Hope is Crucial for Darwin's Inspirations

Happy anniversary Darwin! Yes, that’s right. Today is the 149th anniversary of the day that Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was first published. The book was the culmination of Darwin’s findings from his survey expedition aboard the HMS Beagle. It was on this voyage that Darwin formulated the theory of evolution, and explained natural selection as the mode for these changes.

Alfred Russell Wallace also proposed the same idea as Darwin, based upon his studies in the Malay Archipelago. Read the December 2008 article from National Geographic on The Man Who Wasn’t Darwin.

Everyone attributes Darwin’s source of inspiration to the finches of the Galapagos islands. However, it was the mockingbirds, not the finches, that inspired Darwin. He collected mockingbirds from Floreana and San Cristobal, and noticed that they were different. Darwin also learned that the tortoises were recognizably different on each island. Unlike what he did with the finches, he noted which island each specimen came from. On the voyage home, Darwin examined the differences between the finches and began to question what he called “the stability of species.”

Two of Darwin’s mockingbirds, perhaps his most important specimens collected, are now on display for the first time ever at the Darwin exhibit at the Natural History Museum in London. The exhibit is a highlight of Darwin200, a national program of events dedicated to celebrating Darwin’s scientific ideas and their impact around his bicentenary.

The Floreana mockingbird is now one of the rarest birds in the world, and is already extinct on its home island of Floreana. There are less than 200 individuals remaining on two satellite islands of Floreana.

The mockingbirds are not nearly as rare as the Pinto Island tortoise species, Geochelone abigdoni, of which there is only one remaining survivor- Lonesome George. His name sounds even sadder in Spanish. Solitario Jorge.

George was found in 1972 on a hunt to eradicate wild goats from Pinta
Island. He was taken to the Galapagos National Park’s Giant Tortoise Captive Breeding Center. He’s spent 36 years pent up, lonely and overweight, exhibiting no interest in females of other species that have been offered to him.

“Previously, George would attack his companions and was very territorial. We even had to feed him separately from the females, but now he accepts them and shares meals with them,” states Fausto Llerena, the park ranger who has cared for George since he was moved to the Center.

Hope sprang anew when one of George’s female companions laid eggs. However, it is now predicted that only 20 percent may hatch, as the eggs have been showing signs of being infertile, and some of them have fungus growth.

Unless the eggs produce viable offspring, then when Lonesome George dies, so does his species. Yes, it saddens me to think about any species going extinct. But when it is down to the last member of that species, it hits me even harder. Maybe because it is so quantifiable, that I know that there is just the one, and it is not just the species as a whole, but the individual. Like Lonesome George. It is one thing to know that a species will inevitable go extinct, and not to know when or where exactly, or which creature was the last to go. But with George, there is a name and a face to go along with the heartbreaking knowledge. Extinction becomes not just a fact, but a defined moment in time.

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