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while in the Argus-pheasant the secondary quills are so enormously lengthened and broadened as to have become almost useless for flight. Now it is easily conceivable, that during this process of development, inequalities in the distribution of colour may have arisen in different parts of the same feather; and that spots and bands may thus have become broadened out into shaded spots or ocelli, in the way indicated by Mr. Darwin, much as the spots and rings on a soap-bubble increase with increasing tenuity. This is the more probable, because in domestic fowls varieties of colour tend to become symmetrical, quite independently of sexual selection. (Descent of Man, p. 424.)
If now we accept the evidence of Mr. Darwin's most trustworthy correspondents, that the choice of the female, so far as she exerts any, falls upon the “most vigorous, defiant, and mettlesome male ;” and if we further believe, what is certainly the case, that these are as a rule the most brightly coloured and adorned with the finest developments of plumage, we have a real and not a hypothetical cause at work. For these most healthy, vigorous, and beautiful males will have the choice of the finest and most healthy females; will have the most numerous and healthy families; and will be able best to protect and rear those families. Natural selection, and
be termed male selection, will tend to give them the advantage in the struggle for existence; and thus the fullest plumage and the finest colours will be transmitted, and tend to advance in each succeeding generation.
Theory of Display of Ornaments by Males. The full and interesting account given by Mr. Darwin of the
colours and habits of male and female birds (Descent of Man, Chapters xiii. and xiv.), proves that in most, if not in all cases, the male birds fully display their ornamental plumage before the females or in rivalry with each other; but on the essential point of whether the female's choice is determined by minute differences in these ornaments or in their colours, there appears to be an entire absence of evidence. In the section on “Preference for particular Males by the Females," the facts quoted show indifference to colour, except that some colour similar to their own seems to be preferred. But in the case of the hen canary, who chose a greenfinch in preference to either chaffinch or goldfinch, gay colours had evidently no preponderating attraction. There is some evidence adduced that female birds
probably do, choose their mates ; but none whatever that the choice is determined by difference of colour; and no less than three eminent breeders informed Mr. Darwin that they “ did not believe that the females prefer certain males on account of the beauty of their plumage.” Again, Mr. Darwin himself says: “As a general rule colour appears to have little influence on the pairing of pigeons.” The oft-quoted case of Sir R. Heron's pea-hens which preferred an “old pied cock ” to those normally coloured, is a very unfortunate one; because pied birds are just those that are not favoured in a state of nature, or the breeds of wild animals would become as varied and mottled as our domestic varieties. If such irregular fancies were not rare exceptions, the production of definite colours and patterns by the choice of the female birds, or in any other way, would be impossible.
There remains, however, to be accounted for, the
remarkable fact of the display by the male of each species of its peculiar beauties of plumage and colour, -a display which Mr. Darwin evidently considers his strongest argument in favour of conscious selection by the female. This display is, no doubt, a very interesting and important phenomenon; but it may, I believe, be satisfactorily explained on the general principles here laid down, without calling to our aid a purely hypothetical choice exerted by the female bird.
At pairing-time, the male is in a state of excitement, and full of exuberant energy. Even unornamental birds flutter their wings or spread them out, erect their tails or crests, and thus give vent to the nervous excitability with which they are overcharged. It is not improbable that crests and other erectile feathers may be primarily of use in frightening away enemies, since they are generally erected when angry or during combat. Those individuals who were most pugnacious and defiant, and who brought these erectile plumes most frequently and most powerfully into action, would tend to increase them by use, and to leave them further developed in some of their descendants. If, in the course of this development, colour appeared—and we have already shown that such developments of plumage are a very probable cause of colour-we have every reason to believe it would be most vivid in these most pugnacious and energetic individuals; and as these would always have the advantage in the rivalry for mates (to which advantage the excess of colour and plumage might sometimes conduce), there seems nothing to prevent a progressive development of these ornaments in all dominant races; that is, wherever there was such a surplus of vitality, and such
complete adaption to conditions, that the inconvenience or danger produced by such ornaments was so comparatively small as not to affect the superiority of the race over its nearest allies.
But if those portions of the plumage, which were originally erected under the influence of anger or fear, became largely developed and brightly coloured, the actual display, under the influence of jealousy or sexual excitement becomes quite intelligible. The males, in their rivalry with each other, would see what plumes were most effective ; and each would endeavour to excel his enemy as far as voluntary exertion would enable him, just as they endeavour to rival each other in song, even sometimes to the point of causing their own destruction.
Natural Selection as Neutralizing Sexual Selection. -There is also a general argument against Mr. Darwin's views on this question, founded on the nature and potency of “natural ” as opposed to “sexual” selection, which appears to me to be of itself almost conclusive as to the whole matter at issue. Natural selection, or the survival of the fittest, acts perpetually and on an enormous scale. Taking the offspring of each pair of birds as, on the average, only six annually, one-third of these at most will be preserved, while the two-thirds which are least fitted will die. At intervals of a few years, whenever unfavourable conditions occur, fivesixths, nine-tenths, or even a greater proportion of the whole yearly production are weeded out, leaving only the most perfect and best adapted to survive. Now unless these survivors are, on the whole, the most ornamental, this rigid natural selection must neutralise and destroy any influence that may be exerted by
female selection. The utmost that can be claimed for the latter is, that a small fraction of the least ornamented do not obtain mates, while a few of the most ornamented may leave more than the average number of offspring. Unless, therefore, there is the strictest correlation between ornament and general perfection, the more brightly coloured or ornamented varieties can obtain no permanent advantage; and if there is (as I maintain) such a correlation, then the sexual selection of colour or ornament, for which there is little or no evidence, becomes needless, because natural selection which is an admitted vera causa, will itself produce all the results.
In the case of butterflies the argument becomes even stronger, because the fertility is so much greater than in birds, and the weeding-out of the unfit takes place, to a great extent, in the egg and larva state. Unless the eggs and larvæ which escaped to produce the next generation were those which would produce the more highly-coloured butterflies, it is difficult to perceive how the slight preponderance of colour sometimes selected by the females, should not be wholly neutralized by the extremely rigid selection for other qualities to which the offspring in every stage are exposed. The only way in which we can account for the observed facts is, by the supposition that colour and ornament are strictly correlated with health, vigour, and general fitness to survive. We have shown that there is reason to believe that this is the case, and if so, conscious sexual selection becomes as unnecessary as it would certainly be ineffective.
Greater Brilliancy of some Female Birds.—There is one other very curious case of sexual colouring among