Calling for Suggestions

Dear Listeners-

We will be recording the final episode of Season 2 Discovering Darwin in the upcoming weeks and we are asking for suggestions for Season 3. We are open to doing a close reading on a Darwin book, if you are unfamiliar with all of the works of Charles Darwin check out Darwin Online  to see the options available. Or we can focus Season 3 on a topic or text in the style of Season 2 - Darwin the Adventurer - which used the Voyage of the Beagle as a framework for our episodes. Please make your listener's requests in the comment section of this Blogspot. We look forward to hearing your ideas. Thanks for your support.

Season 2 Episode 8 - Galapagos

"In the morning (17th) we landed on Chatham Island, which, like the others, rises with a tame and rounded outline, broken here and there by scattered hillocks, the remains of former craters. Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance. A broken field of black basaltic lava, thrown into the most rugged waves, and crossed by great fissures, is everywhere covered by stunted, sunburnt brushwood, which shows little signs of life. The dry and parched surface, being heated by the noonday sun, gave to the air a close and sultry feeling, like that from a stove: we fancied even that the bushes smelt unpleasantly." Chapter XVII - Voyage of the Beagle

From Darwin and the Beagle, A. Moorehead 1969
In this podcast Josh, Sarah and James talk about Darwin's visit to the Galapagos Island and how that experience ultimately contributed to Darwin rejecting the notion of the fixity of species and developing his theory of the evolution and the process to create new species.  The Galapagos islands are a chain of volcanic islands that poke out of the Pacific ocean over 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador.  Although many of the islands are relatively close to each other, Darwin was struck by how the plants, insects, birds and reptiles on each of the islands were distinctly different from the other islands.

Bartolome Island, Galapagos Islands, Travel Channel
Although most people associate Darwin and his experience with the Galapagos finches in developing his theory of evolution, we make the argument that it was the Galapagos tortoises that first intrigued and befuddled Chuck and stimulated him to begin pondering "...that mystery of mysteries—the first appearance of new beings on this earth."

In the Voyage Darwin writes-
"I have not as yet noticed by far the most remarkable feature in the natural history of this archipelago; it is, that the different islands to a considerable extent are inhabited by a different set of beings. My attention was first called to this fact by the Vice-Governor, Mr. Lawson, declaring that the tortoises differed from the different islands, and that he could with certainty tell from which island any one was brought. I did not for some time pay sufficient attention to this statement, and I had already partially mingled together the collections from two of the islands. I never dreamed that islands, about fifty or sixty miles apart, and most of them in sight of each other, formed of precisely the same rocks, placed under a quite similar climate, rising to a nearly equal height, would have been differently tenanted; but we shall soon see that this is the case."


Josh talks about Darwin's experiences with these cyclopean creatures, drinking from their bladder and riding them like a horse, and about recent efforts to determine how many different species of tortoises actually exist and the current conservation efforts to protect them.
The image of Darwin riding a tortoise reminded us of the old sketch a friend of Darwin's made showing Charles Darwin riding a beetle.

Sarah talked about the marine and terrestrial iguanas found on the islands and how Darwin would throw the marine iguana into the ocean for it to rapidly return to shore wherein Darwin picked it back up by the tail to fling it back in the ocean. Darwin repeated this "experiment" until he was convinced that although the marine iguanas were perfectly adapted to swimming in the oceans they preferred to stay on shore, where it was safe.
Looking out to sea -

We finished the conversation about the role of the Mockingbirds and Finches found on the Galapagos islands in convincing Darwin that different species of the same type of animal could be found on different islands, although the islands themselves were not remarkably different from each other in habitat and geology. In addition, these islands were not significantly different from volcanic islands of Cape Verde Darwin visited 3.5 years earlier off the coast of Africa, and yet the species found in each of these archipelagos were more closely related to their neighboring continents than they were to each other.

Sarah told us about her recent guest appearance on  The Common Descent which is an excellent podcast that discusses the diversity of life, past and present. Check it out!

The opening and closing theme to Discovering Darwin is "May" by Jared C. Balogh.

Interlude music Big Beats Alternative by Sunserarcher

Bonus Episode: Drawn a Bill

To celebrate the 186th Anniversary of Charles Darwin setting sail on the HMS Beagle we post a Bonus podcast discussion with Dr. Geoffrey Williams, an economics professor, on the expenses and wealth of Charles Darwin.  Hope you enjoy the conversation!
image from Darwin Online

Season 2 Episode 7: Potatoless Breakfast

"I climbed up on foot to very near the crest; from the Puna I experienced, I cannot suppose the elevation is less than 8000 to 10000 ft; There was a good deal of snow, which however only remains here in the winter months. The winds in these districts obey very regular laws; every day a fresh breeze blows up the valley & at night, an hour or two after sunset, the air from the cold regions above descends as through a funnel. — This night it blew a gale of wind, & the temperature must have been considerably below the freezing point, for water in a short time became a block of ice. No clothes seemed to oppose any obstacle to the air; I suffered much from the cold, so that I could not sleep, & in the morning rose with my body quite dull & benumbed."  [Voyage of the Beagle, Chapter XVI]
In this episode we discuss the various expeditions Charles Darwin organized to explore the Andes mountain range in South America. These adventures are recounted in chapters IX, XII, XV, and XVI in The Voyage of the Beagle.

