Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/640

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

Clearly the only way to find an answer to this question is to go to Nature itself and examine the principles upon which God has deemed it wise to order the living population of the world.

Doing this, we find living upon the world at present at least 272,090 different species of animals, the number of individuals in each species being beyond computation or expression. We also know that 39,925 species, with their countless numbers of individuals, have succumbed in the struggle for life and become extinct.[1]

Now, it has been ordained, in the perfect mercy of God, that each individual of this innumerable population be born, live for a little time, and die. With many species, birth itself is painful. With all, life is a continuous struggle and terminates in what is commonly called "the agony of death." Few, at least of the higher animals, struggle out the full measure of their days and die in peace. The vast majority are starved to death, or famished and scorched to death by heat and drought, buried in the burning debris of volcanoes or in snows and frozen to death, or are beaten to death by hail or drowned in floods. And in and through all this is the desperate struggle to find a grain of food, a drop of water, a little shelter, a foothold in the flood, a way out of the fiery hail or burning forest.

But harsh as is the relation between animal life and the physical world, still more severe are the relations of animals to one another. Here we see the weaker preyed on by the stronger mercilessly, and behold the array of vivisectional instruments—the teeth and jaws, the beaks and talons, the claws and fangs, developed for this purpose. Here the animals that escape the accidents of the physical world perish most miserably, are lacerated, torn limb from limb, are slowly crushed in serpents' coils or slowly swallowed alive. And again in all this is the last, probably of many, flight for dear life, the last convulsive effort to tear loose from the teeth or talons. Certain plants, even, are carnivorous, and entrap and digest living animals. More than all this, among certain animals, the males fight to the death for possession of the females of the species.

Still more terrible, many animals and plants become parasitic, and suck from day to day the life-blood of their hosts. Undoubtedly the greatest distress to which the animal kingdom is subjected occurs under this head. Some of the many diseases producing microbes become established in the animal. The dis-

  1. ↑ Leunis. Synopsis der Thierkunde, vol. ii, p. 1176, Hanover, 1886. The above is merely the number of species known to Leunis in 1886, and by no means the entire number inhabiting the earth. Lord Walsingham estimates that there are upward of two million species of insects alone. (Entomological News, April, 1890, p. 58.)