The Descent of Man – Day 58 of 151

We will first briefly run through the mammals, and then turn to birds. The gorilla seems to be polygamous, and the male differs considerably from the female; so it is with some baboons, which live in herds containing twice as many adult females as males. In South America the Mycetes caraya presents well-marked sexual differences, in colour, beard, and vocal organs; and the male generally lives with two or three wives: the male of the Cebus capucinus differs somewhat from the female, and appears to be polygamous. (10. On the Gorilla, Savage and Wyman, ‘Boston Journal of Natural History,’ vol. v. 1845-47, p. 423. On Cynocephalus, Brehm, ‘Thierleben,’ B. i. 1864, s. 77. On Mycetes, Rengger, ‘Naturgeschichte der Saugethiere von Paraguay,’ 1830, ss. 14, 20. On Cebus, Brehm, ibid. s. 108.) Little is known on this head with respect to most other monkeys, but some species are strictly monogamous. The ruminants are eminently polygamous, and they present sexual differences more frequently than almost any other group of mammals; this holds good, especially in their weapons, but also in other characters. Most deer, cattle, and sheep are polygamous; as are most antelopes, though some are monogamous. Sir Andrew Smith, in speaking of the antelopes of South Africa, says that in herds of about a dozen there was rarely more than one mature male. The Asiatic Antilope saiga appears to be the most inordinate polygamist in the world; for Pallas (11. Pallas, ‘Spicilegia Zoolog., Fasc.’ xii. 1777, p. 29. Sir Andrew Smith, ‘Illustrations of the Zoology of S. Africa,’ 1849, pl. 29, on the Kobus. Owen, in his ‘Anatomy of Vertebrates’ (vol. iii. 1868, p. 633) gives a table shewing incidentally which species of antelopes are gregarious.) states that the male drives away all rivals, and collects a herd of about a hundred females and kids together; the female is hornless and has softer hair, but does not otherwise differ much from the male. The wild horse of the Falkland Islands and of the Western States of N. America is polygamous, but, except in his greater size and in the proportions of his body, differs but little from the mare. The wild boar presents well-marked sexual characters, in his great tusks and some other points. In Europe and in India he leads a solitary life, except during the breeding-season; but as is believed by Sir W. Elliot, who has had many opportunities in India of observing this animal, he consorts at this season with several females. Whether this holds good in Europe is doubtful, but it is supported by some evidence. The adult male Indian elephant, like the boar, passes much of his time in solitude; but as Dr. Campbell states, when with others, “It is rare to find more than one male with a whole herd of females”; the larger males expelling or killing the smaller and weaker ones. The male differs from the female in his immense tusks, greater size, strength, and endurance; so great is the difference in these respects that the males when caught are valued at one-fifth more than the females. (12. Dr. Campbell, in ‘Proc. Zoolog. Soc.’ 1869, p. 138. See also an interesting paper by Lieut. Johnstone, in ‘Proceedings, Asiatic Society of Bengal,’ May 1868.) The sexes of other pachydermatous animals differ very little or not at all, and, as far as known, they are not polygamists. Nor have I heard of any species in the Orders of Cheiroptera, Edentata, Insectivora and Rodents being polygamous, excepting that amongst the Rodents, the common rat, according to some rat-catchers, lives with several females. Nevertheless the two sexes of some sloths (Edentata) differ in the character and colour of certain patches of hair on their shoulders. (13. Dr. Gray, in ‘Annals and Magazine of Natural History,’ 1871, p. 302.) And many kinds of bats (Cheiroptera) present well-marked sexual differences, chiefly in the males possessing odoriferous glands and pouches, and by their being of a lighter colour. (14. See Dr. Dobson’s excellent paper in ‘Proceedings of the Zoological Society,’ 1873, p. 241.) In the great order of Rodents, as far as I can learn, the sexes rarely differ, and when they do so, it is but slightly in the tint of the fur.

As I hear from Sir Andrew Smith, the lion in South Africa sometimes lives with a single female, but generally with more, and, in one case, was found with as many as five females; so that he is polygamous. As far as I can discover, he is the only polygamist amongst all the terrestrial Carnivora, and he alone presents well-marked sexual characters. If, however, we turn to the marine Carnivora, as we shall hereafter see, the case is widely different; for many species of seals offer extraordinary sexual differences, and they are eminently polygamous. Thus, according to Peron, the male sea-elephant of the Southern Ocean always possesses several females, and the sea-lion of Forster is said to be surrounded by from twenty to thirty females. In the North, the male sea-bear of Steller is accompanied by even a greater number of females. It is an interesting fact, as Dr. Gill remarks (15. ‘The Eared Seals,’ American Naturalist, vol. iv. Jan. 1871.), that in the monogamous species, “or those living in small communities, there is little difference in size between the males and females; in the social species, or rather those of which the males have harems, the males are vastly larger than the females.”

