Beak of the Finch Chapter Summaries

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Eliel Pepito
The Beak of the Finch Summary

The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner explores evolution through the most famous examples in history—the finches of the Galápagos Islands. Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the process of evolution are applied directly to what scientists refer to as Darwin’s Finches. Weiner follows scientists Peter and Rosemary Grant as they study the finches in real time on the Galápagos. Years of previous work, study and data is collected and analyzed. Different species of animals are observed and explained throughout history. The Grants have one goal, and that is to find the origin of the species, how organisms first began. They find that it really is about the “survival of the fittest” and who nature selects to thrive and produce generations far greater than the last.

The Beak of the Finch opens with Peter and Rosemary Grant studying their well-recognized finches on one of the islands on the Galápagos called Daphne Major. The couple records their data carefully, collecting the birds’ wing length, tarsus length, beak length, beak depth, plumage and weight. The reader first notices and questions such tedious, meticulous measurements of the simple finch. However, later, the novel reveals later that the precise measurements these scientists are taking are crucial, especially for the bird. The Grants briefly review the bird’s history, including its age, how often it had bred and any offspring it had raised. Recording information about each of the finches on Daphne Major is an important part of studying evolution. The novel explains that not many scientists have actually studied evolution, though it is an extremely important subject in science. Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been neglected, with very few experiments testing its extraordinary capability. It actually seems as if no one realizes the power of Darwin’s theory, not even Darwin himself.

When Charles Darwin first landed on the mysterious island of San Cristóbal on the Galápagos, he did not think too much of the little finches. Darwin rode on the Beagle, a four-year voyage with a few ship members and Captain FitzRoy. Darwin used to think that there were no differences between species, thinking that unlike ever-changing mountains and rivers, the species of life seized to move or diverge from one species. However, later on, when Darwin studied his newly-founded fossils, he realized that the species of animals after generations of time did not stay the time. There was succession, a change in the species over time. Darwin concluded that there was modification happening in time, and he could try to study this change through the finches of the Galápagos.

Darwin continued his study of evolution by observing the origins of barnacles. He notices that the barnacles came in myriads of shapes and characteristics-none of them were exactly the same. He discovers the many variations of the barnacle, details about the creature that set it apart from others of its species. Because of the infinite number of variations, classifications were chaotic and confusing. Darwin was frustrated, questioning why there could not be one straight line of species. He wanted to know the first form of the species, the one that has not been modified or distorted with variations. He was looking for the origin, the starting point of the species. This is also what the Grants are aiming to discover, as they set up camp and measure the wingspans and beaks of the finches on the enchanted islands of the Galápagos.

Chapter four explores the differences of beak length and depth among the finches of the islands. This chapter also explains the critical importance of the slightest variations. The main focus is on two ground finches called Fortis and Magnirostris. These two finches have very distinct beaks. Magnirostris has a heavy, powerful jaw, while the Fortis has a thinner, lighter beak. Not all Fortis are the same. On a...
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