Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Darwin Day to all!

Fun Darwin Facts:

1. Darwin saw no significance at first in the finches of the Galapagos. He dutifully collected and tagged his samples, and it was only when some of the labels were lost and he became frustrated about how similar they appeared that he thought they might all be related.

2. Darwin performed a substantial amount of his research by becoming a Victorian era pigeon fancier. These men doted over their birds and bred them for specific characteristics, and although some breeders claimed that they could develop any trait given enough time, none of his fellow fanciers thought this might possibly be an indication that all the known breeds were actually the result of breeding from one ancestor pigeon.

3. Some scholars feel that Darwin believed in recapitulation. What is that? Basically, it's the idea that a blastula is the equivalent of primordial soup, and as the fetus develops, it mirrors evolutionary development. We know Darwin thought this because he wrote about how similar all puppies look (round, chubby, tiny appendages), and yet they all develop into very different breeds. This is because the “essential puppy” morphology is actually the original dog morphology.

4. In Darwin's first edition of the Origin of Species, he asks his reader to contemplate the possibility of a bear becoming a whale-like animal if it spends all of its time in a river hunting. We know today from skeletal structures such as the pelvis and vestigial legs that whales are indeed actually land animals that returned to the aquatic environment.

5. Darwin married his cousin, but only after long debate. He drafted a pro and con list to decide whether or not he was the marrying type. Although he would have less freedom, he decided in favor of marriage because it would offer him good company. At least company better than a dog, he wrote.

6. Erasmus Darwin, Charles's grandfather, had many ideas that are very similar to what we know as (Charles) Darwinian Evolution and contributed a lot to Charles's own ideas. Erasmus is best known for 'Zoonomia' which is filled with precursors. However, Erasmus also writes that whatever the male is fancying during the time of copulation will be what the fetus develops into. In other words, a mating frog may see a chicken walk by and think that the chicken is rather sexy, thus producing a baby frog that very closely resembles a chicken.

7. While in the Galapagos, Darwin gave special attention to the lizard population. He referred to a species of black lizard as “imps of darkness” that were extremely ugly, and performed experiments in which he would hurl a lizard as far as possible into the ocean to puzzle over how it well it could swim, yet how it hated being in the ocean.

8. Darwin remarks repeatedly on the naiveté of the birds of the Galapagos, and how easy it is to kill them. He observed a local boy catching the birds for food by simply sitting next to a source of water, grabbing a visiting bird, and SNAP.

9. Another scientist, Alfred Russell Wallace, also came up with evolution. He wrote to Darwin asking for his opinion, Darwin panicked, and at the advice of colleagues, finished the Origin of Species as soon as possible, leaving out much of what was intended to be included. Wallace and Darwin published together, but as the idea stuck, Wallace began referring to evolution as “Darwin's idea” and considered himself lucky to even be friends with Darwin.

10. Darwin was a tad neurotic, and wrote down almost every idea. From all his letter, notebooks, diaries, etc., it is easy to see the evolution of the idea of evolution. The biggest obstacle to Darwin scholars today is not finding material, but reading Darwin's handwriting.


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