Charles Darwin and the antlion
Learning stageStage 4, Stage 5, Stage 6
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Charles Darwin arrived in Sydney on the 12th of January 1836 on the HMS Beagle. Australia was one of the HMS Beagle’s last ports of call on its five-year journey. Charles Darwin travelled from Sydney to Bathurst on horseback and during this trip he made several entries in his diary about Australian animals. He compared Australian animals to European ones, such as the platypus and European water rat, and the potoroo and rabbit. His musings about antlions, however, are perhaps the most discussed of his time in Australia.
- Charles Darwin was only 22 years old when the HMS Beagle left England.
- He stayed in the Blacktown Inn when he travelled over the Blue Mountains.
- Antlions are the predatory larvae of insects in the Myrmeleontidae family.
- Darwin wrote that “A Disbeliever in everything beyond his own reason, might exclaim, Surely two distinct Creators must have been [at] work”. What does he mean by ‘A Disbeliever in everything beyond his own reason'?
- Darwin writes “The one hand has worked over the whole world”. What do you think is the ‘one hand’?
- Darwin refers to a “Geologist”. Is he referring to himself, or geologists in general? Why do you think he has written this entry in such an ambiguous style?
This entry from Charles Darwin's diary and the video below will engage students in Darwin's observations of Australian animals.
The diary entry provides one of the first insights into Darwin's thoughts about evolution by natural selection. The entry appears to have been written in an intentionally ambiguous style so that his family and colleagues did not suspect he was questioning God as the creator of all living things. Students should attempt to interpret the text and find examples of this ambiguity.
Antlions (Family Myrmeleontidae) build cone-shaped ant traps in sheltered sandy areas and wait under the bottom of the trap for an ant to fall in. The loose sandy sides prevent prey from escaping, and the antlion also flicks sand at the struggling ant. The antlion seizes the ant in its powerful jaws and sucks it dry.