The Descent of Man – Day 128 of 151

Choice in Pairing by Either Sex of Quadrupeds

Before describing in the next chapter, the differences between the sexes in voice, odours emitted, and ornaments, it will be convenient here to consider whether the sexes exert any choice in their unions. Does the female prefer any particular male, either before or after the males may have fought together for supremacy; or does the male, when not a polygamist, select any particular female? The general impression amongst breeders seems to be that the male accepts any female; and this owing to his eagerness, is, in most cases, probably the truth. Whether the female as a general rule indifferently accepts any male is much more doubtful. In the fourteenth chapter, on Birds, a considerable body of direct and indirect evidence was advanced, shewing that the female selects her partner; and it would be a strange anomaly if female quadrupeds, which stand higher in the scale and have higher mental powers, did not generally, or at least often, exert some choice. The female could in most cases escape, if wooed by a male that did not please or excite her; and when pursued by several males, as commonly occurs, she would often have the opportunity, whilst they were fighting together, of escaping with some one male, or at least of temporarily pairing with him. This latter contingency has often been observed in Scotland with female red-deer, as I am informed by Sir Philip Egerton and others. (44. Mr. Boner, in his excellent description of the habits of the red-deer in Germany (‘Forest Creatures,’ 1861, p. 81) says, “while the stag is defending his rights against one intruder, another invades the sanctuary of his harem, and carries off trophy after trophy.” Exactly the same thing occurs with seals; see Mr. J.A. Allen, ibid. p. 100.)

It is scarcely possible that much should be known about female quadrupeds in a state of nature making any choice in their marriage unions. The following curious details on the courtship of one of the eared seals (Callorhinus ursinus) are given (45. Mr. J.A. Allen in ‘Bull. Mus. Comp. Zoolog. of Cambridge, United States,’ vol. ii. No. 1, p. 99.) on the authority of Capt. Bryant, who had ample opportunities for observation. He says, “Many of the females on their arrival at the island where they breed appear desirous of returning to some particular male, and frequently climb the outlying rocks to overlook the rookeries, calling out and listening as if for a familiar voice. Then changing to another place they do the same again…As soon as a female reaches the shore, the nearest male goes down to meet her, making meanwhile a noise like the clucking of a hen to her chickens. He bows to her and coaxes her until he gets between her and the water so that she cannot escape him. Then his manner changes, and with a harsh growl he drives her to a place in his harem. This continues until the lower row of harems is nearly full. Then the males higher up select the time when their more fortunate neighbours are off their guard to steal their wives. This they do by taking them in their mouths and lifting them over the heads of the other females, and carefully placing them in their own harem, carrying them as cats do their kittens. Those still higher up pursue the same method until the whole space is occupied. Frequently a struggle ensues between two males for the possession of the same female, and both seizing her at once pull her in two or terribly lacerate her with their teeth. When the space is all filled, the old male walks around complacently reviewing his family, scolding those who crowd or disturb the others, and fiercely driving off all intruders. This surveillance always keeps him actively occupied.”

As so little is known about the courtship of animals in a state of nature, I have endeavoured to discover how far our domesticated quadrupeds evince any choice in their unions. Dogs offer the best opportunity for observation, as they are carefully attended to and well understood. Many breeders have expressed a strong opinion on this head. Thus, Mr. Mayhew remarks, “The females are able to bestow their affections; and tender recollections are as potent over them as they are known to be in other cases, where higher animals are concerned. Bitches are not always prudent in their loves, but are apt to fling themselves away on curs of low degree. If reared with a companion of vulgar appearance, there often springs up between the pair a devotion which no time can afterwards subdue. The passion, for such it really is, becomes of a more than romantic endurance.” Mr. Mayhew, who attended chiefly to the smaller breeds, is convinced that the females are strongly attracted by males of a large size. (46. ‘Dogs: their Management,’ by E. Mayhew, M.R.C.V.S., 2nd ed., 1864, pp. 187-192.) The well-known veterinary Blaine states (47. Quoted by Alex. Walker, ‘On Intermarriage,’ 1838, p. 276; see also p. 244.) that his own female pug dog became so attached to a spaniel, and a female setter to a cur, that in neither case would they pair with a dog of their own breed until several weeks had elapsed. Two similar and trustworthy accounts have been given me in regard to a female retriever and a spaniel, both of which became enamoured with terrier-dogs.

Mr. Cupples informs me that he can personally vouch for the accuracy of the following more remarkable case, in which a valuable and wonderfully-intelligent female terrier loved a retriever belonging to a neighbour to such a degree, that she had often to be dragged away from him. After their permanent separation, although repeatedly shewing milk in her teats, she would never acknowledge the courtship of any other dog, and to the regret of her owner never bore puppies. Mr. Cupples also states, that in 1868, a female deerhound in his kennel thrice produced puppies, and on each occasion shewed a marked preference for one of the largest and handsomest, but not the most eager, of four deerhounds living with her, all in the prime of life. Mr. Cupples has observed that the female generally favours a dog whom she has associated with and knows; her shyness and timidity at first incline her against a strange dog. The male, on the contrary, seems rather inclined towards strange females. It appears to be rare when the male refuses any particular female, but Mr. Wright, of Yeldersley House, a great breeder of dogs, informs me that he has known some instances; he cites the case of one of his own deerhounds, who would not take any notice of a particular female mastiff, so that another deerhound had to be employed. It would be superfluous to give, as I could, other instances, and I will only add that Mr. Barr, who has carefully bred many bloodhounds, states that in almost every instance particular individuals of opposite sexes shew a decided preference for each other. Finally, Mr. Cupples, after attending to this subject for another year, has written to me, “I have had full confirmation of my former statement, that dogs in breeding form decided preferences for each other, being often influenced by size, bright colour, and individual characters, as well as by the degree of their previous familiarity.”

In regard to horses, Mr. Blenkiron, the greatest breeder of race-horses in the world, informs me that stallions are so frequently capricious in their choice, rejecting one mare and without any apparent cause taking to another, that various artifices have to be habitually used. The famous Monarque, for instance, would never consciously look at the dam of Gladiateur, and a trick had to be practised. We can partly see the reason why valuable race-horse stallions, which are in such demand as to be exhausted, should be so particular in their choice. Mr. Blenkiron has never known a mare reject a horse; but this has occurred in Mr. Wright’s stable, so that the mare had to be cheated. Prosper Lucas (48. ‘Traite de l’Hered. Nat.’ tom. ii. 1850, p. 296.) quotes various statements from French authorities, and remarks, “On voit des etalons qui s’eprennent d’une jument, et negligent toutes les autres.” He gives, on the authority of Baelen, similar facts in regard to bulls; and Mr. H. Reeks assures me that a famous short-horn bull belonging to his father “invariably refused to be matched with a black cow.” Hoffberg, in describing the domesticated reindeer of Lapland says, “Foeminae majores et fortiores mares prae caeteris admittunt, ad eos confugiunt, a junioribus agitatae, qui hos in fugam conjiciunt.” (49. ‘Amoenitates Acad.’ vol. iv. 1788, p. 160.) A clergyman, who has bred many pigs, asserts that sows often reject one boar and immediately accept another.

From these facts there can be no doubt that, with most of our domesticated quadrupeds, strong individual antipathies and preferences are frequently exhibited, and much more commonly by the female than by the male. This being the case, it is improbable that the unions of quadrupeds in a state of nature should be left to mere chance. It is much more probable that the females are allured or excited by particular males, who possess certain characters in a higher degree than other males; but what these characters are, we can seldom or never discover with certainty.

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