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On the Origin of Insects*

Nature volume 5, pages 2728 | Download Citation



THE metamorphoses of this group have always seemed to me one of the greatest difficulties of the Darwinian theory. In most cases the development of the individual reproduces to a certain extent that of the race, but the motionless, imbecile, pupa cannot represent a mature form. Fritz Müller considers that the wingless Blattidæ probably most closely represent the original insect stock; Haeckel is inclined rather to the Pseudo-Neuroptera. I feel great difficulty in conceiving by what natural process an insect with a suctorial mouth like that of a gnat or butterfly could be developed from a powerfully mandibulate type like the Orthoptera, or even from the Neuroptera. M. Brauer has recently suggested that the interesting genus Campodea is, of all known existing forms, that which probably most nearly resembles the parent insect stock. He considers that the grub form of larva is a retrograde type, in which opinion I am unable to concur, though disposed to agree with M. Brauer on the first point. M. Brauer in coming to this conclusion relies partly on geological considerations; partly on the fact that larvæ, more or less resembling Campodea, are found among widely different groups of insects. I think there are other considerations which offer considerable support to this view. No one, so far as I know, has yet attempted to explain, in accordance with Mr. Darwin's views, such a life history as that, for instance, of a butterfly, in which the mouth is first mandibulate and then suctorial. A clue to the difficulty might, I think, be found in the distinction between developmental and adaptive changes, to which I called the attention of the Society in a previous memoir. The larvæ of insects are by no means mere stages in the development of the perfect animal. On the contrary, they are subject to the influence of Natural Selection, and undergo changes which have reference entirely to their own requirements and condition. It is evident then that, while the embryonic development of an animal in the egg gives us an epitome of its specific history, this is by no means the case with species in which the immature forms have a separate and independent existence. Hence, if an animal when young pursues one mode of life, and lives on one kind of food, and subsequently, either from its own growth in size and strength, or from any change of season, alters its habits or food, however slightly, immediately it becomes subject to the action of distinct forces; Natural Selection affects it in two different, and it may be very distinct, manners, gradually leading to differences which may become so great as to involve an intermediate period of change and quiescence.

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