The Descent of Man – Day 86 of 151

Chapter XII: Secondary Sexual Characters of Fishes, Amphibians, and Reptiles

  • Fishes:
    • Courtship and battles of the males
    • Larger size of the females
    • Males, bright colours and ornamental appendages; other strange characters
    • Colours and appendages acquired by the males during the breeding-season alone
    • Fishes with both sexes brilliantly coloured
    • Protective colours
    • The less conspicuous colours of the female cannot be accounted for on the principle of protection
    • Male fishes building nests, and taking charge of the ova and young
  • Amphibians:
    • Differences in structure and colour between the sexes
    • Vocal organs
  • Reptiles:
    • Chelonians
    • Crocodiles
    • Snakes, colours in some cases protective
    • Lizards, battles of
    • Ornamental appendages
    • Strange differences in structure between the sexes
    • Colours
    • Sexual differences almost as great as with birds

We have now arrived at the great sub-kingdom of the Vertebrata, and will commence with the lowest class, that of fishes. The males of Plagiostomous fishes (sharks, rays) and of Chimaeroid fishes are provided with claspers which serve to retain the female, like the various structures possessed by many of the lower animals. Besides the claspers, the males of many rays have clusters of strong sharp spines on their heads, and several rows along “the upper outer surface of their pectoral fins.” These are present in the males of some species, which have other parts of their bodies smooth. They are only temporarily developed during the breeding-season; and Dr. Gunther suspects that they are brought into action as prehensile organs by the doubling inwards and downwards of the two sides of the body. It is a remarkable fact that the females and not the males of some species, as of Raia clavata, have their backs studded with large hook-formed spines. (1. Yarrell’s ‘Hist. of British Fishes,’ vol. ii. 1836, pp 417, 425, 436. Dr. Gunther informs me that the spines in R. clavata are peculiar to the female.)

The males alone of the capelin (Mallotus villosus, one of Salmonidae), are provided with a ridge of closely-set, brush-like scales, by the aid of which two males, one on each side, hold the female, whilst she runs with great swiftness on the sandy beach, and there deposits her spawn. (2. The ‘American Naturalist,’ April 1871, p. 119.) The widely distinct Monacanthus scopas presents a somewhat analogous structure. The male, as Dr. Gunther informs me, has a cluster of stiff, straight spines, like those of a comb, on the sides of the tail; and these in a specimen six inches long were nearly one and a half inches in length; the female has in the same place a cluster of bristles, which may be compared with those of a tooth-brush. In another species, M. peronii, the male has a brush like that possessed by the female of the last species, whilst the sides of the tail in the female are smooth. In some other species of the same genus the tail can be perceived to be a little roughened in the male and perfectly smooth in the female; and lastly in others, both sexes have smooth sides.

The males of many fish fight for the possession of the females. Thus the male stickleback (Gasterosteus leiurus) has been described as “mad with delight,” when the female comes out of her hiding-place and surveys the nest which he has made for her. “He darts round her in every direction, then to his accumulated materials for the nest, then back again in an instant; and as she does not advance he endeavours to push her with his snout, and then tries to pull her by the tail and side-spine to the nest.” (3. See Mr. R. Warington’s interesting articles in ‘Annals and Magazine of Natural History,’ October 1852, and November 1855.) The males are said to be polygamists (4. Noel Humphreys, ‘River Gardens,’ 1857.); they are extraordinarily bold and pugnacious, whilst “the females are quite pacific.” Their battles are at times desperate; “for these puny combatants fasten tight on each other for several seconds, tumbling over and over again until their strength appears completely exhausted.” With the rough-tailed stickleback (G. trachurus) the males whilst fighting swim round and round each other, biting and endeavouring to pierce each other with their raised lateral spines. The same writer adds (5. Loudon’s ‘Magazine of Natural History,’ vol. iii. 1830, p. 331.), “the bite of these little furies is very severe. They also use their lateral spines with such fatal effect, that I have seen one during a battle absolutely rip his opponent quite open, so that he sank to the bottom and died.” When a fish is conquered, “his gallant bearing forsakes him; his gay colours fade away; and he hides his disgrace among his peaceable companions, but is for some time the constant object of his conqueror’s persecution.”

