February 12, 2022 #ChileSustentable

Charles Darwin and his visit to Chile

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Every February 12 is commemorated the birthday of the renowned British naturalist and scientist, who between 1832 and 1835 traveled through our country from Tierra del Fuego to Copiapó, explorations that served to develop his famous theory on the evolution of species.

From unique species to the first archaeological explorations, we show you some of the milestones that marked Charles Darwin's passage through Chile.

It was at the end of 1832, after having sailed more than a year ago from England, when a young Charles Darwin first glimpsed the cold steppe pampas of Tierra del Fuego. It was the beginning of a scientific expedition throughout our country that would take three years, and that would provide key elements for the development of his renowned theory of evolution.

From Imagen de Chile we present some of the milestones left by the visit of the British explorer to our country.

Darwin's frog

Darwin's frog (Rhinoderma darwinii) is named in honor of its discoverer Charles Darwin, who made the first documentation of it when he landed on the shores of Lemuy on Chiloé Island in December 1834.

This amphibian, native to the temperate forests of southern Chile and Argentina, is the only one in the world, among the approximately 8,000 species currently known, where the male "gives birth". The process, known as neomelia, occurs when the male, after caring for the female's eggs for 14 days, raises the tadpoles inside his vocal sac, where they develop for approximately 8 weeks, after which they leave the sac through an opening located under the father's tongue.

The species is currently in danger of extinction due to the severe destruction of its habitat, mainly due to the loss of native forests and their replacement by pine and eucalyptus plantations for the production of paper and wood. Global temperature variation caused by climate change has been another important factor, due to their susceptibility to environmental change.

Today several organizations are focused on the preservation of this species, including the Chile-based NGO Ranita de Darwin, which works on the conservation of this and other amphibians in the country. In addition, in 2018 the "Binational Conservation Strategy for Darwin's Frog" was launched.

The Concepción earthquake

On January 20, 1835, an earthquake of magnitude 8.2 affected the current Los Ríos Region, after which it is estimated that more than 500 people died. Like the earthquake of February 27, 2010, the earthquake of 186 years ago mainly affected the city of Concepción, which was destroyed in a matter of seconds.

According to BBC News, at the time of the earthquake, Darwin was near Valdivia, located 322 kilometers from the epicenter. Reviewing the writings of his diary, the Englishman relates that he was resting with his companions when the earth began to move, a phenomenon that, according to him, would have lasted more than two minutes. "Earthquakes like this destroy the oldest associations, the world, the emblem of all that is solid," he wrote that day in his diary.

In spite of the shocking event, Charles Darwin took the opportunity to document the destruction of the city and the geological effects that occurred, from the lowering of the sea level (anticipating an imminent tsunami), to the simultaneous eruption of three nearby volcanoes, which would have occurred shortly before the earthquake.

Having been able to witness this phenomenon was one of the main influences that led Darwin to wonder how living beings underwent mutations to adapt to an ever-changing world. Observations also led the researcher to agree with the theories that the planet Earth is in a constant and slow mutation.

The first archaeologist to set foot on Chilean soil

In addition to his important contributions in the documentation of new species of animals, plants and geological observations, Darwin stands out for being perhaps the first archaeologist to visit our country.

During his travels through the Atacama Desert, the English explorer had the opportunity to visit several archaeological sites, including the entire area that today comprises the Los Dedos Paleontological Park, about 370 hectares with a tourist trail where fossils of more than 70 prehistoric species can be observed.

It was during these trips that Darwin had the opportunity to observe multiple mollusk fossils, something that led him to conclude that the Andes had risen from the bottom of the sea, a geological observation that was in line with his idea of a planet in constant mutation, and that would later become a relevant element for the development of his theory of evolution.


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