The Descent of Man – Day 92 of 151


The males of some, probably of many kinds of lizards, fight together from rivalry. Thus the arboreal Anolis cristatellus of S. America is extremely pugnacious: “During the spring and early part of the summer, two adult males rarely meet without a contest. On first seeing one another, they nod their heads up and down three or four times, and at the same time expanding the frill or pouch beneath the throat; their eyes glisten with rage, and after waving their tails from side to side for a few seconds, as if to gather energy, they dart at each other furiously, rolling over and over, and holding firmly with their teeth. The conflict generally ends in one of the combatants losing his tail, which is often devoured by the victor.” The male of this species is considerably larger than the female (65. Mr. N.L. Austen kept these animals alive for a considerable time; see ‘Land and Water,’ July 1867, p. 9.); and this, as far as Dr. Gunther has been able to ascertain, is the general rule with lizards of all kinds. The male alone of the Cyrtodactylus rubidus of the Andaman Islands possesses pre-anal pores; and these pores, judging from analogy, probably serve to emit an odour. (66. Stoliczka, ‘Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal,’ vol. xxxiv. 1870, p. 166.)

Sitana minor. Male with the gular pouch expanded (from Gunther's 'Reptiles of India')'

Figure 33: Sitana minor. Male with the gular pouch expanded (from Gunther’s ‘Reptiles of India’)’

The sexes often differ greatly in various external characters. The male of the above-mentioned Anolis is furnished with a crest which runs along the back and tail, and can be erected at pleasure; but of this crest the female does not exhibit a trace. In the Indian Cophotis ceylanica, the female has a dorsal crest, though much less developed than in the male; and so it is, as Dr. Gunther informs me, with the females of many Iguanas, Chameleons, and other lizards. In some species, however, the crest is equally developed in both sexes, as in the Iguana tuberculata. In the genus Sitana, the males alone are furnished with a large throat pouch (Fig. 33), which can be folded up like a fan, and is coloured blue, black, and red; but these splendid colours are exhibited only during the pairing-season. The female does not possess even a rudiment of this appendage. In the Anolis cristatellus, according to Mr. Austen, the throat pouch, which is bright red marbled with yellow, is present in the female, though in a rudimental condition. Again, in certain other lizards, both sexes are equally well provided with throat pouches. Here we see with species belonging to the same group, as in so many previous cases, the same character either confined to the males, or more largely developed in them than in the females, or again equally developed in both sexes. The little lizards of the genus Draco, which glide through the air on their rib-supported parachutes, and which in the beauty of their colours baffle description, are furnished with skinny appendages to the throat “like the wattles of gallinaceous birds.” These become erected when the animal is excited. They occur in both sexes, but are best developed when the male arrives at maturity, at which age the middle appendage is sometimes twice as long as the head. Most of the species likewise have a low crest running along the neck; and this is much more developed in the full-grown males than in the females or young males. (67. All the foregoing statements and quotations, in regard to Cophotis, Sitana and Draco, as well as the following facts in regard to Ceratophora and Chamaeleon, are from Dr. Gunther himself, or from his magnificent work on the ‘Reptiles of British India,’ Ray Soc., 1864, pp. 122, 130, 135.)

A Chinese species is said to live in pairs during the spring; “and if one is caught, the other falls from the tree to the ground, and allows itself to be captured with impunity”–I presume from despair. (68. Mr. Swinhoe, ‘Proc. Zoolog. Soc.’ 1870, p. 240.)

Ceratophora Stoddartii.  Upper figure, male;  lower figure, female.

Figure 34: Ceratophora Stoddartii.
Upper figure, male;
lower figure, female.

There are other and much more remarkable differences between the sexes of certain lizards. The male of Ceratophora aspera bears on the extremity of his snout an appendage half as long as the head. It is cylindrical, covered with scales, flexible, and apparently capable of erection: in the female it is quite rudimental. In a second species of the same genus a terminal scale forms a minute horn on the summit of the flexible appendage; and in a third species (C. Stoddartii, fig. 34) the whole appendage is converted into a horn, which is usually of a white colour, but assumes a purplish tint when the animal is excited. In the adult male of this latter species the horn is half an inch in length, but it is of quite minute size in the female and in the young. These appendages, as Dr. Gunther has remarked to me, may be compared with the combs of gallinaceous birds, and apparently serve as ornaments.

