Like most modern biologists, Charles Darwin ranks high on my short list of intellectual/entomological heroes. Actually, with all due respect to others on the list—Carl Linnaeus, Alfred Russell Wallace, John Lawrence LeConte, and others, Darwin sits at #1. His theory of evolution, offered more than 150 years ago to a powerfully skeptical world, continues to provide the basic framework for modern biology (as Theodosius Dobzhansky said in his 1973 paper in American Biology Teacher, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”). Thus, when Max Barclay recently posted on Facebook a photograph of a beetle collected by Charles Darwin himself, it reminded me that I have yet to visit Down House in Kent (the home of Charles Darwin) or to see anything personally touched by the man whose legacy I revere more than any other. Little did I know that Max did not post the photo from The Natural History Museum in London, but from Austin, Texas where he and I were each arriving for the annual meetings of the Entomological Society of America. When I commented on his post how I would love to see a beetle collected by Darwin someday, Max replied that he had the specimen with him and that he would bring it to the meetings for me to see (and I quote, “Most fun it has had since it flew to 22-year-old Charles Darwin’s gas lamp in Tierra Del Fuego in December 1832”). Can you imagine my anticipation?! True to his word, Max found me at the opening reception, came up from behind me, and placed the plastic, see-through box housing the specimen on the table in front of me. I recognized it instantly, but still seeing “C. Darwin” on the label almost felt like I’d just met the man himself. I asked Max if it was okay to open the box, to which he agreed, and I even dared to grab the pin head and re-position the specimen for photographs. Call me crazy, but it was as spiritual an experience as I’ve had since, well… “Mrs. Ples” stood before me!
At any rate, here is the “Darwin Beetle,” followed by proof that I really got to hold it!
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013