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This somewhat technical discussion will, it is hoped, enable the general reader to understand some of the more important principles of the modern or natural classification of animals, as distinguished from the artificial system which long prevailed. It will also afford him an easily remembered example of those principles, in the radical distinctness of two families of birds often confounded together, the sun-birds of the Eastern Hemisphere, and the humming-birds of America; and in the interesting fact that the latter are essentially swifts—profoundly modified, it is true, for an aérial and flower-haunting existence, but still bearing in many important peculiarities of structure the unmistakable evidences of a common origin.
General Phenomena of Colour in the Organic World—Theory of Heat and Light as producing Colour—Changes of Colour in Animals produced by Coloured Light—Classification of Organic Colours—Protective Colours —Warning Colours—Sexual Colours—Typical Colours—The Nature of Colour—Colour a normal product of Organization—Theory of Protective Colours—Theory of Warning Colours—Theory of Sexual Colours—Colour as a means of Recognition—Colour proportionate to Integumentary Development—Selection by Females not a cause of Colour—Probable use of the Horns of Beetles—Cause of the greater brilliancy of some Female Insects—Theory of display of Ornaments by Males—Natural Selection as neutralizing Sexual Selection—Theory of Typical Colours—Colourdevelopment as illustrated by Humming-birds—Local causes of Colourdevelopment—Summary on Colour-development in Animals.
THERE is probably no one quality of natural objects from which we derive so much pure and intellectual enjoyment as from their colours. The heavenly blue of the firmament, the glowing tints of sunset, the exquisite purity of the snowy mountains, and the endless shades of green presented by the verdure-clad surface of the earth, are a never-failing source of pleasure to all who enjoy the inestimable gift of sight. Yet these constitute, as it were, but the frame and background of a marvellous and ever-changing picture. In contrast with these broad and soothing tints, we have presented to us in the vegetable and animal worlds, an infinite variety of objects adorned with the most beautiful and most varied hues. Flowers, insects and birds, are the organisms most generally ornamented in this way; and their symmetry of form, their variety of structure, and the lavish abundance with which they clothe and enliven the earth, cause them to be objects of universal admiration. The relation of this wealth of colour to our mental and moral nature is indisputable. The child and the savage alike admire the gay tints of flower, bird, and insect ; while to many of us their contemplation brings a solace and enjoyment which is both intellectually and morally beneficial. It can then hardly excite surprise that this relation was long thought to afford a sufficient explanation of the phenomena of colour in nature ; and although the fact that—
“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
might seem to throw some doubt on the sufficiency of the explanation, the answer was easy-that in the progress of discovery, man would, sooner or later, find out and enjoy every beauty that the hidden recesses of the earth have in store for him. This theory received great support, from the difficulty of conceiving any other use or meaning in the colours with which so many natural objects are adorned. Why should the homely gorse be clothed in golden raiment, and the prickly cactus be adorned with crimson bells Why should our fields be gay with buttercups, and the heather-clad mountains be clad in purple robes Why should every land produce its own peculiar floral gems, and the alpine rocks glow with beauty, if not for the contemplation and enjoyment of man What could be the use to the butterfly of its gaily-painted wings, or to the humming bird of its jewelled breast, except to add the final touches to a worldpicture, calculated at once to please and to refine mankind? And even now, with all our recently-acquired knowledge of this subject, who shall say that these oldworld views were not intrinsically and fundamentally sound; and that, although we now know that colour has “uses” in nature that we little dreamt of, yet the relation of those colours—or rather of the various rays of light— to our senses and emotions, may not be another, and perhaps more important use which they subserve in the great system of the universe ? We now propose to lay before our readers a general account of the more recent discoveries on this interesting subject; and in doing so, it will be necessary first to give an outline of the more important facts as to the colours of organised beings; then to point out the cases in which it has been shown that colour is of use; and lastly, to endeavour to throw some light on its nature, and on the general laws of its development. Among naturalists, colour was long thought to be of little import, and to be quite untrustworthy as a specific character. The numerous cases of variability of colour led to this view. The occurrence of white blackbirds, white peacocks, and black leopards; of white blue-bells, and of white, blue, or pink milkworts, led to the belief that colour was essentially unstable, that it could therefore be of little or no importance, and belonged to quite a different class of characters from form or structure. But it now begins to be perceived that these cases, though tolerably numerous, are, after all, exceptional ; and that colour, as a rule, is a constant character. The great majority of species, both of animals and plants, are each distinguished by peculiar tints which vary very little, while the minutest markings are often constant in thousands or millions of individuals. All our field buttercups are invariably yellow, and our poppies red; while many of our butterflies and birds resemble each other in every spot and streak of colour through thousands of individuals. We also find that colour is constant in whole genera and other groups of species. The Genistas are all yellow, the Erythrinas all red; many genera of Carabidae are entirely black; whole families of birds—as the Dendrocolaptidae—are brown; while among butterflies the numerous species of Lycaena are all more or less blue, those of Pontia white, and those of Callidryas yellow. An extensive survey of the organic world thus leads us to the conclusion that colour is by no means so unimportant or inconstant a character as at first sight it appears to be ; and the more we examine it the more convinced we shall become that it must serve some purpose in nature, and that, besides charming us by its diversity and beauty, it must be well worthy of our attentive study, and have many secrets to unfold to us. Theory of Heat and Light as producing Colour.—In commencing our study of the great mass of facts relating to the colours of the organic world, it will be necessary to consider first, how far the chief theories already proposed will account for them. One of the most obvious and most popular of these theories, and one which is still held, in part at least, by many eminent naturalists, is—that colour is due to some direct action of the heat and light of the sun–thus at once accounting M