Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man/Chapter 22




Theory of Transmutation—Absence of Intermediate Links.

THE most obvious and popular of the objections urged against the theory of transmutation may be thus expressed: If the extinct species of plants and animals of the later geological periods were the progenitors of the living species, and gave origin to them by variation and natural selection, where are all the intermediate forms, fossil and living, through which the lost types must have passed during their conversion into the living ones? And why do we not find almost everywhere passages between the nearest allied species and genera, instead of such strong lines of demarcation, and often wide intervening gaps?

We may consider this objection under two heads:—

First, To what extent are the gradational links really wanting in the living creation or in the fossil world, and how far may we expect to discover such as are missing by future research?

Secondly, Are the gaps more numerous than we ought to anticipate, allowing for the original defective state of the geological records, their subsequent dilapidation, and our slight acquaintance with such parts of them as are extant, and allowing also for the rate of extinction of races and species now going on, and which has been going on since the commencement of the tertiary period?

First, As to the alleged absence of intermediate varieties connecting one species with another, every zoologist and botanist who has engaged in the task of classification has been occasionally thrown into this dilemma,—if I make more than one species in this group, I must, to be consistent, make a great many. Even in a limited region like the British Isles, this embarrassment is continually felt.

Scarcely any two botanists, for example, can agree as to the number of roses, still less as to how many species of bramble we possess. Of the latter genus, Rubus, there is one set of forms, respecting which it is still a question whether it ought to be regarded as constituting three species or thirty-seven. Mr. Bentham adopts the first alternative, and Mr. Babington the second, in their well-known treatises on British plants.

We learn from Dr. Hooker's Flora of Australia that this same genus Rubus abounds likewise at the antipodes, and is there also rich in variable species. When we consider how, as we extend our knowledge of the same plant over a wider area, new geographical varieties commonly present themselves, and then endeavour to imagine the number of forms of the genus Rubus which may now exist, or probably have existed in Europe, and in regions intervening between Europe and Australia, comprehending all which may have flourished in tertiary and post-tertiary periods, we shall perceive how little stress should be laid on arguments founded on the assumed absence of missing links in the flora as it now exists.

If in the battle of life the competition is keenest between closely allied varieties and species, as Mr. Darwin contends, many forms can never be of long duration, nor have a wide range, and these must often pass away without leaving behind them any fossil memorials. In this manner we may account for many breaks in the series which no future researches will ever fill up.

Davidson on Fossil Brachiopoda.

It is from fossil conchology more than from any other department of the organic world that we may hope to derive traces of a transition from certain types to others, and fossil memorials of all the intermediate shades of form. We may especially hope to gain this information from the study of some of the lower groups, such as the Brachiopoda, which are persistent in type, so that the thread of our enquiry is less likely to be interrupted by breaks in the sequence of the fossiliferous rocks. The splendid monograph just concluded by Mr. Davidson, on the British Brachiopoda, illustrates, in the first place, the tendency of certain generic forms in this division of the mollusca to be persistent throughout the whole range of geological time yet known to us; for the four genera Rhynconella, Crania, Discina, and Lingula have been traced through the Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Tertiary, and Recent periods, and still retain in the existing seas the identical shape and character which they exhibited in the earliest formations. On the other hand, other brachiopoda have gone through in shorter periods a vast series of transformations, so that distinct specific, and even generic names have been given to the same varying form, according to the different aspects and characters it has put on in successive sets of strata.

In proportion as materials of comparison have accumulated, the necessity of uniting species, previously regarded as distinct, under one denomination has become more and more apparent. Mr. Davidson, accordingly, after studying not less than 260 reputed species from the British carboniferous rocks, has been obliged to reduce that number to 100, to which he has added 20 species either entirely new or new to the British strata; but he declares his conviction that, when our knowledge of these 120 brachiopoda is more complete, a further reduction of species will take place.

Speaking of one of these forms, which he calls Spirifer trigonalis, he says that it is so dissimilar to another extreme of the series, S. crassa, that in the first part of his memoir (published some ten years ago) he described them as distinct, and the idea of confounding them together must, he admits, appear absurd to those who have never seen the intermediate links, such as are presented by S. bisulcata, and at least four others with their varieties, most of them shells formerly recognised as distinct by the most eminent paleontologists, but respecting which these same authorities now agree with Mr. Davidson in uniting them into one species.[1]

The same species has sometimes continued to exist under slightly modified forms throughout the whole of the Lower and Upper Silurian as well as the entire Devonian and Carboniferous periods, as in the case of the shell generally known as Leptæna depressa, which we must now call, in obedience to the law of priority of nomenclature, Anomites (or Strophomena) rhomboidalis, Wahlenberg. No less than fifteen commonly received species are demonstrated by Mr. Davidson, by the aid of a long series of transitional forms, to appertain to this one type, and it is acknowledged by some of the best writers that they were induced to give distinct names to some of the varieties now suppressed on purely theoretical grounds, namely, because they found them in rocks so widely remote in time, that they deemed it contrary to analogy to suppose that the same species could have endured so long—a mode of reasoning analogous to that which leads some zoologists and botanists to distinguish by specific names slight varieties of living plants and animals met with in very remote countries, as in Europe and Australia, for example, it being assumed that each species has had a single birth-place or area of creation, and that they could not by migration have gone from the northern to the southern hemisphere across the intervening tropics.

