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The Descent of Man, by Charles Darwin, 2nd ed. [1874], at


INSECTS, continued.


Courtship of butterflies--Battles--Ticking noise--Colours common to both sexes, or more brilliant in the males--Examples--Not due to the direct action of the conditions of life--Colours adapted for protection--Colours of moths--Display--Perceptive powers of the Lepidoptera--Variability-- Causes of the difference in colour between the males and females--Mimicry, female butterflies more brilliantly coloured than the males--Bright colours of caterpillars--Summary and concluding remarks on the secondary sexual characters of insects--Birds and insects compared.

In this great Order the most interesting points for us are the differences in colour between the sexes of the same species, and between the distinct species of the same genus. Nearly the whole of the following chapter will be devoted to this subject; but I will first make a few remarks on one or two other points. Several males may often be seen pursuing and crowding round the same female. Their courtship appears to be a prolonged affair, for I have frequently watched one or more males pirouetting round a female until I was tired, without seeing the end of the courtship. Mr. A.G. Butler also informs me that he has several times watched a male courting a female for a full quarter of an hour; but she pertinaciously refused him, and at last settled on the ground and closed her wings, so as to escape from his addresses.

Although butterflies are weak and fragile creatures, they are pugnacious, and an emperor butterfly (1. Apatura Iris: 'The Entomologist's Weekly Intelligence,' 1859, p. 139. For the Bornean Butterflies, see C. Collingwood, 'Rambles of a Naturalist,' 1868, p. 183.) has been captured with the tips of its wings broken from a conflict with another male. Mr. Collingwood, in speaking of the frequent battles between the butterflies of Borneo, says, "They whirl round each other with the greatest rapidity, and appear to be incited by the greatest ferocity."

The Ageronia feronia makes a noise like that produced by a toothed wheel passing under a spring catch, and which can be heard at the distance of several yards: I noticed this sound at Rio de Janeiro, only when two of these butterflies were chasing each other in an irregular course, so that it is probably made during the courtship of the sexes. (2. See my 'Journal of Researches,' 1845, p. 33. Mr. Doubleday has detected ('Proc. Ent. Soc.' March 3, 1845, p. 123) a peculiar membranous sac at the base of the front wings, which is probably connected with the production of the sound. For the case of Thecophora, see 'Zoological Record,' 1869, p. 401. For Mr. Buchanan White's observations, the Scottish Naturalist, July 1872, p. 214.)

Some moths also produce sounds; for instance, the males Theocophora fovea. On two occasions Mr. F. Buchanan White (3. 'The Scottish Naturalist,' July 1872, p. 213.) heard a sharp quick noise made by the male of Hylophila prasinana, and which he believes to be produced, as in Cicada, by an elastic membrane, furnished with a muscle. He quotes, also, Guenee, that Setina produces a sound like the ticking of a watch, apparently by the aid of "two large tympaniform vesicles, situated in the pectoral region"; and these "are much more developed in the male than in the female." Hence the sound-producing organs in the Lepidoptera appear to stand in some relation with the sexual functions. I have not alluded to the well-known noise made by the Death's Head Sphinx, for it is generally heard soon after the moth has emerged from its cocoon.

Giard has always observed that the musky odour, which is emitted by two species of Sphinx moths, is peculiar to the males (4. 'Zoological Record,' 1869, p. 347.); and in the higher classes we shall meet with many instances of the males alone being odoriferous.

Every one must have admired the extreme beauty of many butterflies and of some moths; and it may be asked, are their colours and diversified patterns the result of the direct action of the physical conditions to which these insects have been exposed, without any benefit being thus derived? Or have successive variations been accumulated and determined as a protection, or for some unknown purpose, or that one sex may be attractive to the other? And, again, what is the meaning of the colours being widely different in the males and females of certain species, and alike in the two sexes of other species of the same genus? Before attempting to answer these questions a body of facts must be given.

With our beautiful English butterflies, the admiral, peacock, and painted lady (Vanessae), as well as many others, the sexes are alike. This is also the case with the magnificent Heliconidae, and most of the Danaidae in the tropics. But in certain other tropical groups, and in some of our English butterflies, as the purple emperor, orange-tip, etc. (Apatura Iris and Anthocharis cardamines), the sexes differ either greatly or slightly in colour. No language suffices to describe the splendour of the males of some tropical species. Even within the same genus we often find species presenting extraordinary differences between the sexes, whilst others have their sexes closely alike. Thus in the South American genus Epicalia, Mr. Bates, to whom I am indebted for most of the following facts, and for looking over this whole discussion, informs me that he knows twelve species, the two sexes of which haunt the same stations (and this is not always the case with butterflies), and which, therefore, cannot have been differently affected by external conditions. (5. See also Mr. Bates's paper in 'Proc. Ent. Soc. of Philadelphia,' 1865, p. 206. Also Mr. Wallace on the same subject, in regard to Diadema, in 'Transactions, Entomological Society of London,' 1869, p. 278.) In nine of these twelve species the males rank amongst the most brilliant of all butterflies, and differ so greatly from the comparatively plain females that they were formerly placed in distinct genera. The females of these nine species resemble each other in their general type of coloration; and they likewise resemble both sexes of the species in several allied genera found in various parts of the world. Hence we may infer that these nine species, and probably all the others of the genus, are descended from an ancestral form which was coloured in nearly the same manner. In the tenth species the female still retains the same general colouring, but the male resembles her, so that he is coloured in a much less gaudy and contrasted manner than the males of the previous species. In the eleventh and twelfth species, the females depart from the usual type, for they are gaily decorated almost like the males, but in a somewhat less degree. Hence in these two latter species the bright colours of the males seem to have been transferred to the females; whilst in the tenth species the male has either retained or recovered the plain colours of the female, as well as of the parent-form of the genus. The sexes in these three cases have thus been rendered nearly alike, though in an opposite manner. In the allied genus Eubagis, both sexes of some of the species are plain-coloured and nearly alike; whilst with the greater number the males are decorated with beautiful metallic tints in a diversified manner, and differ much from their females. The females throughout the genus retain the same general style of colouring, so that they resemble one another much more closely than they resemble their own males.

