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Chap. VI.
Affinities and Genealogy.

Prof. Owen,[1] the Ichthyosaurians—great sea-lizards furnished with paddles—present many affinities with fishes, or rather, according to Huxley, with amphibians; a class which, including in its highest division frogs and toads, is plainly allied to the Ganoid fishes. These latter fishes swarmed during the earlier geological periods, and were constructed on what is called a generalised type, that is, they presented diversified affinities with other groups of organisms. The Lepidosiren is also so closely allied to amphibians and fishes, that naturalists long disputed in which of these two classes to rank it; it, and also some few Ganoid fishes, have been preserved from utter extinction by inhabiting rivers, which are harbours of refuge, and are related to the great waters of the ocean in the same way that islands are to continents.

Lastly, one single member of the immense and diversified class of fishes, namely, the lancelet or amphioxus, is so different from all other fishes, that Häckel maintains that it ought to form a distinct class in the vertebrate kingdom. This fish is remarkable for its negative characters; it can hardly be said to possess a brain, vertebral column, or heart, &c.; so that it was classed by the older naturalists amongst the worms. Many years ago Prof. Goodsir perceived that the lancelet presented some affinities with the Ascidians, which are invertebrate, hermaphrodite, marine creatures permanently attached to a support. They hardly appear like animals, and consist of a simple, tough, leathery sack, with two small projecting orifices. They belong to the Molluscoida of Huxley—a lower division of the great kingdom of the Mollusca; but they have recently been placed by some naturalists amongst the Vermes or worms. Their larvæ somewhat resemble tadpoles in shape,[2] and have the power of swimming freely about. Mr. Kovalevsky[3] has lately observed that the larvæ of Ascidians are related to the Vertebrata, in their manner of development, in the relative position of the nervous system, and in possessing a structure closely like the chorda dorsalis of vertebrate animals; and in this he has been since

  1. 'Palæontology,' 1860, p. 199.
  2. At the Falkland Islands I had the satisfaction of seeing, in April 1833, and therefore some years before any other naturalist, the locomotive larvæ of a compound Ascidian, closely allied to Synoicum, but apparently generically distinct from it. The tail was about five times as long as the oblong head, and terminated in a very fine filament. It was, as sketched by me under a simple microscope, plainly divided by transverse opaque partitions, which I presume represent the great cells figured by Kovalevsky. At an early stage of development the tail was closely coiled round the head of the larva.
  3. 'Mémoires de l’Acad. des Sciences de St. Petersbourg,' tom. x. No. 15, 1866.