Page:Origin of Species 1872.djvu/172

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


Special difficulties of the theory of natural selection.

Although we must be extremely cautious in concluding that any organ could not have been produced by successive, small, transitional gradations, yet undoubtedly serious cases of difficulty occur.

One of the most serious is that of neuter insects, which are often differently constructed from either the males or fertile females; but this case will be treated of in the next chapter. The electric organs of fishes offer another case of special difficulty; for it is impossible to conceive by what steps these wondrous organs have been produced. But this is not surprising, for we do not even know of what use they are. In the gymnotus and torpedo they no doubt serve as powerful means of defence, and perhaps for securing prey; yet in the ray, as observed by Matteucci, an analogous organ in the tail manifests but little electricity, even when the animal is greatly irritated; so little that it can hardly be of any use for the above purposes. Moreover, in the ray, besides the organ just referred to, there is, as Dr. R. M’Donnell has shown, another organ near the head, not known to be electrical, but which appears to be the real homologue of the electric battery in the torpedo. It is generally admitted that there exists between these organs and ordinary muscle a close analogy, in intimate structure, in the distribution of the nerves, and in the manner in which they are acted on by various reagents. It should, also, be especially observed that muscular contraction is accompanied by an electrical discharge; and, as Dr. Radcliffe insists, "in the electrical apparatus of the torpedo during rest, there would seem to be a charge in every respect like that which is met with in muscle and nerve during the rest, and the discharge of the torpedo, instead of being peculiar, may be only another form of the discharge which attends upon the action of muscle and motor nerve." Beyond this we cannot at present go in the way of explanation; but as we know so little about the uses of these organs, and as we know nothing about the habits and structure of the progenitors of the existing electric fishes, it would be extremely bold to maintain that no serviceable transitions are possible by which these organs might have been gradually developed.

These organs appear at first to offer another and far more serious difficulty; for they occur in about a dozen kinds of fish, of which several are widely remote in their affinities. When the same organ is found in several members of the same class, especially if in members having very different habits of life, we may generally attribute its presence to inheritance from a common ancestor; and