To get a feel for the process of natural selection, experiment with a population of M&M candy or paper dot “beetles” to test how well each color is adapted to survive on a field of wrapping paper or fabric.
You will need a large piece of colorful patterned wrapping paper, and a large bag of M&M candy to represent beetles. Instead of candy, you may create a population of "dot beetles" by punching holes out of five different colors of paper.
First, cover a table with a large piece of colorful patterned wrapping paper. This will simulate the environment.
- Next count out equal numbers of "beetles" of each color and scatter them across the paper environment. They will represent a population of “beetles” that show variation in the trait of color.
- Pretend you are a bird predator and collect half the "beetles" by picking them up and setting them aside. Don’t eat the “beetles” yet!
- Turn your eyes away each time you capture a “beetle” and try not to intentionally favor one color over another. Your actions represent a bird searching for the most visible food in its habitat.
- Sort the captured "beetles" into piles by color and count them.
- Which color was the easiest to spot against the colorful background?
- Which color was best camouflaged?
- If the surviving camouflaged “beetles” were to reproduce one offspring each, which color of beetle would be most common in the next generation?
- What do you predict will happen over several generations? How could you test your prediction?
- What might happen if you altered the environment by using another pattern for the environment or by dimming the lights?
- Scientists use simulations to test their ideas. What changes would you make in this activity to make it a better simulation of natural selection?