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On the Origin of Species, 6th Edition by Charles Darwin

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varieties. Fritz Muller has described analogous but more extraordinary
cases with the males of certain Brazilian Crustaceans: thus, the male of a
Tanais regularly occurs under two distinct forms; one of these has strong
and differently shaped pincers, and the other has antennae much more
abundantly furnished with smelling-hairs. Although in most of these cases,
the two or three forms, both with animals and plants, are not now connected
by intermediate gradations, it is possible that they were once thus
connected. Mr. Wallace, for instance, describes a certain butterfly which
presents in the same island a great range of varieties connected by
intermediate links, and the extreme links of the chain closely resemble the
two forms of an allied dimorphic species inhabiting another part of the
Malay Archipelago. Thus also with ants, the several worker-castes are
generally quite distinct; but in some cases, as we shall hereafter see, the
castes are connected together by finely graduated varieties. So it is, as
I have myself observed, with some dimorphic plants. It certainly at first
appears a highly remarkable fact that the same female butterfly should have
the power of producing at the same time three distinct female forms and a
male; and that an hermaphrodite plant should produce from the same seed-
capsule three distinct hermaphrodite forms, bearing three different kinds
of females and three or even six different kinds of males. Nevertheless
these cases are only exaggerations of the common fact that the female
produces offspring of two sexes which sometimes differ from each other in a
wonderful manner.


The forms which possess in some considerable degree the character of
species, but which are so closely similar to other forms, or are so closely
linked to them by intermediate gradations, that naturalists do not like to
rank them as distinct species, are in several respects the most important
for us. We have every reason to believe that many of these doubtful and
closely allied forms have permanently retained their characters for a long
time; for as long, as far as we know, as have good and true species.
Practically, when a naturalist can unite by means of intermediate links any
two forms, he treats the one as a variety of the other, ranking the most
common, but sometimes the one first described as the species, and the other
as the variety. But cases of great difficulty, which I will not here
enumerate, sometimes arise in deciding whether or not to rank one form as a
variety of another, even when they are closely connected by intermediate
links; nor will the commonly assumed hybrid nature of the intermediate
forms always remove the difficulty. In very many cases, however, one form
is ranked as a variety of another, not because the intermediate links have
actually been found, but because analogy leads the observer to suppose
either that they do now somewhere exist, or may formerly have existed; and
here a wide door for the entry of doubt and conjecture is opened.

Hence, in determining whether a form should be ranked as a species or a
variety, the opinion of naturalists having sound judgment and wide
experience seems the only guide to follow. We must, however, in many
cases, decide by a majority of naturalists, for few well-marked and
well-known varieties can be named which have not been ranked as species by
at least some competent judges.

That varieties of this doubtful nature are far from uncommon cannot be
disputed. Compare the several floras of Great Britain, of France, or of
the United States, drawn up by different botanists, and see what a
surprising number of forms have been ranked by one botanist as good
species, and by another as mere varieties. Mr. H.C. Watson, to whom I lie
under deep obligation for assistance of all kinds, has marked for me 182
British plants, which are generally considered as varieties, but which have
all been ranked by botanists as species; and in making this list he has
omitted many trifling varieties, but which nevertheless have been ranked by
some botanists as species, and he has entirely omitted several highly
polymorphic genera. Under genera, including the most polymorphic forms,
Mr. Babington gives 251 species, whereas Mr. Bentham gives only 112--a
difference of 139 doubtful forms! Among animals which unite for each
birth, and which are highly locomotive, doubtful forms, ranked by one
zoologist as a species and by another as a variety, can rarely be found
within the same country, but are common in separated areas. How many of
the birds and insects in North America and Europe, which differ very
slightly from each other, have been ranked by one eminent naturalist as
undoubted species, and by another as varieties, or, as they are often
called, geographical races! Mr. Wallace, in several valuable papers on the
various animals, especially on the Lepidoptera, inhabiting the islands of
the great Malayan Archipelago, shows that they may be classed under four
heads, namely, as variable forms, as local forms, as geographical races or
sub-species, and as true representative species. The first or variable
forms vary much within the limits of the same island. The local forms are
moderately constant and distinct in each separate island; but when all from
the several islands are compared together, the differences are seen to be
so slight and graduated that it is impossible to define or describe them,
though at the same time the extreme forms are sufficiently distinct. The
geographical races or sub-species are local forms completely fixed and
isolated; but as they do not differ from each other by strongly marked and
important characters, "There is no possible test but individual opinion to
determine which of them shall be considered as species and which as
varieties." Lastly, representative species fill the same place in the
natural economy of each island as do the local forms and sub-species; but
as they are distinguished from each other by a greater amount of difference
than that between the local forms and sub-species, they are almost
universally ranked by naturalists as true species. Nevertheless, no
certain criterion can possibly be given by which variable forms, local
forms, sub species and representative species can be recognised.

Many years ago, when comparing, and seeing others compare, the birds from
the closely neighbouring islands of the Galapagos Archipelago, one with
another, and with those from the American mainland, I was much struck how
entirely vague and arbitrary is the distinction between species and
varieties. On the islets of the little Madeira group there are many
insects which are characterized as varieties in Mr. Wollaston's admirable
work, but which would certainly be ranked as distinct species by many
entomologists. Even Ireland has a few animals, now generally regarded as
varieties, but which have been ranked as species by some zoologists.
Several experienced ornithologists consider our British red grouse as only
a strongly marked race of a Norwegian species, whereas the greater number
rank it as an undoubted species peculiar to Great Britain. A wide distance
between the homes of two doubtful forms leads many naturalists to rank them
as distinct species; but what distance, it has been well asked, will
suffice if that between America and Europe is ample, will that between
Europe and the Azores, or Madeira, or the Canaries, or between the several
islets of these small archipelagos, be sufficient?

Mr. B.D. Walsh, a distinguished entomologist of the United States, has
described what he calls Phytophagic varieties and Phytophagic species.
Most vegetable-feeding insects live on one kind of plant or on one group of
plants; some feed indiscriminately on many kinds, but do not in consequence
vary. In several cases, however, insects found living on different plants,
have been observed by Mr. Walsh to present in their larval or mature state,
or in both states, slight, though constant differences in colour, size, or
in the nature of their secretions. In some instances the males alone, in
other instances, both males and females, have been observed thus to differ
in a slight degree. When the differences are rather more strongly marked,
and when both sexes and all ages are affected, the forms are ranked by all
entomologists as good species. But no observer can determine for another,
even if he can do so for himself, which of these Phytophagic forms ought to
be called species and which varieties. Mr. Walsh ranks the forms which it
may be supposed would freely intercross, as varieties; and those which
appear to have lost this power, as species. As the differences depend on
the insects having long fed on distinct plants, it cannot be expected that
intermediate links connecting the several forms should now be found. The
naturalist thus loses his best guide in determining whether to rank
doubtful forms as varieties or species. This likewise necessarily occurs
with closely allied organisms, which inhabit distinct continents or
islands. When, on the other hand, an animal or plant ranges over the same
continent, or inhabits many islands in the same archipelago, and presents
different forms in the different areas, there is always a good chance that
intermediate forms will be discovered which will link together the extreme
states; and these are then degraded to the rank of varieties.

Some few naturalists maintain that animals never present varieties; but
then these same naturalists rank the slightest difference as of specific
value; and when the same identical form is met with in two distant
countries, or in two geological formations, they believe that two distinct
species are hidden under the same dress. The term species thus comes to be
a mere useless abstraction, implying and assuming a separate act of
creation. It is certain that many forms, considered by highly competent
judges to be varieties, resemble species so completely in character that
they have been thus ranked by other highly competent judges. But to
discuss whether they ought to be called species or varieties, before any
definition of these terms has been generally accepted, is vainly to beat
the air.

Many of the cases of strongly marked varieties or doubtful species well
deserve consideration; for several interesting lines of argument, from
geographical distribution, analogical variation, hybridism, etc., have been
brought to bear in the attempt to determine their rank; but space does not
here permit me to discuss them. Close investigation, in many cases, will
no doubt bring naturalists to agree how to rank doubtful forms. Yet it
must be confessed that it is in the best known countries that we find the
greatest number of them. I have been struck with the fact that if any
animal or plant in a state of nature be highly useful to man, or from any
cause closely attracts his attention, varieties of it will almost
universally be found recorded. These varieties, moreover, will often be
ranked by some authors as species. Look at the common oak, how closely it
has been studied; yet a German author makes more than a dozen species out
of forms, which are almost universally considered by other botanists to be
varieties; and in this country the highest botanical authorities and
practical men can be quoted to show that the sessile and pedunculated oaks
are either good and distinct species or mere varieties.

I may here allude to a remarkable memoir lately published by A. de
Candolle, on the oaks of the whole world. No one ever had more ample
materials for the discrimination of the species, or could have worked on
them with more zeal and sagacity. He first gives in detail all the many
points of structure which vary in the several species, and estimates
numerically the relative frequency of the variations. He specifies above a
dozen characters which may be found varying even on the same branch,
sometimes according to age or development, sometimes without any assignable
reason. Such characters are not of course of specific value, but they are,
as Asa Gray has remarked in commenting on this memoir, such as generally
enter into specific definitions. De Candolle then goes on to say that he
gives the rank of species to the forms that differ by characters never
varying on the same tree, and never found connected by intermediate states.
After this discussion, the result of so much labour, he emphatically
remarks: "They are mistaken, who repeat that the greater part of our
species are clearly limited, and that the doubtful species are in a feeble
minority. This seemed to be true, so long as a genus was imperfectly
known, and its species were founded upon a few specimens, that is to say,
were provisional. Just as we come to know them better, intermediate forms
flow in, and doubts as to specific limits augment." He also adds that it
is the best known species which present the greatest number of spontaneous
varieties and sub-varieties. Thus Quercus robur has twenty-eight
varieties, all of which, excepting six, are clustered round three sub-
species, namely Q. pedunculata, sessiliflora and pubescens. The forms
which connect these three sub-species are comparatively rare; and, as Asa
Gray again remarks, if these connecting forms which are now rare were to
become totally extinct the three sub-species would hold exactly the same
relation to each other as do the four or five provisionally admitted
species which closely surround the typical Quercus robur. Finally, De
Candolle admits that out of the 300 species, which will be enumerated in
his Prodromus as belonging to the oak family, at least two-thirds are
provisional species, that is, are not known strictly to fulfil the
definition above given of a true species. It should be added that De
Candolle no longer believes that species are immutable creations, but
concludes that the derivative theory is the most natural one, "and the most
accordant with the known facts in palaeontology, geographical botany and
zoology, of anatomical structure and classification."

When a young naturalist commences the study of a group of organisms quite
unknown to him he is at first much perplexed in determining what
differences to consider as specific and what as varietal; for he knows
nothing of the amount and kind of variation to which the group is subject;
and this shows, at least, how very generally there is some variation. But
if he confine his attention to one class within one country he will soon
make up his mind how to rank most of the doubtful forms. His general
tendency will be to make many species, for he will become impressed, just
like the pigeon or poultry fancier before alluded to, with the amount of
difference in the forms which he is continually studying; and he has little
general knowledge of analogical variation in other groups and in other
countries by which to correct his first impressions. As he extends the
range of his observations he will meet with more cases of difficulty; for
he will encounter a greater number of closely-allied forms. But if his
observations be widely extended he will in the end generally be able to
make up his own mind; but he will succeed in this at the expense of
admitting much variation, and the truth of this admission will often be
disputed by other naturalists. When he comes to study allied forms brought
from countries not now continuous, in which case he cannot hope to find
intermediate links, he will be compelled to trust almost entirely to
analogy, and his difficulties will rise to a climax.

Certainly no clear line of demarcation has as yet been drawn between
species and sub-species--that is, the forms which in the opinion of some
naturalists come very near to, but do not quite arrive at, the rank of
species; or, again, between sub-species and well-marked varieties, or
between lesser varieties and individual differences. These differences
blend into each other by an insensible series; and a series impresses the
mind with the idea of an actual passage.

