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Nature of the Checks to Increase - Chapter III - Origin of Species

Page 109 Contents - 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin prev page     next page

These two principles, namely, that slight variations generally appear at a not very early period of life, and are inherited at a corresponding not early period, explain, as I believe, all the above specified leading facts in embryology. But first let us look to a few analogous cases in our domestic varieties. Some authors who have written on Dogs maintain that the greyhound and bull-dog, though so different, are really closely allied varieties, descended from the same wild stock, hence I was curious to see how far their puppies differed from each other. I was told by breeders that they differed just as much as their parents, and this, judging by the eye, seemed almost to be the case; but on actually measuring the old dogs and their six-days-old puppies, I found that the puppies had not acquired nearly their full amount of proportional difference. So, again, I was told that the foals of cart and race-horses--breeds which have been almost wholly formed by selection under domestication--differed as much as the full-grown animals; but having had careful measurements made of the dams and of three-days-old colts of race and heavy cart-horses, I find that this is by no means the case.

As we have conclusive evidence that the breeds of the Pigeon are descended from a single wild species, I compared the young pigeons within twelve hours after being hatched. I carefully measured the proportions (but will not here give the details) of the beak, width of mouth, length of nostril and of eyelid, size of feet and length of leg, in the wild parent species, in pouters, fantails, runts, barbs, dragons, carriers, and tumblers. Now, some of these birds, when mature, differ in so extraordinary a manner in the length and form of beak, and in other characters, that they would certainly have been ranked as distinct genera if found in a state of nature. But when the nestling birds of these several breeds were placed in a row, though most of them could just be distinguished, the proportional differences in the above specified points were incomparably less than in the full-grown birds. Some characteristic points of difference--for instance, that of the width of mouth--could hardly be detected in the young. But there was one remarkable exception to this rule, for the young of the short-faced tumbler differed from the young of the wild rock-pigeon, and of the other breeds, in almost exactly the same proportions as in the adult stage.

These facts are explained by the above two principles. Fanciers select their dogs, horses, pigeons, etc., for breeding, when nearly grown up. They are indifferent whether the desired qualities are acquired earlier or later in life, if the full-grown animal possesses them. And the cases just given, more especially that of the pigeons, show that the characteristic differences which have been accumulated by man's selection, and which give value to his breeds, do not generally appear at a very early period of life, and are inherited at a corresponding not early period. But the case of the short-faced tumbler, which when twelve hours old possessed its proper characters, proves that this is not the universal rule; for here the characteristic differences must either have appeared at an earlier period than usual, or, if not so, the differences must have been inherited, not at a corresponding, but at an earlier age.

Now, let us apply these two principles to species in a state of nature. Let us take a group of birds, descended from some ancient form and modified through natural selection for different habits. Then, from the many slight successive variations having supervened in the several species at a not early age, and having been inherited at a corresponding age, the young will have been but little modified, and they will still resemble each other much more closely than do the adults, just as we have seen with the breeds of the pigeon. We may extend this view to widely distinct structures and to whole classes. The fore-limbs, for instance, which once served as legs to a remote progenitor, may have become, through a long course of modification, adapted in one descendant to act as hands, in another as paddles, in another as wings; but on the above two principles the fore-limbs will not have been much modified in the embryos of these several forms; although in each form the fore-limb will differ greatly in the adult state. Whatever influence long continued use or disuse may have had in modifying the limbs or other parts of any species, this will chiefly or solely have affected it when nearly mature, when it was compelled to use its full powers to gain its own living; and the effects thus produced will have been transmitted to the offspring at a corresponding nearly mature age. Thus the young will not be modified, or will be modified only in a slight degree, through the effects of the increased use or disuse of parts.

With some animals the successive variations may have supervened at a very early period of life, or the steps may have been inherited at an earlier age than that at which they first occurred. In either of these cases the young or embryo will closely resemble the mature parent-form, as we have seen with the short-faced tumbler. And this is the rule of development in certain whole groups, or in certain sub-groups alone, as with cuttle-fish, land-shells, fresh-water crustaceans, spiders, and some members of the great class of insects. With respect to the final cause of the young in such groups not passing through any metamorphosis, we can see that this would follow from the following contingencies: namely, from the young having to provide at a very early age for their own wants, and from their following the same habits of life with their parents; for in this case it would be indispensable for their existence that they should be modified in the same manner as their parents. Again, with respect to the singular fact that many terrestrial and fresh-water animals do not undergo any metamorphosis, while marine members of the same groups pass through various transformations, Fritz Muller has suggested that the process of slowly modifying and adapting an animal to live on the land or in fresh water, instead of in the sea, would be greatly simplified by its not passing through any larval stage; for it is not probable that places well adapted for both the larval and mature stages, under such new and greatly changed habits of life, would commonly be found unoccupied or ill-occupied by other organisms. In this case the gradual acquirement at an earlier and earlier age of the adult structure would be favoured by natural selection; and all traces of former metamorphoses would finally be lost.

If, on the other hand, it profited the young of an animal to follow habits of life slightly different from those of the parent-form, and consequently to be constructed on a slightly different plan, or if it profited a larva already different from its parent to change still further, then, on the principle of inheritance at corresponding ages, the young or the larvae might be rendered by natural selection more and more different from their parents to any conceivable extent. Differences in the larva might, also, become correlated with successive stages of its development; so that the larva, in the first stage, might come to differ greatly from the larva in the second stage, as is the case with many animals. The adult might also become fitted for sites or habits, in which organs of locomotion or of the senses, etc., would be useless; and in this case the metamorphosis would be retrograde.

>From the remarks just made we can see how by changes of structure in the young, in conformity with changed habits of life, together with inheritance at corresponding ages, animals might come to pass through stages of development, perfectly distinct from the primordial condition of their adult progenitors. Most of our best authorities are now convinced that the various larval and pupal stages of insects have thus been acquired through adaptation, and not through inheritance from some ancient form. The curious case of Sitaris--a beetle which passes through certain unusual stages of development--will illustrate how this might occur. The first larval form is described by M. Fabre, as an active, minute insect, furnished with six legs, two long antennae, and four eyes. These larvae are hatched in the nests of bees; and when the male bees emerge from their burrows, in the spring, which they do before the females, the larvae spring on them, and afterwards crawl on to the females while paired with the males. As soon as the female bee deposits her eggs on the surface of the honey stored in the cells, the larvae of the Sitaris leap on the eggs and devour them. Afterwards they undergo a complete change; their eyes disappear; their legs and antennae become rudimentary, and they feed on honey; so that they now more closely resemble the ordinary larvae of insects; ultimately they undergo a further transformation, and finally emerge as the perfect beetle. Now, if an insect, undergoing transformations like those of the Sitaris, were to become the progenitor of a whole new class of insects, the course of development of the new class would be widely different from that of our existing insects; and the first larval stage certainly would not represent the former condition of any adult and ancient form.

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