The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 676/Editorial Gleanings

Editorial Gleanings (October, 1897)
editor W.L. Distant
4055934Editorial GleaningsOctober, 1897editor W.L. Distant


The British Museum Blue Book, giving among other returns a "Statement of the Progress made in the Arrangement and Description of the Collections, and an Account of Objects added to them in the year 1896," has been issued. Its perusal leaves no doubt as to the prosperity of our great institution, and is as satisfactory to the zoologist as to the British ratepayer. To really estimate its present flourishing condition it may be well to refer to the estimation in which it was held some seventy years ago. In the first number of the first volume of 'The Magazine of Natural History,' published in 1829, a writer thus expresses himself:—"There is no country that has the same facilities for procuring objects of natural history from every region of the globe as Great Britain; there is no country where larger sums of money have been expended to procure them; and yet there is no country in the civilized world where there are fewer facilities offered to the student of natural history than in England." Again, and in the same volume, we read:—"The zoological collections in the British Museum may be briefly dismissed. The whole collection of insects is contained in four small cases; nor are these completely filled. The birds and mammiferous quadrupeds are arranged according to the order of Linnaeus, but want of room prevents their being placed in situations sufficiently accessible for inspection. The species of quadrupeds are not numerous, owing, I believe, to the decay which too speedily takes place in stuffed specimens, particularly in the atmosphere of London. From the liability to decay, the difficulty with which they are replaced, and the great space they occupy, stuffed specimens of quadrupeds might perhaps be conveniently dismissed from our collections, except of such rare animals as can seldom, if ever, be brought alive to Europe."

An inspection of our National Galleries is now the best answer to the warnings of this Cassandra; well-stocked entomological rooms represent the four badly filled small cases; the birds are unrivalled, and our British ornithological fauna may be said to be seen in a state of nature; while as to the boycotted quadrupeds, the mammals are one of the strong features of the institution, and are rapidly becoming too numerous for the sole hands of the talented mammalogist in charge. It is impossible to allude to the many acquisitions of the last year, but we may draw attention to some of the principal additions derived from "Purchases," "Bequests," and "Presents."

Mammalia.—A valuable series of Deer and Antelopes from the collection of the late Sir Victor Brooke.

Aves.—First in the list may be mentioned the Seebohm Collection, bequeathed by that well-known ornithologist, comprising, in skins, some 16,950 specimens, and including 235 skeletons. By purchase the collections were also enriched by the fine series of birds, chiefly Woodpeckers, brought together by the late Mr. Edward Hargitt; the Steere Collection of Birds from the Philippine Islands; and a fine collection of Fossil Bird remains from Patagonia, collected by Señor Ameghino.

Insecta.—Messrs. Godman and Salvin, who are among the most munificent donors, have presented 6192 Malacoderm Coleoptera from Central America; 4766 Butterflies (Pierinæ), all Old World species; 1375 Butterflies (Satyrinæ), and 610 Sphingidæ, and Castniidæ, from Central America. Mr. Godman has also presented the collection of British Hymenoptera made by Mr. Peter Cameron, comprising 2600 specimens, besides numerous microscopic preparations, larvæ, drawings, &c. There have also been purchased the Power Collection of British Coleoptera and Hemiptera, and the collection of Oriental Hymenoptera formed by Col. C.T. Bingham.

Specimens representing the life of the past, as well as that of the present, have been largely added. Lady Prestwich has presented the entire collection of Fossils brought together by her husband, the late Sir Joseph Prestwich; Mrs. Crawford Williamson has given ninety-three microscopic slides illustrative of works on the Recent Foraminifera by her husband the late Prof. W. Crawford Williamson; and Mr. G. Shrubsole has been the donor of 460 specimens of Palæozoic Polyzoa which belonged to his father, the late George William Shrubsole; while from Mrs. Pengelly have been received about 400 fossils selected from the collection of her husband, the late Mr. William Pengelly.

We recently (pp. 387–8) were able to report on the flourishing condition of both the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College and the Museum of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. We are, however, sorry to see by the 'Ann. Rept. Smiths. Instit. to July, 1895,' published in 1896, and just received, that the Secretary writes in a much more pessimistic manner on the finances and capacity of the National Museum at Washington:—"The problem of even providing shelter of any kind for the vast amount of material daily received from persons interested in the growth and work of the Museum still remains unsolved. The Institution is placed in an embarrassing position. It has been designated by law as the only depository of collections offered to, or made under the auspices of, the Government, and cannot, under the law, refuse to receive them. The fact remains, however, that when accepted there is no suitable place in which to store them, and no space in the Museum building to exhibit such of the objects as should properly be shown to the public. As I have already pointed out, there is probably no museum in the world in which so small a proportion of the objects worthy of exhibition is visible to the public, or in which the objects are crowded together so closely. It is now more true than ever that if another museum building as large as the present one were provided, it could be at once filled with specimens already on hand." We feel no doubt that our American cousins will be equal to the occasion.

