The Descent of Man – Day 67 of 151

The manner in which the males of certain moths congregate in extraordinary numbers round a single female, apparently indicates a great excess of males, though this fact may perhaps be accounted for by the earlier emergence of the males from their cocoons. Mr. Stainton informs me that from twelve to twenty males, may often be seen congregated round a female Elachista rufocinerea. It is well known that if a virgin Lasiocampa quercus or Saturnia carpini be exposed in a cage, vast numbers of males collect round her, and if confined in a room will even come down the chimney to her. Mr. Doubleday believes that he has seen from fifty to a hundred males of both these species attracted in the course of a single day by a female in confinement. In the Isle of Wight Mr. Trimen exposed a box in which a female of the Lasiocampa had been confined on the previous day, and five males soon endeavoured to gain admittance. In Australia, Mr. Verreaux, having placed the female of a small Bombyx in a box in his pocket, was followed by a crowd of males, so that about 200 entered the house with him. (81. Blanchard, ‘Metamorphoses, Moeurs des Insectes,’ 1868, pp. 225-226.)

Mr. Doubleday has called my attention to M. Staudinger’s (82. ‘Lepidopteren-Doubletten Liste,’ Berlin, No. x. 1866.) list of Lepidoptera, which gives the prices of the males and females of 300 species or well-marked varieties of butterflies (Rhopalocera). The prices for both sexes of the very common species are of course the same; but in 114 of the rarer species they differ; the males being in all cases, excepting one, the cheaper. On an average of the prices of the 113 species, the price of the male to that of the female is as 100 to 149; and this apparently indicates that inversely the males exceed the females in the same proportion. About 2000 species or varieties of moths (Heterocera) are catalogued, those with wingless females being here excluded on account of the difference in habits between the two sexes: of these 2000 species, 141 differ in price according to sex, the males of 130 being cheaper, and those of only 11 being dearer than the females. The average price of the males of the 130 species, to that of the females, is as 100 to 143. With respect to the butterflies in this priced list, Mr. Doubleday thinks (and no man in England has had more experience), that there is nothing in the habits of the species which can account for the difference in the prices of the two sexes, and that it can be accounted for only by an excess in the number of the males. But I am bound to add that Dr. Staudinger informs me, that he is himself of a different opinion. He thinks that the less active habits of the females and the earlier emergence of the males will account for his collectors securing a larger number of males than of females, and consequently for the lower prices of the former. With respect to specimens reared from the caterpillar-state, Dr. Staudinger believes, as previously stated, that a greater number of females than of males die whilst confined to the cocoons. He adds that with certain species one sex seems to preponderate over the other during certain years.

Of direct observations on the sexes of Lepidoptera, reared either from eggs or caterpillars, I have received only the few following cases: (See following table.)

So that in these eight lots of cocoons and eggs, males were produced in excess. Taken together the proportion of males is as 122.7 to 100 females. But the numbers are hardly large enough to be trustworthy.

On the whole, from these various sources of evidence, all pointing in the same direction, I infer that with most species of Lepidoptera, the mature males generally exceed the females in number, whatever the proportions may be at their first emergence from the egg.

The Rev. J. Hellins* of Exeter reared, during 1868, imagos of 73 species, which consisted of153137
Mr. Albert Jones of Eltham reared, during 1868, imagos of 9 species, which consisted of159126
During 1869 he reared imagos from 4 species consisting of114112
Mr. Buckler of Emsworth, Hants, during 1869, reared imagos from 74 species, consisting of180169
Dr. Wallace of Colchester reared from one brood of Bombyx cynthia5248
Dr. Wallace raised, from cocoons of Bombyx Pernyi sent from China, during 1869224123
Dr. Wallace raised, during 1868 and 1869, from two lots of cocoons of Bombyx yamamai5246

(*83. This naturalist has been so kind as to send me some results from former years, in which the females seemed to preponderate; but so many of the figures were estimates, that I found it impossible to tabulate them.)

With reference to the other Orders of insects, I have been able to collect very little reliable information. With the stag-beetle (Lucanus cervus) “the males appear to be much more numerous than the females”; but when, as Cornelius remarked during 1867, an unusual number of these beetles appeared in one part of Germany, the females appeared to exceed the males as six to one. With one of the Elateridae, the males are said to be much more numerous than the females, and “two or three are often found united with one female (84. Gunther’s ‘Record of Zoological Literature,’ 1867, p. 260. On the excess of female Lucanus, ibid, p. 250. On the males of Lucanus in England, Westwood,’ ‘Modern Classification of Insects,’ vol. i. p. 187. On the Siagonium, ibid. p. 172.); so that here polyandry seems to prevail.” With Siagonium (Staphylinidae), in which the males are furnished with horns, “the females are far more numerous than the opposite sex.” Mr. Janson stated at the Entomological Society that the females of the bark feeding Tomicus villosus are so common as to be a plague, whilst the males are so rare as to be hardly known.

