Evolution: Education and Outreach

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 63–74

Industrial Melanism in the Peppered Moth, Biston betularia: An Excellent Teaching Example of Darwinian Evolution in Action


    • Department of GeneticsUniversity of Cambridge
Original Scientific Article

DOI: 10.1007/s12052-008-0107-y

Cite this article as:
Majerus, M.E.N. Evo Edu Outreach (2009) 2: 63. doi:10.1007/s12052-008-0107-y


The case of industrial melanism in the peppered moth has been used as a teaching example of Darwinian natural selection in action for half a century. However, over the last decade, this case has come under attack from those who oppose Darwinian evolution. Here, the main elements of the case are outlined and the reasons that the peppered moth case became the most cited example of Darwinian evolution in action are described. Four categories of criticism of the case are then evaluated. Criticisms of experimental work in the 1950s that centered on lack of knowledge of the behavior and ecology of the moth, poor experimental procedure, or artificiality in experiments have been addressed in subsequent work. Some criticisms of the work are shown to be the result of lack of understanding of evolutionary genetics and ecological entomology on the part of the critics. Accusations of data fudging and scientific fraud in the case are found to be vacuous. The conclusion from this analysis of criticisms of the case is that industrial melanism in the peppered moth is still one of the clearest and most easily understood examples of Darwinian evolution in action and that it should be taught as such in biology classes.


Industrial melanismBird predationEvolution in actionNatural selectionGenetic polymorphismPeppered mothBiston betularia

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008