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Charles Darwin Ate Every Animal He Ever Discovered

(c) Christ's College, University of Cambridge; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Photo: (c) Christ's College, University of Cambridge; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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"The Father of Evolution" had a taste for iguanas, armadillos, and 20-pound rodents

Charles Darwin is most famous for his work as a naturalist, developing a theory of evolution to explain biological change. A less well-known fact about the 19th-century scientific explorer is that he had an equally adventurous palate. He eagerly ate many of his specimens—including iguanas, armadillos, and rheas.

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Darwin developed his exotic appetite at a young age. During his student days at Christ’s College, Cambridge, he presided over the University’s Glutton Club. The main objective of the club was to seek out “strange flesh” and consume the “birds and beasts which were before unknown to human palate.”

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The Christ’s College website summarizes Darwin’s salad days at the University:

“Although Darwin eventually did quite well in his final exams, most of his three years was spent eating exotic meats with his Glutton Club, drinking a bit too much, riding his horse, and of course collecting beetles.”

The club was, by all accounts, a smashing success. Sadly for Darwin, the epicurean society came to a screeching halt when a particularly stringy brown owl was presented for supper. According to The Guardian, the club’s members decided to “concentrate their studies on the effects of the port accompanying their meat instead.”

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The “Father of Evolution” went on to have many more culinary adventures aboard the HMS Beagle, “where he was willingly fed armadillos, which ‘taste & look like duck’, and an unnamed, 20-pound chocolate-colored rodent which, he announced, was ‘the best meat I ever tasted.'”

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His only culinary faux pas occurred in December 1833, at Port Desire, when the ship’s artist procured a rhea (a large flightless bird indigenous to Altiplano and Patagonia in South America) for Christmas dinner. Darwin writes in his notes that he suddenly realized he was eating an extremely rare Avestruz petise. He immediately jumped up from the table and tried to rescue the remains of the unfortunate avian victim. He managed to salvage “the head and neck, the legs, and many of the larger feathers.”

Written by Julia Mason of HistoryBuff || Feature Image via Fiona Macpherson