The Descent of Man – Day 87 of 151

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.

In regard to size, M. Carbonnier (11. As quoted in ‘The Farmer,’ 1868, p. 369.) maintains that the female of almost all fishes is larger than the male; and Dr. Gunther does not know of a single instance in which the male is actually larger than the female. With some Cyprinodonts the male is not even half as large. As in many kinds of fishes the males habitually fight together, it is surprising that they have not generally become larger and stronger than the females through the effects of sexual selection. The males suffer from their small size, for according to M. Carbonnier, they are liable to be devoured by the females of their own species when carnivorous, and no doubt by other species. Increased size must be in some manner of more importance to the females, than strength and size are to the males for fighting with other males; and this perhaps is to allow of the production of a vast number of ova.

Callionymus lyra. Upper figure, male; lower figure, female. N.B.  The lower figure is more reduced than the upper.

Figure 29: Callionymus lyra.
Upper figure, male;
lower figure, female.
N.B. The lower figure is more reduced than the upper.

In many species the male alone is ornamented with bright colours; or these are much brighter in the male than the female. The male, also, is sometimes provided with appendages which appear to be of no more use to him for the ordinary purposes of life, than are the tail feathers to the peacock. I am indebted for most of the following facts to the kindness of Dr. Gunther. There is reason to suspect that many tropical fishes differ sexually in colour and structure; and there are some striking cases with our British fishes. The male Callionymus lyra has been called the gemmeous dragonet “from its brilliant gem-like colours.” When fresh caught from the sea the body is yellow of various shades, striped and spotted with vivid blue on the head; the dorsal fins are pale brown with dark longitudinal bands; the ventral, caudal, and anal fins being bluish-black. The female, or sordid dragonet, was considered by Linnaeus, and by many subsequent naturalists, as a distinct species; it is of a dingy reddish-brown, with the dorsal fin brown and the other fins white. The sexes differ also in the proportional size of the head and mouth, and in the position of the eyes (12. I have drawn up this description from Yarrell’s ‘British Fishes,’ vol. i. 1836, pp. 261 and 266.); but the most striking difference is the extraordinary elongation in the male (Fig. 29) of the dorsal fin. Mr. W. Saville Kent remarks that this “singular appendage appears from my observations of the species in confinement, to be subservient to the same end as the wattles, crests, and other abnormal adjuncts of the male in gallinaceous birds, for the purpose of fascinating their mates.” (13. ‘Nature,’ July 1873, p. 264.) The young males resemble the adult females in structure and colour. Throughout the genus Callionymus (14. ‘Catalogue of Acanth. Fishes in the British Museum,’ by Dr. Gunther, 1861, pp. 138-151.), the male is generally much more brightly spotted than the female, and in several species, not only the dorsal, but the anal fin is much elongated in the males.

The male of the Cottus scorpius, or sea-scorpion, is slenderer and smaller than the female. There is also a great difference in colour between them. It is difficult, as Mr. Lloyd (15. ‘Game Birds of Sweden,’ etc., 1867, p. 466.) remarks, “for any one, who has not seen this fish during the spawning-season, when its hues are brightest, to conceive the admixture of brilliant colours with which it, in other respects so ill-favoured, is at that time adorned.” Both sexes of the Labrus mixtus, although very different in colour, are beautiful; the male being orange with bright blue stripes, and the female bright red with some black spots on the back.

Xiphophorus Hellerii. Upper figure, male; lower figure, female.

Figure 30: Xiphophorus Hellerii.
Upper figure, male;
lower figure, female.

In the very distinct family of the Cyprinodontidae–inhabitants of the fresh waters of foreign lands–the sexes sometimes differ much in various characters. In the male of the Mollienesia petenensis (16. With respect to this and the following species I am indebted to Dr. Gunther for information: see also his paper on the ‘Fishes of Central America,’ in ‘Transact. Zoological Soc.’ vol. vi. 1868, p. 485.), the dorsal fin is greatly developed and is marked with a row of large, round, ocellated, bright-coloured spots; whilst the same fin in the female is smaller, of a different shape, and marked only with irregularly curved brown spots. In the male the basal margin of the anal fin is also a little produced and dark coloured. In the male of an allied form, the Xiphophorus Hellerii (Fig. 30), the inferior margin of the caudal fin is developed into a long filament, which, as I hear from Dr. Gunther, is striped with bright colours. This filament does not contain any muscles, and apparently cannot be of any direct use to the fish. As in the case of the Callionymus, the males whilst young resemble the adult females in colour and structure. Sexual differences such as these may be strictly compared with those which are so frequent with gallinaceous birds. (17. Dr. Gunther makes this remark; ‘Catalogue of Fishes in the British Museum,’ vol. iii. 1861, p. 141.)

Plecostomus barbatus.  Upper figure, head of male; lower figure, female.

Figure 31: Plecostomus barbatus.
Upper figure, head of male;
lower figure, female.

In a siluroid fish, inhabiting the fresh waters of South America, the Plecostomus barbatus (18. See Dr. Gunther on this genus, in ‘Proceedings of the Zoological Society,’ 1868, p. 232.) (Fig. 31), the male has its mouth and inter-operculum fringed with a beard of stiff hairs, of which the female shows hardly a trace. These hairs are of the nature of scales. In another species of the same genus, soft flexible tentacles project from the front part of the head of the male, which are absent in the female. These tentacles are prolongations of the true skin, and therefore are not homologous with the stiff hairs of the former species; but it can hardly be doubted that both serve the same purpose. What this purpose may be, it is difficult to conjecture; ornament does not here seem probable, but we can hardly suppose that stiff hairs and flexible filaments can be useful in any ordinary way to the males alone. In that strange monster, the Chimaera monstrosa, the male has a hook-shaped bone on the top of the head, directed forwards, with its end rounded and covered with sharp spines; in the female “this crown is altogether absent,” but what its use may be to the male is utterly unknown. (19. F. Buckland, in ‘Land and Water,’ July 1868, p. 377, with a figure. Many other cases could be added of structures peculiar to the male, of which the uses are not known.)

The structures as yet referred to are permanent in the male after he has arrived at maturity; but with some Blennies, and in another allied genus (20. Dr. Gunther, ‘Catalogue of Fishes,’ vol. iii. pp. 221 and 240.), a crest is developed on the head of the male only during the breeding-season, and the body at the same time becomes more brightly-coloured. There can be little doubt that this crest serves as a temporary sexual ornament, for the female does not exhibit a trace of it. In other species of the same genus both sexes possess a crest, and in at least one species neither sex is thus provided. In many of the Chromidae, for instance in Geophagus and especially in Cichla, the males, as I hear from Professor Agassiz (21. See also ‘A Journey in Brazil,’ by Prof. and Mrs. Agassiz, 1868, p. 220.), have a conspicuous protuberance on the forehead, which is wholly wanting in the females and in the young males. Professor Agassiz adds, “I have often observed these fishes at the time of spawning when the protuberance is largest, and at other seasons when it is totally wanting, and the two sexes shew no difference whatever in the outline of the profile of the head. I never could ascertain that it subserves any special function, and the Indians on the Amazon know nothing about its use.” These protuberances resemble, in their periodical appearance, the fleshy carbuncles on the heads of certain birds; but whether they serve as ornaments must remain at present doubtful.

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