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§ 1

The Mesozoic Era

In a broad way the Mesozoic era corresponds with the Golden Age of reptiles, and with the climax of the Conifer and Cycad flora, which was established in the Permian. But among the Conifers and Cycads our modern flowering plants were beginning to show face tentatively, just like birds and mammals among the great reptiles.

In the Triassic period the exuberance of reptilian life which marked the Permian was continued. Besides Turtles which still persist, there were Ichthyosaurs, Plesiosaurs, Dinosaurs, and Pterosaurs, none of which lasted beyond the Mesozoic era. Of great importance was the rise of the Dinosaurs in the Triassic, for it is highly probable that within the limits of this vigorous and plastic stock—some of them bipeds—we must look for the ancestors of both birds and mammals. Both land and water were dominated by reptiles, some of which attained to gigantic size. Had there been any zoologist in those days, he would have been very sagacious indeed if he had suspected that reptiles did not represent the climax of creation.

The Flying Dragons

The Jurassic period showed a continuance of the reptilian splendour. They radiated in many directions, becoming adapted to many haunts. Thus there were many Fish Lizards paddling in the seas, many types of terrestrial dragons stalking about on land, many swiftly gliding alligator-like forms, and the Flying Dragons which began in the Triassic attained to remarkable success and variety. Their wing was formed by the extension of a great fold of skin on the enormously elongated outermost finger, and they varied from the size of a sparrow to a spread of over five feet. A soldering of the dorsal vertebræ as in our Flying Birds was an adaptation to striking the air with some force, but as there is not more than a slight keel, if any, on the breast-bone, it is unlikely that they could fly far. For we know from our modern birds that the power of flight may be to some extent gauged from the degree of development of the keel, which is simply a great ridge for the better insertion of the muscles of flight. It is absent, of course, in the Running Birds, like the ostrich, and it has degenerated in an interesting way in the burrowing parrot (Stringops) and a few other birds that have "gone back."

The First Known Bird

But the Jurassic is particularly memorable because its strata have yielded two fine specimens of the first known bird, Archæopteryx. These were entombed in the deposits which formed the fine-grained lithographic stones of Bavaria, and practically every bone in the body is preserved except the breast-bone. Even the feathers have left their marks with distinctness. This oldest known bird—too far advanced to be the first bird—was about the size of a crow and was probably of arboreal habits. Of great interest are its reptilian features, so pronounced that one cannot evade the evolutionist suggestion. It had teeth in both jaws, which no modern bird has; it had a long lizard-like tail, which no modern bird has; it had claws on three fingers, and a sort of half-made wing. That is to say, it does not show, what all modern birds show, a fusion of half the wrist-bones with the whole of the palm-bones, the well-known carpo-metacarpus bone which forms a basis for the longest pinions. In many reptiles, such as Crocodiles, there are peculiar bones running across the abdomen beneath the skin, the so-called "abdominal ribs," and it seems an eloquent detail to find these represented in Archæopteryx, the earliest known bird. No modern bird shows any trace of them.



(After Marsh.)

The bird was five or six feet high, something like a swimming ostrich, with a very powerful leg but only a vestige of a wing. There were sharp teeth in a groove. The modern divers come nearest to this ancient type.



(After Lull and Matthew.)

1. Four-toed horse, Eohippus, about one foot high. Lower Eocene, N. America.
2. Another four-toed horse, Orohippus, a little over a foot high. Middle Eocene, N. America.
3. Three-toed horse, Mesohippus, about the size of a sheep. Middle Oligocene, N. America.
4. Three-toed horse, Merychippus, Miocene, N. America. Only one toe reaches the ground on each foot, but the remains of two others are prominent.
5. The first one-toed horse, Pliohippus, about forty inches high at the shoulder. Pliocene, N. America.
6. The modern horse, running on the third digit of each foot.

There is no warrant for supposing that the flying reptiles or Pterodactyls gave rise to birds, for the two groups are on different lines, and the structure of the wings is entirely different. Thus the long-fingered Pterodactyl wing was a parachute wing, while the secret of the bird's wing has its centre in the feathers. It is highly probable that birds evolved from certain Dinosaurs which had become bipeds, and it is possible that they were for a time swift runners that took "flying jumps" along the ground. Thereafter, perhaps, came a period of arboreal apprenticeship during which there was much gliding from tree to tree before true flight was achieved. It is an interesting fact that the problem of flight has been solved four times among animals—by insects, by Pterodactyls, by birds, and by bats; and that the four solutions are on entirely different lines.

