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Variations of Apples and of Melons. The most remarkable varieties are afforded by the apple and the melon, and some account of these will be given as illustrating the effects of slight variations accumulated by selection. All our apples are known to have descended from the common crab of our hedges (Pyrus malus), and from this at least a thousand distinct varieties have been produced.
These differ greatly in the size and form of the fruit, in its colour, and in the texture of the skin. They further differ in the time of ripening, in their flavour, and in their keeping properties; but apple trees also differ in many other ways. The foliage of the different varieties can often be distinguished by peculiarities of form and colour, and it varies considerably in the time of its appearance ; in some hardly a leaf appears till the tree is in full bloom, while others produce their leaves so early as almost to hide the flowers. The flowers differ in size and colour, and in one case in structure also, that of the St. Valery apple having a double calyx with ten divisions, and fourteen styles with oblique stigmas, but without stamens or corolla. The flowers, therefore, have to be fertilised with the pollen from other varieties in order to produce fruit. The pips or seeds differ also in shape, size, and colour ; some varieties are liable to canker more than others, while the Winter Majetin and one or two others have the strange constitutional peculiarity of never being attacked by the mealy bug even when all the other trees in the same orchard are infested with it.
All the cucumbers and gourds vary immensely, but the melon (Cucumis melo) exceeds them all. A French botanist, M. Naudin, devoted six years to their study. He found that previous botanists had described thirty distinct species, as they thought, which were really only varieties of melons. They differ chiefly in their fruits, but also very much in foliage and mode of growth. Some melons are only as large as small plums, others weigh as much as sixty-six pounds. One variety has a scarlet fruit. Another is not more than an inch in diameter, but sometimes more than a yard in length, twisting about in all directions like a serpent. Some melons are exactly like cucumbers; and an Algerian variety, when ripe,
has meter, but sometimons like a serpentan variety,
cracks and falls to pieces, just as occurs in a wild gourd (C. momordica).1
Variations of Flowers. Turning to flowers, we find that in the same genus as our currant and gooseberry, which we have cultivated for their fruits, there are some ornamental species, as the Ribes sanguinea, and in these the flowers have been selected so as to produce deep red, pink, or white varieties. When any particular flower becomes fashionable and is grown in large quantities, variations are always met with sufficient to produce great varieties of tint or marking, as shown by our roses, auriculas, and geraniums. When varied leaves are required, it is found that a number of plants vary sufficiently in this direction also, and we have zonal geraniums, variegated ivies, gold and silver marked hollies, and many others.
Variations of Domestic Animals. Coming now to our domesticated animals, we find still more extraordinary cases; and it appears as if any special quality or modification in an animal can be obtained if we only breed it in sufficient quantity, watch carefully for the required variations, and carry on selection with patience and skill for a sufficiently long period. Thus, in sheep we have enormously increased the wool, and have obtained the power of rapidly forming flesh and fat; in cows we have increased the production of milk; in horses we have obtained strength, endurance, or speed, and have greatly modified size, form, and colour ; in poultry we have secured various colours of plumage, increase of size, and almost perpetual egg-laying. But it is in dogs and pigeons that the most marvellous changes have been effected, and these require our special attention.
Our various domestic dogs are believed to have originated from several distinct wild species, because in every part of the world the native dogs resemble some wild dogs or wolves of the same country. Thus perhaps several species of wolves and jackals were domesticated in very early times, and from breeds derived from these, crossed and improved by selection, our existing dogs have descended. But this intermixture of distinct species will go a very little way in accounting for the peculiarities of the different breeds of dogs, many of which are totally unlike any wild animal. Such is the case with greyhounds, bloodhounds, bulldogs, Blenheim spaniels, terriers, pugs, turnspits, pointers, and many others; and these differ so greatly in size, shape, colour, and habits, as well as in the form and proportions of all the different parts of the body, that it seems impossible that they could have descended from any of the known wild dogs, wolves, or allied animals, none of which differ nearly so much in size, form, and proportions. We have here a remarkable proof that variation is not confined to superficial characters—to the colour, hair, or external appendages, when we see how the entire skeletons of such forms as the greyhound and the bulldog have been gradually changed in opposite directions till they are both completely unlike that of any known wild animal, recent or extinct. These changes have been the result of some thousands of years of domestication and selection, different breeds being used and preserved for different purposes; but some of the best breeds are known to have been improved and perfected in modern times. About the middle of the last century a new and improved kind of foxhound was produced ; the greyhound was also greatly improved at the end of the last century, while the true bulldog was brought to perfection about the same period. The Newfoundland dog has been so much changed since it was first imported that it is now quite unlike any existing native doy in that island. 1
1 These facts are taken from Darwin's Domesticated Animals and Cultivated Plants, vol. i. 1. 359, 360, 392-101 ; vol. ii. . 231, 275, 330.
