NATURE STUDY





What is a true naturalist?--How to start a collection--Moth

collecting--The Herbarium





There is nothing in the world that will bring more pleasure into the

life of a boy or girl than to cultivate a love for nature. It is one

of the joys of life that is as free as the air we breathe. A nature

student need never be lonely or at a loss for friends or companions.

The birds and the bugs are his acquaintances. Whenever he goes afield

there is something new or interesting to see and to observe. He

finds--



"----_tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones

and good in everything_."



To love nature and her mysteries does not necessarily mean to be some

kind of a queer creature running around with a butterfly net or an

insect box. A true naturalist is simply a man or boy who keeps his

eyes and ears open. He will soon find that nature is ready to tell him

many secrets. After a time, the smell of the woods, the chirp of a

cricket and the rustling of the wind in the pines become his

pleasures.



The reason that people do not as a rule know more about nature is

simply because their minds are too full of other things. They fail to

cultivate the power of accurate observation, which is the most

important thing of all. A practical start in nature study is to go out

some dewy morning and study the first spider web you come across,

noting how wonderfully this little creature makes a net to catch its

food just as we make nets to catch fish, how the web is braced with

tiny guy ropes to keep the wind from blowing it away in a way similar

to the method an engineer would use in securing a derrick or a tall

chimney. When a fly or bug happens to become entangled in its meshes,

the spider will dart out quickly from its hiding place and if the fly

is making a violent struggle for life will soon spin a ribbon-like web

around it which will hold it secure, just as we might attempt to

secure a prisoner or wild animal that was trying to make its escape,

by binding it with ropes. A spider makes a very interesting pet and

the surest way to overcome the fear that many people have of spiders

is to know more about them.



There is no need to read big books or listen to dry lectures to study

nature. In any square foot that you may pick out at random in your

lawn you will find something interesting if you will look for it. Some

tiny bug will be crawling around in its little world, not aimlessly

but with some definite purpose in view. To this insect the blades of

grass are almost like mighty trees and the imprint of your heel in the

ground may seem like a valley between mountains. To get an adequate

idea of the myriads of insects that people the fields, we should

select a summer day just as the sun is about to set. The reflection of

its waning rays on their wings will show countless thousands of flying

creatures in places where, if we did not take the trouble to observe,

we might think there were none.



There is one very important side to nature that must not be

overlooked. It consists in knowing that we shall find a thousand

things that we cannot explain to one that we fully understand.

Education of any kind consists more in knowing when to say "I don't

know and no one else knows either" than to attempt a foolish

explanation of an unexplainable thing.



If you ask "why a cat has whiskers," or why and how they make a

purring noise when they are pleased and wag their tails when they are

angry, while a dog wags his to show pleasure, the wisest man cannot

answer your question. A teacher once asked a boy about a cat's

whiskers and he said they were to keep her from trying to get her body

through a hole that would not admit her head without touching her

whiskers.



No one can explain satisfactorily why the sap runs up in a tree and by

some chemical process carries from the earth the right elements to

make leaves, blossoms or fruit. Nature study is not "why?" It is

"how." We all learn in everyday life how a hen will take care of a

brood of chicks or how a bee will go from blossom to blossom to sip

honey. Would it not also be interesting to see how a little bug the

size of a pin head will burrow into the stem of an oak leaf and how

the tree will grow a house around him that will be totally unlike the

rest of the branches or leaves. That is an "oak gall." If you

carefully cut a green one open you will find the bug in the centre or

in the case of a dried one that we often find on the ground, we can

see the tiny hole where he has crawled out.



Did you ever know that some kinds of ants will wage war on other kinds

and make slaves of the prisoners just as our ancestors did in the

olden times with human beings? Did you ever see a play-ground where

the ants have their recreation just as we have ball fields and

dancing halls? Did you ever hear of a colony of ants keeping a cow? It

is a well-known fact that they do, and they will take their cow out to

pasture and bring it in and milk it and then lock it up for the night

just as you might do if you were a farm boy. The "ants' cow" is a

species of insect called "aphis" that secretes from its food a sweet

kind of fluid called "honey dew."



The ten thousand things that we can learn in nature could no more be

covered in a chapter in this book than the same space could cover a

history of the world. I have two large books devoted to the discussion

of a single kind of flower, the "orchid." It is estimated that there

are about two hundred thousand kinds of flowers, so for this subject

alone, we should need a bookshelf over a mile long. This is not stated

to discourage any one for of course no one can learn all there is to

know about any subject. Most people are content not to learn anything

or even see anything that is not a part of their daily life.



