Page:Origin of Species 1859 facsimile.djvu/331

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Chap. X.
319
EXTINCTION.

how utterly groundless was my astonishment! Professor Owen soon perceived that the tooth, though so like that of the existing horse, belonged to an extinct species. Had this horse been still living, but in some degree rare, no naturalist would have felt the least surprise at its rarity; for rarity is the attribute of a vast number of species of all classes, in all countries. If we ask ourselves why this or that species is rare, we answer that something is unfavourable in its conditions of life; but what that something is, we can hardly ever tell. On the supposition of the fossil horse still existing as a rare species, we might have felt certain from the analogy of all other mammals, even of the slow-breeding elephant, and from the history of the naturalisation of the domestic horse in South America, that under more favourable conditions it would in a very few years have stocked the whole continent. But we could not have told what the unfavourable conditions were which checked its increase, whether some one or several contingencies, and at what period of the horse's life, and in what degree, they severally acted. If the conditions had gone on, however slowly, becoming less and less favourable, we assuredly should not have perceived the fact, yet the fossil horse would certainly have become rarer and rarer, and finally extinct;—its place being seized on by some more successful competitor.

It is most difficult always to remember that the increase of every living being is constantly being checked by unperceived injurious agencies; and that these same unperceived agencies are amply sufficient to cause rarity, and finally extinction. We see in many cases in the more recent tertiary formations, that rarity precedes extinction; and we know that this has been the progress of events with those animals which have