Garstang, Walter

British, (1868-1949)

The Onchosphere

  1. The Onchosphere or Hexacanth was not designed for frolic,
  2. His part may be described perhaps as coldly diabolic:
  3. He’s born amid some gruesome things, but this should count for virtue,
  4. That steadily, ‘gainst fearful odds, he plies his task — to hurt you!
  6. He’s very small, a mere pin’s head, beset with six small hooklets,
  7. Is whirled about by wind and rain through puddles, fields and brooklets;
  8. But if a pig should swallow him, as many porkers do,
  9. He’s made a start with no mistake: he’s on the road to you!
  11. Again I say, don’t blame the brat — he hasn’t any head!
  12. It isn’t any fault of his — he wasn’t painted red!
  13. But once inside, he burrows through, and gropes his way about,
  14. Then swells and sprouts a head at last, though this is inside out!
  16. He’s now a Cysticerus in the muscles of a pig,
  17. With just a sporting chance of getting out to grow up big.
  18. If you’ll consent to eat your pork half-raw or underdone,
  19. His troubles will be over, and a Tapeworm will have won:
  20. He’ll cast his anchors out, and on your best digested food
  21. Will thrive, and bud an endless chain to raise a countless brood.

Walter Garstang. Larval Forms, and other zoological verses. Oxford: Blackwell, (1951).

About the Poet:

Walter Garstang (1868-1949), was a British marine biologist zoologist and poet. He was a Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, and was one of the first to study the functional biology of marine invertebrate larvae.

Much of Garstang’s work and his evolutionary scenarios – especially his derivation of vertebrates from a sessile ascidian – have not been well supported by recent work in developmental genetics and molecular phylogenetics. But he is credited with popularizing the valid idea that adaptive changes in larvae combined with shifts in developmental timing could radically change adult morphology and provide an escape from overspecialization. And his re-statement of the biogenetic law is now widely accepted: namely, that recapitulation results when characters at one stage of development are required for the correct formation of other characters at subsequent stages (his stepping stone model).

His best known works on marine larvae were his poems which were published together after his death. In these poems, Garstang described the form and function of various marine larvae while also illustrating some of the controversies of evolutionary biology prevelant of the time. [DES-03/12]

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