New Finch Interloper Lands, Darwin Rolls Over

During his auspicious journey to the Galapagos Islands in 1836, Charles Darwin discovered several finches that varied from island to island, which aided him greatly in developing his theory of evolution and natural selection. He was pleasantly surprised to see the differences in the beaks of the birds and identified the 15 different specimens as different species - 12 of which were brand new species.

Completely New Species

Startingly, for the first time scientists have been able to observe a spanking brand-new finch species on one of the islands.

Now, genomic sequencing and the analysis of physical characteristics have concluded a new species to add to Darwin's finches catalogue. This one was endemic to a small island called Daphne Major in the Galápagos.


Mutations can help species become better adapted to their environment, where these morphed genes are then passed down to subsequent generations.

According to recent research and natural observations, two of these species tcame together in what is called ’species hybridization’ to create an entirely new one!

During an expedition on the Daphne Major island, Peter and B. Rosemary Grant, biologists at Princeton University, observed the presence of a non-native interloper, scientifically named Geospiza conirostris.

It's also known as the large cactus finch, and is now populating to other Galapagos islands, namely Española, Genovesa, Darwin, and Wolf.

As one of the larger species of Darwin's finches, and with a different song than the three native Daphne Major species, the newcomer - a male - stood out — and subsequently was nicknamed appropriately -- Big Bird!

"We didn't see him fly in from over the sea, but we noticed him shortly after he arrived. He was so different from the other birds," Grant said.


It then mated with two of Darwin’s original species. Mating between different species that results in offspring isn't that unusual - famous examples include mules, the product of mating between a male donkey and a mare. There are also ligers, a cross between a male lion and female tiger.


Hybrid species are often sterile and do not reproduce. But this was not the case with Big Bird and his new lineage. The new species has distinguished itself from Darwin's originals. It sings different songs, has a different beak size and shape — and these characteristics are what the males use to attract its female mates.

Since these new hybrid finches were bigger than their native cousins, they were able to access previously unexploited food choices, and survive. At  Grants' most recent visit to the island in 2012, they counted 23 individuals and 8 breeding pairs of these birds. Hoorah! May Big Bird go forth and multiply!

Primary Source: New Bird Species Has Evolved on Galapagos