Chapter XIII-MUTUAL AFFINITIES OF ORGANIC BEINGS:MORPHOLOGY:EMBRYOLOGY:RUDIMENTARY ORGANS (Page 3)
As the evidence appears to me conclusive, that the several domestic breeds of Pigeon have descended from one wild species, I compared young pigeons of various breeds, within twelve hours after being hatched; I carefully measured the proportions (but will not here give details) of the beak, width of mouth, length of nostril and of eyelid, size of feet and length of leg, in the wild stock, in pouters, fantails, runts, barbs, dragons, carriers, and tumblers. Now some of these birds, when mature, differ so extraordinarily in length and form of beak, that they would, I cannot doubt, be ranked in distinct genera, had they been natural productions. But when the nestling birds of these several breeds were placed in a row, though most of them could be distinguished from each other, yet their proportional differences in the above specified several points were incomparably less than in the full-grown birds. Some characteristic points of difference--for instance, that of the width of mouth--could hardly be detected in the young. But there was one remarkable exception to this rule, for the young of the short-faced tumbler differed from the young of the wild rock-pigeon and of the other breeds, in all its proportions, almost exactly as much as in the adult state.
The two principles above given seem to me to explain these facts in regard to the later embryonic stages of our domestic varieties. Fanciers select their horses, dogs, and pigeons, for breeding, when they are nearly grown up: they are indifferent whether the desired qualities and structures have been acquired earlier or later in life, if the full-grown animal possesses them. And the cases just given, more especially that of pigeons, seem to show that the characteristic differences which give value to each breed, and which have been accumulated by man's selection, have not generally first appeared at an early period of life, and have been inherited by the offspring at a corresponding not early period. But the case of the short-faced tumbler, which when twelve hours old had acquired its proper proportions, proves that this is not the universal rule; for here the characteristic differences must either have appeared at an earlier period than usual, or, if not so, the differences must have been inherited, not at the corresponding, but at an earlier age.
Now let us apply these facts and the above two principles--which latter, though not proved true, can be shown to be in some degree probable--to species in a state of nature. Let us take a genus of birds, descended on my theory from some one parent-species, and of which the several new species have become modified through natural selection in accordance with their diverse habits. Then, from the many slight successive steps of variation having supervened at a rather late age, and having been inherited at a corresponding age, the young of the new species of our supposed genus will manifestly tend to resemble each other much more closely than do the adults, just as we have seen in the case of pigeons. We may extend this view to whole families or even classes. The fore-limbs, for instance, which served as legs in the parent-species, may become, by a long course of modification, adapted in one descendant to act as hands, in another as paddles, in another as wings; and on the above two principles--namely of each successive modification supervening at a rather late age, and being inherited at a corresponding late age--the fore-limbs in the embryos of the several descendants of the parent-species will still resemble each other closely, for they will not have been modified. But in each individual new species, the embryonic fore-limbs will differ greatly from the fore-limbs in the mature animal; the limbs in the latter having undergone much modification at a rather late period of life, and having thus been converted into hands, or paddles, or wings. Whatever influence long-continued exercise or use on the one hand, and disuse on the other, may have in modifying an organ, such influence will mainly affect the mature animal, which has come to its full powers of activity and has to gain its own living; and the effects thus produced will be inherited at a corresponding mature age. Whereas the young will remain unmodified, or be modified in a lesser degree, by the effects of use and disuse.
In certain cases the successive steps of variation might supervene, from causes of which we are wholly ignorant, at a very early period of life, or each step might be inherited at an earlier period than that at which it first appeared. In either case (as with the short-faced tumbler) the young or embryo would closely resemble the mature parent-form. We have seen that this is the rule of development in certain whole groups of animals, as with cuttle-fish and spiders, and with a few members of the great class of insects, as with Aphis. With respect to the final cause of the young in these cases not undergoing any metamorphosis, or closely resembling their parents from their earliest age, we can see that this would result from the two following contingencies; firstly, from the young, during a course of modification carried on for many generations, having to provide for their own wants at a very early stage of development, and secondly, from their following exactly the same habits of life with their parents; for in this case, it would be indispensable for the existence of the species, that the child should be modified at a very early age in the same manner with its parents, in accordance with their similar habits. Some further explanation, however, of the embryo not undergoing any metamorphosis is perhaps requisite. If, on the other hand, it profited the young to follow habits of life in any degree different from those of their parent, and consequently to be constructed in a slightly different manner, then, on the principle of inheritance at corresponding ages, the active young or larvae might easily be rendered by natural selection different to any conceivable extent from their parents. Such differences might, also, become correlated with successive stages of development; so that the larvae, in the first stage, might differ greatly from the larvae in the second stage, as we have seen to be the case with cirripedes. The adult might become fitted for sites or habits, in which organs of locomotion or of the senses, &c., would be useless; and in this case the final metamorphosis would be said to be retrograde.
