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Posts Tagged ‘peppered moths’

Peppered Moths–Fraud or Textbook Case for Evolution–Face The Test

Posted by Richard Conniff on June 3, 2016

The darker version of the peppered moth (Photo: Ben Sale/Flickr)

(Photo: Ben Sale/Flickr)

by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com

The peppered moth has long been one of the most popular stories in all of evolution—for Darwinians and creationists alike. The Darwinians have always treated the sudden appearance in the mid-nineteenth century of a dark-winged variety of this moth species (Biston betularia) as the first evidence of evolution taking place within a single human lifetime. Creationists have countered that this supposed slam-dunk for natural selection was instead just a product of biased scientific research, bordering on fraud.

A new study being published this week in the journal Nature finally resolves this often-bitter debate with irrefutable genetic evidence. So which side wins? Is it the textbook case for Darwinism? Or was it all a terrible mistake, as the creationists have alleged? I’m going to make you hold your breath for a bit while I fill in the background.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, the common form of peppered moth had a pale coloration suited to hiding on the bark of light-colored or lichen-coated tree trunks. The theory was that this camouflage enabled it to avoid being eaten by birds. But in 1848, in the English industrial city of Manchester, a specimen with black wings turned up, and by the end of the nineteenth century, this version of the peppered moth was everywhere. The paler, mottled version disappeared, almost becoming extinct.

The sudden shift was no accident, according to scientists. Reliance on coal for heating and industrial production in the nineteenth century blackened skies and forests. An editorial in the same issue of Nature quotes an 1851 railroad guide to the English industrial midlands: “The pleasant green of pastures is almost unknown, the streams, in which no fishes swim, are black and unwholesome … the few trees are stunted and blasted.” Pale moths could no longer hide against blackened tree trunks, and birds presumably devoured them. But the random appearance of the black form of the same species conferred a distinct advantage, because those moths were much harder for hungry birds to spot. It was natural selection in action.

(Incidentally, the same shift occurred in the same species at about the same time in the United States, particularly around Read the rest of this entry »

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