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Recognition Marks (S485: 1893)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A short note responding to an inquiry regarding rabbits' use of their tails as danger signals. Printed on page 53 of the Nature issue of 16 November 1893. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S485.htm

    Mr. MacGillivray has failed to grasp the principle of natural selection when he thinks that it cannot produce a character useful to other animals of the same species. The action of natural selection is to preserve the species, as well as each individual separately; and, consequently, every character useful to the species as a whole would be preserved. This is obvious when we consider such characters as nest-building in birds, and milk-secretion in mammals, which do not benefit the individual possessors, but their offspring; and the same principle applies to every character which is mutually useful to individuals of the same species, as are what I have termed "recognition characters." Neither can I admit that the habits of the hare render the white upturned tail "quite unnecessary." The hare is a nocturnal feeder, and a mark which readily distinguishes a friend from an enemy, and enables the young during their short period of infancy to keep within sight of the mother, must be of considerable importance.

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