the British Ornithologists' Union. His collection of live animals at Lilford Hall was widely celebrated. At the time of his death—which occurred at Lilford Hall on the 17th of June—he was engaged on a large work on the Birds of the British Islands.

Geology has sustained a severe loss in the death of Sir Joseph Prestwich, which occurred on June 23d. He was born at Clapham on March 12, 1812. He was engaged in business in London until sixty years of age, but during this time was able to gain such a reputation among geologists that upon the death of Prof. Phillips he was elected to the chair of Geology in the University of Oxford. His work as a pioneer in establishing the geological antiquity of man was recognized by the Royal Society in awarding to him a Royal medal in 1865. He continued to be a prolific writer up to the time of his death. Although he belonged to the old school of "catastrophists" which Sir Charles Lyell opened war on in 1830, and which today is a rapidly decreasing minority, he did much valuable and lasting work.

An ingenious method of destroying cattle ticks is described by Dr. M. Francis, a veterinarian of the Texas experiment station. After several unsuccessful attempts to destroy the ticks by various other means, the dipping process was adopted, and after trying several carbolic and arsenical solutions with unsatisfactory results, the cattle were forced to swim through a large vat of five thousand gallons capacity, on the surface of the water in which was a layer of cotton-seed oil, from three quarters to one inch in thickness, so that when they emerged they were perfectly covered with oil. It is well known that grease or oil of almost any kind is fatal to insects, lice, etc., and the above treatment was found to be exceedingly fatal to the cattle tick, while in no way injuring the cattle.

It is reported that Dr. William W. Jacques, of Boston, an electrician and chemist, has succeeded in devising a practical commercial process for converting the energy contained in coal directly into electricity. His battery is constructed as follows: In an iron pot is placed caustic soda and heat applied up to 300°, when fusion occurs; into this fused mass is plunged a stick of carbon, and then air is forced through the solution. By the contact of the air with the carbon stick, in presence of the fused soda, oxidation is produced with no deterioration of the electrolyte, and upon connecting the carbon stick and the iron pot by means of a wire, an electric current is generated.

Electric tanning is thus described in the Journal of the Franklin Institute: The tanning pit has a capacity of fifteen thousand litres and is about eighty inches broad and ten feet long. Electrodes of nickeled copper are fixed to the longer walls of the pit, and in the latter the hides are so suspended that the current has to pass right through them. A current of twelve ampères with an E. M. F. of twelve volts is used. The tanning matter consists of oak extract, with a little hemlock extract added, both of which are cleared and decolorized by a special electrolytic process. By these means Folsing states that he has succeeded in obtaining good leather in seventy-two hours from light cowhides, in five days from heavy cowhides, and in six days from heavy oxhides.

A book by M. Georges Viret, on Legislation and Jurisprudence concerning useful and injurious insects and insectivorous birds, suggests some curious questions. In it are found the conditions under which bees are personal property, and others under which they are real. When bees are sent by mail, should they be classified as specimens or as letters? The French law says as letters, and our own postal laws have special provisions for packages of this sort. We learn from the book that when bees go astray on another man's land they are not trespassers, unless they are peculiarly malicious, and go about stinging or do some harm to men and animals. A question is suggested by the provision in French law which makes stealing bees in the daytime a smaller offense than stealing them in the night, the penalty being considerably more severe in the latter case than in the former. Possibly the law depends on the bees to do part of the punishing of the daytime thief. The table of contents of M. Viret's book shows that the law takes notice of nineteen kinds of insects, among which are bees, caterpillars, Colorado beetles, ants, wasps, beetles, cattle flies, olive flies, botflies, phylloxera, the woolly aphis, vine pyralis, grasshoppers, grubworms, and silkworms. Most attention is given to the phylloxera.

Mr. F. W. True, in the Proceedings of the National Museum, describes an armadillo of the genus Xenurus received from Honduras. He says: "This is the first instance, so far as I am aware, in which any representative of this genus has been found in Central America. . . . The head is short and blunt, and the extremity of the snout entirely naked for a distance of sixteen millimetres. The cephalic shield consists of about thirty-eight comparatively large plates. The ears are margined with a row of small, rounded scales, but otherwise entirely naked. The feet and outer side of the legs are covered with somewhat scattered flat, orbicular scales. The tail has similar flat scales about a millimetre and a half in diameter, imbedded in the skin at regular intervals; from the posterior margin of each scale one hair is exsected. Total length, one foot five inches; tail, six and a half inches. I have little hesitancy in referring this Honduras specimen to the Dasypus (Xenurus) hispidus of Burmeister."

The International Conference organized by the Royal Society to consider the preparation and publication of an International Catalogue of Scientific Literature was opened in London, July 14th. The efforts of the Royal Society to form a record and index of scientific literature date from the middle of the century, when the great authors' index was begun. A subject index to follow the authors' index was decided upon about thirty years ago, but was not started till 1893. As it soon became evident that the Royal Society alone was not competent to accomplish so large a work, the movement to secure international co operation was begun about two years ago. It has happily secured the support of governments and scientific societies in all parts of the world, and the meeting is very widely representative. The United States is represented by Dr. John S. Billings and Prof. Simon Newcomb; Canada by the Hon. Sir Donald A. Smith; and Great Britain by a large number of its most distinguished scientific men. Sir John A. Gorst, the British Government representative, was chosen president. Prof. Newcomb is one of the vice-presidents. The proceedings of the conference will be in English, French, and German, as the official languages.