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

Page 110 Contents - 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin prev page     next page
 

On the other hand it is highly probable that with many animals the embryonic or larval stages show us, more or less completely, the condition of the progenitor of the whole group in its adult state. In the great class of the Crustacea, forms wonderfully distinct from each other, namely, suctorial parasites, cirripedes, entomostraca, and even the malacostraca, appear at first as larvae under the nauplius-form; and as these larvae live and feed in the open sea, and are not adapted for any peculiar habits of life, and from other reasons assigned by Fritz Muller, it is probable that at some very remote period an independent adult animal, resembling the Nauplius, existed, and subsequently produced, along several divergent lines of descent, the above-named great Crustacean groups. So again, it is probable, from what we know of the embryos of mammals, birds, fishes and reptiles, that these animals are the modified descendants of some ancient progenitor, which was furnished in its adult state with branchiae, a swim- bladder, four fin-like limbs, and a long tail, all fitted for an aquatic life.

As all the organic beings, extinct and recent, which have ever lived, can be arranged within a few great classes; and as all within each class have, according to our theory, been connected together by fine gradations, the best, and, if our collections were nearly perfect, the only possible arrangement, would be genealogical; descent being the hidden bond of connexion which naturalists have been seeking under the term of the Natural System. On this view we can understand how it is that, in the eyes of most naturalists, the structure of the embryo is even more important for classification than that of the adult. In two or more groups of animals, however much they may differ from each other in structure and habits in their adult condition, if they pass through closely similar embryonic stages, we may feel assured that they are all descended from one parent- form, and are therefore closely related. Thus, community in embryonic structure reveals community of descent; but dissimilarity in embryonic development does not prove discommunity of descent, for in one of two groups the developmental stages may have been suppressed, or may have been so greatly modified through adaptation to new habits of life as to be no longer recognisable. Even in groups, in which the adults have been modified to an extreme degree, community of origin is often revealed by the structure of the larvae; we have seen, for instance, that cirripedes, though externally so like shell-fish, are at once known by their larvae to belong to the great class of crustaceans. As the embryo often shows us more or less plainly the structure of the less modified and ancient progenitor of the group, we can see why ancient and extinct forms so often resemble in their adult state the embryos of existing species of the same class. Agassiz believes this to be a universal law of nature; and we may hope hereafter to see the law proved true. It can, however, be proved true only in those cases in which the ancient state of the progenitor of the group has not been wholly obliterated, either by successive variations having supervened at a very early period of growth, or by such variations having been inherited at an earlier age than that at which they first appeared. It should also be borne in mind, that the law may be true, but yet, owing to the geological record not extending far enough back in time, may remain for a long period, or for ever, incapable of demonstration. The law will not strictly hold good in those cases in which an ancient form became adapted in its larval state to some special line of life, and transmitted the same larval state to a whole group of descendants; for such larval state will not resemble any still more ancient form in its adult state.

Thus, as it seems to me, the leading facts in embryology, which are second to none in importance, are explained on the principle of variations in the many descendants from some one ancient progenitor, having appeared at a not very early period of life, and having been inherited at a corresponding period. Embryology rises greatly in interest, when we look at the embryo as a picture, more or less obscured, of the progenitor, either in its adult or larval state, of all the members of the same great class.

RUDIMENTARY, ATROPHIED, AND ABORTED ORGANS.

Organs or parts in this strange condition, bearing the plain stamp of inutility, are extremely common, or even general, throughout nature. It would be impossible to name one of the higher animals in which some part or other is not in a rudimentary condition. In the mammalia, for instance, the males possess rudimentary mammae; in snakes one lobe of the lungs is rudimentary; in birds the "bastard-wing" may safely be considered as a rudimentary digit, and in some species the whole wing is so far rudimentary that it cannot be used for flight. What can be more curious than the presence of teeth in foetal whales, which when grown up have not a tooth in their heads; or the teeth, which never cut through the gums, in the upper jaws of unborn calves?

