Darwinism (Wallace)/Chapter XIII

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Darwinism (Wallace) by Alfred Russel Wallace



What we may expect—The number of known species of extinct animals—Causes of the imperfection of the geological record—Geological evidences of evolution—Shells—Crocodiles—The rhinoceros tribe—The pedigree of the horse tribe—Development of deer's horns—Brain development—Local relations of fossil and living animals—Cause of extinction of large animals—Indications of general progress in plants and animals—The progressive development of plants—Possible cause of sudden late appearance of exogens—Geological distribution of insects—Geological succession of vertebrata—Concluding remarks.

The theory of evolution in the organic world necessarily implies that the forms of animals and plants have, broadly speaking, progressed from a more generalised to a more specialised structure, and from simpler to more complex forms. We know, however, that this progression has been by no means regular, but has been accompanied by repeated degradation and degeneration; while extinction on an enormous scale has again and again stopped all progress in certain directions, and has often compelled a fresh start in development from some comparatively low and imperfect type.

The enormous extension of geological research in recent times has made us acquainted with a vast number of extinct organisms, so vast that in some important groups—such as the mollusca—the fossil are more numerous than the living species; while in the mammalia they are not much less numerous, the preponderance of living species being chiefly in the smaller and in the arboreal forms which have not been so well preserved as the members of the larger groups. With such a wealth of material to illustrate the successive stages through which animals have passed, it will naturally be expected that we should find important evidence of evolution. We should hope to learn the steps by which some isolated forms have been connected with their nearest allies, and in many cases to have the gaps filled up which now separate genus from genus, or species from species. In some cases these expectations are fulfilled, but in many other cases we seek in vain for evidence of the kind we desire; and this absence of evidence with such an apparent wealth of material is held by many persons to throw doubt on the theory of evolution itself. They urge, with much appearance of reason, that all the arguments we have hitherto adduced fall short of demonstration, and that the crucial test consists in being able to show, in a great number of cases, those connecting links which we say must have existed. Many of the gaps that still remain are so vast that it seems incredible to these writers that they could ever have been filled up by a close succession of species, since these must have spread over so many ages, and have existed in such numbers, that it seems impossible to account for their total absence from deposits in which great numbers of species belonging to other groups are preserved and have been discovered. In order to appreciate the force, or weakness, of these objections, we must inquire into the character and completeness of that record of the past life of the earth which geology has unfolded, and ascertain the nature and amount of the evidence which, under actual conditions, we may expect to find.

The Number of known Species of Extinct Animals.

When we state that the known fossil mollusca are considerably more numerous than those which now live on the earth, it appears at first sight that our knowledge is very complete, but this is far from being the case. The species have been continually changing throughout geological time, and at each period have probably been as numerous as they are now. If we divide the fossiliferous strata into twelve great divisions—the Pliocene, Miocene, Eocene, Cretaceous, Oolite, Lias, Trias, Permian, Carboniferous, Devonian, Silurian, and Cambrian,—we find not only that each has a very distinct and characteristic molluscan fauna, but that the different subdivisions often present a widely different series of species; so that although a certain number of species are common to two or more of the great divisions, the totality of the species that have lived upon the earth must be very much more than twelve times—perhaps even thirty or forty times—the number now living. In like manner, although the species of fossil mammals now recognised by more or less fragmentary fossil remains may not be much less numerous than the living species, yet the duration of existence of these was comparatively so short that they were almost completely changed, perhaps six or seven times, during the Tertiary period; and this is certainly only a fragment of the geological time during which mammalia existed on the globe.

There is also reason to believe that the higher animals were much more abundant in species during past geological epochs than now, owing to the greater equability of the climate which rendered even the arctic regions as habitable as the temperate zones are in our time.

The same equable climate would probably cause a more uniform distribution of moisture, and render what are now desert regions capable of supporting abundance of animal life. This is indicated by the number and variety of the species of large animals that have been found fossil in very limited areas which they evidently inhabited at one period. M. Albert Gaudry found, in the deposits of a mountain stream at Pikermi in Greece, an abundance of large mammalia such as are nowhere to be found living together at the present time. Among them were two species of Mastodon, two different rhinoceroses, a gigantic wild boar, a camel and a giraffe larger than those now living, several monkeys, carnivora ranging from martens and civets to lions and hyaenas of the largest size, numerous antelopes of at least five distinct genera, and besides these many forms altogether extinct. Such were the great herds of Hipparion, an ancestral form of horse; the Helladotherium, a huge animal bigger than the giraffe; the Ancylotherium, one of the Edentata; the huge Dinotherium; the Aceratherium, allied to the rhinoceros; and the monstrous Chalicotherium, allied to the swine and ruminants, but as large as a rhinoceros; and to prey upon these, the great Machairodus or sabre-toothed tiger. And all these remains were found in a space 300 paces long by 60 paces broad, many of the species existing in enormous quantities.

The Pikermi fossils belong to the Upper Miocene formation, but an equally rich deposit of Upper Eocene age has been discovered in South-Western France at Quercy, where M. Filhol has determined the presence of no less than forty-two species of beasts of prey alone. Equally remarkable are the various discoveries of mammalian fossils in North America, especially in the old lake bottoms now forming what are called the "bad lands" of Dakota and Nebraska, belonging to the Miocene period. Here are found an enormous assemblage of remains, often perfect skeletons, of herbivora and carnivora, as varied and interesting as those from the localities already referred to in Europe; but altogether distinct, and far exceeding, in number and variety of species of the larger animals, the whole existing fauna of North America. Very similar phenomena occur in South America and in Australia, leading us to the conclusion that the earth at the present time is impoverished as regards the larger animals, and that at each successive period of Tertiary time, at all events, it contained a far greater number of species than now inhabit it. The very richness and abundance of the remains which we find in limited areas, serve to convince us how imperfect and fragmentary must be our knowledge of the earth's fauna at any one past epoch; since we cannot believe that all, or nearly all, of the animals which inhabited any district were entombed in a single lake, or overwhelmed by the floods of a single river.

But the spots where such rich deposits occur are exceedingly few and far between when compared with the vast areas of continental land, and we have every reason to believe that in past ages, as now, numbers of curious species were rare or local, the commoner and more abundant species giving a very imperfect idea of the existing series of animal forms. Yet more important, as showing the imperfection of our knowledge, is the enormous lapse of time between the several formations in which we find organic remains in any abundance, so vast that in many cases we find ourselves almost in a new world, all the species and most of the genera of the higher animals having undergone a complete change.

Causes of the Imperfection of the Geological Record.

These facts are quite in accordance with the conclusions of geologists as to the necessary imperfection of the geological record, since it requires the concurrence of a number of favourable conditions to preserve any adequate representation of the life of a given epoch. In the first place, the animals to be preserved must not die a natural death by disease, or old age, or by being the prey of other animals, but must be destroyed by some accident which shall lead to their being embedded in the soil. They must be either carried away by floods, sink into bogs or quicksands, or be enveloped in the mud or ashes of a volcanic eruption; and when thus embedded they must remain undisturbed amid all the future changes of the earth's surface.

