Page images

times attach themselves to the feet of birds walking or resting on the ground, and as many of the waders often go far inland, this may have been one of the methods of distributing species of land shells; for it must always be remembered that nature can afford to wait, and that if but once in a thousand years a single bird should convey two or three minute snails to a distant island, this is all that is required for us to find that island well stocked with a great and varied population of land shells.

Means of Dispersal of Insects and the Barriers which Limit their Range.-Winged insects, as a whole, have perhaps more varied means of dispersal over the globe than any other highly organised animals. Many of them can fly immense distances, and the more delicate ones are liable to be carried by storms and hurricanes over a wide expanse of ocean. They are often met with far out at sea. Hawk-moths frequently fly on board ships as they approach the shores of tropical countries, and they have sometimes been captured more than 250 miles from the nearest land. Dragon-flies came on board the Adventure frigate when fifty miles off the coast of South America. A southerly wind brought flies in myriads to Admiral Smyth's ship in the Mediterranean when he was 100 miles distant from the coast of Africa. A large Indian beetle (Chrysochroa ocellata) was quite recently caught alive in the Bay of Bengal by Captain Payne of the barque William Mansoon, 273 miles from the nearest land. Darwin caught a locust 370 miles from land; and in 1844 swarms of locusts several miles in extent, and as thick as the flakes in a heavy snowstorm, visited Madeira. These must have come with perfect safety more than 300 miles; and as they continued flying over the island for a long time, they could evidently have travelled to a much greater distance, Numbers of living beetles belonging to seven genera, some aquatic and some terrestrial, were caught by Mr. Darwin in the open sea, seventeen miles from the coast of South America, and they did not seem injured by the salt water. Almost all the accidental causes that lead to the dispersal of the higher animals would be still more favourable for insects. Floating trees could carry hundreds of insects for one bird or mammal; and so many of the larvæ, eggs,

[ocr errors]

and pupæ of insects have their abode in solid timber, that they might survive being floated immense distances. Great numbers of tropical insects have been captured in the London docks, where they have been brought in foreign timber; and some have emerged from furniture after remaining torpid for many years. Most insects have the power of existing weeks or months without food, and some are very tenacious of life. Many beetles will survive immersion for hours in strong spirit; and water a few degrees below the boiling point will not always kill them. We can therefore easily understand how, in the course of ages insects may become dispersed by means which would be quite inadequate in the case of the higher animals. The drift-wood and tropical fruits that reach Ireland and the Orkneys; the double cocoa-nuts that cross the Indian ocean from the Seychelle Islands to the coast of Sumatra; the winds that carry volcanic dust and ashes for thousands of miles; the hurricanes that travel in their revolving course over wide oceans; all indicate means by which a few insects may, at rare intervals be carried to remote regions, and become the progenitors of a group of allied forms.

But the dispersal of insects requires to be looked at from another point of view. They are, of all animals, perhaps the most wonderfully adapted for special conditions; and are so often fitted to fill one place in nature and one only, that the barriers against their permanent displacement are almost as numerous and as effective as their means of dispersal. Hundreds of species of lepidoptera, for example, can subsist in the larva state only on one species of plant; so that even if the perfect insects were carried to a new country, the continuance of the race would depend upon the same or a closely allied plant being abundant there. Other insects require succulent vegetable food all the year round, and are therefore confined to tropical regions; some can live only in deserts, others in forests; some are dependent on water-plants, some on mountain-vegetation. Many are so intimately connected with other insects during some part of their existence that they could not live without them; such are the parasitical hymenoptera and diptera, and those mimicking species whose welfare depends upon their being

mistaken for something else. Then again, insects have enemies in every stage of their existence—the egg, the larva, the pupa, and the perfect form; and the abundance of any one of these enemies may render their survival impossible in a country otherwise well suited to them. Ever bearing in mind these two opposing classes of facts, we shall not be surprised at the enormous ' range of some groups of insects, and at the extreme localization of others; and shall be able to give a rational account of many phenomena of distribution that would otherwise seem quite unintelligible




THE distribution of animals over the earth's surface, is evidently dependent in great measure upon those grand and important characteristics of our globe, the study of which is termed physical geography. The proportion of land and water; the outlines and distribution of continents; the depth of seas and oceans;

the position of islands; the height, direction, and continuity of mountain chains; the position and extent of deserts, lakes, and forests; the direction and velocity of ocean currents, as well as of prevalent winds and hurricanes; and lastly, the distribution of heat and cold, of rain, snow, and ice, both in their means and in their extremes, have all to be considered when we endeavour to account for the often unequal and unsymmetrical manner in which animals are dispersed over the globe. But even this knowledge is insufficient unless we inquire further as to the evidence of permanence possessed by each of these features, in order that we may give due weight to the various causes that have led to the existing facts of animal distribution.

Land and Water.—The well-known fact that nearly threefourths of the surface of the earth is occupied by water, and but a little more than one-fourth by land, is important as indicating the vast extent of ocean by which many of the continents and islands are separated from each other. But there is another fact

which greatly increases its importance, namely, that the mean height of the land is very small compared with the mean depth of the sea. It has been estimated by Humboldt that the mean height of all the land surface does not exceed a thousand feet, owing to the comparative narrowness of mountain ranges and the great extent of alluvial plains and valleys; the ocean bed, on the contrary, not only descends deeper than the tops of the highest mountains rise above its surface, but these profound depths are broad sunken plains, while the shallows correspond to the mountain ranges, so that its mean depth is, as nearly as can be estimated, twelve thousand feet. Hence, as the area of water is three times that of the land, the total cubical contents of the land, above the sea level, would be only that of the waters which are below that level. The important result follows, that whereas it is scarcely possible that in past times the amount of land surface should ever greatly have exceeded that which now exists, it is just possible that all the land may have been at some time submerged; and therefore in the highest degree probable that among the continual changes of land and sea that have been always going on, the amount of land surface has often been much less than it is now. For the same reason it is probable that there have been times when large masses of land have been more isolated from the rest than they are at present; just as South America would be if North America were submerged, or as Australia would become if the Malay Archipelago were to sink beneath the ocean. It is also very important to bear in mind the fact insisted on by Sir Charles Lyell, that the shallow parts of the ocean are almost always in the vicinity of land; and that an amount of elevation that would make little difference to the bed of the ocean, would raise up extensive tracts of dry land in the vicinity of existing continents. It is almost certain, therefore, that changes in the distribution of land and sea must have taken place more frequently by additions to, or

1 This estimate has been made for me by Mr. Stanford from the materials used in delineating the contours of the ocean-bed on our general map. It embodies the result of all the soundings of the Challenger, Tuscarora, and other vessels, obtainable up to August, 1875.

« EelmineJätka »