The Descent of Man – Day 133 of 151


Head of Semnopithecus rubicundus.  This and the following figures (from Prof. Gervais) are given to shew the odd arrangement and development of the hair on the head.

Figure 72: Head of Semnopithecus rubicundus. This and the following figures (from Prof. Gervais) are given to shew the odd arrangement and development of the hair on the head.

Head of Semnopithecus comatus.

Figure 73: Head of Semnopithecus comatus.

Head of Cebus capucinus.

Figure 74: Head of Cebus capucinus.

Head of Ateles marginatus.

Figure 75: Head of Ateles marginatus.

Head of Cebus vellerosus.

Figure 76: Head of Cebus vellerosus.

Before we conclude, it will be well to add a few remarks on the ornaments of monkeys. In most of the species the sexes resemble each other in colour, but in some, as we have seen, the males differ from the females, especially in the colour of the naked parts of the skin, in the development of the beard, whiskers, and mane. Many species are coloured either in so extraordinary or so beautiful a manner, and are furnished with such curious and elegant crests of hair, that we can hardly avoid looking at these characters as having been gained for the sake of ornament. The accompanying figures (Figs. 72 to 76) serve to shew the arrangement of the hair on the face and head in several species. It is scarcely conceivable that these crests of hair, and the strongly contrasted colours of the fur and skin, can be the result of mere variability without the aid of selection; and it is inconceivable that they can be of use in any ordinary way to these animals. If so, they have probably been gained through sexual selection, though transmitted equally, or almost equally, to both sexes. With many of the Quadrumana, we have additional evidence of the action of sexual selection in the greater size and strength of the males, and in the greater development of their canine teeth, in comparison with the females.

Cercopithecus petaurista (from Brehm).

Figure 77: Cercopithecus petaurista (from Brehm).

A few instances will suffice of the strange manner in which both sexes of some species are coloured, and of the beauty of others. The face of the Cercopithecus petaurista (Fig. 77) is black, the whiskers and beard being white, with a defined, round, white spot on the nose, covered with short white hair, which gives to the animal an almost ludicrous aspect. The Semnopithecus frontatus likewise has a blackish face with a long black beard, and a large naked spot on the forehead of a bluish-white colour. The face of Macacus lasiotus is dirty flesh-coloured, with a defined red spot on each cheek. The appearance of Cercocebus aethiops is grotesque, with its black face, white whiskers and collar, chestnut head, and a large naked white spot over each eyelid. In very many species, the beard, whiskers, and crests of hair round the face are of a different colour from the rest of the head, and when different, are always of a lighter tint (45. I observed this fact in the Zoological Gardens; and many cases may be seen in the coloured plates in Geoffroy St.-Hilaire and F. Cuvier, ‘Histoire Nat. des Mammiferes,’ tom. i. 1824.), being often pure white, sometimes bright yellow, or reddish. The whole face of the South American Brachyurus calvus is of a “glowing scarlet hue”; but this colour does not appear until the animal is nearly mature. (46. Bates, ‘The Naturalist on the Amazons,’ 1863, vol. ii. p. 310.) The naked skin of the face differs wonderfully in colour in the various species. It is often brown or flesh-colour, with parts perfectly white, and often as black as that of the most sooty negro. In the Brachyurus the scarlet tint is brighter than that of the most blushing Caucasian damsel. It is sometimes more distinctly orange than in any Mongolian, and in several species it is blue, passing into violet or grey. In all the species known to Mr. Bartlett, in which the adults of both sexes have strongly-coloured faces, the colours are dull or absent during early youth. This likewise holds good with the mandrill and Rhesus, in which the face and the posterior parts of the body are brilliantly coloured in one sex alone. In these latter cases we have reason to believe that the colours were acquired through sexual selection; and we are naturally led to extend the same view to the foregoing species, though both sexes when adult have their faces coloured in the same manner.

Cercopithecus diana (from Brehm).

Figure 78: Cercopithecus diana (from Brehm).

