The Descent of Man – Day 126 of 151

Strepsiceros Kudu (from Sir Andrew Smith's 'Zoology of South Africa.'

Figure 64: Strepsiceros Kudu (from Sir Andrew Smith’s ‘Zoology of South Africa.’

Although the horns of stags are efficient weapons, there can, I think be no doubt that a single point would have been much more dangerous than a branched antler; and Judge Caton, who has had large experience with deer, fully concurs in this conclusion. Nor do the branching horns, though highly important as a means of defence against rival stags, appear perfectly well adapted for this purpose, as they are liable to become interlocked. The suspicion has therefore crossed my mind that they may serve in part as ornaments. That the branched antlers of stags as well as the elegant lyrated horns of certain antelopes, with their graceful double curvature (Fig. 64), are ornamental in our eyes, no one will dispute. If, then, the horns, like the splendid accoutrements of the knights of old, add to the noble appearance of stags and antelopes, they may have been modified partly for this purpose, though mainly for actual service in battle; but I have no evidence in favour of this belief.

An interesting case has lately been published, from which it appears that the horns of a deer in one district in the United States are now being modified through sexual and natural selection. A writer in an excellent American Journal (27. The ‘American Naturalist,’ Dec. 1869, p. 552.) says, that he has hunted for the last twenty-one years in the Adirondacks, where the Cervus virginianus abounds. About fourteen years ago he first heard of spike-horn bucks. These became from year to year more common; about five years ago he shot one, and afterwards another, and now they are frequently killed. “The spike-horn differs greatly from the common antler of the C. virginianus. It consists of a single spike, more slender than the antler, and scarcely half so long, projecting forward from the brow, and terminating in a very sharp point. It gives a considerable advantage to its possessor over the common buck. Besides enabling him to run more swiftly through the thick woods and underbrush (every hunter knows that does and yearling bucks run much more rapidly than the large bucks when armed with their cumbrous antlers), the spike-horn is a more effective weapon than the common antler. With this advantage the spike-horn bucks are gaining upon the common bucks, and may, in time, entirely supersede them in the Adirondacks. Undoubtedly, the first spike-horn buck was merely an accidental freak of nature. But his spike-horns gave him an advantage, and enabled him to propagate his peculiarity. His descendants having a like advantage, have propagated the peculiarity in a constantly increasing ratio, till they are slowly crowding the antlered deer from the region they inhabit.” A critic has well objected to this account by asking, why, if the simple horns are now so advantageous, were the branched antlers of the parent-form ever developed? To this I can only answer by remarking, that a new mode of attack with new weapons might be a great advantage, as shewn by the case of the Ovis cycloceros, who thus conquered a domestic ram famous for his fighting power. Though the branched antlers of a stag are well adapted for fighting with his rivals, and though it might be an advantage to the prong-horned variety slowly to acquire long and branched horns, if he had to fight only with others of the same kind, yet it by no means follows that branched horns would be the best fitted for conquering a foe differently armed. In the foregoing case of the Oryx leucoryx, it is almost certain that the victory would rest with an antelope having short horns, and who therefore did not need to kneel down, though an oryx might profit by having still longer horns, if he fought only with his proper rivals.

Male quadrupeds, which are furnished with tusks, use them in various ways, as in the case of horns. The boar strikes laterally and upwards; the musk-deer downwards with serious effect. (28. Pallas, ‘Spicilegia Zoologica,’ fasc. xiii. 1779, p. 18.) The walrus, though having so short a neck and so unwieldy a body, “can strike either upwards, or downwards, or sideways, with equal dexterity.” (29. Lamont, ‘Seasons with the Sea-Horses,’ 1861, p. 141.) I was informed by the late Dr. Falconer, that the Indian elephant fights in a different manner according to the position and curvature of his tusks. When they are directed forwards and upwards he is able to fling a tiger to a great distance–it is said to even thirty feet; when they are short and turned downwards he endeavours suddenly to pin the tiger to the ground and, in consequence, is dangerous to the rider, who is liable to be jerked off the howdah. (30. See also Corse (‘Philosophical Transactions,’ 1799, p. 212) on the manner in which the short-tusked Mooknah variety attacks other elephants.)

