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Descent of Man [ 1871]

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Author Topic: Descent of Man [ 1871]  (Read 6373 times)
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« Reply #210 on: February 10, 2009, 03:09:21 pm »

Supplemental Note - On Sexual Selection in relation to monkeys

         Reprinted from NATURE, November 2, 1876, p. 18.

  IN the discussion on Sexual Selection in my Descent of Man, no
case interested and perplexed me so much as the brightly-coloured
hinder ends and adjoining parts of certain monkeys. As these parts are
more brightly coloured in one sex than the other, and as they become
more brilliant during the season of love, I concluded that the colours
had been gained as a sexual attraction. I was well aware that I thus
laid myself open to ridicule; though in fact it is not more surprising
that a monkey should display his bright-red hinder end than that a
peacock should display his magnificent tail. I had, however, at that
time no evidence of monkeys exhibiting this part of their bodies
during their courtship; and such display in the case of birds
affords the best evidence that the ornaments of the males are of
service to them by attracting or exciting the females. I have lately
read an article by Joh. von Fischer, of Gotha, published in Der
Zoologische Garten, April, 1876, on the expression of monkeys under
various emotions, which is well worthy of study by any one
interested in the subject, and which shews that the author is a
careful and acute observer. In this article there is an account of the
behaviour of a young male mandrill when he first beheld himself in a
looking-glass, and it is added, that after a time he turned round
and presented his red hinder end to the glass. Accordingly I wrote
to Herr J. von Fischer to ask what he supposed was the meaning of this
strange action, and he has sent me two long letters full of new and
curious details, which will, I hope, be hereafter published. He says
that he was himself at first perplexed by the above action, and was
thus led carefully to observe several individuals of various other
species of monkeys, which he has long kept in his house. He finds that
not only the mandrill (Cynocephalus mormon) but the drill (C.
leucophaeus) and three other kinds of baboons (C. hamadryas, sphinx,
and babouin), also Cynopithecus niger, and Macacus rhesus and
nemestrinus, turn this part of their bodies, which in all these
species is more or less brightly coloured, to him when they are
pleased, and to other persons as a sort of greeting. He took pains
to cure a Macacus rhesus, which he had kept for five years, of this
indecorous habit, and at last succeeded. These monkeys are
particularly apt to act in this manner, grinning at the same time,
when first introduced to a new monkey, but often also to their old
monkey friends; and after this mutual display they begin to play
together. The young mandrill ceased spontaneously after a time to
act in this manner towards his master, von Fischer, but continued to
do so towards persons who were strangers and to new monkeys. A young
Cynopithecus niger never acted, excepting on one occasion, in this way
towards his master, but frequently towards strangers, and continues to
do so up to the present time. From these facts von Fischer concludes
that the monkeys which behaved in this manner before a looking-glass
(viz., the mandrill, drill, Cynopithecus niger, Macacus rhesus and
nemestrinus) acted as if their reflection were a new acquaintance. The
mandrill and drill, which have their hinder ends especially
ornamented, display it even whilst quite young, more frequently and
more ostentatiously than do the other kinds. Next in order comes
Cynocephalus hamadryas, whilst the other species act in this manner
seldomer. The individuals, however, of the same species vary in this
respect, and some which were very shy never displayed their hinder
ends. It deserves especial attention that von Fischer has never seen
any species purposely exhibit the hinder part of its body, if not at
all coloured. This remark applies to many individuals of Macacus
cynomolgus and Cercocebus radiatus (which is closely allied to M.
rhesus), to three species of Cercopithecus and several American
monkeys. The habit of turning the hinder ends as a greeting to an
old friend or new acquaintance, which seems to us so odd, is not
really more so than the habits of many savages, for instance that of
rubbing their bellies with their hands, or rubbing noses together. The
habit with the mandrill and drill seems to be instinctive or
inherited, as it was followed by very young animals; but it is
modified or guided, like so many other instincts, by observation,
for von Fischer says that they take pains to make their display fully;
and if made before two observers, they turn to him who seems to pay
the most attention.

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