In the genus Papilio, all the species of the Aeneas group are remarkable for their conspicuous and strongly contrasted colours, and they illustrate the frequent tendency to gradation in the amount of difference between the sexes. In a few species, for instance in P. ascanius, the males and females are alike; in others the males are either a little brighter, or very much more superb than the females. The genus Junonia, allied to our Vanessae, offers a nearly parallel case, for although the sexes of most of the species resemble each other, and are destitute of rich colours, yet in certain species, as in J. oenone, the male is rather more bright-coloured than the female, and in a few (for instance J. andremiaja) the male is so different from the female that he might be mistaken for an entirely distinct species.

Another striking case was pointed out to me in the British Museum by Mr. A. Butler, namely, one of the tropical American Theclae, in which both sexes are nearly alike and wonderfully splendid; in another species the male is coloured in a similarly gorgeous manner, whilst the whole upper surface of the female is of a dull uniform brown. Our common little English blue butterflies of the genus Lycaena, illustrate the various differences in colour between the sexes, almost as well, though not in so striking a manner, as the above exotic genera. In Lycaena agestis both sexes have wings of a brown colour, bordered with small ocellated orange spots, and are thus alike. In L. oegon the wings of the males are of a fine blue, bordered with black, whilst those of the female are brown, with a similar border, closely resembling the wings of L. agestis. Lastly, in L. arion both sexes are of a blue colour and are very like, though in the female the edges of the wings are rather duskier, with the black spots plainer; and in a bright blue Indian species both sexes are still more alike.

I have given the foregoing details in order to shew, in the first place, that when the sexes of butterflies differ, the male as a general rule is the more beautiful, and departs more from the usual type of colouring of the group to which the species belongs. Hence in most groups the females of the several species resemble each other much more closely than do the males. In some cases, however, to which I shall hereafter allude, the females are coloured more splendidly than the males. In the second place, these details have been given to bring clearly before the mind that within the same genus, the two sexes frequently present every gradation from no difference in colour, to so great a difference that it was long before the two were placed by entomologists in the same genus. In the third place, we have seen that when the sexes nearly resemble each other, this appears due either to the male having transferred his colours to the female, or to the male having retained, or perhaps recovered, the primordial colours of the group. It also deserves notice that in those groups in which the sexes differ, the females usually somewhat resemble the males, so that when the males are beautiful to an extraordinary degree, the females almost invariably exhibit some degree of beauty. From the many cases of gradation in the amount of difference between the sexes, and from the prevalence of the same general type of coloration throughout the whole of the same group, we may conclude that the causes have generally been the same which have determined the brilliant colouring of the males alone of some species, and of both sexes of other species.

As so many gorgeous butterflies inhabit the tropics, it has often been supposed that they owe their colours to the great heat and moisture of these zones; but Mr. Bates (6. 'The Naturalist on the Amazons,' vol. i. 1863, p. 19.) has shown by the comparison of various closely-allied groups of insects from the temperate and tropical regions, that this view cannot be maintained; and the evidence becomes conclusive when brilliantly- coloured males and plain-coloured females of the same species inhabit the same district, feed on the same food, and follow exactly the same habits of life. Even when the sexes resemble each other, we can hardly believe that their brilliant and beautifully-arranged colours are the purposeless result of the nature of the tissues and of the action of the surrounding conditions.

With animals of all kinds, whenever colour has been modified for some special purpose, this has been, as far as we can judge, either for direct or indirect protection, or as an attraction between the sexes. With many species of butterflies the upper surfaces of the wings are obscure; and this in all probability leads to their escaping observation and danger. But butterflies would be particularly liable to be attacked by their enemies when at rest; and most kinds whilst resting raise their wings vertically over their backs, so that the lower surface alone is exposed to view. Hence it is this side which is often coloured so as to imitate the objects on which these insects commonly rest. Dr. Rossler, I believe, first noticed the similarity of the closed wings of certain Vanessae and other butterflies to the bark of trees. Many analogous and striking facts could be given. The most interesting one is that recorded by Mr. Wallace (7. See the interesting article in the 'Westminster Review,' July 1867, p. 10. A woodcut of the Kallima is given by Mr. Wallace in 'Hardwicke's Science Gossip,' September 1867, p. 196.) of a common Indian and Sumatran butterfly (Kallima) which disappears like magic when it settles on a bush; for it hides its head and antennae between its closed wings, which, in form, colour and veining, cannot be distinguished from a withered leaf with its footstalk. In some other cases the lower surfaces of the wings are brilliantly coloured, and yet are protective; thus in Thecla rubi the wings when closed are of an emerald green, and resemble the young leaves of the bramble, on which in spring this butterfly may often be seen seated. It is also remarkable that in very many species in which the sexes differ greatly in colour on their upper surface, the lower surface is closely similar or identical in both sexes, and serves as a protection. (8. Mr. G. Fraser, in 'Nature,' April 1871, p. 489.)

Although the obscure tints both of the upper and under sides of many butterflies no doubt serve to conceal them, yet we cannot extend this view to the brilliant and conspicuous colours on the upper surface of such species as our admiral and peacock Vanessae, our white cabbage-butterflies (Pieris), or the great swallow-tail Papilio which haunts the open fens--for these butterflies are thus rendered visible to every living creature. In these species both sexes are alike; but in the common brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni), the male is of an intense yellow, whilst the female is much paler; and in the orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) the males alone have their wings tipped with bright orange. Both the males and females in these cases are conspicuous, and it is not credible that their difference in colour should stand in any relation to ordinary protection. Prof. Weismann remarks (9. 'Einfluss der Isolirung auf die Artbildung,' 1872, p. 58.), that the female of one of the Lycaenae expands her brown wings when she settles on the ground, and is then almost invisible; the male, on the other hand, as if aware of the danger incurred from the bright blue of the upper surface of his wings, rests with them closed; and this shows that the blue colour cannot be in any way protective. Nevertheless, it is probable that conspicuous colours are indirectly beneficial to many species, as a warning that they are unpalatable. For in certain other cases, beauty has been gained through the imitation of other beautiful species, which inhabit the same district and enjoy an immunity from attack by being in some way offensive to their enemies; but then we have to account for the beauty of the imitated species.

