Peppered moth

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B. b. betularia
B. b. cognataria
B. b. parva

The peppered moth (Biston betularia) is a temperate species of night-flying moth.[1] Peppered moth evolution is often used by educators as an example of natural selection.[2]


Ecology and life cycle

In Britain and Ireland, the peppered moth is univoltine (i.e., it has one generation per year), whilst in south-eastern North America it is bivoltine (two generations per year). The lepidopteran life cycle consists of four stages: ova (eggs), several larval instars (caterpillars), pupae, which overwinter live in the soil, and imagines (adults). During the day, the moths typically rest on trees, where they are preyed on by birds.

The caterpillar is a twig mimic, varying in colour between green and brown. It goes into the soil late in the season, where it pupates in order to spend the winter. The imagines emerge from the pupae between late May and August, the males slightly before the females (this is common and expected from sexual selection). They emerge late in the day and dry their wings before flying that night.

The males fly every night of their lives in search of females, whereas the females only fly on the first night. Thereafter, the females release pheromones to attract males. Since the pheromone is carried by the wind, males tend to travel up the concentration gradient, i.e., toward the source. During flight, they are subject to predation by bats. The males guard the female from other males until she lays the eggs. The female lays about 2,000 pale-green ovoid eggs about 1 mm in length into crevices in bark with her ovipositor.

Resting behaviour

A mating pair or a lone individual will spend the day hiding from predators, particularly birds. In the case of the former, the male stays with the female to ensure paternity. The best evidence for resting positions is given by data collected by the peppered moth researcher Michael Majerus, and it is given in the accompanying charts. These data were originally published in Howlett and Majerus (1987), and an updated version published in Majerus (1998), who concluded that the moths rest in the upper part of the trees. Majerus notes:

Creationist critics of the peppered moth have often pointed to a statement made by Clarke et al. (1985): "... In 25 years we have only found two betularia on the tree trunks or walls adjacent to our traps, and none elsewhere". The reason now seems obvious. Few people spend their time looking for moths up in the trees. That is where peppered moths rest by day.

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