The male salmon is as pugnacious as the little stickleback; and so is the male trout, as I hear from Dr. Gunther. Mr. Shaw saw a violent contest between two male salmon which lasted the whole day; and Mr. R. Buist, Superintendent of Fisheries, informs me that he has often watched from the bridge at Perth the males driving away their rivals, whilst the females were spawning. The males “are constantly fighting and tearing each other on the spawning-beds, and many so injure each other as to cause the death of numbers, many being seen swimming near the banks of the river in a state of exhaustion, and apparently in a dying state.” (6. The ‘Field,’ June 29, 1867. For Mr. Shaw’s Statement, see ‘Edinburgh Review,’ 1843. Another experienced observer (Scrope’s ‘Days of Salmon Fishing,’ p. 60) remarks that like the stag, the male would, if he could, keep all other males away.) Mr. Buist informs me, that in June 1868, the keeper of the Stormontfield breeding-ponds visited the northern Tyne and found about 300 dead salmon, all of which with one exception were males; and he was convinced that they had lost their lives by fighting.

Head of male common salmon (Salmo salar) during the breeding-season.

Figure 27: Head of male common salmon (Salmo salar) during the breeding-season. [This drawing, as well as all the others in the present chapter, have been executed by the well-known artist, Mr. G. Ford, from specimens in the British Museum, under the kind superintendence of Dr. Gunther.]

Head of female salmon.

Figure 28: Head of female salmon.

The most curious point about the male salmon is that during the breeding-season, besides a slight change in colour, “the lower jaw elongates, and a cartilaginous projection turns upwards from the point, which, when the jaws are closed, occupies a deep cavity between the intermaxillary bones of the upper jaw.” (7. Yarrell, ‘History of British Fishes,’ vol. ii. 1836, p. 10.) (Figs. 27 and 28.) In our salmon this change of structure lasts only during the breeding-season; but in the Salmo lycaodon of N.W. America the change, as Mr. J.K. Lord (8. ‘The Naturalist in Vancouver’s Island,’ vol. i. 1866, p. 54.) believes, is permanent, and best marked in the older males which have previously ascended the rivers. In these old males the jaw becomes developed into an immense hook-like projection, and the teeth grow into regular fangs, often more than half an inch in length. With the European salmon, according to Mr. Lloyd (9. ‘Scandinavian Adventures,’ vol. i. 1854, pp. 100, 104.), the temporary hook-like structure serves to strengthen and protect the jaws, when one male charges another with wonderful violence; but the greatly developed teeth of the male American salmon may be compared with the tusks of many male mammals, and they indicate an offensive rather than a protective purpose.

The salmon is not the only fish in which the teeth differ in the two sexes; as this is the case with many rays. In the thornback (Raia clavata) the adult male has sharp, pointed teeth, directed backwards, whilst those of the female are broad and flat, and form a pavement; so that these teeth differ in the two sexes of the same species more than is usual in distinct genera of the same family. The teeth of the male become sharp only when he is adult: whilst young they are broad and flat like those of the female. As so frequently occurs with secondary sexual characters, both sexes of some species of rays (for instance R. batis), when adult, possess sharp pointed teeth; and here a character, proper to and primarily gained by the male, appears to have been transmitted to the offspring of both sexes. The teeth are likewise pointed in both sexes of R. maculata, but only when quite adult; the males acquiring them at an earlier age than the females. We shall hereafter meet with analogous cases in certain birds, in which the male acquires the plumage common to both sexes when adult, at a somewhat earlier age than does the female. With other species of rays the males even when old never possess sharp teeth, and consequently the adults of both sexes are provided with broad, flat teeth like those of the young, and like those of the mature females of the above-mentioned species. (10. See Yarrell’s account of the rays in his ‘History of British Fishes,’ vol. ii. 1836, p. 416, with an excellent figure, and pp. 422, 432.) As the rays are bold, strong and voracious fish, we may suspect that the males require their sharp teeth for fighting with their rivals; but as they possess many parts modified and adapted for the prehension of the female, it is possible that their teeth may be used for this purpose.

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.)