As Mr. Walsh has remarked to me, the females of our orange-tip butterfly, above referred to, and of an American species (Anth. genutia) probably shew us the primordial colours of the parent-species of the genus; for both sexes of four or five widely-distributed species are coloured in nearly the same manner. As in several previous cases, we may here infer that it is the males of Anth. cardamines and genutia which have departed from the usual type of the genus. In the Anth. sara from California, the orange- tips to the wings have been partially developed in the female; but they are paler than in the male, and slightly different in some other respects. In an allied Indian form, the Iphias glaucippe, the orange-tips are fully developed in both sexes. In this Iphias, as pointed out to me by Mr. A. Butler, the under surface of the wings marvellously resembles a pale- coloured leaf; and in our English orange-tip, the under surface resembles the flower-head of the wild parsley, on which the butterfly often rests at night. (10. See the interesting observations by T.W. Wood, 'The Student,' Sept. 1868, p. 81.) The same reason which compels us to believe that the lower surfaces have here been coloured for the sake of protection, leads us to deny that the wings have been tipped with bright orange for the same purpose, especially when this character is confined to the males.

Most Moths rest motionless during the whole or greater part of the day with their wings depressed; and the whole upper surface is often shaded and coloured in an admirable manner, as Mr. Wallace has remarked, for escaping detection. The front-wings of the Bombycidae and Noctuidae (11. Mr. Wallace in 'Hardwicke's Science Gossip,' September 1867, p. 193.), when at rest, generally overlap and conceal the hind-wings; so that the latter might be brightly coloured without much risk; and they are in fact often thus coloured. During flight, moths would often be able to escape from their enemies; nevertheless, as the hind-wings are then fully exposed to view, their bright colours must generally have been acquired at some little risk. But the following fact shews how cautious we ought to be in drawing conclusions on this head. The common Yellow Under-wings (Triphaena) often fly about during the day or early evening, and are then conspicuous from the colour of their hind-wings. It would naturally be thought that this would be a source of danger; but Mr. J. Jenner Weir believes that it actually serves them as a means of escape, for birds strike at these brightly coloured and fragile surfaces, instead of at the body. For instance, Mr. Weir turned into his aviary a vigorous specimen of Triphaena pronuba, which was instantly pursued by a robin; but the bird's attention being caught by the coloured wings, the moth was not captured until after about fifty attempts, and small portions of the wings were repeatedly broken off. He tried the same experiment, in the open air, with a swallow and T. fimbria; but the large size of this moth probably interfered with its capture. (12. See also, on this subject, Mr. Weir's paper in 'Transactions, Entomological Society,' 1869, p. 23.) We are thus reminded of a statement made by Mr. Wallace (13. 'Westminster Review,' July 1867, p. 16.), namely, that in the Brazilian forests and Malayan islands, many common and highly-decorated butterflies are weak flyers, though furnished with a broad expanse of wing; and they "are often captured with pierced and broken wings, as if they had been seized by birds, from which they had escaped: if the wings had been much smaller in proportion to the body, it seems probable that the insect would more frequently have been struck or pierced in a vital part, and thus the increased expanse of the wings may have been indirectly beneficial."


The bright colours of many butterflies and of some moths are specially arranged for display, so that they may be readily seen. During the night colours are not visible, and there can be no doubt that the nocturnal moths, taken as a body, are much less gaily decorated than butterflies, all of which are diurnal in their habits. But the moths of certain families, such as the Zygaenidae, several Sphingidae, Uraniidae, some Arctiidae and Saturniidae, fly about during the day or early evening, and many of these are extremely beautiful, being far brighter coloured than the strictly nocturnal kinds. A few exceptional cases, however, of bright-coloured nocturnal species have been recorded. (14. For instance, Lithosia; but Prof. Westwood ('Modern Class. of Insects,' vol. ii. p. 390) seems surprised at this case. On the relative colours of diurnal and nocturnal Lepidoptera, see ibid. pp. 333 and 392; also Harris, 'Treatise on the Insects of New England,' 1842, p. 315.)

There is evidence of another kind in regard to display. Butterflies, as before remarked, elevate their wings when at rest, but whilst basking in the sunshine often alternately raise and depress them, thus exposing both surfaces to full view; and although the lower surface is often coloured in an obscure manner as a protection, yet in many species it is as highly decorated as the upper surface, and sometimes in a very different manner. In some tropical species the lower surface is even more brilliantly coloured than the upper. (15. Such differences between the upper and lower surfaces of the wings of several species of Papilio may be seen in the beautiful plates to Mr. Wallace's 'Memoir on the Papilionidae of the Malayan Region,' in 'Transactions of the Linnean Society,' vol. xxv. part i. 1865.) In the English fritillaries (Argynnis) the lower surface alone is ornamented with shining silver. Nevertheless, as a general rule, the upper surface, which is probably more fully exposed, is coloured more brightly and diversely than the lower. Hence the lower surface generally affords to entomologists the more useful character for detecting the affinities of the various species. Fritz Muller informs me that three species of Castnia are found near his house in S. Brazil: of two of them the hind-wings are obscure, and are always covered by the front-wings when these butterflies are at rest; but the third species has black hind-wings, beautifully spotted with red and white, and these are fully expanded and displayed whenever the butterfly rests. Other such cases could be added.

If we now turn to the enormous group of moths, which, as I hear from Mr. Stainton, do not habitually expose the under surface of their wings to full view, we find this side very rarely coloured with a brightness greater than, or even equal to, that of the upper side. Some exceptions to the rule, either real or apparent, must be noticed, as the case of Hypopyra. (16. See Mr. Wormald on this moth: 'Proceedings of the Entomological Society,' March 2, 1868.) Mr. Trimen informs me that in Guenee's great work, three moths are figured, in which the under surface is much the more brilliant. For instance, in the Australian Gastrophora the upper surface of the fore-wing is pale greyish-ochreous, while the lower surface is magnificently ornamented by an ocellus of cobalt-blue, placed in the midst of a black mark, surrounded by orange-yellow, and this by bluish-white. But the habits of these three moths are unknown; so that no explanation can be given of their unusual style of colouring. Mr. Trimen also informs me that the lower surface of the wings in certain other Geometrae (17. See also an account of the S. American genus Erateina (one of the Geometrae) in 'Transactions, Ent. Soc.' new series, vol. v. pl. xv. and xvi.) and quadrifid Noctuae are either more variegated or more brightly-coloured than the upper surface; but some of these species have the habit of "holding their wings quite erect over their backs, retaining them in this position for a considerable time," and thus exposing the under surface to view. Other species, when settled on the ground or herbage, now and then suddenly and slightly lift up their wings. Hence the lower surface of the wings being brighter than the upper surface in certain moths is not so anomalous as it at first appears. The Saturniidae include some of the most beautiful of all moths, their wings being decorated, as in our British Emperor moth, with fine ocelli; and Mr. T.W. Wood (18. 'Proc Ent. Soc. of London,' July 6, 1868, p. xxvii.) observes that they resemble butterflies in some of their movements; "for instance, in the gentle waving up and down of the wings as if for display, which is more characteristic of diurnal than of nocturnal Lepidoptera."

