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development of tegumentary appendages. Among birds the most brilliant colours are possessed by those which have developed frills, crests, and elongated tails like the hummingbirds; immense tail-coverts like the peacock; enormously expanded wing-feathers, as in the argus-pheasant; or magnificent plumes from the region of the coracoids in many of the birds of paradise. It is to be noted, also, that all these accessory plumes spring from parts of the body which, in other species, are distinguished by patches of colour; so that we may probably impute the development of colour and of accessory plumage to the same fundamental cause.
Among insects, the most brilliant and varied coloration occurs in the butterflies and moths, groups in which the wingmembranes have received their greatest expansion, and whose specialisation has been carried furthest in the marvellous scaly covering which is the seat of the colour. It is suggestive, that the only other group in which functional wings are much coloured is that of the dragonflies, where the membrane is exceedingly expanded. In like manner, the colours of beetles, though greatly inferior to those of the lepidoptera, occur in a group in which the anterior pair of wings has been thickened and modified in order to protect the vital parts, and in which these wing-covers (elytra), in the course of development in the different groups, must have undergone great changes, and have been the seat of very active growth.
The Origin of Accessory Plumes. Mr. Darwin supposes, that these have in almost every case been developed by the preference of female birds for such males as possessed them in a higher degree than others; but this theory does not account for the fact that these plumes usually appear in a few definite parts of the body. We require some cause to initiate the development in one part rather than in another. Now, the view that colour has arisen over surfaces where muscular and nervous development is considerable, and the fact that it appears especially upon the accessory or highly developed plumes, leads us to inquire whether the same cause has not primarily determined the development of these plumes. The immense tuft of golden plumage in the best known birds of paradise (Paradisea apoda and P. minor) springs from a very small area on the side of the breast. Mr. Frank E. Beddard, who has kindly examined a specimen for me, says that “this area lies upon the pectoral muscles, and near to the point where the fibres of the muscle converge towards their attachment to the humerus. The plumes arise, therefore, close to the most powerful muscle of the body, and near to where the activities of that muscle would be at a maximum. Furthermore, the area of attachment of the plumes is just above the point where the arteries and nerves for the supply of the pectoral muscles, and neighbouring regions, leave the interior of the body. The area of attachment of the plume is, also, as you say in your letter, just above the junction of the coracoid and sternum.” Ornamental plunes of considerable size rise from the same part in many other species of paradise birds, sometimes extending laterally in front, so as to form breast shields. They also occur in many hummingbirds, and in some sun-birds and honey-suckers; and in all these cases there is a wonderful amount of activity and rapid movement, indicating a surplus of vitality, which is able to manifest itself in the development of these accessory plumes. 1
In a quite distinct set of birds, the gallinace, we find the ornamental plumage usually arising from very different parts, in the form of elongated tail-feathers or tail-coverts, and of ruffs or hackles from the neck. Here the wings are comparatively little used, the most constant activities depending on the legs, since the gallinacea are pre-eminently walking, running, and scratching birds. Now the magnificent train of the peacock --the grandest development of accessory plumes in this order -springs from an oval or circular area, about three inches in diameter, just above the base of the tail, and, therefore, situated over the lower part of the spinal column near the insertion of the powerful muscles which move the hind limbs and elevate the tail. The very frequent presence of neck-ruffs or breast-shields in the males of birds with accessory plumes may be partly due to selection, because they must serve as a protection in their mutual combats, just as does the lion's or the horse's mane. The enormously lengthened plumes of the bird of paradise and of the peacock can, however, have no such use,
i For activity and pugnacity of humming-birds, see Tropical Nature, pp. 130, 213.
but must be rather injurious than beneficial in the bird's ordinary life. The fact that they have been developed to so great an extent in a few species is an indication of such perfect adaptation to the conditions of existence, such complete success in the battle for life, that there is, in the adult male at all events, a surplus of strength, vitality, and growth-power which is able to expend itself in this way without injury. That such is the case is shown by the great abundance of most of the species which possess these wonderful superfluities of plumage. Birds of paradise are among the commonest birds in New Guinea, and their loud voices can be often heard when the birds themselves are invisible in the depths of the forest; while Indian sportsmen have described the peafowl as being so abundant, that from twelve to fifteen hundred have been seen within an hour at one spot; and they range over the whole country from the Himalayas to Ceylon. The great differences in these plumes which are so often found in allied species is probably due to the fact that they originated in the need for recognition-marks during the process of differentiation of species, as briefly stated at p. 227, and more fully in a note at the end of Chapter VIII.