In the Cretaceous period the outstanding events included the waning of giant reptiles, the modernising of the flowering plants, and the multiplication of small mammals. Some of the Permian reptiles, such as the dog-toothed Cynodonts, were extraordinarily mammal-like, and it was probably from among them that definite mammals emerged in the Triassic. Comparatively little is known of the early Triassic mammals save that their back-teeth were marked by numerous tubercles on the crown, but they were gaining strength in the late Triassic when small arboreal insectivores, not very distant from the modern tree-shrews (Tupaia), began to branch out in many directions indicative of the great divisions of modern mammals, such as the clawed mammals, hoofed mammals, and the race of monkeys or Primates. In the Upper Cretaceous there was an exuberant "radiation" of mammals, adaptive to the conquest of all sorts of haunts, and this was vigorously continued in Tertiary times.

There is no difficulty in the fact that the earliest remains of definite mammals in the Triassic precede the first-known bird in the Jurassic. For although we usually rank mammals as higher than birds (being mammals ourselves, how could we do otherwise?), there are many ways in which birds are pre-eminent, e.g. in skeleton, musculature, integumentary structures, and respiratory system. The fact is that birds and mammals are on two quite different tacks of evolution, not related to one another, save in having a common ancestry in extinct reptiles. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that the Jurassic Archæopteryx was the first bird in any sense except that it is the first of which we have any record. In any case it is safe to say that birds came to their own before mammals did.

Looking backwards, we may perhaps sum up what is most essential in the Mesozoic era in Professor Schuchert's sentence: "The Mesozoic is the Age of Reptiles, and yet the little mammals and the toothed birds are storing up intelligence and strength to replace the reptiles when the cycads and conifers shall give way to the higher flowering plants."

§ 2

The Cenozoic or Tertiary Era

In the Eocene period there was a replacement of the small-brained archaic mammals by big-brained modernised types, and with this must be associated the covering of the earth with a garment of grass and dry pasture. Marshes were replaced by meadows and browsing by grazing mammals. In the spreading meadows an opportunity was also offered for a richer evolution of insects and birds.

During the Oligocene the elevation of the land continued, the climate became much less moist, and the grazing herds extended their range.

The Miocene was the mammalian Golden Age and there were crowning examples of what Osborn calls "adaptive radiation." That is to say, mammals, like the reptiles before them, conquer every haunt of life. There are flying bats, volplaning parachutists, climbers in trees like sloths and squirrels, quickly moving hoofed mammals, burrowers like the moles, freshwater mammals, like duckmole and beaver, shore-frequenting seals and manatees, and open-sea cetaceans, some of which dive far more than full fathoms five. It is important to realise the perennial tendency of animals to conquer every corner and to fill every niche of opportunity, and to notice that this has been done by successive sets of animals in succeeding ages. Most notably the mammals repeat all the experiments of reptiles on a higher turn of the spiral. Thus arises what is called convergence, the superficial resemblance of unrelated types, like whales and fishes, the resemblance being due to the fact that the different types are similarly adapted to similar conditions of life. Professor H. F. Osborn points out that mammals may seek any one of the twelve different habitat-zones, and that in each of these there may be six quite different kinds of food. Living creatures penetrate everywhere like the overflowing waters of a great river in flood.

§ 3

The Pliocene period was a more strenuous time, with less genial climatic conditions, and with more intense competition. Old land bridges were broken and new ones made, and the geographical distribution underwent great changes. Professor R. S. Lull describes the Pliocene as "a period of great unrest." "Many migrations occurred the world over, new competitions arose, and the weaker stocks began to show the effects of the strenuous life. One momentous event seems to have occurred in the Pliocene, and that was the transformation of the precursor of humanity into man—the culmination of the highest line of evolution."

The Pleistocene period was a time of sifting. There was a continued elevation of the continental masses, and Ice Ages set in, relieved by less severe interglacial times when the ice-sheets retreated northwards for a time. Many types, like the mammoth, the woolly rhinoceros, the sabre-toothed tiger, the cave-lion, and the cave-bear, became extinct. Others which formerly had a wide range became restricted to the Far North or were left isolated here and there on the high mountains, like the Snow Mouse, which now occurs on isolated Alpine heights above the snow-line. Perhaps it was during this period that many birds of the Northern Hemisphere learned to evade the winter by the sublime device of migration.

Looking backwards we may quote Professor Schuchert again:

"The lands in the Cenozoic began to bloom with more and more flowering plants and grand hardwood forests, the atmosphere is scented with sweet odours, a vast crowd of new kinds of insects appear, and the places of the once dominant reptiles of the lands and seas are taken by the mammals. Out of these struggles there rises a greater intelligence, seen in nearly all of the mammal stocks, but particularly in one, the monkey-ape-man. Brute man appears on the scene with the introduction of the last glacial climate, a most trying time for all things endowed with life, and finally there results the dominance of reasoning man over all his brute associates."

In man and human society the story of evolution has its climax.

The Ascent of Man

Man stands apart from animals in his power of building up general ideas and of using these in the guidance of his behaviour and the control of his conduct. This is essentially wrapped up with his development of language as an instrument of thought. Some animals have words, but man has language (Logos). Some animals show evidence of perceptual inference, but man often gets beyond this to conceptual inference (Reason). Many animals are affectionate and brave, self-forgetful and industrious, but man "thinks the ought," definitely guiding his conduct in the light of ideals, which in turn are wrapped up with the fact that he is "a social person."