Examples are also given by Mr. Davidson of species which pass from the Devonian into the Carboniferous, and from that again into the Permian rocks. The vast longevity of such specific forms has not been generally recognised in consequence of the change of names, which they have undergone when derived from such distant formations, as when Atrypa unguicularis assumes, when derived from a carboniferous rock, the name of Spirifer Urii, besides several other synonyms, and then, when it reaches the Permian period, takes the name of Spirifer Clannyana, (King); all of which forms the author of the monograph, now under consideration, asserts to be one and the same.

No geologist will deny that the distance of time which separates some of the eras above alluded to, or the dates of the earliest and latest appearances of some of the fossils above mentioned, must be reckoned by millions of years. According to Mr. Darwin's views, it is only by having at our command the records of such enormous periods, that we can expect to be able to point out the gradations which unite very distinct specific forms. But the advocate of transmutation must not be disappointed if, when he has succeeded in obtaining some of the proofs which he was challenged to produce, they make no impression on the mind of his opponent. All that will be conceded is that specific variation in the Brachiopoda, at least, has a wider range than was formerly suspected. So long as several allied species were brought nearer and nearer to each other, considerable uneasiness might have been felt as to the reality of species in general, but when fifteen or more are once fairly merged in one group, constituting in the aggregate a single species, one, and indivisible, and capable of being readily distinguished from every other group at present known, all misgivings are at an end. Implicit trust in the immutability of species is then restored, and the more insensible the shades from one extreme to the other, in a word, the more complete the evidence of transition, the more nugatory does the argument derived from it appear. It then simply resolves itself into one of those exceptional instances of what is called a protean form.

Thirty years ago a great London dealer in shells, himself an able naturalist, told me that there was nothing he had so much reason to dread, as tending to depreciate his stock in trade, as the appearance of a good monograph on some large genus of mollusca; for, in proportion as the work was executed in a philosophical spirit, it was sure to injure him, every reputed species pronounced to be a mere variety becoming from that time unsaleable. Fortunately, so much progress has since been made in England in estimating the true ends and aims of science, that specimens indicating a passage between forms usually separated by wide gaps, whether in the recent or fossil fauna, are eagerly sought for, and often more prized than the mere normal or typical forms.

It is clear, that the more ancient the existing mollusca, or the farther back into the past we can trace the remains of shells still living, the more easy it becomes to reconcile with the doctrine of transmutation the distinctness in character of the majority of living species. For, what we want is time, first, for the gradual formation, and then for the extinction of races and allied species, occasioning gaps between the survivors.

In the year 1830, I announced, on the authority of M. Deshayes, that about one-fifth of the mollusca of the Falunian or Upper Miocene strata of Europe, belonged to living species. Although the soundness of that conclusion was afterwards called in question by two or three eminent conchologists (and by the late M. Alcide d'Orbigny among others), it has since been confirmed by the majority of living naturalists, and is well borne out by the copious evidence on the subject laid before the public in the magnificent work edited by M. Hörnes, and published under the auspices of the Austrian Government, 'On the Fossil Shells of the Vienna Basin.'

The collection of tertiary shells from which those descriptions and beautiful figures were taken is almost unexampled for the fine state of preservation of the specimens, and the care with which all the varieties have been compared. It is now admitted that about one third of these Miocene forms, univalves and bivalves included, agree specifically with living mollusca, so that much more than the enormous interval which divides the Miocene from the Recent period must be taken into our account when we speculate on the origin by transmutation of the shells now living, and the disappearance by extinction of intermediate varieties and species.

Miocene Plants and Insects related to recent Species.

Geologists were acquainted with about three hundred species of marine shells from the 'Falunian' strata on the banks of the Loire, before they knew anything of the contemporary insects and plants. At length, as if to warn us against inferring from negative evidence the poverty of any ancient set of strata in organic remains proper to the land, a rich flora and entomological fauna was suddenly revealed to us characteristic of Central Europe during the Upper Miocene period. This result followed the determination of the true position of the Oeninghen beds in Switzerland, and of certain formations of 'Brown Coal' in Germany.

Professor Heer, who has described nearly five hundred species of fossil plants from Oeninghen, besides many more from other Miocene localities in Switzerland,[2] estimates the phenogamous species, which must have flourished in Central Europe at that time, at 3,000, and the insects as having been more numerous in the same proportion as they now exceed the plants in all latitudes. This European Miocene flora was remarkable for the preponderance of arborescent and shrubby evergreens, and comprised many generic types no longer associated together in any existing flora or geographical province. Some genera, for example, which are at present restricted to America, coexisted in Switzerland with forms now peculiar to Asia, and with others at present confined to Australia.

Professor Heer has not ventured to identify any of this vast assemblage of Miocene plants and insects with living species, so far at least as to assign to them the same specific names, but he presents us with a list of what he terms homologous forms, which are so like the living ones, that he supposes the one to have been derived genealogically from the others. He hesitates indeed as to the manner of the transformation, or the precise nature of the relationship, "whether the changes were brought about by some influence exerted continually for ages, or whether at some given moment the old types were struck with a new image."

