24 December 2012

Charles Darwin and Baron Aucapitaine

After a long hiatus, I return with one last post before the year ends.

In the fourth edition of The origin of species (1866), Charles Darwin, while discussing the results of his limited experiments on the survival of land snails after prolonged exposure to sea water, added that someone named Baron Aucapitaine had recently tried similar experiments. Darwin summarized Aucapitaine's results, but did not give his source of Aucapitaine's data. Presumably, this was in accordance with the more relaxed standards of citation of the period. Generations of writers have quoted Darwin's paragraph as a support for the potential dispersal of land snails via rafting over the oceans. But no one seems to have bothered to determine if and where Aucapitaine had published his results. So back in June of this year, to satisfy my curiosity I spent several days scouring the internet. My efforts paid off eventually and I was able to track down Aucapitaine's relevant publication.

Read about Henri Aucapitaine, his work with snails and his interaction with Darwin, which may never have taken place, in my short note on p. 15 of the November newsletter of the wonderful Society for the History of Natural History.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year. I will try to post more often in 2013. Maybe.