But the chances against this are enormous, because denudation is always going on, and the rocks we now find at the earth's surface are only a small fragment of those which were originally laid down. The alternations of marine and freshwater deposits, and the frequent unconformability of strata with those which overlie them, tell us plainly of repeated elevations and depressions of the surface, and of denudation on an enormous scale. Almost every mountain range, with its peaks, ridges, and valleys, is but the remnant of some vast plateau eaten away by sub-aerial agencies; every range of sea-cliffs tell us of long slopes of land destroyed by the waves; while almost all the older rocks which now form the surface of the earth have been once covered with newer deposits which have long since disappeared. Nowhere are the evidences of this denudation more apparent than in North and South America, where granitic or metamorphic rocks cover an area hardly less than that of all Europe. The same rocks are largely developed in Central Africa and Eastern Asia; while, besides those portions that appear exposed on the surface, areas of unknown extent are buried under strata which rest on them uncomformably, and could not, therefore, constitute the original capping under which the whole of these rocks must once have been deeply buried; because granite can only be formed, and metamorphism can only go on, deep down in the crust of the earth. What an overwhelming idea does this give us of the destruction of whole piles of rock, miles in thickness and covering areas comparable with those of continents; and how great must have been the loss of the innumerable fossil forms which those rocks contained! In view of such destruction we are forced to conclude that our palaeontological collections, rich though they may appear, are really but small and random samples, giving no adequate idea of the mighty series of organism which have lived upon the earth.[1]

Admitting, however, the extreme imperfection of the geological record as a whole, it may be urged that certain limited portions of it are fairly complete—as, for example, the various Miocene deposits of India, Europe, and North America,—and that in these we ought to find many examples of species and genera linked together by intermediate forms. It may be replied that in several cases this really occurs; and the reason why it does not occur more often is, that the theory of evolution requires that distinct genera should be linked together, not by a direct passage, but by the descent of both from a common ancestor, which may have lived in some much earlier age the record of which is either wanting or very incomplete. An illustration given by Mr. Darwin will make this more clear to those who have not studied the subject. The fantail and pouter pigeons are two very distinct and unlike breeds, which we yet know to have been both derived from the common wild rock-pigeon. Now, if we had every variety of living pigeon before us, or even all those which have lived during the present century, we should find no intermediate types between these two—none combining in any degree the characters of the pouter with that of the fantail. Neither should we ever find such an intermediate form, even had there been preserved a specimen of every breed of pigeon since the ancestral rock-pigeon was first tamed by man—a period of probably several thousand years. We thus see that a complete passage from one very distinct species to another could not be expected even had we a complete record of the life of any one period. What we require is a complete record of all the species that have existed since the two forms began to diverge from their common ancestor, and this the known imperfection of the record renders it almost impossible that we should ever attain. All that we have a right to expect is, that, as we multiply the fossil forms in any group, the gaps that at first existed in that group shall become less wide and less numerous; and also that, in some cases, a tolerably direct series shall be found, by which the more specialised forms of the present day shall be connected with more generalised ancestral types. We might also expect that when a country is now characterised by special groups of animals, the fossil forms that immediately preceded them shall, for the most part, belong to the same groups; and further, that, comparing the more ancient with the more modern types, we should find indications of progression, the earlier forms being, on the whole, lower in organisation, and less specialised in structure than the later. Now evidence of evolution of these varied kinds is what we do find, and almost every fresh discovery adds to their number and cogency. In order, therefore, to show that the testimony given by geology is entirely in favour of the theory of descent with modification, some of the more striking of the facts will now be given.

Geological Evidences of Evolution.

In an article in Nature (vol. xiv. p. 275), Professor Judd calls attention to some recent discoveries in the Hungarian plains, of fossil lacustrine shells, and their careful study by Dr. Neumayr and M. Paul of the Austrian Geological Survey. The beds in which they occur have accumulated to the thickness of 2000 feet, containing throughout abundance of fossils, and divisible into eight zones, each of which exhibits a well-marked and characteristic fauna. Professor Judd then describes the bearing of these discoveries as follows—

"The group of shells which affords the most interesting evidence of the origin of new forms through descent with modification is that of the genus Vivipara or Paludina, which occurs in prodigious abundance throughout the whole series of freshwater strata. We shall not, of course, attempt in this place to enter into any details concerning the forty distinct forms of this genus (Dr. Neumayr very properly hesitates to call them all species), which are named and described in this monograph, and between which, as the authors show, so many connecting links, clearly illustrating the derivation of the newer from the older types, have been detected. On the minds of those who carefully examine the admirably engraved figures given in the plates accompanying this valuable memoir, or still better, the very large series of specimens from among which the subjects of these figures are selected, and which are now in the museum of the Reichsanstalt of Vienna, but little doubt will, we suspect, remain that the authors have fully made out their case, and have demonstrated that, beyond all controversy, the series with highly complicated ornamentation were variously derived by descent—the lines of which are in most cases perfectly clear and obvious—from the simple and unornamented Vivipara achatinoides of the Congerien-Schichten (the lower division of the series of strata). It is interesting to notice that a large portion of these unquestionably derived forms depart so widely from the type of the genus Vivipara, that they have been separated on so high an authority as that of Sandberger, as a new genus, under the name of Tulotoma. And hence we are led to the conclusion that a vast number of forms, certainly exhibiting specific distinctions, and according to some naturalists, differences even entitled to be regarded of generic value, have all a common ancestry."

It is, as Professor Judd remarks, owing to the exceptionally favourable circumstances of a long-continued and unbroken series of deposits being formed under physical conditions either identical or very slowly changing, that we owe so complete a record of the process of organic change. Usually, some disturbing elements, such as a sudden change of physical conditions, or the immigration of new sets of forms from other areas and the consequent retreat or partial extinction of the older fauna, interferes with the continuity of organic development, and produces those puzzling discordances so generally met with in geological formations of marine origin. While a case of the kind now described affords evidence of the origin of species complete and conclusive, though on a necessarily very limited scale, the very rarity of the conditions which are essential to such completeness serves to explain why it is that in most cases the direct evidence of evolution is not to be obtained.

Another illustration of the filling up of gaps between existing groups is afforded by Professor Huxley's researches on fossil crocodiles. The gap between the existing crocodiles and the lizards is very wide, but as we go back in geological time we meet with fossil forms which are to some extent intermediate and form a connected series. The three living genera—Crocodilus, Alligator, and Gavialis—are found in the Eocene formation, and allied forms of another genus, Holops, in the Chalk. From the Chalk backward to the Lias another group of genera occurs, having anatomical characteristics intermediate between the living crocodiles and the most ancient forms. These, forming two genera Belodon and Stagonolepis, are found in a still older formation, the Trias. They have characters resembling some lizards, especially the remarkable Hatteria of New Zealand, and have also some resemblances to the Dinosaurians—reptiles which in some respects approach birds. Considering how comparatively few are the remains of this group of animals, the evidence which it affords of progressive development is remarkably clear.[2]

Among the higher animals the rhinoceros, the horse, and the deer afford good evidence of advance in organisation and of the filling up of the gaps which separate the living forms from their nearest allies. The earliest ancestral forms of the rhinoceroses occur in the Middle Eocene of the United States, and were to some extent intermediate between the rhinoceros and tapir families, having like the latter four toes to the front feet, and three to those behind. These are followed in the Upper Eocene by the genus Amynodon, in which the skull assumes more distinctly the rhinocerotic type. Following this in the Lower Miocene we have the Aceratherium, like the last in its feet, but still more decidedly a rhinoceros in its general structure. From this there are two diverging lines—one in the Old World, the other in the New. In the former, to which the Aceratherium is supposed to have migrated in early Miocene times, when a mild climate and luxuriant vegetation prevailed far within the arctic circle, it gave rise to the Ceratorhinus and the various horned rhinoceroses of late Tertiary times and of those now living. In America a number of large hornless rhinoceroses were developed—they are found in the Upper Miocene, Pliocene, and Post-Pliocene formations—and then became extinct. The true rhinoceroses have three toes on all the feet.[3]

The Pedigree of the Horse Tribe.