Although many kinds of monkeys are far from beautiful according to our taste, other species are universally admired for their elegant appearance and bright colours. The Semnopithecus nemaeus, though peculiarly coloured, is described as extremely pretty; the orange-tinted face is surrounded by long whiskers of glossy whiteness, with a line of chestnut-red over the eyebrows; the fur on the back is of a delicate grey, with a square patch on the loins, the tail and the fore-arms being of a pure white; a gorget of chestnut surmounts the chest; the thighs are black, with the legs chestnut-red. I will mention only two other monkeys for their beauty; and I have selected these as presenting slight sexual differences in colour, which renders it in some degree probable that both sexes owe their elegant appearance to sexual selection. In the moustache-monkey (Cercopithecus cephus) the general colour of the fur is mottled-greenish with the throat white; in the male the end of the tail is chestnut, but the face is the most ornamented part, the skin being chiefly bluish-grey, shading into a blackish tint beneath the eyes, with the upper lip of a delicate blue, clothed on the lower edge with a thin black moustache; the whiskers are orange-coloured, with the upper part black, forming a band which extends backwards to the ears, the latter being clothed with whitish hairs. In the Zoological Society’s Gardens I have often overheard visitors admiring the beauty of another monkey, deservedly called Cercopithecus diana (Fig. 78); the general colour of the fur is grey; the chest and inner surface of the forelegs are white; a large triangular defined space on the hinder part of the back is rich chestnut; in the male the inner sides of the thighs and the abdomen are delicate fawn-coloured, and the top of the head is black; the face and ears are intensely black, contrasting finely with a white transverse crest over the eyebrows and a long white peaked beard, of which the basal portion is black. (47. I have seen most of the above monkeys in the Zoological Society’s Gardens. The description of the Semnopithecus nemaeus is taken from Mr. W.C. Martin’s ‘Natural History of Mammalia,’ 1841, p. 460; see also pp. 475, 523.)

In these and many other monkeys, the beauty and singular arrangement of their colours, and still more the diversified and elegant arrangement of the crests and tufts of hair on their heads, force the conviction on my mind that these characters have been acquired through sexual selection exclusively as ornaments.


The law of battle for the possession of the female appears to prevail throughout the whole great class of mammals. Most naturalists will admit that the greater size, strength, courage, and pugnacity of the male, his special weapons of offence, as well as his special means of defence, have been acquired or modified through that form of selection which I have called sexual. This does not depend on any superiority in the general struggle for life, but on certain individuals of one sex, generally the male, being successful in conquering other males, and leaving a larger number of offspring to inherit their superiority than do the less successful males.

There is another and more peaceful kind of contest, in which the males endeavour to excite or allure the females by various charms. This is probably carried on in some cases by the powerful odours emitted by the males during the breeding-season; the odoriferous glands having been acquired through sexual selection. Whether the same view can be extended to the voice is doubtful, for the vocal organs of the males must have been strengthened by use during maturity, under the powerful excitements of love, jealousy or rage, and will consequently have been transmitted to the same sex. Various crests, tufts, and mantles of hair, which are either confined to the male, or are more developed in this sex than in the female, seem in most cases to be merely ornamental, though they sometimes serve as a defence against rival males. There is even reason to suspect that the branching horns of stags, and the elegant horns of certain antelopes, though properly serving as weapons of offence or defence, have been partly modified for ornament.

When the male differs in colour from the female, he generally exhibits darker and more strongly-contrasted tints. We do not in this class meet with the splendid red, blue, yellow, and green tints, so common with male birds and many other animals. The naked parts, however, of certain Quadrumana must be excepted; for such parts, often oddly situated, are brilliantly coloured in some species. The colours of the male in other cases may be due to simple variation, without the aid of selection. But when the colours are diversified and strongly pronounced, when they are not developed until near maturity, and when they are lost after emasculation, we can hardly avoid the conclusion that they have been acquired through sexual selection for the sake of ornament, and have been transmitted exclusively, or almost exclusively, to the same sex. When both sexes are coloured in the same manner, and the colours are conspicuous or curiously arranged, without being of the least apparent use as a protection, and especially when they are associated with various other ornamental appendages, we are led by analogy to the same conclusion, namely, that they have been acquired through sexual selection, although transmitted to both sexes. That conspicuous and diversified colours, whether confined to the males or common to both sexes, are as a general rule associated in the same groups and sub-groups with other secondary sexual characters serving for war or for ornament, will be found to hold good, if we look back to the various cases given in this and the last chapter.

The law of the equal transmission of characters to both sexes, as far as colour and other ornaments are concerned, has prevailed far more extensively with mammals than with birds; but weapons, such as horns and tusks, have often been transmitted either exclusively or much more perfectly to the males than to the females. This is surprising, for, as the males generally use their weapons for defence against enemies of all kinds, their weapons would have been of service to the females. As far as we can see, their absence in this sex can be accounted for only by the form of inheritance which has prevailed. Finally, with quadrupeds the contest between the individuals of the same sex, whether peaceful or bloody, has, with the rarest exceptions, been confined to the males; so that the latter have been modified through sexual selection, far more commonly than the females, either for fighting with each other or for alluring the opposite sex.

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