This is one of the most important stories in the history of science. It ranks right up there with Neil Armstrong’s first small step on the Moon and Jane Goodall’s rethinking of non-human relationships. Charles Darwin was only moments away from a discovery that would forever change our view of life on Earth.
It was the culmination of a five-year journey. Finches and giant turtles were thought to be the epiphany moment that would allow our understanding of natural selection and evolution to emerge.
This is at least the story that most people know. It’s not the whole story. If you read his 1859 work On the Origin of Species (On the Origin of Species), you may be surprised to learn that the Galapagos Islands are not the central premise. The iconic finches are barely mentioned. Darwin attributed more significance to the Galapagos tortoises and mockingbirds.
In many ways, the time he spent in Africa was a launching pad for ideas that were then more thoroughly explored in Britain and with less exotic plants and animals.
Darwin’s finches are often associated with evolution. However, Darwin misidentified the birds as grosbeaks. John Gould, ‘Voyage on the Beagle.
The Origin of Pigeons
It’s probably too late to rename his most famous book, but it would make sense to call it “On the Origin of Pigeons, Worms and Barnacles.”” The book was largely based on these animals and the plants in his country garden.
Pigeons are familiar and, therefore, a good choice for explaining evolution. Shutterstock
In Victorian England, breeding pigeons became a craze. Everyone from coal miners to Queen Victoria (apparently) was involved. Darwin, perhaps realizing in one animal all the evidence he needed to explain his research and provide the public with an example of (albeit not natural) selection, became a pigeon enthusiast in 1855. He even went so far as to set up his home.
A pouter bird with its throat fully inflated. Jim Gifford/Flickr CC-BY-SA
Darwin’s fascination with pigeons was so great that when a reader looked at a draft manuscript of On the Origin of Species, he dismissed it as “wild and foolish.”” Darwin was so fascinated by pigeons that when a reader reads a draft of On the Origin of Species, he called it “foolish.” He urged the man to focus on pigeons instead of natural selection.
The garden as a laboratory
Most of us don’t care about worms and only encounter them on wet sidewalks. Darwin was so fascinated by them that he even wrote a book about them. Earthworms, published in 1881 just six months prior to Darwin’s death, was a bestseller. Darwin spent 40 years testing almost every aspect of the worm’s anatomy and behavior. He tried everything from how fast worms bury leaf litter to his son playing the bassoon with them in order to observe their reactions. Darwin’s household is never dull.
Indeed, worms are not a major part of Darwin’s natural selection, but they have reinforced his belief that small animals, given time, can transform the Earth. Worms are a major contributor to soil fertility by decomposing dead plant material. This allows nutrients to be recycled into the soil, allowing plants to grow.
Earthworms are beneficial to soil fertility as they help break down plant matter. Shutterstock
Darwin’s garden provided many answers to the questions he needed to answer about the natural selection of plants.
Darwin’s garden at Down House was so enthralled by the color patterns of wildflowers or the hardiness of beans that he said, “I scarcely ever trust any general remark in zoology, a href= “https://cosmosmagazine.com/biology/darwin-s-garden”>without finding that botanists concur/a>.” Darwin was so fascinated by the color patterns of wildflowers and the hardiness of beans in Down House’s vegetable patch that he is quoted saying, “I hardly ever trust general remarks in zoology unless botanists agree.”
Darwin’s barnacle grip
Charles Darwin was obsessed with barnacles. He loved garden animals, plants, and even plants. Darwin intended to describe only one new species of barnacles from the South American coast. Instead, he spent seven years not only detailing the anatomy and morphology but also reclassifying this entire taxonomic family.
His research on barnacles has made him a respected voice in the British zoological world. He is also regarded as one of the leading experts on barnacles. On the Origin of Species included his work on the origin of new barnacle species, along with findings from fossils and living species around the globe. This diverse group was examined in depth, allowing him to explore the finer points of natural selection.