The Descent of Man

Author: Charles Darwin


[Fig. 32. Triton cristatus (half natural size, from Bell’s ’British Reptiles’). Upper figure, male during the breeding season; lower figure, female.]

I will begin with the tailed amphibians. The sexes of salamanders or newts often differ much both in colour and structure. In some species prehensile claws are developed on the fore-legs of the males during the breedingseason: and at this season in the male Triton palmipes the hind-feet are provided with a swimming-web, which is almost completely absorbed during the winter; so that their feet then resemble those of the female. (43. Bell, ’History of British Reptiles,’ 2nd ed., 1849, pp. 156-159.) This structure no doubt aids the male in his eager search and pursuit of the female. Whilst courting her he rapidly vibrates the end of his tail. With our common newts (Triton punctatus and cristatus) a deep, much indented crest is developed along the back and tail of the male during the breedingseason, which disappears during the winter. Mr. St. George Mivart informs me that it is not furnished with muscles, and therefore cannot be used for locomotion. As during the season of courtship it becomes edged with bright colours, there can hardly be a doubt that it is a masculine ornament. In many species the body presents strongly contrasted, though lurid tints, and these become more vivid during the breeding-season. The male, for instance, of our common little newt (Triton punctatus) is "brownish-grey above, passing into yellow beneath, which in the spring becomes a rich bright orange, marked everywhere with round dark spots." The edge of the crest also is then tipped with bright red or violet. The female is usually of a yellowish-brown colour with scattered brown dots, and the lower surface is often quite plain. (44. Bell, ’History of British Reptiles,’ 2nd ed., 1849, pp. 146, 151.) The young are obscurely tinted. The ova are fertilised during the act of deposition, and are not subsequently tended by either parent. We may therefore conclude that the males have acquired their strongly-marked colours and ornamental appendages through sexual selection; these being transmitted either to the male offspring alone, or to both sexes.


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Chicago: Charles Darwin, "Urodela.," The Descent of Man, ed. Bryant Conant, James and trans. Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866 in The Descent of Man Original Sources, accessed March 30, 2023,

MLA: Darwin, Charles. "Urodela." The Descent of Man, edited by Bryant Conant, James, and translated by Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866, in The Descent of Man, Original Sources. 30 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Darwin, C, 'Urodela.' in The Descent of Man, ed. and trans. . cited in , The Descent of Man. Original Sources, retrieved 30 March 2023, from