Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/July 1876/Miscellany


Destruction of the Buffalo.—The average annual destruction of buffaloes during the last thirty or forty years is estimated by a writer in the Penn Monthly at between three and four millions. During the season of 1872-'73 no less than two thousand hunters, it is said, were engaged in hunting the buffalo along the line of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fé Railroad alone. By these men at least 250,000 buffaloes were slain, simply for their hides, the carcasses being left untouched on the plains. At this rate, the bison will have utterly disappeared before many years, unless Government interferes to prevent this wasteful slaughter. As yet, neither the central Government nor any of the States have taken any effectual measures to prevent the extermination of the noble animal. The author of the article in the Penn Monthly suggests that the traffic in hides might easily be checked and controlled by law. The killing of buffaloes should be restricted, he says, to certain seasons of the year, and the destruction of the females and young wholly prohibited. Further, he would have it made a grave offense to kill a buffalo at any time wantonly, or without properly utilizing it. Then, certain portions of the public lands now within the range of the buffalo might be made a preserve, wherein no buffaloes should on any condition be killed.

Distribution of the Rocky Mountain Locust.—Prof. Riley fixes the southern limit of the Rocky Mountain locust's ravages at the 44th parallel of latitude and the eastern limit at the 103d meridian. The conditions preventing the permanent settlement of this insect in regions outside of the above limits are considered by Prof. Riley in* his eighth annual report on the insects of Missouri. The native home of this locust he takes to be the higher treeless and uninhabitable planes of the Rocky Mountains—a sub-alpine habitat with dry and attenuated atmosphere. Now, a migration of insects accustomed to such conditions into a more dense and humid atmosphere must prove fatal to them. But another barrier to their permanent multiplication in the more fertile country to the southeast is found in the greater duration there of the summer season. As with annual plants, so with insects (like this locust) which produce but one generation annually and whose active existence is bounded by the spring and autumn frosts, the duration of active life is proportioned to the length of the growing season. "Hatching late and developing quickly in its native haunts, our Rocky Mountain locust, when born within our borders (and the same will apply in degree to all the country where it is not autochthonous), is in the condition of an annual northern plant sown in more southern climes; and just as this attains precocious maturity and deteriorates for want of autumn's ripening influences, so our locust must deteriorate under such circumstances. If those which acquired wings in Missouri early last June had staid with us long enough to lay eggs, even supposing them capable of doing so, those eggs would have inevitably hatched prematurely, and the progeny must in consequence have perished."

Fight between a Mouse and a Scorpion.—Frank Buckland, having witnessed the rare spectacle of a combat between a mouse and a scorpion, gives in Land and Water the following description of the fight: "The mouse having been dropped into the jar containing the scorpion, the battle at once commenced by the scorpion assuming the offensive. He made a lunge with his sting and struck the mouse. This woke up the mouse, who began to jump up and down like jack in the box. When he became quiet, the scorpion again attacked the enemy, with his claws extended like the pictures of the scorpion in 'The Signs of the Zodiac.' He made another shot at the mouse, but missed him. I then called 'Time!' to give both combatants a rest. When the mouse had got his wind, I stirred up the scorpion once more, and, as 'the fancy' say, 'he came up smiling.' The mouse during the interval had evidently made up his mind that he would have to fight, and not strike his colors to a scorpion as he would to a cat. When, therefore, the scorpion came within range, the mouse gave a squeak and bit him on the back; the scorpion at the same moment planted his sting well between the mouse's ears on the top of his head. The scorpion then tried to retreat, but could not, for one claw had got entangled in the fur of the mouse. The mouse and scorpion then closed, and rolled over each other like two cats fighting, the scorpion continually stabbing the mouse with his sting, his tail going with the velocity of a needle in a sewing-machine. When the scorpion got tired, the mouse got hold of his tail with his teeth and gave it a sharp nip. The mouse seized the opportunity, and immediately bit off two of the scorpion's side-legs. He then retired, and began to wash his face. I had expected, of course, that the poison of the scorpion would have killed the mouse, but he didn't seem a bit the worse for it. When I examined him the next morning he was quite lively and well, and had nearly eaten up the whole of the scorpion for his breakfast. Of course I rewarded the mouse for his plucky conduct by giving him some milk, and by letting him go in a place where it was not likely the cat would find him."

