The Descent of Man – Day 89 of 151

What, then, are we to conclude in regard to the many fishes, both sexes of which are splendidly coloured? Mr. Wallace (30. ‘Westminster Review,’ July 1867, p. 7.) believes that the species which frequent reefs, where corals and other brightly-coloured organisms abound, are brightly coloured in order to escape detection by their enemies; but according to my recollection they were thus rendered highly conspicuous. In the fresh-waters of the tropics there are no brilliantly-coloured corals or other organisms for the fishes to resemble; yet many species in the Amazons are beautifully coloured, and many of the carnivorous Cyprinidae in India are ornamented with “bright longitudinal lines of various tints.” (31. ‘Indian Cyprinidae,’ by Mr. M’Clelland, ‘Asiatic Researches,’ vol. xix. part ii. 1839, p. 230.) Mr. M’Clelland, in describing these fishes, goes so far as to suppose that “the peculiar brilliancy of their colours” serves as “a better mark for king-fishers, terns, and other birds which are destined to keep the number of these fishes in check”; but at the present day few naturalists will admit that any animal has been made conspicuous as an aid to its own destruction. It is possible that certain fishes may have been rendered conspicuous in order to warn birds and beasts of prey that they were unpalatable, as explained when treating of caterpillars; but it is not, I believe, known that any fish, at least any fresh-water fish, is rejected from being distasteful to fish-devouring animals. On the whole, the most probable view in regard to the fishes, of which both sexes are brilliantly coloured, is that their colours were acquired by the males as a sexual ornament, and were transferred equally, or nearly so, to the other sex.

We have now to consider whether, when the male differs in a marked manner from the female in colour or in other ornaments, he alone has been modified, the variations being inherited by his male offspring alone; or whether the female has been specially modified and rendered inconspicuous for the sake of protection, such modifications being inherited only by the females. It is impossible to doubt that colour has been gained by many fishes as a protection: no one can examine the speckled upper surface of a flounder, and overlook its resemblance to the sandy bed of the sea on which it lives. Certain fishes, moreover, can through the action of the nervous system change their colours in adaptation to surrounding objects, and that within a short time. (32. G. Pouchet, ‘L’Institut.’ Nov. 1, 1871, p. 134.) One of the most striking instances ever recorded of an animal being protected by its colour (as far as it can be judged of in preserved specimens), as well as by its form, is that given by Dr. Gunther (33. ‘Proc. Zoolog. Soc.’ 1865, p. 327, pl. xiv. and xv.) of a pipe-fish, which, with its reddish streaming filaments, is hardly distinguishable from the sea-weed to which it clings with its prehensile tail. But the question now under consideration is whether the females alone have been modified for this object. We can see that one sex will not be modified through natural selection for the sake of protection more than the other, supposing both to vary, unless one sex is exposed for a longer period to danger, or has less power of escaping from such danger than the other; and it does not appear that with fishes the sexes differ in these respects. As far as there is any difference, the males, from being generally smaller and from wandering more about, are exposed to greater danger than the females; and yet, when the sexes differ, the males are almost always the more conspicuously coloured. The ova are fertilised immediately after being deposited; and when this process lasts for several days, as in the case of the salmon (34. Yarrell, ‘British Fishes,’ vol. ii. p. 11.), the female, during the whole time, is attended by the male. After the ova are fertilised they are, in most cases, left unprotected by both parents, so that the males and females, as far as oviposition is concerned, are equally exposed to danger, and both are equally important for the production of fertile ova; consequently the more or less brightly-coloured individuals of either sex would be equally liable to be destroyed or preserved, and both would have an equal influence on the colours of their offspring.

Certain fishes, belonging to several families, make nests, and some of them take care of their young when hatched. Both sexes of the bright coloured Crenilabrus massa and melops work together in building their nests with sea-weed, shells, etc. (35. According to the observations of M. Gerbe; see Gunther’s ‘Record of Zoolog. Literature,’ 1865, p. 194.) But the males of certain fishes do all the work, and afterwards take exclusive charge of the young. This is the case with the dull-coloured gobies (36. Cuvier, ‘Regne Animal,’ vol. ii. 1829, p. 242.), in which the sexes are not known to differ in colour, and likewise with the sticklebacks (Gasterosteus), in which the males become brilliantly coloured during the spawning season. The male of the smooth-tailed stickleback (G. leiurus) performs the duties of a nurse with exemplary care and vigilance during a long time, and is continually employed in gently leading back the young to the nest, when they stray too far. He courageously drives away all enemies including the females of his own species. It would indeed be no small relief to the male, if the female, after depositing her eggs, were immediately devoured by some enemy, for he is forced incessantly to drive her from the nest. (37. See Mr. Warington’s most interesting description of the habits of the Gasterosteus leiurus in ‘Annals and Magazine of Nat. History,’ November 1855.)