Chamaeleo bifurcus.  Upper figure, male;  lower figure, female.

Figure 35: Chamaeleo bifurcus.
Upper figure, male;
lower figure, female.

Chamaeleo Owenii. Upper figure, male; lower figure, female.

Figure 36: Chamaeleo Owenii.
Upper figure, male;
lower figure, female.

In the genus Chamaeleon we come to the acme of difference between the sexes. The upper part of the skull of the male C. bifurcus (Fig. 35), an inhabitant of Madagascar, is produced into two great, solid, bony projections, covered with scales like the rest of the head; and of this wonderful modification of structure the female exhibits only a rudiment. Again, in Chamaeleo Owenii (Fig. 36), from the West Coast of Africa, the male bears on his snout and forehead three curious horns, of which the female has not a trace. These horns consist of an excrescence of bone covered with a smooth sheath, forming part of the general integuments of the body, so that they are identical in structure with those of a bull, goat, or other sheath-horned ruminant. Although the three horns differ so much in appearance from the two great prolongations of the skull in C. bifurcus, we can hardly doubt that they serve the same general purpose in the economy of these two animals. The first conjecture, which will occur to every one, is that they are used by the males for fighting together; and as these animals are very quarrelsome (69. Dr. Buchholz, ‘Monatsbericht K. Preuss. Akad.’ Jan. 1874, p. 78.), this is probably a correct view. Mr. T.W. Wood also informs me that he once watched two individuals of C. pumilus fighting violently on the branch of a tree; they flung their heads about and tried to bite each other; they then rested for a time and afterwards continued their battle.

With many lizards the sexes differ slightly in colour, the tints and stripes of the males being brighter and more distinctly defined than in the females. This, for instance, is the case with the above Cophotis and with the Acanthodactylus capensis of S. Africa. In a Cordylus of the latter country, the male is either much redder or greener than the female. In the Indian Calotes nigrilabris there is a still greater difference; the lips also of the male are black, whilst those of the female are green. In our common little viviparous lizard (Zootoca vivipara) “the under side of the body and base of the tail in the male are bright orange, spotted with black; in the female these parts are pale-greyish-green without spots.” (70. Bell, ‘History of British Reptiles,’ 2nd ed., 1849, p. 40.) We have seen that the males alone of Sitana possess a throat-pouch; and this is splendidly tinted with blue, black, and red. In the Proctotretus tenuis of Chile the male alone is marked with spots of blue, green, and coppery-red. (71. For Proctotretus, see ‘Zoology of the Voyage of the “Beagle”; Reptiles,’ by Mr. Bell, p. 8. For the Lizards of S. Africa, see ‘Zoology of S. Africa: Reptiles,’ by Sir Andrew Smith, pl. 25 and 39. For the Indian Calotes, see ‘Reptiles of British India,’ by Dr. Gunther, p. 143.) In many cases the males retain the same colours throughout the year, but in others they become much brighter during the breeding-season; I may give as an additional instance the Calotes maria, which at this season has a bright red head, the rest of the body being green. (72. Gunther in ‘Proceedings, Zoological Society,’ 1870, p. 778, with a coloured figure.)

Both sexes of many species are beautifully coloured exactly alike; and there is no reason to suppose that such colours are protective. No doubt with the bright green kinds which live in the midst of vegetation, this colour serves to conceal them; and in N. Patagonia I saw a lizard (Proctotretus multimaculatus) which, when frightened, flattened its body, closed its eyes, and then from its mottled tints was hardly distinguishable from the surrounding sand. But the bright colours with which so many lizards are ornamented, as well as their various curious appendages, were probably acquired by the males as an attraction, and then transmitted either to their male offspring alone, or to both sexes. Sexual selection, indeed, seems to have played almost as important a part with reptiles as with birds; and the less conspicuous colours of the females in comparison with the males cannot be accounted for, as Mr. Wallace believes to be the case with birds, by the greater exposure of the females to danger during incubation.

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