IF the world sometimes knows little of its greatest men, it often knows still less of its most familiar fellow-creatures. To work out the story of a cheese-mite with proper completeness is a task which many might undertake in a spirit of condescension, only to retire from it helplessly disconcerted. Yet none need be deterred from the enterprise by want of specimens, for though the Tyroglyphidæ are but one family out of many in the host of the Acarina, they produce a population absolutely beyond estimate in numbers. Together with the few species which, in accordance with the family name, are really “sculptors of cheese,” there are many others that use a quite different diet. On learning that they like senna as well as dried figs, cantharides as well as French plums, that they are partial to decaying mushrooms, that they eat hay with equine avidity and dote on rush-bottom chairs, the reader will infer that they have a fine catholicity of taste in which our prejudiced palates can only partially follow them. The ubiquity of these minute animals betrayed one experimentalist into believing that he had been able to create them by electricity. From such points of general interest with which Mr. Michael enlivens his introductory chapter, he proceeds to aspects of his subject which have a fascination for many who care nothing for the subject itself. There is seldom a group of animals, however low,in popular esteem, that does not occupy a considerable space in the literature of science. Still more rarely, perhaps, has any group escaped all erratic movements in the course of classification. A clear-sighted guide, himself in the forefront of existing knowledge, renders first-rate service to scientific progress in general when for his special branch he shows how the explorers have opened the road for their successors or how they have obstructed it. The path of investigation is ever liable to be deflected, arrested or reverted by the failures of the infallible, the specious (finality of those who attempt to do too much, and the slovenly ineffectiveness of those who are content to do too little. Notwithstanding the invariable courtesy with which Mr. Michael writes of his predecessors and fellow-workers, one may perceive from the bibliographical survey here, as well as from that in his earlier work on the British Oribatidæ, that the study of mites has not been wholly free from “regrettable incidents.” Immortality at any price seems to be the watchword of those who describe species in such a fashion that no succeeding Naturalist can make out what animals precisely were intended by the descriptions. In discussing the common properties of a group and the broad lines of its classification, less harm is done by the careless and the muddle-headed, because their mistakes in these departments can eventually be corrected, and as when thieves fall out honest men come by their own, so sometimes from a conflict of errors truth finds a chance of emerging.
By Albert D. Michael, &c. Vol. i. (London: Printed for the Ray Society, 1901.)
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