Charles Darwin used the finches of the Galapagos Islands as an example of speciation, a key element in his theory of natural selection.

NGS Art Department
  • On September 15, 1835, English naturalist Charles Darwin and the crew of the HMS Beagle arrived in the Galapagos Islands. These volcanic islands are located west of Ecuador, along the Equator in the Pacific Ocean. Darwin traveled there as part of a five-year journey to study plants and animals along the coast of South America.

    Darwin collected and documented a dazzling array of species in the Galapagos. He studied these organisms when he returned home. Eventually, Darwin focused his study on his collection of finches, a species of small bird. The finches were very similar, but had beaks of different sizes and shapes. Darwin theorized that the beaks were adaptations that helped each species of finch eat a different type of food, such as seeds, fruits, or insects.

    Darwin’s study of the plants and animals of the Galapagos was integral to his theory of natural selection, a part of the larger process of evolution.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    adaptation Noun

    a modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence. An adaptation is passed from generation to generation.

    Encyclopedic Entry: adaptation
    array Noun

    large group.

    beak Noun

    hard, protruding jaws of a bird.

    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    document Verb

    to keep track of.

    Equator Noun

    imaginary line around the Earth, another planet, or star running east-west, 0 degrees latitude.

    Encyclopedic Entry: equator
    evolution Noun

    change in heritable traits of a population over time.

    food Noun

    material, usually of plant or animal origin, that living organisms use to obtain nutrients.

    Encyclopedic Entry: food
    integral Adjective

    very important.

    journey Noun

    voyage or trip.

    naturalist Noun

    person who studies the natural history or natural development of organisms and the environment.

    natural selection Noun

    process by which organisms that are better -adapted to their environments produce more offspring to transmit their genetic characteristics.

    theorize Verb

    to formulate and propose a group of ideas to explain a scientific question.

    volcanic island Noun

    land formed by a volcano rising from the ocean floor.