Hence I look at individual differences, though of small interest to the
systematist, as of the highest importance for us, as being the first step
towards such slight varieties as are barely thought worth recording in
works on natural history. And I look at varieties which are in any degree
more distinct and permanent, as steps toward more strongly marked and
permanent varieties; and at the latter, as leading to sub-species, and then
to species. The passage from one stage of difference to another may, in
many cases, be the simple result of the nature of the organism and of the
different physical conditions to which it has long been exposed; but with
respect to the more important and adaptive characters, the passage from one
stage of difference to another may be safely attributed to the cumulative
action of natural selection, hereafter to be explained, and to the effects
of the increased use or disuse of parts. A well-marked variety may
therefore be called an incipient species; but whether this belief is
justifiable must be judged by the weight of the various facts and
considerations to be given throughout this work.

It need not be supposed that all varieties or incipient species attain the
rank of species. They may become extinct, or they may endure as varieties
for very long periods, as has been shown to be the case by Mr. Wollaston
with the varieties of certain fossil land-shells in Madeira, and with
plants by Gaston de Saporta. If a variety were to flourish so as to exceed
in numbers the parent species, it would then rank as the species, and the
species as the variety; or it might come to supplant and exterminate the
parent species; or both might co-exist, and both rank as independent
species. But we shall hereafter return to this subject.

>From these remarks it will be seen that I look at the term species as one
arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals
closely resembling each other, and that it does not essentially differ from
the term variety, which is given to less distinct and more fluctuating
forms. The term variety, again, in comparison with mere individual
differences, is also applied arbitrarily, for convenience sake.


Guided by theoretical considerations, I thought that some interesting
results might be obtained in regard to the nature and relations of the
species which vary most, by tabulating all the varieties in several
well-worked floras. At first this seemed a simple task; but Mr. H.C.
Watson, to whom I am much indebted for valuable advice and assistance on
this subject, soon convinced me that there were many difficulties, as did
subsequently Dr. Hooker, even in stronger terms. I shall reserve for a
future work the discussion of these difficulties, and the tables of the
proportional numbers of the varying species. Dr. Hooker permits me to add
that after having carefully read my manuscript, and examined the tables, he
thinks that the following statements are fairly well established. The
whole subject, however, treated as it necessarily here is with much
brevity, is rather perplexing, and allusions cannot be avoided to the
"struggle for existence," "divergence of character," and other questions,
hereafter to be discussed.

Alphonse de Candolle and others have shown that plants which have very wide
ranges generally present varieties; and this might have been expected, as
they are exposed to diverse physical conditions, and as they come into
competition (which, as we shall hereafter see, is a far more important
circumstance) with different sets of organic beings. But my tables further
show that, in any limited country, the species which are the most common,
that is abound most in individuals, and the species which are most widely
diffused within their own country (and this is a different consideration
from wide range, and to a certain extent from commonness), oftenest give
rise to varieties sufficiently well-marked to have been recorded in
botanical works. Hence it is the most flourishing, or, as they may be
called, the dominant species--those which range widely, are the most
diffused in their own country, and are the most numerous in
individuals--which oftenest produce well-marked varieties, or, as I
consider them, incipient species. And this, perhaps, might have been
anticipated; for, as varieties, in order to become in any degree permanent,
necessarily have to struggle with the other inhabitants of the country, the
species which are already dominant will be the most likely to yield
offspring, which, though in some slight degree modified, still inherit
those advantages that enabled their parents to become dominant over their
compatriots. In these remarks on predominence, it should be understood
that reference is made only to the forms which come into competition with
each other, and more especially to the members of the same genus or class
having nearly similar habits of life. With respect to the number of
individuals or commonness of species, the comparison of course relates only
to the members of the same group. One of the higher plants may be said to
be dominant if it be more numerous in individuals and more widely diffused
than the other plants of the same country, which live under nearly the same
conditions. A plant of this kind is not the less dominant because some
conferva inhabiting the water or some parasitic fungus is infinitely more
numerous in individuals, and more widely diffused. But if the conferva or
parasitic fungus exceeds its allies in the above respects, it will then be
dominant within its own class.


If the plants inhabiting a country as described in any Flora, be divided
into two equal masses, all those in the larger genera (i.e., those
including many species) being placed on one side, and all those in the
smaller genera on the other side, the former will be found to include a
somewhat larger number of the very common and much diffused or dominant
species. This might have been anticipated, for the mere fact of many
species of the same genus inhabiting any country, shows that there is
something in the organic or inorganic conditions of that country favourable
to the genus; and, consequently, we might have expected to have found in
the larger genera, or those including many species, a larger proportional
number of dominant species. But so many causes tend to obscure this
result, that I am surprised that my tables show even a small majority on
the side of the larger genera. I will here allude to only two causes of
obscurity. Fresh water and salt-loving plants generally have very wide
ranges and are much diffused, but this seems to be connected with the
nature of the stations inhabited by them, and has little or no relation to
the size of the genera to which the species belong. Again, plants low in
the scale of organisation are generally much more widely diffused than
plants higher in the scale; and here again there is no close relation to
the size of the genera. The cause of lowly-organised plants ranging widely
will be discussed in our chapter on Geographical Distribution.

>From looking at species as only strongly marked and well-defined varieties,
I was led to anticipate that the species of the larger genera in each
country would oftener present varieties, than the species of the smaller
genera; for wherever many closely related species (i.e., species of the
same genus) have been formed, many varieties or incipient species ought, as
a general rule, to be now forming. Where many large trees grow, we expect
to find saplings. Where many species of a genus have been formed through
variation, circumstances have been favourable for variation; and hence we
might expect that the circumstances would generally still be favourable to
variation. On the other hand, if we look at each species as a special act
of creation, there is no apparent reason why more varieties should occur in
a group having many species, than in one having few.

To test the truth of this anticipation I have arranged the plants of twelve
countries, and the coleopterous insects of two districts, into two nearly
equal masses, the species of the larger genera on one side, and those of
the smaller genera on the other side, and it has invariably proved to be
the case that a larger proportion of the species on the side of the larger
genera presented varieties, than on the side of the smaller genera.
Moreover, the species of the large genera which present any varieties,
invariably present a larger average number of varieties than do the species
of the small genera. Both these results follow when another division is
made, and when all the least genera, with from only one to four species,
are altogether excluded from the tables. These facts are of plain
signification on the view that species are only strongly marked and
permanent varieties; for wherever many species of the same genus have been
formed, or where, if we may use the expression, the manufactory of species
has been active, we ought generally to find the manufactory still in
action, more especially as we have every reason to believe the process of
manufacturing new species to be a slow one. And this certainly holds true
if varieties be looked at as incipient species; for my tables clearly show,
as a general rule, that, wherever many species of a genus have been formed,
the species of that genus present a number of varieties, that is, of
incipient species, beyond the average. It is not that all large genera are
now varying much, and are thus increasing in the number of their species,
or that no small genera are now varying and increasing; for if this had
been so, it would have been fatal to my theory; inasmuch as geology plainly
tells us that small genera have in the lapse of time often increased
greatly in size; and that large genera have often come to their maxima,
declined, and disappeared. All that we want to show is, that where many
species of a genus have been formed, on an average many are still forming;
and this certainly holds good.


There are other relations between the species of large genera and their
recorded varieties which deserve notice. We have seen that there is no
infallible criterion by which to distinguish species and well-marked
varieties; and when intermediate links have not been found between doubtful
forms, naturalists are compelled to come to a determination by the amount
of difference between them, judging by analogy whether or not the amount
suffices to raise one or both to the rank of species. Hence the amount of
difference is one very important criterion in settling whether two forms
should be ranked as species or varieties. Now Fries has remarked in regard
to plants, and Westwood in regard to insects, that in large genera the
amount of difference between the species is often exceedingly small. I
have endeavoured to test this numerically by averages, and, as far as my
imperfect results go, they confirm the view. I have also consulted some
sagacious and experienced observers, and, after deliberation, they concur
in this view. In this respect, therefore, the species of the larger genera
resemble varieties, more than do the species of the smaller genera. Or the
case may be put in another way, and it may be said, that in the larger
genera, in which a number of varieties or incipient species greater than
the average are now manufacturing, many of the species already manufactured
still to a certain extent resemble varieties, for they differ from each
other by a less than the usual amount of difference.

Moreover, the species of the larger genera are related to each other, in
the same manner as the varieties of any one species are related to each
other. No naturalist pretends that all the species of a genus are equally
distinct from each other; they may generally be divided into sub-genera, or
sections, or lesser groups. As Fries has well remarked, little groups of
species are generally clustered like satellites around other species. And
what are varieties but groups of forms, unequally related to each other,
and clustered round certain forms--that is, round their parent-species.
Undoubtedly there is one most important point of difference between
varieties and species, namely, that the amount of difference between
varieties, when compared with each other or with their parent-species, is
much less than that between the species of the same genus. But when we
come to discuss the principle, as I call it, of divergence of character, we
shall see how this may be explained, and how the lesser differences between
varieties tend to increase into the greater differences between species.

There is one other point which is worth notice. Varieties generally have
much restricted ranges. This statement is indeed scarcely more than a
truism, for if a variety were found to have a wider range than that of its
supposed parent-species, their denominations would be reversed. But there
is reason to believe that the species which are very closely allied to
other species, and in so far resemble varieties, often have much restricted
ranges. For instance, Mr. H.C. Watson has marked for me in the well-sifted
London catalogue of Plants (4th edition) sixty-three plants which are
therein ranked as species, but which he considers as so closely allied to
other species as to be of doubtful value: these sixty-three reputed
species range on an average over 6.9 of the provinces into which Mr. Watson
has divided Great Britain. Now, in this same catalogue, fifty-three
acknowledged varieties are recorded, and these range over 7.7 provinces;
whereas, the species to which these varieties belong range over 14.3
provinces. So that the acknowledged varieties have very nearly the same
restricted average range, as have the closely allied forms, marked for me
by Mr. Watson as doubtful species, but which are almost universally ranked
by British botanists as good and true species.


Finally, varieties cannot be distinguished from species--except, first, by
the discovery of intermediate linking forms; and, secondly, by a certain
indefinite amount of difference between them; for two forms, if differing
very little, are generally ranked as varieties, notwithstanding that they
cannot be closely connected; but the amount of difference considered
necessary to give to any two forms the rank of species cannot be defined.
In genera having more than the average number of species in any country,
the species of these genera have more than the average number of varieties.
In large genera the species are apt to be closely but unequally allied
together, forming little clusters round other species. Species very
closely allied to other species apparently have restricted ranges. In all
these respects the species of large genera present a strong analogy with
varieties. And we can clearly understand these analogies, if species once
existed as varieties, and thus originated; whereas, these analogies are
utterly inexplicable if species are independent creations.

We have also seen that it is the most flourishing or dominant species of
the larger genera within each class which on an average yield the greatest
number of varieties, and varieties, as we shall hereafter see, tend to
become converted into new and distinct species. Thus the larger genera
tend to become larger; and throughout nature the forms of life which are
now dominant tend to become still more dominant by leaving many modified
and dominant descendants. But, by steps hereafter to be explained, the
larger genera also tend to break up into smaller genera. And thus, the
forms of life throughout the universe become divided into groups
subordinate to groups.



Its bearing on natural selection -- The term used in a wide sense --
Geometrical ratio of increase -- Rapid increase of naturalised animals and
plants -- Nature of the checks to increase -- Competition universal --
Effects of climate -- Protection from the number of individuals -- Complex
relations of all animals and plants throughout nature -- Struggle for life
most severe between individuals and varieties of the same species: often
severe between species of the same genus -- The relation of organism to
organism the most important of all relations.

