The Descent of Man – Day 55 of 151

Part II. Sexual Selection

Chapter VIII: Principles of Sexual Selection

  • Secondary sexual characters
  • Sexual selection
  • Manner of action
  • Excess of males
  • Polygamy
  • The male alone generally modified through sexual selection
  • Eagerness of the male
  • Variability of the male
  • Choice exerted by the female
  • Sexual compared with natural selection
  • Inheritance, at corresponding periods of life, at corresponding seasons of the year, and as limited by sex
  • Relations between the several forms of inheritance
  • Causes why one sex and the young are not modified through sexual selection
  • Supplement on the proportional numbers of the two sexes throughout the animal kingdom
  • The proportion of the sexes in relation to natural selection

With animals which have their sexes separated, the males necessarily differ from the females in their organs of reproduction; and these are the primary sexual characters. But the sexes often differ in what Hunter has called secondary sexual characters, which are not directly connected with the act of reproduction; for instance, the male possesses certain organs of sense or locomotion, of which the female is quite destitute, or has them more highly-developed, in order that he may readily find or reach her; or again the male has special organs of prehension for holding her securely. These latter organs, of infinitely diversified kinds, graduate into those which are commonly ranked as primary, and in some cases can hardly be distinguished from them; we see instances of this in the complex appendages at the apex of the abdomen in male insects. Unless indeed we confine the term “primary” to the reproductive glands, it is scarcely possible to decide which ought to be called primary and which secondary.

The female often differs from the male in having organs for the nourishment or protection of her young, such as the mammary glands of mammals, and the abdominal sacks of the marsupials. In some few cases also the male possesses similar organs, which are wanting in the female, such as the receptacles for the ova in certain male fishes, and those temporarily developed in certain male frogs. The females of most bees are provided with a special apparatus for collecting and carrying pollen, and their ovipositor is modified into a sting for the defence of the larvae and the community. Many similar cases could be given, but they do not here concern us. There are, however, other sexual differences quite unconnected with the primary reproductive organs, and it is with these that we are more especially concerned–such as the greater size, strength, and pugnacity of the male, his weapons of offence or means of defence against rivals, his gaudy colouring and various ornaments, his power of song, and other such characters.

Besides the primary and secondary sexual differences, such as the foregoing, the males and females of some animals differ in structures related to different habits of life, and not at all, or only indirectly, to the reproductive functions. Thus the females of certain flies (Culicidae and Tabanidae) are blood-suckers, whilst the males, living on flowers, have mouths destitute of mandibles. (1. Westwood, ‘Modern Classification of Insects,’ vol. ii. 1840, p. 541. For the statement about Tanais, mentioned below, I am indebted to Fritz Muller.) The males of certain moths and of some crustaceans (e.g. Tanais) have imperfect, closed mouths, and cannot feed. The complemental males of certain Cirripedes live like epiphytic plants either on the female or the hermaphrodite form, and are destitute of a mouth and of prehensile limbs. In these cases it is the male which has been modified, and has lost certain important organs, which the females possess. In other cases it is the female which has lost such parts; for instance, the female glow-worm is destitute of wings, as also are many female moths, some of which never leave their cocoons. Many female parasitic crustaceans have lost their natatory legs. In some weevil-beetles (Curculionidae) there is a great difference between the male and female in the length of the rostrum or snout (2. Kirby and Spence, ‘Introduction to Entomology,’ vol. iii. 1826, p. 309.); but the meaning of this and of many analogous differences, is not at all understood. Differences of structure between the two sexes in relation to different habits of life are generally confined to the lower animals; but with some few birds the beak of the male differs from that of the female. In the Huia of New Zealand the difference is wonderfully great, and we hear from Dr. Buller (3. ‘Birds of New Zealand,’ 1872, p. 66.) that the male uses his strong beak in chiselling the larvae of insects out of decayed wood, whilst the female probes the softer parts with her far longer, much curved and pliant beak: and thus they mutually aid each other. In most cases, differences of structure between the sexes are more or less directly connected with the propagation of the species: thus a female, which has to nourish a multitude of ova, requires more food than the male, and consequently requires special means for procuring it. A male animal, which lives for a very short time, might lose its organs for procuring food through disuse, without detriment; but he would retain his locomotive organs in a perfect state, so that he might reach the female. The female, on the other hand, might safely lose her organs for flying, swimming, or walking, if she gradually acquired habits which rendered such powers useless.

