Page:Descent of Man 1875.djvu/242

This page has been validated.
226
Part II.
The Descent of Man.

of the habits of animals, this view is hardly probable, for the male is generally eager to pair with any female. It is more probable that the ornaments common to both sexes were acquired by one sex, generally the male, and then transmitted to the offspring of both sexes. If, indeed, during a lengthened period the males of any species were greatly to exceed the females in number, and then during another lengthened period, but under different conditions, the reverse were to occur, a double, but not simultaneous, process of sexual selection might easily be carried on, by which the two sexes might be rendered widely different.

We shall hereafter see that many animals exist, of which neither sex is brilliantly coloured or provided with special ornaments, and yet the members of both sexes or of one alone have probably acquired simple colours, such as white or black, through sexual selection. The absence of bright tints or other ornaments may be the result of variations of the right kind never having occurred, or of the animals themselves having preferred plain black or white. Obscure tints have often been developed through natural selection for the sake of protection, and the acquirement through sexual selection of conspicuous colours, appears to have been sometimes checked from the danger thus incurred. But in other cases the males during long ages may have struggled together for the possession of the females, and yet no effect will have been produced, unless a larger number of offspring were left by the more successful males to inherit their superiority, than by the less successful: and this, as previously shewn, depends on many complex contingencies.

Sexual selection acts in a less rigorous manner than natural selection. The latter produces its effects by the life or death at all ages of the more or less successful individuals. Death, indeed, not rarely ensues from the conflicts of rival males. But generally the less successful male merely fails to obtain a female, or obtains a retarded and less vigorous female later in the season, or, if polygamous, obtains fewer females; so that they leave fewer, less vigorous, or no offspring. In regard to structures acquired through ordinary or natural selection, there is in most cases, as long as the conditions of life remain the same, a limit to the amount of advantageous modification in relation to certain special purposes; but in regard to structures adapted to make one male victorious over another, either in fighting or in charming the female, there is no definite limit to the amount of advantageous modification; so that as long as the proper variations arise the work of sexual selection will go on. This circumstance may partly account for the frequent and extraordinary amount of variability presented