Before entering on the subject of this chapter I must make a few
preliminary remarks to show how the struggle for existence bears on natural
selection. It has been seen in the last chapter that among organic beings
in a state of nature there is some individual variability: indeed I am not
aware that this has ever been disputed. It is immaterial for us whether a
multitude of doubtful forms be called species or sub-species or varieties;
what rank, for instance, the two or three hundred doubtful forms of British
plants are entitled to hold, if the existence of any well-marked varieties
be admitted. But the mere existence of individual variability and of some
few well-marked varieties, though necessary as the foundation for the work,
helps us but little in understanding how species arise in nature. How have
all those exquisite adaptations of one part of the organisation to another
part, and to the conditions of life and of one organic being to another
being, been perfected? We see these beautiful co-adaptations most plainly
in the woodpecker and the mistletoe; and only a little less plainly in the
humblest parasite which clings to the hairs of a quadruped or feathers of a
bird; in the structure of the beetle which dives through the water; in the
plumed seed which is wafted by the gentlest breeze; in short, we see
beautiful adaptations everywhere and in every part of the organic world.

Again, it may be asked, how is it that varieties, which I have called
incipient species, become ultimately converted into good and distinct
species, which in most cases obviously differ from each other far more than
do the varieties of the same species? How do those groups of species,
which constitute what are called distinct genera and which differ from each
other more than do the species of the same genus, arise? All these
results, as we shall more fully see in the next chapter, follow from the
struggle for life. Owing to this struggle, variations, however slight and
from whatever cause proceeding, if they be in any degree profitable to the
individuals of a species, in their infinitely complex relations to other
organic beings and to their physical conditions of life, will tend to the
preservation of such individuals, and will generally be inherited by the
offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of
surviving, for, of the many individuals of any species which are
periodically born, but a small number can survive. I have called this
principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the
term natural selection, in order to mark its relation to man's power of
selection. But the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer, of the
Survival of the Fittest, is more accurate, and is sometimes equally
convenient. We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great
results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through the
accumulation of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of
Nature. But Natural Selection, we shall hereafter see, is a power
incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man's
feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art.

We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence. In
my future work this subject will be treated, as it well deserves, at
greater length. The elder De Candolle and Lyell have largely and
philosophically shown that all organic beings are exposed to severe
competition. In regard to plants, no one has treated this subject with
more spirit and ability than W. Herbert, Dean of Manchester, evidently the
result of his great horticultural knowledge. Nothing is easier than to
admit in words the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more
difficult--at least I found it so--than constantly to bear this conclusion
in mind. Yet unless it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, the whole
economy of nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance,
extinction, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood. We
behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance
of food; we do not see or we forget that the birds which are idly singing
round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly
destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs,
or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey; we do not
always bear in mind, that, though food may be now superabundant, it is not
so at all seasons of each recurring year.


I should premise that I use this term in a large and metaphorical sense,
including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more
important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving
progeny. Two canine animals, in a time of dearth, may be truly said to
struggle with each other which shall get food and live. But a plant on the
edge of a desert is said to struggle for life against the drought, though
more properly it should be said to be dependent on the moisture. A plant
which annually produces a thousand seeds, of which only one of an average
comes to maturity, may be more truly said to struggle with the plants of
the same and other kinds which already clothe the ground. The mistletoe is
dependent on the apple and a few other trees, but can only in a far-fetched
sense be said to struggle with these trees, for, if too many of these
parasites grow on the same tree, it languishes and dies. But several
seedling mistletoes, growing close together on the same branch, may more
truly be said to struggle with each other. As the mistletoe is
disseminated by birds, its existence depends on them; and it may
metaphorically be said to struggle with other fruit-bearing plants, in
tempting the birds to devour and thus disseminate its seeds. In these
several senses, which pass into each other, I use for convenience sake the
general term of Struggle for Existence.


A struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high rate at which all
organic beings tend to increase. Every being, which during its natural
lifetime produces several eggs or seeds, must suffer destruction during
some period of its life, and during some season or occasional year,
otherwise, on the principle of geometrical increase, its numbers would
quickly become so inordinately great that no country could support the
product. Hence, as more individuals are produced than can possibly
survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one
individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of
distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life. It is the
doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and
vegetable kingdoms; for in this case there can be no artificial increase of
food, and no prudential restraint from marriage. Although some species may
be now increasing, more or less rapidly, in numbers, all cannot do so, for
the world would not hold them.

There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally
increases at so high a rate, that, if not destroyed, the earth would soon
be covered by the progeny of a single pair. Even slow-breeding man has
doubled in twenty-five years, and at this rate, in less than a thousand
years, there would literally not be standing room for his progeny.
Linnaeus has calculated that if an annual plant produced only two
seeds--and there is no plant so unproductive as this--and their seedlings
next year produced two, and so on, then in twenty years there would be a
million plants. The elephant is reckoned the slowest breeder of all known
animals, and I have taken some pains to estimate its probable minimum rate
of natural increase; it will be safest to assume that it begins breeding
when thirty years old, and goes on breeding till ninety years old, bringing
forth six young in the interval, and surviving till one hundred years old;
if this be so, after a period of from 740 to 750 years there would be
nearly nineteen million elephants alive descended from the first pair.

But we have better evidence on this subject than mere theoretical
calculations, namely, the numerous recorded cases of the astonishingly
rapid increase of various animals in a state of nature, when circumstances
have been favourable to them during two or three following seasons. Still
more striking is the evidence from our domestic animals of many kinds which
have run wild in several parts of the world; if the statements of the rate
of increase of slow-breeding cattle and horses in South America, and
latterly in Australia, had not been well authenticated, they would have
been incredible. So it is with plants; cases could be given of introduced
plants which have become common throughout whole islands in a period of
less than ten years. Several of the plants, such as the cardoon and a tall
thistle, which are now the commonest over the wide plains of La Plata,
clothing square leagues of surface almost to the exclusion of every other
plant, have been introduced from Europe; and there are plants which now
range in India, as I hear from Dr. Falconer, from Cape Comorin to the
Himalaya, which have been imported from America since its discovery. In
such cases, and endless others could be given, no one supposes that the
fertility of the animals or plants has been suddenly and temporarily
increased in any sensible degree. The obvious explanation is that the
conditions of life have been highly favourable, and that there has
consequently been less destruction of the old and young and that nearly all
the young have been enabled to breed. Their geometrical ratio of increase,
the result of which never fails to be surprising, simply explains their
extraordinarily rapid increase and wide diffusion in their new homes.

In a state of nature almost every full-grown plant annually produces seed,
and among animals there are very few which do not annually pair. Hence we
may confidently assert that all plants and animals are tending to increase
at a geometrical ratio--that all would rapidly stock every station in which
they could any how exist, and that this geometrical tendency to increase
must be checked by destruction at some period of life. Our familiarity
with the larger domestic animals tends, I think, to mislead us; we see no
great destruction falling on them, and we do not keep in mind that
thousands are annually slaughtered for food, and that in a state of nature
an equal number would have somehow to be disposed of.

The only difference between organisms which annually produce eggs or seeds
by the thousand, and those which produce extremely few, is, that the slow
breeders would require a few more years to people, under favourable
conditions, a whole district, let it be ever so large. The condor lays a
couple of eggs and the ostrich a score, and yet in the same country the
condor may be the more numerous of the two. The Fulmar petrel lays but one
egg, yet it is believed to be the most numerous bird in the world. One fly
deposits hundreds of eggs, and another, like the hippobosca, a single one.
But this difference does not determine how many individuals of the two
species can be supported in a district. A large number of eggs is of some
importance to those species which depend on a fluctuating amount of food,
for it allows them rapidly to increase in number. But the real importance
of a large number of eggs or seeds is to make up for much destruction at
some period of life; and this period in the great majority of cases is an
early one. If an animal can in any way protect its own eggs or young, a
small number may be produced, and yet the average stock be fully kept up;
but if many eggs or young are destroyed, many must be produced or the
species will become extinct. It would suffice to keep up the full number
of a tree, which lived on an average for a thousand years, if a single seed
were produced once in a thousand years, supposing that this seed were never
destroyed and could be ensured to germinate in a fitting place; so that, in
all cases, the average number of any animal or plant depends only
indirectly on the number of its eggs or seeds.

In looking at Nature, it is most necessary to keep the foregoing
considerations always in mind--never to forget that every single organic
being may be said to be striving to the utmost to increase in numbers; that
each lives by a struggle at some period of its life; that heavy destruction
inevitably falls either on the young or old during each generation or at
recurrent intervals. Lighten any check, mitigate the destruction ever so
little, and the number of the species will almost instantaneously increase
to any amount.


The causes which check the natural tendency of each species to increase are
most obscure. Look at the most vigorous species; by as much as it swarms
in numbers, by so much will it tend to increase still further. We know not
exactly what the checks are even in a single instance. Nor will this
surprise any one who reflects how ignorant we are on this head, even in
regard to mankind, although so incomparably better known than any other
animal. This subject of the checks to increase has been ably treated by
several authors, and I hope in a future work to discuss it at considerable
length, more especially in regard to the feral animals of South America.
Here I will make only a few remarks, just to recall to the reader's mind
some of the chief points. Eggs or very young animals seem generally to
suffer most, but this is not invariably the case. With plants there is a
vast destruction of seeds, but from some observations which I have made it
appears that the seedlings suffer most from germinating in ground already
thickly stocked with other plants. Seedlings, also, are destroyed in vast
numbers by various enemies; for instance, on a piece of ground three feet
long and two wide, dug and cleared, and where there could be no choking
from other plants, I marked all the seedlings of our native weeds as they
came up, and out of 357 no less than 295 were destroyed, chiefly by slugs
and insects. If turf which has long been mown, and the case would be the
same with turf closely browsed by quadrupeds, be let to grow, the more
vigorous plants gradually kill the less vigorous, though fully grown
plants; thus out of twenty species grown on a little plot of mown turf
(three feet by four) nine species perished, from the other species being
allowed to grow up freely.

The amount of food for each species, of course, gives the extreme limit to
which each can increase; but very frequently it is not the obtaining food,
but the serving as prey to other animals, which determines the average
number of a species. Thus, there seems to be little doubt that the stock
of partridges, grouse, and hares on any large estate depends chiefly on the
destruction of vermin. If not one head of game were shot during the next
twenty years in England, and, at the same time, if no vermin were
destroyed, there would, in all probability, be less game than at present,
although hundreds of thousands of game animals are now annually shot. On
the other hand, in some cases, as with the elephant, none are destroyed by
beasts of prey; for even the tiger in India most rarely dares to attack a
young elephant protected by its dam.

Climate plays an important part in determining the average numbers of a
species, and periodical seasons of extreme cold or drought seem to be the
most effective of all checks. I estimated (chiefly from the greatly
reduced numbers of nests in the spring) that the winter of 1854-5 destroyed
four-fifths of the birds in my own grounds; and this is a tremendous
destruction, when we remember that ten per cent. is an extraordinarily
severe mortality from epidemics with man. The action of climate seems at
first sight to be quite independent of the struggle for existence; but in
so far as climate chiefly acts in reducing food, it brings on the most
severe struggle between the individuals, whether of the same or of distinct
species, which subsist on the same kind of food. Even when climate, for
instance, extreme cold, acts directly, it will be the least vigorous
individuals, or those which have got least food through the advancing
winter, which will suffer the most. When we travel from south to north, or
from a damp region to a dry, we invariably see some species gradually
getting rarer and rarer, and finally disappearing; and the change of
climate being conspicuous, we are tempted to attribute the whole effect to
its direct action. But this is a false view; we forget that each species,
even where it most abounds, is constantly suffering enormous destruction at
some period of its life, from enemies or from competitors for the same
place and food; and if these enemies or competitors be in the least degree
favoured by any slight change of climate, they will increase in numbers;
and as each area is already fully stocked with inhabitants, the other
species must decrease. When we travel southward and see a species
decreasing in numbers, we may feel sure that the cause lies quite as much
in other species being favoured, as in this one being hurt. So it is when
we travel northward, but in a somewhat lesser degree, for the number of
species of all kinds, and therefore of competitors, decreases northward;
hence in going northward, or in ascending a mountain, we far oftener meet
with stunted forms, due to the DIRECTLY injurious action of climate, than
we do in proceeding southward or in descending a mountain. When we reach
the Arctic regions, or snow-capped summits, or absolute deserts, the
struggle for life is almost exclusively with the elements.

