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Laws of Variation - Chapter V - Origin of Species

Page 38 Contents - 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin prev page     next page

I am aware that Colonel Hamilton Smith, who has written on this subject, believes that the several breeds of the horse are descended from several aboriginal species, one of which, the dun, was striped; and that the above-described appearances are all due to ancient crosses with the dun stock. But this view may be safely rejected, for it is highly improbable that the heavy Belgian cart-horse, Welsh ponies, Norwegian cobs, the lanky Kattywar race, etc., inhabiting the most distant parts of the world, should have all have been crossed with one supposed aboriginal stock.

Now let us turn to the effects of crossing the several species of the horse genus. Rollin asserts that the common mule from the ass and horse is particularly apt to have bars on its legs; according to Mr. Gosse, in certain parts of the United States, about nine out of ten mules have striped legs. I once saw a mule with its legs so much striped that any one might have thought that it was a hybrid zebra; and Mr. W.C. Martin, in his excellent treatise on the horse, has given a figure of a similar mule. In four coloured drawings, which I have seen, of hybrids between the ass and zebra, the legs were much more plainly barred than the rest of the body; and in one of them there was a double shoulder-stripe. In Lord Morton's famous hybrid, from a chestnut mare and male quagga, the hybrid and even the pure offspring subsequently produced from the same mare by a black Arabian sire, were much more plainly barred across the legs than is even the pure quagga. Lastly, and this is another most remarkable case, a hybrid has been figured by Dr. Gray (and he informs me that he knows of a second case) from the ass and the hemionus; and this hybrid, though the ass only occasionally has stripes on his legs and the hemionus has none and has not even a shoulder-stripe, nevertheless had all four legs barred, and had three short shoulder-stripes, like those on the dun Devonshire and Welsh ponies, and even had some zebra-like stripes on the sides of its face. With respect to this last fact, I was so convinced that not even a stripe of colour appears from what is commonly called chance, that I was led solely from the occurrence of the face-stripes on this hybrid from the ass and hemionus to ask Colonel Poole whether such face-stripes ever occurred in the eminently striped Kattywar breed of horses, and was, as we have seen, answered in the affirmative.

What now are we to say to these several facts? We see several distinct species of the horse genus becoming, by simple variation, striped on the legs like a zebra, or striped on the shoulders like an ass. In the horse we see this tendency strong whenever a dun tint appears--a tint which approaches to that of the general colouring of the other species of the genus. The appearance of the stripes is not accompanied by any change of form, or by any other new character. We see this tendency to become striped most strongly displayed in hybrids from between several of the most distinct species. Now observe the case of the several breeds of pigeons: they are descended from a pigeon (including two or three sub-species or geographical races) of a bluish colour, with certain bars and other marks; and when any breed assumes by simple variation a bluish tint, these bars and other marks invariably reappear; but without any other change of form or character. When the oldest and truest breeds of various colours are crossed, we see a strong tendency for the blue tint and bars and marks to reappear in the mongrels. I have stated that the most probable hypothesis to account for the reappearance of very ancient characters, is--that there is a TENDENCY in the young of each successive generation to produce the long-lost character, and that this tendency, from unknown causes, sometimes prevails. And we have just seen that in several species of the horse genus the stripes are either plainer or appear more commonly in the young than in the old. Call the breeds of pigeons, some of which have bred true for centuries, species; and how exactly parallel is the case with that of the species of the horse genus! For myself, I venture confidently to look back thousands on thousands of generations, and I see an animal striped like a zebra, but perhaps otherwise very differently constructed, the common parent of our domestic horse (whether or not it be descended from one or more wild stocks) of the ass, the hemionus, quagga, and zebra.

He who believes that each equine species was independently created, will, I presume, assert that each species has been created with a tendency to vary, both under nature and under domestication, in this particular manner, so as often to become striped like the other species of the genus; and that each has been created with a strong tendency, when crossed with species inhabiting distant quarters of the world, to produce hybrids resembling in their stripes, not their own parents, but other species of the genus. To admit this view is, as it seems to me, to reject a real for an unreal, or at least for an unknown cause. It makes the works of God a mere mockery and deception; I would almost as soon believe with the old and ignorant cosmogonists, that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells now living on the sea-shore.


Our ignorance of the laws of variation is profound. Not in one case out of a hundred can we pretend to assign any reason why this or that part has varied. But whenever we have the means of instituting a comparison, the same laws appear to have acted in producing the lesser differences between varieties of the same species, and the greater differences between species of the same genus. Changed conditions generally induce mere fluctuating variability, but sometimes they cause direct and definite effects; and these may become strongly marked in the course of time, though we have not sufficient evidence on this head. Habit in producing constitutional peculiarities, and use in strengthening, and disuse in weakening and diminishing organs, appear in many cases to have been potent in their effects. Homologous parts tend to vary in the same manner, and homologous parts tend to cohere. Modifications in hard parts and in external parts sometimes affect softer and internal parts. When one part is largely developed, perhaps it tends to draw nourishment from the adjoining parts; and every part of the structure which can be saved without detriment will be saved. Changes of structure at an early age may affect parts subsequently developed; and many cases of correlated variation, the nature of which we are unable to understand, undoubtedly occur. Multiple parts are variable in number and in structure, perhaps arising from such parts not having been closely specialised for any particular function, so that their modifications have not been closely checked by natural selection. It follows probably from this same cause, that organic beings low in the scale are more variable than those standing higher in the scale, and which have their whole organisation more specialised. Rudimentary organs, from being useless, are not regulated by natural selection, and hence are variable. Specific characters--that is, the characters which have come to differ since the several species of the same genus branched off from a common parent--are more variable than generic characters, or those which have long been inherited, and have not differed within this same period. In these remarks we have referred to special parts or organs being still variable, because they have recently varied and thus come to differ; but we have also seen in the second chapter that the same principle applies to the whole individual; for in a district where many species of a genus are found--that is, where there has been much former variation and differentiation, or where the manufactory of new specific forms has been actively at work--in that district and among these species, we now find, on an average, most varieties. Secondary sexual characters are highly variable, and such characters differ much in the species of the same group. Variability in the same parts of the organisation has generally been taken advantage of in giving secondary sexual differences to the two sexes of the same species, and specific differences to the several species of the same genus. Any part or organ developed to an extraordinary size or in an extraordinary manner, in comparison with the same part or organ in the allied species, must have gone through an extraordinary amount of modification since the genus arose; and thus we can understand why it should often still be variable in a much higher degree than other parts; for variation is a long-continued and slow process, and natural selection will in such cases not as yet have had time to overcome the tendency to further variability and to reversion to a less modified state. But when a species with an extraordinarily developed organ has become the parent of many modified descendants--which on our view must be a very slow process, requiring a long lapse of time--in this case, natural selection has succeeded in giving a fixed character to the organ, in however extraordinary a manner it may have been developed. Species inheriting nearly the same constitution from a common parent, and exposed to similar influences, naturally tend to present analogous variations, or these same species may occasionally revert to some of the characters of their ancient progenitors. Although new and important modifications may not arise from reversion and analogous variation, such modifications will add to the beautiful and harmonious diversity of nature.

Whatever the cause may be of each slight difference between the offspring and their parents--and a cause for each must exist--we have reason to believe that it is the steady accumulation of beneficial differences which has given rise to all the more important modifications of structure in relation to the habits of each species.

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