The Descent of Man – Day 3 of 151

Embryonic Development

Shows a human embryo, from Ecker, and a dog embryo, from Bischoff.  Labelled in each are: a.  Fore-brain, cerebral hemispheres, etc. b.  Mid-brain, corpora quadrigemina. c.  Hind-brain, cerebellum, medulla oblongata. d.  Eye. e.  Ear. f.  First visceral arch. g.  Second visceral arch. H.  Vertebral columns and muscles in process of development. i.  Anterior extremities. K.  Posterior extremities. L.  Tail or os coccyx.

Figure 1: Shows a human embryo, from Ecker, and a dog embryo, from Bischoff. Labelled in each are:
a. Fore-brain, cerebral hemispheres, etc.
b. Mid-brain, corpora quadrigemina.
c. Hind-brain, cerebellum, medulla oblongata.
d. Eye.
e. Ear.
f. First visceral arch.
g. Second visceral arch.
H. Vertebral columns and muscles in process of development.
i. Anterior extremities.
K. Posterior extremities.
L. Tail or os coccyx.

Man is developed from an ovule, about the 125th of an inch in diameter, which differs in no respect from the ovules of other animals. The embryo itself at a very early period can hardly be distinguished from that of other members of the vertebrate kingdom. At this period the arteries run in arch-like branches, as if to carry the blood to branchiae which are not present in the higher Vertebrata, though the slits on the sides of the neck still remain (see f, g, fig. 1), marking their former position. At a somewhat later period, when the extremities are developed, “the feet of lizards and mammals,” as the illustrious Von Baer remarks, “the wings and feet of birds, no less than the hands and feet of man, all arise from the same fundamental form.” It is, says Prof. Huxley (14. ‘Man’s Place in Nature,’ 1863, p. 67.), “quite in the later stages of development that the young human being presents marked differences from the young ape, while the latter departs as much from the dog in its developments, as the man does. Startling as this last assertion may appear to be, it is demonstrably true.”

As some of my readers may never have seen a drawing of an embryo, I have given one of man and another of a dog, at about the same early stage of development, carefully copied from two works of undoubted accuracy. (15. The human embryo (upper fig.) is from Ecker, ‘Icones Phys.,’ 1851-1859, tab. xxx. fig. 2. This embryo was ten lines in length, so that the drawing is much magnified. The embryo of the dog is from Bischoff, ‘Entwicklungsgeschichte des Hunde-Eies,’ 1845, tab. xi. fig. 42B. This drawing is five times magnified, the embryo being twenty-five days old. The internal viscera have been omitted, and the uterine appendages in both drawings removed. I was directed to these figures by Prof. Huxley, from whose work, ‘Man’s Place in Nature,’ the idea of giving them was taken. Haeckel has also given analogous drawings in his ‘Schopfungsgeschichte.’)

After the foregoing statements made by such high authorities, it would be superfluous on my part to give a number of borrowed details, shewing that the embryo of man closely resembles that of other mammals. It may, however, be added, that the human embryo likewise resembles certain low forms when adult in various points of structure. For instance, the heart at first exists as a simple pulsating vessel; the excreta are voided through a cloacal passage; and the os coccyx projects like a true tail, “extending considerably beyond the rudimentary legs.” (16. Prof. Wyman in ‘Proceedings of the American Academy of Sciences,’ vol. iv. 1860, p. 17.) In the embryos of all air-breathing vertebrates, certain glands, called the corpora Wolffiana, correspond with, and act like the kidneys of mature fishes. (17. Owen, ‘Anatomy of Vertebrates,’ vol. i. p. 533.) Even at a later embryonic period, some striking resemblances between man and the lower animals may be observed. Bischoff says that “the convolutions of the brain in a human foetus at the end of the seventh month reach about the same stage of development as in a baboon when adult.” (18. ‘Die Grosshirnwindungen des Menschen,’ 1868, s. 95.) The great toe, as Professor Owen remarks (19. ‘Anatomy of Vertebrates,’ vol. ii. p. 553.), “which forms the fulcrum when standing or walking, is perhaps the most characteristic peculiarity in the human structure;” but in an embryo, about an inch in length, Prof. Wyman (20. ‘Proc. Soc. Nat. Hist.’ Boston, 1863, vol. ix. p. 185.) found “that the great toe was shorter than the others; and, instead of being parallel to them, projected at an angle from the side of the foot, thus corresponding with the permanent condition of this part in the quadrumana.” I will conclude with a quotation from Huxley (21. ‘Man’s Place in Nature,’ p. 65.) who after asking, does man originate in a different way from a dog, bird, frog or fish? says, “the reply is not doubtful for a moment; without question, the mode of origin, and the early stages of the development of man, are identical with those of the animals immediately below him in the scale: without a doubt in these respects, he is far nearer to apes than the apes are to the dog.”