That climate acts in main part indirectly by favouring other species we
clearly see in the prodigious number of plants which in our gardens can
perfectly well endure our climate, but which never become naturalised, for
they cannot compete with our native plants nor resist destruction by our
native animals.

When a species, owing to highly favourable circumstances, increases
inordinately in numbers in a small tract, epidemics--at least, this seems
generally to occur with our game animals--often ensue; and here we have a
limiting check independent of the struggle for life. But even some of
these so-called epidemics appear to be due to parasitic worms, which have
from some cause, possibly in part through facility of diffusion among the
crowded animals, been disproportionally favoured: and here comes in a sort
of struggle between the parasite and its prey.

On the other hand, in many cases, a large stock of individuals of the same
species, relatively to the numbers of its enemies, is absolutely necessary
for its preservation. Thus we can easily raise plenty of corn and
rape-seed, etc., in our fields, because the seeds are in great excess
compared with the number of birds which feed on them; nor can the birds,
though having a superabundance of food at this one season, increase in
number proportionally to the supply of seed, as their numbers are checked
during the winter; but any one who has tried knows how troublesome it is to
get seed from a few wheat or other such plants in a garden; I have in this
case lost every single seed. This view of the necessity of a large stock
of the same species for its preservation, explains, I believe, some
singular facts in nature such as that of very rare plants being sometimes
extremely abundant, in the few spots where they do exist; and that of some
social plants being social, that is abounding in individuals, even on the
extreme verge of their range. For in such cases, we may believe, that a
plant could exist only where the conditions of its life were so favourable
that many could exist together, and thus save the species from utter
destruction. I should add that the good effects of intercrossing, and the
ill effects of close interbreeding, no doubt come into play in many of
these cases; but I will not here enlarge on this subject.


Many cases are on record showing how complex and unexpected are the checks
and relations between organic beings, which have to struggle together in
the same country. I will give only a single instance, which, though a
simple one, interested me. In Staffordshire, on the estate of a relation,
where I had ample means of investigation, there was a large and extremely
barren heath, which had never been touched by the hand of man; but several
hundred acres of exactly the same nature had been enclosed twenty-five
years previously and planted with Scotch fir. The change in the native
vegetation of the planted part of the heath was most remarkable, more than
is generally seen in passing from one quite different soil to another: not
only the proportional numbers of the heath-plants were wholly changed, but
twelve species of plants (not counting grasses and carices) flourished in
the plantations, which could not be found on the heath. The effect on the
insects must have been still greater, for six insectivorous birds were very
common in the plantations, which were not to be seen on the heath; and the
heath was frequented by two or three distinct insectivorous birds. Here we
see how potent has been the effect of the introduction of a single tree,
nothing whatever else having been done, with the exception of the land
having been enclosed, so that cattle could not enter. But how important an
element enclosure is, I plainly saw near Farnham, in Surrey. Here there
are extensive heaths, with a few clumps of old Scotch firs on the distant
hill-tops: within the last ten years large spaces have been enclosed, and
self-sown firs are now springing up in multitudes, so close together that
all cannot live. When I ascertained that these young trees had not been
sown or planted I was so much surprised at their numbers that I went to
several points of view, whence I could examine hundreds of acres of the
unenclosed heath, and literally I could not see a single Scotch fir, except
the old planted clumps. But on looking closely between the stems of the
heath, I found a multitude of seedlings and little trees, which had been
perpetually browsed down by the cattle. In one square yard, at a point
some hundred yards distant from one of the old clumps, I counted thirty-two
little trees; and one of them, with twenty-six rings of growth, had, during
many years tried to raise its head above the stems of the heath, and had
failed. No wonder that, as soon as the land was enclosed, it became
thickly clothed with vigorously growing young firs. Yet the heath was so
extremely barren and so extensive that no one would ever have imagined that
cattle would have so closely and effectually searched it for food.

Here we see that cattle absolutely determine the existence of the Scotch
fir; but in several parts of the world insects determine the existence of
cattle. Perhaps Paraguay offers the most curious instance of this; for
here neither cattle nor horses nor dogs have ever run wild, though they
swarm southward and northward in a feral state; and Azara and Rengger have
shown that this is caused by the greater number in Paraguay of a certain
fly, which lays its eggs in the navels of these animals when first born.
The increase of these flies, numerous as they are, must be habitually
checked by some means, probably by other parasitic insects. Hence, if
certain insectivorous birds were to decrease in Paraguay, the parasitic
insects would probably increase; and this would lessen the number of the
navel-frequenting flies--then cattle and horses would become feral, and
this would certainly greatly alter (as indeed I have observed in parts of
South America) the vegetation: this again would largely affect the
insects; and this, as we have just seen in Staffordshire, the insectivorous
birds, and so onwards in ever-increasing circles of complexity. Not that
under nature the relations will ever be as simple as this. Battle within
battle must be continually recurring with varying success; and yet in the
long-run the forces are so nicely balanced that the face of nature remains
for long periods of time uniform, though assuredly the merest trifle would
give the victory to one organic being over another. Nevertheless, so
profound is our ignorance, and so high our presumption, that we marvel when
we hear of the extinction of an organic being; and as we do not see the
cause, we invoke cataclysms to desolate the world, or invent laws on the
duration of the forms of life!

I am tempted to give one more instance showing how plants and animals,
remote in the scale of nature, are bound together by a web of complex
relations. I shall hereafter have occasion to show that the exotic Lobelia
fulgens is never visited in my garden by insects, and consequently, from
its peculiar structure, never sets a seed. Nearly all our orchidaceous
plants absolutely require the visits of insects to remove their
pollen-masses and thus to fertilise them. I find from experiments that
humble-bees are almost indispensable to the fertilisation of the heartsease
(Viola tricolor), for other bees do not visit this flower. I have also
found that the visits of bees are necessary for the fertilisation of some
kinds of clover; for instance twenty heads of Dutch clover (Trifolium
repens) yielded 2,290 seeds, but twenty other heads, protected from bees,
produced not one. Again, 100 heads of red clover (T. pratense) produced
2,700 seeds, but the same number of protected heads produced not a single
seed. Humble bees alone visit red clover, as other bees cannot reach the
nectar. It has been suggested that moths may fertilise the clovers; but I
doubt whether they could do so in the case of the red clover, from their
weight not being sufficient to depress the wing petals. Hence we may infer
as highly probable that, if the whole genus of humble-bees became extinct
or very rare in England, the heartsease and red clover would become very
rare, or wholly disappear. The number of humble-bees in any district
depends in a great measure upon the number of field-mice, which destroy
their combs and nests; and Colonel Newman, who has long attended to the
habits of humble-bees, believes that "more than two-thirds of them are thus
destroyed all over England." Now the number of mice is largely dependent,
as every one knows, on the number of cats; and Colonel Newman says, "Near
villages and small towns I have found the nests of humble-bees more
numerous than elsewhere, which I attribute to the number of cats that
destroy the mice." Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a
feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the
intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain
flowers in that district!

In the case of every species, many different checks, acting at different
periods of life, and during different seasons or years, probably come into
play; some one check or some few being generally the most potent, but all
will concur in determining the average number, or even the existence of the
species. In some cases it can be shown that widely-different checks act on
the same species in different districts. When we look at the plants and
bushes clothing an entangled bank, we are tempted to attribute their
proportional numbers and kinds to what we call chance. But how false a
view is this! Every one has heard that when an American forest is cut
down, a very different vegetation springs up; but it has been observed that
ancient Indian ruins in the Southern United States, which must formerly
have been cleared of trees, now display the same beautiful diversity and
proportion of kinds as in the surrounding virgin forests. What a struggle
must have gone on during long centuries between the several kinds of trees,
each annually scattering its seeds by the thousand; what war between insect
and insect--between insects, snails, and other animals with birds and
beasts of prey--all striving to increase, all feeding on each other, or on
the trees, their seeds and seedlings, or on the other plants which first
clothed the ground and thus checked the growth of the trees. Throw up a
handful of feathers, and all fall to the ground according to definite laws;
but how simple is the problem where each shall fall compared to that of the
action and reaction of the innumerable plants and animals which have
determined, in the course of centuries, the proportional numbers and kinds
of trees now growing on the old Indian ruins!

The dependency of one organic being on another, as of a parasite on its
prey, lies generally between beings remote in the scale of nature. This is
likewise sometimes the case with those which may strictly be said to
struggle with each other for existence, as in the case of locusts and
grass-feeding quadrupeds. But the struggle will almost invariably be most
severe between the individuals of the same species, for they frequent the
same districts, require the same food, and are exposed to the same dangers.
In the case of varieties of the same species, the struggle will generally
be almost equally severe, and we sometimes see the contest soon decided:
for instance, if several varieties of wheat be sown together, and the mixed
seed be resown, some of the varieties which best suit the soil or climate,
or are naturally the most fertile, will beat the others and so yield more
seed, and will consequently in a few years supplant the other varieties.
To keep up a mixed stock of even such extremely close varieties as the
variously coloured sweet-peas, they must be each year harvested separately,
and the seed then mixed in due proportion, otherwise the weaker kinds will
steadily decrease in number and disappear. So again with the varieties of
sheep: it has been asserted that certain mountain-varieties will starve
out other mountain-varieties, so that they cannot be kept together. The
same result has followed from keeping together different varieties of the
medicinal leech. It may even be doubted whether the varieties of any of
our domestic plants or animals have so exactly the same strength, habits,
and constitution, that the original proportions of a mixed stock (crossing
being prevented) could be kept up for half-a-dozen generations, if they
were allowed to struggle together, in the same manner as beings in a state
of nature, and if the seed or young were not annually preserved in due


As the species of the same genus usually have, though by no means
invariably, much similarity in habits and constitution, and always in
structure, the struggle will generally be more severe between them, if they
come into competition with each other, than between the species of distinct
genera. We see this in the recent extension over parts of the United
States of one species of swallow having caused the decrease of another
species. The recent increase of the missel-thrush in parts of Scotland has
caused the decrease of the song-thrush. How frequently we hear of one
species of rat taking the place of another species under the most different
climates! In Russia the small Asiatic cockroach has everywhere driven
before it its great congener. In Australia the imported hive-bee is
rapidly exterminating the small, stingless native bee. One species of
charlock has been known to supplant another species; and so in other cases.
We can dimly see why the competition should be most severe between allied
forms, which fill nearly the same place in the economy of nature; but
probably in no one case could we precisely say why one species has been
victorious over another in the great battle of life.

A corollary of the highest importance may be deduced from the foregoing
remarks, namely, that the structure of every organic being is related, in
the most essential yet often hidden manner, to that of all other organic
beings, with which it comes into competition for food or residence, or from
which it has to escape, or on which it preys. This is obvious in the
structure of the teeth and talons of the tiger; and in that of the legs and
claws of the parasite which clings to the hair on the tiger's body. But in
the beautifully plumed seed of the dandelion, and in the flattened and
fringed legs of the water-beetle, the relation seems at first confined to
the elements of air and water. Yet the advantage of the plumed seeds no
doubt stands in the closest relation to the land being already thickly
clothed with other plants; so that the seeds may be widely distributed and
fall on unoccupied ground. In the water-beetle, the structure of its legs,
so well adapted for diving, allows it to compete with other aquatic
insects, to hunt for its own prey, and to escape serving as prey to other

The store of nutriment laid up within the seeds of many plants seems at
first sight to have no sort of relation to other plants. But from the
strong growth of young plants produced from such seeds, as peas and beans,
when sown in the midst of long grass, it may be suspected that the chief
use of the nutriment in the seed is to favour the growth of the seedlings,
whilst struggling with other plants growing vigorously all around.

