Wide-Eyed Wonder

Part of the Darwin exhibition.

Darwin's first stop on the Beagle was in the Cape Verde Islands, where he was "overwhelmed" by seeing tropical plants and animals for the first time. "A child with a new toy could not have been more delighted," Captain FitzRoy noted. Filled with excitement, Darwin wrote Henslow about an octopus that could change color, saying, "This fact appears to be new, as far as I can find out," he told Henslow.

In fact, however, this species of octopus was already well known to other naturalists. Darwin was acutely aware of his youth and inexperience--in the same letter to Henslow, he added, "One great source of perplexity to me is an utter ignorance whether I note the right facts, and whether they are of sufficient importance to interest others."

An Amazing Octopus

At the first stop on his Beagle voyage, Darwin was amazed and enthralled to observe octopuses emit clouds of dark ink, squeeze into crevices, glow in the dark, squirt water at him, and change color like a chameleon.

"I was much interested, on several occasions, by watching the habits of an Octopus...By means of their long arms and suckers, they could drag their bodies into very narrow crevices; and when thus fixed, it required great force to remove them."