same individual embryo, which ultimately become very unlike, and serve for diverse purposes, being at an early period of growth alike;— the common, but not invariable, resemblance between the embryos or larvæ of the most distinct species in the same class; the embryo often retaining, while within the egg or womb, structures which are of no service to it, either at that or at a later period of life; on the other hand, larvæ which have to provide for their own wants, being perfectly adapted to the surrounding conditions;— and lastly, the fact of certain larvæ standing higher in the scale of organisation than the mature animal into which they are developed? I believe that all these facts can be explained as follows.
It is commonly assumed, perhaps from monstrosities affecting the embryo at a very early period, that slight variations or individual differences necessarily appear at an equally early period. We have little evidence on this head, but what we have certainly points the other way; for it is notorious that breeders of cattle, horses and various fancy animals, cannot positively tell, until some time after birth, what will be the merits and demerits of their young animals. We see this plainly in our own children; we cannot tell whether a child will be tall or short, or what its precise features will be. The question is not, at what period of life any variation may have been caused, but at what period the effects are displayed. The cause may have acted, and I believe often has acted, on one or both parents before the act of generation. It deserves notice that it is of no importance to a very young animal, as long as it is nourished and protected by its parent, whether most of its characters are acquired a little earlier or later in life. It would not signify, for instance, to a bird which obtained its food by having a much-curved beak whether or not while young it possessed a beak of this shape, as long as it was fed by its parents.
I have stated in the first chapter, that at whatever age any variation first appears in the parent, it tends to reappear at a corresponding age in the offspring. Certain variations can only appear at corresponding ages; for instance, peculiarities in the caterpillar, cocoon, or imago states of the silk-moth; or, again, in the full-grown horns of cattle. But variations which, for all that we can see might have appeared either earlier or later in life, likewise tend to reappear at a corresponding age in the offspring and parent. I am far from meaning that this is invariably the case, and I could give several exceptional cases of variations (taking the word in the largest sense) which have supervened at an earlier age in the child than in the parent.