Look at a plant in the midst of its range! Why does it not double or
quadruple its numbers? We know that it can perfectly well withstand a
little more heat or cold, dampness or dryness, for elsewhere it ranges into
slightly hotter or colder, damper or drier districts. In this case we can
clearly see that if we wish in imagination to give the plant the power of
increasing in numbers, we should have to give it some advantage over its
competitors, or over the animals which prey on it. On the confines of its
geographical range, a change of constitution with respect to climate would
clearly be an advantage to our plant; but we have reason to believe that
only a few plants or animals range so far, that they are destroyed
exclusively by the rigour of the climate. Not until we reach the extreme
confines of life, in the Arctic regions or on the borders of an utter
desert, will competition cease. The land may be extremely cold or dry, yet
there will be competition between some few species, or between the
individuals of the same species, for the warmest or dampest spots.

Hence we can see that when a plant or animal is placed in a new country,
among new competitors, the conditions of its life will generally be changed
in an essential manner, although the climate may be exactly the same as in
its former home. If its average numbers are to increase in its new home,
we should have to modify it in a different way to what we should have had
to do in its native country; for we should have to give it some advantage
over a different set of competitors or enemies.

It is good thus to try in imagination to give any one species an advantage
over another. Probably in no single instance should we know what to do.
This ought to convince us of our ignorance on the mutual relations of all
organic beings; a conviction as necessary, as it is difficult to acquire.
All that we can do is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is
striving to increase in a geometrical ratio; that each, at some period of
its life, during some season of the year, during each generation, or at
intervals, has to struggle for life and to suffer great destruction. When
we reflect on this struggle we may console ourselves with the full belief
that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death
is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy
survive and multiply.



Natural Selection -- its power compared with man's selection -- its power
on characters of trifling importance -- its power at all ages and on both
sexes -- Sexual Selection -- On the generality of intercrosses between
individuals of the same species -- Circumstances favourable and
unfavourable to the results of Natural Selection, namely, intercrossing,
isolation, number of individuals -- Slow action -- Extinction caused by
Natural Selection -- Divergence of Character, related to the diversity of
inhabitants of any small area and to naturalisation -- Action of Natural
Selection, through Divergence of Character and Extinction, on the
descendants from a common parent -- Explains the Grouping of all organic
beings -- Advance in organisation -- Low forms preserved -- Convergence of
character -- Indefinite multiplication of species -- Summary.

How will the struggle for existence, briefly discussed in the last chapter,
act in regard to variation? Can the principle of selection, which we have
seen is so potent in the hands of man, apply under nature? I think we
shall see that it can act most efficiently. Let the endless number of
slight variations and individual differences occurring in our domestic
productions, and, in a lesser degree, in those under nature, be borne in
mind; as well as the strength of the hereditary tendency. Under
domestication, it may truly be said that the whole organisation becomes in
some degree plastic. But the variability, which we almost universally meet
with in our domestic productions is not directly produced, as Hooker and
Asa Gray have well remarked, by man; he can neither originate varieties nor
prevent their occurrence; he can only preserve and accumulate such as do
occur. Unintentionally he exposes organic beings to new and changing
conditions of life, and variability ensues; but similar changes of
conditions might and do occur under nature. Let it also be borne in mind
how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all
organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life; and
consequently what infinitely varied diversities of structure might be of
use to each being under changing conditions of life. Can it then be
thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly
occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the
great and complex battle of life, should occur in the course of many
successive generations? If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that
many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals
having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best
chance of surviving and procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may
feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly
destroyed. This preservation of favourable individual differences and
variations, and the destruction of those which are injurious, I have called
Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest. Variations neither
useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection, and would
be left either a fluctuating element, as perhaps we see in certain
polymorphic species, or would ultimately become fixed, owing to the nature
of the organism and the nature of the conditions.

Several writers have misapprehended or objected to the term Natural
Selection. Some have even imagined that natural selection induces
variability, whereas it implies only the preservation of such variations as
arise and are beneficial to the being under its conditions of life. No one
objects to agriculturists speaking of the potent effects of man's
selection; and in this case the individual differences given by nature,
which man for some object selects, must of necessity first occur. Others
have objected that the term selection implies conscious choice in the
animals which become modified; and it has even been urged that, as plants
have no volition, natural selection is not applicable to them! In the
literal sense of the word, no doubt, natural selection is a false term; but
who ever objected to chemists speaking of the elective affinities of the
various elements?--and yet an acid cannot strictly be said to elect the
base with which it in preference combines. It has been said that I speak
of natural selection as an active power or Deity; but who objects to an
author speaking of the attraction of gravity as ruling the movements of the
planets? Every one knows what is meant and is implied by such metaphorical
expressions; and they are almost necessary for brevity. So again it is
difficult to avoid personifying the word Nature; but I mean by nature, only
the aggregate action and product of many natural laws, and by laws the
sequence of events as ascertained by us. With a little familiarity such
superficial objections will be forgotten.

We shall best understand the probable course of natural selection by taking
the case of a country undergoing some slight physical change, for instance,
of climate. The proportional numbers of its inhabitants will almost
immediately undergo a change, and some species will probably become
extinct. We may conclude, from what we have seen of the intimate and
complex manner in which the inhabitants of each country are bound together,
that any change in the numerical proportions of the inhabitants,
independently of the change of climate itself, would seriously affect the
others. If the country were open on its borders, new forms would certainly
immigrate, and this would likewise seriously disturb the relations of some
of the former inhabitants. Let it be remembered how powerful the influence
of a single introduced tree or mammal has been shown to be. But in the
case of an island, or of a country partly surrounded by barriers, into
which new and better adapted forms could not freely enter, we should then
have places in the economy of nature which would assuredly be better filled
up if some of the original inhabitants were in some manner modified; for,
had the area been open to immigration, these same places would have been
seized on by intruders. In such cases, slight modifications, which in any
way favoured the individuals of any species, by better adapting them to
their altered conditions, would tend to be preserved; and natural selection
would have free scope for the work of improvement.

We have good reason to believe, as shown in the first chapter, that changes
in the conditions of life give a tendency to increased variability; and in
the foregoing cases the conditions the changed, and this would manifestly
be favourable to natural selection, by affording a better chance of the
occurrence of profitable variations. Unless such occur, natural selection
can do nothing. Under the term of "variations," it must never be forgotten
that mere individual differences are included. As man can produce a great
result with his domestic animals and plants by adding up in any given
direction individual differences, so could natural selection, but far more
easily from having incomparably longer time for action. Nor do I believe
that any great physical change, as of climate, or any unusual degree of
isolation, to check immigration, is necessary in order that new and
unoccupied places should be left for natural selection to fill up by
improving some of the varying inhabitants. For as all the inhabitants of
each country are struggling together with nicely balanced forces, extremely
slight modifications in the structure or habits of one species would often
give it an advantage over others; and still further modifications of the
same kind would often still further increase the advantage, as long as the
species continued under the same conditions of life and profited by similar
means of subsistence and defence. No country can be named in which all the
native inhabitants are now so perfectly adapted to each other and to the
physical conditions under which they live, that none of them could be still
better adapted or improved; for in all countries, the natives have been so
far conquered by naturalised productions that they have allowed some
foreigners to take firm possession of the land. And as foreigners have
thus in every country beaten some of the natives, we may safely conclude
that the natives might have been modified with advantage, so as to have
better resisted the intruders.

As man can produce, and certainly has produced, a great result by his
methodical and unconscious means of selection, what may not natural
selection effect? Man can act only on external and visible characters:
Nature, if I may be allowed to personify the natural preservation or
survival of the fittest, cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as
they are useful to any being. She can act on every internal organ, on
every shade of constitutional difference, on the whole machinery of life.
Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which
she tends. Every selected character is fully exercised by her, as is
implied by the fact of their selection. Man keeps the natives of many
climates in the same country. He seldom exercises each selected character
in some peculiar and fitting manner; he feeds a long and a short-beaked
pigeon on the same food; he does not exercise a long-backed or long-legged
quadruped in any peculiar manner; he exposes sheep with long and short wool
to the same climate; does not allow the most vigorous males to struggle for
the females; he does not rigidly destroy all inferior animals, but protects
during each varying season, as far as lies in his power, all his
productions. He often begins his selection by some half-monstrous form, or
at least by some modification prominent enough to catch the eye or to be
plainly useful to him. Under nature, the slightest differences of
structure or constitution may well turn the nicely-balanced scale in the
struggle for life, and so be preserved. How fleeting are the wishes and
efforts of man! How short his time, and consequently how poor will be his
results, compared with those accumulated by Nature during whole geological
periods! Can we wonder, then, that Nature's productions should be far
"truer" in character than man's productions; that they should be infinitely
better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly
bear the stamp of far higher workmanship?

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 long 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 again be preserved, and so
onward, 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. We have seen how the colour of hogs, which feed on the "paint-root"
in Virginia, determines whether they shall live or die. 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 a
purple-fleshed fruit, should succeed.

In looking at many small points of difference between species, which, as
far as our ignorance permits us to judge, seem quite unimportant, we must
not forget that climate, food, etc., have no doubt produced some direct
effect. It is also necessary to bear in mind that, owing to the law of
correlation, when one part varies and the variations are accumulated
through natural selection, other modifications, often of the most
unexpected nature, will ensue.

As we see that those variations which, under domestication, appear at any
particular period of life, tend to reappear in the offspring at the same
period; for instance, in the shape, size and flavour of the seeds of the
many varieties of our culinary and agricultural plants; in the caterpillar
and cocoon stages of the varieties of the silkworm; in the eggs of poultry,
and in the colour of the down of their chickens; in the horns of our sheep
and cattle when nearly adult; so in a state of nature natural selection
will be enabled to act on and modify organic beings at any age, by the
accumulation of variations profitable at that age, and by their inheritance
at a corresponding age. If it profit a plant to have its seeds more and
more widely disseminated by the wind, I can see no greater difficulty in
this being effected through natural selection, than in the cotton-planter
increasing and improving by selection the down in the pods on his
cotton-trees. Natural selection may modify and adapt the larva of an
insect to a score of contingencies, wholly different from those which
concern the mature insect; and these modifications may affect, through
correlation, the structure of the adult. So, conversely, modifications in
the adult may affect the structure of the larva; but in all cases natural
selection will ensure that they shall not be injurious: for if they were
so, the species would become extinct.

Natural selection will modify the structure of the young in relation to the
parent and of the parent in relation to the young. In social animals it
will adapt the structure of each individual for the benefit of the whole
community; if the community profits by the selected change. What natural
selection cannot do, is to modify the structure of one species, without
giving it any advantage, for the good of another species; and though
statements to this effect may be found in works of natural history, I
cannot find one case which will bear investigation. A structure used only
once in an animal's life, if of high importance to it, might be modified to
any extent by natural selection; for instance, the great jaws possessed by
certain insects, used exclusively for opening the cocoon--or the hard tip
to the beak of unhatched birds, used for breaking the eggs. It has been
asserted, that of the best short-beaked tumbler-pigeons a greater number
perish in the egg than are able to get out of it; so that fanciers assist
in the act of hatching. Now, if nature had to make the beak of a
full-grown pigeon very short for the bird's own advantage, the process of
modification would be very slow, and there would be simultaneously the most
rigorous selection of all the young birds within the egg, which had the
most powerful and hardest beaks, for all with weak beaks would inevitably
perish: or, more delicate and more easily broken shells might be selected,
the thickness of the shell being known to vary like every other structure.

