Page:Origin of Species 1872.djvu/202

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some species are much more variable than others. Even if the fitting variations did arise, it does not follow that natural selection would be able to act on them and produce a structure which apparently would be beneficial to the species. For instance, if the number of individuals existing in a country is determined chiefly through destruction by beasts of prey,— by external or internal parasites, &c.,— as seems often to be the case, then natural selection will be able to do little, or will be greatly retarded, in modifying any particular structure for obtaining food. Lastly, natural selection is a slow process, and the same favourable conditions must long endure in order that any marked effect should thus be produced. Except by assigning such general and vague reasons, we cannot explain why, in many quarters of the world, hoofed quadrupeds have not acquired much elongated necks or other means for browsing on the higher branches of trees.

Objections of the same nature as the foregoing have been advanced by many writers. In each case various causes, besides the general ones just indicated, have probably interfered with the acquisition through natural selection of structures, which it is thought would be beneficial to certain species. One writer asks, why has not the ostrich acquired the power of flight? But a moment's reflection will show what an enormous supply of food would be necessary to give to this bird of the desert force to move its huge body through the air. Oceanic islands are inhabited by bats and seals, but by no terrestrial mammals; yet as some of these bats are peculiar species, they must have long inhabited their present homes. Therefore Sir C. Lyell asks, and assigns certain reasons in answer, why have not seals and bats given birth on such islands to forms fitted to live on the land? But seals would necessarily be first converted into terrestrial carnivorous animals of considerable size, and bats into terrestrial insectivorous animals; for the former there would be no prey; for the bats ground-insects would serve as food, but these would already be largely preyed on by the reptiles or birds, which first colonise and abound on most oceanic islands. Gradations of structure, with each stage beneficial to a changing species, will be favoured only under certain peculiar conditions. A strictly terrestrial animal, by occasionally hunting for food in shallow water, then in streams or lakes, might at last be converted into an animal so thoroughly aquatic as to brave the open ocean. But seals would not find on oceanic islands the conditions favourable to their gradual reconversion into a terrestrial form. Bats, as formerly shown, probably acquired their wings by at first gliding through the air from tree to tree, like the so-called flying squirrels,