Labor at the South African Diamond-fields.—The exploitation of the diamond-fields of South Africa promises to exert a mighty influence on the native populations living north of Griqualand. No sooner had the demand for labor arisen at the diggings than vast numbers of the races known as Mahawas, who live between the twenty-third and twenty-fourth parallels of south latitude, poured down from the country bordering on the Limpopo, and eagerly took service with the diggers. "They came in large bodies," says Mr. J. B. Currey, secretary to the government of Griqualand West, "often as many as two thousand in a month, arriving in a wretched state of emaciation." They wear no clothing save a cincture round the loins. They stay about six months, and then they are sleek, well-made, and often powerful men. They are very thrifty, and generally have from eight to ten pounds in money when the time for their departure arrives. This they expend in purchasing guns, powder, and lead, old military uniforms, beads, brass wire, and perhaps a little food, and set out for their own country, each man staggering under his burden. From the Mahawas the tidings of work and pay at the diamond-fields spread to other tribes living farther north, and in the early part of 1874 appeared groups of Makalakas from the great plains in latitude 20°, a race said to be without chiefs or laws or organization of any kind whatever. Still, degraded as is their condition, they seem to possess some remains of a more civilized state, and to show signs of an intelligence superior to that of the Mahawas. Parties of these people continued to arrive during 1874 and 1875, and in the middle of the latter year came the first party of the Maschonas, large, powerful, jet-black men, from latitude 18° on the southern bank of the Zambezi.

Remarking upon this curious movement of the natives, Mr. Currey observes:

"And this great stream of native labor returns, after a few months, to the great ocean from which it flowed, bearing with it, as is inevitable, some traces of the strange lands through which it has passed, and some tinge of the things with which it has come in contact. We cannot prevent this, even if we would. For good or for evil these natives have tasted of the tree of knowledge, and know that they are naked. They go back, with something to tell, and the strange stories, that must be repeated from hut to hut and village to village, the distorted accounts which must be spread of our religion and our laws, our virtues and our vices, our manners and customs, will produce results greater than any that all the missionaries of Europe could effect in a century. Events novel and rapid, which we have had no power to control, have unexpectedly placed us in immediate communication with new tribes, and our connection with them entails results which no indifference can ignore, and from which no timidity can escape."

Natural History of the American Antelope.—From an interesting paper in the American Naturalist, by Judge Caton, we select the following notes upon the natural history of the American antelope: The animal is not a native of the Old World, and is confined to a very limited portion of the New. In size the prong-buck, or American antelope, is considerably smaller than the Virginia deer, the adult male rarely exceeding four feet in length from tip to tip, and three feet in height to the top of the shoulder. The hairs of this animal differ from those of most of the hollow-horned ruminants, and possess the extreme characteristics of those of the deer. They are hollow except near the roots and extreme points, and are filled with a sort of light pith, like that found in the quill of the turkey. The hairs are non-elastic and fragile, in this respect resembling more those of the caribou than of any other quadruped. The entire absence of the hind or accessory hoof distinguishes the prong-buck from both the deer and the antelope. A very important feature of the prong-buck is its glandular system, from which is emitted a rather pungent odor.

The eye of the prong-buck is exceptionally large—much larger than that of the deer, the ox, or the horse. The entire exposed part of the orb is intensely black, with a mild and gentle expression. The animal is the swiftest-footed of all known quadrupeds, but it cannot continue the race at high speed for a great length of time, although for a few miles or a few minutes its career seems like the flight of a bird. While it can make astonishing horizontal leaps, even from a standing position, it cannot or will not make high vertical leaps. The author thinks that it could not under any circumstances be driven over an obstruction a yard in height. The most interesting of all its characteristics is its horns. These appendages are given to both male and female, but in the latter they are scarcely more than rudimentary till they are fully adult, and even then the horns are quite insignificant. In both sexes the horn is hollow, like that of the goat and the ox, and it is deciduous, like the antlers of the deer. Altogether this is a most interesting animal, occupying an intermediate place between ruminants with hollow and persistent horns, and those with solid and persistent ones. In skin and coat it is like the deer. Its eye is most like that of some of the antelopes. Its glandular system is most like that of the goat. In salaciousness it even excels the goat.

Process for Condensing Beer.—The process for condensing beer was recently explained by Dr. Bartlett, in a paper read before the London Society of Arts. Essentially it is the same as the process for condensing milk; the only difference between the two consists in the provision made, in beer-condensing, to save the alcohol. The apparatus employed consists of a copper vacuum-pan, with which is connected a condensing-worm. Two copper globes are attached for collecting the alcohol. A certain quantity of beer being pumped into the pan, a vacuum of twenty-five or twenty-six inches pressure is maintained, and a temperature of 130°−160° Fahr. during the first stage of the process. In a short space of time all of the alcohol flows into the lower globe, the connection between which and the upper is then closed. Thus the alcohol is collected without breaking the vacuum. This alcohol contains all the delicate flavors of the beer. The alcohol having been removed, the removal of water goes on till the beer is reduced to a semifluid state. In this way thirty-six gallons of beer is concentrated into a bulk of little over two gallons, and besides there is a little over two gallons of proof-alcohol.