Yet more remarkable is the evidence afforded by the ancestral forms of the horse tribe which have been discovered in the American tertiaries. The family Equidae, comprising the living horse, asses, and zebras, differ widely from all other mammals in the peculiar structure of the feet, all of which terminate in a single large toe forming the hoof. They have forty teeth, the molars being formed of hard and soft material in crescentic folds, so as to be a powerful agent in grinding up hard grasses and other vegetable food. The former peculiarities depend upon modifications of the skeleton, which have been thus described by Professor Huxley:—

"Let us turn in the first place to the fore-limb. In most quadrupeds, as in ourselves, the fore-arm contains distinct bones, called the radius and the ulna. The corresponding region in the horse seems at first to possess but one bone. Careful observation, however, enables us to distinguish in this bone a part which clearly answers to the upper end of the ulna. This is closely united with the chief mass of the bone which represents the radius, and runs out into a slender shaft, which may be traced for some distance downwards upon the back of the radius, and then in most cases thins out and vanishes. It takes still more trouble to make sure of what is nevertheless the fact, that a small part of the lower end of the bone of a horse's fore-arm, which is only distinct in a very young foal, is really the lower extremity of the ulna.

"What is commonly called the knee of a horse is its wrist. The 'cannon bone' answers to the middle bone of the five metacarpal bones which support the palm of the hand in ourselves. The pastern, coronary, and coffin bones of veterinarians answer to the joints of our middle fingers, while the hoof is simply a greatly enlarged and thickened nail. But if what lies below the horse's 'knee' thus corresponds to the middle finger in ourselves, what has become of the four other fingers or digits? We find in the places of the second and fourth digits only two slender splintlike bones, about two-thirds as long as the cannon bone, which gradually taper to their lower ends and bear no finger joints, or, as they are termed, phalanges. Sometimes, small bony or gristly nodules are to be found at the bases of these two metacarpal splints, and it is probable that these represent rudiments of the first and fifth toes. Thus, the part of the horse's skeleton which corresponds with that of the human hand, contains one overgrown middle digit, and at least two imperfect lateral digits; and these answer, respectively, to the third, the second, and the fourth fingers in man.

"Corresponding modifications are found in the hind limb. In ourselves, and in most quadrupeds, the leg contains two distinct bones, a large bone, the tibia, and a smaller and more slender bone, the fibula. But, in the horse, the fibula seems, at first, to be reduced to its upper end; a short slender bone united with the tibia, and ending in a point below, occupying its place. Examination of the lower end of a young foal's shin-bone, however, shows a distinct portion of osseous matter which is the lower end of the fibula; so that the, apparently single, lower end of the shin-bone is really made up of the coalesced ends of the tibia and fibula, just as the, apparently single, lower end of the fore-arm bone is composed of the coalesced radius and ulna.

"The heel of the horse is the part commonly known as the hock. The hinder cannon bone answers to the middle metatarsal bone of the human foot, the pastern, coronary, and coffin bones, to the middle toe bones; the hind hoof to the nail; as in the forefoot. And, as in the forefoot, there are merely two splints to represent the second and the fourth toes. Sometimes a rudiment of a fifth toe appears to be traceable.

"The teeth of a horse are not less peculiar than its limbs. The living engine, like all others, must be well stoked if it is to do its work; and the horse, if it is to make good its wear and tear, and to exert the enormous amount of force required for its propulsion, must be well and rapidly fed. To this end, good cutting instruments and powerful and lasting crushers are needful. Accordingly, the twelve cutting teeth of a horse are close-set and concentrated in the forepart of its mouth, like so many adzes or chisels. The grinders or molars are large, and have an extremely complicated structure, being composed of a number of different substances of unequal hardness. The consequence of this is that they wear away at different rates; and, hence, the surface of each grinder is always as uneven as that of a good millstone."[4]

We thus see that the Equidae differ very widely in structure from most other mammals. Assuming the truth of the theory of evolution, we should expect to find traces among extinct animals of the steps by which this great modification has been effected; and we do really find traces of these steps, imperfectly among European fossils, but far more completely among those of America.

It is a singular fact that, although no horse inhabited America when discovered by Europeans, yet abundance of remains of extinct horses have been found both in North and South America in Post-Tertiary and Upper Pliocene deposits; and from these an almost continuous series of modified forms can be traced in the Tertiary formation, till we reach, at the very base of the series, a primitive form so unlike our perfected animal, that, had we not the intermediate links, few persons would believe that the one was the ancestor of the other. The tracing out of this marvellous history we owe chiefly to Professor Marsh of Yale College, who has himself discovered no less than thirty species of fossil Equidae; and we will allow him to tell the story of the development of the horse from a humble progenitor in his own words.

"The oldest representative of the horse at present known is the diminutive Eohippus from the Lower Eocene. Several species have been found, all about the size of a fox. Like most of the early mammals, these ungulates had forty-four teeth, the molars with short crowns and quite distinct in form from the premolars. The ulna and fibula were entire and distinct, and there were four well-developed toes and a rudiment of another on the forefeet, and three toes behind. In the structure of the feet and teeth, the Eohippus unmistakably indicates that the direct ancestral line to the modern horse has already separated from the other perissodactyles, or odd-toed ungulates.

"In the next higher division of the Eocene another genus, Orohippus, makes its appearance, replacing Eohippus, and showing a greater, though still distant, resemblance to the equine type. The rudimentary first digit of the forefoot has disappeared, and the last premolar has gone over to the molar series. Orohippus was but little larger than Eohippus, and in most other respects very similar. Several species have been found, but none occur later than the Upper Eocene.

"Near the base of the Miocene, we find a third closely allied genus, Mesohippus, which is about as large as a sheep, and one stage nearer the horse. There are only three toes and a rudimentary splint on the forefeet, and three toes behind. Two of the premolar teeth are quite like the molars. The ulna is no longer distinct or the fibula entire, and other characters show clearly that the transition is advancing.

"In the Upper Miocene Mesohippus is not found, but in its place a fourth form, Miohippus, continues the line. This genus is near the Anchitherium of Europe, but presents several important differences. The three toes in each foot are more nearly of a size, and a rudiment of the fifth metacarpal bone is retained. All the known species of this genus are larger than those of Mesohippus, and none of them pass above the Miocene formation.

"The genus Protohippus of the Lower Pliocene is yet more equine, and some of its species equalled the ass in size. There are still three toes on each foot, but only the middle one, corresponding to the single toe of the horse, comes to the ground. This genus resembles most nearly the Hipparion of Europe.