It may be well here to remark that with all beings there must be much
fortuitous destruction, which can have little or no influence on the course
of natural selection. For instance, a vast number of eggs or seeds are
annually devoured, and these could be modified through natural selection
only if they varied in some manner which protected them from their enemies.
Yet many of these eggs or seeds would perhaps, if not destroyed, have
yielded individuals better adapted to their conditions of life than any of
those which happened to survive. So again a vast number of mature animals
and plants, whether or not they be the best adapted to their conditions,
must be annually destroyed by accidental causes, which would not be in the
least degree mitigated by certain changes of structure or constitution
which would in other ways be beneficial to the species. But let the
destruction of the adults be ever so heavy, if the number which can exist
in any district be not wholly kept down by such causes--or again let the
destruction of eggs or seeds be so great that only a hundredth or a
thousandth part are developed--yet of those which do survive, the best
adapted individuals, supposing that there is any variability in a
favourable direction, will tend to propagate their kind in larger numbers
than the less well adapted. If the numbers be wholly kept down by the
causes just indicated, as will often have been the case, natural selection
will be powerless in certain beneficial directions; but this is no valid
objection to its efficiency at other times and in other ways; for we are
far from having any reason to suppose that many species ever undergo
modification and improvement at the same time in the same area.


Inasmuch as peculiarities often appear under domestication in one sex and
become hereditarily attached to that sex, so no doubt it will be under
nature. Thus it is rendered possible for the two sexes to be modified
through natural selection in relation to different habits of life, as is
sometimes the case; or for one sex to be modified in relation to the other
sex, as commonly occurs. This leads me to say a few words on what I have
called sexual selection. This form of selection depends, not on a struggle
for existence in relation to other organic beings or to external
conditions, but on a struggle between the individuals of one sex, generally
the males, for the possession of the other sex. The result is not death to
the unsuccessful competitor, but few or no offspring. Sexual selection is,
therefore, less rigorous than natural selection. Generally, the most
vigorous males, those which are best fitted for their places in nature,
will leave most progeny. But in many cases victory depends not so much on
general vigour, but on having special weapons, confined to the male sex. A
hornless stag or spurless cock would have a poor chance of leaving numerous
offspring. Sexual selection, by always allowing the victor to breed, might
surely give indomitable courage, length of spur, and strength to the wing
to strike in the spurred leg, in nearly the same manner as does the brutal
cockfighter by the careful selection of his best cocks. How low in the
scale of nature the law of battle descends I know not; male alligators have
been described as fighting, bellowing, and whirling round, like Indians in
a war-dance, for the possession of the females; male salmons have been
observed fighting all day long; male stag-beetles sometimes bear wounds
from the huge mandibles of other males; the males of certain hymenopterous
insects have been frequently seen by that inimitable observer M. Fabre,
fighting for a particular female who sits by, an apparently unconcerned
beholder of the struggle, and then retires with the conqueror. The war is,
perhaps, severest between the males of polygamous animals, and these seem
oftenest provided with special weapons. The males of carnivorous animals
are already well armed; though to them and to others, special means of
defence may be given through means of sexual selection, as the mane of the
lion, and the hooked jaw to the male salmon; for the shield may be as
important for victory as the sword or spear.

Among birds, the contest is often of a more peaceful character. All those
who have attended to the subject, believe that there is the severest
rivalry between the males of many species to attract, by singing, the
females. The rock-thrush of Guiana, birds of paradise, and some others,
congregate, and successive males display with the most elaborate care, and
show off in the best manner, their gorgeous plumage; they likewise perform
strange antics before the females, which, standing by as spectators, at
last choose the most attractive partner. Those who have closely attended
to birds in confinement well know that they often take individual
preferences and dislikes: thus Sir R. Heron has described how a pied
peacock was eminently attractive to all his hen birds. I cannot here enter
on the necessary details; but if man can in a short time give beauty and an
elegant carriage to his bantams, according to his standard of beauty, I can
see no good reason to doubt that female birds, by selecting, during
thousands of generations, the most melodious or beautiful males, according
to their standard of beauty, might produce a marked effect. Some
well-known laws, with respect to the plumage of male and female birds, in
comparison with the plumage of the young, can partly be explained through
the action of sexual selection on variations occurring at different ages,
and transmitted to the males alone or to both sexes at corresponding ages;
but I have not space here to enter on this subject.

Thus it is, as I believe, that when the males and females of any animal
have the same general habits of life, but differ in structure, colour, or
ornament, such differences have been mainly caused by sexual selection:
that is, by individual males having had, in successive generations, some
slight advantage over other males, in their weapons, means of defence, or
charms; which they have transmitted to their male offspring alone. Yet, I
would not wish to attribute all sexual differences to this agency: for we
see in our domestic animals peculiarities arising and becoming attached to
the male sex, which apparently have not been augmented through selection by
man. The tuft of hair on the breast of the wild turkey-cock cannot be of
any use, and it is doubtful whether it can be ornamental in the eyes of the
female bird; indeed, had the tuft appeared under domestication it would
have been called a monstrosity.


In order to make it clear how, as I believe, natural selection acts, I must
beg permission to give one or two imaginary illustrations. Let us take the
case of a wolf, which preys on various animals, securing some by craft,
some by strength, and some by fleetness; and let us suppose that the
fleetest prey, a deer for instance, had from any change in the country
increased in numbers, or that other prey had decreased in numbers, during
that season of the year when the wolf was hardest pressed for food. Under
such circumstances the swiftest and slimmest wolves have the best chance of
surviving, and so be preserved or selected, provided always that they
retained strength to master their prey at this or some other period of the
year, when they were compelled to prey on other animals. I can see no more
reason to doubt that this would be the result, than that man should be able
to improve the fleetness of his greyhounds by careful and methodical
selection, or by that kind of unconscious selection which follows from each
man trying to keep the best dogs without any thought of modifying the
breed. I may add that, according to Mr. Pierce, there are two varieties of
the wolf inhabiting the Catskill Mountains, in the United States, one with
a light greyhound-like form, which pursues deer, and the other more bulky,
with shorter legs, which more frequently attacks the shepherd's flocks.

Even without any change in the proportional numbers of the animals on which
our wolf preyed, a cub might be born with an innate tendency to pursue
certain kinds of prey. Nor can this be thought very improbable; for we
often observe great differences in the natural tendencies of our domestic
animals; one cat, for instance, taking to catch rats, another mice; one
cat, according to Mr. St. John, bringing home winged game, another hares or
rabbits, and another hunting on marshy ground and almost nightly catching
woodcocks or snipes. The tendency to catch rats rather than mice is known
to be inherited. Now, if any slight innate change of habit or of structure
benefited an individual wolf, it would have the best chance of surviving
and of leaving offspring. Some of its young would probably inherit the
same habits or structure, and by the repetition of this process, a new
variety might be formed which would either supplant or coexist with the
parent-form of wolf. Or, again, the wolves inhabiting a mountainous
district, and those frequenting the lowlands, would naturally be forced to
hunt different prey; and from the continued preservation of the individuals
best fitted for the two sites, two varieties might slowly be formed. These
varieties would cross and blend where they met; but to this subject of
intercrossing we shall soon have to return. I may add, that, according to
Mr. Pierce, there are two varieties of the wolf inhabiting the Catskill
Mountains in the United States, one with a light greyhound-like form, which
pursues deer, and the other more bulky, with shorter legs, which more
frequently attacks the shepherd's flocks.

It should be observed that in the above illustration, I speak of the
slimmest individual wolves, and not of any single strongly marked variation
having been preserved. In former editions of this work I sometimes spoke
as if this latter alternative had frequently occurred. I saw the great
importance of individual differences, and this led me fully to discuss the
results of unconscious selection by man, which depends on the preservation
of all the more or less valuable individuals, and on the destruction of the
worst. I saw, also, that the preservation in a state of nature of any
occasional deviation of structure, such as a monstrosity, would be a rare
event; and that, if at first preserved, it would generally be lost by
subsequent intercrossing with ordinary individuals. Nevertheless, until
reading an able and valuable article in the "North British Review" (1867),
I did not appreciate how rarely single variations, whether slight or
strongly marked, could be perpetuated. The author takes the case of a pair
of animals, producing during their lifetime two hundred offspring, of
which, from various causes of destruction, only two on an average survive
to pro-create their kind. This is rather an extreme estimate for most of
the higher animals, but by no means so for many of the lower organisms. He
then shows that if a single individual were born, which varied in some
manner, giving it twice as good a chance of life as that of the other
individuals, yet the chances would be strongly against its survival.
Supposing it to survive and to breed, and that half its young inherited the
favourable variation; still, as the Reviewer goes onto show, the young
would have only a slightly better chance of surviving and breeding; and
this chance would go on decreasing in the succeeding generations. The
justice of these remarks cannot, I think, be disputed. If, for instance, a
bird of some kind could procure its food more easily by having its beak
curved, and if one were born with its beak strongly curved, and which
consequently flourished, nevertheless there would be a very poor chance of
this one individual perpetuating its kind to the exclusion of the common
form; but there can hardly be a doubt, judging by what we see taking place
under domestication, that this result would follow from the preservation
during many generations of a large number of individuals with more or less
strongly curved beaks, and from the destruction of a still larger number
with the straightest beaks.

It should not, however, be overlooked that certain rather strongly marked
variations, which no one would rank as mere individual differences,
frequently recur owing to a similar organisation being similarly acted on--
of which fact numerous instances could be given with our domestic
productions. In such cases, if the varying individual did not actually
transmit to its offspring its newly-acquired character, it would
undoubtedly transmit to them, as long as the existing conditions remained
the same, a still stronger tendency to vary in the same manner. There can
also be little doubt that the tendency to vary in the same manner has often
been so strong that all the individuals of the same species have been
similarly modified without the aid of any form of selection. Or only a
third, fifth, or tenth part of the individuals may have been thus affected,
of which fact several instances could be given. Thus Graba estimates that
about one-fifth of the guillemots in the Faroe Islands consist of a variety
so well marked, that it was formerly ranked as a distinct species under the
name of Uria lacrymans. In cases of this kind, if the variation were of a
beneficial nature, the original form would soon be supplanted by the
modified form, through the survival of the fittest.

To the effects of intercrossing in eliminating variations of all kinds, I
shall have to recur; but it may be here remarked that most animals and
plants keep to their proper homes, and do not needlessly wander about; we
see this even with migratory birds, which almost always return to the same
spot. Consequently each newly-formed variety would generally be at first
local, as seems to be the common rule with varieties in a state of nature;
so that similarly modified individuals would soon exist in a small body
together, and would often breed together. If the new variety were
successful in its battle for life, it would slowly spread from a central
district, competing with and conquering the unchanged individuals on the
margins of an ever-increasing circle.

It may be worth while to give another and more complex illustration of the
action of natural selection. Certain plants excrete sweet juice,
apparently for the sake of eliminating something injurious from the sap:
this is effected, for instance, by glands at the base of the stipules in
some Leguminosae, and at the backs of the leaves of the common laurel.
This juice, though small in quantity, is greedily sought by insects; but
their visits do not in any way benefit the plant. Now, let us suppose that
the juice or nectar was excreted from the inside of the flowers of a
certain number of plants of any species. Insects in seeking the nectar
would get dusted with pollen, and would often transport it from one flower
to another. The flowers of two distinct individuals of the same species
would thus get crossed; and the act of crossing, as can be fully proved,
gives rise to vigorous seedlings, which consequently would have the best
chance of flourishing and surviving. The plants which produced flowers
with the largest glands or nectaries, excreting most nectar, would oftenest
be visited by insects, and would oftenest be crossed; and so in the
long-run would gain the upper hand and form a local variety. The flowers,
also, which had their stamens and pistils placed, in relation to the size
and habits of the particular insect which visited them, so as to favour in
any degree the transportal of the pollen, would likewise be favoured. We
might have taken the case of insects visiting flowers for the sake of
collecting pollen instead of nectar; and as pollen is formed for the sole
purpose of fertilisation, its destruction appears to be a simple loss to
the plant; yet if a little pollen were carried, at first occasionally and
then habitually, by the pollen-devouring insects from flower to flower, and
a cross thus effected, although nine-tenths of the pollen were destroyed it
might still be a great gain to the plant to be thus robbed; and the
individuals which produced more and more pollen, and had larger anthers,
would be selected.

