The Descent of Man – Day 76 of 151

Order, Neuroptera

Little need here be said, except as to colour. In the Ephemeridae the sexes often differ slightly in their obscure tints (49. B.D. Walsh, the ‘Pseudo-neuroptera of Illinois,’ in ‘Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Philadelphia,’ 1862, p. 361.); but it is not probable that the males are thus rendered attractive to the females. The Libellulidae, or dragon-flies, are ornamented with splendid green, blue, yellow, and vermilion metallic tints; and the sexes often differ. Thus, as Prof. Westwood remarks (50. ‘Modern Classification,’ vol. ii. p. 37.), the males of some of the Agrionidae, “are of a rich blue with black wings, whilst the females are fine green with colourless wings.” But in Agrion Ramburii these colours are exactly reversed in the two sexes. (51. Walsh, ibid. p. 381. I am indebted to this naturalist for the following facts on Hetaerina, Anax, and Gomphus.) In the extensive N. American genus of Hetaerina, the males alone have a beautiful carmine spot at the base of each wing. In Anax junius the basal part of the abdomen in the male is a vivid ultramarine blue, and in the female grass-green. In the allied genus Gomphus, on the other hand, and in some other genera, the sexes differ but little in colour. In closely-allied forms throughout the animal kingdom, similar cases of the sexes differing greatly, or very little, or not at all, are of frequent occurrence. Although there is so wide a difference in colour between the sexes of many Libellulidae, it is often difficult to say which is the more brilliant; and the ordinary coloration of the two sexes is reversed, as we have just seen, in one species of Agrion. It is not probable that their colours in any case have been gained as a protection. Mr. MacLachlan, who has closely attended to this family, writes to me that dragon-flies–the tyrants of the insect-world–are the least liable of any insect to be attacked by birds or other enemies, and he believes that their bright colours serve as a sexual attraction. Certain dragon-flies apparently are attracted by particular colours: Mr. Patterson observed (52. ‘Transactions, Ent. Soc.’ vol. i. 1836, p. lxxxi.) that the Agrionidae, of which the males are blue, settled in numbers on the blue float of a fishing line; whilst two other species were attracted by shining white colours.

It is an interesting fact, first noticed by Schelver, that, in several genera belonging to two sub-families, the males on first emergence from the pupal state, are coloured exactly like the females; but that their bodies in a short time assume a conspicuous milky-blue tint, owing to the exudation of a kind of oil, soluble in ether and alcohol. Mr. MacLachlan believes that in the male of Libellula depressa this change of colour does not occur until nearly a fortnight after the metamorphosis, when the sexes are ready to pair.

Certain species of Neurothemis present, according to Brauer (53. See abstract in the ‘Zoological Record’ for 1867, p. 450.), a curious case of dimorphism, some of the females having ordinary wings, whilst others have them “very richly netted, as in the males of the same species.” Brauer “explains the phenomenon on Darwinian principles by the supposition that the close netting of the veins is a secondary sexual character in the males, which has been abruptly transferred to some of the females, instead of, as generally occurs, to all of them.” Mr. MacLachlan informs me of another instance of dimorphism in several species of Agrion, in which some individuals are of an orange colour, and these are invariably females. This is probably a case of reversion; for in the true Libellulae, when the sexes differ in colour, the females are orange or yellow; so that supposing Agrion to be descended from some primordial form which resembled the typical Libellulae in its sexual characters, it would not be surprising that a tendency to vary in this manner should occur in the females alone.

Although many dragon-flies are large, powerful, and fierce insects, the males have not been observed by Mr. MacLachlan to fight together, excepting, as he believes, in some of the smaller species of Agrion. In another group in this Order, namely, the Termites or white ants, both sexes at the time of swarming may be seen running about, “the male after the female, sometimes two chasing one female, and contending with great eagerness who shall win the prize.” (54. Kirby and Spence, ‘Introduction to Entomology,’ vol. ii. 1818, p. 35.) The Atropos pulsatorius is said to make a noise with its jaws, which is answered by other individuals. (55. Houzeau, ‘Les Facultes Mentales,’ etc. Tom. i. p. 104.)

