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


  1. Got here from Carl Zimmer's place, and am struck by both the tattoo and your work in translating the Berkeley site and Dawkins' book. Particularly the former has to be labors of professional love, and it's as admirable as the tattoo.

  2. Dear RBH,

    It's been a long time since you have posted this comment and because of some setting of the comments in my blog, I have just seen it.

    Thank you for your kind words. Translating the Berkeley website and Dawkins' book has been such rewarding experiences for me. Not only I learned immensely, but also I've met wonderful people on the way. Dawkins translation was not a volunteer job, however Berkeley translation is a volunteer work and I believe everyone should be involved in such organizations because it is both good for the society and good for personal development.

  3. Merhaba Duygu,
    Ben Ekin, Edinburgh Universitesi'nde biyoloji phd ogrencisiyim. Berkeley'nin evrim sitesini turkceye cevirerek cok mukemmel bir is yapmissin. Kesinlikle boyle bir turkce website a ihtiyac vardi!

  4. Hi Ekin,

    Thank you for the kudoz. Although I should make sure everyone knows that I did not translate the whole website by myself. It is a collective work of Evrim Çalışkanları (Hardworkers for Evolution) :)

  5. Darn! I hate you for being more clever than I am! I love this idea and the design; now the bar is set for me to come up with a brilliant tattoo of my own. Congrats on a beautiful piece of art.


  6. hey, there... i've looking for the greatest tatoo for my own and i have find it here!!! i'm an engenner's graduate student from brazil and love science. i was looking for a tatoo like an physic's theoremy, but when i saw that one, i just change my ideia. next week, i'll take this on my right shoulder. i'd like to tell about it. so... kisses.

  7. Hi Paloma, I am really glad you like my tattoo :) Let me know how yours turn out! Good luck!

  8. It was wonderful to see images of the tattoo on line and, by pure chance, meet the person who had it. Like I have told you a thousand times, it is the most perfect tattoo I've seen in my life and I love that it is a representation of evolution... you have thousands of years of divergence represented on your shoulder blade and the insight of the person that changed the study of nature forever! I love the artistic idea of the butterfly figure the finches make and the fact that they look so realistic, for I find those to be the most beautiful tattoos. The cool tattoo matches the cool owner!

    Diana Solis Solis

  9. Just curious, would it bother you if I got a similar tattoo? I love the four finches but, I don't want to infringe on your creativity.

  10. Hi! It makes me really happy that people like this tattoo. I'll be honest, though, I would have liked to be the only one who has this tattoo in the purely primitive megalomaniac sense of being human :) However, I know that is completely unrealistic. In the end, even though this design is special, Darwin's finches are not mine :) And it is only natural that people want to have something they like for themselves as well.

    In any case, it is so nice of you that you asked. Actually really started liking the idea of having a little collection here on this blog: a collection of Darwin's finches tattoos :) So, if you ever get this tattoo, can you send me a picture of it, so I can post it on the blog? Finally one day, there will be so many of us, we can be a clan or cult or something :)

  11. Hello, Duygu. I saw just now your reply to me above. Sorry for the long time no here. So, how are you? I hope nice :) I came here again to say that I still did'nt make the Darwin's finches tattos, like I said before. My tests on university just have got started, and I have being very busy. Though, I'll make it soon as I can.
    I love your idea that you said for xtothisdayx: "In any case, it is so nice of you that you asked. Actually really started liking the idea of having a little collection here on this blog: a collection of Darwin's finches tattoos :) So, if you ever get this tattoo, can you send me a picture of it, so I can post it on the blog? Finally one day, there will be so many of us, we can be a clan or cult or something :)"
    Could I send you a picture of it when it has been done? :D Maybe we could post our pictures together.
    Have a nice week!!!

  12. I really like this design; do you have any higher resolution version image so I can put it on a coffee mug or something?

