The Descent of Man – Day 73 of 151

Difference in Size Between the Sexes

With insects of all kinds the males are commonly smaller than the females; and this difference can often be detected even in the larval state. So considerable is the difference between the male and female cocoons of the silk-moth (Bombyx mori), that in France they are separated by a particular mode of weighing. (13. Robinet, ‘Vers a Soie,’ 1848, p. 207.) In the lower classes of the animal kingdom, the greater size of the females seems generally to depend on their developing an enormous number of ova; and this may to a certain extent hold good with insects. But Dr. Wallace has suggested a much more probable explanation. He finds, after carefully attending to the development of the caterpillars of Bombyx cynthia and yamamai, and especially to that of some dwarfed caterpillars reared from a second brood on unnatural food, “that in proportion as the individual moth is finer, so is the time required for its metamorphosis longer; and for this reason the female, which is the larger and heavier insect, from having to carry her numerous eggs, will be preceded by the male, which is smaller and has less to mature.” (14. ‘Transact. Ent. Soc.’ 3rd series, vol. v. p. 486.) Now as most insects are short-lived, and as they are exposed to many dangers, it would manifestly be advantageous to the female to be impregnated as soon as possible. This end would be gained by the males being first matured in large numbers ready for the advent of the females; and this again would naturally follow, as Mr. A.R. Wallace has remarked (15. ‘Journal of Proc. Ent. Soc.’ Feb. 4, 1867, p. lxxi.), through natural selection; for the smaller males would be first matured, and thus would procreate a large number of offspring which would inherit the reduced size of their male parents, whilst the larger males from being matured later would leave fewer offspring.

There are, however, exceptions to the rule of male insects being smaller than the females: and some of these exceptions are intelligible. Size and strength would be an advantage to the males, which fight for the possession of the females; and in these cases, as with the stag-beetle (Lucanus), the males are larger than the females. There are, however, other beetles which are not known to fight together, of which the males exceed the females in size; and the meaning of this fact is not known; but in some of these cases, as with the huge Dynastes and Megasoma, we can at least see that there would be no necessity for the males to be smaller than the females, in order to be matured before them, for these beetles are not short-lived, and there would be ample time for the pairing of the sexes. So again, male dragon-flies (Libellulidae) are sometimes sensibly larger, and never smaller, than the females (16. For this and other statements on the size of the sexes, see Kirby and Spence, ibid. vol. iii. p. 300; on the duration of life in insects, see p. 344.); and as Mr. MacLachlan believes, they do not generally pair with the females until a week or fortnight has elapsed, and until they have assumed their proper masculine colours. But the most curious case, shewing on what complex and easily-overlooked relations, so trifling a character as difference in size between the sexes may depend, is that of the aculeate Hymenoptera; for Mr. F. Smith informs me that throughout nearly the whole of this large group, the males, in accordance with the general rule, are smaller than the females, and emerge about a week before them; but amongst the Bees, the males of Apis mellifica, Anthidium manicatum, and Anthophora acervorum, and amongst the Fossores, the males of the Methoca ichneumonides, are larger than the females. The explanation of this anomaly is that a marriage flight is absolutely necessary with these species, and the male requires great strength and size in order to carry the female through the air. Increased size has here been acquired in opposition to the usual relation between size and the period of development, for the males, though larger, emerge before the smaller females.

We will now review the several Orders, selecting such facts as more particularly concern us. The Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths) will be retained for a separate chapter.

Order, Thysanura

The members of this lowly organised order are wingless, dull-coloured, minute insects, with ugly, almost misshapen heads and bodies. Their sexes do not differ, but they are interesting as shewing us that the males pay sedulous court to the females even low down in the animal scale. Sir J. Lubbock (17. ‘Transact. Linnean Soc.’ vol. xxvi. 1868, p. 296.) says: “it is very amusing to see these little creatures (Smynthurus luteus) coquetting together. The male, which is much smaller than the female, runs round her, and they butt one another, standing face to face and moving backward and forward like two playful lambs. Then the female pretends to run away and the male runs after her with a queer appearance of anger, gets in front and stands facing her again; then she turns coyly round, but he, quicker and more active, scuttles round too, and seems to whip her with his antennae; then for a bit they stand face to face, play with their antennae, and seem to be all in all to one another.”

