Darwin's Rhea

October 14, 2009

A while ago I did a watercolor portrait of Charles Darwin as an old man with Galapagos finches nesting in his beard. This is the image that is more familiar of him, that of the aged, bearded naturalist looking like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders and eyebrows bushy enough to sustain yet to be discovered ecosystems. Yet, in reading the Voyage of the Beagle, the voice that infuses that narrative is that of a very young naturalist, eager for adventure. I particularly loved his descriptions of Patagonia and the grassy plains of the Argentine Pampas. He became very interested in a particular avian inhabitant of this region. It was later identified as a new species of ratite. Ratites are large flightless birds which include ostriches, emus, cassowaries, kiwis, and rheas amongst the living, and moas and elephant birds amongst the extinct. There are 2 species of rhea, both live in South America: Greater Rhea (Rhea americana), and the Lesser Rhea (Rhea pennata) which is also known as Darwin's Rhea.


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