The only kind of nature study worth while is systematic. It is not

safe to trust too much to the memory. Keep a diary and record in it

even the most simple things for future reference. All sorts of items

can be written in such a book. As it is your own personal affair, you

need not try to make it a work of literary merit. Have entries such as

these:



First frost--Oct. 3rd



First snow--3 inches Thanksgiving day



Skating--December 3rd



Weather clear and bright on Candlemas day, Feb. 2nd and

therefore ground-hog saw his shadow



Heard crows cawing--Feb. 18th. Last year--Jan. 26th



Saw first robin--March 14th



Last snow--April 28th



There is scarcely anything in nature that is not interesting and in

some way useful. Perhaps you will say "How about a bat?" As a matter

of fact a bat is one of our best friends because he will spend the

whole night catching mosquitoes. But some one will say "he flies into

your hair and is covered with a certain kind of disgusting vermin."

Did you ever know of a bat flying into any one's hair? And as for the

vermin science tells us that they are really his favourite food so it

is unlikely that he would harbour a colony of them very long.



The subject of snakes is one in which there is more misinformation

than any other common thing. There are only three venomous kinds of

snakes in America. They are the rattlesnake, copperhead and moccasin.

All of them can be distinguished by a deep pit behind the eye, which

gives them the name of "pit vipers." The general impression that puff

adders, pilots, green snakes or water snakes are poisonous is

absolutely wrong, and as for hoop snakes and the snake with a sting in

his tail that all boys have heard about, they are absolutely fairy

tales like "Jack and the Bean Stalk" or "Alice in Wonderland." We have

all heard about black snakes eight or ten feet long that will chase

you and wind themselves around your neck, but of the many hundreds of

black snakes that a well known naturalist has seen he states that he

never saw one that did not do its best to escape if given half a

chance. Why so much misinformation about snakes exists is a mystery.



Nature study has recently been introduced into schools and it is a

very excellent way to have the interesting things pointed out to us

until our eyes are trained to see for ourselves. The usual methods of

nature study may be roughly divided into, 1. Keeping pets. 2. Bird

study. 3. Insect study. 4. Systematic study of flowers and plants. 5.

Wild animal life. The basis of nature study consists in making

collections. A collection that we have made for ourselves of moths or

flowers, for instance, is far more interesting than a stamp or coin

collection where we buy our specimens. If we go afield and collect for

ourselves, the cost is practically nothing and we have the benefit of

being in the air and sunshine.



One kind of collecting is absolutely wrong--that of birds' eggs,

nests or even the birds themselves. Our little feathered songsters are

too few now and most states have very severe penalties for killing or

molesting them. A nature student must not be a lawbreaker.



The outfit for a butterfly or moth collection is very simple and

inexpensive. We shall need an insect net to capture our specimens.

This can be made at home from a piece of stiff wire bent into the

shape of a flattened circle about a foot across. Fasten the ring

securely to a broom handle and make a cheesecloth net the same

diameter as the ring and about two feet deep.



[Illustration: The cyanide bottle]



It is very cruel to run a pin through insects and to allow them slowly

to torture to death. An insect killer that is generally used is called

"the cyanide bottle." Its principle ingredient, cyanide of potassium

is a harmless looking white powder but it is the _most deadly poison

in the world_. Unless a boy or girl knows fully its terrible danger,

they should never touch it or even breathe its fumes. One of your

parents or the druggist should prepare the cyanide bottle for you and

as long as you do not look into the bottle to watch the struggles of a

dying bug or in any way get any of the contents of the bottle on your

fingers, you are safe.



Take a wide-mouthed bottle made of clear glass and fit a cork or

rubber stopper to it. Then wash the bottle thoroughly and dry it,

finally polishing the inside with a piece of soft cloth or tissue

paper. Place one ounce of cyanide of potassium into the bottle and

pour in enough dry sawdust to cover the lumps of poison. Then wet some

plaster of paris until it is the consistency of thick cream and

quickly pour it over the sawdust, taking care that it does not run

down the sides or splash against the bottle. Place the bottle on a

level table and very soon the plaster of paris will set and harden

into a solid cake.



Sufficient fumes from the cyanide will come up through the plaster to

poison the air in the bottle and to kill any living thing that

attempts to breathe it. As you capture your specimens of moths, bugs

or butterflies afield you place them into the bottle, and as soon as

they are dead, you remove them; fold them carefully in stiff paper and

store them in a paper box or a carrying case until you get home. They

should then be mounted on boards or cork sheets, labelled carefully

with the name of the specimen, date and place of capture and any

other facts that you may wish to keep.



