Men SexeBook

The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex



The proportion between the sexes fluctuates slightly during successive years: thus with race-horses, for every 100 mares born the stallions varied from 107.1 in one year to 92.6 in another year, and with greyhounds from 116.3 to 95.3. But had larger numbers been tabulated throughout an area more extensive than England, these fluctuations would probably have disappeared; and such as they are, would hardly suffice to lead to effective sexual selection in a state of nature. Nevertheless, in the cases of some few wild animals, as shewn in the supplement, the proportions seem to fluctuate either during different seasons or in different localities in a sufficient degree to lead to such selection. For it should be observed that any advantage, gained during certain years or in certain localities by those males which were able to conquer their rivals, or were the most attractive to the females, would probably be transmitted to the offspring, and would not subsequently be eliminated. During the succeeding seasons, when, from the equality of the sexes, every male was able to procure a female, the stronger or more attractive males previously produced would still have at least as good a chance of leaving offspring as the weaker or less attractive.


The practice of polygamy leads to the same results as would follow from an actual inequality in the number of the sexes; for if each male secures two or more females, many males cannot pair; and the latter assuredly will be the weaker or less attractive individuals. Many mammals and some few birds are polygamous, but with animals belonging to the lower classes I have found no evidence of this habit. The intellectual powers of such animals are, perhaps, not sufficient to lead them to collect and guard a harem of females. That some relation exists between polygamy and the development of secondary sexual characters, appears nearly certain; and this supports the view that a numerical preponderance of males would be eminently favourable to the action of sexual selection. Nevertheless many animals, which are strictly monogamous, especially birds, display strongly-marked secondary sexual characters; whilst some few animals, which are polygamous, do not have such characters.

We will first briefly run through the mammals, and then turn to birds. The gorilla seems to be polygamous, and the male differs considerably from the female; so it is with some baboons, which live in herds containing twice as many adult females as males. In South America the Mycetes caraya presents well-marked sexual differences, in colour, beard, and vocal organs; and the male generally lives with two or three wives: the male of the Cebus capucinus differs somewhat from the female, and appears to be polygamous. (10. On the Gorilla, Savage and Wyman, 'Boston Journal of Natural History,' vol. v. 1845-47, p. 423. On Cynocephalus, Brehm, 'Thierleben,' B. i. 1864, s. 77. On Mycetes, Rengger, 'Naturgeschichte der Saugethiere von Paraguay,' 1830, ss. 14, 20. On Cebus, Brehm, ibid. s. 108.) Little is known on this head with respect to most other monkeys, but some species are strictly monogamous.

The ruminants are eminently polygamous, and they present sexual differences more frequently than almost any other group of mammals; this holds good, especially in their weapons, but also in other characters. Most deer, cattle, and sheep are polygamous; as are most antelopes, though some are monogamous. Sir Andrew Smith, in speaking of the antelopes of South Africa, says that in herds of about a dozen there was rarely more than one mature male. The Asiatic Antilope saiga appears to be the most inordinate polygamist in the world; for Pallas (11. Pallas, 'Spicilegia Zoolog., Fasc.' xii. 1777, p. 29. Sir Andrew Smith, 'Illustrations of the Zoology of S. Africa,' 1849, pl. 29, on the Kobus. Owen, in his 'Anatomy of Vertebrates' (vol. iii. 1868, p. 633) gives a table shewing incidentally which species of antelopes are gregarious.) states that the male drives away all rivals, and collects a herd of about a hundred females and kids together; the female is hornless and has softer hair, but does not otherwise differ much from the male.

The wild horse of the Falkland Islands and of the Western States of N. America is polygamous, but, except in his greater size and in the proportions of his body, differs but little from the mare. The wild boar presents well-marked sexual characters, in his great tusks and some other points. In Europe and in India he leads a solitary life, except during the breeding-season; but as is believed by Sir W. Elliot, who has had many opportunities in India of observing this animal, he consorts at this season with several females. Whether this holds good in Europe is doubtful, but it is supported by some evidence.

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