A Naturalist's Pilgrimage to the Galapagos
Smithsonian's Laura Helmuth vacationed in the Galapagos Islands and returned with even more respect for Charles Darwin
- By Laura Helmuth
- Smithsonian.com, January 30, 2009
The Galapagos hosts plenty of migrant birds, species that spend the summer in North America, say, but prefer to winter at the equator. But the full-time resident birds are the weird ones.
Depending on the time of year, ocean currents and winds can come to the Galapagos from the north, south, east or west. Flamingoes, normally found in the Caribbean, were blown here from points north. And penguins were cast away here, probably swept north in a strong current. (This one is swimming near a fishing boat on Isabela.) They evolved into their own species, the Galapagos penguin, and their range stretches across the equator. (In case it ever comes up in a trivia contest, this is the one species of penguin that is not restricted to the Southern Hemisphere.)
Seeing Caribbean-style flamingoes and Antarctic-style penguins within several hundred meters of each other seemed just so wrong in so many ways.
That's another thing that made me shake my head in admiration for Darwin--the plants and animals here are so unexpected and so confusingly adapted that it's amazing he managed to make sense of it all.