WATER LIFE





The water telescope--How to manage an aquarium--Our insect friends and

enemies--The observation beehive





The eggs of so many insects, toads, frogs and other interesting

creatures are laid and hatched in water that a close study of pools,

brooks and small bodies of water will disclose to the nature student

some wonderful stories of animal life. To obtain water specimens for

our collection, we shall need a net somewhat similar to the butterfly

net described in the previous chapter but with a much stronger frame.



One that I have used for several years was made by the village

blacksmith. The ring or hoop is of quarter-inch round iron, securely

fastened to a stout handle and bent to a shape as shown in the

drawing. To this ring is fastened a regular landing net such as

fishermen use, with an extra bag of cheesecloth to fit inside to

capture insects too small to be held by the meshes of the outside net.

For frogs, turtles, and minnows, the single net is all that is

necessary.



This device is almost strong enough to use as a shovel. It will scoop

up a netful of mud without bending. This is important as muddy ditches

and sluggish ponds will yield us more specimens than swiftly running

brooks. In addition to the net, the collector will require a small

pail to hold his trophies. A fisherman's minnow bucket is excellent

for this purpose and the water can easily be freshened and the

contents of the pail reached by simply lifting out the inside pail

from the water, which will drain out.



[Illustration: A heavy net is useful to capture aquarium specimens]



To study the animal life under the surface of a clear and shallow

lake, a water telescope is a great aid. It is simply a wooden box a

foot or so long and open at both ends. The inside should be painted

black to prevent cross reflection of light. A square of clear glass

should be fitted into one end and puttied tight to keep out the water.

To use the water telescope, we simply shove the glass end under water

and look into the box. A cloth hood or eye piece to keep out the

outside light will make it more effective. The best way to use a water

telescope is to lie in the bottom of a boat which is drifting about,

and to look through the telescope over the side. As you study the

marvellous animal and plant life that passes along under you like a

panorama, see to it that in your excitement you do not fall overboard

as a boy friend of mine once did.



The care of an aquarium is a never ending source of interest to the

nature student. If a boy is handy with tools he can build one himself.

It is by no means an easy task however to make a satisfactory

water-tight box with glass sides, and my advice is not to attempt it.

Glass aquaria may be bought so cheaply that it is doubtful if you can

save any money by making one at home. If you care to try it, this is

the way it is usually done:



Use a piece of seasoned white wood 1-1/4 inches thick for the bottom.

If you wish your aquarium to be, say, 16 inches wide and 30 inches

long, this bottom board should be 20 x 34 to give a margin at the

edge. The size of a home-made aquarium can be anything that you

desire. It is customary to allow a gallon of water to each three-inch

gold fish that will inhabit it. By multiplying the three dimensions,

length, width and height of your box and by dividing your result,

which will be in cubic inches, by 231 (the number of cubic inches in a

gallon) you can tell how many gallons of water it will hold. Of course

the rule for gold fish is not absolute. The nature student will

probably have no gold fish at all. They are not nearly so interesting

as our native kinds. Besides nearly all varieties of fresh water fish

will either kill gold fish or if they are too large to kill will at

least make life so miserable for them that to keep them together is

cruelty to animals. If we keep in our aquarium the specimens that we

collect in our neighbourhood, beetles, newts, crawfish, snails, and

tiny sunfish the number may be greatly increased. Overcrowding however

is very bad. The ideal we should strive for is not "how many

specimens" but "how many kinds" we can have in our collection.



The white wood board should have three or four hardwood cleats screwed

to the bottom to prevent warping. The corner pieces of our glass box

may either be made of sheet copper or heavy tin, or of wood, if we

cannot work in metals. The wooden strips and the bottom board should

have grooves ploughed in them to hold the glass. All the woodwork

should be given several coats of asphalt varnish and to further

waterproof it and as a final coat use some kind of marine copper paint

that is used to coat the bottoms of vessels. Never use the common

white lead and linseed oil paint for an aquarium.



You can sometimes buy aquarium cement or prepared putty at a "gold

fish" store. This you will need to putty in the glass. If you cannot

buy it, make it yourself from the asphalt varnish and whiting. Be sure

that the paint and putty of an aquarium is thoroughly dry before you

fill it with water.



Perhaps the most satisfactory way to study fish and insect life in

water is to use all glass boxes and globes. So many kinds of fish and

insects are natural enemies, even though they inhabit the same

streams, that they must be kept separate anyway. To put them in the

same aquarium would be like caging up two game roosters. If we were

studying the development of mosquitoes, for instance, from the larvae

or eggs to the fully developed insect, we should not get very far in

our nature study if we put them in an aquarium with fish. A fish will

soon make short work of a hundred mosquito wigglers just as a large

frog will eat the fish, a snake will eat the frog and so on.



Rectangular glass boxes such as are commonly used for aquaria cost

less than a dollar per gallon capacity. Goldfish globes cost about the

same. White glass round aquaria are much cheaper and those made of

greenish domestic glass are the cheapest of all, a glass tank holding

eight gallons costing but two dollars.



[Illustration: A self-sustaining or balanced aquarium]



Any transparent vessel capable of holding water, even a Mason jar will

make an aquarium from which a great deal of pleasure may be derived.

The old way of maintaining aquaria in good condition required a great

deal of care and attention. The water had to be changed at least once

a day if running water was not available, and altogether they were so

much trouble that as a rule owners soon tired of them.



