Galapagos Islands

ADid you figure out the answers to last week’s quiz? They’re all the way at the bottom of this post, but I’m sure you figured out that answer A was the Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos Islands were formed more than 8 million years ago, and thanks to ongoing volcanic activity, some of the islands are still growing.

After the islands were formed, species (plants, spores, animals) would occasionally arrive here from the mainland, but because they were now in a completely different ecosystem, they evolved differently – for example, small turtles were able to grow into very big turtles.

1024px-Darwin's_finches_by_GouldWe understand this now, but Darwin had to figure all of that out for himself when he first visited the Galapagos. He did, eventually, but it took him a while to put all the pieces together. One thing he did notice when he visited the islands were the birds.

He recognized that the finches were different between different islands, but at the time Darwin thought that they were different birds. Only after Darwin analysed the animals they collected, upon the Beagle’s return, did he realise that they were all the same bird, with local variations generated on each island.

Darwin’s finches became a famous example of evolution. They’re the finches that The Finch and Pea are (half-)named after, and they’re the finches that my work uses as mascot for certain things (here’s one!). Seriously, I can’t seem to get away from those birds!

The Galapagos are still a place where biologists come to study nature. In fact, there is a research foundation, the Charles Darwin Foundation, based on one of the islands. The Charles Darwin Research Station is at risk of closing and is in desperate need of financial support to stay solvent.

Earlier this year, they launched a project in collaboration with Google, which use Google streetview images to let people explore the Galapagos from home and record any species they view in the images.

First I didn’t find much more than cool plants…


…but then I looked somewhere else and found a blue-footed booby!


Have fun exploring the Galapagos. And as promised, here are the results from last week’s quiz:

Answers to Santa’s Scientific Sleigh Ride

GPS coordinates Image
1. 52°N: 0°W C The Francis Crick Institute
2. 46°N: 6°E B Large Hadron Collider (or CERN)
3. 37°N: 15°E E Syracuse
4. 27°S: 153°E G University of Queensland, Brisbane
5. 28°N: 80°W D Kennedy Space Centre or Cape Canaveral
6 1°S: 89°W A Galapagos Islands
7. 56°N: 3°W F Roslin Institute,  University of Edinburgh
8. 90°N H North Pole

Finch image: John Gould (14.Sep.1804 – 3.Feb.1881)From “Voyage of the Beagle”, via Wikimedia.

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