One of the most amazing and interesting facts about the Galapagos Islands is their role in influencing our understanding of the evolution of life on Earth. The question is, how did life in the Galapagos even come to be in the first place, and how did it become such a unique living life museum that to this day seems to be almost frozen in time? It had to start from scratch with some kind of boost from the mainland, the nearest of which was over 600 miles away.
Most likely, the archipelago was a resting place for early swimming, floating, and flying animals, if not an accident destination for those thrown off course. Plant seeds and insects arrived via bird feathers and perhaps to a lesser extent via long-distance wind drifts and natural rafts of driftwood or other vegetation. From what scientists now know of forest ecology as it relates to birds, it is also likely that seeds passed through their digestive tracts. In any case, certain plant species grabbed a foothold on volcanic earth and helped to form life-supporting soil. As the new habitat offered opportunities for colonizing species to adapt, the evolution of isolated communities began.
What happened next was first observed and perhaps best explained later by Charles Darwin after his famous visit to the Galapagos in 1835. During his five-week stay, the young naturalist observed, studied, and collected samples of various plants and animals, noting similarities with mainland relatives, but also unique differences in physical and behavioral adaptations.
Darwin’s theory of evolution, however, was not born overnight. In fact, the young Darwin was devoutly religious, so questioning the Christian establishment was not easy for him. In any event, Darwin noticed subtle differences between related wildlife on different islands that forced him to think twice about the validity of creationism. He was almost forced to entertain the notion that these differences between species may have been environmental in nature.
After returning home, Darwin spent years observing and performing genetic experiments while his theory evolved, although he denied the term ‘evolution’ during his work. Far from embracing his radical notions, Darwin remained dormant from the world with his work. It was only after similar observations began to float about within the scientific community that Darwin quickly published his work. Ultimately, his observations resulted in one of the most far-reaching biological theories to date.
Learn more about Darwin, the Galapagos Islands and the incredible story of evolution, while experiencing first hand why this is such a special place on a small-group Galapagos tour.