Image from Darwin Online
We started our discussion with the Santa Cruz expedition that Darwin and Fitzroy engaged with while the HMS Beagle was grounded for repairs at the mouth of the Santa Cruz river. This 17 day journey occurred from April 18-May 8, 1834 and involved the men dragging three whale-boats upriver hoping to find the source of the river at the base of the Andes mountains. In our discussion James erroneously said the trip was 185 miles but further reading in Fitzroy's account we find the following-
"Late on the 4th we returned to our tents, thoroughly tired by a daily succession of hard work, and long walks. At this bivouac we were about one hundred and forty miles, in a straight line, from the estuary of Santa Cruz, or from Weddell Bluff; and about two hundred and forty-five miles distant by the course of the river." [Fitzroy, Narrative pg 356].
The men dragged the boats upriver for 14 days until Fitzroy decided it was time to turn back and then it only took them 3 days to return to the HMS Beagle. Sarah discussed the complex geology of the region and the ships artist had come along to make amazing drawings of the scenery. 

C. Martens. T. Landseer.
We scanned the wonderful map that Nora Barlow includes in her edited edition of the Diary of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle and have highlighted the 4 different trips we discussed in this podcast.

The Santa Cruz journey is indicated by the red line, Andes 1 trip is the pink loop, the Andes 2 expedition is indicated by the green loop over the Andes and the Andes 3 trip is indicated by the purple line.

We discussed on our reliance of the wonderful website called About Darwin which maps in detail the various journey Darwin has during the 5 year voyage. Highly recommend the site, great information.

Josh discussed the earthquake Darwin experienced and the state of destruction he observed in Concepcion.

This reminded James about plate tectonics and how the west coast of South America resides on the suture line between two major tectonic plates - the Nazca and South American Plates.

map from

As Sarah remarked, Darwin did some amazing geologizing while engaged in those 1,000 mile + expeditions through the Andes and valleys of South America.  He created a beautiful cross sectional map that can be found here- Darwin's map

The opening and closing theme to Discovering Darwin is "May" by Jared C. Balogh.

Interlude music is Little glass men - Moon Shadow

Season 2 Episode 6: Boat Memory

"Whilst going on shore, we pulled alongside a canoe with 6 Fuegians. I never saw more miserable creatures; stunted in their growth, their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint & quite naked.— One full aged woman absolutely so, the rain & spray were dripping from her body; their red skins filthy & greasy, their hair entangled, their voices discordant, their gesticulation violent & without any dignity. Viewing such men, one can hardly make oneself believe that they are fellow creatures placed in the same world. [Beagle Diary, February 25, 1834]

In this episode we are joined by our esteemed colleague Dr. Jeremy Paden to discuss Darwin, Fitzroy, and other early explorers views of the native peoples of Tierra del Fuego.  As we outlined in episode 1 of this season, Fitzroy had kidnapped four native Tierra del Fuegians with the hopes of converting them to Christianity and ultimately returning them back to their native lands to nucleate the conversion of the "savages" to a live a civilized agrarian life of tubers, legumes, and bible verses.

Unfortunately, Boat Memory, one of the natives that Fitzroy had gang pressed into missionary service died from small pox in England but the other three - "Fuegia Basket", "Jemmy Button", and "York Minister" survived their journey to England,  their education therein, and their ultimate return to tip of South America to rejoin their family and friends.
Sketches by Fitzroy of his kidnapped victims. Image from Darwin Online.

On January 23rd, 1833 the HMS Beagle stopped by Wollya bay (later spelled Woolliah and then Wulaia] to build a outpost for Jemmy, Fuegia and York. Fitzroy and his crew, along with the help of Mr. Matthews, a missionary Englishman, planted crops, built a cabin, and transferred the useless accouterments of "civilization".

