The Descent of Man – Day 59 of 151

The Male Generally More Modified Than the Female

Throughout the animal kingdom, when the sexes differ in external appearance, it is, with rare exceptions, the male which has been the more modified; for, generally, the female retains a closer resemblance to the young of her own species, and to other adult members of the same group. The cause of this seems to lie in the males of almost all animals having stronger passions than the females. Hence it is the males that fight together and sedulously display their charms before the females; and the victors transmit their superiority to their male offspring. Why both sexes do not thus acquire the characters of their fathers, will be considered hereafter. That the males of all mammals eagerly pursue the females is notorious to every one. So it is with birds; but many cock birds do not so much pursue the hen, as display their plumage, perform strange antics, and pour forth their song in her presence. The male in the few fish observed seems much more eager than the female; and the same is true of alligators, and apparently of Batrachians. Throughout the enormous class of insects, as Kirby remarks, “the law is that the male shall seek the female.” (18. Kirby and Spence, ‘Introduction to Entomology,’ vol. iii. 1826, p. 342.) Two good authorities, Mr. Blackwall and Mr. C. Spence Bate, tell me that the males of spiders and crustaceans are more active and more erratic in their habits than the females. When the organs of sense or locomotion are present in the one sex of insects and crustaceans and absent in the other, or when, as is frequently the case, they are more highly developed in the one than in the other, it is, as far as I can discover, almost invariably the male which retains such organs, or has them most developed; and this shews that the male is the more active member in the courtship of the sexes. (19. One parasitic Hymenopterous insect (Westwood, ‘Modern Class. of Insects,’ vol. ii. p. 160) forms an exception to the rule, as the male has rudimentary wings, and never quits the cell in which it is born, whilst the female has well-developed wings. Audouin believes that the females of this species are impregnated by the males which are born in the same cells with them; but it is much more probable that the females visit other cells, so that close inter-breeding is thus avoided. We shall hereafter meet in various classes, with a few exceptional cases, in which the female, instead of the male, is the seeker and wooer.)

The female, on the other hand, with the rarest exceptions, is less eager than the male. As the illustrious Hunter (20. ‘Essays and Observations,’ edited by Owen, vol. i. 1861, p. 194.) long ago observed, she generally “requires to be courted;” she is coy, and may often be seen endeavouring for a long time to escape from the male. Every observer of the habits of animals will be able to call to mind instances of this kind. It is shewn by various facts, given hereafter, and by the results fairly attributable to sexual selection, that the female, though comparatively passive, generally exerts some choice and accepts one male in preference to others. Or she may accept, as appearances would sometimes lead us to believe, not the male which is the most attractive to her, but the one which is the least distasteful. The exertion of some choice on the part of the female seems a law almost as general as the eagerness of the male.

We are naturally led to enquire why the male, in so many and such distinct classes, has become more eager than the female, so that he searches for her, and plays the more active part in courtship. It would be no advantage and some loss of power if each sex searched for the other; but why should the male almost always be the seeker? The ovules of plants after fertilisation have to be nourished for a time; hence the pollen is necessarily brought to the female organs–being placed on the stigma, by means of insects or the wind, or by the spontaneous movements of the stamens; and in the Algae, etc., by the locomotive power of the antherozooids. With lowly-organised aquatic animals, permanently affixed to the same spot and having their sexes separate, the male element is invariably brought to the female; and of this we can see the reason, for even if the ova were detached before fertilisation, and did not require subsequent nourishment or protection, there would yet be greater difficulty in transporting them than the male element, because, being larger than the latter, they are produced in far smaller numbers. So that many of the lower animals are, in this respect, analogous with plants. (21. Prof. Sachs (‘Lehrbuch der Botanik,’ 1870, S. 633) in speaking of the male and female reproductive cells, remarks, “verhalt sich die eine bei der Vereinigung activ,…die andere erscheint bei der Vereinigung passiv.”) The males of affixed and aquatic animals having been led to emit their fertilising element in this way, it is natural that any of their descendants, which rose in the scale and became locomotive, should retain the same habit; and they would approach the female as closely as possible, in order not to risk the loss of the fertilising element in a long passage of it through the water. With some few of the lower animals, the females alone are fixed, and the males of these must be the seekers. But it is difficult to understand why the males of species, of which the progenitors were primordially free, should invariably have acquired the habit of approaching the females, instead of being approached by them. But in all cases, in order that the males should seek efficiently, it would be necessary that they should be endowed with strong passions; and the acquirement of such passions would naturally follow from the more eager leaving a larger number of offspring than the less eager.

