The Descent of Man – Day 124 of 151

As the reindeer is the one species in the whole family of Deer, in which the female is furnished with horns, though they are somewhat smaller, thinner, and less branched than in the male, it might naturally be thought that, at least in this case, they must be of some special service to her. The female retains her horns from the time when they are fully developed, namely, in September, throughout the winter until April or May, when she brings forth her young. Mr. Crotch made particular enquiries for me in Norway, and it appears that the females at this season conceal themselves for about a fortnight in order to bring forth their young, and then reappear, generally hornless. In Nova Scotia, however, as I hear from Mr. H. Reeks, the female sometimes retains her horns longer. The male on the other hand casts his horns much earlier, towards the end of November. As both sexes have the same requirements and follow the same habits of life, and as the male is destitute of horns during the winter, it is improbable that they can be of any special service to the female during this season, which includes the larger part of the time during which she is horned. Nor is it probable that she can have inherited horns from some ancient progenitor of the family of deer, for, from the fact of the females of so many species in all quarters of the globe not having horns, we may conclude that this was the primordial character of the group. (8. On the structure and shedding of the horns of the reindeer, Hoffberg, ‘Amoenitates Acad.’ vol. iv. 1788, p. 149. See Richardson, ‘Fauna Bor. Americana,’ p. 241, in regard to the American variety or species: also Major W. Ross King, ‘The Sportsman in Canada,’ 1866, p. 80.)

The horns of the reindeer are developed at a most unusually early age; but what the cause of this may be is not known. The effect has apparently been the transference of the horns to both sexes. We should bear in mind that horns are always transmitted through the female, and that she has a latent capacity for their development, as we see in old or diseased females. (9. Isidore Geoffroy St.-Hilaire, ‘Essais de Zoolog. Generale,’ 1841, p. 513. Other masculine characters, besides the horns, are sometimes similarly transferred to the female; thus Mr. Boner, in speaking of an old female chamois (‘Chamois Hunting in the Mountains of Bavaria,’ 1860, 2nd ed., p. 363), says, “not only was the head very male-looking, but along the back there was a ridge of long hair, usually to be found only in bucks.”) Moreover the females of some other species of deer exhibit, either normally or occasionally, rudiments of horns; thus the female of Cervulus moschatus has “bristly tufts, ending in a knob, instead of a horn”; and “in most specimens of the female wapiti (Cervus canadensis) there is a sharp bony protuberance in the place of the horn.” (10. On the Cervulus, Dr. Gray, ‘Catalogue of Mammalia in the British Museum,’ part iii. p. 220. On the Cervus canadensis or wapiti, see Hon. J.D. Caton, ‘Ottawa Academy of Nat. Sciences,’ May 1868, p. 9.) From these several considerations we may conclude that the possession of fairly well-developed horns by the female reindeer, is due to the males having first acquired them as weapons for fighting with other males; and secondarily to their development from some unknown cause at an unusually early age in the males, and their consequent transference to both sexes.

Turning to the sheath-horned ruminants: with antelopes a graduated series can be formed, beginning with species, the females of which are completely destitute of horns–passing on to those which have horns so small as to be almost rudimentary (as with the Antilocapra americana, in which species they are present in only one out of four or five females (11. I am indebted to Dr. Canfield for this information; see also his paper in the ‘Proceedings of the Zoological Society,’ 1866, p. 105.))–to those which have fairly developed horns, but manifestly smaller and thinner than in the male and sometimes of a different shape (12. For instance the horns of the female Ant. euchore resemble those of a distinct species, viz. the Ant. dorcas var. Corine, see Desmarest, ‘Mammalogie,’ p. 455.),–and ending with those in which both sexes have horns of equal size. As with the reindeer, so with antelopes, there exists, as previously shewn, a relation between the period of the development of the horns and their transmission to one or both sexes; it is therefore probable that their presence or absence in the females of some species, and their more or less perfect condition in the females of other species, depends, not on their being of any special use, but simply on inheritance. It accords with this view that even in the same restricted genus both sexes of some species, and the males alone of others, are thus provided. It is also a remarkable fact that, although the females of Antilope bezoartica are normally destitute of horns, Mr. Blyth has seen no less than three females thus furnished; and there was no reason to suppose that they were old or diseased.

In all the wild species of goats and sheep the horns are larger in the male than in the female, and are sometimes quite absent in the latter. (13. Gray, ‘Catalogue of Mammalia, the British Museum,’ part iii. 1852, p. 160.) In several domestic breeds of these two animals, the males alone are furnished with horns; and in some breeds, for instance, in the sheep of North Wales, though both sexes are properly horned, the ewes are very liable to be hornless. I have been informed by a trustworthy witness, who purposely inspected a flock of these same sheep during the lambing season, that the horns at birth are generally more fully developed in the male than in the female. Mr. J. Peel crossed his Lonk sheep, both sexes of which always bear horns, with hornless Leicesters and hornless Shropshire Downs; and the result was that the male offspring had their horns considerably reduced, whilst the females were wholly destitute of them. These several facts indicate that, with sheep, the horns are a much less firmly fixed character in the females than in the males; and this leads us to look at the horns as properly of masculine origin.

