Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/79

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69
A HALF-CENTURY OF SCIENCE.

ated in the last half-century. Fifty years ago it was a very general opinion that animals which are unlike when mature were dissimilar from the beginning. It is to Von Baer, the discoverer of the mammalian ovum, that we owe the great generalization that the development of the egg is in the main a progress from the general to the special; in fact, that embryology is the key to the laws of animal development. Thus the young of existing species resemble in many cases the mature forms which flourished in ancient times. Huxley has traced up the genealogy of the horse to the Miocene Anchitherium. In the same way Gaudry has called attention to the fact that, just as the individual stag gradually acquires more and more complex antlers—having at first only a single prong, in the next year two points, in the following three, and so on—so the genus, as a whole, in Middle Miocene times had two pronged horns; in the Upper Miocene, three; and that it is not till the Upper Pliocene that we find any species with the magnificent antlers of our modern deer. It seems to be now generally admitted that birds have come down to us through the Dinosaurians, and, as Huxley has shown, the profound break once supposed to exist between birds and reptiles has been bridged over by the discovery of reptilian birds and bird-like reptiles; so that, in fact, birds are modified reptiles. Again, the remarkable genus Peripatus, so well studied by Moseley, tends to connect the annulose and articulate types.

Again, the structural resemblances between Amphioxus and the Ascidians had been pointed out by Goodsir; and Kowalevsky in 1866 showed that these were not mere analogies, but indicated a real affinity. These observations, in the words of Allen Thomson, "have produced a change little short of revolutionary in embryological and zoölogical views, leading as they do to the support of the hypothesis that the Ascidian is an earlier stage in the phylogenetic history of the mammal and other vertebrates."

The larval forms which occur in so many groups, and of which the insects afford us the most familiar examples, are, in the words of Quatrefages, embryos, which lead an independent life. In such cases as these, external conditions act upon the larva? as they do upon the mature form; hence we have two classes of changes, adaptational or adaptive, and developmental. These and many other facts must be taken into consideration; nevertheless, naturalists are now generally agreed that embryological characters are of high value as guides in classification, and it may, I think, be regarded as well established that, just as the contents and sequence of rocks teach us the past history of the earth, so is the gradual development of the species indicated by the structure of the embryo and its developmental changes. When the supporters of Darwin are told that his theory is incredible, they may fairly ask why it is impossible that a species in the course of hundreds of thousands of years should have passed through changes which occupy only a few days or weeks in the life-history of each individual.