Go see some evolution!

-posted by Meghan

Evolution isn’t a branch of science that (only) happens in a cold and sterile laboratory.  It’s taking place constantly all around us, and it’s easy and fun to seek out.  To digress for a moment, about 5 years ago I decided I was ready to have kids, and before I did, I wanted to take a mother/daughter trip with my mommy (Ruth).  So we planned and went on a crazy and amazing trip to the Galapagos Islands.  On the ship we passed Darwin’s books back and forth at night, and during the day we hiked and swam, viewing the very same species

that Darwin saw.  It sparked in both of us a new fascination with the subject of evolution.  While we would both highly recommend this as a family vacation (instead of, say, Disneyland) we recognize that that isn’t the most feasible thing.  Nor is it necessary. .. try taking a trip to your local zoo or even simply your own backyard!

Go to the zoo:

If you head to the zoo, take a look at all the different variations within the same species, and explore with kids why such a variation might have evolved.  Bring this book (Our Family Tree:  An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters), and look through the beautiful illustrations that show how our family tree has progressed from single cell organisms to our own very unique human forms.

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Go to your own backyard:

Darwin didn’t just study species in the Galapagos.  He made observations on the living beings in his own backyard (domestic pigeons, bees, and barnacles).  And scientists often study fruit flies or maggots (ewww, right?) because their short life cycles allow observers to trace genetic changes through generations rapidly.  But you don’t have to spend years taking notes or raising gross bugs.  Look at the next bird that flies into your backyard.  Can you use a bird book to determine which particular bird it is?  Is there another bird of that same species with different characteristics (feather colors, beak length)?  Why might that bird have adapted?  Or look at your cat (or a neighbors!).  Does it have a tail?  Of course it does.  But if you lived on the Isle of Man, it probably wouldn’t.  Look it up…

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Go to the mirror:

Evolution can be applied as a theory to behavioral traits as well.  Jared Diamond, in his book The Third Monkey, looks at the notion of “Social Darwinism.” After examining our creative abilities (language, art, and technology), Diamond looks at the self-destructive propensities of our species to kill each other (genocide and drug abuse) and to destroy the environment (mass extinctions). He also discusses human sexuality and behavior, and how much of our behavior is actually controlled by genetics and natural selection within our species.  It just may change how you look at the people around you (or even yourself).

Mum, with her evolutionary friends.

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