"In the Pliocene we have the last stage of the series before reaching the horse, in the genus Pliohippus, which has lost the small hooflets, and in other respects is very equine. Only in the Upper Pliocene does the true Equus appear and complete the genealogy of the horse, which in the Post-Tertiary roamed over the whole of North and South America, and soon after became extinct. This occurred long before the discovery of the continent by Europeans, and no satisfactory
FIG. 33.—Geological development of the horse tribe (Eohippus since discovered).
reason for the extinction has yet been given. Besides the characters I have mentioned, there are many others in the skeleton, skull, teeth, and brain of the forty or more intermediate species, which show that the transition from the Eocene Eohippus to the modern Equus has taken place in the order indicated"[5] (see Fig. 33).

Well may Professor Huxley say that this is demonstrative evidence of evolution; the doctrine resting upon exactly as secure a foundation as did the Copernican theory of the motions of the heavenly bodies at the time of its promulgation. Both have the same basis—the coincidence of the observed facts with the theoretical requirements.

[[c|Development of Deer's Horns.}}

Another clear and unmistakable proof of evolution is afforded by one of the highest and latest developed tribes of mammals—the true deer. These differ from all other ruminants in possessing solid deciduous horns which are always more or less branched. They first appear in the Middle Miocene formation, and continue down to our time; and their development has been carefully traced by Professor Boyd Dawkins, who thus summarises his results:—

"In the middle stage of the Miocene the cervine antler consists merely of a simple forked crown (as in Cervus dicroceros), which increases in size in the Upper Miocene, although it still remains small and erect, like that of the roe. In Cervus Matheroni it measures 11·4 inches, and throws off not more than four tines, all small. The deer living in Auvergne in the succeeding or Pliocene age, present us with another stage in the history of antler development. There, for the first time, we see antlers of the Axis and Rusa type, larger and longer, and more branching than any antlers were before, and possessing three or more well-developed tines. Deer of this type abounded in Pliocene Europe. They belong to the Oriental division of the Cervidae, and their presence in Europe confirms the evidence of the flora, brought forward by the Comte de Saporta, that the Pliocene climate was warm. They have probably disappeared from Europe in consequence of the lowering of the temperature in the Pleistocene age, while their descendants have found a congenial home in the warmer regions of Eastern Asia.

"In the latest stage of the Pliocene—the Upper Pliocene of the Val d'Arno—the Cervus dicranios of Nesti presents us with antlers much smaller than those of the Irish elk, but very complicated in their branching. This animal survived into the succeeding age, and is found in the pre-glacial forest bed of Norfolk, being described by Dr. Falconer under the name of Sedgwick's deer. The Irish elk, moose, stag, reindeer, and fallow deer appear in Europe in the Pleistocene age, all with highly complicated antlers in the adult, and the first possessing the largest antlers yet known. Of these the Irish elk disappeared in the Prehistoric age, after having lived in countless herds in Ireland, while the rest have lived on into our own times in Euro-Asia, and, with the exception of the last, also in North America.

"From this survey it is obvious that the cervine antlers have increased in size and complexity from the Mid-Miocene to the Pleistocene age, and that their successive changes are analogous to those which are observed in the development of antlers in the living deer, which begin with a simple point, and increase in number of tines till their limit of growth be reached. In other words, the development of antlers indicated at successive and widely-separated pages of the geological record is the same as that observed in the history of a single living species. It is also obvious that the progressive diminution of size and complexity in the antlers, from the present time back into the early Tertiary age, shows that we are approaching the zero of antler development in the Mid-Miocene. No trace of any antler-bearing ruminant has been met with in the lower Miocenes, either of Europe or the United States."[6]

Progressive Brain-Development.

The three illustrations now given sufficiently prove that, whenever the geological record approaches to completeness, we have evidence of the progressive change of species in definite directions, and from less developed to more developed types—exactly such a change as we may expect to find if the evolution theory be the true one. Many other illustrations of a similar change could be given, but the animal groups in which they occur being less familiar, the details would be less interesting, and perhaps hardly intelligible. There is, however, one very remarkable proof of development that must be briefly noticed—that afforded by the steady increase in the size of the brain. This may be best stated in the words of Professor Marsh:—

"The real progress of mammalian life in America, from the beginning of the Tertiary to the present, is well illustrated by the brain-growth, in which we have the key to many other changes. The earliest known Tertiary mammals all had very small brains, and in some forms this organ was proportionally less than in certain reptiles. There was a gradual increase in the size of the brain during this period, and it is interesting to find that this growth was mainly confined to the cerebral hemispheres, or higher portion of the brain. In most groups of mammals the brain has gradually become more convoluted, and thus increased in quality as well as quantity. In some also the cerebellum and olfactory lobes, the lower parts of the brain, have even diminished in size. In the long struggle for existence during Tertiary time the big brains won, then as now; and the increasing power thus gained rendered useless many structures inherited from primitive ancestors, but no longer adapted to new conditions."

This remarkable proof of development in the organ of the mental faculties, forms a fitting climax to the evidence already adduced of the progressive evolution of the general structure of the body, as illustrated by the bony skeleton. We now pass on to another class of facts equally suggestive of evolution.

The Local Relations of Fossil and Living Animals.

If all existing animals have been produced from ancestral forms—mostly extinct—under the law of variation and natural selection, we may expect to find in most cases a close relation between the living forms of each country and those which inhabited it in the immediately preceding epoch. But if species have originated in some quite different way, either by any kind of special creation, or by sudden advances of organisation in the offspring of preceding types, such close relationship would not be found; and facts of this kind become, therefore, to some extent a test of evolution under natural selection or some other law of gradual change. Of course the relationship will not appear when extensive migration has occurred, by which the inhabitants of one region have been able to take possession of another region, and destroy or drive out its original inhabitants, as has sometimes happened. But such cases are comparatively rare, except where great changes of climate are known to have occurred; and we usually do find a remarkable continuity between the existing fauna and flora of a country and those of the immediately preceding age. A few of the more remarkable of these cases will now be briefly noticed.

The mammalian fauna of Australia consists, as is well known, wholly of the lowest forms—the Marsupials and Monotremata—except only a few species of mice. This is accounted for by the complete isolation of the country from the Asiatic continent during the whole period of the development of the higher animals. At some earlier epoch the ancestral marsupials, which abounded both in Europe and North America in the middle of the Secondary period, entered the country, and have since remained there, free from the competition of higher forms, and have undergone a special development in accordance with the peculiar conditions of a limited area. While in the large continents higher forms of mammalia have been developed, which have almost or wholly exterminated the less perfect marsupials, in Australia these latter have become modified into such varied forms as the leaping kangaroos, the burrowing wombats, the arboreal phalangers, the insectivorous bandicoots, and the carnivorous Dasyuridae or native cats, culminating in the Thylacinus or "tiger-wolf" of Tasmania—animals as unlike each other as our sheep, rabbits, squirrels, and dogs, but all retaining the characteristic features of the marsupial type.

Now in the caves and late Tertiary or Post-Tertiary deposits of Australia the remains of many extinct mammalia have been found, but all are marsupials. There are many kangaroos, some larger than any living species, and others more allied to the tree-kangaroos of New Guinea; a large wombat as large as a tapir; the Diprotodon, a thick-limbed kangaroo the size of a rhinoceros or small elephant; and a quite different animal, the Nototherium, nearly as large. The carnivorous Thylacinus of Tasmania is also found fossil; and a huge phalanger, Thylacoleo, the size of a lion, believed by Professor Owen and by Professor Oscar Schmidt to have been equally carnivorous and destructive.[7] Besides these, there are many other species more resembling the living forms both in size and structure, of which they may be, in some cases, the direct ancestors. Two species of extinct Echidna, belonging to the very low Monotremata, have also been found in New South Wales.