Very few male quadrupeds possess weapons of two distinct kinds specially adapted for fighting with rival males. The male muntjac-deer (Cervulus), however, offers an exception, as he is provided with horns and exserted canine teeth. But we may infer from what follows that one form of weapon has often been replaced in the course of ages by another. With ruminants the development of horns generally stands in an inverse relation with that of even moderately developed canine teeth. Thus camels, guanacoes, chevrotains, and musk-deer, are hornless, and they have efficient canines; these teeth being “always of smaller size in the females than in the males.” The Camelidae have, in addition to their true canines, a pair of canine-shaped incisors in their upper jaws. (31. Owen, ‘Anatomy of Vertebrates,’ vol. iii. p. 349.) Male deer and antelopes, on the other hand, possess horns, and they rarely have canine teeth; and these, when present, are always of small size, so that it is doubtful whether they are of any service in their battles. In Antilope montana they exist only as rudiments in the young male, disappearing as he grows old; and they are absent in the female at all ages; but the females of certain other antelopes and of certain deer have been known occasionally to exhibit rudiments of these teeth. (32. See Ruppell (in ‘Proc. Zoolog. Soc.’ Jan. 12, 1836, p. 3) on the canines in deer and antelopes, with a note by Mr. Martin on a female American deer. See also Falconer (‘Palaeont. Memoirs and Notes,’ vol. i. 1868, p. 576) on canines in an adult female deer. In old males of the musk-deer the canines (Pallas, ‘Spic. Zoolog.’ fasc. xiii. 1779, p. 18) sometimes grow to the length of three inches, whilst in old females a rudiment projects scarcely half an inch above the gums.) Stallions have small canine teeth, which are either quite absent or rudimentary in the mare; but they do not appear to be used in fighting, for stallions bite with their incisors, and do not open their mouths wide like camels and guanacoes. Whenever the adult male possesses canines, now inefficient, whilst the female has either none or mere rudiments, we may conclude that the early male progenitor of the species was provided with efficient canines, which have been partially transferred to the females. The reduction of these teeth in the males seems to have followed from some change in their manner of fighting, often (but not in the horse) caused by the development of new weapons.

Tusks and horns are manifestly of high importance to their possessors, for their development consumes much organised matter. A single tusk of the Asiatic elephant–one of the extinct woolly species–and of the African elephant, have been known to weigh respectively 150, 160, and 180 pounds; and even greater weights have been given by some authors. (33. Emerson Tennent, ‘Ceylon,’ 1859, vol. ii. p. 275; Owen, ‘British Fossil Mammals,’ 1846, p. 245.) With deer, in which the horns are periodically renewed, the drain on the constitution must be greater; the horns, for instance, of the moose weigh from fifty to sixty pounds, and those of the extinct Irish elk from sixty to seventy pounds–the skull of the latter weighing on an average only five pounds and a quarter. Although the horns are not periodically renewed in sheep, yet their development, in the opinion of many agriculturists, entails a sensible loss to the breeder. Stags, moreover, in escaping from beasts of prey are loaded with an additional weight for the race, and are greatly retarded in passing through a woody country. The moose, for instance, with horns extending five and a half feet from tip to tip, although so skilful in their use that he will not touch or break a twig when walking quietly, cannot act so dexterously whilst rushing away from a pack of wolves. “During his progress he holds his nose up, so as to lay the horns horizontally back; and in this attitude cannot see the ground distinctly.” (34. Richardson, ‘Fauna Bor. Americana,’ on the moose, Alces palmata, pp. 236, 237; on the expanse of the horns, ‘Land and Water,’ 1869, p. 143. See also Owen, ‘British Fossil Mammals,’ on the Irish elk, pp. 447, 455.) The tips of the horns of the great Irish elk were actually eight feet apart! Whilst the horns are covered with velvet, which lasts with red-deer for about twelve weeks, they are extremely sensitive to a blow; so that in Germany the stags at this time somewhat change their habits, and avoiding dense forests, frequent young woods and low thickets. (35. ‘Forest Creatures,’ by C. Boner, 1861, p. 60.) These facts remind us that male birds have acquired ornamental plumes at the cost of retarded flight, and other ornaments at the cost of some loss of power in their battles with rival males.