Besides his big brain, which may be three times as heavy as that of a gorilla, man has various physical peculiarities. He walks erect, he plants the sole of his foot flat on the ground, he has a chin and a good heel, a big forehead and a non-protrusive face, a relatively uniform set of teeth without conspicuous canines, and a relatively naked body.



(After Marsh and Lull.)

1 and 1A, fore-limb and hind-limb of Eohippus; 2 and 2A, Orohippus; 3 and 3A, Mesohippus; 4 and 4A, Hypohippus; 5 and 5A, Merychippus; 6 and 6A, Hipparion; 7 and 7A, the modern horse. Note how the toes shorten and disappear.


A. Fore-limb of Monkey B. Fore-limb of Whale


This is seen in comparing these two fore-limbs, A, of Monkey, B, of Whale. They are as different as possible, yet they show the same bones, e.g. SC, the scapula or shoulder-blade; H, the humerus or upper arm; R and U, the radius and ulna of the fore-arm; CA, the wrist; MC, the palm; and then the fingers.

But in spite of man's undeniable apartness, there is no doubt as to his solidarity with the rest of creation. There is an "all-pervading similitude of structure," between man and the Anthropoid Apes, though it is certain that it is not from any living form that he took his origin. None of the anatomical distinctions, except the heavy brain, could be called momentous. Man's body is a veritable museum of relics (vestigial structures) inherited from pre-human ancestors. In his everyday bodily life and in some of its disturbances, man's pedigree is often revealed. Even his facial expression, as Darwin showed, is not always human. Some fossil remains bring modern man nearer the anthropoid type.

It is difficult not to admit the ring of truth in the closing words of Darwin's Descent of Man:

"We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man, with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his God-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system—with all these exalted powers—man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."

The Evolving System of Nature

There is another side of evolution so obvious that it is often overlooked, the tendency to link lives together in vital inter-relations. Thus flowers and their insect visitors are often vitally interlinked in mutual dependence. Many birds feed on berries and distribute the seeds. The tiny freshwater snail is the host of the juvenile stages of the liver-fluke of the sheep. The mosquito is the vehicle of malaria from man to man, and the tse-tse fly spreads sleeping sickness. The freshwater mussel cannot continue its race without the unconscious co-operation of the minnow, and the freshwater fish called the bitterling cannot continue its race without the unconscious co-operation of the mussel. There are numerous mutually beneficial partnerships between different kinds of creatures, and other inter-relations where the benefit is one-sided, as in the case of insects that make galls on plants. There are also among kindred animals many forms of colonies, communities, and societies. Nutritive chains bind long series of animals together, the cod feeding on the whelk, the whelk on the worm, the worm on the organic dust of the sea. There is a system of successive incarnations and matter is continually passing from one embodiment to another. These instances must suffice to illustrate the central biological idea of the web of life, the interlinked System of Animate Nature. Linnæus spoke of the Systema Naturæ, meaning the orderly hierarchy of classes, orders, families, genera, and species; but we owe to Darwin in particular some knowledge of a more dynamic Systema Naturæ, the network of vital inter-relations. This has become more and more complex as evolution has continued, and man's web is most complex of all. It means making Animate Nature more of a unity; it means an external method of registering steps of progress; it means an evolving set of sieves by which new variations are sifted, and living creatures are kept from slipping down the steep ladder of evolution.


It sometimes happens that the inter-relation established between one living creature and another works in a retrograde direction. This is the case with many thoroughgoing internal parasites which have sunk into an easygoing kind of life, utterly dependent on their host for food, requiring no exertions, running no risks, and receiving no spur to effort. Thus we see that evolution is not necessarily progressive; everything depends on the conditions in reference to which the living creatures have been evolved. When the conditions are too easygoing, the animal may be thoroughly well adapted to them—as a tapeworm certainly is—but it slips down the rungs of the ladder of evolution.

This is an interesting minor chapter in the story of evolution—the establishment of different kinds of parasites, casual and constant, temporary and lifelong, external hangers-on and internal unpaying boarders, those that live in the food-canal and depend on the host's food and those that inhabit the blood or the tissues and find their food there. It seems clear that ichneumon grubs and the like which hatch inside a caterpillar and eat it alive are not so much parasites as "beasts of prey" working from within.

But there are two sides to this minor chapter: there is the evolution of the parasite, and there is also the evolution of counteractive measures on the part of the host. Thus there is the maintenance of a bodyguard of wandering amœboid cells, which tackle the microbes invading the body and often succeed in overpowering and digesting them. Thus, again, there is the protective capacity the blood has of making antagonistic substances or "anti-bodies" which counteract poisons, including the poisons which the intruding parasites often make.