Among the homologous plants alluded to are forty species, of which both the leaves and fruits are preserved, and thirty others, known at present by their leaves only. In the first list we find many American types, such as the tulip tree, Liriodendron, the deciduous cypress, Taxodium, the red maple, and others, together with Japanese forms, such as the cinnamon, which is very abundant. And what is worthy of notice, some of these fossils so closely allied to living plants occur not only in the Upper, but even some few of them as far back in time as the Lower Miocene formations of Switzerland and Germany, which are probably as distant from the Upper Miocene or Oeninghen beds as are the latter from our own era.

Some of the fossil plants to which Professor Heer has given new names have been regarded as recent species by other eminent naturalists. Thus, Unger had called one of the trees allied to the elm, Planera Richardi, a species which now flourishes in the United States. Professor Heer had attempted to distinguish it from the living tree by the greater size of its fruit, but this character he confessed did not hold good, when he had an opportunity (1861) of comparing all the varieties of the living Planera Richardi which Dr. Hooker laid before him in the rich herbarium of Kew.

As to the 'homologous insects' of the Upper Miocene period in Switzerland, we find among them, mingled with genera and orders now wholly foreign to Europe, some very familiar forms such as the common glowworm, Lampyris noctiluca, Linn., the dung-beetle, Geotrupis stercorarius, Linn., the ladybird, Coccinella septempunctata, Linn., the earwig, Forficula auricularia, Linn., some of our common dragon-flies, as Libellula depressa, Linn., the honey-bee, Apis mellifera, Linn., the cuckoo spittle insect, Aphrophora spumaria, Linn., and a long catalogue of others, to all of which Professor Heer has given new names, but which some entomologists may regard as mere varieties until some stronger reasons are adduced for coming to a contrary opinion.

Several of the insects above enumerated, like the common ladybird, are well known at present to have a very wide range, over nearly the whole of the Old World, for example, without varying, and might, therefore, be expected to have been persistent throughout many successive changes of the earth's surface and climate. Yet we may fairly anticipate that even the most constant types will have undergone some modifications in passing from the Miocene to the Recent epoch, since in the former period the geography and climate of Europe, the height of the Alps, and the general fauna and flora were so different from what they now are. But the deviation may not exceed that which would generally be expressed by what is called, a well-marked variety.

Before I pass on to another topic, it may be well to answer a question which may have occurred to the reader; how it happens that we remained so long ignorant of the vegetation and insects of the Upper Miocene period in Europe? The answer may be instructive to those who are in the habit of underrating the former richness of the organic world wherever they happen to have no evidence of its condition. A large part of the Upper Miocene insects and plants alluded to have been met with at Oeninghen, near the Lake of Constance, in two or three spots embedded in thinly laminated marls, the entire thickness of which scarcely exceeds three or four feet, and in two quarries of very limited dimensions. The rare combination of causes which seems to have led to the faithful preservation of so many treasures of a perishable nature in so small an area, appear to have been the following: first, a river flowing into a lake; secondly, storms of wind, by which leaves, and sometimes the boughs of trees, were torn off, and floated by the stream into the lake; thirdly, mephitic gases rising from the lake, by which insects flying over its surface were occasionally killed: and fourthly, a constant supply of carbonate of lime in solution from mineral springs, the calcareous matter, when precipitated to the bottom, mingling with fine mud, and thus forming the fossiliferous marls.

Species of Insects in Britain and North America, represented by distinct Varieties.

If we compare the living British insects with those of the American continent, we frequently find that even those species which are considered to be identical, are, nevertheless, varieties of the European types. I have noticed this fact when speaking of the common English butterfly, Vanessa atalanta, or 'red admirable,' which I saw flying about the woods of Alabama in mid winter. I was unable to detect any difference myself, but all the American specimens which I took to the British Museum were observed by Mr. Doubleday to exhibit a slight peculiarity in the colouring of a minute part of the anterior wing,[3] a character first detected by Mr. T. F. Stephens, who has also discovered that similar slight, but equally constant variations, distinguish other lepidoptera now inhabiting the opposite sides of the Atlantic, insects which, nevertheless, he and Mr. Westwood and the late Mr. Kirby, have always agreed to regard as mere varieties of the same species.

Mr. T. V. Wollaston, in treating of the variation of insects in maritime situations and small islands, has shown how the colour, growth of the wings, and many other characters, undergo modification under the influence of local conditions, continued for long periods of time;[4] and Mr. Brown has lately called our attention to the fact, that the insects of the Shetland Isles present slight deviations from the corresponding types occurring in Great Britain, but far less marked than those which distinguish the American from the European varieties.[5] In the case of Shetland, Mr. Brown remarks, a land communication may well be supposed to have prevailed with Scotland at a more modern era than that between Europe and America. In fact, we have seen that Shetland can hardly fail to have been united with Scotland after the commencement of the glacial period (see map, p. 279); whereas a communication between the north of Europe by Iceland and Greenland (which as before stated, once enjoyed a genial climate), must have been anterior to the glacial epoch. A much larger isolation, and the impossibility of varieties formed in the two separated areas crossing with each other, would account, according to Mr. Darwin's theory, for the much wider divergence observed in the specific types of the two regions.

The reader will remember that at the commencement of the Glacial Period there was scarcely any appreciable difference between the molluscous fauna and that now living. When therefore the events of the Glacial Period, as described in the earlier part of this volume are duly pondered on, and when we reflect that in the Upper Miocene period the living species of mollusca constitute only one third of the whole fauna, we see clearly by how high a figure we must multiply the time in order to express the distance between the Miocene Period and our own days.

