The Beauties of Nature and the World We Live In, Part III of X

We constantly speak of animals as free. A fish, says Ruskin, “is much freer than a Man; and as to a fly, it is a black incarnation of freedom.” It is pleasant to think of anything as free, but in this case the idea is, I fear, to a great extent erroneous. Young animals may frolic and play, but older ones take life very seriously. About the habits of fish and flies, indeed, as yet we know very little. Any one, however, who will watch animals will soon satisfy himself how diligently they work. Even when they seem to be idling over flowers, or wandering aimlessly about, they are in truth diligently seeking for food, or collecting materials for nests. The industry of Bees is proverbial. When collecting honey or pollen they often visit over twenty flowers in a minute, keeping constantly to one species, without yielding a moment’s dalliance to any more sweet or lovely tempter. Ants fully deserve the commendation of Solomon. Wasps have not the same reputation for industry; but I have watched them from before four in the morning till dark at night working like animated machines without a moment’s rest or intermission. Sundays and Bank Holidays are all the same to them. Again, Birds have their own gardens and farms from which they do not wander, and within which they will tolerate no interference. Their ideas of the rights of property are far stricter than those of some statesmen. As to freedom, they have their daily duties as much as a mechanic in a mill or a clerk in an office. They suffer under alarms, moreover, from which we are happily free. Mr. Galton believes that the life of wild animals is very anxious. “From my own recollection,” he says, “I believe that every antelope in South Africa has to run for its life every one or two days upon an average, and that he starts or gallops under the influence of a false alarm many times in a day. Those who have crouched at night by the side of pools in the desert, in order to have a shot at the beasts that frequent it, see strange scenes of animal life; how the creatures gambol at one moment and fight at another; how a herd suddenly halts in strained attention, and then breaks into a maddened rush as one of them becomes conscious of the stealthy movements or rank scent of a beast of prey. Now this hourly life-and-death excitement is a keen delight to most wild creatures, but must be peculiarly distracting to the comfort-loving temperament of others. The latter are alone suited to endure the crass habits and dull routine of domesticated life. Suppose that an animal which has been captured and half-tamed, received ill-usage from his captors, either as punishment or through mere brutality, and that he rushed indignantly into the forest with his ribs aching from blows and stones. If a comfort-loving animal, he will probably be no gainer by the change, more serious alarms and no less ill-usage awaits him: he hears the roar of the wild beasts, and the headlong gallop of the frightened herds, and he finds the buttings and the kicks of other animals harder to endure than the blows from which he fled: he has peculiar disadvantages from being a stranger; the herds of his own species which he seeks for companionship constitute so many cliques, into which he can only find admission by more fighting with their strongest members than he has spirit to undergo. As a set-off against these miseries, the freedom of savage life has no charms for his temperament; so the end of it is, that with a heavy heart he turns back to the habitation he had quitted.”

But though animals may not be free, I hope and believe that they are happy. Dr. Hudson, an admirable observer, assures us with confidence that the struggle for existence leaves them much leisure and famous spirits. In the animal world, he exclaims, “what happiness reigns! What ease, grace, beauty, leisure, and content! Watch these living specks as they glide through their forests of algae, all ’without hurry and care,’ as if their ‘span-long lives’ really could endure for the thousand years that the old catch pines for. Here is no greedy jostling at the banquet that nature has spread for them; no dread of each other; but a leisurely inspection of the field, that shows neither the pressure of hunger nor the dread of an enemy.

“‘To labour and to be content’ (that ‘sweet life’ of the son of Sirach) to be equally ready for an enemy or a friend to trust in themselves alone, to show a brave unconcern for the morrow, all these are the admirable points of a character almost universal among animals, and one that would lighten many a heart were it more common among men. That character is the direct result of the golden law ’If one will not work, neither let him eat’; a law whose stern kindness, unflinchingly applied, has produced whole nations of living creatures, without a pauper in their ranks, flushed with health, alert, resolute, self-reliant, and singularly happy.”

It has often been said that Man is the only animal gifted with the power of enjoying a joke, but if animals do not laugh, at any rate they sometimes play. We are, indeed, apt perhaps to credit them with too much of our own attributes and emotions, but we can hardly be mistaken in supposing that they enjoy certain scents and sounds. It is difficult to separate the games of kittens and lambs from those of children. Our countryman Gould long ago described the “amusements or sportive exercises” which he had observed among Ants. Forel was at first incredulous, but finally confirmed these statements; and, speaking of certain tropical Ants, Bates says “the conclusion that they were engaged in play was irresistible.”


