The Descent of Man – Day 78 of 151

Law Of Battle

Some male beetles, which seem ill-fitted for fighting, nevertheless engage in conflicts for the possession of the females. Mr. Wallace (68. ‘The Malay Archipelago,’ vol. ii. 1869, p. 276. Riley, Sixth ‘Report on Insects of Missouri,’ 1874, p. 115.) saw two males of Leptorhynchus angustatus, a linear beetle with a much elongated rostrum, “fighting for a female, who stood close by busy at her boring. They pushed at each other with their rostra, and clawed and thumped, apparently in the greatest rage.” The smaller male, however, “soon ran away, acknowledging himself vanquished.” In some few cases male beetles are well adapted for fighting, by possessing great toothed mandibles, much larger than those of the females. This is the case with the common stag-beetle (Lucanus cervus), the males of which emerge from the pupal state about a week before the other sex, so that several may often be seen pursuing the same female. At this season they engage in fierce conflicts. When Mr. A.H. Davis (69. ‘Entomological Magazine,’ vol. i. 1833, p. 82. See also on the conflicts of this species, Kirby and Spence, ibid. vol. iii. p. 314; and Westwood, ibid. vol. i. p. 187.) enclosed two males with one female in a box, the larger male severely pinched the smaller one, until he resigned his pretensions. A friend informs me that when a boy he often put the males together to see them fight, and he noticed that they were much bolder and fiercer than the females, as with the higher animals. The males would seize hold of his finger, if held in front of them, but not so the females, although they have stronger jaws. The males of many of the Lucanidae, as well as of the above-mentioned Leptorhynchus, are larger and more powerful insects than the females. The two sexes of Lethrus cephalotes (one of the Lamellicorns) inhabit the same burrow; and the male has larger mandibles than the female. If, during the breeding-season, a strange male attempts to enter the burrow, he is attacked; the female does not remain passive, but closes the mouth of the burrow, and encourages her mate by continually pushing him on from behind; and the battle lasts until the aggressor is killed or runs away. (70. Quoted from Fischer, in ‘Dict. Class. d’Hist. Nat.’ tom. x. p. 324.) The two sexes of another Lamellicorn beetle, the Ateuchus cicatricosus, live in pairs, and seem much attached to each other; the male excites the females to roll the balls of dung in which the ova are deposited; and if she is removed, he becomes much agitated. If the male is removed the female ceases all work, and as M. Brulerie believes, would remain on the same spot until she died. (71. ‘Ann. Soc. Entomolog. France,’ 1866, as quoted in ‘Journal of Travel,’ by A. Murray, 1868, p. 135.)

Chiasognathus Grantii, reduced.  Upper figure, male;  lower figure, female.

Figure 24: Chiasognathus Grantii, reduced.
Upper figure, male;
lower figure, female.

The great mandibles of the male Lucanidae are extremely variable both in size and structure, and in this respect resemble the horns on the head and thorax of many male Lamellicorns and Staphylinidae. A perfect series can be formed from the best-provided to the worst-provided or degenerate males. Although the mandibles of the common stag-beetle, and probably of many other species, are used as efficient weapons for fighting, it is doubtful whether their great size can thus be accounted for. We have seen that they are used by the Lucanus elaphus of N. America for seizing the female. As they are so conspicuous and so elegantly branched, and as owing to their great length they are not well adapted for pinching, the suspicion has crossed my mind that they may in addition serve as an ornament, like the horns on the head and thorax of the various species above described. The male Chiasognathus grantii of S. Chile–a splendid beetle belonging to the same family–has enormously developed mandibles (Fig. 24); he is bold and pugnacious; when threatened he faces round, opens his great jaws, and at the same time stridulates loudly. But the mandibles were not strong enough to pinch my finger so as to cause actual pain.

Sexual selection, which implies the possession of considerable perceptive powers and of strong passions, seems to have been more effective with the Lamellicorns than with any other family of beetles. With some species the males are provided with weapons for fighting; some live in pairs and shew mutual affection; many have the power of stridulating when excited; many are furnished with the most extraordinary horns, apparently for the sake of ornament; and some, which are diurnal in their habits, are gorgeously coloured. Lastly, several of the largest beetles in the world belong to this family, which was placed by Linnaeus and Fabricius as the head of the Order. (72. Westwood, ‘Modern Classification,’ vol. i. p. 184.)