Order, Hymenoptera

That inimitable observer, M. Fabre (56. See an interesting article, ‘The Writings of Fabre,’ in ‘Nat. Hist. Review,’ April 1862, p. 122.), in describing the habits of Cerceris, a wasp-like insect, remarks that “fights frequently ensue between the males for the possession of some particular female, who sits an apparently unconcerned beholder of the struggle for supremacy, and when the victory is decided, quietly flies away in company with the conqueror.” Westwood (57. ‘Journal of Proceedings of Entomological Society,’ Sept. 7, 1863, p. 169.) says that the males of one of the saw-flies (Tenthredinae) “have been found fighting together, with their mandibles locked.” As M. Fabre speaks of the males of Cerceris striving to obtain a particular female, it may be well to bear in mind that insects belonging to this Order have the power of recognising each other after long intervals of time, and are deeply attached. For instance, Pierre Huber, whose accuracy no one doubts, separated some ants, and when, after an interval of four months, they met others which had formerly belonged to the same community, they recognised and caressed one another with their antennae. Had they been strangers they would have fought together. Again, when two communities engage in a battle, the ants on the same side sometimes attack each other in the general confusion, but they soon perceive their mistake, and the one ant soothes the other. (58. P. Huber, ‘Recherches sur les Moeurs des Fourmis,’ 1810, pp. 150, 165.)

In this Order slight differences in colour, according to sex, are common, but conspicuous differences are rare except in the family of Bees; yet both sexes of certain groups are so brilliantly coloured–for instance in Chrysis, in which vermilion and metallic greens prevail–that we are tempted to attribute the result to sexual selection. In the Ichneumonidae, according to Mr. Walsh (59. ‘Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Philadelphia,’ 1866, pp. 238, 239.), the males are almost universally lighter-coloured than the females. On the other hand, in the Tenthredinidae the males are generally darker than the females. In the Siricidae the sexes frequently differ; thus the male of Sirex juvencus is banded with orange, whilst the female is dark purple; but it is difficult to say which sex is the more ornamented. In Tremex columbae the female is much brighter coloured than the male. I am informed by Mr. F. Smith, that the male ants of several species are black, the females being testaceous.

In the family of Bees, especially in the solitary species, as I hear from the same entomologist, the sexes often differ in colour. The males are generally the brighter, and in Bombus as well as in Apathus, much more variable in colour than the females. In Anthophora retusa the male is of a rich fulvous-brown, whilst the female is quite black: so are the females of several species of Xylocopa, the males being bright yellow. On the other hand the females of some species, as of Andraena fulva, are much brighter coloured than the males. Such differences in colour can hardly be accounted for by the males being defenceless and thus requiring protection, whilst the females are well defended by their stings. H. Muller (60. ‘Anwendung der Darwinschen Lehre auf Bienen,’ Verh. d. n. V. Jahrg. xxix.), who has particularly attended to the habits of bees, attributes these differences in colour in chief part to sexual selection. That bees have a keen perception of colour is certain. He says that the males search eagerly and fight for the possession of the females; and he accounts through such contests for the mandibles of the males being in certain species larger than those of the females. In some cases the males are far more numerous than the females, either early in the season, or at all times and places, or locally; whereas the females in other cases are apparently in excess. In some species the more beautiful males appear to have been selected by the females; and in others the more beautiful females by the males. Consequently in certain genera (Muller, p. 42), the males of the several species differ much in appearance, whilst the females are almost indistinguishable; in other genera the reverse occurs. H. Muller believes (p. 82) that the colours gained by one sex through sexual selection have often been transferred in a variable degree to the other sex, just as the pollen-collecting apparatus of the female has often been transferred to the male, to whom it is absolutely useless. (61. M. Perrier in his article ‘la Selection sexuelle d’apres Darwin’ (‘Revue Scientifique,’ Feb. 1873, p. 868), without apparently having reflected much on the subject, objects that as the males of social bees are known to be produced from unfertilised ova, they could not transmit new characters to their male offspring. This is an extraordinary objection. A female bee fertilised by a male, which presented some character facilitating the union of the sexes, or rendering him more attractive to the female, would lay eggs which would produce only females; but these young females would next year produce males; and will it be pretended that such males would not inherit the characters of their male grandfathers? To take a case with ordinary animals as nearly parallel as possible: if a female of any white quadruped or bird were crossed by a male of a black breed, and the male and female offspring were paired together, will it be pretended that the grandchildren would not inherit a tendency to blackness from their male grandfather? The acquirement of new characters by the sterile worker-bees is a much more difficult case, but I have endeavoured to shew in my ‘Origin of Species,’ how these sterile beings are subjected to the power of natural selection.)

Mutilla Europaea makes a stridulating noise; and according to Goureau (62. Quoted by Westwood, ‘Modern Classification of Insects,’ vol. ii. p. 214.) both sexes have this power. He attributes the sound to the friction of the third and preceding abdominal segments, and I find that these surfaces are marked with very fine concentric ridges; but so is the projecting thoracic collar into which the head articulates, and this collar, when scratched with the point of a needle, emits the proper sound. It is rather surprising that both sexes should have the power of stridulating, as the male is winged and the female wingless. It is notorious that Bees express certain emotions, as of anger, by the tone of their humming; and according to H. Muller (p. 80), the males of some species make a peculiar singing noise whilst pursuing the females.

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