Published: February 2009



Darwin's First Clues

He was inspired by fossils of armadillos and sloths.

By David Quammen
Photograph by Luciano Candisani, MInden Pictures

The journey of young Charles Darwin aboard His Majesty's Ship Beagle, during the years 1831-36, is one of the best known and most neatly mythologized episodes in the history of science. As the legend goes, Darwin sailed as ship's naturalist on the Beagle, visited the Galápagos archipelago in the eastern Pacific Ocean, and there beheld giant tortoises and finches. The finches, many species of them, were distinguishable by differently shaped beaks, suggesting adaptations to particular diets. The tortoises, island by island, carried differently shaped shells.

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