The Role of the Galapagos Tortoise in Discovering the Theory of Evolution

The Galapagos tortoise is unique to the volcanic chain of 13 large islands off the Ecuadorian coast of South America. The archipelago is separated from the mainland by the precocious Humboldt Current. Charles Darwin, naturalist and explorer of the early 19th century, was intrigued how such an animal could be so unique to a particular part of the world. This large animal became a focus of evidence for his theory of natural selection of the species; he dared to oppose the prevalent theories of creationism.

Each island in the Galapagos ecosystem has varying forms of this giant tortoise. Each tortoise seems “different” in response to variations of terrain, food supply and climate. Further, continuous volcanic activity on land and underwater, pressures the need for change and adaptability in each species. And so, when Darwin arrived, he saw old tortoises from “other worlds and lifetimes” adapting to new worlds. He saw a real museum of the evolution of life. He saw life naturally selecting a new shape and form of life.

But there are other forms of life on the Galapagos Islands. Why have the tortoises been given so much attention? Finches and all manner of strange plants are surviving. The tortoise has 11 sub species here on the islands and is known to live at least 150 years. Our last link with some misty time before man’s impact on the natural world, could be this Galapagos tortoise; our last window on time before man?

The role of the tortoise is an important one; a precious “eye witness” key to knowledge that, till Darwin’s time, was unknown or rejected as ridiculous.

The Galapagos tortoise is a living marvel of time. One, named Harriet, is currently living out her twilight years in Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast Queensland. She has the wonderful story attached that she may have been a pet of Charles Darwin and lived aboard his explorer ship “Beagle”. Could she have helped him with his theory of evolution in 1835?