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Difficulties of Theory - Chapter VI - Origin of Species

Page 44 Contents - 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin prev page     next page


Fritz Muller, in order to test the conclusions arrived at in this volume, has followed out with much care a nearly similar line of argument. Several families of crustaceans include a few species, possessing an air-breathing apparatus and fitted to live out of the water. In two of these families, which were more especially examined by Muller, and which are nearly related to each other, the species agree most closely in all important characters: namely in their sense organs, circulating systems, in the position of the tufts of hair within their complex stomachs, and lastly in the whole structure of the water-breathing branchiae, even to the microscopical hooks by which they are cleansed. Hence it might have been expected that in the few species belonging to both families which live on the land, the equally important air-breathing apparatus would have been the same; for why should this one apparatus, given for the same purpose, have been made to differ, while all the other important organs were closely similar, or rather, identical.

Fritz Muller argues that this close similarity in so many points of structure must, in accordance with the views advanced by me, be accounted for by inheritance from a common progenitor. But as the vast majority of the species in the above two families, as well as most other crustaceans, are aquatic in their habits, it is improbable in the highest degree that their common progenitor should have been adapted for breathing air. Muller was thus led carefully to examine the apparatus in the air-breathing species; and he found it to differ in each in several important points, as in the position of the orifices, in the manner in which they are opened and closed, and in some accessory details. Now such differences are intelligible, and might even have been expected, on the supposition that species belonging to distinct families had slowly become adapted to live more and more out of water, and to breathe the air. For these species, from belonging to distinct families, would have differed to a certain extent, and in accordance with the principle that the nature of each variation depends on two factors, viz., the nature of the organism and that of the surrounding conditions, their variability assuredly would not have been exactly the same. Consequently natural selection would have had different materials or variations to work on, in order to arrive at the same functional result; and the structures thus acquired would almost necessarily have differed. On the hypothesis of separate acts of creation the whole case remains unintelligible. This line of argument seems to have had great weight in leading Fritz Muller to accept the views maintained by me in this volume.

Another distinguished zoologist, the late Professor Claparede, has argued in the same manner, and has arrived at the same result. He shows that there are parasitic mites (Acaridae), belonging to distinct sub-families and families, which are furnished with hair-claspers. These organs must have been independently developed, as they could not have been inherited from a common progenitor; and in the several groups they are formed by the modification of the fore legs, of the hind legs, of the maxillae or lips, and of appendages on the under side of the hind part of the body.

In the foregoing cases, we see the same end gained and the same function performed, in beings not at all or only remotely allied, by organs in appearance, though not in development, closely similar. On the other hand, it is a common rule throughout nature that the same end should be gained, even sometimes in the case of closely related beings, by the most diversified means. How differently constructed is the feathered wing of a bird and the membrane-covered wing of a bat; and still more so the four wings of a butterfly, the two wings of a fly, and the two wings with the elytra of a beetle. Bivalve shells are made to open and shut, but on what a number of patterns is the hinge constructed, from the long row of neatly interlocking teeth in a Nucula to the simple ligament of a Mussel! Seeds are disseminated by their minuteness, by their capsule being converted into a light balloon-like envelope, by being embedded in pulp or flesh, formed of the most diverse parts, and rendered nutritious, as well as conspicuously coloured, so as to attract and be devoured by birds, by having hooks and grapnels of many kinds and serrated awns, so as to adhere to the fur of quadrupeds, and by being furnished with wings and plumes, as different in shape as they are elegant in structure, so as to be wafted by every breeze. I will give one other instance: for this subject of the same end being gained by the most diversified means well deserves attention. Some authors maintain that organic beings have been formed in many ways for the sake of mere variety, almost like toys in a shop, but such a view of nature is incredible. With plants having separated sexes, and with those in which, though hermaphrodites, the pollen does not spontaneously fall on the stigma, some aid is necessary for their fertilisation. With several kinds this is effected by the pollen-grains, which are light and incoherent, being blown by the wind through mere chance on to the stigma; and this is the simplest plan which can well be conceived. An almost equally simple, though very different plan occurs in many plants in which a symmetrical flower secretes a few drops of nectar, and is consequently visited by insects; and these carry the pollen from the anthers to the stigma.

