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29 October 2014
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Charles Darwin season
Picture: Getty/James M Wehtje

BBC season marking the life and work of Charles Darwin

Fifteen things you didn't know about Darwin

1. Although the most familiar images of Darwin are of an old man with a beard, he was a young man of 22 years when he set off on the Beagle voyage.


2. When Darwin explored the Galapagos Islands in 1835, it was the similarities and differences between mockingbirds – not the famous finches – on different islands that made him wonder how they were related.


3. British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, independently conceived a theory of natural selection identical to Darwin's, based on completely different observations on the other side of the world. Darwin's and Wallace's theories were both presented on 1 July 1858 to the Linnean Society of London.


4. "Survival of the fittest" was not a phrase coined by Darwin. He borrowed it from the economist Herbert Spencer, on Wallace's advice. It does not appear until the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species.


5. Darwin was a Christian when he wrote On The Origin Of Species and was probably agnostic when he died.


6. During the five-year Beagle expedition, Darwin shipped home 1,529 species preserved in spirit and 3,907 labelled skins, bones and other dried specimens.


7. Charles Darwin beat Charles Dickens to become the face of the new £10 note in 2000. Apparently his beard makes it hard to reproduce his portrait hair by hair.


8. Darwin is the most frequently featured person on stamps outside the Royal Family.


9. The first ape Darwin saw was an orang-utan named Jenny at London Zoo in 1838. He was immediately struck by the similarities between her behaviour and that of humans.


10. Before Darwin's ideas were published, most people believed that the natural world was permanent and unchanging and there was little or no awareness of extinction.


11. Less than half (48%) of the UK population accepts evolution as the best description for the development of life, according to a 2006 Ipsos Mori poll.


12. When he was a child, Darwin's father said to him, "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family".


13. As a student at Cambridge, Darwin presided over the Glutton Club, which met weekly in order to seek out and eat unusual meats.


14. Darwin inadvertently ate a new bird species for Christmas dinner on the Beagle in 1833. When he realised, the leftovers were immediately preserved and sent home. They were later named after Darwin as the lesser rhea, Rhea darwinii.


15. When he needed evidence for his theory, he used domesticated pigeons and built a pigeon house in his garden in 1855. Darwin showed a variety of extreme characteristics could be produced over many generations by selective breeding.


With thanks to the Natural History Museum.


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