The great eagerness of the males has thus indirectly led to their much more frequently developing secondary sexual characters than the females. But the development of such characters would be much aided, if the males were more liable to vary than the females–as I concluded they were–after a long study of domesticated animals. Von Nathusius, who has had very wide experience, is strongly of the same opinion. (22. ‘Vortrage uber Viehzucht,’ 1872, p. 63.) Good evidence also in favour of this conclusion can be produced by a comparison of the two sexes in mankind. During the Novara Expedition (23. ‘Reise der Novara: Anthropolog. Theil,’ 1867, ss. 216-269. The results were calculated by Dr. Weisbach from measurements made by Drs. K. Scherzer and Schwarz. On the greater variability of the males of domesticated animals, see my ‘Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,’ vol. ii. 1868, p. 75.) a vast number of measurements was made of various parts of the body in different races, and the men were found in almost every case to present a greater range of variation than the women; but I shall have to recur to this subject in a future chapter. Mr. J. Wood (24. ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society,’ vol. xvi. July 1868, pp. 519 and 524.), who has carefully attended to the variation of the muscles in man, puts in italics the conclusion that “the greatest number of abnormalities in each subject is found in the males.” He had previously remarked that “altogether in 102 subjects, the varieties of redundancy were found to be half as many again as in females, contrasting widely with the greater frequency of deficiency in females before described.” Professor Macalister likewise remarks (25. ‘Proc. Royal Irish Academy,’ vol. x. 1868, p. 123.) that variations in the muscles “are probably more common in males than females.” Certain muscles which are not normally present in mankind are also more frequently developed in the male than in the female sex, although exceptions to this rule are said to occur. Dr. Burt Wilder (26. ‘Massachusetts Medical Society,’ vol. ii. No. 3, 1868, p. 9.) has tabulated the cases of 152 individuals with supernumerary digits, of which 86 were males, and 39, or less than half, females, the remaining 27 being of unknown sex. It should not, however, be overlooked that women would more frequently endeavour to conceal a deformity of this kind than men. Again, Dr. L. Meyer asserts that the ears of man are more variable in form than those of a woman. (27. ‘Archiv fur Path. Anat. und Phys.’ 1871, p. 488.) Lastly the temperature is more variable in man than in woman. (28. The conclusions recently arrived at by Dr. J. Stockton Hough, on the temperature of man, are given in the ‘Pop. Sci. Review,’ Jan. 1st, 1874, p. 97.)

The cause of the greater general variability in the male sex, than in the female is unknown, except in so far as secondary sexual characters are extraordinarily variable, and are usually confined to the males; and, as we shall presently see, this fact is, to a certain extent, intelligible. Through the action of sexual and natural selection male animals have been rendered in very many instances widely different from their females; but independently of selection the two sexes, from differing constitutionally, tend to vary in a somewhat different manner. The female has to expend much organic matter in the formation of her ova, whereas the male expends much force in fierce contests with his rivals, in wandering about in search of the female, in exerting his voice, pouring out odoriferous secretions, etc.: and this expenditure is generally concentrated within a short period. The great vigour of the male during the season of love seems often to intensify his colours, independently of any marked difference from the female. (29. Prof. Mantegazza is inclined to believe (‘Lettera a Carlo Darwin,’ ‘Archivio per l’Anthropologia,’ 1871, p. 306) that the bright colours, common in so many male animals, are due to the presence and retention by them of the spermatic fluid; but this can hardly be the case; for many male birds, for instance young pheasants, become brightly coloured in the autumn of their first year.) In mankind, and even as low down in the organic scale as in the Lepidoptera, the temperature of the body is higher in the male than in the female, accompanied in the case of man by a slower pulse. (30. For mankind, see Dr. J. Stockton Hough, whose conclusions are given in the ‘Popular Science Review,’ 1874, p. 97. See Girard’s observations on the Lepidoptera, as given in the ‘Zoological Record,’ 1869, p. 347.) On the whole the expenditure of matter and force by the two sexes is probably nearly equal, though effected in very different ways and at different rates.