>From this simple stage we may pass through an inexhaustible number of contrivances, all for the same purpose and effected in essentially the same manner, but entailing changes in every part of the flower. The nectar may be stored in variously shaped receptacles, with the stamens and pistils modified in many ways, sometimes forming trap-like contrivances, and sometimes capable of neatly adapted movements through irritability or elasticity. From such structures we may advance till we come to such a case of extraordinary adaptation as that lately described by Dr. Cruger in the Coryanthes. This orchid has part of its labellum or lower lip hollowed out into a great bucket, into which drops of almost pure water continually fall from two secreting horns which stand above it; and when the bucket is half-full, the water overflows by a spout on one side. The basal part of the labellum stands over the bucket, and is itself hollowed out into a sort of chamber with two lateral entrances; within this chamber there are curious fleshy ridges. The most ingenious man, if he had not witnessed what takes place, could never have imagined what purpose all these parts serve. But Dr. Cruger saw crowds of large humble-bees visiting the gigantic flowers of this orchid, not in order to suck nectar, but to gnaw off the ridges within the chamber above the bucket; in doing this they frequently pushed each other into the bucket, and their wings being thus wetted they could not fly away, but were compelled to crawl out through the passage formed by the spout or overflow. Dr. Cruger saw a "continual procession" of bees thus crawling out of their involuntary bath. The passage is narrow, and is roofed over by the column, so that a bee, in forcing its way out, first rubs its back against the viscid stigma and then against the viscid glands of the pollen-masses. The pollen-masses are thus glued to the back of the bee which first happens to crawl out through the passage of a lately expanded flower, and are thus carried away. Dr. Cruger sent me a flower in spirits of wine, with a bee which he had killed before it had quite crawled out, with a pollen-mass still fastened to its back. When the bee, thus provided, flies to another flower, or to the same flower a second time, and is pushed by its comrades into the bucket and then crawls out by the passage, the pollen-mass necessarily comes first into contact with the viscid stigma, and adheres to it, and the flower is fertilised. Now at last we see the full use of every part of the flower, of the water-secreting horns of the bucket half-full of water, which prevents the bees from flying away, and forces them to crawl out through the spout, and rub against the properly placed viscid pollen-masses and the viscid stigma.

The construction of the flower in another closely allied orchid, namely, the Catasetum, is widely different, though serving the same end; and is equally curious. Bees visit these flowers, like those of the Coryanthes, in order to gnaw the labellum; in doing this they inevitably touch a long, tapering, sensitive projection, or, as I have called it, the antenna. This antenna, when touched, transmits a sensation or vibration to a certain membrane which is instantly ruptured; this sets free a spring by which the pollen-mass is shot forth, like an arrow, in the right direction, and adheres by its viscid extremity to the back of the bee. The pollen-mass of the male plant (for the sexes are separate in this orchid) is thus carried to the flower of the female plant, where it is brought into contact with the stigma, which is viscid enough to break certain elastic threads, and retain the pollen, thus effecting fertilisation.

How, it may be asked, in the foregoing and in innumerable other instances, can we understand the graduated scale of complexity and the multifarious means for gaining the same end. The answer no doubt is, as already remarked, that when two forms vary, which already differ from each other in some slight degree, the variability will not be of the same exact nature, and consequently the results obtained through natural selection for the same general purpose will not be the same. We should also bear in mind that every highly developed organism has passed through many changes; and that each modified structure tends to be inherited, so that each modification will not readily be quite lost, but may be again and again further altered. Hence, the structure of each part of each species, for whatever purpose it may serve, is the sum of many inherited changes, through which the species has passed during its successive adaptations to changed habits and conditions of life.

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