With mammals, when, as is often the case, the sexes differ in size, the males are almost always larger and stronger. I am informed by Mr. Gould that this holds good in a marked manner with the marsupials of Australia, the males of which appear to continue growing until an unusually late age. But the most extraordinary case is that of one of the seals (Callorhinus ursinus), a full-grown female weighing less than one-sixth of a full-grown male. (36. See the very interesting paper by Mr. J.A. Allen in ‘Bull. Mus. Comp. Zoology of Cambridge, United States,’ vol. ii. No. 1, p. 82. The weights were ascertained by a careful observer, Capt. Bryant. Dr. Gill in ‘The American Naturalist,’ January, 1871, Prof. Shaler on the relative size of the sexes of whales, ‘American Naturalist,’ January, 1873.) Dr. Gill remarks that it is with the polygamous seals, the males of which are well known to fight savagely together, that the sexes differ much in size; the monogamous species differing but little. Whales also afford evidence of the relation existing between the pugnacity of the males and their large size compared with that of the female; the males of the right-whales do not fight together, and they are not larger, but rather smaller, than their females; on the other hand, male sperm-whales fight much together, and their bodies are “often found scarred with the imprint of their rival’s teeth,” and they are double the size of the females. The greater strength of the male, as Hunter long ago remarked (37. ‘Animal Economy,’ p. 45.), is invariably displayed in those parts of the body which are brought into action in fighting with rival males–for instance, in the massive neck of the bull. Male quadrupeds are also more courageous and pugnacious than the females. There can be little doubt that these characters have been gained, partly through sexual selection, owing to a long series of victories, by the stronger and more courageous males over the weaker, and partly through the inherited effects of use. It is probable that the successive variations in strength, size, and courage, whether due to mere variability or to the effects of use, by the accumulation of which male quadrupeds have acquired these characteristic qualities, occurred rather late in life, and were consequently to a large extent limited in their transmission to the same sex.

From these considerations I was anxious to obtain information as to the Scotch deer-hound, the sexes of which differ more in size than those of any other breed (though blood-hounds differ considerably), or than in any wild canine species known to me. Accordingly, I applied to Mr. Cupples, well known for his success with this breed, who has weighed and measured many of his own dogs, and who has with great kindness collected for me the following facts from various sources. Fine male dogs, measured at the shoulder, range from 28 inches, which is low, to 33 or even 34 inches in height; and in weight from 80 pounds, which is light, to 120 pounds, or even more. The females range in height from 23 to 27, or even to 28 inches; and in weight from 50 to 70, or even 80 pounds. (38. See also Richardson’s ‘Manual on the Dog,’ p. 59. Much valuable information on the Scottish deer-hound is given by Mr. McNeill, who first called attention to the inequality in size between the sexes, in Scrope’s ‘Art of Deer-Stalking.’ I hope that Mr. Cupples will keep to his intention of publishing a full account and history of this famous breed.) Mr. Cupples concludes that from 95 to 100 pounds for the male, and 70 for the female, would be a safe average; but there is reason to believe that formerly both sexes attained a greater weight. Mr. Cupples has weighed puppies when a fortnight old; in one litter the average weight of four males exceeded that of two females by six and a half ounces; in another litter the average weight of four males exceeded that of one female by less than one ounce; the same males when three weeks old, exceeded the female by seven and a half ounces, and at the age of six weeks by nearly fourteen ounces. Mr. Wright of Yeldersley House, in a letter to Mr. Cupples, says: “I have taken notes on the sizes and weights of puppies of many litters, and as far as my experience goes, dog-puppies as a rule differ very little from bitches till they arrive at about five or six months old; and then the dogs begin to increase, gaining upon the bitches both in weight and size. At birth, and for several weeks afterwards, a bitch-puppy will occasionally be larger than any of the dogs, but they are invariably beaten by them later.” Mr. McNeill, of Colonsay, concludes that “the males do not attain their full growth till over two years old, though the females attain it sooner.” According to Mr. Cupples’ experience, male dogs go on growing in stature till they are from twelve to eighteen months old, and in weight till from eighteen to twenty-four months old; whilst the females cease increasing in stature at the age of from nine to fourteen or fifteen months, and in weight at the age of from twelve to fifteen months. From these various statements it is clear that the full difference in size between the male and female Scotch deer-hound is not acquired until rather late in life. The males almost exclusively are used for coursing, for, as Mr. McNeill informs me, the females have not sufficient strength and weight to pull down a full-grown deer. From the names used in old legends, it appears, as I hear from Mr. Cupples, that, at a very ancient period, the males were the most celebrated, the females being mentioned only as the mothers of famous dogs. Hence, during many generations, it is the male which has been chiefly tested for strength, size, speed, and courage, and the best will have been bred from. As, however, the males do not attain their full dimensions until rather late in life, they will have tended, in accordance with the law often indicated, to transmit their characters to their male offspring alone; and thus the great inequality in size between the sexes of the Scotch deer-hound may probably be accounted for.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)