It is a singular fact that no British moths which are brilliantly coloured, and, as far as I can discover, hardly any foreign species, differ much in colour according to sex; though this is the case with many brilliant butterflies. The male, however, of one American moth, the Saturnia Io, is described as having its fore-wings deep yellow, curiously marked with purplish-red spots; whilst the wings of the female are purple-brown, marked with grey lines. (19. Harris, 'Treatise,' etc., edited by Flint, 1862, p. 395.) The British moths which differ sexually in colour are all brown, or of various dull yellow tints, or nearly white. In several species the males are much darker than the females (20. For instance, I observe in my son's cabinet that the males are darker than the females in the Lasiocampa quercus, Odonestis potatoria, Hypogymna dispar, Dasychira pudibunda, and Cycnia mendica. In this latter species the difference in colour between the two sexes is strongly marked; and Mr. Wallace informs me that we here have, as he believes, an instance of protective mimicry confined to one sex, as will hereafter be more fully explained. The white female of the Cycnia resembles the very common Spilosoma menthrasti, both sexes of which are white; and Mr. Stainton observed that this latter moth was rejected with utter disgust by a whole brood of young turkeys, which were fond of eating other moths; so that if the Cycnia was commonly mistaken by British birds for the Spilosoma, it would escape being devoured, and its white deceptive colour would thus be highly beneficial.), and these belong to groups which generally fly about during the afternoon. On the other hand, in many genera, as Mr. Stainton informs me, the males have the hind-wings whiter than those of the female--of which fact Agrotis exclamationis offers a good instance. In the Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli) the difference is more strongly marked; the males being white, and the females yellow with darker markings. (21. It is remarkable, that in the Shetland Islands the male of this moth, instead of differing widely from the female, frequently resembles her closely in colour (see Mr. MacLachlan, 'Transactions, Entomological Society,' vol. ii. 1866, p. 459). Mr. G. Fraser suggests ('Nature,' April 1871, p. 489) that at the season of the year when the ghost-moth appears in these northern islands, the whiteness of the males would not be needed to render them visible to the females in the twilight night.) It is probable that in these cases the males are thus rendered more conspicuous, and more easily seen by the females whilst flying about in the dusk.

From the several foregoing facts it is impossible to admit that the brilliant colours of butterflies, and of some few moths, have commonly been acquired for the sake of protection. We have seen that their colours and elegant patterns are arranged and exhibited as if for display. Hence I am led to believe that the females prefer or are most excited by the more brilliant males; for on any other supposition the males would, as far as we can see, be ornamented to no purpose. We know that ants and certain Lamellicorn beetles are capable of feeling an attachment for each other, and that ants recognise their fellows after an interval of several months. Hence there is no abstract improbability in the Lepidoptera, which probably stand nearly or quite as high in the scale as these insects, having sufficient mental capacity to admire bright colours. They certainly discover flowers by colour. The Humming-bird Sphinx may often be seen to swoop down from a distance on a bunch of flowers in the midst of green foliage; and I have been assured by two persons abroad, that these moths repeatedly visit flowers painted on the walls of a room, and vainly endeavour to insert their proboscis into them. Fritz Muller informs me that several kinds of butterflies in S. Brazil shew an unmistakable preference for certain colours over others: he observed that they very often visited the brilliant red flowers of five or six genera of plants, but never the white or yellow flowering species of the same and other genera, growing in the same garden; and I have received other accounts to the same effect. As I hear from Mr. Doubleday, the common white butterfly often flies down to a bit of paper on the ground, no doubt mistaking it for one of its own species. Mr. Collingwood (22. 'Rambles of a Naturalist in the Chinese Seas,' 1868, p. 182.) in speaking of the difficulty in collecting certain butterflies in the Malay Archipelago, states that "a dead specimen pinned upon a conspicuous twig will often arrest an insect of the same species in its headlong flight, and bring it down within easy reach of the net, especially if it be of the opposite sex."

The courtship of butterflies is, as before remarked, a prolonged affair. The males sometimes fight together in rivalry; and many may be seen pursuing or crowding round the same female. Unless, then, the females prefer one male to another, the pairing must be left to mere chance, and this does not appear probable. If, on the other band, the females habitually, or even occasionally, prefer the more beautiful males, the colours of the latter will have been rendered brighter by degrees, and will have been transmitted to both sexes or to one sex, according to the law of inheritance which has prevailed. The process of sexual selection will have been much facilitated, if the conclusion can be trusted, arrived at from various kinds of evidence in the supplement to the ninth chapter; namely, that the males of many Lepidoptera, at least in the imago state, greatly exceed the females in number.

Some facts, however, are opposed to the belief that female butterflies prefer the more beautiful males; thus, as I have been assured by several collectors, fresh females may frequently be seen paired with battered, faded, or dingy males; but this is a circumstance which could hardly fail often to follow from the males emerging from their cocoons earlier than the females. With moths of the family of the Bombycidae, the sexes pair immediately after assuming the imago state; for they cannot feed, owing to the rudimentary condition of their mouths. The females, as several entomologists have remarked to me, lie in an almost torpid state, and appear not to evince the least choice in regard to their partners. This is the case with the common silk-moth (B. mori), as I have been told by some continental and English breeders. Dr. Wallace, who has had great experience in breeding Bombyx cynthia, is convinced that the females evince no choice or preference. He has kept above 300 of these moths together, and has often found the most vigorous females mated with stunted males. The reverse appears to occur seldom; for, as he believes, the more vigorous males pass over the weakly females, and are attracted by those endowed with most vitality. Nevertheless, the Bombycidae, though obscurely-coloured, are often beautiful to our eyes from their elegant and mottled shades.