Modern aquaria are totally different. By a proper combination of fish

and growing plants we can almost duplicate the conditions of nature

and strike a balance so that the water need never be changed except

when it becomes foul or to clean the glass.



These are called "self-sustaining" aquaria and they are the only kind

to have unless we can furnish running water from a public water

supply. Self-sustaining aquaria are very simple and any boy or girl

living near a brook can stock one at no expense whatever.



The method is as follows: First cover the bottom of the aquarium with

a layer of sand and pebbles to a depth of about two inches. Then plant

in the bottom some aquatic or water plants that you have collected

from a near-by lake. Any kind of water plants will do--the kind of

plants boys always call seaweed, even a thousand miles from the sea.

In collecting the plants, choose small specimens and obtain roots and

all.



If you can find it, the best plant is fanwort. Other good kinds are

hornwort, water starwort, tape grass, water poppy, milfoil, willow

moss, and floating plants like duckweed. Even if you do not know

these by name they are probably common in your neighbourhood. Fill the

tank with clean water. That taken from a spring or well is better than

cistern water. After two or three days, when the plants seem to be

well rooted, put in your fish. You may keep your aquarium in a light

place, but always keep it out of the sun in summer and away from the

heat of a stove or radiator in winter.



The nature student will not attempt to stock up his aquarium

immediately. He should always leave room for one more fish or bug. One

year I started with a lone newt and before the summer was over I had

thirteen sunfish, pickerel, bass, minnows, catfish, carp, trout, more

newts, pollywogs or tadpoles, five kinds of frogs, an eel and all

sorts of bugs, waterbeetles and insects. I soon found that one kind of

insect would kill another and that sometimes my specimens would grow

wings over night and fly away. But to learn these things, even at our

own disappointment is "nature study." If we knew it all in advance, we

would not have much use for our experimental aquarium.



Always keep a few snails and tadpoles, for they are the scavengers and

will eat the refuse stuff and keep the glass free from greenish scum.

Boys and girls are almost sure to overfeed fish. This is a great

mistake. The best standard feed is dried ants' eggs that can be bought

for a few cents a box at any bird and fish store. Do not feed pieces

of bread and meat. Study what their natural food is and if possible

get that for them.



If your fish seem sickly, give them a five-minute bath in salt water

every day for a week. The kind of an aquarium above described is

intended to fill an entirely different purpose from the usual gold

fish globe. In your excursions you will find all sorts of queer

looking eggs and specimens. Some of the eggs are so tiny that they

look almost like black or white dust on the water. Another kind will

be a mass like a jellyfish with brown dots in it, still others will be

fastened in masses to the under side of a leaf in the water or perhaps

on the bottom. What are they? That is just the question and that is

why you will carefully collect them and take them home to await

developments.



Always keep an accurate note-book with dates and facts. Also keep a

close watch on your specimens. Sometimes they will hatch and be eaten

by the other bugs before you could read this chapter.



A nature student will need some part of the house that he may call his

very own. Here he can keep his specimens, his aquarium, his herbarium

and what not. Around the wall he can hang the twigs with their

cocoons, oak galls, last year's wasp and bird nests and other

treasures. He should also have a work table that a little glue or ink

will not injure and a carpet that has no further use in the household.

Usually one corner of the attic or cellar is just the place.



See to it that you do not make other people uncomfortable in the

pursuit of your hobby. You will find that almost every one is afraid

of bugs and toads and that most people live in a world full of

wonderful things and only see a little beyond the end of their noses.



There is a very practical side to nature study and the principal way

that we can make it really pay, is to know our friends from our

enemies in the animal and insect world. There are insects that chew,

suck and bore to ruin our orchards and grain crops. They are our

enemies. If we know their life story, where they hide and how they

breed, we can fight them better. For every dollar's worth of crops

that a farmer grows, it is estimated that his insect enemies eat

another dollar's worth. A little bug called the "San Jose" scale has

nearly ruined the orchards of some of the Eastern states. To fight

him, we must know how he lives. That is nature study. By study we

learn that the hop-toad is our best garden friend. He will spend the

whole night watching for the cutworms that are after our tomato

plants. When we see a woodpecker industriously pecking at the bark of

our apple trees, we know that he is after the larvae of the terrible

codling moth and we call him our friend.



After we learn that a ladybug lives almost entirely on plant lice and

scale insects, we never kill one again except perhaps to place a

specimen In our collection. Naturalists say that without ladybugs, our

orchards would soon be entirely killed off.



The dragon fly or mosquito hawk as well as "water tigers," water

striders and many kinds of beetles are the natural enemies of

mosquitoes and as they never harm our crops we should never harm them.

Nearly every living creature has some enemies.



You have perhaps heard the famous verse of Dean Swift:



"So naturalists observe, a flea

Has smaller that upon them prey

And these have smaller still to bite 'em

And so proceed _ad infinitum_."



[Illustration: An observation beehive]



Among our insect friends the leading place belongs either to the honey

bee or the silkworm. As silkworms are not especially successful in

this country and as their principal food, mulberry trees, are not

common, the nature student who cares to study our beneficial insects

had better devote his attention to honey bees. An observation beehive

is simply a glass box or hive instead of a wooden one. When we are not

engaged in studying our bee city, the hive must be covered with a

blanket as bees prefer to work in the dark. A boy or girl living in

the country can also keep bees profitably and thus combine business

with pleasure. A single hive will in a few years produce enough swarms

to give us a good start as "bee farmers."





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