In the lower forms of organisms the motions executed by protoplasm suffice for all their requirements. Thus the amoeba manages to pass through its lifetime with no other kind of motion at its disposal than the flowing circulation and the budding out of its soft protoplasm. A vast number of minute organisms depend wholly upon the protoplasmic stream and the twitching of cilia for their digestive and progressive movements. Before we leave the class of animals which never pass beyond the unicellular stage, we find, however, examples in which a portion of their protoplasm is specially adapted to the performance of sudden and rapid motions. The protoplasm so modified in function deserves the name of contractile material. Thus, though the protoplasm which lies within the stalk of the bell animalcule is morphologically undifferentiated, it can contract with such rapidity that the eye cannot follow the motion.
As we ascend in the scale of animal life, the necessity for motions of various rapidity and duration at the command of the animal becomes more and more urgent, and so we find not only one, but several kinds of tissue specially adapted for carrying out motions of different rate and duration.
As a general rule, the more rapid the contraction it performs the more the tissue differs from the original type of protoplasm; and the slower and more persistent the contraction, the more the tissue elements resemble protoplasmic cells. Thus, in the minute blood vessels, as we have seen, a very prolonged form of contraction, only varied by partial relaxations, is the rule, and gives rise to the tone of the arterioles, and the contractile elements differ but little from ordinary protoplasmic cells. The intestinal movements are rapid compared with those of the arterial muscles, and in them we find a thin, elongated form of muscle cell. In the heart a forcible and quick contraction takes place, which, however, is slow when compared with the sudden jerk of a single spasm of a skeletal muscle, and its texture is different, being a form intermediate between the slow-contracting smooth muscle and the quick-contracting striated skeletal muscle.
By borrowing examples from the lower animals, this parallelism of structural differentiation and increase of functional energy can be more perfectly demonstrated, and we can make out a gradual scale of increasingly rapid motion corresponding with greater complexity of structure.