Species of Mammalia recent and fossil.—Proboscidians.

But it may perhaps be said that the mammalia afford more conspicuous examples than do the mollusca, insects, or plants of the wide gaps which separate species and genera, and that if in this higher class such a multitude of transitional forms had ever existed as would be required to unite the tertiary and recent species into one series or net-work of allied or transitional forms, they could not so entirely have escaped observation, whether in the fossil or living fauna. A zoologist who entertains such an opinion would do well to devote himself to the study of some one genus of mammalia, such as the elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, bear, horse, ox, or deer; and after collecting all the materials he can get together respecting the extinct and recent species, decide for himself whether the present state of science justifies his assuming that the chain could never have been continuous, the number of the missing links being so great.

Among the extinct species formerly contemporary with man, no fossil quadruped has so often been alluded to in this work as the mammoth, Elephas primigenius. From a monograph on the proboscidians by Dr. Falconer, it appears that this species represents one extreme of a type of which the Pliocene Mastodon Borsoni represents the other. Between these extremes there are already enumerated by Dr. Falconer no less than twenty-six species, some of them ranging as far back in time as the Miocene period, others still living, like the Indian and African forms. Two of these species, however, he has always considered as doubtful, Stegodon Ganesa, probably a mere variety of one of the others, and Elephas priscus of Goldfuss, founded partly on specimens of the African elephant, assumed by mistake to be fossil, and partly on some aberrant forms of E. antiquus.

The first effect of the intercalation of so many intermediate forms between the two most divergent types, has been to break down almost entirely the generic distinction between Mastodon and Elephant. Dr. Falconer, indeed, observes that Stegodon (one of several subgenera which he has founded) constitutes an intermediate group, from which the other species diverge through their dental characters, on the one side into the Mastodons, and on the other into the Elephants.[6] The next result is to diminish the distance between the several members of each of these groups.

Dr. Falconer has discovered that no less than four species of elephant were formerly confounded together under the title of Elephas primigenius, whence its supposed ubiquity in post-pliocene times, or its wide range over half the habitable globe. But even when this form has been thus restricted in its specific characters, it has still its geographical varieties; for the mammoth's teeth brought from America may in most instances, according to Dr. Falconer, be distinguished from those proper to Europe. On this American variety Dr. Leidy has conferred the name of E. Americanus. Another race of the same mammoth (as determined by Dr. Falconer) existed, as we have seen, before the glacial period, or at the time when the buried forest of Cromer and the Norfolk cliffs (see above, p. 216) was deposited; and the Swiss geologists have lately found remains of the mammoth in their country, both in pre-glacial and post-glacial formations.

Since the publication of Dr. Falconer's monograph, two other species of elephant, E. mirificus, Leidy, and E. imperator, have been obtained from the Pliocene formations of the Niobrara Valley in Nebraska, one of which, however, may possibly be found hereafter to be the same as E. Columbi, Falc. A remarkable dwarf species also (Elephas Melitensis) has been discovered, belonging, like the existing E. Africanus, to the group Loxodon. This species has been established by Dr. Falconer on remains found by Captain Spratt, R.N., in a cave in Malta.[7]

How much the difficulty of discriminating between the fossil representatives of this genus may hereafter augment, when all the species with their respective geographical varieties are known, may be inferred from the following fact:—Professor H. Schlegel, in a recently published memoir, endeavours to show that the living elephant of Sumatra agrees with that of Ceylon, but is a distinct species from that of Continental India, being distinguishable by the number of its dorsal vertebræ and ribs, the form of its teeth, and other characteristics.[8] Dr. Falconer, on the other hand, considers these two living species as mere geographical varieties, the characters referred to not being constant, as he has ascertained, on comparing different individuals of E. Indicus in different parts of Bengal (in which the ribs vary from nineteen to twenty), and different varieties of E. Africanus.

An enquiry into the various species of the genus Rhinoceros, recent and fossil, has led Dr. Falconer to analogous results, as might be inferred from what was said in Chapter X. (p. 173), and as a forthcoming memoir by the same writer will soon more fully demonstrate.

Among the fossils brought in 1858 by Mr. Hayden from the Niobrara Valley, Dr. Leidy describes a rhinoceros so like the Asiatic species, R. Indicus, that he at first referred it to the same, and, what is most singular, he remarks generally of the Pliocene fauna of that part of North America, that it is far more related in character to the post-pliocene and recent fauna of Europe than to that now inhabiting the American continent.