We share with other animals the great blessing of Sleep, nature’s soft nurse, “the mantle that covers thought, the food that appeases hunger, the drink that quenches thirst, the fire that warms cold, the cold that moderates heat, the coin that purchases all things, the balance and weight that equals the shepherd with the king, and the simple with the wise.” Some animals dream as we do; Dogs, for instance, evidently dream of the chase. With the lower animals which cannot shut their eyes it is, however, more difficult to make sure whether they are awake or asleep. I have often noticed insects at night, even when it was warm and light, behave just as if they were asleep, and take no notice of objects which would certainly have startled them in the day. The same thing has also been observed in the case of fish.

But why should we sleep? What a remarkable thing it is that one-third of our life should be passed in unconsciousness. “Half of our days,” says Sir T. Browne, “we pass in the shadow of the earth, and the brother of death extracteth a third part of our lives.” The obvious suggestion is that we require rest. But this does not fully meet the case. In sleep the mind is still awake, and lives a life of its own: our thoughts wander, uncontrolled, by the will. The mind, therefore, is not necessarily itself at rest; and yet we all know how it is refreshed by sleep.

But though animals sleep, many of them are nocturnal in their habits. Humboldt gives a vivid description of night in a Brazilian forest.

“Everything passed tranquilly till eleven at night, and then a noise so terrible arose in the neighbouring forest that it was almost impossible to close our eyes. Amid the cries of so many wild beasts howling at once the Indians discriminated such only as were (at intervals) heard separately. These were the little soft cries of the sapajous, the moans of the alouate apes, the howlings of the jaguar and couguar, the peccary and the sloth, and the cries of (many) birds. When the jaguars approached the skirt of the forest our dog, which till then had never ceased barking, began to howl and seek for shelter beneath our hammocks. Sometimes, after a long silence, the cry of the tiger came from the tops of the trees; and then it was followed by the sharp and long whistling of the monkeys, which appeared to flee from the danger which threatened them. We heard the same noises repeated during the course of whole months whenever the forest approached the bed of the river.

“When the natives are interrogated on the causes of the tremendous noise made by the beasts of the forest at certain hours of the night, the answer is, they are keeping the feast of the full moon. I believe this agitation is most frequently the effect of some conflict that has arisen in the depths of the forest. The jaguars, for instance, pursue the peccaries and the tapirs, which, having no defence, flee in close troops, and break down the bushes they find in their way. Terrified at this struggle, the timid and distrustful monkeys answer, from the tops of the trees, the cries of the large animals. They awaken the birds that live in society, and by degrees the whole assembly is in commotion. It is not always in a fine moonlight, but more particularly at the time of a storm of violent showers, that this tumult takes place among the wild beasts. ‘May heaven grant them a quiet night and repose, and us also!’ said the monk who accompanied us to the Rio Negro, when, sinking with fatigue, he assisted in arranging our accommodation for the night.”

Life is indeed among animals a struggle for existence, and in addition to the more usual weapons teeth and claws we find in some animals special and peculiar means of offence and defence.

If we had not been so familiarised with the fact, the possession of poison might well seem a wonderful gift. That a fluid, harmless in one animal itself, should yet prove so deadly when transferred to others, is certainly very remarkable; and though the venom of the Cobra or the Rattlesnake appeal perhaps more effectively to our imagination, we have conclusive evidence of concentrated poison even in the bite of a midge, which may remain for days perceptible. The sting of a Bee or Wasp, though somewhat similar in its effect, is a totally different organ, being a modified ovipositor. Some species of Ants do not sting in the ordinary sense, but eject their acrid poison to a distance of several inches.

Another very remarkable weapon is the electric battery of certain Eels, of the Electric Cat Fish, and the Torpedoes, one of which is said to be able to discharge an amount of electricity sufficient to kill a Man.

Some of the Medusae and other Zoophytes are armed by millions of minute organs known as “thread cells.” Each consists of a cell, within which a firm, elastic thread is tightly coiled. The moment the Medusa touches its prey the cells burst and the threads spring out. Entering the flesh as they do by myriads, they prove very effective weapons.

The ink of the Sepia has passed into a proverb. The animal possesses a store of dark fluid, which, if attacked, it at once ejects, and thus escapes under cover of the cloud thus created.