As all the organic beings, extinct and recent, which have ever lived on this earth have to be classed together, and as all have been connected by the finest gradations, the best, or indeed, if our collections were nearly perfect, the only possible arrangement, would be genealogical. Descent being on my view 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. For the embryo is the animal in its less modified state; and in so far it reveals the structure of its progenitor. In two groups of animal, however much they may at present differ from each other in structure and habits, if they pass through the same or similar embryonic stages, we may feel assured that they have both descended from the same or nearly similar parents, and are therefore in that degree closely related. Thus, community in embryonic structure reveals community of descent. It will reveal this community of descent, however much the structure of the adult may have been modified and obscured; we have seen, for instance, that cirripedes can at once be recognised by their larvae as belonging to the great class of crustaceans. As the embryonic state of each species and group of species partially shows us the structure of their less modified ancient progenitors, we can clearly see why ancient and extinct forms of life should resemble the embryos of their descendants,--our existing species. Agassiz believes this to be a law of nature; but I am bound to confess that I only hope to see the law hereafter proved true. It can be proved true in those cases alone in which the ancient state, now supposed to be represented in many embryos, has not been obliterated, either by the successive variations in a long course of modification having supervened at a very early age, or by the variations having been inherited at an earlier period than that at which they first appeared. It should also be borne in mind, that the supposed law of resemblance of ancient forms of life to the embryonic stages of recent forms, 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.
Thus, as it seems to me, the leading facts in embryology, which are second in importance to none in natural history, are explained on the principle of slight modifications not appearing, in the many descendants from some one ancient progenitor, at a very early period in the life of each, though perhaps caused at the earliest, and being inherited at a corresponding not early period. Embryology rises greatly in interest, when we thus look at the embryo as a picture, more or less obscured, of the common parent-form of each great class of animals.
Rudimentary, atrophied, or aborted organs. -- Organs or parts in this strange condition, bearing the stamp of inutility, are extremely common throughout nature. For instance, rudimentary mammae are very general in the males of mammals: I presume that the 'bastard-wing' in birds may be safely considered as a digit in a rudimentary state: in very many snakes one lobe of the lungs is rudimentary; in other snakes there are rudiments of the pelvis and hind limbs. Some of the cases of rudimentary organs are extremely curious; for instance, the presence of teeth in foetal whales, which when grown up have not a tooth in their heads; and the presence of teeth, which never cut through the gums, in the upper jaws of our unborn calves. It has even been stated on good authority that rudiments of teeth can be detected in the beaks of certain embryonic birds. Nothing can be plainer than that wings are formed for flight, yet in how many insects do we see wings so reduced in size as to be utterly incapable of flight, and not rarely lying under wing-cases, firmly soldered together!
The meaning of rudimentary organs is often quite unmistakeable: for instance there are beetles of the same genus (and even of the same species) resembling each other most closely in all respects, one of which will have full-sized wings, and another mere rudiments of membrane; and here it is impossible to doubt, that the rudiments represent wings. Rudimentary organs sometimes retain their potentiality, and are merely not developed: this seems to be the case with the mammae of male mammals, for many instances are on record of these organs having become well developed in full-grown males, and having secreted milk. So again there are normally four developed and two rudimentary teats in the udders of the genus Bos, but in our domestic cows the two sometimes become developed and give milk. In individual plants of the same species the petals sometimes occur as mere rudiments, and sometimes in a well-developed state. In plants with separated sexes, the male flowers often have a rudiment of a pistil; and Kolreuter found that by crossing such male plants with an hermaphrodite species, the rudiment of the pistil in the hybrid offspring was much increased in size; and this shows that the rudiment and the perfect pistil are essentially alike in nature.
