Page images
PDF
EPUB

far as we can see, be ornamented to no purpose" (l.c., p. 316). I am not aware that any one has ever maintained that the brilliant colours of butterflies have “commonly been acquired for the sake of protection,” yet Mr. Darwin has himself referred to cases in which the brilliant colour is so placed as to serve for protection; as for example, the eye-spots on the hind wings of moths, which are pierced by birds and so save the vital parts of the insect; while the bright patch on the orange-tip butterflies which Mr. Darwin denies are protective, may serve the same purpose. It is in fact somewhat remarkable how very generally the black spots, ocelli, or bright patches of colour are on the tips, margins, or discs of the wings; and as the insects are necessarily visible while flying, and this is the time when they are most subject to attacks by insectivorous birds, the position of the more conspicuous parts at some distance from the body may be a real protection to them. Again, Mr. Darwin admits that the white colour of the male ghost-moth may render it more easily seen by the female while flying about in the dusk; and if to this we add that it will be also more readily distinguished from allied species, we have a reason for diverse ornamentation in these insects quite sufficient to account for most of the facts, without believing in the selection of brilliant males by the females, for which there is not a particle of evidence." Probable use of the Horns of Beetles.—A somewhat analogous case is furnished by the immense horns of some beetles of the families Copridae and Dynastidae, which Mr. Darwin admits are not used for fighting, and therefore concludes are ornaments, developed through selection of the larger-horned males by the females. But it has been overlooked that these horns may be protective. The males probably fly about most, as is usually the case with male insects; and as they generally fly at dusk they are subject to the attacks of large-mouthed goatsuckers and podargi, as well as of insect-eating owls. Now the long, pointed or forked horns, often divergent, or movable with the head, would render it very difficult for these birds to swallow such insects, and would therefore be an efficient protection; just as are the hooked spines of some stingless ants and the excessively hard integuments of many beetles, against the smaller insectivorous birds. Cause of the greater Brilliancy of some Female Insects—The facts given by Mr. Darwin to show that butterflies and other insects can distinguish colours and are attracted by colours similar to their own, are quite consistent with the view that colour, which continually tends to appear, is utilised for purposes of identification and distinction, when not required to be modified or suppressed for the purpose of protection. The cases of the females of some species of Thecla, Callidryas, Colias, and Hipparchia, which have more conspicuous markings than the male, may be due to several causes: to obtain greater distinction from other species; for protection from birds, as in the case of the yellow-underwing moths; while sometimes—as in Hipparchia—the lower intensity of colouring in the female may lead to more contrasted markings. Mr. Darwin thinks that here the males have selected the more beautiful females; although one chief fact in support of his theory of conscious sexual selection is, that throughout the whole animal kingdom the males are usually so ardent that they will accept any female, while the females are coy, and choose the handsomest males, whence it is believed the general brilliancy of males as compared with females has arisen. Perhaps the most curious cases of sexual difference of colour are those in which the female is very much more gaily coloured than the male. This occurs most strikingly in some species of Pieris in South America, and of Diadema in the Malay islands; and in both cases the females resemble species of the uneatable Danaidae and Heliconidae, and thus gain a protection. In the case of Pieris pyrrha, P. malenka, and P. lorena, the males are plain white and black, while the females are orange, yellow, and black, and so banded and spotted as exactly to resemble species of Heliconidae. Mr. Darwin admits that these bright colours have been acquired for protection; but as there is no apparent cause for the strict limitation of the colour to the female, he believes that it has been kept down in the male by its being unattractive to her. This appears to me to be a supposition opposed to the whole theory of sexual selection itself. For this theory is, that minute variations of colour in the male are attractive to the female, have always been selected, and that thus the brilliant male colours have been produced. But in this case he thinks that the female butterfly had a constant aversion to every trace of colour, even when we must suppose it was constantly recurring during the successive variations which resulted in such a marvellous change in herself. But the case admits of a much more simple interpretation. For if we consider the fact that the females frequent the forests where the Heliconidae abound, while the males fly much in the open and assemble in great numbers with other white and yellow butterflies on the banks of rivers; may it not be possible that the appearance of orange stripes or patches would be as injurious to the male as it is useful to the female, by making him a more easy mark for insectivorous birds among his white companions : This seems a more probable supposition, than the altogether hypothetical choice of the female, sometimes exercised in favour of and sometimes against every new variety of colour in her partner. A strictly analogous case is that of the glow-worm, whose light, as originally suggested by Mr. Belt, is admitted to be a warning of its uneatability to insectivorous nocturnal animals. The male, having wings, does not require this protection. In the tropics the number of nocturnal insectivorous birds and bats is very much greater, hence winged species possess the light, as they would otherwise be eaten by mistake for more savoury insects; and it may be that the luminous Elateridae of the tropics really mimic the true fireflies (Lampyridae), which are uneatable. This is the more probable as the Elateridae, in the great majority of species, have brown or protective colours, and are therefore certainly palatable to insectivorous animals. Origin of the Ornamental Plumage of Male Birds.We now come to such wonderful developments of plumage and colour as are exhibited by the peacock and the Argus-pheasant ; and I may here mention that it was the case of the latter bird, as fully discussed by Mr. Darwin, which first shook my belief in “sexual,” or more properly “female” selection. The long series of gradations, by which the beautifully shaded ocelli on the secondary wing-feathers of this bird, have been produced, are clearly traced out; the result being a set of markings, so exquisitely shaded as to represent “balls lying loose within sockets”—purely artificial objects of which these birds could have no possible experience. That this result should have been attained through thousands and tens of thousands of female birds all preferring those males whose markings varied slightly in this one direction, this uniformity of choice continuing through thousands and tens of thousands of generations, is to me absolutely incredible. And when, further, we remember that those which did not so vary, would also, according to all the evidence, find mates and leave offspring, the actual result seems quite impossible of attainment by such means. Without pretending to solve completely so difficult a problem as that of the origin and uses of the variously coloured plumes and ornaments so often possessed by male birds, I would point out a few facts which seem to afford a clue. And first, the most highly-coloured and most richly-varied markings occur on those parts of the plumage which have undergone the greatest modification, or have acquired the most abnormal development. In the peacock, the tail-coverts are enormously developed, and the “eyes” are situated on the greatly dilated ends. In the birds-of-paradise, breast, or neck, or head, or tail-feathers, are greatly developed and highly coloured. The hackles of the cock, and the scaly breasts of humming-birds are similar developments;

* See M. Fabre's testimony on this point, Descent of Man, p. 291.

« EelmineJätka »