Darwin on the Galapagos Islands: The Birthplace of the Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection

Charles Darwin

Famed naturalist Charles Darwin put the Galapagos Islands on the map when, in 1835, he disembarked from the HMS “Beagle” and spent five weeks studying animal life there.

The Galapagos Islands are forever linked with the name Charles Darwin, just as Darwin, in turn, is linked with the phrase “evolution by natural selection.”

The Beagle’s voyage was an odds-and-ends mission in which the east and west coasts of South America were to be mapped, a series of chronometric readings were to be completed and three Tierra del Fuegian natives captured on a previous trip were to be repatriated. Combined with this was an almost incidental la-dee-da circumnavigation of the earth, during which the ship’s designated naturalist, Charles Darwin, was to have the rare opportunity to study exotic locations along the way.

To this end, Darwin took full advantage– nowhere more so than the Galapagos Islands, the “in” place to be as far as naturalists were concerned.

The Galapagos Islands: The Wonderland Where All Young Naturalists Converge to Break Dance and Party It up All Night Long

Located off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands were a geological dream-come-true for the young Charles Darwin upon his arrival. The islands are located over a geological hot spot, or mantle plume, with an abundance of volcanoes to be found.

On his initial surveying saunter of the islands, Darwin would have noticed 13 largish islands. Elsewhere, there were or are 8 half-pint islands and 40 little-squirt islets and lots of barren who-cares rocks. The islands are scattered over an area of almost 36,000 square miles in the area of the Equator.

Apart from Isabela, the largest island, all of the islands contain volcanoes. Some of the islands are still forming.

Darwin visited and studied 4 of the 13 islands and observed that, for example, the mockingbirds and tortoises differed from island to island. These observations helped form the eureka basis that led to his theory of natural selection and evolution as set down in his 1859 book The Origin of Species.

A Brief Account of Harriet the Tortoise, Who Now Makes Her Way into This Article, Appearing, As All Tortoises Are Wont to Do, at the Last Minute

Just when you might be tempted to think that Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands an extremely long time ago and his life and times very nearly belong in the realm of ancient history, consider this. Among the many tortoises that Darwin met and studied was one named Harriet. She may have been among several that were taken as baby tortoises back to England by him. In any event, it was only last summer that Harriet finally kicked the bucket in Australia, dying of heart failure.

Or, one might wonder, did she in fact die of a broken heart when overhearing someone mention that Darwin died in 1882?