Saturday, 4 February 2012

…#2: Biddulphia cycloides – and the Möbius Plates

“A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam's,
from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs”

“Till Armageddon no shalam, no shalom,
Then the father hen will call his chickens home”

Some things do just go round and around, some because they’re supposed to, others because they’re not. The first Triceratium forresterii, the proper one – ‘proper’ because it’s the one that had the name first – was offered by Jean Clodius [Joannes Albert] Tempère (1847—1926) back in 1890. He wasn’t all that sure adding in parenthesis another name “Triceratium plano-cancavum J. Brun var. Hexagona ?”. Still, Triceratium forresterii, unusual that it is, is not encountered much; a notable mention is in Albert Mann’s (1853—1935) account of the marine diatom of the Philippines under his description of Biddulphia cycloides, a new species of Biddulphia.

“Biddulphia cycloides

Four years after Tempère’s account of Triceratium forresterii, it was shunted off into another, different, genus, Nothoceratium forresterii, a name even less noticeable or noticed. Nothoceratium was bought to life as a sub-division (sub-genus) of Triceratium, with “Schalen 6- bis mehreckig, sonst wei Triceratium” (Schütt 1896: 92), a view Albert didn’t take all that seriously: “De Toni’s placing the quadrate form in Amphitetras and the sextate form in Notheceratium is of course indefensible” (Mann 1907: 293). Shapes were not going to yield anything useful here. Nothoceratium: I’ll come back to that – but not here, not now.

Searching for specimens of Biddulphia cycloides yields a vast number of interesting items, including specimens, which are scattered around various collections, partly, I suspect, because Albert Mann gave away his material so generously. Then there is the clutch of Mobius’, all braying for attention, attention of a separate and different kind.

Cycloides (Cy-clo-id'-es) means circular repetition, the word derived from kuklos (circle) and eidos, (form); a circular repetition is not (necessarily) a vicious circle, a Möbius strip (that’s for species of Surirella, I suspect, maybe later, another post, a post on diatomist Ante Jurilij), named after August Ferdinand Möbius (1790—1868) not Karl August Möbius (1825—1908), one time director of the Museum für Naturkunde (home to Ehrenberg’s specimens); nor is it the Möbius that was the first to look at the diatoms (and other algae) from Puerto Rico, that was a certain Martin Augustus Johannes Möbius (1859—1946: “At the end of the 19th century, M.A.J. Möbius counted 415,600 species so far described, which should be compared to the 4,162 of Systema naturae (1758)”, Broberg in Frangsmyr et al., 1990, p. 67).

Of the diatoms in Puerto Rico, M.A.J. Möbius found only nine species. Nine. Here Albert Mann becomes relevant once again: In an article published in the January 1903 issue of Harper’s Magazine, in a piece entitled “Plants of Crystal”, Albert noted that “a certain brand of tooth-powder” yielded “seventy-six species of Diatoms”. Puerto Rico, Toothpaste. Recent, fossil. 9, 76. It’s the wrong way around. Isn’t it? Anyway, “Plants of Crystal” is a nice turn of phrase, an apt description. Later Albert would write of “Diatoms, the Jewels of the Plant World”, and nearly a century after him another Mann, David this time, wrote of “Jewels in the Mud”. But I’m not finished with Harper’s Magazine yet.

In the December 1902 issue, the month before Albert’s diatom piece, Mark Twain wrote “Was it heaven? Or hell?” (Then the father hen will call his chickens home); the February 1903 issue, the month after Albert’s diatom piece, has Thomas Hunt Morgan offering a piece on “Darwinism in the light of modern criticism”. Diatoms sandwiched between Twain and ‘heaven and hell’, Morgan and Darwinism. How do I get back to the last century? No, I mean the century before that? (Goodbye, Christopher Hitchens). But I digress. One more Möbius derived, indirectly (probably?), from Albert Mann.

Albert refers to something called “Moebius’s plates” in his preliminary report on the diatoms from the steamer Albatross, published in 1893; the full report was published later, in 1907, as Report on the Diatoms of the Albatross Voyages in the Pacific Ocean, 1888-1904, which also referred to “Moebius’s plates” (and Albert tackled Triceratium plano-cancavum as well, shifting it to Trigonium). The title – “Moebius’s plates” – was a shorter anglicised version for the rather more enigmatic Diatomeen-tafeln zusammengestellt für einige freunde – Schultze and Kain refer to it in much the same way, in 1897. Since then, authorship has been variously attributed to Robert Kaye Greville (1794—1866), Eugene Weissflog (1822—1898) or Bernhard Möbius (1851—1898): Greville (unlikely), Weissflog (probably) or Bernhard Möbius (well now, a printer?). Greville was an all-round botanist, including diatoms; Weissflog published little but added information to Schmidt’s ever-expanding Diatom Atlas, left a collection of specimens, and is remembered by Thalassiosira weissflogii, Diploneis weissflogii among others; Bernhard Möbius was a German metallurgist, inventor of electrolysis, who died on the Steamer Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse (Kaiser Wilhelm der Große) on his way to the USA on the 13th May 1898.