When the condensed extract is taken from the vacuum pan and cooled, the alcohol is mixed with it. All the aromas and volatile matters that went over with the alcohol are thus returned to the extract. Every valuable constituent of the original beer is there present, minus only nine-tenths of the water. When it is desired to remake the beer, all that is required is to empty one of the tin cans of condensed beer, and make it up to the thirty-six gallons by the addition of water. The product is "flat," but carbonic-acid gas can be reproduced in it to any extent that may be desired by the addition of a little yeast or uncondensed beer. The total expense of condensing beer does not exceed the sum of fifty cents per barrel, and that of remaking about twice that sum.

Damming of Streams by Drift-Ice.—In the American Journal of Science and Art for March, Prof. J. D. Dana remarks upon certain phenomena attending the spring overflows of Connecticut rivers, and in these finds reasons for believing that, during the breaking up of the long glacial winter, the gaps, gorges, or narrows, along the river-courses, would have been liable to obstruction by floating ice. Such obstruction, he says, would have been of all grades, from that which could simply impede the free flow of the waters, to the nearly perfect dam. In particular cases the obstructions might have existed during a very long time, instead of for a few weeks, as happens after a modern winter. Again, the slackened or suspended flow of the water, caused by such ice-obstructions, would have favored the deposition and accumulation about them of drift, and some may have thus been converted into complete dams. This process might occasionally have wholly filled with earthy material a gorge or narrow valley—as in the Niagara River—so as to block up and divert the course of the stream.

In view of these probable conditions of the river-valleys during the glacial flood, the question arises whether the height of the upper terraces above the narrows, on the rivers of Connecticut, was not partly owing to the existence of ice-obstructions. That this was so seems highly probable; and the height of modern spring-floods in the Connecticut at Middletown and Hartford is now often due, in part, to this very cause. If such obstructions existed in the Thames, Connecticut, and Housatonic Valleys, they were only partial obstructions, for in the case of each the terrace of the valley below the narrows declines quite gradually in height from the level above the narrows, instead of abruptly. Moreover, the material of the terraces below the narrows is like that above. Further evidence of the existence of such ice-barriers is to be looked for in a distribution of gravel and large bowlders across the valley just above the narrows, where the ice-masses had been brought to a stop and piled up. Prof. Dana has as yet observed no satisfactory evidence of this kind, but thinks the question needs more investigation.

Where the Army-Worm Moth lays its Eggs.—The mode of oviposition in Leucania unipuncta (the army-worm moth) was, till the other day, an unsolved problem in entomology. During the current year Prof. C. V. Riley, State Entomologist of Missouri, undertook the methodical investigation of this subject, and at the meeting of the St. Louis Academy of Science, on May 1st, was able to announce that his researches had been entirely successful. Guided by the structure of the ovipositor, Mr. Riley concluded that the moth would naturally secrete the eggs where they could not be easily seen. This conclusion was afterward verified by direct observation, the author having witnessed the mode of oviposition on blue grass. The eggs are, as he surmised, secreted, being either glued in rows of from five to twenty in the groove which is formed by the folding of the terminal grass-blade, or else between the sheath and the stalk. The eggs are white, slightly iridescent, spherical, .02 inch in diameter. They are fastened to each other and to the leaf, and covered along the exposed portion by a white, glistening, viscid substance. As they mature the color becomes yellowish, and by the seventh day the brown head of the embryo shows distinctly through the shell. The larva emerges from the eighth to the tenth day, is 1.7 millimetre in length, dull, translucent white in color, with a large black-brown head, and is a looper, the two front pairs of abdominal prolegs being atrophied. On account of its extremely small size and of the color resembling the pale bases of the grass-stalks near the ground, it is almost impossible to find them even where they are numerous. The one great economical result of these researches is the indicating of an effectual mode of destroying the army-worm—viz., burning the eggs with the stubble.

