Tuesday, 17 January 2012

100 Years Ago: Captain Scott and “Reptilian-Looking” Birds

The Terra Nova expedition of 1910–1913 tried to find evidence for Darwinian evolution. Image courtesy of Cherry-Garrard, Apsley, Project Gutenberg.

Joel Kontinen

Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) was a British navy officer known for his ill-fated expedition to Antarctica. He and his team lost the race to the South Pole and also lost their lives on the return trip.

On January 17th, 1912 they reached the Pole only to learn that Roald Amundsen and his team had already been there.

Their expedition also had an evolution connection. Three members of his team tried to find evidence for Darwinian evolution by examining penguin eggs.

According to New Scientist,

Emperor penguins were thought to be primitive birds. The idea was to collect embryos and see if any vestiges of reptilian ancestry could be discerned in the various stages of development. If so, it would link reptiles to birds and make a strong case for Darwin's theory of evolution. Sadly, the men only collected three eggs and returned frost-bitten, battered and bruised.”

However, no amount of eggs can prove the bird-reptile connection, which has enormous problems.

German zoologist Ernst Haeckel speculated that different species resemble each other during the early stages of their development. His embryo drawings have been used in textbooks for a century although they are known to be frauds.


Anathaswamy, Anil. 2011. Remember Scott's legacy of Antarctic science. New Scientist 2847, 24-25.