Next to Australia, South America possesses the most remarkable assemblage of peculiar mammals, in its numerous Edentata—the sloths, ant-eaters, and armadillos; its rodents, such as the cavies and chinchillas; its marsupial opossums, and its quadrumana of the family Cebidae. Remains of extinct species of all these have been found in the caves of Brazil, of Post-Pliocene age; while in the earlier Pliocene deposits of the pampas many distinct genera of these groups have been found, some of gigantic size and extraordinary form. There are armadillos of many types, some being as large as elephants; gigantic sloths of the genera Megatherium, Megalonyx, Mylodon, Lestodon, and many others; rodents belonging to the American families Cavidae and Chinchillidae; and ungulates allied to the llama; besides many other extinct forms of intermediate types or of uncertain affinities.[8] The extinct Moas of New Zealand—huge wingless birds allied to the living Apteryx—illustrate the same general law.

The examples now quoted, besides illustrating and enforcing the general fact of evolution, throw some light on the usual character of the modification and progression of animal forms. In the cases where the geological record is tolerably complete, we find a continuous development of some kind—either in complexity of ornamentation, as in the fossil Paludinas of the Hungarian lake-basins; in size and in the specialisation of the feet and teeth, as in the American fossil horses; or in the increased development of the branching horns, as in the true deer. In each of these cases specialisation and adaptation to the conditions of the environment appear to have reached their limits, and any change of these conditions, especially if it be at all rapid or accompanied by the competition of less developed but more adaptable forms, is liable to cause the extinction of the most highly developed groups. Such we know was the case with the horse tribe in America, which totally disappeared in that continent at an epoch so recent that we cannot be sure that the disappearance was not witnessed, perhaps caused, by man; while even in the Eastern hemisphere it is the smaller species—the asses and the zebras—that have persisted, while the larger and more highly developed true horses have almost, if not quite, disappeared in a state of nature. So we find, both in Australia and South America, that in a quite recent period many of the largest and most specialised forms have become extinct, while only the smaller types have survived to our day; and a similar fact is to be observed in many of the earlier geological epochs, a group progressing and reaching a maximum of size or complexity and then dying out, or leaving at most but few and pigmy representatives.

{{|Cause of Extinction of Large Animals.}}

Now there are several reasons for the repeated extinction of large rather than of small animals. In the first place, animals of great bulk require a proportionate supply of food, and any adverse change of conditions would affect them more seriously than it would smaller animals. In the next place, the extreme specialisation of many of these large animals would render it less easy for them to be modified in any new direction suited to changed conditions. Still more important, perhaps, is the fact that very large animals always increase slowly as compared with small ones—the elephant producing a single young one every three years, while a rabbit may have a litter of seven or eight young two or three times a year. Now the probability of favourable variations will be in direct proportion to the population of the species, and as the smaller animals are not only many hundred times more numerous than the largest, but also increase perhaps a hundred times as rapidly, they are able to become quickly modified by variation and natural selection in harmony with changed conditions, while the large and bulky species, being unable to vary quickly enough, are obliged to succumb in the struggle for existence. As Professor Marsh well observes: "In every vigorous primitive type which was destined to survive many geological changes, there seems to have been a tendency to throw off lateral branches, which became highly specialised and soon died out, because they were unable to adapt themselves to new conditions." And he goes on to show how the whole narrow path of the persistent Suilline type, throughout the entire series of the American tertiaries, is strewed with the remains of such ambitious offshoots, many of them attaining the size of a rhinoceros; "while the typical pig, with an obstinacy never lost, has held on in spite of catastrophes and evolution, and still lives in America to-day."

Indications of General Progression in Plants and Animals.

One of the most powerful arguments formerly adduced against evolution was, that geology afforded no evidence of the gradual development of organic forms, but that whole tribes and classes appeared suddenly at definite epochs, and often in great variety and exhibiting a very perfect organisation. The mammalia, for example, were long thought to have first appeared in Tertiary times, where they are represented in some of the earlier deposits by all the great divisions of the class fully developed—carnivora, rodents, insectivora, marsupials, and even the perissodactyle and artiodactyle divisions of the ungulata—as clearly defined as at the present day. The discovery in 1818 of a single lower jaw in the Stonesfield Slate of Oxfordshire hardly threw doubt on the generalisation, since either its mammalian character was denied, or the geological position of the strata, in which it was found, was held to have been erroneously determined. But since then, at intervals of many years, other remains of mammalia have been discovered in the Secondary strata, ranging from the Upper Oolite to the Upper Trias both in Europe and the United States, and one even (Tritylodon) in the Trias of South Africa. All these are either marsupials, or of some still lower type of mammalia; but they consist of many distinct forms classed in about twenty genera. Nevertheless, a great gap still exists between these mammals and those of the Tertiary strata, since no mammal of any kind has been found in any part of the Cretaceous formation, although in several of its subdivisions abundance of land plants, freshwater shells, and air-breathing reptiles have been discovered. So with fishes. In the last century none had been obtained lower than the Carboniferous formation; thirty years later they were found to be very abundant in the Devonian rocks, and later still they were discovered in the Upper Ludlow and Lower Ludlow beds of the Silurian formation.

We thus see that such sudden appearances are deceptive, and are, in fact, only what we ought to expect from the known imperfection of the geological record. The conditions favourable to the fossilisation of any group of animals occur comparatively rarely, and only in very limited areas; while the conditions essential for their permanent preservation in the rocks, amid all the destruction caused by denudation or metamorphism, are still more exceptional. And when they are thus preserved to our day, the particular part of the rocks in which they lie hidden may not be on the surface but buried down deep under other strata, and may thus, except in the case of mineral-bearing deposits, be altogether out of our reach. Then, again, how large a proportion of the earth consists of wild and uncivilised regions in which no exploration of the rocks has been yet made, so that whether we shall find the fossilised remains of any particular group of animals which lived during a limited period of the earth's history, and in a limited area, depends upon at least a fivefold combination of chances. Now, if we take each of these chances separately as only ten to one against us (and some are certainly more than this), then the actual chance against our finding the fossil remains, say of any one order of mammalia, or of land plants, at any particular geological horizon, will be about a hundred thousand to one.

It may be said, if the chances are so great, how is it that we find such immense numbers of fossil species exceeding in number, in some groups, all those that are now living? But this is exactly what we should expect, because the number of species of organisms that have ever lived upon the earth, since the earliest geological times, will probably be many hundred times greater than those now existing of which we have any knowledge; and hence the enormous gaps and chasms in the geological record of extinct forms is not to be wondered at. Yet, notwithstanding these chasms in our knowledge, if evolution is true, there ought to have been, on the whole, progression in all the chief types of life. The higher and more specialised forms should have come into existence later than the lower and more generalised forms; and however fragmentary the portions we possess of the whole tree of life upon the earth, they ought to show us broadly that such a progressive evolution has taken place. We have seen that in some special groups, already referred to, such a progression is clearly visible, and we will now cast a hasty glance over the entire series of fossil forms, in order to see if a similar progression is manifested by them as a whole.