With the adult musk-ox (Ovibos moschatus) the horns of the male are larger than those of the female, and in the latter the bases do not touch. (14. Richardson, ‘Fauna Bor. Americana,’ p. 278.) In regard to ordinary cattle Mr. Blyth remarks: “In most of the wild bovine animals the horns are both longer and thicker in the bull than in the cow, and in the cow-banteng (Bos sondaicus) the horns are remarkably small, and inclined much backwards. In the domestic races of cattle, both of the humped and humpless types, the horns are short and thick in the bull, longer and more slender in the cow and ox; and in the Indian buffalo, they are shorter and thicker in the bull, longer and more slender in the cow. In the wild gaour (B. gaurus) the horns are mostly both longer and thicker in the bull than in the cow.” (15. ‘Land and Water,’ 1867, p. 346.) Dr. Forsyth Major also informs me that a fossil skull, believed to be that of the female Bos etruscus, has been found in Val d’Arno, which is wholly without horns. In the Rhinoceros simus, as I may add, the horns of the female are generally longer but less powerful than in the male; and in some other species of rhinoceros they are said to be shorter in the female. (16. Sir Andrew Smith, ‘Zoology of S. Africa,’ pl. xix. Owen, ‘Anatomy of Vertebrates,’ vol. iii. p. 624.) From these various facts we may infer as probable that horns of all kinds, even when they are equally developed in the two sexes, were primarily acquired by the male in order to conquer other males, and have been transferred more or less completely to the female.

The effects of castration deserve notice, as throwing light on this same point. Stags after the operation never renew their horns. The male reindeer, however, must be excepted, as after castration he does renew them. This fact, as well as the possession of horns by both sexes, seems at first to prove that the horns in this species do not constitute a sexual character (17. This is the conclusion of Seidlitz, ‘Die Darwinsche Theorie,’ 1871, p. 47.); but as they are developed at a very early age, before the sexes differ in constitution, it is not surprising that they should be unaffected by castration, even if they were aboriginally acquired by the male. With sheep both sexes properly bear horns; and I am informed that with Welch sheep the horns of the males are considerably reduced by castration; but the degree depends much on the age at which the operation is performed, as is likewise the case with other animals. Merino rams have large horns, whilst the ewes “generally speaking are without horns”; and in this breed castration seems to produce a somewhat greater effect, so that if performed at an early age the horns “remain almost undeveloped.” (18. I am much obliged to Prof. Victor Carus, for having made enquiries for me in Saxony on this subject. H. von Nathusius (‘Viehzucht,’ 1872, p. 64) says that the horns of sheep castrated at an early period, either altogether disappear or remain as mere rudiments; but I do not know whether he refers to merinos or to ordinary breeds.) On the Guinea coast there is a breed in which the females never bear horns, and, as Mr. Winwood Reade informs me, the rams after castration are quite destitute of them. With cattle, the horns of the males are much altered by castration; for instead of being short and thick, they become longer than those of the cow, but otherwise resemble them. The Antilope bezoartica offers a somewhat analogous case: the males have long straight spiral horns, nearly parallel to each other, and directed backwards; the females occasionally bear horns, but these when present are of a very different shape, for they are not spiral, and spreading widely, bend round with the points forwards. Now it is a remarkable fact that, in the castrated male, as Mr. Blyth informs me, the horns are of the same peculiar shape as in the female, but longer and thicker. If we may judge from analogy, the female probably shews us, in these two cases of cattle and the antelope, the former condition of the horns in some early progenitor of each species. But why castration should lead to the reappearance of an early condition of the horns cannot be explained with any certainty. Nevertheless, it seems probable, that in nearly the same manner as the constitutional disturbance in the offspring, caused by a cross between two distinct species or races, often leads to the reappearance of long-lost characters (19. I have given various experiments and other evidence proving that this is the case, in my ‘Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,’ vol. ii. 1868, pp. 39-47.); so here, the disturbance in the constitution of the individual, resulting from castration, produces the same effect.

The tusks of the elephant, in the different species or races, differ according to sex, nearly as do the horns of ruminants. In India and Malacca the males alone are provided with well-developed tusks. The elephant of Ceylon is considered by most naturalists as a distinct race, but by some as a distinct species, and here “not one in a hundred is found with tusks, the few that possess them being exclusively males.” (20. Sir J. Emerson Tennent, ‘Ceylon,’ 1859, vol. ii. p. 274. For Malacca, ‘Journal of Indian Archipelago,’ vol. iv. p. 357.) The African elephant is undoubtedly distinct, and the female has large well-developed tusks, though not so large as those of the male.

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