When our plant, by the above process long continued, had been rendered
highly attractive to insects, they would, unintentionally on their part,
regularly carry pollen from flower to flower; and that they do this
effectually I could easily show by many striking facts. I will give only
one, as likewise illustrating one step in the separation of the sexes of
plants. Some holly-trees bear only male flowers, which have four stamens
producing a rather small quantity of pollen, and a rudimentary pistil;
other holly-trees bear only female flowers; these have a full-sized pistil,
and four stamens with shrivelled anthers, in which not a grain of pollen
can be detected. Having found a female tree exactly sixty yards from a
male tree, I put the stigmas of twenty flowers, taken from different
branches, under the microscope, and on all, without exception, there were a
few pollen-grains, and on some a profusion. As the wind had set for
several days from the female to the male tree, the pollen could not thus
have been carried. The weather had been cold and boisterous and therefore
not favourable to bees, nevertheless every female flower which I examined
had been effectually fertilised by the bees, which had flown from tree to
tree in search of nectar. But to return to our imaginary case; as soon as
the plant had been rendered so highly attractive to insects that pollen was
regularly carried from flower to flower, another process might commence.
No naturalist doubts the advantage of what has been called the
"physiological division of labour;" hence we may believe that it would be
advantageous to a plant to produce stamens alone in one flower or on one
whole plant, and pistils alone in another flower or on another plant. In
plants under culture and placed under new conditions of life, sometimes the
male organs and sometimes the female organs become more or less impotent;
now if we suppose this to occur in ever so slight a degree under nature,
then, as pollen is already carried regularly from flower to flower, and as
a more complete separation of the sexes of our plant would be advantageous
on the principle of the division of labour, individuals with this tendency
more and more increased, would be continually favoured or selected, until
at last a complete separation of the sexes might be effected. It would
take up too much space to show the various steps, through dimorphism and
other means, by which the separation of the sexes in plants of various
kinds is apparently now in progress; but I may add that some of the species
of holly in North America are, according to Asa Gray, in an exactly
intermediate condition, or, as he expresses it, are more or less
dioeciously polygamous.

Let us now turn to the nectar-feeding insects; we may suppose the plant of
which we have been slowly increasing the nectar by continued selection, to
be a common plant; and that certain insects depended in main part on its
nectar for food. I could give many facts showing how anxious bees are to
save time: for instance, their habit of cutting holes and sucking the
nectar at the bases of certain flowers, which with a very little more
trouble they can enter by the mouth. Bearing such facts in mind, it may be
believed that under certain circumstances individual differences in the
curvature or length of the proboscis, etc., too slight to be appreciated by
us, might profit a bee or other insect, so that certain individuals would
be able to obtain their food more quickly than others; and thus the
communities to which they belonged would flourish and throw off many swarms
inheriting the same peculiarities. The tubes of the corolla of the common
red or incarnate clovers (Trifolium pratense and incarnatum) do not on a
hasty glance appear to differ in length; yet the hive-bee can easily suck
the nectar out of the incarnate clover, but not out of the common red
clover, which is visited by humble-bees alone; so that whole fields of the
red clover offer in vain an abundant supply of precious nectar to the
hive-bee. That this nectar is much liked by the hive-bee is certain; for I
have repeatedly seen, but only in the autumn, many hive-bees sucking the
flowers through holes bitten in the base of the tube by humble bees. The
difference in the length of the corolla in the two kinds of clover, which
determines the visits of the hive-bee, must be very trifling; for I have
been assured that when red clover has been mown, the flowers of the second
crop are somewhat smaller, and that these are visited by many hive-bees. I
do not know whether this statement is accurate; nor whether another
published statement can be trusted, namely, that the Ligurian bee, which is
generally considered a mere variety of the common hive-bee, and which
freely crosses with it, is able to reach and suck the nectar of the red
clover. Thus, in a country where this kind of clover abounded, it might be
a great advantage to the hive-bee to have a slightly longer or differently
constructed proboscis. On the other hand, as the fertility of this clover
absolutely depends on bees visiting the flowers, if humble-bees were to
become rare in any country, it might be a great advantage to the plant to
have a shorter or more deeply divided corolla, so that the hive-bees should
be enabled to suck its flowers. Thus I can understand how a flower and a
bee might slowly become, either simultaneously or one after the other,
modified and adapted to each other in the most perfect manner, by the
continued preservation of all the individuals which presented slight
deviations of structure mutually favourable to each other.

I am well aware that this doctrine of natural selection, exemplified in the
above imaginary instances, is open to the same objections which were first
urged against Sir Charles Lyell's noble views on "the modern changes of the
earth, as illustrative of geology;" but we now seldom hear the agencies
which we see still at work, spoken of as trifling and insignificant, when
used in explaining the excavation of the deepest valleys or the formation
of long lines of inland cliffs. Natural selection acts only by the
preservation and accumulation of small inherited modifications, each
profitable to the preserved being; and as modern geology has almost
banished such views as the excavation of a great valley by a single
diluvial wave, so will natural selection banish the belief of the continued
creation of new organic beings, or of any great and sudden modification in
their structure.


I must here introduce a short digression. In the case of animals and
plants with separated sexes, it is of course obvious that two individuals
must always (with the exception of the curious and not well understood
cases of parthenogenesis) unite for each birth; but in the case of
hermaphrodites this is far from obvious. Nevertheless there is reason to
believe that with all hermaphrodites two individuals, either occasionally
or habitually, concur for the reproduction of their kind. This view was
long ago doubtfully suggested by Sprengel, Knight and Kolreuter. We shall
presently see its importance; but I must here treat the subject with
extreme brevity, though I have the materials prepared for an ample
discussion. All vertebrate animals, all insects and some other large
groups of animals, pair for each birth. Modern research has much
diminished the number of supposed hermaphrodites and of real hermaphrodites
a large number pair; that is, two individuals regularly unite for
reproduction, which is all that concerns us. But still there are many
hermaphrodite animals which certainly do not habitually pair, and a vast
majority of plants are hermaphrodites. What reason, it may be asked, is
there for supposing in these cases that two individuals ever concur in
reproduction? As it is impossible here to enter on details, I must trust
to some general considerations alone.

In the first place, I have collected so large a body of facts, and made so
many experiments, showing, in accordance with the almost universal belief
of breeders, that with animals and plants a cross between different
varieties, or between individuals of the same variety but of another
strain, gives vigour and fertility to the offspring; and on the other hand,
that CLOSE interbreeding diminishes vigour and fertility; that these facts
alone incline me to believe that it is a general law of nature that no
organic being fertilises itself for a perpetuity of generations; but that a
cross with another individual is occasionally--perhaps at long intervals of

On the belief that this is a law of nature, we can, I think, understand
several large classes of facts, such as the following, which on any other
view are inexplicable. Every hybridizer knows how unfavourable exposure to
wet is to the fertilisation of a flower, yet what a multitude of flowers
have their anthers and stigmas fully exposed to the weather! If an
occasional cross be indispensable, notwithstanding that the plant's own
anthers and pistil stand so near each other as almost to ensure self-
fertilisation, the fullest freedom for the entrance of pollen from another
individual will explain the above state of exposure of the organs. Many
flowers, on the other hand, have their organs of fructification closely
enclosed, as in the great papilionaceous or pea-family; but these almost
invariably present beautiful and curious adaptations in relation to the
visits of insects. So necessary are the visits of bees to many
papilionaceous flowers, that their fertility is greatly diminished if these
visits be prevented. Now, it is scarcely possible for insects to fly from
flower to flower, and not to carry pollen from one to the other, to the
great good of the plant. Insects act like a camel-hair pencil, and it is
sufficient, to ensure fertilisation, just to touch with the same brush the
anthers of one flower and then the stigma of another; but it must not be
supposed that bees would thus produce a multitude of hybrids between
distinct species; for if a plant's own pollen and that from another species
are placed on the same stigma, the former is so prepotent that it
invariably and completely destroys, as has been shown by Gartner, the
influence of the foreign pollen.

When the stamens of a flower suddenly spring towards the pistil, or slowly
move one after the other towards it, the contrivance seems adapted solely
to ensure self-fertilisation; and no doubt it is useful for this end: but
the agency of insects is often required to cause the stamens to spring
forward, as Kolreuter has shown to be the case with the barberry; and in
this very genus, which seems to have a special contrivance for
self-fertilisation, it is well known that, if closely-allied forms or
varieties are planted near each other, it is hardly possible to raise pure
seedlings, so largely do they naturally cross. In numerous other cases,
far from self-fertilisation being favoured, there are special contrivances
which effectually prevent the stigma receiving pollen from its own flower,
as I could show from the works of Sprengel and others, as well as from my
own observations: for instance, in Lobelia fulgens, there is a really
beautiful and elaborate contrivance by which all the infinitely numerous
pollen-granules are swept out of the conjoined anthers of each flower,
before the stigma of that individual flower is ready to receive them; and
as this flower is never visited, at least in my garden, by insects, it
never sets a seed, though by placing pollen from one flower on the stigma
of another, I raise plenty of seedlings. Another species of Lobelia, which
is visited by bees, seeds freely in my garden. In very many other cases,
though there is no special mechanical contrivance to prevent the stigma
receiving pollen from the same flower, yet, as Sprengel, and more recently
Hildebrand and others have shown, and as I can confirm, either the anthers
burst before the stigma is ready for fertilisation, or the stigma is ready
before the pollen of that flower is ready, so that these so-named
dichogamous plants have in fact separated sexes, and must habitually be
crossed. So it is with the reciprocally dimorphic and trimorphic plants
previously alluded to. How strange are these facts! How strange that the
pollen and stigmatic surface of the same flower, though placed so close
together, as if for the very purpose of self-fertilisation, should be in so
many cases mutually useless to each other! How simply are these facts
explained on the view of an occasional cross with a distinct individual
being advantageous or indispensable!

If several varieties of the cabbage, radish, onion, and of some other
plants, be allowed to seed near each other, a large majority of the
seedlings thus raised turn out, as I found, mongrels: for instance, I
raised 233 seedling cabbages from some plants of different varieties
growing near each other, and of these only 78 were true to their kind, and
some even of these were not perfectly true. Yet the pistil of each
cabbage-flower is surrounded not only by its own six stamens but by those
of the many other flowers on the same plant; and the pollen of each flower
readily gets on its stigma without insect agency; for I have found that
plants carefully protected from insects produce the full number of pods.
How, then, comes it that such a vast number of the seedlings are
mongrelized? It must arise from the pollen of a distinct VARIETY having a
prepotent effect over the flower's own pollen; and that this is part of the
general law of good being derived from the intercrossing of distinct
individuals of the same species. When distinct SPECIES are crossed the
case is reversed, for a plant's own pollen is always prepotent over foreign
pollen; but to this subject we shall return in a future chapter.

In the case of a large tree covered with innumerable flowers, it may be
objected that pollen could seldom be carried from tree to tree, and at most
only from flower to flower on the same tree; and flowers on the same tree
can be considered as distinct individuals only in a limited sense. I
believe this objection to be valid, but that nature has largely provided
against it by giving to trees a strong tendency to bear flowers with
separated sexes. When the sexes are separated, although the male and
female flowers may be produced on the same tree, pollen must be regularly
carried from flower to flower; and this will give a better chance of pollen
being occasionally carried from tree to tree. That trees belonging to all
orders have their sexes more often separated than other plants, I find to
be the case in this country; and at my request Dr. Hooker tabulated the
trees of New Zealand, and Dr. Asa Gray those of the United States, and the
result was as I anticipated. On the other hand, Dr. Hooker informs me that
the rule does not hold good in Australia: but if most of the Australian
trees are dichogamous, the same result would follow as if they bore flowers
with separated sexes. I have made these few remarks on trees simply to
call attention to the subject.

