The Descent of Man – Day 72 of 151

Class, Arachnida (Spiders)

The sexes do not generally differ much in colour, but the males are often darker than the females, as may be seen in Mr. Blackwall’s magnificent work. (18. ‘A History of the Spiders of Great Britain,’ 1861-64. For the following facts, see pp. 77, 88, 102.) In some species, however, the difference is conspicuous: thus the female of Sparassus smaragdulus is dullish green, whilst the adult male has the abdomen of a fine yellow, with three longitudinal stripes of rich red. In certain species of Thomisus the sexes closely resemble each other, in others they differ much; and analogous cases occur in many other genera. It is often difficult to say which of the two sexes departs most from the ordinary coloration of the genus to which the species belong; but Mr. Blackwall thinks that, as a general rule, it is the male; and Canestrini (19. This author has recently published a valuable essay on the ‘Caratteri sessuali secondarii degli Arachnidi,’ in the ‘Atti della Soc. Veneto-Trentina di Sc. Nat. Padova,’ vol. i. Fasc. 3, 1873.) remarks that in certain genera the males can be specifically distinguished with ease, but the females with great difficulty. I am informed by Mr. Blackwall that the sexes whilst young usually resemble each other; and both often undergo great changes in colour during their successive moults, before arriving at maturity. In other cases the male alone appears to change colour. Thus the male of the above bright-coloured Sparassus at first resembles the female, and acquires his peculiar tints only when nearly adult. Spiders are possessed of acute senses, and exhibit much intelligence; as is well known, the females often shew the strongest affection for their eggs, which they carry about enveloped in a silken web. The males search eagerly for the females, and have been seen by Canestrini and others to fight for possession of them. This same author says that the union of the two sexes has been observed in about twenty species; and he asserts positively that the female rejects some of the males who court her, threatens them with open mandibles, and at last after long hesitation accepts the chosen one. From these several considerations, we may admit with some confidence that the well-marked differences in colour between the sexes of certain species are the results of sexual selection; though we have not here the best kind of evidence,– the display by the male of his ornaments. From the extreme variability of colour in the male of some species, for instance of Theridion lineatum, it would appear that these sexual characters of the males have not as yet become well fixed. Canestrini draws the same conclusion from the fact that the males of certain species present two forms, differing from each other in the size and length of their jaws; and this reminds us of the above cases of dimorphic crustaceans.

The male is generally much smaller than the female, sometimes to an extraordinary degree (20. Aug. Vinson (‘Araneides des Iles de la Reunion,’ pl. vi. figs. 1 and 2) gives a good instance of the small size of the male, in Epeira nigra. In this species, as I may add, the male is testaceous and the female black with legs banded with red. Other even more striking cases of inequality in size between the sexes have been recorded (‘Quarterly Journal of Science,’ July 1868, p. 429); but I have not seen the original accounts.), and he is forced to be extremely cautious in making his advances, as the female often carries her coyness to a dangerous pitch. De Geer saw a male that “in the midst of his preparatory caresses was seized by the object of his attentions, enveloped by her in a web and then devoured, a sight which, as he adds, filled him with horror and indignation.” (21. Kirby and Spence, ‘Introduction to Entomology,’ vol. i. 1818, p. 280.) The Rev. O.P. Cambridge (22. ‘Proceedings, Zoological Society,’ 1871, p. 621.) accounts in the following manner for the extreme smallness of the male in the genus Nephila. “M. Vinson gives a graphic account of the agile way in which the diminutive male escapes from the ferocity of the female, by gliding about and playing hide and seek over her body and along her gigantic limbs: in such a pursuit it is evident that the chances of escape would be in favour of the smallest males, while the larger ones would fall early victims; thus gradually a diminutive race of males would be selected, until at last they would dwindle to the smallest possible size compatible with the exercise of their generative functions,– in fact, probably to the size we now see them, i.e., so small as to be a sort of parasite upon the female, and either beneath her notice, or too agile and too small for her to catch without great difficulty.”

Westring has made the interesting discovery that the males of several species of Theridion (23. Theridion (Asagena, Sund.) serratipes, 4-punctatum et guttatum; see Westring, in Kroyer, ‘Naturhist. Tidskrift,’ vol. iv. 1842-1843, p. 349; and vol. ii. 1846-1849, p. 342. See, also, for other species, ‘Araneae Suecicae,’ p. 184.) have the power of making a stridulating sound, whilst the females are mute. The apparatus consists of a serrated ridge at the base of the abdomen, against which the hard hinder part of the thorax is rubbed; and of this structure not a trace can be detected in the females. It deserves notice that several writers, including the well-known arachnologist Walckenaer, have declared that spiders are attracted by music. (24. Dr. H.H. van Zouteveen, in his Dutch translation of this work (vol. i. p. 444), has collected several cases.) From the analogy of the Orthoptera and Homoptera, to be described in the next chapter, we may feel almost sure that the stridulation serves, as Westring also believes, to call or to excite the female; and this is the first case known to me in the ascending scale of the animal kingdom of sounds emitted for this purpose. (25. Hilgendorf, however, has lately called attention to an analogous structure in some of the higher crustaceans, which seems adapted to produce sound; see ‘Zoological Record,’ 1869, p. 603.)