The so-called Bombardier Beetles, when attacked, discharge at the enemy, from the hinder part of their body, an acrid fluid which, as soon as it comes in contact with air, explodes with a sound resembling a miniature gun. Westwood mentions, on the authority of Burchell, that on one occasion, “whilst resting for the night on the banks of one of the large South American rivers, he went out with a lantern to make an astronomical observation, accompanied by one of his black servant boys; and as they were proceeding, their attention was directed to numerous beetles running about upon the shore, which, when captured, proved to be specimens of a large species of Brachinus. On being seized they immediately began to play off their artillery, burning and staining the flesh to such a degree that only a few specimens could be captured with the naked hand, and leaving a mark which remained a considerable time. Upon observing the whitish vapour with which the explosions were accompanied, the negro exclaimed in his broken English, with evident surprise, ‘Ah, massa, they make smoke!’”

Many other remarkable illustrations might be quoted; as for instance the web of the Spider, the pit of the Ant Lion, the mephitic odour of the Skunk.


We generally attribute to animals five senses more or less resembling our own. But even as regards our own senses we really know or understand very little. Take the question of colour. The rainbow is commonly said to consist of seven colours red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

But it is now known that all our colour sensations are mixtures of three simple colours, red, green, and violet. We are, however, absolutely ignorant how we perceive these colours. Thomas Young suggested that we have three different systems of nerve fibres, and Helmholtz regards this as “a not improbable supposition”; but so far as microscopical examination is concerned, there is no evidence whatever for it.

Or take again the sense of Hearing. The vibrations of the air no doubt play upon the drum of the ear, and the waves thus produced are conducted through a complex chain of small bones to the fenestra ovalis and so to the inner ear or labyrinth. But beyond this all is uncertainty. The labyrinth consists mainly of two parts (1) the cochlea, and (2) the semicircular canals, which are three in number, standing at right angles to one another. It has been supposed that they enable us to maintain the equilibrium of the body, but no satisfactory explanation of their function has yet been given. In the cochlea, Corti discovered a remarkable organ consisting of some four thousand complex arches, which increase regularly in length and diminish in height. They are connected at one end with the fibres of the auditory nerve, and Helmholtz has suggested that the waves of sound play on them, like the fingers of a performer on the keys of a piano, each separate arch corresponding to a different sound. We thus obtain a glimpse, though but a glimpse, of the manner in which perhaps we hear; but when we pass on to the senses of smell and taste, all we know is that the extreme nerve fibres terminate in certain cells which differ in form from those of the general surface; but in what manner the innumerable differences of taste or smell are communicated to the brain, we are absolutely ignorant.

If then we know so little about ourselves, no wonder that with reference to other animals our ignorance is extreme.

We are too apt to suppose that the senses of animals must closely resemble, and be confined to ours.

No one can doubt that the sensations of other animals differ in many ways from ours. Their organs are sometimes constructed on different principles, and situated in very unexpected places. There are animals which have eyes on their backs, ears in their legs, and sing through their sides.

We all know that the senses of animals are in many cases much more acute than ours, as for instance the power of scent in the dog, of sight in the eagle. Moreover, our eye is much more sensitive to some colours than to others; least so to crimson, then successively to red, orange, yellow, blue, and green; the sensitiveness for green being as much as 750 times as great as for red. This alone may make objects appear of very different colours to different animals.

Nor is the difference one of degree merely. The rainbow, as we see it, consists of seven colours red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. But though the red and violet are the limits of the visible spectrum, they are not the limits of the spectrum itself, there are rays, though invisible to us, beyond the red at the one end, and beyond the violet at the other: the existence of the ultra red can be demonstrated by the thermometer; while the ultra violet are capable of taking a photograph. But though the red and violet are respectively the limits of our vision, I have shown by experiments which have been repeated and confirmed by other naturalists, that some of the lower animals are capable of perceiving the ultra-violet rays, which to us are invisible. It is an interesting question whether these rays may not produce on them the impression of a new colour, or colours, differing from any of those known to us.

So again with hearing, not only may animals in some cases hear better than we do, but sounds which are beyond the reach of our ears, may be audible to theirs. Even among ourselves the power of hearing shrill sounds is greater in some persons than in others. Sound, as we know, is produced by vibration of the air striking on the drum of the ear, and the fewer are the vibrations in a second, the deeper is the sound, which becomes shriller and shriller as the waves of sound become more rapid. In human ears the limits of hearing are reached when about 35,000 vibrations strike the drum of the ear in a second.

