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100 and 50 years ago


    100 YEARS AGO

    We should like to draw your attention to the following spectacle which some of us witnessed on the sea-shore at Blundellsands on Thursday evening, June 5, at about eight o'clock. The evening was dull and grey, a strong north-westerly wind was blowing in from the sea and the tide was flowing in. In the distance we first saw smoke with frequent jets of fire bursting forth from the mud of a shallow channel. Drawing near, we perceived a strong sulphurous odour, and saw little flames of fire and heard a hissing sound as though a large quantity of phosphorus was being ignited. It was impossible to detect anything which caused the fire... The area over which the tiny flames kept bursting forth was about 40 yards. A gentleman present stirred up the mud with his walking-stick, and immediately large yellow flames nearly 2 feet in length and breadth burst forth. The phenomenon lasted some time, until the tide covered the part and quenched the fire.

    From Nature 12 June 1902.

    50 YEARS AGO

    In Sweden, as in Britain, observations have been made of the opening of milk bottles by blue tits and great tits... Although no experimental analysis of the behaviour involved in the opening of milk bottles has yet been made, further observations in the field enable the discussion to be carried further. Previously the processes were considered in two parts — the 'recognition' of the milk bottle as a potential supply of food and the technique of opening the bottle. The actual opening of the bottle probably depends on innate motor patterns, and the study of tits in the field has confirmed this view... It has been suggested that the initial 'discovery' of the bottle as a source of food may be a logical consequence of the feeding habits of tits... In fact, it seems that, when tits are looking for food, objects with certain very general characteristics may be sufficient to release a more limited type of searching behaviour (such as flying to the food). By a succession of similar steps (hammering, etc.), evoked by successively more specific stimuli, a reward may eventually be obtained. It so happens that milk bottles have sufficient characteristics in common with the natural foods for tits occasionally to 'discover' them in the course of their normal searching.

    From Nature 14 June 1952.

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