Sunday, October 18, 2009

Four Finches On My Shoulder

The most curious fact is the perfect gradation in the size of the beaks in the different species of Geospiza, from one as large as that of a hawfinch to that of a chaffinch, and (if Mr. Gould is right in including his sub-group, Certhidea, in the main group) even to that of a warbler. The largest beak in the genus Geospiza is shown in Fig. 1, and the smallest in Fig. 3; but instead of there being only one intermediate species, with a beak of the size shown in Fig. 2, there are no less than six species with insensibly graduated beaks. The beak of the sub-group Certhidea, is shown in Fig. 4. The beak of Cactornis is somewhat like that of a starling, and that of the fourth subgroup, Camarhynchus, is slightly parrot-shaped. Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.

After hearing that one of the professors in our department got a tattoo, I finally gathered enough courage to get one myself. I always wanted a nerdy, science tattoo, but I also wanted it to look esthetically beautiful. I quickly decided on Darwin's finches while chatting with my friend Tümay and told my husband about the idea. He loved it but said perhaps it will be better if I arrange them by flipping the two on the left, because the tattoo would not look that nice if I got it exactly the same as the figure in Darwin's book. So, I did it and when arranged that way (beaks pointing to a center), it looked like a butterfly, which added a nice surprise to the tattoo.

I took it to this great tattoo artist (Henry) at Electric Ladyland on Frenchman Street in New Orleans. He is amazing, he completed the borders and made the figure look more like a butterfly and he said:

-Look, you know that I will not be able to make the details here (pointing the birds' feathers and eyes) like they are in this picture. -Yes, that is completely fine, I just want it to look as close to the original as possible, so that people can tell they are Darwin's finches.

I am so glad I trust the artist! He did a wonderful wonderful wonderful job. Such a fine taste he has!

I could not imagine a better tattoo. I got it on Darwin's 200th, On The Origin of Species' 150th anniversary. I spent last few years reading and writing a lot on evolution (even though I am a developmental biologist by training), as well as playing the "editor-in-chief" for translating UC Berkeley's Understanding Evolution website into Turkish (Evrimi Anlamak), a completely volunteer work we have been doing as a group called Hard-workers for Evolution. And of course, I am a biologist and "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution"...

But as if these are not good enough reasons, on the night of the day I decided to get this tattoo, I started translating the Chapter 9 of Richard Dawkins' last book The Greatest Show On Earth. (Right now, I am one of the 4 translators who collectively translated this book into Turkish, and the book will be published by Kuzey Yayinlari very soon, needless to say, we are very excited about it). I just loved the fact that, Dawkins quoted the passage (above), where Darwin talks about Galapagos finches, in Chapter 9!

Well, seemed like the universe wanted me to get this tattoo and it wanted it to be this gorgeous. (I promise I am usually modest, but one just cannot be modest about such an art work on her back!)

1) Galapagos finches figure from Wikipedia (and as they cite it: Darwin's finches or Galapagos finches. Darwin, 1845. Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the world, under the Command of Capt. Fitz Roy, R.N. 2d edition.)

2) Quote from Darwin 1845, p. 380

3) Photographs by A. Murat Eren