Page:Darwinism by Alfred Wallace 1889.djvu/266

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the former and reject the latter. The Pieridæ would, however, usually be less numerous, because their larvæ are often protectively coloured and therefore edible, while the larvæ of the Heliconidæ are adorned with warning colours, spines, or tubercles, and are uneatable. It seems probable that the larvæ and pupæ of the Heliconidæ were the first to acquire the protective distastefulness, both because in this stage they are more defenceless and more liable to fatal injury, and also because we now find many instances in which the larvæ are distasteful while the perfect insects are eatable, but I believe none in which the reverse is the case. The larvæ of the Pieridæ are now beginning to acquire offensive juices, but have not yet obtained the corresponding conspicuous colours; while the perfect insects remain eatable, except perhaps in some Eastern groups, the under sides of whose wings are brilliantly coloured although this is the part which is exposed when at rest.

It is clear that if a large majority of the larvæ of Lepidoptera, as well as the perfect insects, acquired these distasteful properties, so as seriously to diminish the food supply of insectivorous and nestling birds, these latter would be forced by necessity to acquire corresponding tastes, and to eat with pleasure what some of them now eat only under pressure of hunger; and variation and natural selection would soon bring about this change.

Many writers have denied the possibility of such wonderful resemblances being produced by the accumulation of fortuitous variations, but if the reader will call to mind the large amount of variability that has been shown to exist in all organisms, the exceptional power of rapid increase possessed by insects, and the tremendous struggle for existence always going on, the difficulty will vanish, especially when we remember that nature has the same fundamental groundwork to act upon in the two groups, general similarity of forms, wings of similar texture and outline, and probably some original similarity of colour and marking. Yet there is evidently considerable difficulty in the process, or with these great resources at her command nature would have produced more of these mimicking forms than she has done. One reason of this deficiency probably is, that the imitators, being always fewer in number, have