  13. Dear Duygu,
    I also got here from Carl Zimmer's blog. Perfect execution of your idea. Really like that butterfly shape with hidden message for other scientists/nerds ;).
    Live long and prosper,

  14. Duygu! that is such a cool tatoo, I did not have a chance to look at it in Chile. I love it!!
    Besos de Colombia

  15. Carl Zimmer talking about his new book coming up: Science Ink.

  16. And now on New York Times! :)

  17. German press:


  18. A biology student got the same tattoo (I think we might become a cult in time :P )

  19. :)still following the idea?
    what a pity!

  20. More followers:

    These are not ''followers'' but just different versions of the Darwin's finches tattoos:

  21. I really love this tattoo. If you don't mind, may I get this done as well? I've been wanting to get it done for way to long (over a year) so I figured I'd ask. I hate to copy you but it's just so damn perfect for what I'm looking for in a tattoo. You put a lot of time and effort into knowing all about Darwin's finches but what do you think I should know? If it's ok with you for me to copy you, I feel like I owe it to you to at least gain the knowledge that you find appropriate. I'm not a biology major or anything but I love the field.

    Thank you for your time.

  22. Hi Asron87, I will be honest with you. I do not understand the idea of getting the same tattoo as somebody else has. But that is just me. Making the decision to get this tattoo was a long process for me. I love how unique it turned out. I just cannot imagine myself getting a permanent mark on my body, if I can actually choose something unique. Anybody who wants to get this same tattoo are welcome to do it! I do not think I should be even asked whether I mind it or not. The tattoo is in a book and on the Internet, and I expect people to copy it. Original finch drawings are not even mine. But I do have hard time seeing why you want to get this tattoo! I am a biologist (I was pursuing my Ph.D. degree at the time I got this tattoo), I am an activist for teaching evolution. You know, I am passionate about this stuff! I love having a science tattoo, because I am a scientist. It is great to have something tattooed on you that you are passionate about (except for boyfriend/girlfriend tattoos. No matter how passionate a person is about their lover, I think one should never get them tattooed on their body :)

    But maybe your passion is to get beautiful tattoos on your body, I do not know! Basically, what I am saying is, getting a tattoo of something you are not even knowledgeable about is a concept I cannot wrap my head around. But you are welcome to get the same tattoo. (However, if I were you, I would wait to feel very passionate about something, and get a tattoo that represents that).

    Good luck

    1. Thanks for the reply. I'm mainly wanting to get a tattoo that represents evolution. For a wielder/machinist I know a lot about evolution but compared to an actual biologist I'd know very little. Evolutions a passionate hobby of mine and reflects my view on life. I'm looking for tattoos that will tell a story of who I am and what I believe. If I do get this one, I'd change it up a bit but it would still have the butterfly concept.

    2. Hi again. For some reason, I did not receive a notice about you comment and it ended up waiting moderation for months to be published. I do not visit my own blog much, so I have just seen it. Sorry for the delay.

      Initially I might have misunderstood your first comment thinking you do not have much of an interest in evolution at all. I am glad you wrote back and cleared the confusion. I hope you'll enjoy having whatever tattoo you get (or maybe you have already gotten), and you certainly do not need anybody else's approval/blessing. :) Definitely not mine. If you wish, I would love to see a picture of your version of the tattoo!

      As for learning more about finches, I can recommend a book called The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. The book is about Peter and Rosemary Grant, which is a couple who have been conducting research on finches in the Galapagos for years and the book tells their story. Weiner won a Pulitzer Award for his work. You will love it.

      If you would like to get some raw scientific information, check Abzhanov's work ( He is a researcher at Harvard working on the evolution and development of the finches, analyzing genetic mechanisms behind the variation of beak shapes.

      Enjoy! :)

    3. Oh wow... thank you so much. This means a lot to me and means even more that you gave me the OK. I have one question though. Is there drawings of the seeds (or other food) that these finches ate. I'd like to have the food incorporated with the tattoo if I can. I plan on arranging them in the middle somehow, maybe to make it look even more like a butterfly. I figure you'd be the best person to ask.I plan on getting it sometime next month if I can. I'll be sure to post pictures of it and let you know how it goes.

      Once again thank you.