Source: Outdoor Sports and Games
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
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
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
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."
Next: THE CARE OF PETS
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