The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 685/Editorial Gleanings

Editorial Gleanings  (July, 1898) 
editor W.L. Distant

Published in: The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 2, issues 685 (July, 1898), p. 330–336


In the last 'Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution' for the year ending 1895—date of publication 1897—Dr. R.W. Shufeldt, author of 'Scientific Taxidermy for Museums,' draws attention to the "Taxidermical Methods in the Leyden Museum, Holland." This contribution has been induced by the receipt of "a MS., illustrated by a large series of photographs, received from Mr. H.H. ter Meer, jun., on the staff of, and præparator to, the Museum of Natural History of Leyden." The author explains that in Holland taxidermy is discouraged by the fact "that the Dutch biologists filling the more influential positions do not exert themselves either by pen or word to powerfully promote the art among them.... For some years past Mr. H.H. ter Meer has practised what Kerr, his able instructor, had taught him, and with 'extraordinary dexterity' he sews strips of tow side by side upon the sculptured body of the mammal, in such a manner as to exactly imitate the superficial muscles and other parts in the way they occur in nature. Mammals' heads are ' carved out of peat,' and it does not matter out of what substance a mammal is modelled, provided the form is reproduced exactly as it would be were the animal alive, and that it is possible to drive pins in it without bursting or breaking the artificially prepared body, in order to press the skin into the hollows between the muscles. Kerr's methods of imitating the superficial anatomical parts require much patience and time to learn and successfully practise, and this is apt to discourage many young taxidermists at first, as it did Mr. H.H. ter Meer; but its advantages are so great when once accomplished, that no abandoning thereafter is ever entertained by the expert." Mr. ter Meer has also "succeeded in inventing a material, after years of experiment and practice, that possesses the moulding properties of clay, and that dries with great rapidity, and never cracks after once setting." This new material, and what can be accomplished by its use, has received the approval of Sir William Flower, Dr. Bowdler Sharpe, and the artist, J.G. Keulemans, who all visited the Museum to investigate the process. "In terms most unqualified he condemns the methods of mammal mounting practised by Mr. Montagu Browne at the Leicester Museum, and described in his recent work."[1] Dr. Shufeldt considers he is quite correct in pointing out that it is simply impossible to get the correct form of a large mammal for the purpose of a model by taking casts in plaster "of its lifeless, flayed body."

The importance of understanding the correct attitude of birds in a state of nature cannot be minimised by the taxidermist. Dr. R.W. Shufeldt, in 'Shooting and Fishing' (New York, June 2nd), has given some "Pictures of American Partridges," the result of studies with the photographic camera made on the Texan Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus texanus), and the Chestnut-bellied Scaled Partridge (Callipepla squamata castanogastris). Referring to the first photograph, Dr. Shufeldt remarks:—"The picture not only shows the correct form and colour distribution of the bird, but in addition thereto one of the very common attitudes it is likely to assume after alighting in a tree." Some interesting notes on the life-history of this bird are given. "William Lloyd, of Marfa, Texas, informed Major Bendire by letter, several years ago, that 'the Texan Bobwhite is a bird of the lowlands, and is not found above an altitude of 2000 feet. Their food consists of small berries, acorns, grain, buds and leaves of aromatic herbs and small shrubs, varied with occasional beetles, grasshoppers, and ants, especially the winged females, of which they seem to be very fond. They are very insuspicious, and their low notes, uttered while feeding, attract a good many enemies. I have seen Foxes on the watch, and the Marsh Harrier perched in a clump of grass on the look-out, waiting for them to pass. But the many large Rattlesnakes found here are their worst enemies. One killed in May had swallowed five of these birds at one meal; another, a female, evidently caught on her nest, and a half-dozen of her eggs; a third, four Bobwhite and a Scaled Partridge. The young are also greatly affected, and many killed by heavy rains in June and July; numbers perish then from cold and protracted wet weather. When alarmed by a Hawk sailing overhead they run under the mother for protection, as domestic chickens do.'"

