The Origin of Species – Day 85 of 119

Thus the embryo comes to be left as a sort of picture, preserved by nature, of the ancient and less modified condition of each animal. This view may be true, and yet it may never be capable of full proof. Seeing, for instance, that the oldest known mammals, reptiles, and fish strictly belong to their own proper classes, though some of these old forms are in a slight degree less distinct from each other than are the typical members of the same groups at the present day, it would be vain to look for animals having the common embryological character of the Vertebrata, until beds far beneath the lowest Silurian strata are discovered–a discovery of which the chance is very small.

On the Succession of the Same Types Within the Same Areas, During the Later Tertiary Periods.

Mr. Clift many years ago showed that the fossil mammals from the Australian caves were closely allied to the living marsupials of that continent. In South America, a similar relationship is manifest, even to an uneducated eye, in the gigantic pieces of armour like those of the armadillo, found in several parts of La Plata; and Professor Owen has shown in the most striking manner that most of the fossil mammals, buried there in such numbers, are related to South American types. This relationship is even more clearly seen in the wonderful collection of fossil bones made by MM. Lund and Clausen in the caves of Brazil. I was so much impressed with these facts that I strongly insisted, in 1839 and 1845, on this “law of the succession of types,”–on “this wonderful relationship in the same continent between the dead and the living.” Professor Owen has subsequently extended the same generalisation to the mammals of the Old World. We see the same law in this author’s restorations of the extinct and gigantic birds of New Zealand. We see it also in the birds of the caves of Brazil. Mr. Woodward has shown that the same law holds good with sea-shells, but from the wide distribution of most genera of molluscs, it is not well displayed by them. Other cases could be added, as the relation between the extinct and living land-shells of Madeira; and between the extinct and living brackish-water shells of the Aralo-Caspian Sea.

Now what does this remarkable law of the succession of the same types within the same areas mean? He would be a bold man, who after comparing the present climate of Australia and of parts of South America under the same latitude, would attempt to account, on the one hand, by dissimilar physical conditions for the dissimilarity of the inhabitants of these two continents, and, on the other hand, by similarity of conditions, for the uniformity of the same types in each during the later tertiary periods. Nor can it be pretended that it is an immutable law that marsupials should have been chiefly or solely produced in Australia; or that Edentata and other American types should have been solely produced in South America. For we know that Europe in ancient times was peopled by numerous marsupials; and I have shown in the publications above alluded to, that in America the law of distribution of terrestrial mammals was formerly different from what it now is. North America formerly partook strongly of the present character of the southern half of the continent; and the southern half was formerly more closely allied, than it is at present, to the northern half. In a similar manner we know from Falconer and Cautley’s discoveries, that northern India was formerly more closely related in its mammals to Africa than it is at the present time. Analogous facts could be given in relation to the distribution of marine animals.

On the theory of descent with modification, the great law of the long enduring, but not immutable, succession of the same types within the same areas, is at once explained; for the inhabitants of each quarter of the world will obviously tend to leave in that quarter, during the next succeeding period of time, closely allied though in some degree modified descendants. If the inhabitants of one continent formerly differed greatly from those of another continent, so will their modified descendants still differ in nearly the same manner and degree. But after very long intervals of time and after great geographical changes, permitting much inter-migration, the feebler will yield to the more dominant forms, and there will be nothing immutable in the laws of past and present distribution.

It may be asked in ridicule, whether I suppose that the megatherium and other allied huge monsters have left behind them in South America the sloth, armadillo, and anteater, as their degenerate descendants. This cannot for an instant be admitted. These huge animals have become wholly extinct, and have left no progeny. But in the caves of Brazil, there are many extinct species which are closely allied in size and in other characters to the species still living in South America; and some of these fossils may be the actual progenitors of living species. It must not be forgotten that, on my theory, all the species of the same genus have descended from some one species; so that if six genera, each having eight species, be found in one geological formation, and in the next succeeding formation there be six other allied or representative genera with the same number of species, then we may conclude that only one species of each of the six older genera has left modified descendants, constituting the six new genera. The other seven species of the old genera have all died out and have left no progeny. Or, which would probably be a far commoner case, two or three species of two or three alone of the six older genera will have been the parents of the six new genera; the other old species and the other whole genera having become utterly extinct. In failing orders, with the genera and species decreasing in numbers, as apparently is the case of the Edentata of South America, still fewer genera and species will have left modified blood-descendants.

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