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Letter 6638

Blyth, Edward to Darwin, C. R.

1 Mar 1869

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    Sexual differences in antelopes (Indian and African).

Transcription

7 Princess Terrace, | Regents Pk, N.W.,

March 1 /69.

My Dear Sir,

In the common Indian antelope (Antilope cervicapra and Cervicapra bezoartica) the females are usually hornless, & the males have straight and tensely spirated horns, approaching sometimes to 2 ft. in length, and of which the twist is more or less intense in different specimens. In the castrated buck, of which I have seen several, (& there is a fine one mounted as a stuffed specimen in the Calcutta museum) the horns are not spirated, but arch and gyre round to the front, with a considerable spread apart, and the colour of the coat remains permanently chestnut-brown as in the doe. In exceedingly rare instances (of which three have come to my knowledge) the doe bears horns similar to those of the castrated buck but smaller and more slender. Such a doe is figured as a supposed new species in one of the Indian sporting periodicals, if I mistake not in one of the latest numbers of the Bengal Sporting Magazine, New Series—

In the nilgai, also, the female is hornless, & the castrated buck develops small and slender horns, while in this instance likewise the coat remains of the same rufous-brown colour as that of the female & young, instead of assuming the colour which is styled nil (pronounced neel) or blue in the mature male.

In the axis deer (Cervus axis) the mature male has a considerably darker hue than the female, which also is not assumed by the castrated buck or ``[beaver]''. The African Antelope (Hippotragus) leucophaeus was long considered to be a lost species; but I believe it to be merely the mature male of what is known as the A. (H.) equinus. An allied species, the A. (H.) niger would appear to resemble in the difference of colouring of the sexes the Bos sondaicus, & the castrated animal would doubtless retain the colouring of the female. Ditto with the A. (Kobus) maria of the banks of the White Nile. The Indian antelope has this peculiarity (so far as I am aware) that the black colour of the buck appears & disappears according to the condition of sexual excitement, by changes of hue in the actual coat, without any renovation of the vesture—

Yours Sincerely, E. Blyth

P.S. Only half of my article on the life of animals in wild nature appears in this week's Land & Water. On Saturday I went to Tottenham in Essex to inspect a lot of fossils & subfossils just exhumed in the course of excavations for a reservoir. The usual species, but two rather interesting human skulls. I have secured all for the Museum of the College of Surgeons.

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 6638.f1
    Cervicapra bezoartica is now considered a synonym of Antilope cervicapra (the blackbuck). CD referred to the species by another synonym, Antilope bezoartica, in Descent 2: 246, where Blyth is cited for this information.
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    f2 6638.f2
    In Descent 2: 287--8, CD discussed sexual differences in colour in the nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), which he referred to as the nilghau, Portax picta. He cited Blyth for some of this information.
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    f3 6638.f3
    Cervus axis is now Axis axis.
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    f4 6638.f4
    Hippotragus leucophaeus (the blue antelope or bluebuck) probably became extinct around 1800 (see Lichtenstein 1811--12, 1: 265). Blyth evidently believed it to be a colour variant of Hippotragus equinus (the roan antelope). Blyth had made similar claims in earlier letters (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter from Edward Blyth, 24 February 1867, and Correspondence vol. 16, letter from Edward Blyth, [before 25 March 1868]).
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    f5 6638.f5
    Blyth refers to Hippotragus niger (the sable antelope, referred to by CD as Antilope niger) and Bos sondaicus (now B. javanicus, the banteng). In Descent 2: 289, CD noted the colour differences in the sexes of these species.
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    f6 6638.f6
    Kobus maria is now K. megaceros (the Nile lechwe).
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    f7 6638.f7
    In Descent 2: 288--9, CD cited Blyth on changes in the colour of the male Antilope bezoartica.
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    f8 6638.f8
    An article on the musk sheep of Arctic America appeared in Land and Water, 6 March 1869, pp. 151--2.
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    f9 6638.f9
    Blyth refers to the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.
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    f10 6638.f10
    Desmarest 1820, p. 455, contains a description of Antilope euchore (now Antidorcas marsupialis, the springbok). CD's annotated copy is in the Darwin Library--CUL (see Marginalia 1: 192--4).
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