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 protected in the ovarium at its base. 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 pistil, which is in a rudimentary state, for it is not crowned with a stigma; but the style remains well developed, and is clothed with hairs as in other compositae, for the purpose of brushing the pollen out of the surrounding anthers. Again, an organ may become rudimentary for its proper purpose, and be used for a distinct object: in certain fish 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. Other similar instances could be given.
Rudimentary organs in the individuals of the same species are very liable to vary in degree of development and in other respects. Moreover, in closely allied species, the degree to which the same organ has been rendered rudimentary occasionally differs much. This latter fact is well exemplified in the state of the wings of the female moths in certain groups. Rudimentary organs may be utterly aborted; and this implies, that we find in an animal or plant no trace of an organ, which analogy would lead us to expect to find, and which is occasionally found in monstrous individuals of the species. Thus in the snapdragon (antirrhinum) we generally do not find a rudiment of a fifth stamen; but this may sometimes be seen. In tracing the homologies of the same part in different members of a class, nothing is more common, or more necessary, than the use and discovery of rudiments. This is well shown in the drawings given by Owen of the bones of the leg of the horse, ox, and rhinoceros.
It is an important fact that rudimentary organs, such as teeth in the upper jaws of whales and ruminants, can often be detected in the embryo, but afterwards wholly disappear. It is also, I believe, a universal rule, that a rudimentary part or organ is of greater size relatively to the adjoining parts in the embryo, than in the adult; so that the organ at this early age is less rudimentary, or even cannot be said to be in any degree rudimentary. Hence, also, a rudimentary organ in the adult, is often said to have retained its embryonic condition.
I have now given the leading facts with respect to rudimentary organs. In reflecting on them, every one must be struck with astonishment: for the same reasoning power which tells us plainly that most parts and organs are exquisitely adapted for certain purposes, tells us with equal plainness that these rudimentary or atrophied organs, are imperfect and useless. In works on natural history rudimentary organs are generally said to have been created 'for the sake of symmetry,' or in order 'to complete the scheme of nature;' but this seems to me no explanation, merely a restatement of the fact. Would it be thought sufficient to say that because planets revolve in elliptic courses round the sun, satellites follow the same course round the planets, for the sake of symmetry, and to complete the scheme of nature? An eminent physiologist accounts for the presence of rudimentary organs, by supposing that they serve to excrete matter in excess, or injurious to the system; but can we suppose that the minute papilla, which often represents the pistil in male flowers, and which is formed merely of cellular tissue, can thus act? Can we suppose that the formation of rudimentary teeth which are subsequently absorbed, can be of any service to the rapidly growing embryonic calf by the excretion of precious phosphate of lime? When a man's fingers have been amputated, imperfect nails sometimes appear on the stumps: I could as soon believe that these vestiges of nails have appeared, not from unknown laws of growth, but in order to excrete horny matter, as that the rudimentary nails on the fin of the manatee were formed for this purpose.
On my view of descent with modification, the origin of rudimentary organs is simple. We have plenty of cases of rudimentary organs in our domestic productions,--as the stump of a tail in tailless breeds,--the vestige of an ear in earless breeds,--the reappearance of minute dangling horns in hornless breeds of cattle, more especially, according to Youatt, in young animals,--and the state of the whole flower in the cauliflower. We often see rudiments of various parts in monsters. But I doubt whether any of these cases throw light on the origin of rudimentary organs in a state of nature, further than by showing that rudiments can be produced; for I doubt whether species under nature ever undergo abrupt changes. I believe that disuse has been the main agency; that it has led in successive generations to the gradual reduction of various organs, until they have become rudimentary,--as in the case of the eyes of animals inhabiting dark caverns, and of the wings of birds inhabiting oceanic islands, which have seldom been forced to take flight, and have ultimately lost the power of flying. Again, an organ useful under certain conditions, might become injurious under others, as with the wings of beetles living on small and exposed islands; and in this case natural selection would continue slowly to reduce the organ, until it was rendered harmless and rudimentary.