Our well-known contributor, Mr. J. Steele-Elliott, has favoured us with the first instalment towards 'The Vertebrate Fauna of Bedfordshire.' This is not only excellently printed on good paper, but is also issued for private circulation, a most commendable instance of a true zoological spirit, and one that should meet with warm appreciation, especially as Bedfordshire "has received less attention than almost any other county." The work has commenced with the birds, and the author informs us that when complete it is expected that the first volume will be devoted to Aves, and the second volume will embrace Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, and Fishes. We trust nothing will interfere with the due completion of a very useful book.

Mr. T.D.A. Cockerell has contributed to the 'Proc. United States Museum' a memoir on "The Food Plants of Scale Insects (Coccidæ)." The author remarks that two practical points may be emphasized—one, the unexpected number of Coccids found on many of the cultivated trees and shrubs; and the other, the frequency with which species dangerous to fruit trees will occur on ornamental plants, which may be carried from place to place, and be the means of disseminating the scales. "It must, of course, be understood that the plants given as the hosts of Coccidæ have been in very many cases so infested only since they came into cultivation. It would be very desirable to distinguish in every case between the endogenetic and exogenetic Coccids on a plant, and also between those exogenetic in a state of nature, and those only so in cultivation. But to do this would require more information than we at present possess." This is a welcome memoir on the subject, bringing the bibliography up to date, and giving a botanical classification to these insect-pests.

We have received from Messrs. Adam and Charles Black a pamphlet written by J.C. Ewart, Regius Professor of Natural History, Edinburgh, on 'A Critical Period in the Development of the Horse.' We read that, according to the evidence obtained by the Royal Commission on Horse Breeding, it appears that about forty per cent. of the mares selected for breeding fail to produce offspring during any given year. This is a very high percentage of failure, but from reports recently received it seems to be still higher in certain districts in India. The author discusses and describes the fœtal appendages in the Horse, and proceeds to show that "while at the outset the Horse embryo has the same simple apparatus as the Opossum, a stage is soon reached when more elaborate and more permanent nutritive appliances are provided." Further, "that when the new apparatus is being substituted for the old,—when the Opossum plan is coming to an end, and the more permanent appliances are barely in working order,—that at this critical period the Horse embryo may readily drag its anchor and escape—behave as if it were a young American Opossum or an Australian Kangaroo." We were not previously aware that "there is a case on record of a mare bringing forth twins, a foal and a mule. She was presented to a Jackass fifteen days after being served by a Horse."

The Belgian South Polar Expedition left Antwerp in August on the steamer 'Belgica,' which, after a mishap to the machinery, again started from Ostend. This expedition takes provisions for three years, much of it consisting of tinned foods. M. de Gerlache and his officers express absolute confidence in the success of the expedition. The 'Belgica' is a whaling vessel of 263 tons, barque-rigged, and with a speed of seven knots. For some months she has been lying at Sande Fiord, in Norway, and has undergone considerable alteration with the view of strengthening her for the rough work before her. She has been furnished with every sort of apparatus likely to facilitate the objects of the expedition. Soundings to any depth will be taken with the sounding-line invented by the Prince of Monaco; fishing will be possible at a depth of 4000 ft., and the animal life of the upper sea-beds will be made the subject of study. It is expected that the 'Belgica' will be absent about two years. The costs of the expedition are being defrayed by public subscription.

Between seven and eight p.m. on Aug. 16th a flock of Wild Geese was observed flying in the air near the 'Nag's Head,' Holloway. They flew round once, and then made off in the direction of Camden Town, forming crescents in their flight. This is a sight very rarely seen in London.—('Westminster Gazette.')

One of the finest private collections of horns from South Africa yet formed is now being arranged in the town museum at Brighton, where it has been placed on loan. It was got together on the spot by Mr. J. Rosen, and includes upwards of 270 pairs, representing every kind of horned animal to be met with south of the Zambesi. It is particularly rich in horns of the Koodoo, Eland, Klipspringer, and Gemsbok, or Oryx, which some identify with the Unicorn, its two horns often resembling in profile a single horn.—('Daily News.')

According to the 'Globe,' a subterranean laboratory has been opened at the Museum of Natural History, which is situated in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris. It has been created in order to study the influence of darkness on animals, and discover by experiment how animal species are thus modified. In short, it is an attempt to apply the doctrine of evolution by experiment; and as such must be regarded as unique in the world—a new departure, in fact. The idea seems to have originated in the researches made not long ago on the animals of the Catacombs of Paris.

In the 'Records of the Australian Museum,' vol. iii. No. 2, is a description, by Mr. R. Etheridge, Jun., of "An Australian Sauropterygian—Cimoliosaurus—converted into Precious Opal." The search for Opal in the Upper Cretaceous at the White Cliffs Opal-field on Momba Holding, about sixty-five miles north-north-west of Wilcannia, Co. Tungnulgra, has been signalized by the discovery of many beautiful examples of the entire conversion of the shelly envelopes of Pelecypoda and Gasteropoda, the internal shells of Belemnites, and Reptilian remains into precious opal by a process of replacement. Among other examples, and pre-eminent for its beauty, is a bivalve in the possession of a jeweller of Melbourne, and "without exception one of the most beautiful conditions of fossilization I ever beheld." The Survey Collection, previous to the Garden Palace fire, contained an ammonite wholly converted into precious opal, six inches in diameter.