Page:Descent of Man 1875.djvu/468

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Part II.
The Descent of Man.

for her tail is not nearly so long, relatively to the size of her body, as that of many female pheasants, nor longer than that of the female turkey. It must also be borne in mind, that in accordance with this view as soon as the tail of the peahen became dangerously long, and its development was consequently checked, she would have continually reacted on her male progeny, and thus have prevented the peacock from acquiring his present magnificent train. We may therefore infer that the length of the tail in the peacock and its shortness in the peahen are the result of the requisite variations in the male having been from the first transmitted to the male offspring alone.

We are led to a nearly similar conclusion with respect to the length of the tail in the various species of pheasants. In the Eared pheasant (Crossoptilon auritum) the tail is of equal length in both sexes, namely, sixteen or seventeen inches; in the common pheasant it is about twenty inches long in the male and twelve in the female; in Sœmmerring's pheasant, thirty-seven inches in the male and only eight in the female; and lastly in Reeve's pheasant it is sometimes actually seventy-two inches long in the male and sixteen in the female. Thus in the several species, the tail of the female differs much in length, irrespectively of that of the male; and this can be accounted for, as it seems to me, with much more probability, by the laws of inheritance,—that is by the successive variations having been from the first more or less closely limited in their transmission to the male sex, than by the agency of natural selection, resulting from the length of tail being more or less injurious to the females of these several allied species.

We may now consider Mr. Wallace's arguments in regard to the sexual coloration of birds. He believes that the bright tints originally acquired through sexual selection by the males, would in all, or almost all cases, have been transmitted to the females, unless the transference had been checked through natural selection. I may here remind the reader that various facts opposed to this view have already been given under reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and lepidoptera. Mr. Wallace rests his belief chiefly, but not exclusively, as we shall see in the next chapter, on the following statement,[1] that when both sexes are coloured in a very conspicuous manner, the nest is of such a nature as to conceal the sitting bird; but when there is a marked contrast of colour between the sexes, the male being gay and the female dull-coloured, the nest is open and exposes the sitting bird to view. This coincidence, as far as it goes, certainly seems to favour the belief that the females which sit on

  1. 'Journal of Travel,' edited by A. Murray, vol. i. 1868, p. 78.