Posted by: Rob Viens | October 12, 2012

Strolling the Pampas

On the 11th and 12th Darwin was out exploring the countryside, though he was still moaning about the monotony of the pampas:

“Took a long walk in a straight line into the interior; uninteresting as the country is, we certainly see it in by far the best time. It is now the height of Spring; the birds are all laying their eggs & the flowers in full blossom.— In places the ground is covered with the pink flowers of a Wood Sorrell & a wild pea, & dwarf Geranium.— Even with this & a bright clear sky, the plain has a dreary monotomous aspect.” (Oct 11)

If you want to “walk along” with Darwin today, take a look at some species of plants from Argentina that he mentioned seeing. These may not be the exact species he saw, but you get the idea (and they are all from Argentina).

“Dwarf” Geranium  (Geranium berteroanum Colla) – from Flora Argentina

geranium

Wild pea” (Lathyrus magellanicus) – from LivingInPatigonia.com

Creeping Woodsorrel species (Oxalis corniculata) – from Wikipedia Commons

creeping woodsorrel

Interestingly, creeping woodsorrel is an edible plant.  Considering all the unusual things that Darwin liked to eat, its funny that he doesn’t mention trying it. My guess he was more reluctant to eat exotic plants – more risk of toxins I suppose.

The next day, Darwin was out walking again – this time focusing in on the clutches of rhea (what he calls ostrich) eggs:

“To day I walked much further within the country; but all to no use; every feature in the landscape remains the same.— I found an Ostriches nest which contained 27 eggs.— Each egg equals in weight 11 of a common hens; so that the quantity of food in this nest was actually the same as 297 hens eggs.— We had some difficulty in getting on board; as there was a very fresh breeze right in our teeth.” (Oct 12)

Darwin has mentioned rhea eggs several times – sometimes noticing them scattered about the plains, and other times in finding them concentrated in nests.  This mystery can be explained by knowing the reproductive habits of the Greater Rhea.  The male mates with numerous females then proceeds to build a nest.  One by one, the females lay their eggs in the nest leaving the male with a large clutch of eggs.  He then incubates the eggs, hatches the chicks and raises the young.  Now before you start thinking what a good daddy he is, you should also know that he uses some of those eggs as decoys – scattering them about the area to divert predators from the main nest.  I guess the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… (yes, I just quoted Spock on a blog about Darwin). Mystery solved! (RJV)

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Responses

  1. I’m surprised Chuck didn’t take a few eggs…

  2. Very interesting about the Greater Rhea and its nesting habits! I saw this article in the NY Times today and thought you might be interested in it. It mentions Darwin and his influence.

    Solving the Puzzles of Mimicry in Nature
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/12/science/solving-the-puzzles-of-mimicry-in-nature.html

    • Thanks Catherine – I had not seen this article. I like how Brazil links them all together. Darwin was certainly inspired by his stay there.


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