The Geographical Distribution of Animals/Chapter 9






Having discussed, in our First Part, such general and preliminary matters as are necessary to a proper comprehension of our subject; and having made ourselves acquainted, in our Second Part, with the most important results of Palæontology, we now come to our more immediate subject, which we propose to treat first under its geographical aspect. Taking each of our six regions in succession, we shall point out in some detail the chief zoological features they present, as influenced by climate, vegetation, and other physical features. We shall then treat each of the sub-regions by itself, as well as such of the islands or other sub-divisions as present features of special interest; endeavouring to ascertain their true relations to each other, and the more important changes of physical geography that seem necessary to account for their present zoological condition.


Order of Succession of the Regions.—We may here explain the reason for taking the several regions in a different succession from that in which they appear in the tabular or diagrammatic headings to each family, in the Fourth, and concluding part of this work. It will have been seen, by our examination of extinct animals (and it will be made still clearer during our study of the several regions) that all the chief types of animal life appear to have originated in the great north temperate or northern continents; while the southern continents—now represented by South America, Australia, and South Africa with Madagascar—have been more or less completely isolated, during long periods, both from the northern continent and from each other. These latter countries have, however, been subject to more or less immigration from the north during rare epochs of approximation to, or partial union with it. In the northern, more extensive, and probably more ancient land, the process of development has been more rapid, and has resulted in more varied and higher types; while the southern lands, for the most part, seem to have produced numerous diverging modifications of the lower grades of organization, the original types of which they derived either from the north, or from some of the ancient continents in Mesozoic or Palæozoic times. Hence those curious resemblances in the fauna of South America, Australia, and, to a less extent, Madagascar, which have led to a somewhat general belief that these distant countries must at one time or other have been united; a belief which, after a careful examination of all the facts, does not seem to the author of this work to be well founded. On the other hand, there is the most satisfactory evidence that each southern region has been more or less closely united (during the tertiary or later secondary epoch) with the great northern continents, leading to numerous resemblances and affinities in their productions.

In endeavouring to present at a glance in the most convenient manner, the distribution of the families in the several regions and sub-regions, it was necessary to arrange them, so that those whose relations to each other were closest should stand side by side; the first and last being those between which the relations were least numerous and least important. Influenced by the usual opinions as to the relations between Australia and South America, the series was at first begun with the Nearctic, and terminated with the Australian and Neotropical regions; and it was not till the whole of the vertebrate families had been gone through, and their distribution carefully studied, that these last two regions were seen to be really wider apart than any others of the series. It was therefore decided to alter the arrangement, beginning with the Neotropical, and ending with the Australian regions; and a careful inspection of the diagrams themselves, taken in their entirety, will, it is believed, show that this is the most natural plan, and most truly exhibits the relations of the several regions.

In the portion of our work now commencing, we are not, however, by any means bound to begin at either end of this series. Each region is studied by itself, but reference will often have to be made to all the other regions; and wherever we begin, we must occasionally refer to facts which will be given further on. As, however, the great northern continents form the central mass from which the southern regions, as it were, diverge, and as the Palæarctic region is both more extensive and much better known than any other, it undoubtedly forms the most convenient starting-point for our proposed survey of the zoological history of the earth. We thus pass from the better known to the less known—from Europe to Africa and tropical Asia, and thence to Australia, completing the series of regions of the Eastern Hemisphere. Beginning again with the Neotropical region, we pass to the Nearctic, which has such striking relations with the preceding and with the Palæarctic region, that it can only be properly understood by constant reference to both. We thus keep separate the Eastern and Western hemispheres, which form, from our point of view, the most radical and most suggestive division of terrestrial faunas; and as we are able to make this also the dividing point of our two volumes, reference to the work will be thereby facilitated.


Cosmopolitan Groups.—Before proceeding to sketch the zoological features of the several Regions it will be well to notice those family groups which belong to the earth as a whole, and which are so widely and universally distributed over it that it will be unnecessary, in some cases, to do more than refer to them under the separate geographical divisions.

The only absolutely cosmopolitan families of Mammalia are those which are aerial or marine; and this is one of the striking proofs that their distribution has been effected by natural causes, and that the permanence of barriers is one of the chief agencies in the limitation of their range. Even among the aerial bats, however, only one family—the Vespertilionidæ—is truly cosmopolitan, the others having a more or less restricted range. Neither are the Cetacea necessarily cosmopolitan, most of the families being restricted either to warm or to cold seas; but one family, the dolphins (Delphinidæ), is truly so. This order however will not require further notice, as, being exclusively marine the groups do not enter into any of our terrestrial regions. The only other family of mammals that may be considered to be cosmopolitan, is the Muridæ (rats and mice); yet these are not entirely so, since none are known to be truly indigenous in any part of the Australian region except Australia itself.

