Charles Darwin and the Finches | Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution by natural selection

Charles Darwin and the Finches

Scientists help Charles Darwin's finches in the Galapagos Islands


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Which nest is best to eliminate a blood-sucking pest? Scientists seeking to help endangered Galapagos Islands birds survive a deadly parasitic threat put that question to the test.

Researchers on Monday described a new method to assist Darwin’s finches in combating the larvae of parasitic flies responsible for killing numerous nestlings of the famous birds that helped inspire Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

They placed cotton balls treated with a mild pesticide near where the birds were building their nests. The birds picked up bits of the cotton with their beaks and incorporated it into their nests, killing the fly maggots while causing no harm to the birds or their offspring, the researchers said.

The pesticide was permethrin, used to treat head lice in people. It also kills flies of the species Philornis downsi that was apparently unwittingly introduced by people to the Galapagos Islands and has been blamed for population declines among Darwin’s finches, including two endangered species.

“This parasite is not historically found in the Galapagos Islands and, therefore, Darwin’s finches have not had enough time to evolve defenses against the parasites, ” said University of Utah biology professor Dale Clayton, one of the researchers.

Reuters“In some years, 100 percent of nestlings die as a direct result of the parasites. It is critical to find a way to control the parasites in order to help the birds, ” Clayton said.

The flies probably came aboard ships or planes arriving at the Galapagos and were first noticed as a problem in 1997. The flies lay eggs in bird’s nests. When they hatch, the parasitic larvae feed on the blood of nestlings and their mothers.

Finding a method to control the flies has become a top priority for scientists studying the Galapagos birds.

“There are currently no methods to effectively combat the parasite, ” said University of Utah biology doctoral student Sarah Knutie, another of the researchers.


A casual observation at a research facility in the Galapagos led to the idea of helping the birds help themselves.

Vintage The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time
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From the link

by Dwight-Roganist

Pretty much, a species of birds evolved to their surroundings.. longer beaks to reach further in the tree holes to get food...
Darwin's finches (also known as the Galápagos finches or as Geospizinae) are a group of about 15 species of passerine birds.[1] It is still not clear which bird family they belong to, but they are not related to the true finches. They were first collected by Charles Darwin on the Galápagos Islands during the second voyage of the Beagle. All are found only on the Galápagos Islands, except the Cocos Island Finch from Cocos Island.
The term Darwin's Finches was first applied by Percy Lowe in 1936, and popularised in 1947 by David Lack in his book Darwin's Finches

Hotbed of biodiversity: Fascinating images of wildlife from the Galapagos Islands  — Mother Nature Network
Located 575 miles off the coast of Ecuador, this remote volcanic archipelago is famous as the birthplace of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

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HarperCollins Publishers Ltd Fossils, Finches and Fuegians: Charles Darwin's Adventures and Discoveries on the "Beagle"
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