Darwin’s Rhea


The story goes that Charles Darwin heard about a type of rhea (a flightless bird similar to an ostrich) that was smaller and rarer than the ones he’d previously come across in his Patagonian travails. After a time searching for the rare bird, he gave up until he found himself eating one over dinner.

Shocked, surprised and delighted, he collected the remnants of the bird and sent them back home to Cambridge for analysis.

What gets me about this story is the synchronicity of the event and its catalytic role in helping Darwin to build an evidence base for his theory on patterns of replacement, central to the development of On the Origin of Species and later, The Descent of Man.

Call it luck, divine provenance, universal confluence…whatever it is, I’m sending big-ups to this sacrificial bird. It’s barbecued bones helped Darwin send shock waves through the establishment and remove any doubt about the extent of our human connectivity and our intractable bond to the natural environment that gives us life.

Big-ups rhea…for helping us take our heads out of the sand.

p.s. extraordinary drawing of rhea done by yours truly.


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