Charles Robert Darwin (18091882). Origin of Species. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
XIV. Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: MorphologyEmbryologyRudimentary Organs
WE can understand why a species or a group of species may depart from its allies, in several of its most important characteristics, and yet be safely classed with them. This may be safely done, and is often done, as long as a sufficient number of characters, let them be ever so unimportant, betrays the hidden bond of community of descent. Let two forms have not a single character in common, yet, if these extreme forms are connected together by a chain of intermediate groups, we may at once infer their community of descent, and we put them all into the same class. As we find organs of high physiological importancethose which serve to preserve life under the most diverse conditions of existenceare generally the most constant, we attach especial value to them; but if these same organs, in another group or section of a group, are found to differ much, we at once value them less in our classification. We shall presently see why embryological characters are of such high classificatory importance. Geographical distribution may sometimes be brought usefully into play in classing large genera, because all the species of the same genus, inhabiting any distinct and isolated region, are in all probability descended from the same parents.
We can understand, on the above views, the very important distinction between real affinities and analogical or adaptive resemblances. Lamarck first called attention to this subject, and he has been ably followed by Macleay and others. The resemblance in the shape of the body and in the fin-like anterior limbs between dugongs and whales, and between these two orders of mammals and fishes, are analogical. So is the resemblance between a mouse and a shrewmouse (Sorex), which belong to different orders; and the still closer resemblance, insisted on by Mr. Mivart, between the mouse and a small marsupial animal (Antechinus) of Australia. These latter resemblances may be accounted for, as it seems to me, by adaptation for similarly active movements through thickets and herbage, together with concealment from enemies.
Amongst insects there are innumerable similar instances; thus Linnæus, misled by external appearances, actually classed an homopterous insect as a moth. We see something of the same kind even with our domestic varieties, as in the strikingly similar shape of the body in the improved breeds of the Chinese and common pig, which are descended from distinct species; and in the similarly thickened stems of the common and specifically distinct Swedish turnip. The resemblance between the greyhound and the race-horse is hardly more fanciful than the analogies which have been drawn by some authors between widely different animals.
On the view of characters being of real importance for classification, only in so far as they reveal descent, we can clearly understand why analogical or adaptive characters, although of the utmost importance to the welfare of the being, are almost valueless to the systematist. For animals, belonging to two most distinct lines of descent, may have become adapted to similar conditions, and thus have assumed a close external resemblance; but such resemblances will not revealwill rather tend to conceal their blood-relationship. We can thus understand the apparent paradox, that the very same characters are analogical when one group is compared with another, but give true affinities when the members of the same group are compared together: thus, the shape of the body and fin-like limbs are only analogical when whales are compared with fishes, being adaptations in both classes for swimming through the water; but between the several members of the whale family, the shape of the body and the fin-like limbs offer characters exhibiting true affinity; for as these parts are so nearly similar throughout the whole family, we cannot doubt that they have been inherited from a common ancestor. So it is with fishes.
Numerous cases could be given of striking resemblances in quite distinct beings between single parts or organs, which have been adapted for the same functions. A good instance is afforded by the close resemblance of the jaws of the dog and Tasmanian wolf or Thylacinus,animals which are widely sundered in the natural system. But this resemblance is confined to general appearance, as in the prominence of the canines, and in the cutting shape of the molar teeth. For the teeth really differ much: thus the dog has on each side of the upper jaw four pre-molars and only two molars; whilst the Thylacinus has three pre-molars and four molars. The molars also differ much in the two animals in relative size and structure. The adult dentition is preceded by a widely different milk dentition. Any one may of course deny that the teeth in either case have been adapted for tearing flesh, through the natural selection of successive variations; but if this be admitted in the one case, it is unintelligible to me that it should be denied in the other. I am glad to find that so high an authority as Professor Flower has come to this same conclusion.
The extraordinary cases given in a former chapter, of widely different fishes possessing electric organs,of widely different insects possessing luminous organs,and of orchids and asclepiads having pollen-masses with viscid discs, come under this same head of analogical resemblances. But these cases are so wonderful that they were introduced as difficulties or objections to our theory. In all such cases some fundamental difference in the growth or development of the parts, and generally in their matured structure, can be detected. The end gained is the same, but the means, though appearing superficially to be the same, are essentially different. The principle formerly alluded to under the term of analogical variation has probably in these cases often come into play; that is, the members of the same class, although only distantly allied, have inherited so much in common in their constitution, that they are apt to vary under similar exciting causes in a similar manner; and this would obviously aid in the acquirement through natural selection of parts or organs, strikingly like each other, independently of their direct inheritance from a common progenitor.
As species belonging to distinct classes have often been adapted by successive slight modifications to live under nearly similar circumstances,to inhabit, for instance, the three elements of land, air, and water,we can perhaps understand how it is that a numerical parallelism has sometimes been observed between the sub-groups of distinct classes. A naturalist, struck with a parallelism of this nature, by arbitrarily raising or sinking the value of the groups in several classes (and all our experience shows that their valuation is as yet arbitrary), could easily extend the parallelism over a wide range; and thus the septenary, quinary, quarternary and ternary classifications have probably arisen.