Whatever the explanation of the gift of hearing in ourselves may be, different plans seem to be adopted in the case of other animals. In many Crustacea and Insects there are flattened hairs each connected with a nerve fibre, and so constituted as to vibrate in response to particular notes. In others the ear cavity contains certain minute solid bodies, known as otoliths, which in the same way play upon the nerve fibres. Sometimes these are secreted by the walls of the cavity itself, but certain Crustacea have acquired the remarkable habit of selecting after each moult suitable particles of sand, which they pick up with their pincers and insert into their ears.

Many insects, besides the two large “compound” eyes one on each side of the head, have between them three small ones, known as the “ocelli,” arranged in a triangle. The structure of these two sets of eyes is quite different. The ocelli appear to see as our eyes do. The lens throws an inverted image on the back of the eye, so that with these eyes they must see everything reversed, as we ourselves really do, though long practice enables us to correct the impression. On the other hand, the compound eyes consist of a number of facets, in some species as many as 20,000 in each eye, and the prevailing impression among entomologists now is that each facet receives the impression of one pencil of rays, that in fact the image formed in a compound eye is a sort of mosaic. In that case, vision by means of these eyes must be direct; and it is indeed difficult to understand how an insect can obtain a correct impression when it looks at the world with five eyes, three of which see everything reversed, while the other two see things the right way up!

On the other hand, some regard each facet as an independent eye, in which case many insects realise the epigram of Plato

Thou lookest on the stars, my love,
Ah, would that I could be
Yon starry skies with thousand eyes,
That I might look on thee!

Even so, therefore, we only substitute one difficulty for another.

But this is not all. We have not only no proof that animals are confined to our five senses, but there are strong reasons for believing that this is not the case.

In the first place, many animals have organs which from their position, structure, and rich supply of nerves, are evidently organs of sense; and yet which do not appear to be adapted to any one of our five senses.

As already mentioned, the limits of hearing are reached when about 35,000 vibrations of the air strike on the drums of our ears. Light, as was first conclusively demonstrated by our great countryman Young, is the impression produced by vibration of the ether on the retina of the eye. When 700 millions of millions of vibrations strike the eye in a second, we see violet; and the colour changes as the number diminishes, 400 millions of millions giving us the impression of red.

Between 35 thousand and 400 millions of millions the interval is immense, and it is obvious that there might be any number of sensations. When we consider how greatly animals differ from us, alike in habits and structure, is it not possible, nay, more, is it not likely that some of these problematical organs are the seats of senses unknown to us, and give rise to sensations of which we have no conception?

In addition to the capacity for receiving and perceiving, some animals have the faculty of emitting light. In our country the glow-worm is the most familiar case, though some other insects and worms have, at any rate under certain conditions, the same power, and it is possible that many others are really luminous, though with light which is invisible to us. In warmer climates the Fire-fly, Lanthorn-fly, and many other insects, shine with much greater brilliance, and in these cases the glow seems to be a real love-light, like the lamp of Hero.

Many small marine animals, Medusae, Crustacea, Worms, etc., are also brilliantly luminous at night. Deep-sea animals are endowed also in many cases with special luminous organs, to which I shall refer again.


It has been supposed that animals possess also what has been called a Sense of Direction. Many interesting cases are on record of animals finding their way home after being taken a considerable distance. To account for this fact it has been suggested that animals possess a sense with which we are not endowed, or of which, at any rate, we possess only a trace. The homing instinct of the pigeon has also been ascribed to the same faculty. My brother Alfred, however, who has paid much attention to pigeons, informs me that they are never taken any great distance at once; but if they are intended to take a long flight, they are trained to do so by stages.

Darwin suggested that it would be interesting to test the case by taking animals in a close box, and then whirling them round rapidly before letting them out. This is in fact done with cats in some parts of France, when the family migrates, and is considered the only way of preventing the cat from returning to the old home. Fabre has tried the same thing with some wild Bees (Chalicodoma). He took some, marked them on the back with a spot of white, and put them into a bag. He then carried them a quarter of a mile, stopping at a point where an old cross stands by the wayside, and whirled the bag rapidly round his head. While he was doing so a good woman came by, who seemed not a little surprised to find the Professor solemnly whirling a black bag round his head in front of the cross; and, he fears, suspected him of Satanic practices. He then carried his Bees a mile and a half in the opposite direction and let them go. Three out of ten found their way home. He tried the same experiment several times, in one case taking them a little over two miles. On an average about a third of the Bees found their way home. “La demonstration,” says Fabre, “est suffisante. Ni les mouvements enchevetres d’une rotation comme je l’ai decrite; ni l’obstacle de collines a franchir et de bois a traverser; ni les embuches d’une voie qui s’avance, retrograde, et revient par un ample circuit, ne peuvent troubler les Chalicodomes depayses et les empecher de revenir au nid.”