How the Mississippi wears away its Banks.—The observation is made by Reclus, in his work "The Earth," that the Mississippi River seems to contradict the law of displacement of running water, which in consequence of the motion of the earth on its axis causes all streams which flow north or south to hug the west side of their valleys. But Mr. G. W. R. Bailey, in a paper published in the Journal of the American Society of Civil Engineers, shows that the anomaly is an apparent one only. "The river," he writes, "does wear away its western shoreline more rapidly than the eastern, but it cannot do otherwise than gradually excavate circular bends, of from twenty to twenty-five miles in circumference generally, and then cut them off, leaving them to the westward. There has been, always, an excess of overflow and of sedimentary deposits west, and by far the largest number, as well as the greatest bends when cut off, have been left to the west. The western portion of the valley is everywhere well filled with alluvion, and the swamps west have firm bottoms throughout the valley. Below Baton Rouge, where the river tends to the southeast, the swamps on the east are boggy and not well filled with deposits, and the large spaces covered by Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain are left unfilled.

"If the Mississippi had been a river of clear water (instead of being sedimentary), traversing a valley not alluvial, it would probably occupy the western side of its valley like other streams flowing toward the equator; but, as it is, it levees or embanks itself to the eastward by an excess of deposits west. It hugs the bluffs on the east side, down to the last one at Baton Rouge, for the reason that it could not be forced any farther eastward; but immediately below the last bluff, the excess of deposits west crowded the river-channel eastward still farther; the general direction thence to the present mouth being southeast. The mouth of the river having now reached very deep water in the Gulf of Mexico, and having advanced a little beyond the filling up of the gulf west, and beyond the southern limit of the western highlands, the tendency is to flow westward by the Southwest Pass, which is now the largest channel, conveying about one-third of the whole river to the sea."

Glacial Phenomena.—Prof. A. R. Grote recently delivered a lecture on "The Ice Age" before the Catholic Institute of Buffalo. He first called attention to the evidences of glacial action in the limestone rock underlying the surface deposit of sand, gravel, and clay, in that region. Another evidence of glacial action is the presence of erratic blocks; these too are found in the vicinity of Buffalo. In Europe the largest of these erratic blocks have been traced to their original site. Near Zürich, in Switzerland, there is a block estimated to weigh nearly 5,000 tons. Another block, of nearly equal weight, may be seen at Neufchâtel. By comparing their grain, structure, and form, it has been ascertained that they came from the Alps, and indeed the very ledge of rock of which they were once a part has been determined. To reach their present location they must have traversed what are now bodies of water, as the Lake of Geneva. Such blocks, of all sizes, being held fast in the ice at the bottom of the glacier, act as chisels on the rock beneath, producing scratches. And, as a river accumulates piles of sticks and rubbish along its banks, so does the glacier accumulate piles of stones and clay, known as moraines. Medial moraines are found where two glacial streams unite, just as a sand-bar marks the junction of two rivers. These medial moraines are extensions of lateral moraines which are found at the sides of the glacier. Terminal moraines are found at its mouth. Over the south-western portion of the State of New York, bowlders have been found which have come from the Lake Superior region, some of them containing copper-ore. Bowlders of transportation have also been found on the summit of Mount Washington, which is more than 6,200 feet high, showing that the glacier must have at one time overtopped this summit. The direction of the scratches shows that the general course of the ice-mass was from north to south. There was a glacier of the Connecticut, the Hudson, and the Alleghany Valleys. The ice occupied the place of the water-courses, and underneath it streams flowed to the sea.

Lieutenant Cameron's Explorations.—Lieutenant Cameron has returned safely to England from his memorable journey of exploration in Central Africa. He explored the head-waters of the Congo, an immense river-system, one of the feeders of which is the Lualaba, which drains Lake Tanganyika into the Congo, and which Livingstone supposed to be a tributary of the Nile. The Congo and its tributaries constitute one of the grandest systems of internal water-communication in the world. As to the wealth of the newly-explored country, Cameron describes it as enormous. From its mineral resources and agricultural capabilities it seems destined to become one of the granaries of the world, a centre of civilization, and the scene of iron manufactures when other parts of the world have been exhausted.

Antiseptic Properties of Thymol.—The following notes of experiments made by L. Lewin to determine the antiseptic and anti-fermentative properties of thymol we translate from Gaea. This substance, thymol, obtained by distillation from oil of thyme, occurs in white, highly-aromatic crystals; when dissolved in hot water in the proportion of one part per 1,000 it forms a fully-saturated solution possessing a neutral reaction. More concentrated watery solutions cannot be obtained, for, when dissolved in greater proportions than one in 1,000, the thymol evaporates. Lewin finds that 0.1 per cent, of this solution is sufficient to prevent fermentation in sugary liquids, no matter what the proportion of sugar and yeast. Milk to which a small quantity of the thymol solution was added did not begin to show signs of coagulation till twenty days later than milk with which an equal quantity of water had been mixed. Filtered white of egg in contact with the air was found to grow putrid in three or four days, whereas white of egg with which thymol-water had been mixed gave not the slightest indication of putridity after eleven weeks. The same results were obtained in treating pus with water and thymol: pus so treated at once lost its putrid odor, and continued to be odorless for five weeks, or until it had become dry.