The males of certain other fishes inhabiting South America and Ceylon, belonging to two distinct Orders, have the extraordinary habit of hatching within their mouths, or branchial cavities, the eggs laid by the females. (38. Prof. Wyman, in ‘Proc. Boston Soc. of Nat. Hist.’ Sept. 15, 1857. Also Prof. Turner, in ‘Journal of Anatomy and Physiology,’ Nov. 1, 1866, p. 78. Dr. Gunther has likewise described other cases.) I am informed by Professor Agassiz that the males of the Amazonian species which follow this habit, “not only are generally brighter than the females, but the difference is greater at the spawning-season than at any other time.” The species of Geophagus act in the same manner; and in this genus, a conspicuous protuberance becomes developed on the forehead of the males during the breeding-season. With the various species of Chromids, as Professor Agassiz likewise informs me, sexual differences in colour may be observed, “whether they lay their eggs in the water among aquatic plants, or deposit them in holes, leaving them to come out without further care, or build shallow nests in the river mud, over which they sit, as our Pomotis does. It ought also to be observed that these sitters are among the brightest species in their respective families; for instance, Hygrogonus is bright green, with large black ocelli, encircled with the most brilliant red.” Whether with all the species of Chromids it is the male alone which sits on the eggs is not known. It is, however, manifest that the fact of the eggs being protected or unprotected by the parents, has had little or no influence on the differences in colour between the sexes. It is further manifest, in all the cases in which the males take exclusive charge of the nests and young, that the destruction of the brighter-coloured males would be far more influential on the character of the race, than the destruction of the brighter-coloured females; for the death of the male during the period of incubation or nursing would entail the death of the young, so that they could not inherit his peculiarities; yet, in many of these very cases the males are more conspicuously coloured than the females.

In most of the Lophobranchii (Pipe-fish, Hippocampi, etc.) the males have either marsupial sacks or hemispherical depressions on the abdomen, in which the ova laid by the female are hatched. The males also shew great attachment to their young. (39. Yarrell, ‘History of British Fishes,’ vol. ii. 1836, pp. 329, 338.) The sexes do not commonly differ much in colour; but Dr. Gunther believes that the male Hippocampi are rather brighter than the females. The genus Solenostoma, however, offers a curious exceptional case (40. Dr. Gunther, since publishing an account of this species in ‘The Fishes of Zanzibar,’ by Col. Playfair, 1866, p. 137, has re-examined the specimens, and has given me the above information.), for the female is much more vividly-coloured and spotted than the male, and she alone has a marsupial sack and hatches the eggs; so that the female of Solenostoma differs from all the other Lophobranchii in this latter respect, and from almost all other fishes, in being more brightly-coloured than the male. It is improbable that this remarkable double inversion of character in the female should be an accidental coincidence. As the males of several fishes, which take exclusive charge of the eggs and young, are more brightly coloured than the females, and as here the female Solenostoma takes the same charge and is brighter than the male, it might be argued that the conspicuous colours of that sex which is the more important of the two for the welfare of the offspring, must be in some manner protective. But from the large number of fishes, of which the males are either permanently or periodically brighter than the females, but whose life is not at all more important for the welfare of the species than that of the female, this view can hardly be maintained. When we treat of birds we shall meet with analogous cases, where there has been a complete inversion of the usual attributes of the two sexes, and we shall then give what appears to be the probable explanation, namely, that the males have selected the more attractive females, instead of the latter having selected, in accordance with the usual rule throughout the animal kingdom, the more attractive males.

On the whole we may conclude, that with most fishes, in which the sexes differ in colour or in other ornamental characters, the males originally varied, with their variations transmitted to the same sex, and accumulated through sexual selection by attracting or exciting the females. In many cases, however, such characters have been transferred, either partially or completely, to the females. In other cases, again, both sexes have been coloured alike for the sake of protection; but in no instance does it appear that the female alone has had her colours or other characters specially modified for this latter purpose.

The last point which need be noticed is that fishes are known to make various noises, some of which are described as being musical. Dr. Dufosse, who has especially attended to this subject, says that the sounds are voluntarily produced in several ways by different fishes: by the friction of the pharyngeal bones–by the vibration of certain muscles attached to the swim bladder, which serves as a resounding board–and by the vibration of the intrinsic muscles of the swim bladder. By this latter means the Trigla produces pure and long-drawn sounds which range over nearly an octave. But the most interesting case for us is that of two species of Ophidium, in which the males alone are provided with a sound-producing apparatus, consisting of small movable bones, with proper muscles, in connection with the swim bladder. (41. ‘Comptes-Rendus,’ tom. xlvi. 1858, p. 353; tom. xlvii. 1858, p. 916; tom. liv. 1862, p. 393. The noise made by the Umbrinas (Sciaena aquila), is said by some authors to be more like that of a flute or organ, than drumming: Dr. Zouteveen, in the Dutch translation of this work (vol. ii. p. 36), gives some further particulars on the sounds made by fishes.) The drumming of the Umbrinas in the European seas is said to be audible from a depth of twenty fathoms; and the fishermen of Rochelle assert “that the males alone make the noise during the spawning-time; and that it is possible by imitating it, to take them without bait.” (42. The Rev. C. Kingsley, in ‘Nature,’ May 1870, p. 40.) From this statement, and more especially from the case of Ophidium, it is almost certain that in this, the lowest class of the Vertebrata, as with so many insects and spiders, sound-producing instruments have, at least in some cases, been developed through sexual selection, as a means for bringing the sexes together.

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