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Book of beautiful specimens illustrates evolution

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Before Darwin was a writer, he was a natural historian and collector aboard a ship launched from England to chart the coast of South America. He collected specimens of rocks, plants and animals, preserved those that needed preserving and sent them home in few big shipments.

I never thought much about what those specimens might have looked like until seeing these gorgeous photos in the newly published Evidence of Evolution. The above photo is not in the book, but you can see some that are by reading The New Scientist, which has published a smattering online.

To mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of the Species (which is on Tuesday), photographer Susan Middleton and author Mary Ellen Hannibal have produced a beautiful volume showcasing specimens from the California Academy of Sciences.

The article in The New Scientist makes the point that even though bottling specimens in spirits seems terribly old-fashioned, in many cases it's still the best way to preserve materials for scientific study.

Darwin didn't have much training in collecting biological specimens, but the young man came through. Many of his actual specimens still exist, though apparently not in sterling condition.

Photo by tanakawho

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