I must say, however, that I am not convinced. In the first place, the distances were I think too short; and in the second, though it is true that some of the Bees found their way home, nearly two-thirds failed to do so. It would be interesting to try the experiment again, taking the Bees say five miles. If they really possess any such sense, that distance would be no bar to their return. I have myself experimented with Ants, taking them about fifty yards from the nest, and I always found that they wandered aimlessly about, having evidently not the slightest idea of their way home. They certainly did not appear to possess any “sense of direction.”


The total number of species may probably be safely estimated as at least 2,000,000, of which but a fraction have yet been described or named. Of extinct species the number was probably at least as great. In the geological history of the earth there have been at least twelve periods, in each of which by far the greatest number were distinct. The Ancient Poets described certain gifted mortals as having been privileged to descend into the interior of the earth, and exercised their imagination in recounting the wonders thus revealed. As in other cases, however, the realities of Science have proved far more varied and surprising than the dreams of fiction. Of these extinct species our knowledge is even more incomplete than that of the existing species. But even of our contemporaries it is not too much to say that, as in the case of plants, there is not one the structure, habits, and life-history of which are yet fully known to us. The male of the Cynips, which produces the common King Charles Oak Apple, has only recently been discovered, those of the root-feeding Aphides, which live in hundreds in every nest of the yellow Meadow Ant (Lasius flavus) are still unknown; the habits and mode of reproduction of the common Eel have only just been discovered; and we may even say generally that many of the most interesting recent discoveries have relation to the commonest and most familiar animals.


Whatever pre-eminence Man may claim for himself, other animals have done far more to affect the face of nature. The principal agents have not been the larger or more intelligent, but rather the smaller, and individually less important, species. Beavers may have dammed up many of the rivers of British Columbia, and turned them into a succession of pools or marshes, but this is a slight matter compared with the action of earthworms and insects in the creation of vegetable soil; of the accumulation of animalcules in filling up harbours and lakes; or of Zoophytes in the construction of coral islands.

Microscopic animals make up in number what they lack in size. Paris is built of Infusoria. The Peninsula of Florida, 78,000 square miles in extent, is entirely composed of coral debris and fragments of shells. Chalk consists mainly of Foraminifera and fragments of shells deposited in a deep sea. The number of shells required to make up a cubic inch is almost incredible. Ehrenberg has estimated that of the Bilin polishing slate which caps the mountain, and has a thickness of forty feet, a cubic inch contains many hundred million shells of Infusoria.

In another respect these microscopic organisms are of vital importance. Many diseases are now known, and others suspected, to be entirely due to Bacteria and other minute forms of life (Microbes), which multiply incredibly, and either destroy their victims, or after a while diminish again in numbers. We live indeed in a cloud of Bacteria. At the observatory of Montsouris at Paris it has been calculated that there are about 80 in each cubic meter of air. Elsewhere, however, they are much more numerous. Pasteur’s researches on the Silkworm disease led him to the discovery of Bacterium anthracis, the cause of splenic fever. Microbes are present in persons suffering from cholera, typhus, whooping-cough, measles, hydrophobia, etc., but as to their history and connection with disease we have yet much to learn. It is fortunate, indeed, that they do not all attack us.

In surgical cases, again, the danger of compound fractures and mortification of wounds has been found to be mainly due to the presence of microscopic organisms; and Lister, by his antiseptic treatment which destroys these germs or prevents their access, has greatly diminished the danger of operations, and the sufferings of recovery.