Diatomeentafeln. Zusammengestellt fur einigeFreunde. Als Manuskript gedruckt. 32 p., [81] leaves of plates: ill.; 27 cm.

Diatomeen-tafeln zusammengestellt für einige freunde is an odd work, entirely derivative, a set of illustrations mostly taken from the Royal Microscopical Society (London) publications. Now considered rare, of doubtful ‘official’ publication – “Als Manuskript gedruckt” is added to the title page – of doubtful publication date – 1880?, 1890? – doubtful authorship and now, today, in truth, questionable utility. A copy can be viewed at the HathiTrust, here. It is here, with this copy – and with Albert Mann and Kain and Schultze – that Bernhard Möbius gains authorship, rightly or wrongly. A glance at Van Heurck’s A treatise on the Diatomaceae suggests a solution to these intermingled ‘authors’. Van Heurck doesn’t name any particular publication but writes of a collection of Greville’s papers, the collection published in Leipzig “at the expense of an American microscopist” (Van Heurck 1896: 106). A guess then: the American microscopist was Bernhard Möbius, the German metallurgist who became an American citizen; and Leipzig would account for Weissflog. A little bit of truth in each item, even though this is more or less made up.

And round and round it still goes...

As does Biddulphia cycloides. Because it is meant to. But it’s not a Biddulphia. Is it? That’s certain.

And Nothoceratium. ‘Indefensible’ concepts taxonomists, perhaps, still use today. Maybe Albert should have read Thomas Comber’s essay “On the unreliability of certain characters, generally accepted for specific diagnosis in the Diatomaceae”, a piece published in 1894. Perhaps he did…


Robert Edgar (especially) and Lisa DeCesare (Harvard), Bill Baker and Craig Brough (Kew), Bank Beszteri (AWI).

Items You May Like to Read

By Albert Mann:
Mann, A. 1925. Marine Diatoms of the Philippine Islands. United States National Museum, Bulletin 100, 6(1): 182 pp.

On Albert Mann:
Hagelstein, R. 1935. Albert Mann 1853—1935. Science 81 (2100, March 29): 308—309

On some Mobius’s:
Frangsmyr, Tore, Heilbron, J.L., and Rider, R.E. 1990. (eds) The Quantifying Spirit in the Eighteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Mann, A. 1907. Report on the Diatoms of the Albatross Voyages in the Pacific Ocean, 1888-1904. Contributions from the United States National Herbarium 10 (5): 221—442.
Mobius, M.A.J. 1888. Ueber einige in Portorico gesammelte Susswasser- und Luft-Algen. Hedwigia 27: 221—249.

On Jewels, Crystal, Sea and Mud…and Diatoms:
Mann, A. 1903 [January]. Plants of Crystal. Harper’s Magazine 106: 228—230.
Mann, A. 1907. Diatoms: the jewels of the plant world. Smithsonian Miscellaneous collection 48 (3) Quarterly Issue (1) 1578: 50–58;
Mann, A. 1931. Plants of the sea. Part III, pp. 167—197 [diatoms on pp. 180—183], in Old and new plant lore: a symposium by Agnes Chase, A. S. Hitchcock, Earl S. Johnston, J. H. Kempton, Ellsworth P. Killip, Daniel T. MacDougal, Albert Mann, William R. Maxon. Smithsonian Scientific Series 11.
Mann, D.G. 1994. Jewels in the mud. Kew (Autumn): 24—27

On the ‘Diatomeen-tafeln…’ (copies at Kew, the Smithsonian, AWI, Bremerhaven…and there must be more…None at the Natural History Museum, London?):

Diatomeentafeln. Zusammengestellt fur einige Freunde. Als Manuskript gedruckt. 32 p., [81] leaves of plates: ill.; 27 cm.

Antiquariat Stefan Wulf Berlin Herbst 2009, Katalog no. 4.
Heurck, H. van 1896. A treatise on the Diatomaceae. Translated by W.E. Baxter. 558, pp, 35 pls. London: William Wesley & Son.
Schultze, E.A. & Kain, C. H. 1897. The Santa Monica Diatomaceous Deposit with List of References to Figures of Species. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 24 (11, 30th Nov. 1897): 496-504

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