Of late the investigations of naturalists have been extended to the animal life existing not only in grottoes and caves, but also in mines and pits created by the action of man, and this has led to many interesting discoveries and remarkable results. A naturalist who has especially enlarged our knowledge with regard to the subterraneous fauna and flora is Dr. Robert Schneider, of Berlin, who made his studies in the coal mines near Waldenburg and Altwasser, in Silesia, the salt mines of Stassfurt and the metal mines of Klausthal, in the Upper Harz Mountains.

Subterraneous Flora And Fauna 664 image20 Fig. 3.

a. Rhizomorpha canalicularis of Hoffmann, b. Club fungus (Clavaria deflexa) of Hoffmann, found in the mines at Klausthal.

Subterraneous Flora And Fauna 664 image21 Fig. 4.

a. Agaricus myurus of Hoffmann, a subterranean fungus. b. Himantia villosa, a species of rhizomorpha found in the Upper Harz Mountains.

As regards the subterraneous flora, Dr. Schneider's investigations resulted in showing that the plants which thrive in the dark regions under ground are those which possess no chlorophyl and are sensitive to light. Those which vegetate most luxuriantly there are the fungi, and among them especially the pyrenomycetes, which are frequent in the waters of mines. Their general aspect is shown in a 480 times magnified form in Fig. 2. They resemble fine threads of delicate structure, and where found are always discovered in great abundance. Most conspicuous by their shape and considerable size are the rhizomorphae, Fig. 3a, and they are remarkable, not only for their brilliant phosphorescence, but also for the peculiar fact that they are only found in places where light does not enter. These rhizomorphae, though this is not easily recognizable from their external appearance, also belong to the fungi and are often seen in strings of the length of over a meter and the thickness of a quill, spreading out in peculiar branches and hanging down from moist beams in dark places. Sometimes they grow like seaweed in the water of the mines, and in this case they give much embarrassment to the miners, because they are apt to obstruct the channels constructed for leading off the superfluous water. In the mines of Freiberg these rhizomorphae exist in great abundance, and Humboldt already mentions specimens of the length of 4½ feet. Miners in Germany call them zwirn (thread). The student of natural sciences, when encountering these peculiar forms of vegetation, will ask in how far they are the product of their surrounding circumstances (i.e., of the absence of light or the presence of moisture), and in order to find a reply to this question experiments have been made to grow these rhizomorphae under different conditions of existence. These experiments have shown that from several species of rhizomorphae other ordinary fungi can be developed, and that the subterraneous specimens therefore may be considered a degeneration and variation of the fungi found above the surface of the ground.

Fig. 5.   FORMS OF MOULD FUNGI FOUND IN THE BROWN COAL MINES NEAR HALLE A. S.

Fig. 5. - FORMS OF MOULD FUNGI FOUND IN THE BROWN-COAL MINES NEAR HALLE A. S.

In Fig. 4b the Himantia villosa is represented, a rhizomorpha found in the mines of the Upper Harz Mountains, thus showing another form of this vegetable growth. Though it is difficult, as above stated, to recognize by their shape the rhizormorphae as fungi, the origin of the peculiar Agaricus myurus of Hoffmann (Fig. 4a) will be much easier discovered, though a retrograde development and degeneration has taken place also in this fungus. It still shows, however, the elements of a regular toadstool, only that the stem is much elongated and looks like a thread or a tube, while the cap is small, and this explains how, by gradual degeneration, the cap may disappear entirely, leaving nothing but a stem, as, for instance, in the case of the Clavaria deflexa, the club fungus, shown in Fig. 3b.

In connection with the above it may be well to speak of the fungi constituting the mould which often covers the roof and the doors in the brown-coal mines of Halle, specimens of which are shown in Fig. 5.

Fig. 6.   THE SUN INFUSORIUM (ACTINOPHRYS). Fig. 6. - THE SUN INFUSORIUM (ACTINOPHRYS).

We now come to the animal life in mines and pits. This is mostly represented, of course, by lower organisms, as infusoria and worms. Thus, in the slime on the bottom of the waters in mines, several species of amoebae are found, which consist of microscopically small animated bodies, continually floating about, nourishing themselves by absorbing organic matter, possessing sensation, propagating, etc., and, in fact, having actually the qualities of real animal nature. Further, we find in those subterraneous waters a species of the sun infusorium (Actinophrys), which is especially frequent in the mines of Klausthal. Fig. 6. shows one of these peculiar little beings. Also the Stylonychia (Fig. 7) is a characteristic inhabitant of those places, and always present there.

Fig. 7.   THE RAPACIOUS INFUSORIUM (STYLONYCHIA). Fig. 7. - THE RAPACIOUS INFUSORIUM (STYLONYCHIA).

It moves with great rapidity in the water by means of the numerous hairs covering its body, can turn quickly in any direction, and thus is enabled to catch suddenly the little beings on which it lives and which it hunts; for which reason the stylonychia is called the "rapacious infusorium."

The above are organisms which can be seen only through the microscope, but the fauna of mines contains also larger organisms, though they are not found as regularly and are not as characteristic for those places as the forms mentioned hitherto. Among these organisms there are several species of worms, spiders, gnats, and, above all, crustaceans of the lower class. The most interesting of the latter is perhaps a variety of the sand flea (Fig. 8 - Gammarus pulex). The crustacean found in the pits of mines, which is related to the sand flea, shows, according to Dr. R. Schneider, a slight degeneration of the organ of sight, which has taken place in consequence of its adaptation to the dark places, in which this variety of the Gammarus pulex is found, which can make no use of eyes, while the sand flea possesses them fully developed. Otherwise, however, the two varieties are almost absolutely alike, differing only in some details.

Fig. 8.   THE SAND FLEA (GAMMARUS PULEX). Fig. 8. - THE SAND FLEA (GAMMARUS PULEX).

From the above the reader will see that "breathing in the rosy light," as Schiller calls it, is not an absolutely necessary condition for the existence of organic beings, but that life exists everywhere, where there is air and moisture, and a temperature which is not always below freezing point, though even eternal frost does not exclude life entirely, as is proved by the existence of the glacier flea, showing that even in the icy coverings of the Alps life still is possible. Mephistopheles may therefore well say:

"From water, earth, and air unfolding,
A thousand germs break forth and grow
In dry and wet, and warm and chilly;
And had I not the Flame reserved, why really,
There's nothing special of my own to show!"

- Leipziger Illustrirte Zeitung.

[NATURE.]