We are, however, here concerned only with sexual selection. This depends on the advantage which certain individuals have over others of the same sex and species solely in respect of reproduction. When, as in the cases above mentioned, the two sexes differ in structure in relation to different habits of life, they have no doubt been modified through natural selection, and by inheritance limited to one and the same sex. So again the primary sexual organs, and those for nourishing or protecting the young, come under the same influence; for those individuals which generated or nourished their offspring best, would leave, ceteris paribus, the greatest number to inherit their superiority; whilst those which generated or nourished their offspring badly, would leave but few to inherit their weaker powers. As the male has to find the female, he requires organs of sense and locomotion, but if these organs are necessary for the other purposes of life, as is generally the case, they will have been developed through natural selection. When the male has found the female, he sometimes absolutely requires prehensile organs to hold her; thus Dr. Wallace informs me that the males of certain moths cannot unite with the females if their tarsi or feet are broken. The males of many oceanic crustaceans, when adult, have their legs and antennae modified in an extraordinary manner for the prehension of the female; hence we may suspect that it is because these animals are washed about by the waves of the open sea, that they require these organs in order to propagate their kind, and if so, their development has been the result of ordinary or natural selection. Some animals extremely low in the scale have been modified for this same purpose; thus the males of certain parasitic worms, when fully grown, have the lower surface of the terminal part of their bodies roughened like a rasp, and with this they coil round and permanently hold the females. (4. M. Perrier advances this case (‘Revue Scientifique,’ Feb. 1, 1873, p. 865) as one fatal to the belief in sexual election, inasmuch as he supposes that I attribute all the differences between the sexes to sexual selection. This distinguished naturalist, therefore, like so many other Frenchmen, has not taken the trouble to understand even the first principles of sexual selection. An English naturalist insists that the claspers of certain male animals could not have been developed through the choice of the female! Had I not met with this remark, I should not have thought it possible for any one to have read this chapter and to have imagined that I maintain that the choice of the female had anything to do with the development of the prehensile organs in the male.)

When the two sexes follow exactly the same habits of life, and the male has the sensory or locomotive organs more highly developed than those of the female, it may be that the perfection of these is indispensable to the male for finding the female; but in the vast majority of cases, they serve only to give one male an advantage over another, for with sufficient time, the less well-endowed males would succeed in pairing with the females; and judging from the structure of the female, they would be in all other respects equally well adapted for their ordinary habits of life. Since in such cases the males have acquired their present structure, not from being better fitted to survive in the struggle for existence, but from having gained an advantage over other males, and from having transmitted this advantage to their male offspring alone, sexual selection must here have come into action. It was the importance of this distinction which led me to designate this form of selection as Sexual Selection. So again, if the chief service rendered to the male by his prehensile organs is to prevent the escape of the female before the arrival of other males, or when assaulted by them, these organs will have been perfected through sexual selection, that is by the advantage acquired by certain individuals over their rivals. But in most cases of this kind it is impossible to distinguish between the effects of natural and sexual selection. Whole chapters could be filled with details on the differences between the sexes in their sensory, locomotive, and prehensile organs. As, however, these structures are not more interesting than others adapted for the ordinary purposes of life I shall pass them over almost entirely, giving only a few instances under each class.

There are many other structures and instincts which must have been developed through sexual selection–such as the weapons of offence and the means of defence of the males for fighting with and driving away their rivals–their courage and pugnacity–their various ornaments–their contrivances for producing vocal or instrumental music–and their glands for emitting odours, most of these latter structures serving only to allure or excite the female. It is clear that these characters are the result of sexual and not of ordinary selection, since unarmed, unornamented, or unattractive males would succeed equally well in the battle for life and in leaving a numerous progeny, but for the presence of better endowed males. We may infer that this would be the case, because the females, which are unarmed and unornamented, are able to survive and procreate their kind. Secondary sexual characters of the kind just referred to, will be fully discussed in the following chapters, as being in many respects interesting, but especially as depending on the will, choice, and rivalry of the individuals of either sex. When we behold two males fighting for the possession of the female, or several male birds displaying their gorgeous plumage, and performing strange antics before an assembled body of females, we cannot doubt that, though led by instinct, they know what they are about, and consciously exert their mental and bodily powers.

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.)