The Descent of Man – Day 65 of 151


During a period of twelve years, from 1857 to 1868, the births of a large number of greyhounds, throughout England, were sent to the ‘Field’ newspaper; and I am again indebted to Mr. Tegetmeier for carefully tabulating the results. The recorded births were 6878, consisting of 3605 males and 3273 females, that is, in the proportion of 110.1 males to 100 females. The greatest fluctuations occurred in 1864, when the proportion was as 95.3 males, and in 1867, as 116.3 males to 100 females. The above average proportion of 110.1 to 100 is probably nearly correct in the case of the greyhound, but whether it would hold with other domesticated breeds is in some degree doubtful. Mr. Cupples has enquired from several great breeders of dogs, and finds that all without exception believe that females are produced in excess; but he suggests that this belief may have arisen from females being less valued, and from the consequent disappointment producing a stronger impression on the mind.


The sexes of sheep are not ascertained by agriculturists until several months after birth, at the period when the males are castrated; so that the following returns do not give the proportions at birth. Moreover, I find that several great breeders in Scotland, who annually raise some thousand sheep, are firmly convinced that a larger proportion of males than of females die during the first year or two. Therefore the proportion of males would be somewhat larger at birth than at the age of castration. This is a remarkable coincidence with what, as we have seen, occurs with mankind, and both cases probably depend on the same cause. I have received returns from four gentlemen in England who have bred Lowland sheep, chiefly Leicesters, during the last ten to sixteen years; they amount altogether to 8965 births, consisting of 4407 males and 4558 females; that is in the proportion of 96.7 males to 100 females. With respect to Cheviot and black-faced sheep bred in Scotland, I have received returns from six breeders, two of them on a large scale, chiefly for the years 1867-1869, but some of the returns extend back to 1862. The total number recorded amounts to 50,685, consisting of 25,071 males and 25,614 females or in the proportion of 97.9 males to 100 females. If we take the English and Scotch returns together, the total number amounts to 59,650, consisting of 29,478 males and 30,172 females, or as 97.7 to 100. So that with sheep at the age of castration the females are certainly in excess of the males, but probably this would not hold good at birth. (59. I am much indebted to Mr. Cupples for having procured for me the above returns from Scotland, as well as some of the following returns on cattle. Mr. R. Elliot, of Laighwood, first called my attention to the premature deaths of the males, –a statement subsequently confirmed by Mr. Aitchison and others. To this latter gentleman, and to Mr. Payan, I owe my thanks for large returns as to sheep.)

Of cattle I have received returns from nine gentlemen of 982 births, too few to be trusted; these consisted of 477 bull-calves and 505 cow-calves; i.e., in the proportion of 94.4 males to 100 females. The Rev. W.D. Fox informs me that in 1867 out of 34 calves born on a farm in Derbyshire only one was a bull. Mr. Harrison Weir has enquired from several breeders of pigs, and most of them estimate the male to the female births as about 7 to 6. This same gentleman has bred rabbits for many years, and has noticed that a far greater number of bucks are produced than does. But estimations are of little value.

Of mammalia in a state of nature I have been able to learn very little. In regard to the common rat, I have received conflicting statements. Mr. R. Elliot, of Laighwood, informs me that a rat-catcher assured him that he had always found the males in great excess, even with the young in the nest. In consequence of this, Mr. Elliot himself subsequently examined some hundred old ones, and found the statement true. Mr. F. Buckland has bred a large number of white rats, and he also believes that the males greatly exceed the females. In regard to Moles, it is said that “the males are much more numerous than the females” (60. Bell, ‘History of British Quadrupeds,’ p. 100.): and as the catching of these animals is a special occupation, the statement may perhaps be trusted. Sir A. Smith, in describing an antelope of S. Africa (61. ‘Illustrations of the Zoology of S. Africa,’ 1849, pl. 29.) (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), remarks, that in the herds of this and other species, the males are few in number compared with the females: the natives believe that they are born in this proportion; others believe that the younger males are expelled from the herds, and Sir A. Smith says, that though he has himself never seen herds consisting of young males alone, others affirm that this does occur. It appears probable that the young when expelled from the herd, would often fall a prey to the many beasts of prey of the country.


