On the Origin of Species

by Charles Darwin


Effects of Use and Disuse

It is well known that several animals, belonging to the most different classes, which inhabit the caves of Styria and of Kentucky, are blind. In some of the crabs the foot-stalk for the eye remains, though the eye is gone; the stand for the telescope is there, though the telescope with its glasses has been lost. As it is difficult to imagine that eyes, though useless, could be in any way injurious to animals living in darkness, I attribute their loss wholly to disuse. In one of the blind animals, namely, the cave-rat, the eyes are of immense size; and Professor Silliman thought that it regained, after living some days in the light, some slight power of vision. In the same manner as in Madeira the wings of some of the insects have been enlarged, and the wings of others have been reduced by natural selection aided by use and disuse, so in the case of the cave-rat natural selection seems to have struggled with the loss of light and to have increased the size of the eyes; whereas with all the other inhabitants of the caves, disuse by itself seems to have done its work.


It is difficult to imagine conditions of life more similar than deep limestone caverns under a nearly similar climate; so that on the common view of the blind animals having been separately created for the American and European caverns, close similarity in their organisation and affinities might have been expected; but, as Schiodte and others have remarked, this is not the case, and the cave-insects of the two continents are not more closely allied than might have been anticipated from the general resemblance of the other inhabitants of North America and Europe. On my view we must suppose that American animals, having ordinary powers of vision, slowly migrated by successive generations from the outer world into the deeper and deeper recesses of the Kentucky caves, as did European animals into the caves of Europe. We have some evidence of this gradation of habit; for, as Schiodte remarks, 'animals not far remote from ordinary forms, prepare the transition from light to darkness. Next follow those that are constructed for twilight; and, last of all, those destined for total darkness.' By the time that an animal had reached, after numberless generations, the deepest recesses, disuse will on this view have more or less perfectly obliterated its eyes, and natural selection will often have effected other changes, such as an increase in the length of the antennae or palpi, as a compensation for blindness. Notwithstanding such modifications, we might expect still to see in the cave-animals of America, affinities to the other inhabitants of that continent, and in those of Europe, to the inhabitants of the European continent. And this is the case with some of the American cave-animals, as I hear from Professor Dana; and some of the European cave-insects are very closely allied to those of the surrounding country. It would be most difficult to give any rational explanation of the affinities of the blind cave-animals to the other inhabitants of the two continents on the ordinary view of their independent creation. That several of the inhabitants of the caves of the Old and New Worlds should be closely related, we might expect from the well-known relationship of most of their other productions. Far from feeling any surprise that some of the cave-animals should be very anomalous, as Agassiz has remarked in regard to the blind fish, the Amblyopsis, and as is the case with the blind Proteus with reference to the reptiles of Europe, I am only surprised that more wrecks of ancient life have not been preserved, owing to the less severe competition to which the inhabitants of these dark abodes will probably have been exposed.


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