Charles Darwin lived from 1809 – 1882. He was a naturalist, which means he studied the history of nature and animals. He is most remembered today for his writings that brought the theory or evolution to the attention of many people.
According to the theory of evolution, all living things can be traced back to a previous, slightly different form. When people say that some dinosaurs evolved into birds, they mean that over time, some dinosaurs changed and became more bird-like. They grew feathers, they got smaller, and they got lighter. Eventually these changed dinosaurs could fly!
Evolution is a slow process, often taking thousands of years to see any noticeable changes in living things.
Charles Darwin lived much of his life in England, but he took a pretty famous scientific voyage on a ship called the HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836. Can you imagine being on a trip that long? The ship sailed around South America and the southern oceans. Darwin found different fossils, and saw how they were related to modern animals. He saw different animals competing with each other, like birds, and noticed that the strongest animals were the most likely to survive and pass their traits down to their children.
Two decades after his trip, he published a famous book called On the Origin of Species, which brought the theory of evolution to popular attention.
Not all people believe in evolution because it goes against some people’s religious beliefs. Some people believe that all animals and plants were created at the same time. According to evolution, the process actually took millions of years. Many people, especially people in the scientific community, agree with Darwin’s writings and theories.
ExplorationLook-alikes, but Not Related!
Just because two types of living things look alike or act the same way, it doesn’t mean that they are closely related. When this happens, it’s called convergent evolution. The name sounds complicated but it’s not too difficult.
Bats and birds are great examples of this. They both have wings and can fly, but they did not come from a common ancestor that could fly. They developed the ability to fly on their own! So did pterosaurs (those flying reptiles that lived around the same time as the dinosaurs.) Why would flying help these animals?
Opossums and humans both have opposable thumbs, but the ancestors we have in common did not. Why do you think the opossums and us evolved similar thumbs? How do we use them?
Can you think of other examples of animals that look or act the same but aren’t closely related?
Sources & links
"Charles Darwin." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 02 Nov. 2009. "evolution." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 02 Nov. 2009. “Charles Darwin.” LucidCafe: Library. 2009. 2 Nov 2009. "naturalist." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 2 November 2009.