In Keith Thomson’s book HMS Beagle: The story of Darwin’s Ship he vividly describes the scene and foreshadows the failure of the settlement:
“Over the next week the party from the Beagle built a small outpost and finally unloaded all the incredible paraphernalia that had been sent from England by well-wishers, all the Victorian knickknackery that seemed so splendid in London but appeared ridiculously out of place at this remotest end of the world. A seemingly unending pile of soup tureens, chamber pots, wineglasses, and beaver hats was transferred from the boats, while more practical souls set about planting potatoes, beans, root vegetables, lettuce, and cabbage in the gardens”. [pg. 172]
[Correction] During our retelling the story of the return of the three Fuegians we mixed up the time scale of events. We stated that Mr. Matthwes survived a year at the outpost before he was picked up by Fitzroy but in actuality he only lasted about 2 weeks before he abandoned the missionary effort and left the HMS Beagle to join his brother in New Zealand. 

At then end of the podcast we enjoyed a lively discussion on how negatively did Darwin view the natives of Tierra del Fuego?

The opening and closing theme to Discovering Darwin is "May" by Jared C. Balogh. 
Interlude song - Missionary Man by the Eurythmics

Season 2 Episode 5- Big Llama

In this episode we discuss the interesting extinct and extant mammals that Darwin collected in South America during his voyage on the Beagle. James makes an argument that it was the mammals that Darwin collected that stimulated his idea that species evolve. Sarah talks about why there are so many large mammals in Africa and not in South America, which Darwin thought was odd since vegetation growth is much more dense and thick in the rain forest of South America compared to the plains of Africa.

Some of Darwin's unique species he collected on his voyage.

From Darwin's journal where he realizes species transmutate

"In July opened first note book on 'transmutation of Species'—Had been greatly struck from about month of previous March on character of S. American fossils—& species on Galapagos Archipelago. These facts origin (especially latter) of all my views."  
From Darwin's Journal July 1837.

Darwin was struck by two interesting aspects of the mammals of South America. The first was that there was a strong correspondence between the mammals that he shot, collected and ate in South America with the fossils he collected in the same area. Three major kinds of mammals intrigued Darwin during his exploration of South America. The first is the sloths,  a slow moving herbivore mammal that are adapted to feeding on leaves and fresh buds of the cecropia tree. The first mammal Darwin collected was giant bones from the megatherium, an extinct species of giant ground sloth.

The other mammal type that intrigued Darwin was the fossil giant Glyptodont which looks similar to the extant armadillo still found in from South America up through Central America into the southern regions of North America.
The other two interesting mammals Darwin collected as fossils was the Toxodon and the Macrauchenia. Here are some reconstructions of the animals by talented and imaginative artists.

Follow this link to a wonderful National Geographic article that discusses some of these amazing prehistoric mammals.

During the discussion Sarah mentioned the diversity of form prehistoric mammals exhibited in the fossil record. The image below collects some of the various forms of elephants that have evolved over the past 65 million years. Note how diverse the tusks, modified teeth, have developed in the various species.

Josh mentioned how impressive it is to watch vampire bats feed. Here is a link to cool video from National Geographic that shows interesting bat behavior but the narrator tries to hard to be cute.

The opening and closing theme to Discovering Darwin is "May" by Jared C. Balogh. 

Interlude music is Suede Head by Red Star Martyrs

S2 E4 - My Gacho Bromance

In this episode of we are joined by the historian Dr. Gregg Bocketti (Transylvania University) in a discussion on the cultural and political conditions of South America when Charles Darwin set shore in Brazil and surrounding territories in the 1830's.

In 1831, a year before Darwin was to arrive in Rio de Janerio, the emperor Don Pedro I decided to return to Portugal  to help his daughter reclaim the throne of Portugal and left behind his 5 year old son Don Pedro II to be regent of the Kingdom of Brazil.  Because of his weak regency and lacking of ruling control, local strongmen rose in power and resolved their disputes through local civil wars.

Pedro II at around 11 years of age. Wikipedia

Gregg vividly described the diverse social and cultural life Darwin would have encountered in in Rio de Janerio. At the time that Darwin visited Brazil it was still a country based upon a slave economy, which is clearly evident in the painting below that was created around the time Darwin was visiting the city.
John Steinmann, a Swiss artist, lived in Rio de Janeiro between 1825 and 1833.

Gregg spoke about the horrific conditions that the slaves had to endure and the various roles slaves played in the Brazilian economy. One of the interesting aspects of slavery in Brazil was that some slaves took on trades and technical trade positions and were able to work on the side to make extra money for themselves which could be used to purchase their freedom.

Painting by French painter Jean-Baptiste Debret

Follow this link to a story on NPR that gives a vivid account of slavery in Brazil and how they were one of the last countries in the Americas to abolish slavery.

Darwin spent a time exploring the countryside of Brazil, Argentina and Chile and on some of those expeditions he would be guided by the local cowboys known as gauchos. Darwin was impressed with the gauchos riding ability and skill in capturing animals with the bolas, a set of heavy balls affixed to the end of ropes and twirled and thrown to entangle the legs of rheas, guanacos or any other small prey they were hunting.