The Descent of Man – Day 70 of 151

The Sub-Kingdom of the Mollusca

Throughout this great division of the animal kingdom, as far as I can discover, secondary sexual characters, such as we are here considering, never occur. Nor could they be expected in the three lowest classes, namely, in the Ascidians, Polyzoa, and Brachiopods (constituting the Molluscoida of some authors), for most of these animals are permanently affixed to a support or have their sexes united in the same individual. In the Lamellibranchiata, or bivalve shells, hermaphroditism is not rare. In the next higher class of the Gasteropoda, or univalve shells, the sexes are either united or separate. But in the latter case the males never possess special organs for finding, securing, or charming the females, or for fighting with other males. As I am informed by Mr. Gwyn Jeffreys, the sole external difference between the sexes consists in the shell sometimes differing a little in form; for instance, the shell of the male periwinkle (Littorina littorea) is narrower and has a more elongated spire than that of the female. But differences of this nature, it may be presumed, are directly connected with the act of reproduction, or with the development of the ova.

The Gasteropoda, though capable of locomotion and furnished with imperfect eyes, do not appear to be endowed with sufficient mental powers for the members of the same sex to struggle together in rivalry, and thus to acquire secondary sexual characters. Nevertheless with the pulmoniferous gasteropods, or land-snails, the pairing is preceded by courtship; for these animals, though hermaphrodites, are compelled by their structure to pair together. Agassiz remarks, “Quiconque a eu l’occasion d’observer les amours des limacons, ne saurait mettre en doute la seduction deployee dans les mouvements et les allures qui preparent et accomplissent le double embrassement de ces hermaphrodites.” (2. ‘De l’Espece et de la Class.’ etc., 1869, p. 106.) These animals appear also susceptible of some degree of permanent attachment: an accurate observer, Mr. Lonsdale, informs me that he placed a pair of land-snails, (Helix pomatia), one of which was weakly, into a small and ill-provided garden. After a short time the strong and healthy individual disappeared, and was traced by its track of slime over a wall into an adjoining well-stocked garden. Mr. Lonsdale concluded that it had deserted its sickly mate; but after an absence of twenty-four hours it returned, and apparently communicated the result of its successful exploration, for both then started along the same track and disappeared over the wall.

Even in the highest class of the Mollusca, the Cephalopoda or cuttle-fishes, in which the sexes are separate, secondary sexual characters of the present kind do not, as far as I can discover, occur. This is a surprising circumstance, as these animals possess highly-developed sense-organs and have considerable mental powers, as will be admitted by every one who has watched their artful endeavours to escape from an enemy. (3. See, for instance, the account which I have given in my ‘Journal of Researches,’ 1845, p. 7.) Certain Cephalopoda, however, are characterised by one extraordinary sexual character, namely that the male element collects within one of the arms or tentacles, which is then cast off, and clinging by its sucking-discs to the female, lives for a time an independent life. So completely does the cast-off arm resemble a separate animal, that it was described by Cuvier as a parasitic worm under the name of Hectocotyle. But this marvellous structure may be classed as a primary rather than as a secondary sexual character.

Although with the Mollusca sexual selection does not seem to have come into play; yet many univalve and bivalve shells, such as volutes, cones, scallops, etc., are beautifully coloured and shaped. The colours do not appear in most cases to be of any use as a protection; they are probably the direct result, as in the lowest classes, of the nature of the tissues; the patterns and the sculpture of the shell depending on its manner of growth. The amount of light seems to be influential to a certain extent; for although, as repeatedly stated by Mr. Gwyn Jeffreys, the shells of some species living at a profound depth are brightly coloured, yet we generally see the lower surfaces, as well as the parts covered by the mantle, less highly-coloured than the upper and exposed surfaces. (4. I have given (‘Geological Observations on Volcanic Islands,’ 1844, p. 53) a curious instance of the influence of light on the colours of a frondescent incrustation, deposited by the surf on the coast-rocks of Ascension and formed by the solution of triturated sea-shells.) In some cases, as with shells living amongst corals or brightly-tinted seaweeds, the bright colours may serve as a protection. (5. Dr. Morse has lately discussed this subject in his paper on the ‘Adaptive Coloration of Mollusca,’ ‘Proc. Boston Soc. of Nat. Hist.’ vol. xiv. April 1871.) But that many of the nudibranch Mollusca, or sea-slugs, are as beautifully coloured as any shells, may be seen in Messrs. Alder and Hancock’s magnificent work; and from information kindly given me by Mr. Hancock, it seems extremely doubtful whether these colours usually serve as a protection. With some species this may be the case, as with one kind which lives on the green leaves of algae, and is itself bright-green. But many brightly-coloured, white, or otherwise conspicuous species, do not seek concealment; whilst again some equally conspicuous species, as well as other dull-coloured kinds live under stones and in dark recesses. So that with these nudibranch molluscs, colour apparently does not stand in any close relation to the nature of the places which they inhabit.

These naked sea-slugs are hermaphrodites, yet they pair together, as do land-snails, many of which have extremely pretty shells. It is conceivable that two hermaphrodites, attracted by each other’s greater beauty, might unite and leave offspring which would inherit their parents’ greater beauty. But with such lowly-organised creatures this is extremely improbable. Nor is it at all obvious how the offspring from the more beautiful pairs of hermaphrodites would have any advantage over the offspring of the less beautiful, so as to increase in number, unless indeed vigour and beauty generally coincided. We have not here the case of a number of males becoming mature before the females, with the more beautiful males selected by the more vigorous females. If, indeed, brilliant colours were beneficial to a hermaphrodite animal in relation to its general habits of life, the more brightly-tinted individuals would succeed best and would increase in number; but this would be a case of natural and not of sexual selection.

Sub-Kingdom of the Vermes: Class, Annelida (Or Sea-Worms)

In this class, although the sexes, when separate, sometimes differ from each other in characters of such importance that they have been placed under distinct genera or even families, yet the differences do not seem of the kind which can be safely attributed to sexual selection. These animals are often beautifully coloured, but as the sexes do not differ in this respect, we are but little concerned with them. Even the Nemertians, though so lowly organised, “vie in beauty and variety of colouring with any other group in the invertebrate series”; yet Dr. McIntosh (6. See his beautiful monograph on ‘British Annelids,’ part i. 1873, p. 3.) cannot discover that these colours are of any service. The sedentary annelids become duller-coloured, according to M. Quatrefages (7. See M. Perrier: ‘L’Origine de l’Homme d’apres Darwin,’ ‘Revue Scientifique’, Feb. 1873, p. 866.), after the period of reproduction; and this I presume may be attributed to their less vigorous condition at that time. All these worm-like animals apparently stand too low in the scale for the individuals of either sex to exert any choice in selecting a partner, or for the individuals of the same sex to struggle together in rivalry.

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