A quick check reveals there’s a stretch of original Laurisilva forest on our route through Gran Canaria. That’s exciting. How often do you get to walk through prehistoric forest? Especially a tropical or sub-tropical one?
I’m on the lookout for birds and am slightly disappointed. “I’ve come all this way and all we see is a Robin!” I say to my son. “Having said that”, I add, “It’s probably a special sub-species.”
And it is a special sub-species of the European Robin. It’s Erithacus rubecula marionae, the Gran Canaria Canary Island Robin. There’s another Canary Island sub-species, as well, the Tenerife Canary Island Robin.
It definitely looks different. I’m not sure whether it has a bigger head, or whether its shorter wings just make it look like that. It’s got a white ring around its eye. There’s a pronounced grey stripe by the side of its orange breast and the orange is very intense.
And underneath, the breast is a more pronounced white.
Scientists have checked the DNA in the mitochondria of Gran Canaria Robins. Mitochondria are the power-packs in our cells which are inherited just from our mothers because they’re part of the egg and don’t come from the sperm. The number of differences which have accumulated in the mitochondrial DNA gives an indication of the length of time species and subspecies have been separated from each other. Gran Canaria Robins appear to have separated from European Robins approximately 2.3 million years ago.
In Germanic mythology, Robins were one of Thor’s storm birds. It must have been quite some storm which brought the ancestors of these Robins to these volcanic islands.
It’s a very special Robin, indeed.