The Peppered Moth is Turning White Again

THE peppered moth is an inoffensive creature that drives creationists crazy. Most of these moths were originally light colored, but during the Industrial Revolution in England, when soot covered their habitats, the light colored moths were easy for predators to see, so they didn’t survive very long. Dark moths tended to survive to breed succeeding generations. This is a classic — and readily observable — example of natural selection.

The creationists have a few predictable reactions. They argue that it’s only microevolution — a topic we’ve covered here: Micro Macro, Tutti Frutti. Additionally, they shriek endlessly about pictures of both dark and light moths resting on tree trunks, which are used in many textbooks. The creationists claim that because the photos were deliberately arranged (as are many nature photos), by pinning dead moths to branches, that everything taught about peppered moths to illustrate evolution is fraudulent.

There are many examples of this tactic at the blog of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). For example, no less a scientific giant than Jonathan Wells — about whom we wrote The Genius of Jonathan Wells — has stated:

The peppered myth died several years ago when scientists discovered that photos of peppered moths on tree trunks — used in most biology textbooks to convince students of Darwinian evolution — had been staged. [Source: Exhuming the Peppered Mummy.]

With that as background, we present to you, dear reader, some excerpts from Darwin’s ‘evolution’ moth changes back from black to white thanks to soot-free skies, which appears in the Daily Mail, the UK’s second biggest-selling daily newspaper. The bold font was added by us:

The pale, speckled peppered moth turned black in many parts of Britain following the Industrial Revolution over the space of a few decades, enabling it to blend in against soot-covered trees and avoid predators. It became known as Darwin’s moth, a symbol both of our changing landscape and of our understanding of its effect on the natural world.

Okay, but what’s the news? Let’s read on:

But now that much of Britain’s old heavy industry is just a distant memory, it seems the pendulum has swung the other way for the moths as well. Scientists suspect the black variety is disappearing again – meaning that in a further vindication for the famous 19th century naturalist 200 years after his birth, the original pale-coloured moths are taking over once more.

We continue:

We have seen these moths making a big swing back to their original colour,’ said Richard Fox, of Dorset-based Butterfly Conservation, who is project manager of Garden Moths Count 2009.

Aren’t the Brits wonderful? They have a “Garden Moths Count” project. This is out of sequence, but later in the article we’re told:

Garden Moths Count is part of the national Moths Count project, established after research indicated massive declines in moth numbers, especially in the southern half of Britain.

Back to the main topic:

In Dorset it is very rare to see the moth in its dark form, but in industrial cities 150 years ago they were almost all black and that’s where we will notice the greatest changes now,” [said Fox.]

There’s more to the article, so click over to the Daily Mail and read it all.

Now that the moths are turning white again, we expect more squawking from the creationists, but then, they always find reality unsettling.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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6 responses to “The Peppered Moth is Turning White Again

  1. The traps attract moths with powerful pheromones, white printed pattern, then catch them on the large sticky surface. Garden

  2. The Curmudgeon wrote, Aren’t the Brits wonderful? They have a “Garden Moths Count” project.

    Jeepers, I didn’t realise this was a national peculiarity.

    Don’t you teach Mothematics in the US?

  3. Great Claw asks: “Don’t you teach Mothematics in the US?”

    Certainly, but we count underwear, not moths. That’s why we have laundromaths.

  4. Don’t you teach Mothematics in the US?

    They used to, but had to stop — all the people who knew how to teach it flew too close to the flames and died.

  5. One might note here the related phenomenon whereby pristine white underwear inexorably ‘devolves’ into shades of dingy grey, thereby enabling it over time to be selected out of the drawer with less frequency.

    This was an observation I made during a valiant experiment to determine if liberally sprinkling my underwear with freshly-ground pepper would ‘spice up’ my love life.

    Rather than reveal the results I obtained, perhaps some ‘think tank’, anxious to prove that it is engaged in genuine science rather than mere propaganda, would like to repeat the trials.

    But alas, where might one hope to find such a credulous ‘think-tank’ populated by sufficiently a-scientific nincompoops?

  6. Great Claw says: “This was an observation I made during a valiant experiment …”

    I suggest you stick with moth counting.