It seems indeed more and more evident that when we speculate in future on the pedigree of any extinct quadruped which abounds in the drift or caverns of Europe, we shall have to look to North and South America as a principal source of information. Thirty years ago, if we had been searching for fossil types which might fill up a gap between two species or genera of the horse tribe (or great family of the Solipedes), we might have thought it sufficient to have got together as ample materials as we could obtain from the continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia. We might have presumed that as no living representative of the equine family, whether horse, ass, zebra, or quagga, had been furnished by North or South America when those regions were first explored by Europeans, a search in the transatlantic world for fossil species might be dispensed with. But how different is the prospect now opening before us! Mr. Darwin first detected the remains of a fossil horse during his visit to South America, since which two other species have been met with on the same continent, while in North America, in the valley of the Nebraska alone, Mr. Hayden, besides a species not distinguishable from the domestic horse, has obtained, according to Dr. Leidy, representatives of five other fossil genera of Solipedes. These he names, Hipparion, Protohippus, Merychippus, Hypohippus, and Parahippus. On the whole, no less than twelve equine species, belonging to seven genera (including the Miocene Anchitherium of Nebraska), being already detected in the tertiary and post-tertiary formations of the United States.[9]

Professors Unger[10] and Heer[11] have advocated, on botanical grounds, the former existence of an Atlantic continent during some part of the tertiary period, as affording the only plausible explanation that can be imagined, of the analogy between the Miocene flora of Central Europe and the existing flora of Eastern America. Professor Oliver, on the other hand, after showing how many of the American types found fossil in Europe are common to Japan, inclines to the theory, first advanced by Dr. Asa Gray, that the migration of species, to which the community of types in the Eastern States of North America and the Miocene flora of Europe is due, took place when there was an overland communication from America to Eastern Asia between the fiftieth and sixtieth parallels of latitude, or south of Behring's Straits, following the direction of the Aleutian islands.[12] By this course they may have made their way, at any epoch, Miocene, Pliocene, or Post-pliocene, antecedently to the Glacial epoch, to Amoorland, on the east coast of Northern Asia.

We have already seen (p. 158) that the living quadrupeds of Amoorland are now nearly all specifically identical with those at present inhabiting the continent of Western Europe and the British Isles.

A monograph on the hippopotamus, bear, ox, stag, or any other genus of mammalia common in the European drift or caverns, might equally well illustrate the defective state of the materials at present at our command. We are rarely in possession of one perfect skeleton of any extinct species, still less of skeletons of both sexes, and of different ages. We usually know nothing of the geographical varieties of the post-pliocene and pliocene species, least of all, those successive changes of form which they must have undergone in the pre-glacial epoch between the upper miocene and post-pliocene eras. Such being the poverty of our palæontological data, we cannot wonder that osteologists are at variance as to whether certain remains found in caverns are of the same species as those now living; whether, for example, the Talpa fossilis is really the common mole, the Meles morreni the common badger, Lutra antiqua the otter of Europe, Sciurus priscus the squirrel, Arctomys primigenia the marmot, Myoxus fossilis the dormouse, Schmerling's Felix Engihoulensis the European lynx, or whether Ursus spelæus and Ursus priscus are not extinct races of the living brown bear (Ursus arctos).

If at some future period all the above-mentioned species should be united with their allied congeners, it cannot fail to enlarge our conception of the modifications which a species is capable of undergoing in the course of time, although the same form may appear absolutely immutable within the narrow range of our experience.

Longevity of Species in the Mammalia.

In the 'Principles of Geology,' in 1833,[13] I stated that the longevity of species in the class mollusca exceeded that in the mammalia. It has been since found that this generalisation can be carried much farther, and that, in fact, the law which governs the changes in organic beings is such, that the lower their place in a graduated scale, or the simpler their structure, the more persistent are they in form and organisation. I soon became aware of the force of this rule in the class mollusca, when I first attempted to calculate the numerical proportion of recent species in the newer pliocene formations as compared to the older pliocene, and of them again as contrasted with the miocene; for it appeared invariably that a greater number of the acephala or lamelli-branchiate bivalves could be identified with living species than of the gasteropods, and of these last a greater number in the lower division, that of entire-mouthed univalves, than in that of the siphonated. In whatever manner the changes have been brought about, whether by variation and natural selection, or by any other causes, the rate of change has been greater where the grade of organisation is higher.

It is only, therefore, where there is a full representation of all the principal orders of mollusca, or when we compare those of corresponding grade, that we can fully rely on the percentage test, or on the proportion of recent to extinct species as indicating the relation of two groups to the existing fauna.

The foraminifera which exemplify the lowest stage of animal existence, being akin to the sponges, are extremely persistent throughout vast periods of time in form and structure, as the researches of Messrs. Jones and Parker have lately shown. They exceed, in that respect, even the brachiopodous mollusca before mentioned.

Dr. Hooker observes, in regard to plants of complex floral structure, that they manifest their physical superiority in a greater extent of variation, and in thus better securing a succession of race, an attribute which in some senses he regards as of a higher order than that indicated by mere complexity or specialisation of organ.[14]

As one of the consequences of this law, he says that species, genera, and orders are, on the whole, best limited in plants of higher grade, the dicotyledons better than the monocotyledons, and the dichlamydeæ better than the achlamydeæ.

Mr. Darwin remarks, 'We can, perhaps, understand the apparently quicker rate of change in terrestrial, and in more highly organised productions, compared with marine and lower productions, by the more complex relations of the higher beings to their organic and inorganic conditions of life.[15]

If we suppose the mammalia to be more sensitive than are the inferior classes of the vertebrata, to every fluctuation in the surrounding conditions, whether of the animate or inanimate world, it would follow that they would oftener be called upon to adapt themselves, by variation, to new conditions, or if unable to do so, to give place to other types. This would give rise to more frequent extinction of varieties, species, and genera, whereby the surviving types would be better limited, and the average duration of the same unaltered specific types would be lessened.

Absence of Mammalia in Islands considered in Reference to Transmutation.

