Darwin's monkey-birds

David Gilbert (dave7@mail.utexas.edu)
Wed, 18 Oct 1995 05:46:16 -0500

An excerpt from a recent scientific article:

Though no European has seen it since, Darwin speculated that the rare
"monkey- bird" (Semias Avianas) was favored by natural selection because
of its keen ability for getting the best bananas out of the tops of banana
trees, risking neither life nor limb to do so. Unlike other arboreal
winged mamals, who are typically restricted to short glides (Glaucomys
Volans, "the flying squirrel," for example) Semias Avainas has large,
hairy wings that allow for extended flight. Native accounts maintain that
Semias Avianas can be seen in airborne formation, scouting for tall banana
trees or hovering gracefully above a tropical river, rapt in an early
morning thermal. Nevertheless, it was not the serenity of these creatures
that first impressed itself upon Darwin: I quote from newly published
portions of his diary (admittedly, thought by some scholars to be
apochryphal): "There we were, not far out of the Congo when I was struck
from above by a hefty glob of alien guano. I was by now, of course, no
stranger to the general phenomena, the finches of Gollopagos had seen to
that. But the magnitude of this dropping was exceeded only by the
putridity of its stench. Stunned and disgusted, I took a large stone in
hand and turned my gaze heavenward with the intent of felling the foul
fowl. But what I saw caused the stone to drop from my hand as I stared,
bewildered, at Semias Avainas." Modern anthropoligists, intrigued by
Darwin's tale and offended by the Luddite maxim "if God had wanted us to
fly he would have made us with wings," have recently sought for evidence
of a hominid line equiped for flight. The as yet undiscovered Homo Wingus
would prove that man had indeed once ruled the skies, as he has since
ruled the earth. Scientists hope that by finding the remains of such a
creature crucial questions could be answered, such as why evolution
favored terrestrial types like Austropithicus and Homo Habalis. While an
actual example of Homo Wingus, dubbed by researchers "Lucy in the Sky with
Bipeds," currently eludes scientific investigation, anthropoligists remain
confident that one will soon be found. (15-6)

Gilbertius, Davididus. "Spanking Darwin's Monkey." Scientific
Rastafarian 31.5 Fall, 1995 (12-29).