Posted by: Rob Viens | September 13, 2012

Mystery of the Eggs

As “shooting season” continued Darwin enjoyed some more hunting today:

“Went out shooting with Mr Wickham with our rifles:— to my great delight I succeeded in shooting a fine buck & doe.— The Captains servant shot three more.— We were obliged to send a boats crew to carry them to the shore.— One of mine however was previously disposed of.— I left it on the ground a substantial beast, but in the evening the Vultures & hawks had picked even the bones clean.” (Sept 12)

This week was also the beginning of Darwin’s interest (obsession?) with rhea eggs.  (Recall that Darwin called them ostriches.) His first comment came a few days ago when he found a bunch of eggs in a nest:

“They gave us an Ostrich egg & before we left them, they found another nest or rather depositary in which were 24 of the great eggs.— It is an undoubted fact that many female Ostriches lay in the same spot, thus forming one of their collections.” (Sept 8)

Rhea eggs (from Hopkin’s Alternative Livestock page)

However, yesterday, while hunting, he came across a nest with only one egg:

“In our walk I found also an Ostriches nest; it contained only one egg.” (Sept 12)

And a couple of days later, while hunting with the gauchos, he noticed that some eggs were in nests and others were scattered about:

“At this time of year, the eggs of the ostrich is their chief prize.— In this one day they found 64, out of which 44 were in two nests; the rest scattered about by ones or twos.” (Sept 15)

It is clear that this intrigued Darwin, and got him thinking about “why” some eggs were in nests and other were scattered about.  It was exactly the sort of thing that the observant naturalist picked up on and would not let go of. The question lingered in his mind as he looked for new clues to help him determine the answer.

Since Darwin had to think about it for a while, I won’t reveal the answer yet. Instead, I’ll let you, like Darwin, ponder the answer.

Today’s entry was short, as Darwin described moving the ship to a new harbor:

“The ships anchorage was removed a few miles up the harbor; in order to be nearer a newly discovered watering place.— Here we shall remain some weeks; if the present clear dry weather lasts, the time will pass very pleasantly.” (Sept 13)

He was now settled in a new location – one with no ongoing insurrections – and ready to start a few weeks of exploring the natural history of Argentina. (RJV)

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