Darwin and the Rhea

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

As we are in the throws of Darwin year, I thought I would proffer my favourite Darwin tale...

Although Darwin was a clever man, and some say a genius, he was much flawed but so often this is the case with scientists of the age, especially if we look back at their behaviour with modern tinted specs. If he wanted a closer look at something, he shot it. Simple, straightforward logic, I need to see that bird close up and it will not stop moving, so if I shoot it (for the good of science, natch) then it will stop moving and I can see it close up. Another thing to remember is that on long ocean journeys, there were no convenient places to buy food and top up your clubcard points. So the members of the ship that was there had to find food wherever and however they could. As you probably know, this was the problem for the Dodo. Easy to catch, big and tasty enough.

So it came to pass that Darwin (and his shipmates) had been on a regular diet of Rhea. I have no idea what a Rhea tastes like, but like most birds it is probably quite edible and I understand that Darwin thought so too but he probably didn't have to shoot it. One day, he was munching away on a drumstick, when he realised that the leg part that he was enjoying was smaller than the previous Rheas that he had been eating. When he twigged this, he rushed to the chef/cook/galley dude to ask what they were eating...

"I dunno guv, it's just a Rhea - same as yesterday, a sort of Cassawory casserole"
"No dear man, it's smaller - it could be a different species"
"Well if you don't like the size of the bloody portions you big beardy - "
"No, no, that's not the point - where are the remains of the bird?"
"Out the back guv, where Seaman Willie is having his fag break"

"You boy, where are the remains of tonights repast?"
"Dunno guv, it's just a Rhea, same as yesterday - chef says its a sort of - "
"Are you being funny, son?"
"Not me Mr Darwin, no Sir - erm, it's here in this chum pot that we've got for the pelagic trip later today"
"Well shiver me timbers, look at this - it's a completely different species, and new to science - fuck me I'm brilliant!!"

And that, dear reader, is how Darwin discovered a new species of Rhea. Verbatim.


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