The Progressive Development of Plants.

Ever since fossil plants have been collected and studied, the broad fact has been apparent that the early plants—those of the Coal formation—were mainly cryptogamous, while in the Tertiary deposits the higher flowering plants prevailed. In the intermediate secondary epoch the gymnosperms—cycads and coniferae—formed a prominent part of the vegetation, and as these have usually been held to be a kind of transition form between the flowerless and flowering plants, the geological succession has always, broadly speaking, been in accordance with the theory of evolution. Beyond this, however, the facts were very puzzling. The highest cryptogams—ferns, lycopods, and equisetaceae—appeared suddenly, and in immense profusion in the Coal formation, at which period they attained a development they have never since surpassed or even equalled; while the highest plants—the dicotyledonous and monocotyledonous angiosperms—which now form the bulk of the vegetation of the world, and exhibit the most wonderful modifications of form and structure, were almost unknown till the Tertiary period, when they suddenly appeared in full development, and, for the most part, under the same generic forms as now exist.

During the latter half of the present century, however, great additions have been made to our knowledge of fossil plants; and although there are still indications of vast gaps in our knowledge, due, no doubt, to the very exceptional conditions required for the preservation of plant remains, we now possess evidence of a more continuous development of the various types of vegetation. According to Mr. Lester F. Ward, between 8000 and 9000 species of fossil plants have been described or indicated; and, owing to the careful study of the nervation of leaves, a large number of these are referable to their proper orders or genera, and therefore give us some notion—which, though very imperfect, is probably accurate in its main outlines—of the progressive development of vegetation on the earth.[9] The following is a summary of the facts as given by Mr. Ward:—

The lowest forms of vegetable life—the cellular plants—have been found in Lower Silurian deposits in the form of three species of marine algae; and in the whole Silurian formation fifty species have been recognised. We cannot for a moment suppose, however, that this indicates the first appearance of vegetable life upon the earth, for in these same Lower Silurian beds the more highly organised vascular cryptogams appear in the form of rhizocarps—plants allied to Marsilea and Azolla,—and a very little higher, ferns, lycopods, and even conifers appear. We have indications, however, of a still more ancient vegetation, in the carbonaceous shales and thick beds of graphite far down in the Middle Laurentian, since there is no other known agency than the vegetable cell by means of which carbon can be extracted from the atmosphere and fixed in the solid state. These great beds of graphite, therefore, imply the existence of abundance of vegetable life at the very commencement of the era of which we have any geological record.[10]

Ferns, as already stated, begin in the Middle Silurian formation with the Eopteris Morrieri. In the Devonian, we have 79 species, in the Carboniferous 627, and in the Permian 186 species; after which fossil ferns diminish greatly, though they are found in every formation; and the fact that fully 3000 living species are known, while the richest portion of the Tertiary in fossil plants—the Miocene—has only produced 87 species, will serve to indicate the extreme imperfection of the geological record.

The Equisetaceae (horsetails) which also first appear in the Silurian and reach their maximum development in the Coal formation, are, in all succeeding formations, far less numerous than ferns, and only thirty living species are known. Lycopodiaceae, though still more abundant in the Coal formation, are very rarely found in any succeeding deposit, though the living species are tolerably numerous, about 500 having been described. As we cannot suppose them to have really diminished and then increased again in this extraordinary manner, we have another indication of the exceptional nature of plant preservation and the extreme and erratic character of the imperfection of the record.

Passing now to the next higher division of plants—the gymnosperms—we find Coniferae appearing in the Upper Silurian, becoming tolerably abundant in the Devonian, and reaching a maximum in the Carboniferous, from which formation more than 300 species are known, equal to the number recorded as now living. They occur in all succeeding formations, being abundant in the Oolite, and excessively so in the Miocene, from which 250 species have been described. The allied family of gymnosperms, the Cycadaceae, first appear in the Carboniferous era, but very scantily; are most abundant in the Oolite, from which formation 116 species are known, and then steadily diminish to the Tertiary, although there are seventy-five living species.

We now come to the true flowering plants, and we first meet with monocotyledons in the Carboniferous and Permian formations. The character of these fossils was long disputed, but is now believed to be well established; and the sub-class continues to be present in small numbers in all succeeding deposits, becoming rather plentiful in the Upper Cretaceous, and very abundant in the Eocene and Miocene. In the latter formation 272 species have been discovered; but the 116 species in the Eocene form a larger proportion of the total vegetation of the period.

True dicotyledons appear very much later, in the Cretaceous period, and only in its upper division, if we except a single species from the Urgonian beds of Greenland. The remarkable thing is that we here find the sub-class fully developed and in great luxuriance of types, all the three divisions—Apetalae, Polypetalae, and Gamopetalae—being represented, with a total of no less than 770 species. Among them are such familiar forms as the poplar, the birch, the beech, the sycamore, and the oak; as well as the fig, the true laurel, the sassafras, the persimmon, the maple, the walnut, the magnolia, and even the apple and the plum tribes. Passing on to the Tertiary period the numbers increase, till they reach their maximum in the Miocene, where more than 2000 species of dicotyledons have been discovered. Among these the proportionate number of the higher gamopetalae has slightly increased, but is considerably less than at the present day.

Possible Cause of sudden late Appearance of Exogens.

The sudden appearance of fully developed exogenous flowering plants in the Cretaceous period is very analogous to the equally sudden appearance of all the chief types of placental mammalia in the Eocene; and in both cases we must feel sure that this suddenness is only apparent, due to unknown conditions which have prevented their preservation (or their discovery) in earlier formations. The case of the dicotyledonous plants is in some respects the most extraordinary, because in the earlier Mesozoic formations we appear to have a fair representation of the flora of the period, including such varied forms as ferns, equisetums, cycads, conifers, and monocotyledons. The only hint at an explanation of this anomaly has been given by Mr. Ball, who supposes that all these groups inhabited the lowlands, where there was not only excessive heat and moisture, but also a superabundance of carbonic acid in the atmosphere—conditions under which these groups had been developed, but which were prejudicial to the dicotyledons. These latter are supposed to have originated on the high table-lands and mountain ranges, in a rarer and drier atmosphere in which the quantity of carbonic acid gas was much less; and any deposits formed in lake beds at high altitudes and at such a remote epoch have been destroyed by denudation, and hence we have no record of their existence.[11]

During a few weeks spent recently in the Rocky Mountains, I was struck by the great scarcity of monocotyledons and ferns in comparison with dicotyledons—a scarcity due apparently to the dryness and rarity of the atmosphere favouring the higher groups. If we compare Coulter's Rocky Mountain Botany with Gray's Botany of the Northern (East) United States, we have two areas which differ chiefly in the points of altitude and atmospheric moisture. Unfortunately, in neither of these works are the species consecutively numbered; but by taking the pages occupied by the two divisions of dicotyledons on the one hand, monocotyledons and ferns on the other, we can obtain a good approximation. In this way we find that in the flora of the North-Eastern States the monocotyledons and ferns are to the dicotyledons in the proportion of 45 to 100; in the Rocky Mountains they are in the proportion of only 34 to 100; while if we take an exclusively Alpine flora, as given by Mr. Ball, there are not one-fifth as many monocotyledons as dicotyledons. These facts show that even at the present day elevated plateaux and mountains are more favourable to dicotyledons than to monocotyledons, and we may, therefore, well suppose that the former originated within such elevated areas, and were for long ages confined to them. It is interesting to note that their richest early remains have been found in the central regions of the North American continent, where they now, proportionally, most abound, and where the conditions of altitude and a dry atmosphere were probably present at a very early period.

