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Laws of Variation - Chapter V - Origin of Species

Page 37 Contents - 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin prev page     next page


These propositions will be most readily understood by looking to our domestic races. The most distinct breeds of the pigeon, in countries widely apart, present sub-varieties with reversed feathers on the head, and with feathers on the feet, characters not possessed by the aboriginal rock-pigeon; these then are analogous variations in two or more distinct races. The frequent presence of fourteen or even sixteen tail-feathers in the pouter may be considered as a variation representing the normal structure of another race, the fantail. I presume that no one will doubt that all such analogous variations are due to the several races of the pigeon having inherited from a common parent the same constitution and tendency to variation, when acted on by similar unknown influences. In the vegetable kingdom we have a case of analogous variation, in the enlarged stems, or as commonly called roots, of the Swedish turnip and ruta-baga, plants which several botanists rank as varieties produced by cultivation from a common parent: if this be not so, the case will then be one of analogous variation in two so-called distinct species; and to these a third may be added, namely, the common turnip. According to the ordinary view of each species having been independently created, we should have to attribute this similarity in the enlarged stems of these three plants, not to the vera causa of community of descent, and a consequent tendency to vary in a like manner, but to three separate yet closely related acts of creation. Many similar cases of analogous variation have been observed by Naudin in the great gourd family, and by various authors in our cereals. Similar cases occurring with insects under natural conditions have lately been discussed with much ability by Mr. Walsh, who has grouped them under his law of equable variability.

With pigeons, however, we have another case, namely, the occasional appearance in all the breeds, of slaty-blue birds with two black bars on the wings, white loins, a bar at the end of the tail, with the outer feathers externally edged near their bases with white. As all these marks are characteristic of the parent rock-pigeon, I presume that no one will doubt that this is a case of reversion, and not of a new yet analogous variation appearing in the several breeds. We may, I think, confidently come to this conclusion, because, as we have seen, these coloured marks are eminently liable to appear in the crossed offspring of two distinct and differently coloured breeds; and in this case there is nothing in the external conditions of life to cause the reappearance of the slaty-blue, with the several marks, beyond the influence of the mere act of crossing on the laws of inheritance.

No doubt it is a very surprising fact that characters should reappear after having been lost for many, probably for hundreds of generations. But when a breed has been crossed only once by some other breed, the offspring occasionally show for many generations a tendency to revert in character to the foreign breed--some say, for a dozen or even a score of generations. After twelve generations, the proportion of blood, to use a common expression, from one ancestor, is only 1 in 2048; and yet, as we see, it is generally believed that a tendency to reversion is retained by this remnant of foreign blood. In a breed which has not been crossed, but in which BOTH parents have lost some character which their progenitor possessed, the tendency, whether strong or weak, to reproduce the lost character might, as was formerly remarked, for all that we can see to the contrary, be transmitted for almost any number of generations. When a character which has been lost in a breed, reappears after a great number of generations, the most probable hypothesis is, not that one individual suddenly takes after an ancestor removed by some hundred generations, but that in each successive generation the character in question has been lying latent, and at last, under unknown favourable conditions, is developed. With the barb-pigeon, for instance, which very rarely produces a blue bird, it is probable that there is a latent tendency in each generation to produce blue plumage. The abstract improbability of such a tendency being transmitted through a vast number of generations, is not greater than that of quite useless or rudimentary organs being similarly transmitted. A mere tendency to produce a rudiment is indeed sometimes thus inherited.

As all the species of the same genus are supposed to be descended from a common progenitor, it might be expected that they would occasionally vary in an analogous manner; so that the varieties of two or more species would resemble each other, or that a variety of one species would resemble in certain characters another and distinct species, this other species being, according to our view, only a well-marked and permanent variety. But characters exclusively due to analogous variation would probably be of an unimportant nature, for the preservation of all functionally important characters will have been determined through natural selection, in accordance with the different habits of the species. It might further be expected that the species of the same genus would occasionally exhibit reversions to long-lost characters. As, however, we do not know the common ancestor of any natural group, we cannot distinguish between reversionary and analogous characters. If, for instance, we did not know that the parent rock-pigeon was not feather-footed or turn-crowned, we could not have told, whether such characters in our domestic breeds were reversions or only analogous variations; but we might have inferred that the blue colour was a case of reversion from the number of the markings, which are correlated with this tint, and which would not probably have all appeared together from simple variation. More especially we might have inferred this from the blue colour and the several marks so often appearing when differently coloured breeds are crossed. Hence, although under nature it must generally be left doubtful, what cases are reversions to formerly existing characters, and what are new but analogous variations, yet we ought, on our theory, sometimes to find the varying offspring of a species assuming characters which are already present in other members of the same group. And this undoubtedly is the case.

