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04 - Natural Selection 04-03 - Its Power on Characters of Trifling Importance 10 It may metaphorically be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.

We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the lapse of ages, and then so imperfect is our view into long-past geological ages, that we see only that the forms of life are now different from what they formerly were.

In order that any great amount of modification should be effected in a species, a variety when once formed must again, perhaps after a long interval of time, vary or present individual differences of the same favourable nature as before; and these must be again preserved, and so onwards step by step.

Seeing that individual differences of the same kind perpetually recur, this can hardly be considered as an unwarrantable assumption.

But whether it is true, we can judge only by seeing how far the hypothesis accords with and explains the general phenomena of nature. On the other hand, the ordinary belief that the amount of possible variation is a strictly limited quantity is likewise a simple assumption.

Although natural selection can act only through and for the good of each being, yet characters and structures, which we are apt to consider as of very trifling importance, may thus be acted on.

When we see leaf-eating insects green and bark-feeders mottled-grey; the alpine ptarmigan white in winter, the red grouse the colour of heather, we must believe that these tints are of service to these birds and insects in preserving them from danger.

Grouse, if not destroyed at some period of their lives, would increase in countless numbers; they are known to suffer largely from birds of prey; and hawks are guided by eyesight to their prey- so much so, that on parts of the Continent persons are warned not to keep white pigeons, as being the most liable to destruction.

Hence natural selection might be effective in giving the proper colour to each kind of grouse, and in keeping that colour, when once acquired, true and constant.

Nor ought we to think that the occasional destruction of an animal of any particular colour would produce little effect: we should remember how essential it is in a flock of white sheep to destroy a lamb with the faintest trace of black.
sheep
sheep


We have seen how the colour of the hogs, which feed on the "paint-root" in Virginia, determines whether they shall live or die.

pig
pig

hog
hog



In plants, the down on the fruit and the colour of the
flesh are considered by botanists as characters of the most
trifling importance: yet we hear from an excellent
horticulturist, Downing, that in the United States,
smooth-skinned fruits suffer far more from a beetle, a
Curculio, than those with down; that purple plums suffer far
more from a certain disease than yellow plums; whereas
another disease attacks yellow-fleshed peaches far more
than those with other coloured flesh. If, with all the aids of art,
these slight differences make a great difference in cultivating
the several varieties, assuredly, in a state of nature, where
the trees would have to struggle with other trees, and with a
host of enemies, such differences would effectually settle
which variety, whether a smooth or downy, a yellow or purple
fleshed fruit, should succeed.

peach
peach

nectarine
nectarine

Curculio
Curculio

plum
plum
05 - Laws of Variation 05-06 - False Correlation 10 We may often falsely attribute to correlated variation structures which are common to whole groups of species, and which in truth are simply due to inheritance; for an ancient progenitor may have acquired through natural selection some one modification in structure, and, after thousands of generations, some other and independent modification; and these two modifications, having been transmitted to a whole group of descendants with diverse habits, would naturally be thought to be in some necessary manner correlated.
05 - Laws of Variation 05-12 - Reversion to Long Lost Characters 10 No doubt it is a very surprising fact that characters should reappear after having been lost for many, probably for hundreds of generations.

But when a breed has been crossed only once by some other breed, the offspring occasionally show for many generations a tendency to revert in character to the foreign breed- some say, for a dozen or even a score of generations.

After twelve generations, the proportion of blood, to use a common expression, from one ancestor, is only 1 in 2048;
and yet, as we see, it is generally believed that a tendency to reversion is retained by this remnant of foreign blood.

In a breed which has not been crossed, but in which both parents have lost some character which their progenitor possessed, the tendency, whether strong or weak, to reproduce the lost character might, as was formerly remarked, for all that we can see to the contrary, be transmitted for almost any number of generations.

When a character which has been lost in a breed, reappears after a great number of generations, the most probable hypothesis is, not that one individual suddenly takes after an ancestor removed by some hundred generations, but that in each successive generation the character in question has been lying latent, and at last, under unknown favourable conditions, is developed.

With the barb-pigeon, for instance, which very rarely produces a blue bird, it is probable that there is a latent tendency in each generation to produce blue plumage.

Barb Pigeon
Barb Pigeon


The abstract improbability of such a tendency being transmitted through a vast number of generations, is not greater than that of quite useless or rudimentary organs being similarly transmitted. A mere tendency to produce a rudiment is indeed sometimes thus inherited.
06 - Difficutiles in Theory 06-05 - Diversified Habits in the Same Species 10 I will now give two or three instances both of diversified and of changed habits in the individuals of the same species.

In either case it would be easy for natural selection to adapt the structure of the animal to its changed habits, or exclusively to one of its several habits.

It is, however, difficult to decide, and immaterial for us, whether habits generally change first and structure afterwards; or whether slight modifications of structure lead to changed habits; both probably often occurring almost simultaneously.

Of cases of changed habits it will suffice merely to allude to that of the many British insects which now feed on exotic plants, or exclusively on artificial substances.

England
England

insect
insect


Of diversified habits innumerable instances could be given: I have often watched a tyrant flycatcher (Saurophagus sulphuratus) in South America, hovering over one spot and then proceeding to another, like a kestrel, and at other times standing stationary on the margin of water, and then dashing into it like a kingfisher at a fish.

Tyrant Flycatcher
Tyrant Flycatcher

South America
South America

kestrel
kestrel

kingfisher
kingfisher


In our own country the larger titmouse (Parus major) may be seen climbing branches, almost like a creeper; it sometimes, like a shrike, kills small birds by blows on the head; and I have many times seen and heard it hammering the seeds of the yew on a branch, and thus breaking them like a nuthatch.
England
England

titmouse
titmouse

seeds
seeds

yew
yew


In North America the black bear was seen by Hearne swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, almost like a whale, insects in the water.

bear
bear
whale
whale