Page:Origin of Species 1872.djvu/205

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


jaw, of about 300 plates or laminæ, which stand close together transversely to the longer axis of the mouth. Within the main row there are some subsidiary rows. The extremities and inner margins of all the plates are frayed into stiff bristles, which clothe the whole gigantic palate, and serve to strain or sift the water, and thus to secure the minute prey on which these great animals subsist. The middle and longest lamina in the Greenland whale is ten, twelve, or even fifteen feet in length; but in the different species of Cetaceans there are gradations in length; the middle lamina being in one species, according to Scoresby, four feet, in another three, in another eighteen inches, and in the Balaenoptera rostrata only about nine inches in length. The quality of the whale-bone also differs in the different species.

With respect to the baleen, Mr. Mivart remarks that if it "had once attained such a size and development as to be at all useful, then its preservation and augmentation within serviceable limits would be promoted by natural selection alone. But how to obtain the beginning of such useful development?" In answer, it may be asked, why should not the early progenitors of the whales with baleen have possessed a mouth constructed something like the lamellated beak of a duck? Ducks, like whales, subsist by sifting the mud and water; and the family has sometimes been called Criblatores, or sifters. I hope that I may not be misconstrued into saying that the progenitors of whales did actually possess mouths lamellated like the beak of a duck. I wish only to show that this is not incredible, and that the immense plates of baleen in the Greenland whale might have been developed from such lamellæ by finely graduated steps, each of service to its possessor.

The beak of a shoveller-duck (Spatula clypeata) is a more beautiful and complex structure than the mouth of a whale. The upper mandible is furnished on each side (in the specimen examined by me) with a row or comb formed of 188 thin, elastic lamellæ, obliquely bevelled so as to be pointed, and placed transversely to the longer axis of the mouth. They arise from the palate, and are attached by flexible membrane to the sides of the mandible. Those standing towards the middle are the longest, being about one-third of an inch in length, and they project fourteen one- hundredths of an inch beneath the edge. At their bases there is a short subsidiary row of obliquely transverse lamellae. In these several respects they resemble the plates of baleen in the mouth of a whale. But towards the extremity of the beak they differ much, as they project inward, instead of straight downward. The entire head of the shoveller, though incomparably less bulky, is about one-eighteenth of the