But if mammalia vary, upon the whole, at a more rapid rate than animals lower in the scale of being, it must not be supposed that they can alter their habits and structures readily, or that they are convertible in short periods into new species. The extreme slowness with which such changes of habits and organisation take place, when new conditions arise, appears to be well exemplified by the absence even of small warm-blooded quadrupeds in islands far from continents, however well such islands may be fitted by their dimensions to support them.

Mr. Darwin has pointed to this absence of mammalia as favouring his views, observing that bats, which are the only exceptions to the rule, might have made their way to distant islands by flight, for they are often met with on the wing far out at sea. Unquestionably, the total exclusion of quadrupeds in general, which could only reach such isolated habitations by swimming, seems to imply that nature does not dispense with the ordinary laws of reproduction when she peoples the earth with new forms; for if causes purely immaterial were alone at work, we might naturally look for squirrels, rabbits, polecats, and other small vegetable feeders and beasts of prey, as often as for bats, in the spots alluded to.

On the other hand, I have found it difficult to reconcile the antiquity of certain islands, such as those of the Madeiran Archipelago, and those of still larger size in the Canaries, with the total absence of small indigenous quadrupeds, for, judging by ancient deposits of littoral shells, now raised high above the level of the sea, several of these volcanic islands (Porto Santo and the Grand Canary among others), must have existed ever since the Upper Miocene period. But, waiving all such claims to antiquity, it is at least certain that since the close of the Newer Pliocene period, Madeira and Porto Santo have constituted two separate islands, each in sight of the other, and each inhabited by an assemblage of land shells (helix, pupa, clausilia, &c.), for the most part different or proper to each island. About thirty-two fossil species have been obtained in Madeira, and forty-two in Porto Santo, only five of the whole being common to both islands. In each the living land-shells are equally distinct, and correspond, for the most part, with the species found fossil in each island respectively.

Among the seventy-two species, two or three appear to be entirely extinct, and a larger number have disappeared from the fauna of the Madeiran Archipelago, though still extant in Africa and Europe. Many which were amongst the most common in the Newer Pliocene period, have now become the scarcest, and others formerly scarce, are now most numerously represented. The variety-making force has been at work with such energy,—perhaps we ought to say, has had so much time for its development,—that almost every isolated rock within gun-shot of the shores has its peculiar living forms, or those very marked races to which Mr. Lowe, in his excellent description of the fauna, has given the name of 'sub-species.'

Since the fossil shells were embedded in sand near the coast, these volcanic islands have undergone considerable alterations in size and shape by the wasting action of the waves of the Atlantic beating incessantly against the cliffs, so that the evidence of a vast lapse oftime is derivable from inorganic as well as from organic phenomena.

During this period no mammalia, not even of small species, excepting bats, have made their appearance, whether in Madeira and Porto-Santo or in the larger and more numerous islands of the Canarian group. It might have been expected, from some expressions met with here and there in the "Origin of Species," though not perhaps from a fair interpretation of the whole tenor of the author's reasoning, that this dearth of the highest class of vertebrata is inconsistent with the powers of mammalia to accommodate their habits and structures to new conditions. Why did not some of the bats, for example, after they had greatly multiplied, and were hard pressed by a scarcity of insects on the wing, betake themselves to the ground in search of prey, and, gradually losing their wings, become transformed into non-volant insectivora? Mr. Darwin tells me that he has learnt that there is a bat in India which has been known occasionally to devour frogs. One might also be tempted to ask, how it has happened that the seals which swarmed on the shores of Madeira and the Canaries, before the European colonists arrived there, were never induced, when food was scarce in the sea, to venture inland from the shores, and begin in Teneriffe, and the Grand Canary especially, and other large islands, to acquire terrestrial habits, venturing first a few yards inland, and then farther and farther until they began to occupy some of those "places left vacant in the economy of nature." During these excursions, we might suppose some varieties, which had the skin of the webbed intervals of their toes less developed, to succeed best in walking on the land, and in the course of several generations they might exchange their present gait or manner of shuffling along and jumping by aid of the tail and their fin-like extremities, for feet better adapted for running.

It is said that one of the bats in the island of Palma (one of the Canaries) is of a peculiar species, and that some of the Cheiroptera of the Pacific islands (or Oceanica) are even of peculiar genera. If so, we seem, on organic as well as on geological grounds, to be precluded from arguing that there has not been time for great divergence of character. We seem also entitled to ask why the bats and rodents of Australia, which are spread so widely among the marsupials over that continent, have never, under the influence of the principle of progression, been developed into the higher or placental type, since we have now ascertained that that continent was by no means unfitted to sustain such mammalia, for these, when once introduced by man, have run wild and become naturalised in many parts. The following answers may perhaps be offered to the above criticisms of some of Mr. Darwin's theoretical views.

First, as to the bats and seals: they are what zoologists call aberrant and highly specialised types, and therefore precisely those which might be expected to display a fixity and want of pliancy in their organisation, or the smallest possible aptitude for deviating in new directions towards new structures, and the acquisition of such altered habits as a change from aquatic to terrestrial or from volant to non-volant modes of living would imply.

Secondly, the same powers of flight which enabled the first bats to reach Madeira or the Canaries, would bring others from time to time from the African continent, which, mixing with the first emigrants and crossing with them, would check the formation of new races, or keep them true to the old types, as is found to be actually the case with the birds of Madeira and the Bermudas.

