St. Nicholas/Volume 40/Number 3/Nature and Science/Know

Why we can see smoke

Ithaca, Mich.

Dear St. Nicholas: Will you please tell me in “Nature and Science” what smoke is? If it is a gas, how can we see it?

Your devoted reader,

A. B.

Smoke is not composed of gases only, but of solid, or perhaps partly liquid, particles, which are mixed with the gases and carried along by them. It is these particles of matter that are visible to the eye, and not the gases themselves.

Remarkable twining of honeysuckle vine

Santa Rosa, Cal.

Dear St. Nicholas: The accompanying photograph is of a section of an oak-tree about which a wild honeysuckle has

Close twining of honeysuckle about a twisted oak branch.

twined. The vine is about an inch in diameter. It somewhat resembles a mammoth corkscrew.

Peter Kirch

Discovered flowers on one-year raspberry “cane”

Canton, N. Y.

Dear St. Nicholas: We have a black raspberry, or “blackcap,” bush near our front porch. The other day I was surprised to see flower buds on one of the canes that had grown up this year. As the berries are usually borne on the two-year-old canes, it seemed that there must have been unusual vigor in the plant or some other reason for this thing. Can you give me any light? I am much interested in berries and berry-growing.

Your reader and friend,
S. Merrill Foster (age 16).

Most of the varieties of black raspberries—in commerce known as “blackcaps”— produce strong canes one season, on which, the following year, are borne the fruiting branches, after which this cane dies. Unusual conditions, however, often result in unusual developments, so that this rule is not always strictly adhered to in nature, though the normal blackcap raspberry is more regular in this respect than most of its near relatives.

There are a number of red raspberries, for instance, which make a regular practice of fruiting freely in the fall on the terminals of that year’s growth. It may be, in the instance you cite, that the stems producing these late flower buds were in reality extra strong shoots borne from near the base of the terminal stems of last year. After all, if this blackcap is a seedling, and shows a tendency to produce flower buds on new canes, it might be worth your while to give it ample opportunity to develop, as it may prove to be a new variety which would have value for garden purposes. Ernest F. Coe.


Cleveland Heights, O.

Dear St. Nicholas: Outside the windows of my room is a window-box. I often sit and watch the humming-birds which visit the box. One day, I saw as many as six in half an hour. I have noticed that a humming-bird will hover before a flower, and after sipping the honey from it, will fly on to another, and a second bird will come and pause in the air before the flower, about a foot away, and, apparently finding nothing in it, go onto another. Can they see into the flower at that distance, or is it true that they do not get honey but tiny insects from it? If that is so, can they hear the insects so far away?

Your devoted and interested reader,
Katharine B. Scott.

Humming-birds are known to feed very largely on insects which they gather from the flowers, but whether they can hear insects from a distance, I am sure I do not know.—Frank M. Chapman, Curator of Birds, American Museum of Natural History, New York City.

Cracks in hands and faces

Topeka, Kans.

Dear St. Nicholas: Will you please tell me why cracks get in your hands and fingers when you get them very wet? I would like to know very much.

Your loving reader,
Theodore McClintock.

The tissues of the body have more salts than are usually found in fresh water. When you have more salt on one side of an animal membrane than on the other, nature tries to equalize the amount on both sides. Salts, leaving the tissues of the hands to go into the water, leave the cells partly emptied of their contents. They do not hold together well, and “cracks” result.—Robert T. Morris

A hornet’s nest in the peak of a house

Monteagle, Tenn.

Dear St. Nicholas: I am sending a picture of a large insect nest. The nest was in the gable of a roof of a house,

A hornet’s nest in the peak of a roof.

so I could not see whether there were hornets or wild bees in it, so I drew the picture. It seemed to be covered with gray folds. Will you please tell me what it is?

Frank M. Hull.

Hornets are fond of building their nests in the peaks of houses. There is one in the peak of my office, so, as soon as I received your letter, I went out and took a photograph of it. The nests of hornets are built of the weather-beaten fibers from old fences, boards, or other wood.

A snake has poor sight when shedding its skin

Dear St. Nicholas: Is it true that rattlesnakes are partly blind at this time of the year (August)? If so, will you kindly explain why it is? Are other snakes that way too?

Sincerely yours,
M. Coster.

Rattlesnakes are at no time blind or unable to see well enough to strike with accuracy. The only time when a snake’s vision is affected, occurs shortly prior to the shedding of the skin, at which time the eyes are covered with a thin, bluish covering. Even in this condition the snake sees fairly well, although its vision is not so clear as at other times. Snakes usually shed in the early spring, early in July, then late in August.—Raymond L. Ditmars.

Eleven thousand sea-urchins in one pile

Monterey, Cal.

Dear St. Nicholas: The accompanying photograph shows eleven thousand sea-urchins. They were gathered along the shores of Monterey Bay by Japanese fishermen, who sold them to a local curio dealer to be made into jewel-boxes, pincushions, and shell jewelry.

The California sea-urchin (Toxoneustes franciscorum) is purplish in color instead of green, like some of the eastern forms. They are found in greater quantities here than in any other place along the coast.

Yours very truly,
Harry Ashland Green, Jr.

From a photograph by Arthur Inkersley.
Eleven thousand sea-urchins drying.