With respect to atolls, I think mammals would hardly survive VERY LONG, even if the main islands (for as I have said in the Coral Book, the outline of groups of atolls do not look like a former CONTINENT) had been tenanted by mammals, from the extremely small area, the very peculiar conditions, and the probability that during subsidence all or nearly all atolls have been breached and flooded by the sea many times during their existence as atolls.

I cannot conceive any existing reptile being converted into a mammal. From homologies I should look at it as certain that all mammals had descended from some single progenitor. What its nature was, it is impossible to speculate. More like, probably, the Ornithorhynchus or Echidna than any known form; as these animals combine reptilian characters (and in a less degree bird character) with mammalian. We must imagine some form as intermediate, as is Lepidosiren now, between reptiles and fish, between mammals and birds on the one hand (for they retain longer the same embryological character) and reptiles on the other hand. With respect to a mammal not being developed on any island, besides want of time for so prodigious a development, there must have arrived on the island the necessary and peculiar progenitor, having a character like the embryo of a mammal; and not an ALREADY DEVELOPED reptile, bird or fish.

We might give to a bird the habits of a mammal, but inheritance would retain almost for eternity some of the bird-like structure, and prevent a new creature ranking as a true mammal.

I have often speculated on antiquity of islands, but not with your precision, or at all under the point of view of Natural Selection NOT having done what might have been anticipated. The argument of littoral Miocene shells at the Canary Islands is new to me. I was deeply impressed (from the amount of the denudation) [with the] antiquity of St. Helena, and its age agrees with the peculiarity of the flora. With respect to bats at New Zealand (N.B. There are two or three European bats in Madeira, and I think in the Canary Islands) not having given rise to a group of non-volant bats, it is, now you put the case, surprising; more especially as the genus of bats in New Zealand is very peculiar, and therefore has probably been long introduced, and they now speak of Cretacean fossils there. But the first necessary step has to be shown, namely, of a bat taking to feed on the ground, or anyhow, and anywhere, except in the air. I am bound to confess I do know one single such fact, viz. of an Indian species killing frogs. Observe, that in my wretched Polar Bear case, I do show the first step by which conversion into a whale "would be easy," "would offer no difficulty"!! So with seals, I know of no fact showing any the least incipient variation of seals feeding on the shore. Moreover, seals wander much; I searched in vain, and could not find ONE case of any species of seal confined to any islands. And hence wanderers would be apt to cross with individuals undergoing any change on an island, as in the case of land birds of Madeira and Bermuda. The same remark applies even to bats, as they frequently come to Bermuda from the mainland, though about 600 miles distant. With respect to the Amblyrhynchus of the Galapagos, one may infer as probable, from marine habits being so rare with Saurians, and from the terrestrial species being confined to a few central islets, that its progenitor first arrived at the Galapagos; from what country it is impossible to say, as its affinity I believe is not very clear to any known species. The offspring of the terrestrial species was probably rendered marine. Now in this case I do not pretend I can show variation in habits; but we have in the terrestrial species a vegetable feeder (in itself a rather unusual circumstance), largely on LICHENS, and it would not be a great change for its offspring to feed first on littoral algae and then on submarine algae. I have said what I can in defence, but yours is a good line of attack.

The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume II Page 61

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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