Turning for a brief space to animals: various terrestrial species are
hermaphrodites, such as the land-mollusca and earth-worms; but these all
pair. As yet I have not found a single terrestrial animal which can
fertilise itself. This remarkable fact, which offers so strong a contrast
with terrestrial plants, is intelligible on the view of an occasional cross
being indispensable; for owing to the nature of the fertilising element
there are no means, analogous to the action of insects and of the wind with
plants, by which an occasional cross could be effected with terrestrial
animals without the concurrence of two individuals. Of aquatic animals,
there are many self-fertilising hermaphrodites; but here the currents of
water offer an obvious means for an occasional cross. As in the case of
flowers, I have as yet failed, after consultation with one of the highest
authorities, namely, Professor Huxley, to discover a single hermaphrodite
animal with the organs of reproduction so perfectly enclosed that access
from without, and the occasional influence of a distinct individual, can be
shown to be physically impossible. Cirripedes long appeared to me to
present, under this point of view, a case of great difficulty; but I have
been enabled, by a fortunate chance, to prove that two individuals, though
both are self-fertilising hermaphrodites, do sometimes cross.

It must have struck most naturalists as a strange anomaly that, both with
animals and plants, some species of the same family and even of the same
genus, though agreeing closely with each other in their whole organisation,
are hermaphrodites, and some unisexual. But if, in fact, all
hermaphrodites do occasionally intercross, the difference between them and
unisexual species is, as far as function is concerned, very small.

>From these several considerations and from the many special facts which I
have collected, but which I am unable here to give, it appears that with
animals and plants an occasional intercross between distinct individuals is
a very general, if not universal, law of nature.


This is an extremely intricate subject. A great amount of variability,
under which term individual differences are always included, will evidently
be favourable. A large number of individuals, by giving a better chance
within any given period for the appearance of profitable variations, will
compensate for a lesser amount of variability in each individual, and is, I
believe, a highly important element of success. Though nature grants long
periods of time for the work of natural selection, she does not grant an
indefinite period; for as all organic beings are striving to seize on each
place in the economy of nature, if any one species does not become modified
and improved in a corresponding degree with its competitors it will be
exterminated. Unless favourable variations be inherited by some at least
of the offspring, nothing can be effected by natural selection. The
tendency to reversion may often check or prevent the work; but as this
tendency has not prevented man from forming by selection numerous domestic
races, why should it prevail against natural selection?

In the case of methodical selection, a breeder selects for some definite
object, and if the individuals be allowed freely to intercross, his work
will completely fail. But when many men, without intending to alter the
breed, have a nearly common standard of perfection, and all try to procure
and breed from the best animals, improvement surely but slowly follows from
this unconscious process of selection, notwithstanding that there is no
separation of selected individuals. Thus it will be under nature; for
within a confined area, with some place in the natural polity not perfectly
occupied, all the individuals varying in the right direction, though in
different degrees, will tend to be preserved. But if the area be large,
its several districts will almost certainly present different conditions of
life; and then, if the same species undergoes modification in different
districts, the newly formed varieties will intercross on the confines of
each. But we shall see in the sixth chapter that intermediate varieties,
inhabiting intermediate districts, will in the long run generally be
supplanted by one of the adjoining varieties. Intercrossing will chiefly
affect those animals which unite for each birth and wander much, and which
do not breed at a very quick rate. Hence with animals of this nature, for
instance birds, varieties will generally be confined to separated
countries; and this I find to be the case. With hermaphrodite organisms
which cross only occasionally, and likewise with animals which unite for
each birth, but which wander little and can increase at a rapid rate, a new
and improved variety might be quickly formed on any one spot, and might
there maintain itself in a body and afterward spread, so that the
individuals of the new variety would chiefly cross together. On this
principle nurserymen always prefer saving seed from a large body of plants,
as the chance of intercrossing is thus lessened.

Even with animals which unite for each birth, and which do not propagate
rapidly, we must not assume that free intercrossing would always eliminate
the effects of natural selection; for I can bring forward a considerable
body of facts showing that within the same area two varieties of the same
animal may long remain distinct, from haunting different stations, from
breeding at slightly different seasons, or from the individuals of each
variety preferring to pair together.

Intercrossing plays a very important part in nature by keeping the
individuals of the same species, or of the same variety, true and uniform
in character. It will obviously thus act far more efficiently with those
animals which unite for each birth; but, as already stated, we have reason
to believe that occasional intercrosses take place with all animals and
plants. Even if these take place only at long intervals of time, the young
thus produced will gain so much in vigour and fertility over the offspring
from long-continued self-fertilisation, that they will have a better chance
of surviving and propagating their kind; and thus in the long run the
influence of crosses, even at rare intervals, will be great. With respect
to organic beings extremely low in the scale, which do not propagate
sexually, nor conjugate, and which cannot possibly intercross, uniformity
of character can be retained by them under the same conditions of life,
only through the principle of inheritance, and through natural selection
which will destroy any individuals departing from the proper type. If the
conditions of life change and the form undergoes modification, uniformity
of character can be given to the modified offspring, solely by natural
selection preserving similar favourable variations.

Isolation also is an important element in the modification of species
through natural selection. In a confined or isolated area, if not very
large, the organic and inorganic conditions of life will generally be
almost uniform; so that natural selection will tend to modify all the
varying individuals of the same species in the same manner. Intercrossing
with the inhabitants of the surrounding districts, will also be thus
prevented. Moritz Wagner has lately published an interesting essay on this
subject, and has shown that the service rendered by isolation in preventing
crosses between newly-formed varieties is probably greater even than I
supposed. But from reasons already assigned I can by no means agree with
this naturalist, that migration and isolation are necessary elements for
the formation of new species. The importance of isolation is likewise
great in preventing, after any physical change in the conditions, such as
of climate, elevation of the land, etc., the immigration of better adapted
organisms; and thus new places in the natural economy of the district will
be left open to be filled up by the modification of the old inhabitants.
Lastly, isolation will give time for a new variety to be improved at a slow
rate; and this may sometimes be of much importance. If, however, an
isolated area be very small, either from being surrounded by barriers, or
from having very peculiar physical conditions, the total number of the
inhabitants will be small; and this will retard the production of new
species through natural selection, by decreasing the chances of favourable
variations arising.

The mere lapse of time by itself does nothing, either for or against
natural selection. I state this because it has been erroneously asserted
that the element of time has been assumed by me to play an all-important
part in modifying species, as if all the forms of life were necessarily
undergoing change through some innate law. Lapse of time is only so far
important, and its importance in this respect is great, that it gives a
better chance of beneficial variations arising and of their being selected,
accumulated, and fixed. It likewise tends to increase the direct action of
the physical conditions of life, in relation to the constitution of each

If we turn to nature to test the truth of these remarks, and look at any
small isolated area, such as an oceanic island, although the number of the
species inhabiting it is small, as we shall see in our chapter on
Geographical Distribution; yet of these species a very large proportion are
endemic,--that is, have been produced there and nowhere else in the world.
Hence an oceanic island at first sight seems to have been highly favourable
for the production of new species. But we may thus deceive ourselves, for
to ascertain whether a small isolated area, or a large open area like a
continent, has been most favourable for the production of new organic
forms, we ought to make the comparison within equal times; and this we are
incapable of doing.

Although isolation is of great importance in the production of new species,
on the whole I am inclined to believe that largeness of area is still more
important, especially for the production of species which shall prove
capable of enduring for a long period, and of spreading widely. Throughout
a great and open area, not only will there be a better chance of favourable
variations, arising from the large number of individuals of the same
species there supported, but the conditions of life are much more complex
from the large number of already existing species; and if some of these
many species become modified and improved, others will have to be improved
in a corresponding degree, or they will be exterminated. Each new form,
also, as soon as it has been much improved, will be able to spread over the
open and continuous area, and will thus come into competition with many
other forms. Moreover, great areas, though now continuous, will often,
owing to former oscillations of level, have existed in a broken condition,
so that the good effects of isolation will generally, to a certain extent,
have concurred. Finally, I conclude that, although small isolated areas
have been in some respects highly favourable for the production of new
species, yet that the course of modification will generally have been more
rapid on large areas; and what is more important, that the new forms
produced on large areas, which already have been victorious over many
competitors, will be those that will spread most widely, and will give rise
to the greatest number of new varieties and species. They will thus play a
more important part in the changing history of the organic world.

In accordance with this view, we can, perhaps, understand some facts which
will be again alluded to in our chapter on Geographical Distribution; for
instance, the fact of the productions of the smaller continent of Australia
now yielding before those of the larger Europaeo-Asiatic area. Thus, also,
it is that continental productions have everywhere become so largely
naturalised on islands. On a small island, the race for life will have
been less severe, and there will have been less modification and less
extermination. Hence, we can understand how it is that the flora of
Madeira, according to Oswald Heer, resembles to a certain extent the
extinct tertiary flora of Europe. All fresh water basins, taken together,
make a small area compared with that of the sea or of the land.
Consequently, the competition between fresh water productions will have
been less severe than elsewhere; new forms will have been more slowly
produced, and old forms more slowly exterminated. And it is in fresh water
basins that we find seven genera of Ganoid fishes, remnants of a once
preponderant order: and in fresh water we find some of the most anomalous
forms now known in the world, as the Ornithorhynchus and Lepidosiren,
which, like fossils, connect to a certain extent orders at present widely
separated in the natural scale. These anomalous forms may be called living
fossils; they have endured to the present day, from having inhabited a
confined area, and from having been exposed to less varied, and therefore
less severe, competition.

To sum up, as far as the extreme intricacy of the subject permits, the
circumstances favourable and unfavourable for the production of new species
through natural selection. I conclude that for terrestrial productions a
large continental area, which has undergone many oscillations of level,
will have been the most favourable for the production of many new forms of
life, fitted to endure for a long time and to spread widely. While the
area existed as a continent the inhabitants will have been numerous in
individuals and kinds, and will have been subjected to severe competition.
When converted by subsidence into large separate islands there will still
have existed many individuals of the same species on each island:
intercrossing on the confines of the range of each new species will have
been checked: after physical changes of any kind immigration will have
been prevented, so that new places in the polity of each island will have
had to be filled up by the modification of the old inhabitants; and time
will have been allowed for the varieties in each to become well modified
and perfected. When, by renewed elevation, the islands were reconverted
into a continental area, there will again have been very severe
competition; the most favoured or improved varieties will have been enabled
to spread; there will have been much extinction of the less improved forms,
and the relative proportional numbers of the various inhabitants of the
reunited continent will again have been changed; and again there will have
been a fair field for natural selection to improve still further the
inhabitants, and thus to produce new species.

That natural selection generally act with extreme slowness I fully admit.
It can act only when there are places in the natural polity of a district
which can be better occupied by the modification of some of its existing
inhabitants. The occurrence of such places will often depend on physical
changes, which generally take place very slowly, and on the immigration of
better adapted forms being prevented. As some few of the old inhabitants
become modified the mutual relations of others will often be disturbed; and
this will create new places, ready to be filled up by better adapted forms;
but all this will take place very slowly. Although all the individuals of
the same species differ in some slight degree from each other, it would
often be long before differences of the right nature in various parts of
the organisation might occur. The result would often be greatly retarded
by free intercrossing. Many will exclaim that these several causes are
amply sufficient to neutralise the power of natural selection. I do not
believe so. But I do believe that natural selection will generally act
very slowly, only at long intervals of time, and only on a few of the
inhabitants of the same region. I further believe that these slow,

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