From the causes just specified the two sexes can hardly fail to differ somewhat in constitution, at least during the breeding-season; and, although they may be subjected to exactly the same conditions, they will tend to vary in a different manner. If such variations are of no service to either sex, they will not be accumulated and increased by sexual or natural selection. Nevertheless, they may become permanent if the exciting cause acts permanently; and in accordance with a frequent form of inheritance they may be transmitted to that sex alone in which they first appeared. In this case the two sexes will come to present permanent, yet unimportant, differences of character. For instance, Mr. Allen shews that with a large number of birds inhabiting the northern and southern United States, the specimens from the south are darker-coloured than those from the north; and this seems to be the direct result of the difference in temperature, light, etc., between the two regions. Now, in some few cases, the two sexes of the same species appear to have been differently affected; in the Agelaeus phoeniceus the males have had their colours greatly intensified in the south; whereas with Cardinalis virginianus it is the females which have been thus affected; with Quiscalus major the females have been rendered extremely variable in tint, whilst the males remain nearly uniform. (31. ‘Mammals and Birds of E. Florida,’ pp. 234, 280, 295.)

A few exceptional cases occur in various classes of animals, in which the females instead of the males have acquired well pronounced secondary sexual characters, such as brighter colours, greater size, strength, or pugnacity. With birds there has sometimes been a complete transposition of the ordinary characters proper to each sex; the females having become the more eager in courtship, the males remaining comparatively passive, but apparently selecting the more attractive females, as we may infer from the results. Certain hen birds have thus been rendered more highly coloured or otherwise ornamented, as well as more powerful and pugnacious than the cocks; these characters being transmitted to the female offspring alone.

It may be suggested that in some cases a double process of selection has been carried on; that the males have selected the more attractive females, and the latter the more attractive males. This process, however, though it might lead to the modification of both sexes, would not make the one sex different from the other, unless indeed their tastes for the beautiful differed; but this is a supposition too improbable to be worth considering in the case of any animal, excepting man. There are, however, many animals in which the sexes resemble each other, both being furnished with the same ornaments, which analogy would lead us to attribute to the agency of sexual selection. In such cases it may be suggested with more plausibility, that there has been a double or mutual process of sexual selection; the more vigorous and precocious females selecting the more attractive and vigorous males, the latter rejecting all except the more attractive females. But from what we know of the habits of animals, this view is hardly probable, for the male is generally eager to pair with any female. It is more probable that the ornaments common to both sexes were acquired by one sex, generally the male, and then transmitted to the offspring of both sexes. If, indeed, during a lengthened period the males of any species were greatly to exceed the females in number, and then during another lengthened period, but under different conditions, the reverse were to occur, a double, but not simultaneous, process of sexual selection might easily be carried on, by which the two sexes might be rendered widely different.

We shall hereafter see that many animals exist, of which neither sex is brilliantly coloured or provided with special ornaments, and yet the members of both sexes or of one alone have probably acquired simple colours, such as white or black, through sexual selection. The absence of bright tints or other ornaments may be the result of variations of the right kind never having occurred, or of the animals themselves having preferred plain black or white. Obscure tints have often been developed through natural selection for the sake of protection, and the acquirement through sexual selection of conspicuous colours, appears to have been sometimes checked from the danger thus incurred. But in other cases the males during long ages may have struggled together for the possession of the females, and yet no effect will have been produced, unless a larger number of offspring were left by the more successful males to inherit their superiority, than by the less successful: and this, as previously shewn, depends on many complex contingencies.

Sexual selection acts in a less rigorous manner than natural selection. The latter produces its effects by the life or death at all ages of the more or less successful individuals. Death, indeed, not rarely ensues from the conflicts of rival males. But generally the less successful male merely fails to obtain a female, or obtains a retarded and less vigorous female later in the season, or, if polygamous, obtains fewer females; so that they leave fewer, less vigorous, or no offspring. In regard to structures acquired through ordinary or natural selection, there is in most cases, as long as the conditions of life remain the same, a limit to the amount of advantageous modification in relation to certain special purposes; but in regard to structures adapted to make one male victorious over another, either in fighting or in charming the female, there is no definite limit to the amount of advantageous modification; so that as long as the proper variations arise the work of sexual selection will go on. This circumstance may partly account for the frequent and extraordinary amount of variability presented by secondary sexual characters. Nevertheless, natural selection will determine that such characters shall not be acquired by the victorious males, if they would be highly injurious, either by expending too much of their vital powers, or by exposing them to any great danger. The development, however, of certain structures–of the horns, for instance, in certain stags–has been carried to a wonderful extreme; and in some cases to an extreme which, as far as the general conditions of life are concerned, must be slightly injurious to the male. From this fact we learn that the advantages which favoured males derive from conquering other males in battle or courtship, and thus leaving a numerous progeny, are in the long run greater than those derived from rather more perfect adaptation to their conditions of life. We shall further see, and it could never have been anticipated, that the power to charm the female has sometimes been more important than the power to conquer other males in battle.

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.)