The Descent of Man – Day 110 of 151

On the other hand, if one or two males were to vary ever so slightly in paleness, and the variations were from the first limited in their transmission to the male sex, the task of making a new breed of the desired kind would be easy, for such males would simply have to be selected and matched with ordinary females. An analogous case has actually occurred, for there are breeds of the pigeon in Belgium (4. Dr. Chapuis, ‘Le Pigeon Voyageur Belge,’ 1865, p. 87.) in which the males alone are marked with black striae. So again Mr. Tegetmeier has recently shewn (5. The ‘Field,’ Sept. 1872.) that dragons not rarely produce silver-coloured birds, which are almost always hens; and he himself has bred ten such females. It is on the other hand a very unusual event when a silver male is produced; so that nothing would be easier, if desired, than to make a breed of dragons with blue males and silver females. This tendency is indeed so strong that when Mr. Tegetmeier at last got a silver male and matched him with one of the silver females, he expected to get a breed with both sexes thus coloured; he was however disappointed, for the young male reverted to the blue colour of his grandfather, the young female alone being silver. No doubt with patience this tendency to reversion in the males, reared from an occasional silver male matched with a silver hen, might be eliminated, and then both sexes would be coloured alike; and this very process has been followed with success by Mr. Esquilant in the case of silver turbits.

With fowls, variations of colour, limited in their transmission to the male sex, habitually occur. When this form of inheritance prevails, it might well happen that some of the successive variations would be transferred to the female, who would then slightly resemble the male, as actually occurs in some breeds. Or again, the greater number, but not all, of the successive steps might be transferred to both sexes, and the female would then closely resemble the male. There can hardly be a doubt that this is the cause of the male pouter pigeon having a somewhat larger crop, and of the male carrier pigeon having somewhat larger wattles, than their respective females; for fanciers have not selected one sex more than the other, and have had no wish that these characters should be more strongly displayed in the male than in the female, yet this is the case with both breeds.

The same process would have to be followed, and the same difficulties encountered, if it were desired to make a breed with the females alone of some new colour.

Lastly, our fancier might wish to make a breed with the two sexes differing from each other, and both from the parent species. Here the difficulty would be extreme, unless the successive variations were from the first sexually limited on both sides, and then there would be no difficulty. We see this with the fowl; thus the two sexes of the pencilled Hamburghs differ greatly from each other, and from the two sexes of the aboriginal Gallus bankiva; and both are now kept constant to their standard of excellence by continued selection, which would be impossible unless the distinctive characters of both were limited in their transmission.

The Spanish fowl offers a more curious case; the male has an immense comb, but some of the successive variations, by the accumulation of which it was acquired, appear to have been transferred to the female; for she has a comb many times larger than that of the females of the parent species. But the comb of the female differs in one respect from that of the male, for it is apt to lop over; and within a recent period it has been ordered by the fancy that this should always be the case, and success has quickly followed the order. Now the lopping of the comb must be sexually limited in its transmission, otherwise it would prevent the comb of the male from being perfectly upright, which would be abhorrent to every fancier. On the other hand, the uprightness of the comb in the male must likewise be a sexually-limited character, otherwise it would prevent the comb of the female from lopping over.

From the foregoing illustrations, we see that even with almost unlimited time at command, it would be an extremely difficult and complex, perhaps an impossible process, to change one form of transmission into the other through selection. Therefore, without distinct evidence in each case, I am unwilling to admit that this has been effected in natural species. On the other hand, by means of successive variations, which were from the first sexually limited in their transmission, there would not be the least difficulty in rendering a male bird widely different in colour or in any other character from the female; the latter being left unaltered, or slightly altered, or specially modified for the sake of protection.

As bright colours are of service to the males in their rivalry with other males, such colours would be selected whether or not they were transmitted exclusively to the same sex. Consequently the females might be expected often to partake of the brightness of the males to a greater or less degree; and this occurs with a host of species. If all the successive variations were transmitted equally to both sexes, the females would be indistinguishable from the males; and this likewise occurs with many birds. If, however, dull colours were of high importance for the safety of the female during incubation, as with many ground birds, the females which varied in brightness, or which received through inheritance from the males any marked accession of brightness, would sooner or later be destroyed. But the tendency in the males to continue for an indefinite period transmitting to their female offspring their own brightness, would have to be eliminated by a change in the form of inheritance; and this, as shewn by our previous illustration, would be extremely difficult. The more probable result of the long-continued destruction of the more brightly-coloured females, supposing the equal form of transmission to prevail, would be the lessening or annihilation of the bright colours of the males, owing to their continual crossing with the duller females. It would be tedious to follow out all the other possible results; but I may remind the reader that if sexually-limited variations in brightness occurred in the females, even if they were not in the least injurious to them and consequently were not eliminated, yet they would not be favoured or selected, for the male usually accepts any female, and does not select the more attractive individuals; consequently these variations would be liable to be lost, and would have little influence on the character of the race; and this will aid in accounting for the females being commonly duller-coloured than the males.

In the eighth chapter instances were given, to which many might here be added, of variations occurring at various ages, and inherited at the corresponding age. It was also shewn that variations which occur late in life are commonly transmitted to the same sex in which they first appear; whilst variations occurring early in life are apt to be transmitted to both sexes; not that all the cases of sexually-limited transmission can thus be accounted for. It was further shewn that if a male bird varied by becoming brighter whilst young, such variations would be of no service until the age for reproduction had arrived, and there was competition between rival males. But in the case of birds living on the ground and commonly in need of the protection of dull colours, bright tints would be far more dangerous to the young and inexperienced than to the adult males. Consequently the males which varied in brightness whilst young would suffer much destruction and be eliminated through natural selection; on the other hand, the males which varied in this manner when nearly mature, notwithstanding that they were exposed to some additional danger, might survive, and from being favoured through sexual selection, would procreate their kind. As a relation often exists between the period of variation and the form of transmission, if the bright-coloured young males were destroyed and the mature ones were successful in their courtship, the males alone would acquire brilliant colours and would transmit them exclusively to their male offspring. But I by no means wish to maintain that the influence of age on the form of transmission, is the sole cause of the great difference in brilliancy between the sexes of many birds.

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