Amongst birds, many species, the sexes of which differ greatly from each other, are certainly monogamous. In Great Britain we see well-marked sexual differences, for instance, in the wild-duck which pairs with a single female, the common blackbird, and the bullfinch which is said to pair for life. I am informed by Mr. Wallace that the like is true of the Chatterers or Cotingidae of South America, and of many other birds. In several groups I have not been able to discover whether the species are polygamous or monogamous. Lesson says that birds of paradise, so remarkable for their sexual differences, are polygamous, but Mr. Wallace doubts whether he had sufficient evidence. Mr. Salvin tells me he has been led to believe that humming-birds are polygamous. The male widow-bird, remarkable for his caudal plumes, certainly seems to be a polygamist. (16. ‘The Ibis,’ vol. iii. 1861, p. 133, on the Progne Widow-bird. See also on the Vidua axillaris, ibid. vol. ii. 1860, p. 211. On the polygamy of the Capercailzie and Great Bustard, see L. Lloyd, ‘Game Birds of Sweden,’ 1867, pp. 19, and 182. Montagu and Selby speak of the Black Grouse as polygamous and of the Red Grouse as monogamous.) I have been assured by Mr. Jenner Weir and by others, that it is somewhat common for three starlings to frequent the same nest; but whether this is a case of polygamy or polyandry has not been ascertained.

The Gallinaceae exhibit almost as strongly marked sexual differences as birds of paradise or humming-birds, and many of the species are, as is well known, polygamous; others being strictly monogamous. What a contrast is presented between the sexes of the polygamous peacock or pheasant, and the monogamous guinea-fowl or partridge! Many similar cases could be given, as in the grouse tribe, in which the males of the polygamous capercailzie and black-cock differ greatly from the females; whilst the sexes of the monogamous red grouse and ptarmigan differ very little. In the Cursores, except amongst the bustards, few species offer strongly-marked sexual differences, and the great bustard (Otis tarda) is said to be polygamous. With the Grallatores, extremely few species differ sexually, but the ruff (Machetes pugnax) affords a marked exception, and this species is believed by Montagu to be a polygamist. Hence it appears that amongst birds there often exists a close relation between polygamy and the development of strongly-marked sexual differences. I asked Mr. Bartlett, of the Zoological Gardens, who has had very large experience with birds, whether the male tragopan (one of the Gallinaceae) was polygamous, and I was struck by his answering, “I do not know, but should think so from his splendid colours.”

It deserves notice that the instinct of pairing with a single female is easily lost under domestication. The wild-duck is strictly monogamous, the domestic-duck highly polygamous. The Rev. W.D. Fox informs me that out of some half-tamed wild-ducks, on a large pond in his neighbourhood, so many mallards were shot by the gamekeeper that only one was left for every seven or eight females; yet unusually large broods were reared. The guinea-fowl is strictly monogamous; but Mr. Fox finds that his birds succeed best when he keeps one cock to two or three hens. Canary-birds pair in a state of nature, but the breeders in England successfully put one male to four or five females. I have noticed these cases, as rendering it probable that wild monogamous species might readily become either temporarily or permanently polygamous.

Too little is known of the habits of reptiles and fishes to enable us to speak of their marriage arrangements. The stickle-back (Gasterosteus), however, is said to be a polygamist (17. Noel Humphreys, ‘River Gardens,’ 1857.); and the male during the breeding-season differs conspicuously from the female.

To sum up on the means through which, as far as we can judge, sexual selection has led to the development of secondary sexual characters. It has been shewn that the largest number of vigorous offspring will be reared from the pairing of the strongest and best-armed males, victorious in contests over other males, with the most vigorous and best-nourished females, which are the first to breed in the spring. If such females select the more attractive, and at the same time vigorous males, they will rear a larger number of offspring than the retarded females, which must pair with the less vigorous and less attractive males. So it will be if the more vigorous males select the more attractive and at the same time healthy and vigorous females; and this will especially hold good if the male defends the female, and aids in providing food for the young. The advantage thus gained by the more vigorous pairs in rearing a larger number of offspring has apparently sufficed to render sexual selection efficient. But a large numerical preponderance of males over females will be still more efficient; whether the preponderance is only occasional and local, or permanent; whether it occurs at birth, or afterwards from the greater destruction of the females; or whether it indirectly follows from the practice of polygamy.

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