50 Years Ago

The Birds of Borneo. By Bertram E. Smythies — This is a very unusual bird book. The main body of the work (about 460 pages) consists of a detailed systematic account of all the 549 species of birds that have been found in Borneo ... But it is the hundred pages that precede this excellent treatise that put this book in a class apart ... Lord Medway's chapter gives a fascinating account of the cave swiftlets, the saliva-built nests of which are the edible birds' nests of commerce, and which echo-navigate in the darkness of the caves where millions congregate to breed. [Mr. Tom] Harrison remarks that Governments “by some complicated zoo-geology, claim the guano as a mineral and allow extraction (for fertilizer) under licence. Thus what comes out of the swiftlets' mouth as spit is succinctly dissociated from what comes out of the other end”.

From Nature 4 March 1961

100 Years Ago

In the Prussian Diet of February 18, Prof. Kirchner ... is reported to have said that, during the last few weeks, three cases of plague had occurred in London, the infection being conveyed by ship-rats. This statement has been officially denied ... With regard to rat infection, three rats which had probably escaped from a ship were examined at the London Docks in November last, and two of them were found to be suffering from plague, but at present there is no evidence of the existence of a plague epizootic among rats in the London Docks area. The destruction of rats ... is still carried out at the London Docks, and careful precautions are being taken to prevent rats in ships from infected ports from escaping ashore, and possibly initiating an epizootic among the shore rats.

From Nature 2 March 1911