In the size of animals we find every gradation from these atoms which even in the most powerful microscopes appear as mere points, up to the gigantic reptiles of past ages and the Whales of our present ocean. The horned Ray or Skate is 25 feet in length, by 30 in width. The Cuttle-fishes of our seas, though so hideous as to resemble a bad dream, are too small to be formidable; but off the Newfoundland coast is a species with arms sometimes 30 feet long, so as to be 60 feet from tip to tip. The body, however, is small in proportion. The Giraffe attains a height of over 20 feet; the Elephant, though not so tall, is more bulky; the Crocodile reaches a length of over 20 feet, the Python of 60 feet, the extinct Titanosaurus of the American Jurassic beds, the largest land animal yet known to us, 100 feet in length and 30 in height; the Whalebone Whale over 70 feet, Sibbald’s Whale is said to have reached 80-90, which is perhaps the limit. Captain Scoresby indeed mentions a Rorqual no less than 120 feet in length, but this is probably too great an estimate.


The complexity of animal structure is even more marvellous than their mere magnitude. A Caterpillar contains more than 2000 muscles. In our own body are some 2,000,000 perspiration glands, communicating with the surface by ducts having a total length of some 10 miles; while that of the arteries, veins, and capillaries must be very great; the blood contains millions of millions of corpuscles, each no doubt a complex structure in itself; the rods in the retina, which are supposed to be the ultimate recipient of light, are estimated at 30,000,000; and Meinert has calculated that the gray matter of the brain is built up of at least 600,000,000 cells. No verbal description, however, can do justice to the marvellous complexity of animal structure, which the microscope alone, and even that but faintly, can enable us to realise.


How little we yet know of the life-history of Animals is illustrated by the vagueness of our information as to the age to which they live. Professor Lankester tells us that “the paucity and uncertainty of observations on this class of facts is extreme.” The Rabbit is said to reach 10 years, the Dog and Sheep 10-12, the Pig 20, the Horse 30, the Camel 100, the Elephant 200, the Greenland Whale 400: among Birds, the Parrot to attain 100 years, the Raven even more. The Atur Parrot mentioned by Humboldt, talked, but could not be understood, because it spoke in the language of an extinct Indian tribe. It is supposed from their rate of growth that among Fish the Carp is said to reach 150 years; and a Pike, 19 feet long, and weighing 350 lbs., is said to have been taken in Suabia in 1497 carrying a ring, on which was inscribed, “I am the fish which was first of all put into the lake by the hands of the Governor of the Universe, Frederick the Second, the 5th Oc.” This would imply an age of over 267 years. Many Reptiles are no doubt very long-lived. A Tortoise is said to have reached 500 years. As regards the lower animals, the greatest age on record is that of Sir J. Dalzell’s Sea Anemone, which lived for over 50 years. Insects are generally short-lived; the Queen Bee, however, is said by Aristotle, whose statement has not been confirmed by recent writers, to live 7 years. I myself had a Queen Ant which attained the age of 15 years.

The May Fly (Ephemera) is celebrated as living only for a day, and has given its name to all things short-lived. The statement usually made is, indeed, very misleading, for in its larval condition the Ephemera lives for weeks. Many writers have expressed surprise that in the perfect state its life should be so short. It is, however, so defenceless, and, moreover, so much appreciated by birds and fish, that unless they laid their eggs very rapidly none would perhaps survive to continue the species.

Many of these estimates are, as will be seen, very vague and doubtful, so that we must still admit with Bacon that, “touching the length and shortness of life in living creatures, the information which may be had is but slender, observation is negligent, and tradition fabulous. In tame creatures their degenerate life corrupteth them, in wild creatures their exposing to all weathers often intercepteth them.”


When we descend still lower in the animal scale, the consideration of this question opens out a very curious and interesting subject connected with animal individuality. As regards the animals with which we are most familiar no such question intrudes. Among quadrupeds and birds, fishes and reptiles, there is no difficulty in deciding whether a given organism is an individual, or a part of an individual. Nor does the difficulty arise in the case of most insects. The Bee or Butterfly lays an egg which develops successively into a larva and pupa, finally producing Bee or Butterfly. In these cases, therefore, the egg, larva, pupa, and perfect Insect, are regarded as stages in the life of a single individual. In certain gnats, however, the larva itself produces young larvae, each of which develops into a gnat, so that the egg produces not one gnat but many gnats.

The difficulty of determining what constitutes an individual becomes still greater among the Zoophytes. These beautiful creatures in many cases so closely resemble plants, that until our countryman Ellis proved them to be animals, Crabbe was justified in saying

Involved in seawrack here we find a race,
Which Science, doubting, knows not where to place;
On shell or stone is dropped the embryo seed,
And quickly vegetates a vital breed.

