Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection


It seems to be a rule, as remarked by Is. Geoffroy St. Hilaire, both with varieties and species, that when any part or organ is repeated many times in the same individual (as the vertebrae in snakes, and the stamens in polyandrous flowers) the number is variable; whereas the number of the same part or organ, when it occurs in lesser numbers, is constant. The same author as well as some botanists, have further remarked that multiple parts are extremely liable to vary in structure. As "vegetative repetition," to use Professor Owen's expression, is a sign of low organisation; the foregoing statements accord with the common opinion of naturalists, that beings which stand low in the scale of nature are more variable than those which are higher. I presume that lowness here means that the several parts of the organisation have been but little specialised for particular functions; and as long as the same part has to perform diversified work, we can perhaps see why it should remain variable, that is, why natural selection should not have preserved or rejected each little deviation of form so carefully as when the part has to serve for some one special purpose. In the same way that a knife which has to cut all sorts of things may be of almost any shape; whilst a tool for some particular purpose must be of some particular shape. Natural selection, it should never be forgotten, can act solely through and for the advantage of each being.

Rudimentary parts, as is generally admitted, are apt to be highly variable. We shall have to recur to this subject; and I will here only add that their variability seems to result from their uselessness, and consequently from natural selection having had no power to check deviations in their structure.

This is page 142 of 505. [Mark this Page]
Mark any page to add this title to Your Bookshelf. (0 / 10 books on shelf)
Customize text appearance:
Color: A A A A A   Font: Aa Aa   Size: 1 2 3 4 5   Defaults
(c) 2003-2012 and Michael Moncur. All rights reserved.
For information about public domain texts appearing here, read the copyright information and disclaimer.