It is hardly worth while saying anything about the proportion of the sexes in certain species and even groups of insects, for the males are unknown or very rare, and the females are parthenogenetic, that is, fertile without sexual union; examples of this are afforded by several of the Cynipidae. (85. Walsh in ‘The American Entomologist,’ vol. i. 1869, p. 103. F. Smith, ‘Record of Zoological Lit.’ 1867, p. 328.) In all the gall-making Cynipidae known to Mr. Walsh, the females are four or five times as numerous as the males; and so it is, as he informs me, with the gall-making Cecidomyiidae (Diptera). With some common species of Saw-flies (Tenthredinae) Mr. F. Smith has reared hundreds of specimens from larvae of all sizes, but has never reared a single male; on the other hand, Curtis says (86. ‘Farm Insects,’ pp. 45-46.), that with certain species (Athalia), bred by him, the males were to the females as six to one; whilst exactly the reverse occurred with the mature insects of the same species caught in the fields. In the family of bees, Hermann Muller (87. ‘Anwendung der Darwin’schen Lehre,’ Verh. d. n. Jahrg., xxiv.), collected a large number of specimens of many species, and reared others from the cocoons, and counted the sexes. He found that the males of some species greatly exceeded the females in number; in others the reverse occurred; and in others the two sexes were nearly equal. But as in most cases the males emerge from the cocoons before the females, they are at the commencement of the breeding-season practically in excess. Muller also observed that the relative number of the two sexes in some species differed much in different localities. But as H. Muller has himself remarked to me, these remarks must be received with some caution, as one sex might more easily escape observation than the other. Thus his brother Fritz Muller has noticed in Brazil that the two sexes of the same species of bee sometimes frequent different kinds of flowers. With respect to the Orthoptera, I know hardly anything about the relative number of the sexes: Korte (88. ‘Die Strich, Zug oder Wanderheuschrecke,’ 1828, p. 20.), however, says that out of 500 locusts which he examined, the males were to the females as five to six. With the Neuroptera, Mr. Walsh states that in many, but by no means in all the species of the Odonatous group, there is a great overplus of males: in the genus Hetaerina, also, the males are generally at least four times as numerous as the females. In certain species in the genus Gomphus the males are equally in excess, whilst in two other species, the females are twice or thrice as numerous as the males. In some European species of Psocus thousands of females may be collected without a single male, whilst with other species of the same genus both sexes are common. (89. ‘Observations on N. American Neuroptera,’ by H. Hagen and B.D. Walsh, ‘Proceedings, Ent. Soc. Philadelphia,’ Oct. 1863, pp. 168, 223, 239.) In England, Mr. MacLachlan has captured hundreds of the female Apatania muliebris, but has never seen the male; and of Boreus hyemalis only four or five males have been seen here. (90. ‘Proceedings, Ent. Soc. London,’ Feb. 17, 1868.) With most of these species (excepting the Tenthredinae) there is at present no evidence that the females are subject to parthenogenesis; and thus we see how ignorant we are of the causes of the apparent discrepancy in the proportion of the two sexes.

In the other classes of the Articulata I have been able to collect still less information. With spiders, Mr. Blackwall, who has carefully attended to this class during many years, writes to me that the males from their more erratic habits are more commonly seen, and therefore appear more numerous. This is actually the case with a few species; but he mentions several species in six genera, in which the females appear to be much more numerous than the males. (91. Another great authority with respect to this class, Prof. Thorell of Upsala (‘On European Spiders,’ 1869-70, part i. p. 205), speaks as if female spiders were generally commoner than the males.) The small size of the males in comparison with the females (a peculiarity which is sometimes carried to an extreme degree), and their widely different appearance, may account in some instances for their rarity in collections. (92. See, on this subject, Mr. O.P. Cambridge, as quoted in ‘Quarterly Journal of Science,’ 1868, page 429.)

Some of the lower Crustaceans are able to propagate their kind sexually, and this will account for the extreme rarity of the males; thus von Siebold (93. ‘Beitrage zur Parthenogenesis,’ p. 174.) carefully examined no less than 13,000 specimens of Apus from twenty-one localities, and amongst these he found only 319 males. With some other forms (as Tanais and Cypris), as Fritz Muller informs me, there is reason to believe that the males are much shorter-lived than the females; and this would explain their scarcity, supposing the two sexes to be at first equal in number. On the other hand, Muller has invariably taken far more males than females of the Diastylidae and of Cypridina on the shores of Brazil: thus with a species in the latter genus, 63 specimens caught the same day included 57 males; but he suggests that this preponderance may be due to some unknown difference in the habits of the two sexes. With one of the higher Brazilian crabs, namely a Gelasimus, Fritz Muller found the males to be more numerous than the females. According to the large experience of Mr. C. Spence Bate, the reverse seems to be the case with six common British crabs, the names of which he has given me.

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