I have as yet only referred to the species in which the males are brighter coloured than the females, and I have attributed their beauty to the females for many generations having chosen and paired with the more attractive males. But converse cases occur, though rarely, in which the females are more brilliant than the males; and here, as I believe, the males have selected the more beautiful females, and have thus slowly added to their beauty. We do not know why in various classes of animals the males of some few species have selected the more beautiful females instead of having gladly accepted any female, as seems to be the general rule in the animal kingdom: but if, contrary to what generally occurs with the Lepidoptera, the females were much more numerous than the males, the latter would be likely to pick out the more beautiful females. Mr. Butler shewed me several species of Callidryas in the British Museum, in some of which the females equalled, and in others greatly surpassed the males in beauty; for the females alone have the borders of their wings suffused with crimson and orange, and spotted with black. The plainer males of these species closely resemble each other, shewing that here the females have been modified; whereas in those cases, where the males are the more ornate, it is these which have been modified, the females remaining closely alike.

In England we have some analogous cases, though not so marked. The females alone of two species of Thecla have a bright-purple or orange patch on their fore-wings. In Hipparchia the sexes do not differ much; but it is the female of H. janira which has a conspicuous light-brown patch on her wings; and the females of some of the other species are brighter coloured than their males. Again, the females of Colias edusa and hyale have "orange or yellow spots on the black marginal border, represented in the males only by thin streaks"; and in Pieris it is the females which "are ornamented with black spots on the fore-wings, and these are only partially present in the males." Now the males of many butterflies are known to support the females during their marriage flight; but in the species just named it is the females which support the males; so that the part which the two sexes play is reversed, as is their relative beauty. Throughout the animal kingdom the males commonly take the more active share in wooing, and their beauty seems to have been increased by the females having accepted the more attractive individuals; but with these butterflies, the females take the more active part in the final marriage ceremony, so that we may suppose that they likewise do so in the wooing; and in this case we can understand how it is that they have been rendered the more beautiful. Mr. Meldola, from whom the foregoing statements have been taken, says in conclusion: "Though I am not convinced of the action of sexual selection in producing the colours of insects, it cannot be denied that these facts are strikingly corroborative of Mr. Darwin's views." (23. 'Nature,' April 27, 1871, p. 508. Mr. Meldola quotes Donzel, in 'Soc. Ent. de France,' 1837, p. 77, on the flight of butterflies whilst pairing. See also Mr. G. Fraser, in 'Nature,' April 20, 1871, p. 489, on the sexual differences of several British butterflies.)

As sexual selection primarily depends on variability, a few words must be added on this subject. In respect to colour there is no difficulty, for any number of highly variable Lepidoptera could be named. One good instance will suffice. Mr. Bates shewed me a whole series of specimens of Papilio sesostris and P. childrenae; in the latter the males varied much in the extent of the beautifully enamelled green patch on the fore-wings, and in the size of the white mark, and of the splendid crimson stripe on the hind-wings; so that there was a great contrast amongst the males between the most and the least gaudy. The male of Papilio sesostris is much less beautiful than of P. childrenae; and it likewise varies a little in the size of the green patch on the fore-wings, and in the occasional appearance of the small crimson stripe on the hind-wings, borrowed, as it would seem, from its own female; for the females of this and of many other species in the Aeneas group possess this crimson stripe. Hence between the brightest specimens of P. sesostris and the dullest of P. childrenae, there was but a small interval; and it was evident that as far as mere variability is concerned, there would be no difficulty in permanently increasing the beauty of either species by means of selection. The variability is here almost confined to the male sex; but Mr. Wallace and Mr. Bates have shewn (24. Wallace on the Papilionidae of the Malayan Region, in 'Transact. Linn. Soc.' vol. xxv. 1865, pp. 8, 36. A striking case of a rare variety, strictly intermediate between two other well-marked female varieties, is given by Mr. Wallace. See also Mr. Bates, in 'Proc. Entomolog. Soc.' Nov. 19, 1866, p. xl.) that the females of some species are extremely variable, the males being nearly constant. In a future chapter I shall have occasion to shew that the beautiful eye-like spots, or ocelli, found on the wings of many Lepidoptera, are eminently variable. I may here add that these ocelli offer a difficulty on the theory of sexual selection; for though appearing to us so ornamental, they are never present in one sex and absent in the other, nor do they ever differ much in the two sexes. (25. Mr. Bates was so kind as to lay this subject before the Entomological Society, and I have received answers to this effect from several entomologists.) This fact is at present inexplicable; but if it should hereafter be found that the formation of an ocellus is due to some change in the tissues of the wings, for instance, occurring at a very early period of development, we might expect, from what we know of the laws of inheritance, that it would be transmitted to both sexes, though arising and perfected in one sex alone.

On the whole, although many serious objections may be urged, it seems probable that most of the brilliantly-coloured species of Lepidoptera owe their colours to sexual selection, excepting in certain cases, presently to be mentioned, in which conspicuous colours have been gained through mimicry as a protection. From the ardour of the male throughout the animal kingdom, he is generally willing to accept any female; and it is the female which usually exerts a choice. Hence, if sexual selection has been efficient with the Lepidoptera, the male, when the sexes differ, ought to be the more brilliantly coloured, and this undoubtedly is the case. When both sexes are brilliantly coloured and resemble each other, the characters acquired by the males appear to have been transmitted to both. We are led to this conclusion by cases, even within the same genus, of gradation from an extraordinary amount of difference to identity in colour between the two sexes.

But it may be asked whether the difference in colour between the sexes may not be accounted for by other means besides sexual selection. Thus the males and females of the same species of butterfly are in several cases known (26. H.W. Bates, 'The Naturalist on the Amazons,' vol. ii. 1863, p. 228. A.R. Wallace, in 'Transactions, Linnean Society,' vol. xxv. 1865, p. 10.) to inhabit different stations, the former commonly basking in the sunshine, the latter haunting gloomy forests. It is therefore possible that different conditions of life may have acted directly on the two sexes; but this is not probable (27. On this whole subject see 'The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,' 1868, vol. ii. chap. xxiii.) as in the adult state they are exposed to different conditions during a very short period; and the larvae of both are exposed to the same conditions. Mr. Wallace believes that the difference between the sexes is due not so much to the males having been modified, as to the females having in all or almost all cases acquired dull colours for the sake of protection. It seems to me, on the contrary, far more probable that it is the males which have been chiefly modified through sexual selection, the females having been comparatively little changed. We can thus understand how it is that the females of allied species generally resemble one another so much more closely than do the males. They thus shew us approximately the primordial colouring of the parent-species of the group to which they belong. They have, however, almost always been somewhat modified by the transfer to them of some of the successive variations, through the accumulation of which the males were rendered beautiful. But I do not wish to deny that the females alone of some species may have been specially modified for protection. In most cases the males and females of distinct species will have been exposed during their prolonged larval state to different conditions, and may have been thus affected; though with the males any slight change of colour thus caused will generally have been masked by the brilliant tints gained through sexual selection. When we treat of Birds, I shall have to discuss the whole question, as to how far the differences in colour between the sexes are due to the males having been modified through sexual selection for ornamental purposes, or to the females having been modified through natural selection for the sake of protection, so that I will here say but little on the subject.

