I listen to RadioLab. A lot.
So, where do the Galapagos finches fit into all this?
RadioLab ran an episode on Galapagos that touches on some of the big questions and mysteries that surround the archipelago (If you get a chance, I highly recommend listening to the entire thing). I was immediately drawn into this particular episode because I studied in Ecuador and had the opportunity to visit this miraculous set of islands. When they began talking about the endangered finches, I had a visceral reaction.
My stomach knotted up and my lungs tightened. I could picture the sweet little birds; I could hear their songs fluttering through the trees. It made me incredibly depressed to think that those songs might be silenced one day soon.
As I listened to this episode of RadioLab, Jad and Robert began to paint a grim picture of the finch's plight. An invasive species of fly was swiftly desiccating the finch population by laying its eggs in their nests--eggs that would become larva, larva that feeds on baby finches from the inside out. The Galapagos islands are a sensitive area (untouched for centuries by man or any kind of non-endemic species). When an outside species is introduced, the natives usually fare poorly. This was the case with tortoises and goats. When goats were introduced to the islands, tortoise populations plummeted. The goats competed for resources, gobbling up grass and shrubs, leaving behind dust bowls, devoid of vegetation.
So, what's a poor finch to do when a flesh-eating fly is wiping out most of the hatchlings? Adapt.
Seriously. These finches have adapted in less than fifteen years. This is almost unheard of in evolutionary terms. Usually, a slow process of natural selection leads to the evolution of a species, but these finches appear to be evolving in real time. Pushed to the brink (five species of finches are in critical danger of extinction and six other species are in serious decline), the finches fought back.
Mother finches developed the skill to identify and eliminate larva from their nests. They even began eating them, which they would have never done fifteen years ago (scientists experimented with feeding adult finches fly larva in the year 2000 and had little success). Additionally, baby finches are beginning to climb up the nest walls to position themselves away from the larva at the bottom--an act that was never witnessed until recently.
These finches are a lesson in survival and adaptation. Their situation seemed hopeless, but they fought through it and emerged stronger and better-equipped to deal with the perils of their world. We can learn from this tenacity, this will to survive. When the chips are down, don't walk away; don't give up. Devise a new strategy and get back in the game.
Be a Galapagos finch.
And if you're struggling to get back in the game? Don't be afraid to accept help. There are several instances on the Galapagos islands (and elsewhere) in which scientists temporarily supported a species to bring it back from the brink of extinction. The tortoise was not too proud to accept help. Let's learn from that.
Kate Bitters is a freelance writer and marketer. Her latest novel, Ten Thousand Lines, is a dystopian tale about a revolution, a witch hunt, and an unlikely friendship.