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The amphibia (i.e. frogs, toads, and efts) were long considered (and are so still by some) to be reptiles, showing an affinity to fishes. It now appears that they form with the latter one great group-the ichthyopsida of Professor Huxley-which differs widely from reptiles; while its two component classes (fishes and amphibians) are difficult to separate from each other in a thoroughly satisfactory manner.
If we admit the hypothesis of gradual and minute modification, the succession of organisms on this planet must have been a progress from the more general to the more special, and no doubt this has been the case in the majority of instances. Yet it cannot be denied that some of the most recently formed fossils show a structure singularly more generalized than any exhibited by older allied forms; while others are more specialized than are any similar creatures of the existing creation.
A notable example of the former circumstance is offered by macrauchenia, a hoofed animal, which was at first supposed to be a kind of great llama (whence its name) — the llama being a ruminant, which, like all the rest, has two toes to each foot. Now hoofed animals are divisible into two very distinct series, according as the number of functional toes on each hind foot is odd or even. And many other characters are found to go with this obvious one. Even the very earliest Ungulata show this distinction, which is completely developed and marked even in the Eocene palæotherium and anoplotherium found in Paris by Cuvier. The former of these has the toes odd (perissodactyle), the other has them even (artiodactyle).
Now, the macrauchenia, from the first relics of it which were found, was thought to belong, as has been said, to
the even-toed division. Subsequent discoveries, however, seemed to give it an equal claim to rank amongst the perissodactyle forms. Others again inclined the balance. of probability towards the artiodactyle. Finally, it appears that this very recently extinct beast presents a highly generalized type of structure, uniting in one organic form both artiodactyle and perissodactyle characters, and that in a manner not similarly found in any other known creature living, or fossil. At the same time the differentiation of artiodactyle and perissodactyle forms existed as long ago as in the period of the Eocene ungulata, and even in a marked degree, as has been before observed.
Again, no armadillo now living presents nearly so remarkable a speciality of structure as was possessed by the extinct glyptodon. In that singular animal the spinal column had most of its joints fused together, forming a rigid cylindrical rod, a modification, as far as yet known, absolutely peculiar to it.
In a similar way the extinct machairodus, or sabre-toothed tiger, is characterized by a more highly differentiated and specially carnivorous dentition than is shown by any predacious beast of the present day. The specialization is of this kind. The grinding teeth (or molars) of beasts are divided into premolars and true molars. The premolars are molars which have deciduous vertical predecessors (or milk teeth), and any which are in front of such, i.e, between such and the canine tooth. The true molars are those placed behind the molars having deciduous vertical predecessors. Now, as a dentition becomes more distinctly carnivorous, so the hindermost molars and the foremost premolars disappear. In the existing cats this process is carried so far that in the upper jaw only one true molar is
left on each side. In the machairodus there is no upper true molar at all, while the premolars are reduced to two, there being only these two teeth above, on each side, behind the canine.
DENTITION OF THE SABRE-TOOTHED TIGER (MACHAIRODUS).
With regard to these instances of early specialization, as also with regard to the changed estimate of the degrees of affinity between forms, it is not pretended for a moment that such facts are irreconcilable with Natural Selection." Nevertheless, they point in an opposite direction. Of course not only is it conceivable that certain antique types arrived at a high degree of specialization and then disappeared; but it is manifest they did do so. Still the fact of this early degree of excessive specialization tells to a certain, however small, extent against a progress through excessively minute steps, whether fortuitous or not; as also does the distinctness of kinds formerly supposed to constitute connecting links. For, it must not be forgotten, that if species have manifested themselves generally by gradual and minute modifications, then the absence, not in one but in all cases, cf such connecting links, is a phenomenon which remains to be accounted for.
It appears then that, apart from fortuitous changes, there are certain difficulties in the way of accepting extremely minute modifications of any kind, although these difficulties may not be insuperable. Something, at all events, is to be said in favour of the opinion that sudden and appreciable changes have from time to time occurred, however they may have been induced. Marked races have undoubtedly so arisen (some striking instances having been here recorded), and it is at least conceivable that such may be the mode of specific manifestation generally, the possible conditions as to which will be considered in a later chapter.
AS TO SPECIFIC STABILITY.
What is meant by the phrase "specific stability;" such stability to be expected a priori, or else considerable changes at once.—Increasing difficulty of intensifying race characters; alleged causes of this phenomenon; probably an internal cause co-operates.-A certain definiteness in variations.—Mr. Darwin admits the principle of specific stability in certain cases of unequal variability. The goose.-The peacock.-The guinea-fowl.-Exceptional causes of variation under domestication.— Alleged tendency to reversion.-Instances.-Sterility of hybrids.— Prepotency of pollen of same species, but of different race.-Mortality in young gallinaceous hybrids.-A bar to intermixture exists somewhere.-Guinea-pigs.--Summary and conclusion.
As was observed in the preceding chapters, arguments may yet be advanced in favour of the opinion that species are stable (at least in the intervals of their comparatively sudden successive manifestations); that the organic world may be symbolized according to Mr. Galton's before-mentioned conception, by many facetted spheroids, each of which can repose upon any one facet, but, when too much disturbed, rolls over till it finds repose in stable equilibrium upon another and distinct facet. It is here contended then that something may be urged in favour of the existence of such facets of such intermitting conditions of stable equilibrium.
A view as to the stability of species, in the intervals of change, has been well expressed in an able article, before