FIG. 34.—Diagram illustrating the Geological Distribution of Plants.

The diagram (Fig. 34), slightly modified from one given by Mr. Ward, will illustrate our present knowledge of the development of the vegetable kingdom in geological time. The shaded vertical bands exhibit the proportions of the fossil forms actually discovered, while the outline extensions are intended to show what we may fairly presume to have been the approximate periods of origin, and progressive increase of the number of species, of the chief divisions of the vegetable kingdom. These seem to accord fairly well with their respective grades of development, and thus offer no obstacle to the acceptance of the belief in their progressive evolution.

Geological Distribution of Insects.

The marvellous development of insects into such an endless variety of forms, their extreme specialisation, and their adaptation to almost every possible condition of life, would almost necessarily imply an extreme antiquity. Owing, however, to their small size, their lightness, and their usually aerial habits, no class of animals has been so scantily preserved in the rocks; and it is only recently that the whole of the scattered material relating to fossil insects and their allies have been brought together by Mr. Samuel H. Scudder of Boston, and we have thus learned their bearing on the theory of evolution.[12]

The most striking fact which presents itself on a glance at the distribution of fossil insects, is the completeness of the representation of all the chief types far back in the Secondary period, at which time many of the existing families appear to have been perfectly differentiated. Thus in the Lias we find dragonflies "apparently as highly specialised as to-day, no less than four tribes being present." Of beetles we have undoubted Curculionidae from the Lias and Trias; Chrysomelidae in the same deposits; Cerambycidae in the Oolites; Scarabaeidae in the Lias; Buprestidae in the Trias; Elateridae, Trogositidae, and Nitidulidae in the Lias; Staphylinidae in the English Purbecks; while Hydrophilidae, Gyrinidae, and Carabidae occur in the Lias. All these forms are well represented, but there are many other families doubtfully identified in equally ancient rocks. Diptera of the families Empidae, Asilidae, and Tipulidae have been found as far back as the Lias. Of Lepidoptera, Sphingidae and Tineidae have been found in the Oolite; while ants, representing the highly specialised Hymenoptera, have occurred in the Purbeck and Lias.

This remarkable identity of the families of very ancient with those of existing insects is quite comparable with the apparently sudden appearance of existing genera of trees in the Cretaceous epoch. In both cases we feel certain that we must go very much farther back in order to find the ancestral forms from which they were developed, and that at any moment some fresh discovery may revolutionise our ideas as to the antiquity of certain groups. Such a discovery was made while Mr. Scudder's work was passing through the press. Up to that date all the existing orders of true insects appeared to have originated in the Trias, the alleged moth and beetle of the Coal formation having been incorrectly determined. But now, undoubted remains of beetles have been found in the Coal measures of Silesia, thus supporting the interpretation of the borings in carboniferous trees as having been made by insects of this order, and carrying back this highly specialised form of insect life well into Palaeozoic times. Such a discovery renders all speculation as to the origin of true insects premature, because we may feel sure that all the other orders of insects, except perhaps hymenoptera and lepidoptera, were contemporaneous with the highly specialised beetles.

The less highly organised terrestrial arthropoda—the Arachnida and Myriapoda—are, as might be expected, much more ancient. A fossil spider has been found in the Carboniferous, and scorpions in the Upper Silurian rocks of Scotland, Sweden, and the United States. Myriapoda have been found abundantly in the Carboniferous and Devonian formations; but all are of extinct orders, exhibiting a more generalised structure than living forms.

Much more extraordinary, however, is the presence in the Palaeozoic formations of ancestral forms of true insects, termed by Mr. Scudder Palaeodictyoptera. They consist of generalised cockroaches and walking-stick insects (Orthopteroidea); ancient mayflies and allied forms, of which there are six families and more than thirty genera (Neuropteroidea); three genera of Hemipteroidea resembling various Homoptera and Hemiptera, mostly from the Carboniferous formation, a few from the Devonian, and one ancestral cockroach (Palaeoblattina) from the Middle Silurian sandstone of France. If this occurrence of a true hexapod insect from the Middle Silurian be really established, taken in connection with the well-defined Coleoptera from the Carboniferous, the origin of the entire group of terrestrial arthropoda is necessarily thrown back into the Cambrian epoch, if not earlier. And this cannot be considered improbable in view of the highly differentiated land plants—ferns, equisetums, and lycopods—in the Middle or Lower Silurian, and even a conifer (Cordaites Robbii) in the Upper Silurian; while the beds of graphite in the Laurentian were probably formed from terrestrial vegetation.

On the whole, then, we may affirm that, although the geological record of the insect life of the earth is exceptionally imperfect, it yet decidedly supports the evolution hypothesis. The most specialised order, Lepidoptera, is the most recent, only dating back to the Oolite; the Hymenoptera, Diptera, and Homoptera go as far as the Lias; while the Orthoptera and Neuroptera extend to the Trias. The recent discovery of Coleoptera in the Carboniferous shows, however, that the preceding limits are not absolute, and will probably soon be overpassed. Only the more generalised ancestral forms of winged insects have been traced back to Silurian time, and along with them the less highly organised scorpions; facts which serve to show us the extreme imperfection of our knowledge, and indicate possibilities of a world of terrestrial life in the remotest Palaeozoic times.

Geological Succession of Vertebrata.

The lowest forms of vertebrates are the fishes, and these appear first in the geological record in the Upper Silurian formation. The most ancient known fish is a Pteraspis, one of the bucklered ganoids or plated fishes—by no means a very low type—allied to the sturgeon (Accipenser) and alligator-gar (Lepidosteus), but, as a group, now nearly extinct. Almost equally ancient are the sharks, which under various forms still abound in our seas. We cannot suppose these to be nearly the earliest fishes, especially as the two lowest orders, now represented by the Amphioxus or lancelet and the lampreys, have not yet been found fossil. The ganoids were greatly developed in the Devonian era, and continued till the Cretaceous, when they gave way to the true osseous fishes, which had first appeared in the Jurassic period, and have continued to increase till the present day. This much later appearance of the higher osseous fishes is quite in accordance with evolution, although some of the very lowest forms, the lancelet and the lampreys, together with the archaic ceratodus, have survived to our time.

The Amphibia, represented by the extinct labyrinthodons, appear first in the Carboniferous rocks, and these peculiar forms became extinct early in the Secondary period. The labyrinthodons were, however, highly specialised, and do not at all indicate the origin of the class, which may be as ancient as the lower forms of fishes. Hardly any recognisable remains of our existing groups—the frogs, toads, and salamanders—are found before the Tertiary period, a fact which indicates the extreme imperfection of the record as regards this class of animals.