With respect to the fowl, I have received only one account, namely, that out of 1001 chickens of a highly-bred stock of Cochins, reared during eight years by Mr. Stretch, 487 proved males and 514 females; i.e., as 94.7 to 100. In regard to domestic pigeons there is good evidence either that the males are produced in excess, or that they live longer; for these birds invariably pair, and single males, as Mr. Tegetmeier informs me, can always be purchased cheaper than females. Usually the two birds reared from the two eggs laid in the same nest are a male and a female; but Mr. Harrison Weir, who has been so large a breeder, says that he has often bred two cocks from the same nest, and seldom two hens; moreover, the hen is generally the weaker of the two, and more liable to perish.

With respect to birds in a state of nature, Mr. Gould and others (62. Brehm (‘Thierleben,’ B. iv. s. 990) comes to the same conclusion.) are convinced that the males are generally the more numerous; and as the young males of many species resemble the females, the latter would naturally appear to be the more numerous. Large numbers of pheasants are reared by Mr. Baker of Leadenhall from eggs laid by wild birds, and he informs Mr. Jenner Weir that four or five males to one female are generally produced. An experienced observer remarks (63. On the authority of L. Lloyd, ‘Game Birds of Sweden,’ 1867, pp. 12, 132.), that in Scandinavia the broods of the capercailzie and black-cock contain more males than females; and that with the Dal-ripa (a kind of ptarmigan) more males than females attend the leks or places of courtship; but this latter circumstance is accounted for by some observers by a greater number of hen birds being killed by vermin. From various facts given by White of Selborne (64. ‘Nat. Hist. of Selborne,’ letter xxix. edit. of 1825, vol. i. p. 139.), it seems clear that the males of the partridge must be in considerable excess in the south of England; and I have been assured that this is the case in Scotland. Mr. Weir on enquiring from the dealers, who receive at certain seasons large numbers of ruffs (Machetes pugnax), was told that the males are much the more numerous. This same naturalist has also enquired for me from the birdcatchers, who annually catch an astonishing number of various small species alive for the London market, and he was unhesitatingly answered by an old and trustworthy man, that with the chaffinch the males are in large excess: he thought as high as 2 males to 1 female, or at least as high as 5 to 3. (65. Mr. Jenner Weir received similar information, on making enquiries during the following year. To shew the number of living chaffinches caught, I may mention that in 1869 there was a match between two experts, and one man caught in a day 62, and another 40, male chaffinches. The greatest number ever caught by one man in a single day was 70.) The males of the blackbird, he likewise maintained, were by far the more numerous, whether caught by traps or by netting at night. These statements may apparently be trusted, because this same man said that the sexes are about equal with the lark, the twite (Linaria montana), and goldfinch. On the other hand, he is certain that with the common linnet, the females preponderate greatly, but unequally during different years; during some years he has found the females to the males as four to one. It should, however, be borne in mind, that the chief season for catching birds does not begin till September, so that with some species partial migrations may have begun, and the flocks at this period often consist of hens alone. Mr. Salvin paid particular attention to the sexes of the humming-birds in Central America, and is convinced that with most of the species the males are in excess; thus one year he procured 204 specimens belonging to ten species, and these consisted of 166 males and of only 38 females. With two other species the females were in excess: but the proportions apparently vary either during different seasons or in different localities; for on one occasion the males of Campylopterus hemileucurus were to the females as 5 to 2, and on another occasion (66. ‘Ibis,’ vol. ii. p. 260, as quoted in Gould’s ‘Trochilidae,’ 1861, p. 52. For the foregoing proportions, I am indebted to Mr. Salvin for a table of his results.) in exactly the reversed ratio. As bearing on this latter point, I may add, that Mr. Powys found in Corfu and Epirus the sexes of the chaffinch keeping apart, and “the females by far the most numerous”; whilst in Palestine Mr. Tristram found “the male flocks appearing greatly to exceed the female in number.” (67. ‘Ibis,’ 1860, p. 137; and 1867, p. 369.) So again with the Quiscalus major, Mr. G. Taylor says, that in Florida there were “very few females in proportion to the males,” (68. ‘Ibis,’ 1862, p. 187.) whilst in Honduras the proportion was the other way, the species there having the character of a polygamist.

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