mistaking at first individual variability for sexual difference.
I go on working at sexual selection, and, though never idle, I am able to do so little work each day that I make very slow progress. I knew from Azara about the young of the tapir being striped, and about young deer being spotted (432/2. Fritz Muller's views are discussed in the "Descent of Man," Edition II., Volume II., page 305.); I have often reflected on this subject, and know not what to conclude about the loss of the stripes and spots. From the geographical distribution of the striped and unstriped species of Equus there seems to be something very mysterious about the loss of stripes; and I cannot persuade myself that the common ass has lost its stripes owing to being rendered more conspicuous from having stripes and thus exposed to danger.
LETTER 433. TO J. JENNER WEIR.
(433/1. Mr. John Jenner Weir, to whom the following letters are addressed, is frequently quoted in the "Descent of Man" as having supplied Mr. Darwin with information on a variety of subjects.)
Down, February 27th .
I must thank you for your paper on apterous lepidoptera (433/2. Published by the West Kent Natural History, Microscopical and Photographic Society, Greenwich, 1867. Mr. Weir's paper seems chiefly to have interested Mr. Darwin as affording a good case of gradation in the degree of degradation of the wings in various species.), which has interested me exceedingly, and likewise for the very honourable mention which you make of my name. It is almost a pity that your paper was not published in some Journal in which it would have had a wider distribution. It contained much that was new to me. I think the part about the relation of the wings and spiracles and tracheae might have been made a little clearer. Incidentally, you have done me a good service by reminding me of the rudimentary spurs on the legs of the partridge, for I am now writing on what I have called sexual selection. I believe that I am not mistaken in thinking that you have attended much to birds in confinement, as well as to insects. If you could call to mind any facts bearing on this subject, with birds, insects, or any animals--such as the selection by a female of any particular male--or conversely of a particular female by a male, or on the rivalry between males, or on the allurement of the females by the males, or any such facts, I should be most grateful for the information, if you would have the kindness to communicate it.
P.S.--I may give as instance of [this] class of facts, that Barrow asserts that a male Emberiza (?) at the Cape has immensely long tail-feathers during the breeding season (433/3. Barrow describes the long tail feathers of Emberiza longicauda as enduring "but the season of love." "An Account of Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa": London, 1801, Volume I., page 244.); and that if these are cut off, he has no chance of getting a wife. I have always felt an intense wish to make analogous trials, but have never had an opportunity, and it is not likely that you or any one would be willing to try so troublesome an experiment. Colouring or staining the fine red breast of a bullfinch with some innocuous matter into a dingy tint would be an analogous case, and then putting him and ordinary males with a female. A friend promised, but failed, to try a converse experiment with white pigeons--viz., to stain their tails and wings with magenta or other colours, and then observe what effect such a prodigious alteration would have on their courtship. (433/4. See Letter 428.) It would be a fairer trial to cut off the eyes of the tail-feathers of male peacocks; but who would sacrifice the beauty of their bird for a whole season to please a mere naturalist?
LETTER 434. TO J. JENNER WEIR. Down, February 29th .
I have hardly ever received a note which has interested me more than your last; and this is no exaggeration. I had a few cases of birds perceiving slight changes in the dress of their owners, but your facts are of tenfold value.