ON THE INFLUENCE OF THE ENVIRONMENT ON THE ACTIVITIES AND HABITS OF ANIMALS, AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE ACTIVITIES AND HABITS OF THESE LIVING BODIES IN MODIFYING THEIR ORGANISATION AND STRUCTURE
Thus to obtain a knowledge of the true causes of that great diversity of shapes and habits found in the various known animals, we must
reflect that the infinitely diversified but slowly changing environment in which the animals of each race have successively been placed, has involved each of them in new needs and corresponding alterations in their habits. This is a truth which, once recognised, cannot be disputed. Now we shall easily discern how the new needs may have been satisfied, and the new habits acquired, if we pay attention to the two following laws of nature, which are always verified by observation.
In every animal which has not passed the limit
of its development, a more frequent and continuous use of any organ gradually
strengthens, develops and enlarges that organ, and gives it a power proportional
to the length of time it has been so used; while the permanent disuse of
any organ imperceptibly weakens and deteriorates it, and progressively diminishes
its functional capacity, until it finally disappears.
All the acquisitions or losses wrought by nature
on individuals, through the influence of the environment in which their race
has long been placed, and hence through the influence of the predominant
use or permanent disuse of any organ; all these are preserved by reproduction
to the new individuals which arise, provided that the acquired modifications
are common to both sexes, or at least to the individuals which produce the
Here we have two permanent truths, which can only be doubted by those who have never observed or followed the operations of nature, or by those who have allowed themselves to be drawn into the error which I shall now proceed to combat.
Naturalists have remarked that the structure of animals is always in perfect adaptation to their functions, and have inferred that the shape and condition of their parts have determined the use of them. Now this is a mistake: for it may be easily proved by observation that it is on the contrary the needs and uses of the parts which have caused the development of these same parts, which have even birth to them when they did not exist, and which consequently have given rise to the condition we find in each animal.
If this were not so, nature would have had to create as many different kinds of structure in animals, as there are different kinds of environments in which they have to live; and neither structure nor environment would ever have varied.
This is indeed very far from the true order of things. If things were really so, we should not have the race-horses shaped like those in England;
we should not have big draught-horses so heavy and different from the former, for none such are produced in nature; in the same way we should not have basset-hounds with crooked legs, nor grey-hounds so fleet of foot, nor water-spaniels, etc.; we should not have fowls without tails, fantail pigeons, etc.; finally, we should be able to cultivate wild plants as long as we liked in the rich and fertile soil of our gardens, without the fear of seeing them change under long cultivation.
Conclusion adopted hitherto: Nature (or her Author) in creating animals, foresaw all the possible kinds of environment in which they would have to live, and endowed each species with a fixed organisation and with a definite and invariable shape, which compel each species to live in the places and climates where we actually find them, and there to maintain the habits which we know in them.
My individual conclusion: Nature has produced all the species of animals in succession, beginning with the most imperfect or simplest, and ending her work with the most perfect, so as to create a gradually increasing complexity in their organisation; these animals have spread at large throughout all the habitable regions of the globe, and every species has derived from its environment the habits that we find in it and the structural modifications which observation shows us.
In order to show that this second conclusion is baseless, it must first be proved that no point on the surface of the earth ever undergoes variation as to its nature, exposure, high or low situation, climate, etc., etc.; it must then be proved that no part of animals undergoes even after long periods of time any modification due to a change of kind of life or to the necessity which forces them into a different kind of life and activity from what has been customary to them.
Now if a single case is sufficient to prove that an animal which has long been in domestication differs from the wild species whence it sprang, and if in any such domesticated species, great differences of conformation are found between the individuals exposed to such habit and those which are forced into different habits, it will then be certain that the first conclusion is not consistent with the laws of nature, while the second, on the contrary, is entirely in accordance with them.
Everything then combines to prove my statement, namely: that it is not the shape either of the body or its parts which gives rise to the habits of animals and their mode of life; but that it is, on the contrary, the habits, mode of life and all the other influences of the environment which have in the course of time built up the shape of the body and of the parts of animals. With new shapes, new faculties have been acquired, and little by little nature has succeeded in fashioning animals as we actually see them.
Can there be any more important conclusion in the range of natural history, or any to which more attention cannot be paid than that which I have just set forth?