Stridulating Organs

Beetles belonging to many and widely distinct families possess these organs. The sound thus produced can sometimes be heard at the distance of several feet or even yards (73. Wollaston, ‘On Certain Musical Curculionidae,’ ‘Annals and Mag. of Nat. Hist.’ vol. vi. 1860, p. 14.), but it is not comparable with that made by the Orthoptera. The rasp generally consists of a narrow, slightly-raised surface, crossed by very fine, parallel ribs, sometimes so fine as to cause iridescent colours, and having a very elegant appearance under the microscope. In some cases, as with Typhoeus, minute, bristly or scale-like prominences, with which the whole surrounding surface is covered in approximately parallel lines, could be traced passing into the ribs of the rasp. The transition takes place by their becoming confluent and straight, and at the same time more prominent and smooth. A hard ridge on an adjoining part of the body serves as the scraper for the rasp, but this scraper in some cases has been specially modified for the purpose. It is rapidly moved across the rasp, or conversely the rasp across the scraper.

Necrophorus (from Landois). r. The two rasps. Left-hand figure, part of the rasp highly magnified.

Figure 25: Necrophorus (from Landois).
r. The two rasps.
Left-hand figure, part of the rasp highly magnified.

These organs are situated in widely different positions. In the carrion-beetles (Necrophorus) two parallel rasps (r, Fig. 25) stand on the dorsal surface of the fifth abdominal segment, each rasp (74. Landois, ‘Zeitschrift fur wissenschaft Zoolog.’ B. xvii. 1867, s. 127.) consisting of 126 to 140 fine ribs. These ribs are scraped against the posterior margins of the elytra, a small portion of which projects beyond the general outline. In many Crioceridae, and in Clythra 4-punctata (one of the Chrysomelidae), and in some Tenebrionidae, etc. (75. I am greatly indebted to Mr. G.R. Crotch for having sent me many prepared specimens of various beetles belonging to these three families and to others, as well as for valuable information. He believes that the power of stridulation in the Clythra has not been previously observed. I am also much indebted to Mr. E.W. Janson, for information and specimens. I may add that my son, Mr. F. Darwin, finds that Dermestes murinus stridulates, but he searched in vain for the apparatus. Scolytus has lately been described by Dr. Chapman as a stridulator, in the ‘Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine,’ vol. vi. p. 130.), the rasp is seated on the dorsal apex of the abdomen, on the pygidium or pro-pygidium, and is scraped in the same manner by the elytra. In Heterocerus, which belongs to another family, the rasps are placed on the sides of the first abdominal segment, and are scraped by ridges on the femora. (76. Schiodte, translated, in ‘Annals and Magazine of Natural History,’ vol. xx. 1867, p. 37.) In certain Curculionidae and Carabidae (77. Westring has described (Kroyer, ‘Naturhist. Tidskrift,’ B. ii. 1848-49, p. 334) the stridulating organs in these two, as well as in other families. In the Carabidae I have examined Elaphrus uliginosus and Blethisa multipunctata, sent to me by Mr. Crotch. In Blethisa the transverse ridges on the furrowed border of the abdominal segment do not, as far as I could judge, come into play in scraping the rasps on the elytra.), the parts are completely reversed in position, for the rasps are seated on the inferior surface of the elytra, near their apices, or along their outer margins, and the edges of the abdominal segments serve as the scrapers. In Pelobius Hermanni (one of Dytiscidae or water-beetles) a strong ridge runs parallel and near to the sutural margin of the elytra, and is crossed by ribs, coarse in the middle part, but becoming gradually finer at both ends, especially at the upper end; when this insect is held under water or in the air, a stridulating noise is produced by the extreme horny margin of the abdomen being scraped against the rasps. In a great number of long-horned beetles (Longicornia) the organs are situated quite otherwise, the rasp being on the meso-thorax, which is rubbed against the pro-thorax; Landois counted 238 very fine ribs on the rasp of Cerambyx heros.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)