[Illustration: How insects are spread to dry them in a natural

position]



Considerable skill is required to mount insects properly and in a

life-like position. If they are out of shape you must "spread" them

before they dry out. Spreading consists in holding them in the proper

position by means of tiny bits of glass and pins until they are dry.



As moths are, as a rule, night-flying creatures the collector will

either obtain them in a larval stage, or will adopt the method of

"sugaring," one of the most fascinating branches of nature study. A

favourable locality is selected, a comparatively open space in

preference to a dense growth, and several trees are baited or sugared

to attract the moths when in search of food. The sugar or bait is made

as follows: Take four pounds of dark brown sugar, one quart of

molasses, a bottle of stale ale or beer, four ounces of Santa Cruz

rum. Mix and heat gradually. After it is cooked for five minutes allow

it to cool and place in Mason jars. The bait will be about the

consistency of thick varnish.



Just before twilight the bait should be painted on a dozen or more

trees with a strip about three inches wide and three feet long. You

will need a bull's-eye lantern or bicycle lamp and after dark, make

the rounds of your bait and cautiously flash the light on the baited

tree. If you see a moth feeding there, carefully bring the cyanide

bottle up and drop him into it. Under no circumstances, clap the

bottle over the specimen. If you do the neck of the bottle will become

smeared with the bait and the moth would be daubed over and ruined.

You will soon have all the specimens that you can care for at one time

and will be ready to go home and take care of them.



The moths are among the most beautiful creatures in nature and a

reasonably complete collection of the specimens in your neighbourhood

will be something to be proud of.



[Illustration: The Moth Collector and His Outfit (Photograph by

F.W. Stack)]



The plant and flower collector should combine his field work with a

study of botany. Like most subjects in school books, botany may seem

dry and uninteresting but when we learn it for some definite purpose

such as knowing the wild flowers and calling them our friends, we must

accept the few strange words and dry things in the school work as a

little bitter that goes with a great deal of sweet.



A collection of dried plants is called an herbarium. It is customary

to take the entire plant as a specimen including the roots. Separate

specimens of buds, leaves, flowers and fruit taken at different

seasons of the year will make the collection more complete. Specimens

should be first pressed or flattened between sheets of blotting paper

and then mounted on sheets of white paper either by glue or by strips

of gummed paper.



After a flower is properly identified, these sheets should be

carefully numbered and labelled and a record kept in a book so that we

can readily find a specimen without unnecessarily handling the

specimen sheets. The sheets should be kept in heavy envelopes of

manila paper and placed in a box just the size to hold them. The

standard or museum size of herbarium sheets is 11-1/2 x 16-1/2 inches.

Specimens of seaweed or leaves can be kept in blank books.



A typical label for plants or flowers should be as follows:



Common names Yellow adder's tongue Date collected, May 16th, 1908

Dog tooth violet

Botanical name Erythronium Americanum REMARKS: John Burroughs

Family Lilies suggests that the name

Where found Rockaway Valley near be changed either to

Beaver Brook fawn lily because its

leaves look like a spotted

fawn or trout lily

because they always

appear at trout fishing

season.



A boy or girl living in a section where minerals are plentiful, can

make a very interesting collection of stones and mineral substances,

especially crystals. This should be taken up in connection with school

work in chemistry and mineralogy. To determine the names of minerals

is by no means as easy as that of flowers or animals. We shall need to

understand something of blow-pipe analysis. As a rule a high school

pupil can receive a great deal of valuable instruction and aid from

one of his teachers in this work. Mineral specimens should be mounted

on small blocks or spindles using sealing wax to hold them in place.



There are unlimited possibilities in nature for making collections.

Shells, mosses, ferns, leaves, grasses, seeds, are all interesting and

of value. An observation beehive with a glass front which may be

darkened will show us the wonderful intelligence of these little

creatures. The true spirit of nature study is to learn as much as we

can of her in all of her branches, not to make a specialty of one

thing to the neglect of the rest and above all not to make work of

anything.



We see some new side to our most common things when we once learn to

look for it. Not one person in ten thousand knows that bean vines and

morning glories will twine around a pole to the right while hop vines

and honeysuckle will go to the left and yet who is there who has not

seen these common vines hundreds of times?



No one can give as an excuse that he is too busy to study nature. The

busiest men in national affairs have had time for it and surely we

with our little responsibilities and cares can do so too. I once went

fishing with a clergyman and I noticed that he stood for a long time

looking at a pure white water lily with beautiful fragrance that grew

from the blackest and most uninviting looking mud that one could find.

The next Sunday he used this as an illustration for his text. How many

of us ever saw the possibility of a sermon in this common everyday

sight?





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