True reptiles have not been found till we reach the Permian where Prohatteria and Proterosaurus occur, the former closely allied to the lizard-like Sphenodon of New Zealand, the latter having its nearest allies in the same group of reptiles—Rhyncocephala, other forms of which occur in the Trias. In this last-named formation the earliest crocodiles—Phytosaurus (Belodon) and Stagonolepis occur, as well as the earliest tortoises—Chelytherium, Proganochelys, and Psephoderma.[13] Fossil serpents have been first found in the Cretaceous formation, but the conditions for the preservation of these forms have evidently been unfavourable, and the record is correspondingly incomplete. The marine Plesiosauri and Ichthyosauri, the flying Pterodactyles, the terrestrial Iguanodon of Europe, and the huge Atlantosaurus of Colorado—the largest land animal that has ever lived upon the earth[14]—all belong to special developments of the reptilian type which flourished during the Secondary epoch, and then became extinct.

Birds are among the rarest of fossils, due, no doubt, to their aerial habits removing them from the ordinary dangers of flood, bog, or ice which overwhelm mammals and reptiles, and also to their small specific gravity which keeps them floating on the surface of water till devoured. Their remains were long confined to Tertiary deposits, where many living genera and a few extinct forms have been found. The only birds yet known from the older rocks are the toothed birds (Odontornithes) of the Cretaceous beds of the United States, belonging to two distinct families and many genera; a penguin-like form (Enaliornis) from the Upper Greensand of Cambridge; and the well-known long-tailed Archaeopteryx from the Upper Oolite of Bavaria. The record is thus imperfect and fragmentary in the extreme; but it yet shows us, in the few birds discovered in the older rocks, more primitive and generalised types, while the Tertiary birds had already become specialised like those living, and had lost both the teeth and the long vertebral tail, which indicate reptilian affinities in the earlier ages.

Mammalia have been found, as already stated, as far back as the Trias formation, in Europe in the United States and in South Africa, all being very small, and belonging either to the Marsupial order, or to some still lower and more generalised type, out of which both Marsupials and Insectivora were developed. Other allied forms have been found in the Lower and Upper Oolite both of Europe and the United States. But there is then a great gap in the whole Cretaceous formation, from which no mammal has been obtained, although both in the Wealden and the Upper Chalk in Europe, and in the Upper Cretaceous deposits of the United States an abundant and well-preserved terrestrial flora has been discovered. Why no mammals have left their remains here it is impossible to say. We can only suppose that the limited areas in which land plants have been so abundantly preserved, did not present the conditions which are needed for the fossilisation and preservation of mammalian remains.

When we come to the Tertiary formation, we find mammals in abundance; but a wonderful change has taken place. The obscure early types have disappeared, and we discover in their place a whole series of forms belonging to existing orders, and even sometimes to existing families. Thus, in the Eocene we have remains of the opossum family; bats apparently belonging to living genera; rodents allied to the South American cavies and to dormice and squirrels; hoofed animals belonging to the odd-toed and even-toed groups; and ancestral forms of cats, civets, dogs, with a number of more generalised forms of carnivora. Besides these there are whales, lemurs, and many strange ancestral forms of proboscidea.[15]

The great diversity of forms and structures at so remote an epoch would require for their development an amount of time, which, judging by the changes that have occurred in other groups, would carry us back far into the Mesozoic period. In order to understand why we have no record of these changes in any part of the world, we must fall back upon some such supposition as we made in the case of the dicotyledonous plants. Perhaps, indeed, the two cases are really connected, and the upland regions of the primeval world, which saw the development of our higher vegetation, may have also afforded the theatre for the gradual development of the varied mammalian types which surprise us by their sudden appearance in Tertiary times.


Notwithstanding these irregularities and gaps in the record, the accompanying table, summarising our actual knowledge of the geological distribution of the five classes of vertebrata, exhibits a steady progression from lower to higher types, excepting only the deficiency in the bird record which is easily explained. The comparative perfection of type in which each of these classes first appears, renders it certain that the origin of each and all of them must be sought much farther back than any records which have yet been discovered. The researches of palaeontologists and embryologists indicate a reptilian origin for birds and mammals, while reptiles and amphibia arose, perhaps independently, from fishes.

Concluding Remarks.

The brief review we have now taken of the more suggestive facts presented by the geological succession of organic forms, is sufficient to show that most, if not all, of the supposed difficulties which it presents in the way of evolution, are due either to imperfections in the geological record itself, or to our still very incomplete knowledge of what is really recorded in the earth's crust. We learn, however, that just as discovery progresses, gaps are filled up and difficulties disappear; while, in the case of many individual groups, we have already obtained all the evidence of progressive development that can reasonably be expected. We conclude, therefore, that the geological difficulty has now disappeared; and that this noble science, when properly understood, affords clear and weighty evidence of evolution.

  1. The reader who desires to understand this subject more fully, should study chap. x. of the Origin of Species, and chap. xiv. of Sir Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology.
  2. On "Stagonolepis Robertsoni and on the Evolution of the Crocodilia," in Q.J. of Geological Society, 1875; and abstract in Nature, vol. xii. p. 38.
  3. From a paper by Messrs. Scott and Osborne, "On the Origin and Development of the Rhinoceros Group," read before the British Association in 1883.
  4. American Addresses, pp. 73-76.
  5. Lecture on the Introduction and Succession of Vertebrate Life in America, Nature, vol. xvi. p. 471.
  6. Nature, vol. xxv. p. 84.
  7. See The Mammalia in their Relation to Primeval Times, p. 102.
  8. For a brief enumeration and description of these fossils, see the author's Geographical Distribution of Animals, vol. i. p. 146.
  9. Sketch of Palaeobotany in Fifth Annual Report of U.S. Geological Survey, 1883-84, pp. 363-452, with diagrams. Sir J. William Dawson, speaking of the value of leaves for the determination of fossil plants, says: "In my own experience I have often found determinations of the leaves of trees confirmed by the discovery of their fruits or of the structure of their stems. Thus, in the rich cretaceous plant-beds of the Dunvegan series, we have beech-nuts associated in the same bed with leaves referred to Fagus. In the Laramie beds I determined many years ago nuts of the Trapa or water-chestnut, and subsequently Lesquereux found in beds in the United States leaves which he referred to the same genus. Later, I found in collections made on the Red Deer River of Canada my fruits and Lesquereux's leaves on the same slab. The presence of trees of the genera Carya and Juglans in the same formation was inferred from their leaves, and specimens have since been obtained of silicified wood with the microscopic structure of the modern butternut. Still we are willing to admit that determinations from leaves alone are liable to doubt."—The Geological History of Plants, p. 196.
  10. Sir J. William Dawson's Geological History of Plants, p. 18.
  11. "On the Origin of the Flora of the European Alps," Proc. of Roy. Geog. Society, vol. i. (1879), pp. 564-588.
  12. Systematic Review of our Present Knowledge of Fossil Insects, including Myriapods and Arachnids (Bull. of U.S. Geol. Survey, No. 31, Washington, 1886).
  13. For the facts as to the early appearance of the above named groups of reptiles I am indebted to Mr. E. Lydekker of the Geological Department of the Natural History Museum.
  14. According to Professor Marsh this creature was 50 or 60 feet long, and when erect, at least 30 feet in height. It fed upon the foliage of the mountain forests of the Cretaceous epoch, the remains of which are preserved with it.
  15. For fuller details, see the author's Geographical Distribution of Animals, and Heilprin's Geographical and Geological Distribution of Animals.