In all the cases in which the more common form of equal inheritance by both sexes has prevailed, the selection of bright-coloured males would tend to make the females bright-coloured; and the selection of dull-coloured females would tend to make the males dull. If both processes were carried on simultaneously, they would tend to counteract each other; and the final result would depend on whether a greater number of females from being well protected by obscure colours, or a greater number of males by being brightly-coloured and thus finding partners, succeeded in leaving more numerous offspring.

In order to account for the frequent transmission of characters to one sex alone, Mr. Wallace expresses his belief that the more common form of equal inheritance by both sexes can be changed through natural selection into inheritance by one sex alone, but in favour of this view I can discover no evidence. We know from what occurs under domestication that new characters often appear, which from the first are transmitted to one sex alone; and by the selection of such variations there would not be the slightest difficulty in giving bright colours to the males alone, and at the same time or subsequently, dull colours to the females alone. In this manner the females of some butterflies and moths have, it is probable, been rendered inconspicuous for the sake of protection, and widely different from their males.

I am, however, unwilling without distinct evidence to admit that two complex processes of selection, each requiring the transference of new characters to one sex alone, have been carried on with a multitude of species,--that the males have been rendered more brilliant by beating their rivals, and the females more dull-coloured by having escaped from their enemies. The male, for instance, of the common brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx), is of a far more intense yellow than the female, though she is equally conspicuous; and it does not seem probable that she specially acquired her pale tints as a protection, though it is probable that the male acquired his bright colours as a sexual attraction. The female of Anthocharis cardamines does not possess the beautiful orange wing-tips of the male; consequently she closely resembles the white butterflies (Pieris) so common in our gardens; but we have no evidence that this resemblance is beneficial to her. As, on the other hand, she resembles both sexes of several other species of the genus inhabiting various quarters of the world, it is probable that she has simply retained to a large extent her primordial colours.

Finally, as we have seen, various considerations lead to the conclusion that with the greater number of brilliantly-coloured Lepidoptera it is the male which has been chiefly modified through sexual selection; the amount of difference between the sexes mostly depending on the form of inheritance which has prevailed. Inheritance is governed by so many unknown laws or conditions, that it seems to us to act in a capricious manner (28. The 'Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,' vol. ii. chap. xii. p. 17.); and we can thus, to a certain extent, understand how it is that with closely allied species the sexes either differ to an astonishing degree, or are identical in colour. As all the successive steps in the process of variation are necessarily transmitted through the female, a greater or less number of such steps might readily become developed in her; and thus we can understand the frequent gradations from an extreme difference to none at all between the sexes of allied species. These cases of gradation, it may be added, are much too common to favour the supposition that we here see females actually undergoing the process of transition and losing their brightness for the sake of protection; for we have every reason to conclude that at any one time the greater number of species are in a fixed condition.


This principle was first made clear in an admirable paper by Mr. Bates (29. 'Transact. Linn. Soc.' vol. xxiii. 1862, p. 495.), who thus threw a flood of light on many obscure problems. It had previously been observed that certain butterflies in S. America belonging to quite distinct families, resembled the Heliconidae so closely in every stripe and shade of colour, that they could not be distinguished save by an experienced entomologist. As the Heliconidae are coloured in their usual manner, whilst the others depart from the usual colouring of the groups to which they belong, it is clear that the latter are the imitators, and the Heliconidae the imitated. Mr. Bates further observed that the imitating species are comparatively rare, whilst the imitated abound, and that the two sets live mingled together. From the fact of the Heliconidae being conspicuous and beautiful insects, yet so numerous in individuals and species, he concluded that they must be protected from the attacks of enemies by some secretion or odour; and this conclusion has now been amply confirmed (30. 'Proc. Entomological Soc.' Dec. 3, 1866, p. xlv.), especially by Mr. Belt. Hence Mr. Bates inferred that the butterflies which imitate the protected species have acquired their present marvellously deceptive appearance through variation and natural selection, in order to be mistaken for the protected kinds, and thus to escape being devoured. No explanation is here attempted of the brilliant colours of the imitated, but only of the imitating butterflies. We must account for the colours of the former in the same general manner, as in the cases previously discussed in this chapter. Since the publication of Mr. Bates' paper, similar and equally striking facts have been observed by Mr. Wallace in the Malayan region, by Mr. Trimen in South Africa, and by Mr. Riley in the United States. (31. Wallace, 'Transact. Linn. Soc.' vol. xxv. 1865 p. i.; also, 'Transact. Ent. Soc.' vol. iv. (3rd series), 1867, p. 301. Trimen, 'Linn. Transact.' vol. xxvi. 1869, p. 497. Riley, 'Third Annual Report on the Noxious Insects of Missouri,' 1871, pp. 163-168. This latter essay is valuable, as Mr. Riley here discusses all the objections which have been raised against Mr. Bates's theory.)

As some writers have felt much difficulty in understanding how the first steps in the process of mimicry could have been effected through natural selection, it may be well to remark that the process probably commenced long ago between forms not widely dissimilar in colour. In this case even a slight variation would be beneficial, if it rendered the one species more like the other; and afterwards the imitated species might be modified to an extreme degree through sexual selection or other means, and if the changes were gradual, the imitators might easily be led along the same track, until they differed to an equally extreme degree from their original condition; and they would thus ultimately assume an appearance or colouring wholly unlike that of the other members of the group to which they belonged. It should also be remembered that many species of Lepidoptera are liable to considerable and abrupt variations in colour. A few instances have been given in this chapter; and many more may be found in the papers of Mr. Bates and Mr. Wallace.