In the class of Birds, a number of families are cosmopolites, if we reckon as such all which are found in each region and sub-region; but several of these are so abundant in some parts, while they are so sparingly represented in others, that they cannot fairly be considered so. We shall confine that term therefore, to such as, there is reason to believe, inhabit every important sub-division of each region. Such are, among the Passerine birds the crows (Corvidæ), and swallows (Hirundinidæ); among the Picariæ the kingfishers (Alcedinidæ); among other Land birds the pigeons (Columbidæ), grouse and partridges (Tetraonidæ), hawks (Falconidæ), and owls (Strigidæ); among the Waders the rails (Rallidæ), snipes (Scolopacidæ), plovers (Charadriadæ), and herons (Ardeidæ); and among the Swimmers the ducks (Anatidæ), gulls (Laridæ), petrels (Procellariidæ), pelicans (Pelecanidæ), and grebes (Podicipidæ).

In the class of Reptiles there are few absolutely cosmopolitan families, owing to the scarcity of members of this group in some insular sub-regions, such as New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Those which are most nearly so are the Colubridæ among snakes, and the Scincidæ among lizards.

There is no cosmopolitan family of Amphibia, the true frogs (Ranidæ) being the most widely distributed.

Neither is any family of Freshwater Fishes cosmopolitan, the Siluridæ, which have the widest range, being confined to warm regions, and becoming very scarce in the temperate zones.

Among the Diurnal and Crepuscular Lepidoptera (butterflies and sphinges) the following families are cosmopolitan:—Satyridæ, Nymphalidæ, Lycænidæ, Pieridæ, Papilionidæ, Hesperidæ, Zygænidæ, and Sphingidæ.

Of the Coleoptera almost all, except some of the small and obscure families, are cosmopolitan.

Of the terrestrial Mollusca, the Helicidæ alone are true cosmopolites.


Tables of Distribution of Families and Genera.—Having been obliged to construct numerous tables of the distribution of the various groups for the purposes of the descriptive part of the work, I have thought it well to append the most important of them, in a convenient form, to the chapter on each region; as much information will thereby be given, which can only be obtained from existing works at the cost of great labour. All these tables are drawn up on a uniform plan, the same generic and family names being used in each; and all are arranged in the same systematic order, so as to be readily comparable with each other. This, although it seems a simple and natural thing to do, has involved a very great amount of labour, because hardly two authors use the same names or follow the same arrangement. Hence comparison between them is impossible, till all their work has been picked to pieces, their synonymy unravelled, their differences accounted for, and the materials recast; and this has to be done, not for two or three authors only, but for the majority of those whose works have been consulted on the zoology of any part of the globe.

Except in the two higher orders—Mammalia and Birds—materials do not exist for complete tables of the genera brought down to the present time. We have given therefore, first, a complete table of all the families of Vertebrata and Diurnal Lepidoptera found in each region, showing the sub-regions in which they occur, and their range beyond the limits of the region. Families which are wholly peculiar to the region, or very characteristic and almost exclusively confined to it, are in italics. The number prefixed to each family corresponds to that of the series of families in the Fourth Part of this work, so that if further information is required it can be readily referred to without consulting the index. Names inclosed in parentheses—( . . . ) thus—indicate families which only just enter a region from an adjacent one, to which they properly belong. The eye is thus directed to the more, and the less important families; and a considerable amount of information as to the general features of the zoology of the region, is conveyed in the easiest manner.

The tables of genera of Mammalia and Birds, are arranged on a somewhat different plan. Each genus is given under its Family and Order, and they follow in the same succession in all the tables. The number of species of each genus, inhabiting the region, is given as nearly as can be ascertained; but in many cases this can only be a general approximation. The distribution of the genera within the region, is then given with some detail; and, lastly, the range of the genus beyond the region is given in general terms, the words "Oriental," "Ethiopian," &c., being used for brevity, to indicate that the genus occurs over a considerable part of such regions. Genera which are restricted to the region (or which are very characteristic of it though just transgressing its limits) are given in italics; while those which only just enter the region from another to which they really belong, are enclosed in parentheses—( . . . ) thus. The genera are here numbered consecutively, in order that the number of genera in each family or each order, in the region, may be readily ascertained (by one process of subtraction), and thus comparisons made with other regions or with any other area. As the tables of birds would be swelled to an inconvenient length by the insertion in each region of all the genera of Waders and Aquatics, most of which have a very wide range and would have to be repeated in several or all the regions, these have been omitted; but a list has been given of such of the genera as are peculiar to, or highly characteristic of each region.

As this is the first time that any such extensive tables of distribution have been constructed for the whole of the Mammalia and Birds, they must necessarily contain many errors of detail; but with all their imperfections it is believed they will prove very useful to naturalists, to teachers, and to all who take an intelligent interest in the wider problems of geography and natural history.