Rudimentary organs plainly declare their origin and meaning in various ways. There are beetles belonging to closely allied species, or even to the same identical species, which have either full-sized and perfect wings, or mere rudiments of membrane, which not rarely lie under wing-covers firmly soldered together; and in these cases it is impossible to doubt, that the rudiments represent wings. Rudimentary organs sometimes retain their potentiality: this occasionally occurs with the mammae of male mammals, which have been known to become well developed and to secrete milk. So again in the udders of the genus Bos, there are normally four developed and two rudimentary teats; but the latter in our domestic cows sometimes become well developed and yield milk. In regard to plants, the petals are sometimes rudimentary, and sometimes well developed in the individuals of the same species. In certain plants having separated sexes Kolreuter found that by crossing a species, in which the male flowers included a rudiment of a pistil, with an hermaphrodite species, having of course a well-developed pistil, the rudiment in the hybrid offspring was much increased in size; and this clearly shows that the rudimentary and perfect pistils are essentially alike in nature. An animal may possess various parts in a perfect state, and yet they may in one sense be rudimentary, for they are useless: thus the tadpole of the common salamander or water-newt, as Mr. G.H. Lewes remarks, "has gills, and passes its existence in the water; but the Salamandra atra, which lives high up among the mountains, brings forth its young full-formed. This animal never lives in the water. Yet if we open a gravid female, we find tadpoles inside her with exquisitely feathered gills; and when placed in water they swim about like the tadpoles of the water-newt. Obviously this aquatic organisation has no reference to the future life of the animal, nor has it any adaptation to its embryonic condition; it has solely reference to ancestral adaptations, it repeats a phase in the development of its progenitors."

An organ, serving for two purposes, may become rudimentary or utterly aborted for one, even the more important purpose, and remain perfectly efficient for the other. Thus, in plants, the office of the pistil is to allow the pollen-tubes to reach the ovules within the ovarium. The pistil consists of a stigma supported on the style; but in some Compositae, the male florets, which of course cannot be fecundated, have a rudimentary pistil, for it is not crowned with a stigma; but the style remains well developed and is clothed in the usual manner with hairs, which serve to brush the pollen out of the surrounding and conjoined anthers. Again, an organ may become rudimentary for its proper purpose, and be used for a distinct one: in certain fishes the swim-bladder seems to be rudimentary for its proper function of giving buoyancy, but has become converted into a nascent breathing organ or lung. Many similar instances could be given.

Useful organs, however little they may be developed, unless we have reason to suppose that they were formerly more highly developed, ought not to be considered as rudimentary. They may be in a nascent condition, and in progress towards further development. Rudimentary organs, on the other hand, are either quite useless, such as teeth which never cut through the gums, or almost useless, such as the wings of an ostrich, which serve merely as sails. As organs in this condition would formerly, when still less developed, have been of even less use than at present, they cannot formerly have been produced through variation and natural selection, which acts solely by the preservation of useful modifications. They have been partially retained by the power of inheritance, and relate to a former state of things. It is, however, often difficult to distinguish between rudimentary and nascent organs; for we can judge only by analogy whether a part is capable of further development, in which case alone it deserves to be called nascent. Organs in this condition will always be somewhat rare; for beings thus provided will commonly have been supplanted by their successors with the same organ in a more perfect state, and consequently will have become long ago extinct. The wing of the penguin is of high service, acting as a fin; it may, therefore, represent the nascent state of the wing: not that I believe this to be the case; it is more probably a reduced organ, modified for a new function: the wing of the Apteryx, on the other hand, is quite useless, and is truly rudimentary. Owen considers the simple filamentary limbs of the Lepidosiren as the "beginnings of organs which attain full functional development in higher vertebrates;" but, according to the view lately advocated by Dr. Gunther, they are probably remnants, consisting of the persistent axis of a fin, with the lateral rays or branches aborted. The mammary glands of the Ornithorhynchus may be considered, in comparison with the udders of a cow, as in a nascent condition. The ovigerous frena of certain cirripedes, which have ceased to give attachment to the ova and are feebly developed, are nascent branchiae.

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