Page:Descent of Man 1875.djvu/74

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Part I.
The Descent of Man.

became divested of hair for ornamental purposes, as we shall see under Sexual Selection; and, according to this belief, it is not surprising that man should differ so greatly in hairiness from all other primates, for characters, gained through sexual selection, often differ to an extraordinary degree in closely-related forms.

According to a popular impression, the absence of a tail is eminently distinctive of man; but as those apes which come nearest to him are destitute of this organ, its disappearance does not relate exclusively to man. The tail often differs remarkably in length within the same genus: thus in some species of Macacus it is longer than the whole body, and is formed of twenty-four vertebræ; in others it consists of a scarcely visible stump, containing only three or four vertebræ. In some kinds of baboons there are twenty-five, whilst in the mandrill there are ten very small stunted caudal vertebræ, or, according to Cuvier,[1] sometimes only five. The tail, whether it be long or short, almost always tapers towards the end; and this, I presume, results from the atrophy of the terminal muscles, together with their arteries and nerves, through disuse, leading to the atrophy of the terminal bones. But no explanation can at present be given of the great diversity which often occurs in its length. Here, however, we are more specially concerned with the complete external disappearance of the tail. Professor Broca has recently shewn[2] that the tail in all quadrupeds consists of two portions, generally separated abruptly from each other; the basal portion consists of vertebræ, more or less perfectly channelled and furnished with apophyses like ordinary vertebræ; whereas those of the terminal portion are not channelled, are almost smooth, and scarcely resemble true vertebræ. A tail, though not externally visible, is really present in man and the anthropomorphous apes, and is constructed on exactly the same pattern in both. In the terminal portion the vertabræ, constituting the os coccyx, are quite rudimentary, being much reduced in size and number. In the basal portion, the vertebræ are likewise few, are united firmly together, and are arrested in development; but they have been rendered much broader and flatter than the corresponding vertebræ in the tails of other animals: they constitute what Broca calls the accessory sacral vertebræ. These are of functional importance by supporting certain internal parts and in other ways; and their modification is directly connected with the erect

  1. Mr. St. George Mivart, 'Proc. Zoolog. Soc.' 1865, pp. 562, 583. Dr. J. E. Gray, 'Cat. Brit. Mus.: Skeletons.' Owen, 'Anatomy of Vertebrates,' vol. ii. p. 517. Isidore Geoffroy, 'Hist. Nat. Gén.' tom. ii. p. 244.
  2. 'Revue d'Anthropologie,' 1872; 'La Constitution des Vertèbres caudales.'