We cannot wonder that such organisms were long regarded as belonging to the vegetable kingdom. The cups which terminate the branches contain, however, an animal structure, resembling a small Sea Anemone, and possessing arms which capture the food by which the whole colony is nourished. Some of these cups, moreover, differ from the rest, and produce eggs. These then we might be disposed to term ovaries. But in many species they detach themselves from the group and lead an independent existence. Thus we find a complete gradation from structures which, regarded by themselves, we should unquestionably regard as mere organs, to others which are certainly separate and independent beings.

It is a British species, which is found growing on buoys, floating timber, etc., and, says Allman, “When in health and vigour, offers a spectacle unsurpassed in interest by any other species every branchlet crowned by its graceful hydranth, and budding with Medusae in all stages of development, some still in the condition of minute buds, in which no trace of the definite Medusa-form can yet be detected; others, in which the outlines of the Medusa can be distinctly traced within the transparent ectotheque (external layer); others, again, just casting off this thin outer pellicle, and others completely freed from it, struggling with convulsive efforts to break loose from the colony, and finally launched forth in the full enjoyment of their freedom into the surrounding water. I know of no form in which so many of the characteristic features of a typical hydroid are more finely expressed than in this beautiful species.”

If we pass to another great group of Zoophytes, that of the Jelly-fishes, we have a very similar case. For our first knowledge of the life-history of these Zoophytes we are indebted to the Norwegian naturalist Sars. Take, for instance, the common Jelly-fish (Medusa aurita) of our shores.

The egg is a pear-shaped body (1), covered with fine hairs, by the aid of which it swims about, the broader end in front. After a while it attaches itself, not as might have been expected by the posterior but by the anterior extremity (2). The cilia then disappear, a mouth is formed at the free end, tentacles, first four (3), then eight, and at length as many as thirty (4), are formed, and the little creature resembles in essentials the freshwater polyp (Hydra) of our ponds.

At the same time transverse wrinkles (4) are formed round the body, first near the free extremity and then gradually descending. They become deeper and deeper, and develop lobes or divisions one under the other, as at 5. After a while the top ring (and subsequently the others one by one) detaches itself, swims away, and gradually develops into a Medusa (6). Thus, then, the life-history is very similar to that of the Hydroids, only that while in the Hydroids the fixed condition is the more permanent, and the free swimming more transitory, in the Medusae, on the contrary, the fixed condition is apparently only a phase in the production of the free swimming animal. In both the one and the other, however, the egg gives rise not to one but to many mature animals. Steenstrup has given to these curious phenomena, many other cases of which occur among the lower animals, and to which he first called attention, the name of alternations of generations.

In the life-history of Infusoria (so called because they swarm in most animal or vegetable infusions) similar difficulties encounter us. The little creatures, many of which are round or oval in form, from time to time become constricted in the middle; the constriction becomes deeper and deeper, and at length the two halves twist themselves apart and swim away. In this case, therefore, there was one, and there are now two exactly similar; but are these two individuals? They are not parent and offspring that is clear, for they are of the same age; nor are they twins, for there is no parent. As already mentioned, we regard the Caterpillar, Chrysalis, and Butterfly as stages in the life-history of a single individual. But among Zoophytes, and even among some insects, one larva often produces several mature forms. In some species these mature forms remain attached to the larval stock, and we might be disposed to regard the whole as one complex organism. But in others they detach themselves and lead an independent existence.

These considerations then introduce much difficulty into our conception of the idea of an Individual.


But, further than this, we are confronted by by another problem. If we regard a mass of coral as an individual because it arises by continuous growth from a single egg, then it follows that some corals must be thousands of years old.

Some of the lower animals may be cut into pieces, and each piece will develop into an entire organism. In fact the realisation of the idea of an individual gradually becomes more and more difficult, and the continuity of existence, even among the highest animals, gradually forces itself upon us. I believe that as we become more rational, as we realise more fully the conditions of existence, this consideration is likely to have important moral results.

It is generally considered that death is the common lot of all living beings. But is this necessarily so? Infusoria and other unicellular animals multiply by division. That is to say, if we watch one for a certain time, we shall observe, as already mentioned, that a constriction takes place, which grows gradually deeper and deeper, until at last the two halves become quite detached, and each swims away independently. The process is repeated over and over again, and in this manner the species is propagated. Here obviously there is no birth and no death. Such creatures may be killed, but they have no natural term of life. They are, in fact, theoretically immortal. Those which lived millions of years ago may have gone on dividing and subdividing, and in this sense multitudes of the lower animals are millions of years old

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