Any change in function, which can be effected by insensibly small steps, is within the power of natural selection; so that an organ rendered, during changed habits of life, useless or injurious for one purpose, might easily be modified and used for another purpose. Or an organ might be retained for one alone of its former functions. An organ, when rendered useless, may well be variable, for its variations cannot be checked by natural selection. At whatever period of life disuse or selection reduces an organ, and this will generally be when the being has come to maturity and to its full powers of action, the principle of inheritance at corresponding ages will reproduce the organ in its reduced state at the same age, and consequently will seldom affect or reduce it in the embryo. Thus we can understand the greater relative size of rudimentary organs in the embryo, and their lesser relative size in the adult. But if each step of the process of reduction were to be inherited, not at the corresponding age, but at an extremely early period of life (as we have good reason to believe to be possible) the rudimentary part would tend to be wholly lost, and we should have a case of complete abortion. The principle, also, of economy, explained in a former chapter, by which the materials forming any part or structure, if not useful to the possessor, will be saved as far as is possible, will probably often come into play; and this will tend to cause the entire obliteration of a rudimentary organ.
As the presence of rudimentary organs is thus due to the tendency in every part of the organisation, which has long existed, to be inherited--we can understand, on the genealogical view of classification, how it is that systematists have found rudimentary parts as useful as, or even sometimes more useful than, parts of high physiological importance. Rudimentary organs may be compared with the letters in a word, still retained in the spelling, but become useless in the pronunciation, but which serve as a clue in seeking for its derivation. On the view of descent with modification, we may conclude that the existence of organs in a rudimentary, imperfect, and useless condition, or quite aborted, far from presenting a strange difficulty, as they assuredly do on the ordinary doctrine of creation, might even have been anticipated, and can be accounted for by the laws of inheritance.
Summary. -- In this chapter I have attempted to show, that the subordination of group to group in all organisms throughout all time; that the nature of the relationship, by which all living and extinct beings are united by complex, radiating, and circuitous lines of affinities into one grand system; the rules followed and the difficulties encountered by naturalists in their classifications; the value set upon characters, if constant and prevalent, whether of high vital importance, or of the most trifling importance, or, as in rudimentary organs, of no importance; the wide opposition in value between analogical or adaptive characters, and characters of true affinity; and other such rules;--all naturally follow on the view of the common parentage of those forms which are considered by naturalists as allied, together with their modification through natural selection, with its contingencies of extinction and divergence of character. In considering this view of classification, it should be borne in mind that the element of descent has been universally used in ranking together the sexes, ages, and acknowledged varieties of the same species, however different they may be in structure. If we extend the use of this element of descent,--the only certainly known cause of similarity in organic beings,--we shall understand what is meant by the natural system: it is genealogical in its attempted arrangement, with the grades of acquired difference marked by the terms varieties, species, genera, families, orders, and classes.
On this same view of descent with modification, all the great facts in Morphology become intelligible,--whether we look to the same pattern displayed in the homologous organs, to whatever purpose applied, of the different species of a class; or to the homologous parts constructed on the same pattern in each individual animal and plant.
On the principle of successive slight variations, not necessarily or generally supervening at a very early period of life, and being inherited at a corresponding period, we can understand the great leading facts in Embryology; namely, the resemblance in an individual embryo of the homologous parts, which when matured will become widely different from each other in structure and function; and the resemblance in different species of a class of the homologous parts or organs, though fitted in the adult members for purposes as different as possible. Larvae are active embryos, which have become specially modified in relation to their habits of life, through the principle of modifications being inherited at corresponding ages. On this same principle--and bearing in mind, that when organs are reduced in size, either from disuse or selection, it will generally be at that period of life when the being has to provide for its own wants, and bearing in mind how strong is the principle of inheritance--the occurrence of rudimentary organs and their final abortion, present to us no inexplicable difficulties; on the contrary, their presence might have been even anticipated. The importance of embryological characters and of rudimentary organs in classification is intelligible, on the view that an arrangement is only so far natural as it is genealogical.
Finally, the several classes of facts which have been considered in this chapter, seem to me to proclaim so plainly, that the innumerable species, genera, and families of organic beings, with which this world is peopled, have all descended, each within its own class or group, from common parents, and have all been modified in the course of descent, that I should without hesitation adopt this view, even if it were unsupported by other facts or arguments.Next