With several species the sexes are alike, and imitate the two sexes of another species. But Mr. Trimen gives, in the paper already referred to, three cases in which the sexes of the imitated form differ from each other in colour, and the sexes of the imitating form differ in a like manner. Several cases have also been recorded where the females alone imitate brilliantly-coloured and protected species, the males retaining "the normal aspect of their immediate congeners." It is here obvious that the successive variations by which the female has been modified have been transmitted to her alone. It is, however, probable that some of the many successive variations would have been transmitted to, and developed in, the males had not such males been eliminated by being thus rendered less attractive to the females; so that only those variations were preserved which were from the first strictly limited in their transmission to the female sex. We have a partial illustration of these remarks in a statement by Mr. Belt (32. 'The Naturalist in Nicaragua,' 1874, p. 385.); that the males of some of the Leptalides, which imitate protected species, still retain in a concealed manner some of their original characters. Thus in the males "the upper half of the lower wing is of a pure white, whilst all the rest of the wings is barred and spotted with black, red and yellow, like the species they mimic. The females have not this white patch, and the males usually conceal it by covering it with the upper wing, so that I cannot imagine its being of any other use to them than as an attraction in courtship, when they exhibit it to the females, and thus gratify their deep-seated preference for the normal colour of the Order to which the Leptalides belong."


Whilst reflecting on the beauty of many butterflies, it occurred to me that some caterpillars were splendidly coloured; and as sexual selection could not possibly have here acted, it appeared rash to attribute the beauty of the mature insect to this agency, unless the bright colours of their larvae could be somehow explained. In the first place, it may be observed that the colours of caterpillars do not stand in any close correlation with those of the mature insect. Secondly, their bright colours do not serve in any ordinary manner as a protection. Mr. Bates informs me, as an instance of this, that the most conspicuous caterpillar which he ever beheld (that of a Sphinx) lived on the large green leaves of a tree on the open llanos of South America; it was about four inches in length, transversely banded with black and yellow, and with its head, legs, and tail of a bright red. Hence it caught the eye of any one who passed by, even at the distance of many yards, and no doubt that of every passing bird.

I then applied to Mr. Wallace, who has an innate genius for solving difficulties. After some consideration he replied: "Most caterpillars require protection, as may be inferred from some kinds being furnished with spines or irritating hairs, and from many being coloured green like the leaves on which they feed, or being curiously like the twigs of the trees on which they live." Another instance of protection, furnished me by Mr. J. Mansel Weale, may be added, namely, that there is a caterpillar of a moth which lives on the mimosas in South Africa, and fabricates for itself a case quite indistinguishable from the surrounding thorns. From such considerations Mr. Wallace thought it probable that conspicuously coloured caterpillars were protected by having a nauseous taste; but as their skin is extremely tender, and as their intestines readily protrude from a wound, a slight peck from the beak of a bird would be as fatal to them as if they had been devoured. Hence, as Mr. Wallace remarks, "distastefulness alone would be insufficient to protect a caterpillar unless some outward sign indicated to its would-be destroyer that its prey was a disgusting morsel." Under these circumstances it would be highly advantageous to a caterpillar to be instantaneously and certainly recognised as unpalatable by all birds and other animals. Thus the most gaudy colours would be serviceable, and might have been gained by variation and the survival of the most easily- recognised individuals.

This hypothesis appears at first sight very bold, but when it was brought before the Entomological Society (33. 'Proceedings, Entomological Society,' Dec. 3, 1866, p. xlv. and March 4, 1867, p. lxxx.) it was supported by various statements; and Mr. J. Jenner Weir, who keeps a large number of birds in an aviary, informs me that he has made many trials, and finds no exception to the rule, that all caterpillars of nocturnal and retiring habits with smooth skins, all of a green colour, and all which imitate twigs, are greedily devoured by his birds. The hairy and spinose kinds are invariably rejected, as were four conspicuously-coloured species. When the birds rejected a caterpillar, they plainly shewed, by shaking their heads, and cleansing their beaks, that they were disgusted by the taste. (34. See Mr. J. Jenner Weir's paper on Insects and Insectivorous Birds, in 'Transact. Ent. Soc.' 1869, p. 21; also Mr. Butler's paper, ibid. p. 27. Mr. Riley has given analogous facts in the 'Third Annual Report on the Noxious Insects of Missouri,' 1871, p. 148. Some opposed cases are, however, given by Dr. Wallace and M. H. d'Orville; see 'Zoological Record,' 1869, p. 349.) Three conspicuous kinds of caterpillars and moths were also given to some lizards and frogs, by Mr. A. Butler, and were rejected, though other kinds were eagerly eaten. Thus the probability of Mr. Wallace's view is confirmed, namely, that certain caterpillars have been made conspicuous for their own good, so as to be easily recognised by their enemies, on nearly the same principle that poisons are sold in coloured bottles by druggists for the good of man. We cannot, however, at present thus explain the elegant diversity in the colours of many caterpillars; but any species which had at some former period acquired a dull, mottled, or striped appearance, either in imitation of surrounding objects, or from the direct action of climate, etc., almost certainly would not become uniform in colour, when its tints were rendered intense and bright; for in order to make a caterpillar merely conspicuous, there would be no selection in any definite direction.


Looking back to the several Orders, we see that the sexes often differ in various characters, the meaning of which is not in the least understood. The sexes, also, often differ in their organs of sense and means of locomotion, so that the males may quickly discover and reach the females. They differ still oftener in the males possessing diversified contrivances for retaining the females when found. We are, however, here concerned only in a secondary degree with sexual differences of these kinds.

In almost all the Orders, the males of some species, even of weak and delicate kinds, are known to be highly pugnacious; and some few are furnished with special weapons for fighting with their rivals. But the law of battle does not prevail nearly so widely with insects as with the higher animals. Hence it probably arises, that it is in only a few cases that the males have been rendered larger and stronger than the females. On the contrary, they are usually smaller, so that they may be developed within a shorter time, to be ready in large numbers for the emergence of the females.

