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Darwin in Galapagos

Over the years, many famous people have visited the Galápagos, including actors, artists and politicians from all over the world. Without a doubt, however, the most famous Galápagos tourist of all time was British naturalist Charles Darwin, who visited while on a round-the-world trip with the HMS Beagle in 1835.


Evolution and Scandal


Most people know Darwin for the firestorm of scandal that marked his later life. In 1859, Darwin published On the Origin of Species, a book which shook the world to its foundations. Today, evolution is accepted as scientific fact by most people. Animals, plants and insects adapt to their environment in order to compete. As the environment changes, so do the animals. In 1859, however, most people had never heard of evolution, and believed that all animals existed in exactly the form that they were originally assigned by God.

The most controversial aspect of Darwin’s book was the notion that mankind was not excepted. In many ways, man is an animal like any other, and can therefore be assumed to have evolved from lower life forms. The notion that our ancestors were some sort of ape scandalized the world and ignited a debate which continues to this day. Darwin only spent about six weeks in the Galapagos Islands in late 1835, but his time there was very important to his later work.


Role of the Finches in Darwin's Work


Darwin illustrated his theory of evolution with the finches of Galapagos. There are fourteen different species of finch on the islands, and they differ significantly. Some are large, some small, some have heavy beaks and some have small ones, some are brown, some are black, etc. Assuming that the finches all descended from one common ancestor who somehow came to the Galápagos eons ago, the differences can only be explained by assuming that they have changed over time, resulting in several different varieties.

Ironically, the finches did not interest Darwin on his visit. He collected only a few specimens and did not label them very well. He was initially more interested in the mockingbirds, which also differ from one island to another.



Charles Darwin in Galapagos Today


Darwin continues to be associated with the islands, where he is celebrated. Any number of hotels, ships, and businesses are named for him. There are even more than a handful of islanders named “Darwin.”

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
30 Oct 2009

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