This would happen the more surely, if, as Mr. Darwin has endeavoured to prove, the offspring of races slightly varying are usually more vigorous than the progeny of parents of the same race, and would be more prolific, therefore, than the insular stock which had been for a long time breeding in and in.

The same cause would tend in a still more decided manner to prevent the seals from diverging into new races or 'incipient species,' because they range freely over the wide ocean, and, may therefore have continual intercourse with all other individuals of their species.

Thirdly, as to peculiar species, and even genera of bats in islands, we are perhaps too little acquainted at present with all the species and genera of the neighbouring continents to be able to affirm, with any degree of confidence, that the forms supposed to be peculiar do not exist elsewhere: those of the Canaries in Africa, for example. But what is still more important, we must bear in mind how many species and genera of post-pliocene mammalia have everywhere become extinct by causes independent of Man. It is always possible, therefore, that some types of cheiroptera, originally derived from the main land, have survived in islands, although they have gradually died out on the continents from whence they came; so that it would be rash to infer that there has been time for the creation, whether by variation or other agency, of new species or genera in the islands in question.

As to the rodents and cheiroptera of Australia, we are as yet too ignorant of the post-pliocene and newer pliocene fauna of that part of the world, to be able to decide whether the introduction of such forms dates from a remote geological time. We know, however, that, before the recent period, that continent was peopled with large kangaroos, and other herbivorous, and carnivorous marsupials, of species long since extinct, their remains having been discovered in ossiferous caverns. The preoccupaney of the country by such indigenous tribes may have checked the development of the placental rodents and cheiroptera, even were we to concede the possibility of such forms being convertible by variation and progressive development into higher grades of mammalia.

Imperfection of the geological record.

When treating in the 8th Chapter[16] of the dearth of human bones in alluvium containing flint implements in abundance, I pointed out that it is not part of the plan of Nature to write everywhere, and at all times, her autobiographical memoirs. On the contrary, her annals are local and exceptional from the first, and portions of them are afterwards ground into mud, sand, and pebbles, to furnish materials for new strata. Even of those ancient monuments now forming the crust of the earth, which have not been destroyed by rivers and the waves of the sea, or which have escaped being melted by volcanic heat, three-fourths lie submerged beneath the ocean, and are inaccessible to man; while of those which form the dry land, a great part are hidden for ever from our observation by mountain masses, thousands of feet thick, piled over them.

Mr. Darwin has truly said that the fossiliferous rocks known to geologists consist, for the most part, of such as were formed when the bottom of the sea was subsiding. This downward movement protects the new deposits from denudation, and allows them to accumulate to a great thickness; whereas sedimentary matter, thrown down where the sea-bottom is rising, must almost invariably be swept away by the waves as fast as the land emerges.

When we reflect, therefore, on the fractional state of the annals which are handed down to us, and how little even these have as yet been studied, we may wonder that so many geologists should attribute every break in the series of strata, and every gap in the past history of the organic world, to catastrophes and convulsions of the earth's crust, or to leaps made by the creational force from species to species, or from class to class. For it is clear that, even had the series of monuments been perfect and continuous at first (an hypothesis quite opposed to the analogy of the working of causes now in action), it could not fail to present itself to our eyes in a broken and disconnected state.

Those geologists who have watched the progress of discovery during the last half century, can best appreciate the extent to which we may still hope by future exertion to fill up some of the wider chasms which now interrupt the regular sequence of fossiliferous rocks. The determination, for example, of late years of the true place of the Hallstadt and St. Cassian beds on the N. and S. flanks of the Austrian Alps, has revealed to us, for the first time, the marine fauna of a period (that of the Upper Trias) of which, until lately, but little was known. In this case, the palæontologist is called upon suddenly to intercalate about 800 species of mollusca and radiata, between the fauna of the Lower Lias and that of the Middle Trias. The period in question was previously believed, even by many a philosophical geologist, to have been comparatively barren of organic types. In England, France, and Northern Germany, the only known strata of Upper Triassic date had consisted almost entirely of fresh or brackish-water beds, in which the bones of terrestrial and amphibious reptiles were the most characteristic fossils. The new fauna was, as might have been expected, in part peculiar, not a few of the species of mollusca being referable to new genera; while some species were common to the older, and some to the newer rocks. On the whole, the new forms have helped greatly to lessen the discordance, not only between the lias and trias, but also generally between paleozoic and neozoic formations. Thus the genus Orthoceras has been for the first time recognised in a neozoic deposit, and with it we find associated, for the first time, large ammonites with foliated lobes, a form never seen before below the lias; also the Ceratite, a family of cephalopods never before met with above the muschelkalk or middle trias, and never before in the same stratum with such lobed ammonites.

We can now no longer doubt, that should we hereafter have an opportunity of studying an equally rich marine fauna of the age of the lower trias (or bunter sandstein), the marked hiatus which still separates the Triassic and Permian eras would almost disappear.

Archæopteryx macrurus, Owen.—I could readily add a copious list of minor deposits, belonging to the primary, secondary, and tertiary series, which we have been called upon in like manner to intercalate in the course of the last quarter of a century into the chronological series previously known; but it would lead me into too long a digression. I shall therefore content myself with pointing out that it is not simply new formations which are brought to light from year to year, reminding us of the elementary state of our knowledge of palæontology, but new types also of structure are discovered in rocks, the fossil contents of which were supposed to be peculiarly well known.