In two families of the Homoptera and in three of the Orthoptera, the males alone possess sound-producing organs in an efficient state. These are used incessantly during the breeding-season, not only for calling the females, but apparently for charming or exciting them in rivalry with other males. No one who admits the agency of selection of any kind, will, after reading the above discussion, dispute that these musical instruments have been acquired through sexual selection. In four other Orders the members of one sex, or more commonly of both sexes, are provided with organs for producing various sounds, which apparently serve merely as call-notes. When both sexes are thus provided, the individuals which were able to make the loudest or most continuous noise would gain partners before those which were less noisy, so that their organs have probably been gained through sexual selection. It is instructive to reflect on the wonderful diversity of the means for producing sound, possessed by the males alone, or by both sexes, in no less than six Orders. We thus learn how effectual sexual selection has been in leading to modifications which sometimes, as with the Homoptera, relate to important parts of the organisation.

From the reasons assigned in the last chapter, it is probable that the great horns possessed by the males of many Lamellicorn, and some other beetles, have been acquired as ornaments. From the small size of insects, we are apt to undervalue their appearance. If we could imagine a male Chalcosoma (Fig. 16), with its polished bronzed coat of mail, and its vast complex horns, magnified to the size of a horse, or even of a dog, it would be one of the most imposing animals in the world.

The colouring of insects is a complex and obscure subject. When the male differs slightly from the female, and neither are brilliantly-coloured, it is probable that the sexes have varied in a slightly different manner, and that the variations have been transmitted by each sex to the same without any benefit or evil thus accruing. When the male is brilliantly-coloured and differs conspicuously from the female, as with some dragon-flies and many butterflies, it is probable that he owes his colours to sexual selection; whilst the female has retained a primordial or very ancient type of colouring, slightly modified by the agencies before explained. But in some cases the female has apparently been made obscure by variations transmitted to her alone, as a means of direct protection; and it is almost certain that she has sometimes been made brilliant, so as to imitate other protected species inhabiting the same district. When the sexes resemble each other and both are obscurely coloured, there is no doubt that they have been in a multitude of cases so coloured for the sake of protection. So it is in some instances when both are brightly-coloured, for they thus imitate protected species, or resemble surrounding objects such as flowers; or they give notice to their enemies that they are unpalatable. In other cases in which the sexes resemble each other and are both brilliant, especially when the colours are arranged for display, we may conclude that they have been gained by the male sex as an attraction, and have been transferred to the female. We are more especially led to this conclusion whenever the same type of coloration prevails throughout a whole group, and we find that the males of some species differ widely in colour from the females, whilst others differ slightly or not at all with intermediate gradations connecting these extreme states.

In the same manner as bright colours have often been partially transferred from the males to the females, so it has been with the extraordinary horns of many Lamellicorn and some other beetles. So again, the sound-producing organs proper to the males of the Homoptera and Orthoptera have generally been transferred in a rudimentary, or even in a nearly perfect condition, to the females; yet not sufficiently perfect to be of any use. It is also an interesting fact, as bearing on sexual selection, that the stridulating organs of certain male Orthoptera are not fully developed until the last moult; and that the colours of certain male dragon-flies are not fully developed until some little time after their emergence from the pupal state, and when they are ready to breed.

Sexual selection implies that the more attractive individuals are preferred by the opposite sex; and as with insects, when the sexes differ, it is the male which, with some rare exceptions, is the more ornamented, and departs more from the type to which the species belongs;--and as it is the male which searches eagerly for the female, we must suppose that the females habitually or occasionally prefer the more beautiful males, and that these have thus acquired their beauty. That the females in most or all the Orders would have the power of rejecting any particular male, is probable from the many singular contrivances possessed by the males, such as great jaws, adhesive cushions, spines, elongated legs, etc., for seizing the female; for these contrivances show that there is some difficulty in the act, so that her concurrence would seem necessary. Judging from what we know of the perceptive powers and affections of various insects, there is no antecedent improbability in sexual selection having come largely into play; but we have as yet no direct evidence on this head, and some facts are opposed to the belief. Nevertheless, when we see many males pursuing the same female, we can hardly believe that the pairing is left to blind chance--that the female exerts no choice, and is not influenced by the gorgeous colours or other ornaments with which the male is decorated.

If we admit that the females of the Homoptera and Orthoptera appreciate the musical tones of their male partners, and that the various instruments have been perfected through sexual selection, there is little improbability in the females of other insects appreciating beauty in form or colour, and consequently in such characters having been thus gained by the males. But from the circumstance of colour being so variable, and from its having been so often modified for the sake of protection, it is difficult to decide in how large a proportion of cases sexual selection has played a part. This is more especially difficult in those Orders, such as Orthoptera, Hymenoptera, and Coleoptera, in which the two sexes rarely differ much in colour; for we are then left to mere analogy. With the Coleoptera, however, as before remarked, it is in the great Lamellicorn group, placed by some authors at the head of the Order, and in which we sometimes see a mutual attachment between the sexes, that we find the males of some species possessing weapons for sexual strife, others furnished with wonderful horns, many with stridulating organs, and others ornamented with splendid metallic tints. Hence it seems probable that all these characters have been gained through the same means, namely sexual selection. With butterflies we have the best evidence, as the males sometimes take pains to display their beautiful colours; and we cannot believe that they would act thus, unless the display was of use to them in their courtship.

When we treat of Birds, we shall see that they present in their secondary sexual characters the closest analogy with insects. Thus, many male birds are highly pugnacious, and some are furnished with special weapons for fighting with their rivals. They possess organs which are used during the breeding-season for producing vocal and instrumental music. They are frequently ornamented with combs, horns, wattles and plumes of the most diversified kinds, and are decorated with beautiful colours, all evidently for the sake of display. We shall find that, as with insects, both sexes in certain groups are equally beautiful, and are equally provided with ornaments which are usually confined to the male sex. In other groups both sexes are equally plain-coloured and unornamented. Lastly, in some few anomalous cases, the females are more beautiful than the males. We shall often find, in the same group of birds, every gradation from no difference between the sexes, to an extreme difference. We shall see that female birds, like female insects, often possess more or less plain traces or rudiments of characters which properly belong to the males and are of use only to them. The analogy, indeed, in all these respects between birds and insects is curiously close. Whatever explanation applies to the one class probably applies to the other; and this explanation, as we shall hereafter attempt to shew in further detail, is sexual selection.

Next: Chapter XII. Secondary Sexual Characters of Fishes, Amphibians, and Reptiles