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


We have seen that the members of the same class, independently of their habits of life, resemble each other in the general plan of their organisation. This resemblance is often expressed by the term "unity of type;" or by saying that the several parts and organs in the different species of the class are homologous. The whole subject is included under the general term of Morphology. This is one of the most interesting departments of natural history, and may almost be said to be its very soul. What can be more curious than that the hand of a man, formed for grasping, that of a mole for digging, the leg of the horse, the paddle of the porpoise, and the wing of the bat, should all be constructed on the same pattern, and should include similar bones, in the same relative positions? How curious it is, to give a subordinate though striking instance, that the hind feet of the kangaroo, which are so well fitted for bounding over the open plains--those of the climbing, leaf-eating koala, equally well fitted for grasping the branches of trees--those of the ground-dwelling, insect or root-eating, bandicoots--and those of some other Australian marsupials-- should all be constructed on the same extraordinary type, namely with the bones of the second and third digits extremely slender and enveloped within the same skin, so that they appear like a single toe furnished with two claws. Notwithstanding this similarity of pattern, it is obvious that the hind feet of these several animals are used for as widely different purposes as it is possible to conceive. The case is rendered all the more striking by the American opossums, which follow nearly the same habits of life as some of their Australian relatives, having feet constructed on the ordinary plan. Professor Flower, from whom these statements are taken, remarks in conclusion: "We may call this conformity to type, without getting much nearer to an explanation of the phenomenon;" and he then adds "but is it not powerfully suggestive of true relationship, of inheritance from a common ancestor?"

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