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Darwin's finches

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 18:16 authored by David LeavensDavid Leavens
In his article on scientific myths, Henry Nicholls rejects the widespread belief that the study of the Galapagos finches had any significant bearing on Darwin's development of the theory of natural selection, stating that "the words 'Darwin' and 'finches' [first] appeared alongside each other in 1935" (15 July, p 21). The late juxtaposition of the terms "Darwin" and "finches" may be accurate, but this does not tell us whether the diversity in beak sizes and shapes among Galapagos finches may have influenced Darwin's thinking about the origin of species. In his account, The Voyage of the Beagle (second edition, published 1845), Darwin devoted a figure to depicting this bill diversity in four species of ground finch found in the Galapagos archipelago: Geospiza magnirostris, Geospiza fortis, Geospiza parvula and Certhidea olivasea. He commented: "Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends." It is true, as Nicholls states, that Darwin "made almost no mention of these iconic birds in his voluminous writings", but the mention he does make is astonishingly prescient, concisely forecasting the idea of the mutability of species elaborated on in On the Origin of Species, published subsequently, in 1859.


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New Scientist

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  • Psychology Publications


Letter to the Editor, Issue 2563

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