The coloration of animals : a nineteenth century controversy Public Deposited

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  • Mimicry, obscure colors, and secondary sexual colors were important classes of observations that were analyzed by nineteenth century biologists from several vantage points. Adherents of the doctrine of special creation of fixed species believed animal colors to be evidence of design; Darwin and Wallace and their successors suggested that a natural process, natural selection, had produced the adaptations. Letters to the editor of Nature and discussions at the Royal Entomological Society of London record the controversy between biological world-views. There was, however, little unity between Darwin and Wallace on the development of coloration. Darwin emphasized the sexual function of color which Wallace largely discounted. Wallace emphasized the protective function of color. The source of their differences may be traced to their sources of data. Darwin had relied upon the variations of domestic animals to understand wild species which Wallace believed must be studied directly rather than by domestic analogy. Darwin used sexual selection and the inherited effects of acquired characters to account for most of the cases of dimorphic coloration in animals and of racial colors in man, setting his view of the origin of colors in both animals and man irreconciably apart from that of Wallace. The controversy on the uses of color in animals shows the differences of opinion between Darwinians as well as between Darwinians and creationists, and provides a way of studying some of the distinctive features of nineteenth century biology.
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