The difficulty in distinguishing variable species is largely due to the varieties mocking, as it were, other species of the same genus. A considerable catalogue, also, could be given of forms intermediate between two other forms, which themselves can only doubtfully be ranked as species; and this shows, unless all these closely allied forms be considered as independently created species, that they have in varying assumed some of the characters of the others. But the best evidence of analogous variations is afforded by parts or organs which are generally constant in character, but which occasionally vary so as to resemble, in some degree, the same part or organ in an allied species. I have collected a long list of such cases; but here, as before, I lie under the great disadvantage of not being able to give them. I can only repeat that such cases certainly occur, and seem to me very remarkable.

I will, however, give one curious and complex case, not indeed as affecting any important character, but from occurring in several species of the same genus, partly under domestication and partly under nature. It is a case almost certainly of reversion. The ass sometimes has very distinct transverse bars on its legs, like those on the legs of a zebra. It has been asserted that these are plainest in the foal, and from inquiries which I have made, I believe this to be true. The stripe on the shoulder is sometimes double, and is very variable in length and outline. A white ass, but NOT an albino, has been described without either spinal or shoulder stripe; and these stripes are sometimes very obscure, or actually quite lost, in dark-coloured asses. The koulan of Pallas is said to have been seen with a double shoulder-stripe. Mr. Blyth has seen a specimen of the hemionus with a distinct shoulder-stripe, though it properly has none; and I have been informed by Colonel Poole that foals of this species are generally striped on the legs and faintly on the shoulder. The quagga, though so plainly barred like a zebra over the body, is without bars on the legs; but Dr. Gray has figured one specimen with very distinct zebra-like bars on the hocks.

With respect to the horse, I have collected cases in England of the spinal stripe in horses of the most distinct breeds, and of ALL colours; transverse bars on the legs are not rare in duns, mouse-duns, and in one instance in a chestnut; a faint shoulder-stripe may sometimes be seen in duns, and I have seen a trace in a bay horse. My son made a careful examination and sketch for me of a dun Belgian cart-horse with a double stripe on each shoulder and with leg-stripes. I have myself seen a dun Devonshire pony, and a small dun Welsh pony has been carefully described to me, both with THREE parallel stripes on each shoulder.

In the northwest part of India the Kattywar breed of horses is so generally striped, that, as I hear from Colonel Poole, who examined this breed for the Indian Government, a horse without stripes is not considered as purely bred. The spine is always striped; the legs are generally barred; and the shoulder-stripe, which is sometimes double and sometimes treble, is common; the side of the face, moreover, is sometimes striped. The stripes are often plainest in the foal; and sometimes quite disappear in old horses. Colonel Poole has seen both gray and bay Kattywar horses striped when first foaled. I have also reason to suspect, from information given me by Mr. W.W. Edwards, that with the English race-horse the spinal stripe is much commoner in the foal than in the full-grown animal. I have myself recently bred a foal from a bay mare (offspring of a Turkoman horse and a Flemish mare) by a bay English race-horse. This foal, when a week old, was marked on its hinder quarters and on its forehead with numerous very narrow, dark, zebra-like bars, and its legs were feebly striped. All the stripes soon disappeared completely. Without here entering on further details I may state that I have collected cases of leg and shoulder stripes in horses of very different breeds in various countries from Britain to Eastern China; and from Norway in the north to the Malay Archipelago in the south. In all parts of the world these stripes occur far oftenest in duns and mouse-duns; by the term dun a large range of colour is included, from one between brown and black to a close approach to cream colour.

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