The Annual Report of the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland contains many items of considerable zoological interest. The Council has learned by gradual experience that one of the most essential conditions in the construction of a zoological house is to raise both it and the adjoining paddocks high above the level of the surrounding ground, and to provide in this way a ready and sure means of drainage. Damp is much more destructive to animals than cold, and in a perfectly dry house, with dry paddocks, it is often remarkable the amount of cold which animals generally supposed to be delicate will endure without any appreciable effect on their health or spirits.

In the breeding of Lions, the Society has not met this year (1897) with its usual success. Two litters have been born, the first with Hypatia as the mother, consisting of one male and three females, and the second with Portia as the mother, consisting of one male and two females. Unfortunately all these cubs died shortly after birth.

"The Cape Hunting Dogs (Lycaon pictus) may now be said to be thoroughly acclimatized. They live all the year round in the most perfect health in an open-air den, and they breed regularly once a year, and apparently always at the same time. The first litter was born on Jan. 6th, 1896; the second litter appeared on Jan. 3rd, 1897, and at the present moment we look forward to the arrival of a third litter. If our calculations are correct, this interesting event should take place at precisely the same period of the year as on the other two occasions. All the cubs of the first litter died. Very special precautions were taken on the occasion of the second birth, but out of a litter of five only one was reared. A foster-mother, in the form of an Irish Terrier, having become available, the temptation to remove some of the puppies and place them under her care proved too strong to be resisted. Accordingly two puppies were selected for this purpose. The following day one of the three puppies left with the mother was found dead in a remote part of the den. Evidently the keeper's hand had touched it, and the mother had in consequence repudiated it, and thrust it out into the cold. This caused alarm for the safety of the remaining two, and it was determined to place a third with the foster-mother. One cub only was left with the mother, but on the next day it had totally disappeared. Evidently the mother had devoured it. Of the three puppies that were placed with the foster-mother, two died, one from natural causes, and the other from an accident. The survivor was difficult to rear, and required constant care on the part of the keepers. In the course of time, however, it gradually grew out of its early weakness, and when five months old it was presented by the Council to the Zoological Society of London. So far as we have been able to learn, this is the first Cape Hunting Dog which has been reared in Europe." During its growth several interesting points were noted. As early as six weeks after its birth it began to show its untractable disposition by snapping at anyone who touched it. When nearly four months old a curious coincidence occurred, which brought out very forcibly the innate savagery of the animal. A small terrier puppy was placed in the same cage, and in a short time the two little dogs became very good friends. Unfortunately, however, in their play the terrier scratched with its sharp teeth the foot of its companion, and the moment the Cape Hunting Puppy saw the blood it attacked its own foot with the greatest fury. Before the keeper could interfere it had torn off a toe and lacerated its foot to a very considerable extent. Fortunately the wound healed well, and in the course of time the animal was very little the worse of its extraordinary attack upon itself.

The Society is still unfavourably handicapped by a paucity of members and consequent narrow income. "The Zoological Society of London receives somewhere about £6000 per annum from members' subscriptions. The Royal Zoological Society of Ireland has received this year from a similar source £394."

The Eleventh Annual Report of the Liverpool Marine Biology Committee and their Biological Station at Port Erin (Isle of Man), by Prof. W. A. Herdman, is now before us, and it is to be hoped, with the writer of the Report, that a larger and better equipped laboratory at Port Erin or at Hilbre may arise. "Liverpool owes much to the sea; it is asking but little that she should take her place in supporting oceanographic research." A Curator (Mr. H.C. Chadwick) has now been appointed, who will reside at Port Erin; much good and interesting work has been accomplished by visitant naturalists, for "in this age, pre-eminently that of Biology—the age of Darwin, Pasteur, and Lister—it is coming to be recognized equally over Europe and America that nowhere more than in Marine Biological Stations has the work of the great masters been followed up and extended, and that nowhere else can be found a more natural and happy union of the philosophy of science and of industrial applications." The concluding remarks of Prof. Herdman breathe the new biological aspirations:—"As we have recorded, in the earlier part of this Report, science students from our colleges are beginning to attend the Biological Station for purposes of work. That is very satisfactory; but we shall not be content with science students alone. We desire to interest and educate the general public in natural history, and to give all university students opportunities of studying living nature. Students of science study, to some slight extent at least, Arts subjects—Literature, History, Languages, and, it may be, Philosophy; bat how very few of the ordinary Arts-students have even the most elementary acquaintance with any experimental or natural science. Fortunately, it is now becoming rare to hear an educated person boasting of ignorance or indifference to science, but it is still very unusual to find anyone who has received a non-scientific education and who understands and appreciates the natural phenomena by which he is surrounded. The elements of nature-knowledge should surely always form part of a liberal education; and a most instructive portion of the course on nature-knowledge would be a couple of weeks spent amongst the researchers at a biological station. It is a revelation and an inspiration to the young student, or the inexperienced, to spend a forenoon on the rocks exploring and collecting with specialists who can point out at every turn the working of cause and effect, adaptation to environment, and the results of Evolution. It is equally instructive and inspiring to have a day at the microscope with, say, our authority on Copepoda, studying the nature and ways of animals which are probably oi greater economic importance to the world than the wheat plains of Manitoba or the gold of Klondike."