This subject, though not intrinsically more important than the two last, will for several reasons be treated here more fully. (22. I had written a rough copy of this chapter before reading a valuable paper, “Caratteri rudimentali in ordine all’ origine dell’ uomo” (‘Annuario della Soc. d. Naturalisti,’ Modena, 1867, p. 81), by G. Canestrini, to which paper I am considerably indebted. Haeckel has given admirable discussions on this whole subject, under the title of Dysteleology, in his ‘Generelle Morphologie’ and ‘Schopfungsgeschichte.’) Not one of the higher animals can be named which does not bear some part in a rudimentary condition; and man forms no exception to the rule. Rudimentary organs must be distinguished from those that are nascent; though in some cases the distinction is not easy. The former are either absolutely useless, such as the mammae of male quadrupeds, or the incisor teeth of ruminants which never cut through the gums; or they are of such slight service to their present possessors, that we can hardly suppose that they were developed under the conditions which now exist. Organs in this latter state are not strictly rudimentary, but they are tending in this direction. Nascent organs, on the other hand, though not fully developed, are of high service to their possessors, and are capable of further development. Rudimentary organs are eminently variable; and this is partly intelligible, as they are useless, or nearly useless, and consequently are no longer subjected to natural selection. They often become wholly suppressed. When this occurs, they are nevertheless liable to occasional reappearance through reversion– a circumstance well worthy of attention.

The chief agents in causing organs to become rudimentary seem to have been disuse at that period of life when the organ is chiefly used (and this is generally during maturity), and also inheritance at a corresponding period of life. The term “disuse” does not relate merely to the lessened action of muscles, but includes a diminished flow of blood to a part or organ, from being subjected to fewer alternations of pressure, or from becoming in any way less habitually active. Rudiments, however, may occur in one sex of those parts which are normally present in the other sex; and such rudiments, as we shall hereafter see, have often originated in a way distinct from those here referred to. In some cases, organs have been reduced by means of natural selection, from having become injurious to the species under changed habits of life. The process of reduction is probably often aided through the two principles of compensation and economy of growth; but the later stages of reduction, after disuse has done all that can fairly be attributed to it, and when the saving to be effected by the economy of growth would be very small (23. Some good criticisms on this subject have been given by Messrs. Murie and Mivart, in ‘Transact. Zoological Society,’ 1869, vol. vii. p. 92.), are difficult to understand. The final and complete suppression of a part, already useless and much reduced in size, in which case neither compensation nor economy can come into play, is perhaps intelligible by the aid of the hypothesis of pangenesis. But as the whole subject of rudimentary organs has been discussed and illustrated in my former works (24. ‘Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,’ vol. ii pp. 317 and 397. See also ‘Origin of Species,’ 5th Edition p. 535.), I need here say no more on this head.

Rudiments of various muscles have been observed in many parts of the human body (25. For instance, M. Richard (‘Annales des Sciences Nat.,’ 3rd series, Zoolog. 1852, tom. xviii. p. 13) describes and figures rudiments of what he calls the “muscle pedieux de la main,” which he says is sometimes “infiniment petit.” Another muscle, called “le tibial posterieur,” is generally quite absent in the hand, but appears from time to time in a more or less rudimentary condition.); and not a few muscles, which are regularly present in some of the lower animals can occasionally be detected in man in a greatly reduced condition. Every one must have noticed the power which many animals, especially horses, possess of moving or twitching their skin; and this is effected by the panniculus carnosus. Remnants of this muscle in an efficient state are found in various parts of our bodies; for instance, the muscle on the forehead, by which the eyebrows are raised. The platysma myoides, which is well developed on the neck, belongs to this system. Prof. Turner, of Edinburgh, has occasionally detected, as he informs me, muscular fasciculi in five different situations, namely in the axillae, near the scapulae, etc., all of which must be referred to the system of the panniculus. He has also shewn (26. Prof. W. Turner, ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,’ 1866-67, p. 65.) that the musculus sternalis or sternalis brutorum, which is not an extension of the rectus abdominalis, but is closely allied to the panniculus, occurred in the proportion of about three per cent. in upwards of 600 bodies: he adds, that this muscle affords “an excellent illustration of the statement that occasional and rudimentary structures are especially liable to variation in arrangement.”

Some few persons have the power of contracting the superficial muscles on their scalps; and these muscles are in a variable and partially rudimentary condition. M. A. de Candolle has communicated to me a curious instance of the long-continued persistence or inheritance of this power, as well as of its unusual development. He knows a family, in which one member, the present head of the family, could, when a youth, pitch several heavy books from his head by the movement of the scalp alone; and he won wagers by performing this feat. His father, uncle, grandfather, and his three children possess the same power to the same unusual degree. This family became divided eight generations ago into two branches; so that the head of the above-mentioned branch is cousin in the seventh degree to the head of the other branch. This distant cousin resides in another part of France; and on being asked whether he possessed the same faculty, immediately exhibited his power. This case offers a good illustration how persistent may be the transmission of an absolutely useless faculty, probably derived from our remote semi-human progenitors; since many monkeys have, and frequently use the power, of largely moving their scalps up and down. (27. See my ‘Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,’ 1872, p. 144.)

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