Development of Accessory Plumes and their Display. If we have found a veru causa for the origin of ornamental appendages of birds and other animals in a surplus of vital energy, leading to abnormal growths in those parts of the integument where muscular and nervous action are greatest, the continuous development of these appendages will result from the ordinary action of natural selection in preserving the most healthy and vigorous individuals, and the still further selective agency of sexual struggle in giving to the very strongest and most energetic the parentage of the next generation. And, as all the evidence goes to show that, so far as female birds exercise any choice, it is of “the most vigorous, defiant, and mettlesome male,” this form of sexual selection will act in the same direction, and help to carry on the process of plume development to its culmination. That culmination will be reached when the excessive length or abundance of the plumes begins to be injurious to the bearer of them; and it may be this check to the further lengthening of the peacock's train that has led to the broadening of the feathers at the ends, and the consequent production of the magnificent eyespots which now form its crowning ornament.
The display of these plumes will result from the same causes which led to their production. Just in proportion as the feathers themselves increased in length and abundance, the skin-muscles which serve to elevate them would increase also; and the nervous development as well as the supply of blood to these parts being at a maximum, the erection of the plumes would become a habit at all periods of nervous or sexual excitement. The display of the plumes, like the existence of the plumes themselves, would be the chief external indication of the maturity and vigour of the male, and would, therefore, be necessarily attractive to the female. We have, thus, no reason for imputing to her any of those æsthetic emotions which are excited in us, by the beauty of form, colour, and pattern of these plumes; or the still more improbable æsthetic tastes, which would cause her to choose her mate on account of minute differences in their forms, colours, or patterns.
As co-operating causes in the production of accessory ornamental plumes, I have elsewhere suggested 1 that crests and other erectile feathers may have been useful in making the bird more formidable in appearance, and thus serving to frighten away enemies; while long tail or wing feathers might serve to distract the aim of a bird of prey. But though this might be of some use in the earlier stages of their development, it is probably of little importance compared with the vigour and pugnacity of which the plumes are the indication, and which enable most of their possessors to defend themselves against the enemies which are dangerous to weaker and more timid birds. Even the tiny humming-birds are said to attick birds of prey that approach too near to their nests. The Efject of Female Preference will be Neutralised by
Natural Selection. The various facts and irguments now briefly set forth, fordd all explanation of the phenomena of male ornament,
I Tropical Nature, p). 209 (new al., p. 377). In Chapter V of this work the views lere advocates were first set forth, and the reader is referred there for further details and illustrative facts.
as being due to the general laws of growth and development, and make it unnecessary to call to our aid so hypothetical a cause as the cumulative action of female preference. There remains, however, a general argument, arising from the action of natural selection itself, which renders it almost inconceivable that female preference could have been effective in the way suggested; while the same argument strongly supports the view here set forth. Natural selection, as we have seen in our earlier chapters, acts perpetually and on an enormous scale in weeding out the “ unfit” at every stage of existence, and preserving only those which are in all respects the very best. Each year, only a small percentage of young birds survive to take the place of the old birds which die ; and the survivors will be those which are best able to maintain existence from the egg onwards, an important factor being that their parents should be well able to feed and protect them, while they themselves must in turn be equally able to feed and protect their own offspring. Now this extremely rigid action of natural selection must render any attempt to select mere ornament utterly nugatory, unless the most ornamented always coincide with “the fittest” in every other respect; while, if they do so coincide, then any selection of ornament is altogether superfluous. If the most brightly coloured and fullest plumaged males are not the most healthy and vigorous, have not the best instincts for the proper construction and concealment of the nest, and for the care and protection of the young, they are certainly not the fittest, and will not survive, or be the parents of survivors. If, on the other hand, there is generally this correlation—if, as has been here argued, ornament is the natural product and direct outcome of superabundant health and vigour, then no other mode of selection is needed to account for the presence of such ornament. The action of natural selection does not indeed disprove the existence of female selection of ornament as ornament, but it renders it entirely ineffective; and as the direct evidence for any such female selection is almost nil, while the objections to it are certainly weighty, there can be no longer any reason for upholding a theory which was provisionally useful in calling attention to a most curious and suggestive body of facts, but which is now no longer tenable.