Mr. B.D. Walsh, a distinguished entomologist of the United States, has described what he calls Phytophagic varieties and Phytophagic species. Most vegetable-feeding insects live on one kind of plant or on one group of plants; some feed indiscriminately on many kinds, but do not in consequence vary. In several cases, however, insects found living on different plants, have been observed by Mr. Walsh to present in their larval or mature state, or in both states, slight, though constant differences in colour, size, or in the nature of their secretions. In some instances the males alone, in other instances, both males and females, have been observed thus to differ in a slight degree. When the differences are rather more strongly marked, and when both sexes and all ages are affected, the forms are ranked by all entomologists as good species. But no observer can determine for another, even if he can do so for himself, which of these Phytophagic forms ought to be called species and which varieties. Mr. Walsh ranks the forms which it may be supposed would freely intercross, as varieties; and those which appear to have lost this power, as species. As the differences depend on the insects having long fed on distinct plants, it cannot be expected that intermediate links connecting the several forms should now be found. The naturalist thus loses his best guide in determining whether to rank doubtful forms as varieties or species. This likewise necessarily occurs with closely allied organisms, which inhabit distinct continents or islands. When, on the other hand, an animal or plant ranges over the same continent, or inhabits many islands in the same archipelago, and presents different forms in the different areas, there is always a good chance that intermediate forms will be discovered which will link together the extreme states; and these are then degraded to the rank of varieties.
Some few naturalists maintain that animals never present varieties; but then these same naturalists rank the slightest difference as of specific value; and when the same identical form is met with in two distant countries, or in two geological formations, they believe that two distinct species are hidden under the same dress. The term species thus comes to be a mere useless abstraction, implying and assuming a separate act of creation. It is certain that many forms, considered by highly competent judges to be varieties, resemble species so completely in character that they have been thus ranked by other highly competent judges. But to discuss whether they ought to be called species or varieties, before any definition of these terms has been generally accepted, is vainly to beat the air.
Many of the cases of strongly marked varieties or doubtful species well deserve consideration; for several interesting lines of argument, from geographical distribution, analogical variation, hybridism, etc., have been brought to bear in the attempt to determine their rank; but space does not here permit me to discuss them. Close investigation, in many cases, will no doubt bring naturalists to agree how to rank doubtful forms. Yet it must be confessed that it is in the best known countries that we find the greatest number of them. I have been struck with the fact that if any animal or plant in a state of nature be highly useful to man, or from any cause closely attracts his attention, varieties of it will almost universally be found recorded. These varieties, moreover, will often be ranked by some authors as species. Look at the common oak, how closely it has been studied; yet a German author makes more than a dozen species out of forms, which are almost universally considered by other botanists to be varieties; and in this country the highest botanical authorities and practical men can be quoted to show that the sessile and pedunculated oaks are either good and distinct species or mere varieties.