Class, Myriapoda

In neither of the two orders in this class, the millipedes and centipedes, can I find any well-marked instances of such sexual differences as more particularly concern us. In Glomeris limbata, however, and perhaps in some few other species, the males differ slightly in colour from the females; but this Glomeris is a highly variable species. In the males of the Diplopoda, the legs belonging either to one of the anterior or of the posterior segments of the body are modified into prehensile hooks which serve to secure the female. In some species of Iulus the tarsi of the male are furnished with membranous suckers for the same purpose. As we shall see when we treat of Insects, it is a much more unusual circumstance, that it is the female in Lithobius, which is furnished with prehensile appendages at the extremity of her body for holding the male. (26. Walckenaer et P. Gervais, ‘Hist. Nat. des Insectes: Apteres,’ tom. iv. 1847, pp. 17, 19, 68.)

Chapter X: Secondary Sexual Characters of Insects

  • Diversified structures possessed by the males for seizing the females
  • Differences between the sexes, of which the meaning is not understood
  • Difference in size between the sexes
  • Thysanura
  • Diptera
  • Hemiptera
  • Homoptera, musical powers possessed by the males alone
  • Orthoptera, musical instruments of the males, much diversified in structure; pugnacity; colours
  • Neuroptera, sexual differences in colour
  • Hymenoptera, pugnacity and odours
  • Coleoptera, colours; furnished with great horns, apparently as an ornament; battles, stridulating organs generally common to both sexes.

In the immense class of insects the sexes sometimes differ in their locomotive-organs, and often in their sense-organs, as in the pectinated and beautifully plumose antennae of the males of many species. In Chloeon, one of the Ephemerae, the male has great pillared eyes, of which the female is entirely destitute. (1. Sir J. Lubbock, ‘Transact. Linnean Soc.’ vol. xxv, 1866, p. 484. With respect to the Mutillidae see Westwood, ‘Modern Class. of Insects,’ vol. ii. p. 213.) The ocelli are absent in the females of certain insects, as in the Mutillidae; and here the females are likewise wingless. But we are chiefly concerned with structures by which one male is enabled to conquer another, either in battle or courtship, through his strength, pugnacity, ornaments, or music. The innumerable contrivances, therefore, by which the male is able to seize the female, may be briefly passed over. Besides the complex structures at the apex of the abdomen, which ought perhaps to be ranked as primary organs (2. These organs in the male often differ in closely-allied species, and afford excellent specific characters. But their importance, from a functional point of view, as Mr. R. MacLachlan has remarked to me, has probably been overrated. It has been suggested, that slight differences in these organs would suffice to prevent the intercrossing of well-marked varieties or incipient species, and would thus aid in their development. That this can hardly be the case, we may infer from the many recorded cases (see, for instance, Bronn, ‘Geschichte der Natur,’ B. ii. 1843, s. 164; and Westwood, ‘Transact. Ent. Soc.’ vol. iii. 1842, p. 195) of distinct species having been observed in union. Mr. MacLachlan informs me (vide ‘Stett. Ent. Zeitung,’ 1867, s. 155) that when several species of Phryganidae, which present strongly-pronounced differences of this kind, were confined together by Dr. Aug. Meyer, they coupled, and one pair produced fertile ova.), “it is astonishing,” as Mr. B.D. Walsh (3. ‘The Practical Entomologist,’ Philadelphia, vol. ii. May 1867, p 88.) has remarked, “how many different organs are worked in by nature for the seemingly insignificant object of enabling the male to grasp the female firmly.” The mandibles or jaws are sometimes used for this purpose; thus the male Corydalis cornutus (a neuropterous insect in some degree allied to the Dragon flies, etc.) has immense curved jaws, many times longer than those of the female; and they are smooth instead of being toothed, so that he is thus enabled to seize her without injury. (4. Mr. Walsh, ibid. p. 107.) One of the stag-beetles of North America (Lucanus elaphus) uses his jaws, which are much larger than those of the female, for the same purpose, but probably likewise for fighting. In one of the sand-wasps (Ammophila) the jaws in the two sexes are closely alike, but are used for widely different purposes: the males, as Professor Westwood observes, “are exceedingly ardent, seizing their partners round the neck with their sickle-shaped jaws” (5. ‘Modern Classification of Insects,’ vol. ii. 1840, pp. 205, 206. Mr. Walsh, who called my attention to the double use of the jaws, says that he has repeatedly observed this fact.); whilst the females use these organs for burrowing in sand-banks and making their nests.

Crabro cribrarius.  Upper figure, male; lower figure, female.

Figure 9: Crabro cribrarius. Upper figure, male; lower figure, female.