The Annual Report of the Millport Marine Biological Station for 1897 has been issued. As regards the excellence of the position for this young but thriving station, we may quote the words of Sir John Murray, at the opening of the new building in May of last year:—"The station was excellent in many respects, but when all was said it was of very modest pretensions. In respect to accommodation, and to tanks and all appliances which were now necessary for the thorough investigation of the ocean, it did not attempt to compare with many similar institutions in this country, and on the Continent of Europe and in America. Still, it was a place of very great possibilities, and there was one respect in which it was superior to all the stations with which he was acquainted, and that was as regarded its position. Around the islands of Cumbrae they had every variety of sandy beach, of rocky shore, and of muddy bank, each of them with its own peculiar fauna and flora, and the rise and fall of the tide was such that these could be reached with very great facility. The researches of the Rev. Canon Norman, and of Dr. and Mrs. Robertson, had made these shores familiar among naturalists. Within a very few miles of that place, in the direction of Arran, there was a depth of 600 feet, where there were a great many deep-sea animals living quite unlike those found round about the shores. In upper Lochfyne and in Lochgoil there were still the remnants of Arctic fauna and flora, as was long ago pointed out by Mr. Smith, of Jordanhill. In numerous places, where rivers enter into the Clyde seabasin, there was a great variety of animals which lived in the brackish water, and at the mouth of the firth they found quite a different set of conditions. On one occasion the Duke of Argyll found that the shores around Kintyre were lined with a thick bed of organisms, which showed that sometimes the waters of the Gulf Stream were driven into this area. They had thus within easy reach of the Millport Station a great variety of organisms, and of conditions, a charming and attractive combination which was always desired by the inquiring naturalist."

From the Report of the Curator, Mr. Alex. Turbyne, we learn that it is now twelve years since the 'Ark' was beached in Millport by the then Dr. John Murray, F.R.S., of the 'Challenger' Expedition, and until May last she was, to the zoologist and botanist, the only centre of scientific interest in the Clyde district. Still, during that time she proved an incentive to visits of, amongst others, Prof. Haeckel, the late Prof. Schmidt, and Prof. Agassiz; and this goes to prove—if proof were necessary—that the new station was a necessity, and will be a great gain to marine biology.

The Robertson Museum is also a by no means unimportant part of the Institution. "Mrs. Robertson having kindly handed over to the Committee the collections of her late husband, it was found that the cases fitted up round the walls of the Museum afforded quite inadequate accommodation for all the specimens. A large double case was accordingly added, fitted with forty-eight drawers and trays, to receive the valuable collections of Carboniferous and Glacial Fossils, and these collections will be exhibited to any who are interested in them, besides being at the disposal, for reference, of specialists or others working at the Station."