The English Commission on Vivisection.—The Royal Commission appointed in England to inquire into the subject of experimentation on living animals, for scientific purposes, have reported unanimously against the absolute prohibition of this practice. "Our conclusion is," says the report, "that it is impossible altogether to prevent the practice of making experiments upon living animals for the attainment of knowledge applicable to the mitigation of human suffering or the prolongation of human life; that the attempt to do so could only be followed by the evasion of the law, or the flight of medical and physiological students from the United Kingdom to foreign schools and laboratories, and would, therefore, certainly result in no change favorable to the animals; that absolute prevention, even if it were possible, would not be reasonable; that the greatest mitigations of human suffering have been in part derived from such experiments; that by the use of anæsthetics in humane and skillful hands the pain which would otherwise be inflicted may, in the great majority of cases, be altogether prevented, and in the remaining cases greatly mitigated; that the infliction of severe and protracted agony is in any case to be avoided; that the abuse of the practice by inhuman or unskillful persons—in short, the infliction upon animals of any unnecessary pain—is justly abhorrent to the moral sense of Englishmen generally, not least so of the most distinguished physiologists and the most eminent surgeons and physicians; and that the support of these eminent persons, as well as of the general public, may be confidently expected for any reasonable measures intended to prevent abuse."

Perception of Musical Tones.—From the researches of Prof. Preyer, of Jena, on the "Limits of Perception of Musical Tones," it appears that the minimum limit for the normal ear is from sixteen to twenty-four vibrations per minute, and the maximum forty-one thousand vibrations, though persons with average powers of hearing were found to be absolutely deaf to tones of sixteen thousand, twelve thousand, or even fewer vibrations. Silence, according to Preyer, is a state of uniform minimum excitation of the auditory nerve-fibres. Silence is to the ear precisely what black is to the eye. The pressure of the fluid contents of the labyrinth and the flow of blood through the vessels must give rise to sensations of which we are unconscious only because of their uniformity, their constancy, and their low degree of intensity. Silence, when the attention is concentrated on the sense of hearing, is found to vary in degree just as the blackness of the visual field, when light is excluded from the eye, has been observed to vary. Lastly, the parallel between the auditory sense and the visual is borne out by a study of the entotic (intra-aural) sensations, which are closely analogous to well-known entoptical (or intra-ocular) phenomena.

Dr. Mohr on the Source and Composition of Meteorites.—From an examination of a large number of meteorites, Dr. Mohr, in Liebig's Annalen der Chemie, concludes that these bodies must have been formed upon a planet warmed by the sun, or by a sun in absolute rest, and in the lapse of an enormous length of time. Under what circumstances this planet has been shivered into fragments does not appear. It must have had a large collection of waters, a sea, which has likewise been dispersed, and which now is to be found in meteoric swarms, and in comets. The peculiarity of meteorites, as compared with our globe, consists, he says, in the circumstance that we find in the former more products of reduction, and, except the earths, no perfect oxides. Thus, in meteorites we find no ferric oxide, but metallic iron, sulphide of iron, and phosphide of nickel-iron. Upon our globe phosphorus occurs only as phosphoric acid. Hence the hypothetical planet where the meteorites originated must have been smaller than our globe, and have had a less dense atmosphere containing less free oxygen. The specific gravity of most meteorites agrees with the calculated density of the planetoids between Mars and Jupiter.

A Sound-producing Spider.—In the "Proceedings" of the Bengal Asiatic Society is given an account of a gigantic stridulating spider, from Assam. The sound-producing apparatus of this spider (a species of Mygale) consists of a comb, composed of a number of highly-elastic chitinous rods, situated on the inner face of the so-called maxillæ, and of a scraper, formed of an irregular row of sharp spines on the outer surface of the antennal claws. This apparatus is equally well developed in both sexes, as in most coleopterous insects, and is not confined to the males, as in the Orthoptera, Homoptera, and the stridulating spiders (Theridion), observed by Westring, in all of which the exclusive purpose of the sounds seems to be to charm or call the opposite sex.