The Origin of Species

By Charles Darwin; Gillian Beer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
HYBRIDISM

Distinction between the sterility of first crosses and of hybrids-- Sterility various in degree, not universal, affected by close interbreeding, removed by domestication--Laws governing the sterility of hybrids--Sterility not a special endowment, but incidental on other differences--Causes of the sterility of first crosses and of hybrids--Parallelism between the effects of changed conditions of life and crossing--Fertility of varieties when crossed and of their mongrel offspring not universal-- Hybrids and mongrels compared independently of their fertility--Summary.

THE view generally entertained by naturalists is that species, when intercrossed, have been specially endowed with the quality of sterility, in order to prevent the confusion of all organic forms. This view certainly seems at first probable, for species within the same country could hardly have kept distinct had they been capable of crossing freely. The importance of the fact that hybrids are very generally sterile, has, I think, been much underrated by some late writers. On the theory of natural selection the case is especially important, inasmuch as the sterility of hybrids could not possibly be of any advantage to them, and therefore could not have been acquired by the continued preservation of successive profitable degrees of sterility. I hope, however, to be able to show that sterility is not a specially acquired or endowed quality, but is incidental on other acquired differences.

In treating this subject, two classes of facts, to a large extent fundamentally different, have generally been confounded together; namely, the sterility of two species when first crossed, and the sterility of the hybrids produced from them.

Pure species have of course their organs of reproduction in a perfect condition, yet when intercrossed they produce either few or no offspring. Hybrids, on the other hand, have their reproductive organs functionally impotent, as may be clearly seen in the state of the male element in both plants and animals; though the organs themselves are perfect in structure,

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