Domestic Pigeons. The most remarkable and instructive example of variation produced by human selection is afforded by the various races and breeds of domestic pigeons, not only because the variations produced are often most extraordinary in amount and diverse in character, but because in this case there is no doubt whatever that all have been derived from one wild species, the common rock-pigeon (Columba livia). As this is a very important point it is well to state the evidence on which the belief is founded. The wild rock-pigeon is of a slaty-blue 1 See Darwin's Animals and Plants under Domestication, vol. i. pp. 40-42.
colour, the tail has a dark band across the end, the wings have two black bands, and the outer tail-feathers are edged with white at the base. No other wild pigeon in the world has this combination of characters. Now in every one of the domestic varieties, even the most extreme, all the above marks, even to the white edging of the outer tail-feathers, are sometimes found perfectly developed. When birds belonging to two distinct breeds are crossed one or more times, neither of the parents being blue, or having any of the above-named marks, the mongrel offspring are very apt to acquire some of these characters. Mr. Darwin gives instances which he observed himself. He crossed some white fantails with some black barbs, and the mongrels were black, brown, or mottled. He also crossed a barb with a spot, which is a white bird with a red tail and red spot on the forehead, and the mongrel offspring were dusky and mottled. On now crossing these two sets of mongrels with each other, he obtained a bird of a beautiful blue colour, with the barred and white edged tail, and double-banded wings, so as almost exactly to resemble a wild rock-pigeon. This bird was descended in the second generation from a pure white and pure black bird, both of which when unmixed breed their kind remarkably true. These facts, well known to experienced pigeon- fanciers, together with the habits of the birds, which all like to nest in holes, or dovecots, not in trees like the great majority of wild pigeons, have led to the general belief in the single origin of all the different kinds.
In order to afford some idea of the great differences which exist among domesticated pigeons, it will be well to give a brief abstract of Mr. Darwin's account of them. He divides them into eleven distinct races, most of which have several sub-races.
RACE I. Pouters. -— These are especially distinguished by the enormously enlarged crop), which can be so inflated in some birds as almost to conceal the beak. They are very long in the body and legs and stand almost upright, so as to present a very distinct appearance. Their skeleton has become modified, the ribs being broader and the vertebra more numerous than in other pigeons.
RACE II. Carriers. — These are large, long-necked birds, with a long pointed beak, and the eyes surrounded with a naked carunculated skin or wattle, which is also largely developed at the base of the beak. The opening of the mouth is unusually wide. There are several sub-races, one being called Dragons.
RACE III. Runts.—These are very large-bodied, long-beaked pigeons, with naked skin round the eyes. The wings are usually very long, the legs long, and the feet large, and the skin of the neck is often red. There are several sub-races, and these differ very much, forming a series of links between the wild rock-pigeon and the carrier.
RACE IV. Barbs. — These are remarkable for their very short and thick beak, so unlike that of most pigeons that fanciers compare it with that of a bullfinch. They have also a naked carunculated skin round the eyes, and the skin over the nostrils swollen.
RACE V. Fantails.—Short-bodied and rather small-beaked pigeons, with an enormously developed tail, consisting usually of from fourteen to forty feathers instead of twelve, the regular number in all other pigeons, wild and tame. The tail spreads out like a fan and is usually carried erect, and the bird bends back its slender neck, so that in highly-bred varieties the head touches the tail. The feet are small, and they walk stiffly.
RACE VI. Turbits and Owls. — These are characterised by the feathers of the middle of neck and breast in front spreading out irregularly so as to form a frill. The Turbits also have a crest on the head, and both have the beak exceedingly short.
RACE VII. Tumblers.-- These have a small body and short beak, but they are specially distinguished by the singular habit of tumbling over backwards during flight. One of the sub-races, the Indian Lotan or Ground tumbler, if slightly shaken and placed on the ground, will immediately begin tumbling head over heels until taken up and soothed. If not taken up, some of them will go on tumbling till they die.