On the other hand, species when crossed, and their hybrid offspring, are almost invariably in some degree sterile; and here there seems to exist a broad and insuperable distinction between races and species. The importance of this subject as bearing on the origin of species is obvious; and we shall hereafter recur to it.
It is unfortunate how few precise observations have been made on the fertility of mongrel animals and plants during several successive generations. Dr. Broca (16/1. 'Journal de Physiolog.' tome 2 1859 page 385.) has remarked that no one has observed whether, for instance, mongrel dogs, bred inter se, are indefinitely fertile; yet, if a shade of infertility be detected by careful observation in the offspring of natural forms when crossed, it is thought that their specific distinction is proved. But so many breeds of sheep, cattle, pigs, dogs, and poultry, have been crossed and recrossed in various ways, that any sterility, if it had existed, would from being injurious almost certainly have been observed. In investigating the fertility of crossed varieties many sources of doubt occur. Whenever the least trace of sterility between two plants, however closely allied, was observed by Kolreuter, and more especially by Gartner, who counted the exact number of seed in each capsule, the two forms were at once ranked as distinct species; and if this rule be followed, assuredly it will never be proved that varieties when crossed are in any degree sterile. We have formerly seen that certain breeds of dogs do not readily pair together; but no observations have been made whether, when paired, they produce the full number of young, and whether the latter are perfectly fertile inter se; but, supposing that some degree of sterility were found to exist, naturalists would simply infer that these breeds were descended from aboriginally distinct species; and it would be scarcely possible to ascertain whether or not this explanation was the true one.
The Sebright Bantam is much less prolific than any other breed of fowls, and is descended from a cross between two very distinct breeds, recrossed by a third sub-variety. But it would be extremely rash to infer that the loss of fertility was in any manner connected with its crossed origin, for it may with more probability be attributed either to long-continued close interbreeding, or to an innate tendency to sterility correlated with the absence of hackles and sickle tail-feathers.
Before giving the few recorded cases of forms, which must be ranked as varieties, being in some degree sterile when crossed, I may remark that other causes sometimes interfere with varieties freely intercrossing. Thus they may differ too greatly in size, as with some kinds of dogs and fowls: for instance, the editor of the 'Journal of Horticulture, etc.' (16/2. December 1863 page 484.) says that he can keep Bantams with the larger breeds without much danger of their crossing, but not with the smaller breeds, such as Games, Hamburghs, etc. With plants a difference in the period of flowering serves to keep varieties distinct, as with the various kinds of maize and wheat: thus Colonel Le Couteur (16/3. On 'The Varieties of Wheat' page 66.) remarks, "the Talavera wheat, from flowering much earlier than any other kind, is sure to continue pure." In different parts of the Falkland Islands the cattle are breaking up into herds of different colours; and those on the higher ground, which are generally white, usually breed, as I am informed by Sir J. Sulivan, three months earlier than those on the lowland; and this would manifestly tend to keep the herds from blending.
Certain domestic races seem to prefer breeding with their own kind; and this is a fact of some importance, for it is a step towards that instinctive feeling which helps to keep closely allied species in a state of nature distinct. We have now abundant evidence that, if it were not for this feeling, many more hybrids would be naturally produced than in this case. We have seen in the first chapter that the alco dog of Mexico dislikes dogs of other breeds; and the hairless dog of Paraguay mixes less readily with the European races, than the latter do with each other.