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


This is one of the most important subjects in the whole round of natural history. The metamorphoses of insects, with which every one is familiar, are generally effected abruptly by a few stages; but the transformations are in reality numerous and gradual, though concealed. A certain ephemerous insect (Chloeon) during its development, moults, as shown by Sir J. Lubbock, above twenty times, and each time undergoes a certain amount of change; and in this case we see the act of metamorphosis performed in a primary and gradual manner. Many insects, and especially certain crustaceans, show us what wonderful changes of structure can be effected during development. Such changes, however, reach their acme in the so- called alternate generations of some of the lower animals. It is, for instance, an astonishing fact that a delicate branching coralline, studded with polypi, and attached to a submarine rock, should produce, first by budding and then by transverse division, a host of huge floating jelly- fishes; and that these should produce eggs, from which are hatched swimming animalcules, which attach themselves to rocks and become developed into branching corallines; and so on in an endless cycle. The belief in the essential identity of the process of alternate generation and of ordinary metamorphosis has been greatly strengthened by Wagner's discovery of the larva or maggot of a fly, namely the Cecidomyia, producing asexually other larvae, and these others, which finally are developed into mature males and females, propagating their kind in the ordinary manner by eggs.

It may be worth notice that when Wagner's remarkable discovery was first announced, I was asked how was it possible to account for the larvae of this fly having acquired the power of a sexual reproduction. As long as the case remained unique no answer could be given. But already Grimm has shown that another fly, a Chironomus, reproduces itself in nearly the same manner, and he believes that this occurs frequently in the order. It is the pupa, and not the larva, of the Chironomus which has this power; and Grimm further shows that this case, to a certain extent, "unites that of the Cecidomyia with the parthenogenesis of the Coccidae;" the term parthenogenesis implying that the mature females of the Coccidae are capable of producing fertile eggs without the concourse of the male. Certain animals belonging to several classes are now known to have the power of ordinary reproduction at an unusually early age; and we have only to accelerate parthenogenetic reproduction by gradual steps to an earlier and earlier age--Chironomus showing us an almost exactly intermediate stage, viz., that of the pupa--and we can perhaps account for the marvellous case of the Cecidomyia.

This is page 442 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.