The last and most striking of these novelties is 'the feathered fossil' from the lithographic stone of Solonhofen.

Until the year 1858, no well-determined skeleton of a bird had been detected in any rocks older than the tertiary. In that year, Mr. Lucas Barrett found in the upper greensand of the cretaceous series, near Cambridge, the femur, tibia, and some other bones of a swimming bird, supposed by him to be of the gull tribe. His opinion as to the ornithic character of the remains was afterwards confirmed by Professor Owen.

The Archæopteryx macrurus, Owen, recently acquired by the British Museum, affords a second example of the discovery of the osseous remains of a bird in strata older than the Eocene. It was found in the great quarries of lithographic limestone at Pappenheim, near Solenhofen in Bavaria, the rock being a member of the Upper Oolite.

It was at first conjectured in Germany, before any experienced osteologist had had an opportunity of inspecting the original specimen, that this fossil might be a feathered pterodactyl, (flying reptiles having been often met with in the same stratum,) or that it might at least supply some connecting links between a reptile and a bird. But Professor Owen, in a memoir lately read to the Royal Society, (November 20, 1862,) has shown that it is unequivocally a bird, and that such of its characters as are abnormal are by no means strikingly reptilian. The skeleton was lying on its back when embedded in calcareous sediment, so that the ventral part is exposed to view. It is about one foot eight inches long, and one foot four across, from the apex of the right to that of the left wing. The furculum, or merry-thought, which is entire, marks the fore part of the trunk; the ischium, scapula, and most of the wing and leg bones are preserved, and there are impressions of the quill feathers and of down on the body. The veins and shafts of the feathers can be seen by the naked eye. Fourteen long quill feathers diverge on each side of the metacarpal and phalangial bones, and decrease in length from six inches to one inch. The wings have a general resemblance to those of gallinaceous birds. The tarso-metatarsal, or drumstick, exhibits at its distal end a trifid articular surface supporting three toes, as in birds. The furculum, pelvis, and bones of the tail are in their natural position. The tail consists of twenty vertebræ, each of which supports a pair of plumes. The length of the tail with its feathers is eleven and a half inches, and its breadth three and a half. It is obtusely truncated at the end. In all living birds the tail-feathers are arranged in fan-shaped order and attached to a coccygean bone, consisting of several vertebræ united together, whereas in the embryo state these same vertebræ are distinct. The greatest number is seen in the ostrich, which has eighteen caudal vertebræ in the fœtal state, which are reduced to nine in the adult bird, many of them having been anchylosed together. Professor Owen therefore considers the tail of the Archæopteryx as exemplifying the persistency of what is now an embryonic character. The tail, he remarks, is essentially a variable character. There are long-tailed bats and short-tailed bats, long-tailed rodents and short-tailed rodents, long-tailed pterodactyls and short-tailed pterodactyls.

The Archæopteryx differs from all known birds, not only in the structure of its tail, but in having two, if not three digits in the hand; but there is no trace of the fifth digit of the winged reptile.

The conditions under which the skeleton occurs are such, says Professor Owen, as to remind us of the carcass of a gull which had been a prey to some Carnivore, which had removed all the soft parts, and perhaps the head, nothing being left but the bony legs and the indigestible quill-feathers. But since Professor Owen's paper was read, Mr. John Evans, whom I have often had occasion to mention in the earlier chapters of this work, seems to have found what may indicate a part of the missing cranium. He has called our attention to a smooth protuberance on the otherwise even surface of the slab of limestone which seems to be the cast of the brain or interior of the skull. Some part even of the cranial bone itself appears to be still buried in the matrix. Mr. Evans has pointed out the resemblance of this cast to one taken by himself from the cranium of a crow, and still more to that of a jay, observing that in the fossil the median line which separates the two hemispheres of the brain is visible.

To conclude, we may learn from this valuable relic how rashly the existence of Birds at the epoch of the Secondary rocks has been questioned, simply on negative evidence, and secondly, how many new forms may be expected to be brought to light in strata with which we are already best acquainted, to say nothing of the new formations which geologists are continually discovering.

  1. Monograph on British Brachiopoda, Paleontological Society, p. 222.
  2. Heer, Flora tertiana Helvetiæ, 1859; and Gaudin's French translation, with additions, 1861.
  3. Lyell's Second Visit to the United States, vol. ii. p. 293.
  4. Wollaston, On the Variation of Species, &c. London, Van Voorst, 1856.
  5. Transactions of Northern Entomological Society, 1862.
  6. Geological Quarterly Journal, vol. xiii. p. 314, 1857.
  7. Proceedings of the Geological Society, London, 1862.
  8. Schlegel, Natural Historical Review, No. 5, p. 72, 1862.
  9. Proceedings of Academy of Natural Science, Philadelphia, for 1858, p. 89.
  10. Die versunkene Insel Atlantis.
  11. Flora tertiaria Helvetiæ.
  12. Oliver, Lecture at the Royal Institution, March 7, 1862.
  13. 1st edit., vol. iii. pp. 48 and 140.
  14. Introductory Essay, &c., p. vii.
  15. Origin of Species, 3rd ed. p. 340.
  16. Page 144 to 149.