The tarsi of the front-legs are dilated in many male beetles, or are furnished with broad cushions of hairs; and in many genera of water-beetles they are armed with a round flat sucker, so that the male may adhere to the slippery body of the female. It is a much more unusual circumstance that the females of some water-beetles (Dytiscus) have their elytra deeply grooved, and in Acilius sulcatus thickly set with hairs, as an aid to the male. The females of some other water-beetles (Hydroporus) have their elytra punctured for the same purpose. (6. We have here a curious and inexplicable case of dimorphism, for some of the females of four European species of Dytiscus, and of certain species of Hydroporus, have their elytra smooth; and no intermediate gradations between the sulcated or punctured, and the quite smooth elytra have been observed. See Dr. H. Schaum, as quoted in the ‘Zoologist,’ vols. v.-vi. 1847-48, p. 1896. Also Kirby and Spence, ‘Introduction to Entomology,’ vol. iii. 1826, p. 305.) In the male of Crabro cribrarius (Fig. 9), it is the tibia which is dilated into a broad horny plate, with minute membraneous dots, giving to it a singular appearance like that of a riddle. (7. Westwood, ‘Modern Class.’ vol. ii. p. 193. The following statement about Penthe, and others in inverted commas, are taken from Mr. Walsh, ‘Practical Entomologist,’ Philadelphia, vol. iii. p. 88.) In the male of Penthe (a genus of beetles) a few of the middle joints of the antennae are dilated and furnished on the inferior surface with cushions of hair, exactly like those on the tarsi of the Carabidae, “and obviously for the same end.” In male dragon-flies, “the appendages at the tip of the tail are modified in an almost infinite variety of curious patterns to enable them to embrace the neck of the female.” Lastly, in the males of many insects, the legs are furnished with peculiar spines, knobs or spurs; or the whole leg is bowed or thickened, but this is by no means invariably a sexual character; or one pair, or all three pairs are elongated, sometimes to an extravagant length. (8. Kirby and Spence, ‘Introduct.’ etc., vol. iii. pp. 332-336.)

Taphroderes distortus (much enlarged).  Upper figure, male; lower figure, female.

Figure 10: Taphroderes distortus (much enlarged). Upper figure, male; lower figure, female.

The sexes of many species in all the orders present differences, of which the meaning is not understood. One curious case is that of a beetle (Fig. 10), the male of which has left mandible much enlarged; so that the mouth is greatly distorted. In another Carabidous beetle, Eurygnathus (9. ‘Insecta Maderensia,’ 1854, page 20.), we have the case, unique as far as known to Mr. Wollaston, of the head of the female being much broader and larger, though in a variable degree, than that of the male. Any number of such cases could be given. They abound in the Lepidoptera: one of the most extraordinary is that certain male butterflies have their fore-legs more or less atrophied, with the tibiae and tarsi reduced to mere rudimentary knobs. The wings, also, in the two sexes often differ in neuration (10. E. Doubleday, ‘Annals and Mag. of Nat. Hist.’ vol. i. 1848, p. 379. I may add that the wings in certain Hymenoptera (see Shuckard, ‘Fossorial Hymenoptera,’ 1837, pp. 39-43) differ in neuration according to sex.), and sometimes considerably in outline, as in the Aricoris epitus, which was shewn to me in the British Museum by Mr. A. Butler. The males of certain South American butterflies have tufts of hair on the margins of the wings, and horny excrescences on the discs of the posterior pair. (11. H.W. Bates, in ‘Journal of Proc. Linn. Soc.’ vol. vi. 1862, p. 74. Mr. Wonfor’s observations are quoted in ‘Popular Science Review,’ 1868, p. 343.) In several British butterflies, as shewn by Mr. Wonfor, the males alone are in parts clothed with peculiar scales.

The use of the bright light of the female glow-worm has been subject to much discussion. The male is feebly luminous, as are the larvae and even the eggs. It has been supposed by some authors that the light serves to frighten away enemies, and by others to guide the male to the female. At last, Mr. Belt (12. ‘The Naturalist in Nicaragua,’ 1874, pp. 316-320. On the phosphorescence of the eggs, see ‘Annals and Magazine of Natural History,’ Nov. 1871, p. 372.) appears to have solved the difficulty: he finds that all the Lampyridae which he has tried are highly distasteful to insectivorous mammals and birds. Hence it is in accordance with Mr. Bates’ view, hereafter to be explained, that many insects mimic the Lampyridae closely, in order to be mistaken for them, and thus to escape destruction. He further believes that the luminous species profit by being at once recognised as unpalatable. It is probable that the same explanation may be extended to the Elaters, both sexes of which are highly luminous. It is not known why the wings of the female glow-worm have not been developed; but in her present state she closely resembles a larva, and as larvae are so largely preyed on by many animals, we can understand why she has been rendered so much more luminous and conspicuous than the male; and why the larvae themselves are likewise luminous.

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