Order, Diptera (Flies)

The sexes differ little in colour. The greatest difference, known to Mr. F. Walker, is in the genus Bibio, in which the males are blackish or quite black, and the females obscure brownish-orange. The genus Elaphomyia, discovered by Mr. Wallace (18. ‘The Malay Archipelago,’ vol. ii. 1869, p. 313.) in New Guinea, is highly remarkable, as the males are furnished with horns, of which the females are quite destitute. The horns spring from beneath the eyes, and curiously resemble those of a stag, being either branched or palmated. In one of the species, they equal the whole body in length. They might be thought to be adapted for fighting, but as in one species they are of a beautiful pink colour, edged with black, with a pale central stripe, and as these insects have altogether a very elegant appearance, it is perhaps more probable that they serve as ornaments. That the males of some Diptera fight together is certain; Prof. Westwood (19. ‘Modern Classification of Insects,’ vol. ii. 1840, p. 526.) has several times seen this with the Tipulae. The males of other Diptera apparently try to win the females by their music: H. Muller (20. ‘Anwendung,’ etc., ‘Verh. d. n. V. Jahrg.’ xxix. p. 80. Mayer, in ‘American Naturalist,’ 1874, p. 236.) watched for some time two males of an Eristalis courting a female; they hovered above her, and flew from side to side, making a high humming noise at the same time. Gnats and mosquitoes (Culicidae) also seem to attract each other by humming; and Prof. Mayer has recently ascertained that the hairs on the antennae of the male vibrate in unison with the notes of a tuning-fork, within the range of the sounds emitted by the female. The longer hairs vibrate sympathetically with the graver notes, and the shorter hairs with the higher ones. Landois also asserts that he has repeatedly drawn down a whole swarm of gnats by uttering a particular note. It may be added that the mental faculties of the Diptera are probably higher than in most other insects, in accordance with their highly-developed nervous system. (21. See Mr. B.T. Lowne’s interesting work, ‘On the Anatomy of the Blow-fly, Musca vomitoria,’ 1870, p. 14. He remarks (p. 33) that, “the captured flies utter a peculiar plaintive note, and that this sound causes other flies to disappear.”)

Order, Hemiptera (Field-Bugs)

Mr. J.W. Douglas, who has particularly attended to the British species, has kindly given me an account of their sexual differences. The males of some species are furnished with wings, whilst the females are wingless; the sexes differ in the form of their bodies, elytra, antennae and tarsi; but as the signification of these differences are unknown, they may be here passed over. The females are generally larger and more robust than the males. With British, and, as far as Mr. Douglas knows, with exotic species, the sexes do not commonly differ much in colour; but in about six British species the male is considerably darker than the female, and in about four other species the female is darker than the male. Both sexes of some species are beautifully coloured; and as these insects emit an extremely nauseous odour, their conspicuous colours may serve as a signal that they are unpalatable to insectivorous animals. In some few cases their colours appear to be directly protective: thus Prof. Hoffmann informs me that he could hardly distinguish a small pink and green species from the buds on the trunks of lime-trees, which this insect frequents.

Some species of Reduvidae make a stridulating noise; and, in the case of Pirates stridulus, this is said (22. Westwood, ‘Modern Classification of Insects,’ vol. ii. p. 473.) to be effected by the movement of the neck within the pro-thoracic cavity. According to Westring, Reduvius personatus also stridulates. But I have no reason to suppose that this is a sexual character, excepting that with non-social insects there seems to be no use for sound-producing organs, unless it be as a sexual call.

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