Evolving snails: launch of Evolution Megalab

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Continuing today’s snail theme, today is the official launch of the Evolution Megalab, a project being run by the Open University where people can contribute to evolution research by surveying the Brown-lipped Banded Snail Cepaea nemoralis. There’s been quite a lot of publicity about it today, and it is part of the OU’s celebration of Darwin 200.

Anyone can take part in the survey, and the Megalab site has full instructions, along with associated videos (see below) and an identification quiz you can take to rate yourself as a Cepaea identifier. Cepaea snails have a long history as evolutionary study subjects, and the Megalab gives you the chance to add to this body of work. You can also see what historical records are held for your area.

For those with mixed feelings about snails, there is no need to hate Cepaea snails! They prefer dead or decaying vegetation and although they can be common in gardens they don’t do much if any damage.

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Peppered Moth extinction – let’s celebrate!

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I’ve been enjoying Martin Wainwright’s blog (Martin’s Moths) – lots of mothy goodness but also examples and anecdotes about how moths are perceived in a wider cultural context. Martin’s day job is as northern editor for the Guardian, and his latest blog post links to one of his articles, where he correlates the news that more people are living to a hundred with the decline in the melanic form of the Peppered Moth. It’s a fascinating read, and full marks to Martin for getting some proper moth science into a national newspaper article.

However, the language used implies that the decline of the melanic Peppered Moth might be something to worry about – Martin’s article says that the decline “looks terminal” and talks of “extinction” of the melanic form, and I’ve noticed similar language in other articles. I’m not sure what it means to say that a genetic variety of a moth is extinct – presumably the form could reappear if conditions change again (e.g. if sooty pollution were to return)? And in any case, the loss of this form is all good news isn’t it – the reduction in this form of pollution is surely a success story? And the Peppered Moth as a species is still doing okay, thankfully.

There’s plenty of actual species that are declining fast, but the evolution of Peppered Moth forms is something to celebrate for once!