Bill Shape and Food Habits Among Galapagos Finches

The Galapagos finches vary by the way they eat and what they eat. Some finches eat insects and the others eat seeds. The ground finches, for example, eat the ticks by removing ticks from Land Iguanas, Marine Iguanas, and Tortoises. A Vampire finch whose beak is very sharp jumps the back of other birds (Red-footed Boobies and masked boobies) and pecks their fleshy parts and feed their blood. The body birds are sensitive to this behaviour of Vampire finch, hence this pecking behaviour has evolved by the modification of the beaks of the Vampire finch (an endangered species). The finches are most often granivorous in which the Hawaiian honeybees have evolved for their food habits. Many finches take arthropods as their food. Most of the finches sing well and most of them are grown in cages as pet birds. The nests of the finch are basket in shape that are built in trees, but rarely in bushes, sometimes in rocks.

The Evolution of Darwin Finches
When Darwin travelled around the world from 1831 to 1836 he observed many animals on islands and continents. When he visited Galapagos Islands he observed many species of finches with different shapes of their beaks. The beak shape is very unique in different species of finches.

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He observed some species of finches that were closely resembled the species found in the mainland of South America, in which the finches differ in their graded shape of beaks. Darwin concluded that the island species of finches are modified.

Darwin stated that the gradation and diversity of beak structure are small and intentionally the related groups in which the one species is ultimately fancy which forms the original scarcity of birds in the archipelago and the other species had undergone modification of different ends.

The Galapagos finches have adapted themselves in their habitat, size, and shape of bills. For example, the vegetarian finch (Platyspiza crassirostris) and the ground finch (Geospiza fuliginosa) have the crushing type of bills. The tree finch (Camarhynchus parvulus) has a grasping bill and the cactus finch (Geospiza scandens), warble finch (Certhidea fusca) and woodpecker finch (Camarhynchus pallidus) have the probing type of bills.

The Molecular Mechanisms in the Evolution of the Beaks of Galapagos Finches
It was observed that the bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP – 4) is responsible for different expressions of size and shape of beaks of Galapagos finches. These proteins function in the embryonic stages of Galapagos finches that determine the skeletal features (including the beak).

The difference in the shape of the beaks also determined by the differential timings and special expressions of the calmodulin gene (CaM). CaM acts like BMP-4 and affects the growth features of beaks.

It was stated that the expression of CaM and BMP – 4 (spatial and temporal) together controls the morphology of the bills of Galapagos finches. A 240 Kb gene ALX1 codes for a transcription factor that affects the craniofacial development of Galapagos finch that is associated with the diversity of beaks among different species of finches. The beak diversity also induces certain changes in the vocalization of Galapagos finches.

Post Darwin’s Natural Selection Studies of Bill Shape and Size
In 1976, Peter and Rosemary Grant allowed the researchers to study the population of Galapagos finches. They observed the critical changes in the shape of beaks from one generation to another in medium ground finches on the Galapagos Islands.

These medium ground finches (Geospiza fortis) generally feed on seeds. This bird inherits on the bill shape in which some them have wide with deep bills, whereas, the others have a thin bill. The species of medium ground finches have large bills that peck on hard seeds, but the other birds of this species feed efficiently on soft and small seeds.


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