Happy Charlie Darwin day!
This amazing evolutionary biologist was born on this very date in 1809 (thanks Wikipedia!), and so I share with you some fun facts about Charles Darwin that I’ve learned since coming to graduate school.
First, let’s talk about some things you should know about C.D.
At the tender age of 22, he boarded the H.M.S. Beagle as a self-financed naturalist meant to survey the lands reached on the expedition as well as provide company for the captain. Some company he must have been with all of that journal writing he was doing. Good thing he did though, as his notes, observations, and collections over those five years resulted in the beginnings of his theory of natural selection and descent with modification as an agent of evolution. It was not until 1858 that he began writing up this theory, when lo and behold a competitor named Alfred Russell Wallace was also meant to be publishing soon on the same theory. What to do?!
Well, based on the fact that you probably have at least heard of Darwin and not Wallace, you can probably guess that Darwin’s work got more support. As it should have, given the amount of time that he poured into it by comparison. The Origin of Species was published in 1859.
In 1871 he published another fascinating tale called The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. It was here that he outlined the theory of sexual selection. The basic premise of this theory is two-fold: males compete against one another for the chance to reproduce with females; females are choosy in who they mate with. If natural selection can be described by the adage “only the strongest survive,” then with sexual selection, “only the sexiest reproduce.” Since survival and reproduction are the currency of an organism’s life, those that are better at doing either (or better yet both) will pass those traits on to their offspring. This is what natural selection is all about.
Now, on to the fun facts!
Fun fact #1: Darwin married his first cousin. In his notes was discovered a t-chart with “marry” or “not marry” written in the header. When pondering over the advantages of marriage, he wrote “constant companion and a friend in old age … better than a dog anyhow.” His reasons against marriage included “less money for books” and “terrible loss of time!”
Fun fact #2: Darwin was often sick due to a heart illness. He fathered ten children, three of whom died young. In evolutionary terms, his fitness would be a unit of 7.
Fun fact #3: Darwin went to Cambridge University and was meant to go to medical school before he became enraptured by natural history.
Fun fact #4: Darwin was said to have written sparingly on sex given his prudishness and the fact that it was one of his daughters who edited and read his work!
Fun fact #5: He was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.