The Gatty Marine Laboratory of St. Andrews, directed by Prof. W.C. Mcintosh, does not publish Annual Reports, but still continues to effect a great amount of active work. As the Professor writes to us, "Marine zoology proper and the zoology of the fisheries form the chief pursuit." At the end of 1896, however, there was published at Dundee an excellent brochure on the Gatty Marine Laboratory, written by the Director, in which, among other matters, reference to the chief laboratories at present in existence was made. "It is a remarkable fact that whereas about thirty years ago no such institution existed in any country, a chain of them now encircles the world." On the question whether a Marine Laboratory as that of St. Andrews, which sprang into existence for the sake of the fisheries, should be in connection with the University alone, or subsidized by a Public Department, is answered by Prof. Mcintosh in favour of the former. "A University Marine Laboratory gives greater freedom in investigation, and the administration is untrammeled by the frequent demand for results as a quid pro quo for the public expenditure (which may only cover the original equipment and the attendant); in short, is no longer under the necessity of showing what it has done for the fisheries of the country, and is removed from the intricate network of the political sphere."

St. Andrews as a site for the study of marine animals has a reputation probably as ancient as the foundation of its University—founded in 1411 — "for amongst the early records of the latter allusion is made to the marvels of the sea and its inhabitants as a means for improving the minds of its students." The new Marine Laboratory owes its existence to the generosity of Dr. Charles Henry Gatty, who presented the University with a sum of £2500 for that purpose. The number of naturalists who resort to this establishment, and the papers published by the Directors and others connected therewith, bear ample testimony to the great work done at St. Andrews for marine zoology.

The Jersey Biological Station is, we are surprised to learn, run by purely private enterprise, and that of one man. Mr. James Hornell, its Director, writes us:—"You may not be aware that the work done here is totally without financial support from public or private bodies. I have to keep it going by my work in micro, and lantern departments, and, being without financial backing of any kind, you can imagine how uphill the work is." The official publication is 'The Journal of Marine Zoology and Microscopy,' edited by Mr. Hornell, of which two volumes have now been completed. In the last issue the Editor has contributed a most interesting paper on "The Possibilities of Fishery Improvement in Jersey." The inshore fishermen, such as we have in Jersey, the men who fish in small undecked boats, find their own particular grounds rapidly becoming depopulated, and, unable to seek the more distant fishing-grounds, are compelled either to seek new occupations, or to languish on earnings that are miserably insufficient. Along the French coast a similar evil state of matters exists; thus, my esteemed friend Dr. Canu, Director of the Station Aquicole at Boulogne, and the foremost authority on pisciculture in France, writes: — "In the eastern portion of the English Channel, the majority of the banks formerly frequented on account of the number and the quality of their fish, have long since witnessed the loss of their reputation; they are even partially abandoned." And again:—"The diminution of fish catches on the banks which line our Channel coast can no longer be disputed.... The decrease of our small northern fishing ports is more eloquent than any statistics upon this point. So well authenticated and so well recognized by the fishers themselves is this decadence in Jersey, that it requires little or no demonstration from me. Indeed, in view of the absence of local statistics as to catches, it is impossible of verification in figures. However, I have the authority of our best-informed fishermen for stating definitely that a diminution of 30 per cent, to 40 per cent, has been observable in their catches of many of the most important of our local fishes during recent years, such as Sand-eels, Gras-dos (Smelts), Gurnard, Conger, Whiting, Sarde (Red Bream), Flat-fishes, &c, to say nothing of the dead Oyster and Ormer fisheries, or of Black Breams and Lobsters, about which we have statistics, definite and incontrovertible. The decrease which is caused by actual scarcity of the fish themselves is most marked in the catches of the Flat-fishes generally (Plaice, Soles, Turbots, &c), the Bream, Sand-eels, Gras-dos, and Lobsters; in the case of the larger Round-fishes, such as the Whiting and the Conger, the cause is probably due to the marked decrease in the supply of bait available in Jersey, especially so in the case of the Squids (Sepia and Loligo), and of the 'red-cat' bait-worms (Nereis). Seven or eight years ago Plaice of large size were common in the large bays, measuring some fourteen inches long on the average; to-day such fine fish are extremely rare, and our market depends for its supply upon imports from Plymouth, Lowestoft, and Grimsby. It is significant to notice that the decline in Plaice coincides with the sudden increase in the use of set-nets and draw-nets in our bay that occurred a few years ago."

  1. 'Practical Taxidermy,' vide 'Zoologist,' 1897, p. 378.