Each year on February 12th, the scientific community celebrates Darwin Day. This day marks the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, who was born in 1809 in Shropshire, England. Charles Darwin is credited with first proposing the theory of evolution in his work On the Origin of Species.
Darwin gathered evidence for his theory while he was serving as a naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, a British ship that was scheduled to go on a four-week voyage to map the coastline of South America. The ship sailed on December 27, 1831, and eventually went around the world, with the voyage lasting more than four years. The Beagle made stops in various cities in South America, Australia, and Africa before returning to England.
During his journey on the Beagle, Darwin took pages of notes and made detailed drawings of the plant and animal life in each location. He also collected many living samples and fossils. Darwin is particularly well known for the observations he made on the islands of Galapagos, which are off the western coast of Ecuador in South America. He noted that the animals on each island, notably birds called finches and the giant land tortoises, were slightly different from one another. Additionally, the animals on Galapagos were different from the animals found on mainland South America.
The Beagle returned to England on October 2, 1836. After many years of further study and deliberation, Darwin concluded that the differences among the animals that he observed were not just variations but adaptations of different species. He theorized that over time, animal populations adapted to their specific environments. Those animals with traits that helped them survive in their environment were able to pass those traits on to their offspring with greater success than animals who were not as well-suited to survive. Over time, only animals with the advantageous traits remained in the environment, creating a new species that evolved to be different from the ancestral species living in its original environment.
Charles Darwin spent many years formulating his theory of evolution. On the Origin of Species was published on November 22, 1859, to much acclaim and controversy.
We celebrate Darwin Day to commemorate the life of Charles Darwin, who established the idea that organisms evolve from common ancestors.