The Truth About the Theory of Evolution and The Galapagos Islands

June 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve often thought it was strange that in a highly religious country like Ecuador, there is no controversy over Evolution vs. Creationism.  They believe in God, they believe in the bible but they also believe in Evolution.  Maybe it is seeing Evolution first hand that makes people more than believe in it but know it as a fact to be true.

Charles Darwin’s the theory of Evolution is based on his works “On the Origin of Species by natural Selection” published in 1859.  Darwin spent five years on the HMS Beagle circling the globe and making observations along the way.  It is said that while in the Galapagos Islands he collected a number of Finches and on his return to London it was discovered he had found an entirely new group of birds and 12 different species.  Thus leading him to his theory of transmutation and evolution.

What if you were to find out it isn’t true?  No I don’t think you should have been home schooled so that you avoided hearing about Evolution – but it wasn’t the Finches that inspired Darwin, it was actually the Galapagos Mockingbird – a discovery he made while in Galapagos not while in London that lead him to his theory of evolution…

“The different islands probably have their representative species of races of the Amblyrhynchus, as well as the tortoise.  My attention was first thoroughly aroused by comparing together the numerous specimens, short by myself and several other parties on board, of mocking-thrushes, when to my astonishment, I discovered that all those from Charles Island belong to one species (Mimus trifasciatus); all from Albermarle Island to M. parvulus and all from James and Chatham Islands belong to M. melanotis”

Hood Mockingbird

Hood Mockingbird

The Galapagos Islands are home to four species of Mockingbirds:

  • Galapagos Mockingbirds
  • Chatham Mockingbirds
  • Hood Mockingbirds
  • Floreana Mockingbirds

The Galapagos Mockingbirds are the most commonly seen mockingbird in Galapagos.  They found on most islands and like other mockingbirds an inquisitive and chatty bird.  They are easily recognized with their feathers, which are streaked brown and gray, long tail, and smaller size, and black, angled beak. The bird has a darker color than other mockingbirds.

On the island of San Cristobal the endemic Chatham Mockingbird has an intermediate appearance similar to those on the continent.  The best place to see them is at the tortoise reserve in the highlands near Cerro Colorado.

The Hood Mocking endemic to Espanola bird they are the most aggressive of all the Mockingbirds.  If you have ever been to Espanola you have probably encountered one as it tried to make it’s way into your daypack or sneak a drink from your water bottle.  The Hood Mockingbird has mottled gray and brown plumage with a white underbelly. A long tail and legs give the bird its distinctive appearance. The species has a long, thin beak.

Floreana Mockingbirds were plentiful at the time of Darwin’s voyage and could be found all over the island of Floreana.  Identified by their dark-brownish grey upperparts and dull white underparts, with distinct dark patches on the sides of its breast. Its eyes are reddish-brown and its beak, which is long and curved.

As we’ve discussed in other blogs Floreana was a favorite islands of early visitors and settlers, and like the tortoise the mockingbird did not benefit from these visitors. At the end of the 19th century the Floreana Mockingbird became extinct on the island of Floreana. Today they are considered one of the most endangered bird species in the world.  The only remaining birds can be found on two rocky formations in front of Floreana —Champion where it is estimated 20-40 live and Gardner where another 60 – 80 are thought to live.  Without great preservation efforts it is doubtful these Mockingbirds will survive another 100 years.

However, like the Galapagos Tortoises modern science is working to increase the number of Floreana Mocking birds and to reintroduce them to the main part of the island.  Through DNA research the scientists are working to identify which of the mockingbirds are most similar to the original population of the island.  As part of the restoration effort the introduced species on Floreana that are a threat to the survival of the Mockingbird are being eradicated.  A reforestation project of the Opuntia Cactus a favorite of the Mockingbird has also begun.  And once the DNA work is complete park officials and scientists will work to restore numbers and reintroduce them to their native island of Floreana.

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