There is another and curious class of cases in which close external resemblance does not depend on adaptation to similar habits of life, but has been gained for the sake of protection. I allude to the wonderful manner in which certain butterflies imitate, as first described by Mr. Bates, other and quite distinct species. This excellent observer has shown that in some districts of S. America, where, for instance, an Ithomia abounds in gaudy swarms, another butterfly, namely, a leptalis, is often found mingled in the same flock; and the latter so closely resembles the Ithomia in every shade and stripe of colour and even in the shape of its wings, that Mr. Bates, with his eyes sharpened by collecting during eleven years, was, though always on his guard, continually deceived. When the mockers and the mocked are caught and compared, they are found to be very different in essential structure, and to belong not only to distinct genera, but often to distinct families. Had this mimicry occurred in only one or two instances, it might have been passed over as a strange coincidence. But, if we proceed from a district where one Leptalis imitates an Ithomia, another mocking and mocked species, belonging to the same two genera, equally close in their resemblance, may be found. Altogether no less than ten genera are enumerated, which include species that imitate other butterflies. The mockers and mocked always inhabit the same region; we never find an imitator living remote from the form which it imitates. The mockers are almost invariably rare insects; the mocked in almost every case abound in swarms. In the same district in which a species of laptalis closely imitates an Ithomia, there are sometimes other Lepidoptera mimicking the same Ithomia: so that in the same place, species of three genera of butterflies and even a moth are found all closely resembling a butterfly belonging to a fourth genus. It deserves especial notice that many of the mimicking forms of the leptalis, as well as of the mimicked forms, can be shown by a graduated series to be merely varieties of the same species; whilst others are undoubtedly distinct species. But why, it may be asked, are certain forms treated as the mimicked and others as the mimickers? Mr. Bates satisfactorily answers this question, by showing that the form which is imitated keeps the usual dress of the group to which it belongs, whilst the counterfeiters have changed their dress and do not resemble their nearest allies.
We are next led to inquire what reason can be assigned for certain butterflies and moths so often assuming the dress of another and quite distinct form; why, to the perplexity of naturalists, has nature condescended to the tricks of the stage? Mr. Bates has, no doubt, hit on the true explanation. The mocked forms, which always abound in numbers, must habitually escape destruction to a large extent, otherwise they could not exist in such swarms; and a large amount of evidence has now been collected, showing that they are distasteful to birds and other insect-devouring animals. The mocking forms, on the other hand, that inhabit the same district, are comparatively rare, and belong to rare groups; hence they must suffer habitually from some danger, for otherwise, from the number of eggs laid by all butterflies, they would in three or four generations swarm over the whole country. Now if a member of one of these persecuted and rare groups were to assume a dress so like that of a well-protected species that it continually deceived the practised eye of an entomologist, it would often deceive predaceous birds and insects, and thus often escape destruction. Mr. Bates may almost be said to have actually witnessed the process by which the mimickers have come so closely to resemble the mimicked; for he found that some of the forms of Leptalis which mimic so many other butterflies, varied in an extreme degree. In one district several varieties occurred, and of these one alone resembled to a certain extent, the common Ithomia of the same district. In another district there were two or three varieties, one of which was much commoner than the others, and this closely mocked another form of Ithomia. From facts of this nature, Mr. Bates concludes that the leptalis first varies; and when a variety happens to resemble in some degree any common butterfly inhabiting the same district, this variety, from its resemblance to a flourishing and little-persecuted kind, has a better chance of escaping destruction from predaceous birds and insects, and is consequently oftener preserved;the less perfect degrees of resemblance being generation after generation eliminated, and only the others left to propagate their kind. So that here we have an excellent illustration of natural selection.
Messrs. Wallace and Trimen have likewise described several equally striking cases of imitation in the Lepidoptera of the Malay Archipelago and Africa, and with some other insects. Mr. Wallace has also detected one such case with birds, but we have none with the larger quadrupeds. The much greater frequency of imitation with insects than with other animals, is probably the consequence of their small size; insects cannot defend themselves, excepting indeed the kinds furnished with a sting, and I have never heard of an instance of such kinds mocking other insects, though they are mocked; insects cannot easily escape by flight from the larger animals which prey on them; therefore, speaking metaphorically, they are reduced, like most weak creatures, to trickery and dissimulation.
It should be observed that the process of imitation probably never commenced between forms widely dissimilar in colour. But starting with species already somewhat like each other, the closest resemblance, if beneficial, could readily be gained by the above means; and if the imitated form was subsequently and gradually modified through any agency, the imitating form would be led along the same track, and thus be altered to almost any extent, so that it might ultimately assume an appearance or colouring wholly unlike that of the other members of the family to which it belonged. There is, however, some difficulty on this head, for it is necessary to suppose in some cases that ancient members belonging to several distinct groups, before they had diverged to their present extent, accidentally resembled a member of another and protected group in a sufficient degree to afford some slight protection; this having given the basis for the subsequent acquisition of the most perfect resemblance.