Research Article

The predator-prey game: Revisiting industrial melanism and optimal foraging theory outdoors with biology undergraduates

Shem Unger 1 * , Mark Rollins 1 , Noah Dyer 1
More Detail
1 Wingate University, Wingate, NC, USA* Corresponding Author
Eurasian Journal of Science and Environmental Education, 3(2), December 2023, 67-74,
Published: 31 July 2023
OPEN ACCESS   749 Views   1820 Downloads
Download Full Text (PDF)


Teaching natural selection and adaptations in undergraduate biology classrooms is often undertaken with the example of the Biston peppered moth, a well-documented case of industrial melanism. However, the idea of optimal foraging theory, a behavioral ecological model that includes predators searching for prey, may be overlooked when teaching this classic example of natural selection and predator/prey dynamics. To this end, we developed a simulated predator/prey activity to teach both of these concepts using different size and color toy lizards, moths, and snakes as part of an outdoor laboratory. Students overwhelmingly viewed the laboratory as an engaging way to learn about natural selection (100%, n=115), and how predators forage (Likert median score=5, n=115). We recommend biology instructors across science academic levels (high school and college) incorporate or modify this activity for student-based data collection, as it concomitantly engages undergraduates while providing a hands-on approach to biological and evolutionary theory of natural selection.


Unger, S., Rollins, M., & Dyer, N. (2023). The predator-prey game: Revisiting industrial melanism and optimal foraging theory outdoors with biology undergraduates. Eurasian Journal of Science and Environmental Education, 3(2), 67-74.


  1. Abraham, J. K., Meir, E., Perry, J., Herron, J. C., Maruca, S., & Stal, D. (2009). Addressing undergraduate student misconceptions about natural selection with interactive simulated laboratory. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 2, 393-404.
  2. Anderson, D. L., Fisher, K. M., & Norman, G. J. (2002). Development and evaluation of the conceptual inventory of natural selection. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39(10), 952-978.
  3. Arianti, Y., & Animatun, T. (2018). An analysis of outdoor learning towards students’ outcomes in learning biology. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 1241, 012061.
  4. Barber, N. A. (2012). Clay caterpillars: A tool for ecology and evolution laboratories. The American Biology Teacher, 74(7), 513-517.
  5. Bateman, P. W., Fleming, P. A., & Wolfe, A. K. (2017). A different kind of ecological modeling: The use of clay model organisms to explore predator-prey interactions in vertebrates. Journal of Zoology, 301, 251-262.
  6. Bugingo, J. B., Yadav, L. L., Mugisha, I. S., & Mashood, K. K. (2022). Improving teachers’ and students’ views on nature of science through active instructional approaches: A review of the literature. Science & Education.
  7. Chrouser, W. H. (1975). Outdoor vs. indoor laboratory techniques in teaching biology to prospective elementary teachers. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 12(1), 41-48.
  8. Church, R., & Hand, S. (1992). Industrial melanism in moths: An interactive computer simulation to demonstrate evolutionary theory. Journal of Biological Education, 26(1), 34-36.
  9. Eisner, T. (1982). For love of nature: Exploration and discovery at biological field stations. Bioscience, 32, 321-326.
  10. Fleischner, T. L., Espinoza, R. E., Gerrish, G. A., Greene, H. W., Kimmerer, R. W., Lacey, E. A., Parrish, J. K., Swain, H. M., Trombulak, S. C., Weisberg, S., Winkler, D. W., & Zander, L. (2017). Teaching biology in the field: Importance, challenges, and solutions. Bioscience, 67(6), 558-567.
  11. Fulford, J. M., & Rudge, D. W. (2016). The portrayal of industrial melanism in american college general biology textbooks. Science & Education, 25, 547-574.
  12. Gregory, T.R. (2009). Understanding natural selection: Essential concepts and common misconceptions. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 2(2), 156-175.
  13. Janulaw, A., & Scotchmoor, J. (2011). Clipbirds. Understanding evolution. University of California Museum of Paleontology.
  14. Johnson, W. R., & Lark, A. (2018). Evolution in action in the classroom: Engaging students in science practices to investigate and explain evolution by natural selection. The American Biology Teacher, 80(2), 92-99.
  15. Leuenberger, W., Larsen, E., Leuenberger, J., & Parry, D. (2019). Predation on plasticine model caterpillars: Engaging high school students using field-based experiential learning and the scientific process. The American Biology Teacher, 81(5), 334-339.
  16. Majerus, M. E. N. (2009). Industrial Melanism in the peppered moth, Biston betularia: An excellent teaching example of Darwinian evolution in action. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 2, 63-74.
  17. Mohammadi, S., Kiriazis, N. M., & Neuman-Lee, L. A. (2020). The natural selection game: Incorporating active learning in evolution criteria for general biology. The American Biology Teacher, 82(2), 104-112.
  18. Pecor, K. W., Lake, E. C., & Wund, M. A. (2015). Optimal foraging by birds: Experiments for secondary & postsecondary students. The American Biology Teacher, 77, 192-197.
  19. Pope, D. S., Rounds, C. M., & Clarke-Midura, J. (2017). Testing the effectiveness of two natural selection simulations in the context of a large-enrollment undergraduate laboratory class. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 10, 1-16.
  20. Schwagmeyer, P. L., & Strickler, S. A. (2011). Teaching principles of experimental design while testing optimal foraging theory. The American Biology Teacher, 73(4), 238-241.
  21. Scott, G. W., Goulder, R., Wheeler, P., Scott, L. J., Tobin, M. L., & Marsham, S. (2012). The value of fieldwork in life and environmental sciences in the context of higher education: A case study in learning about biodiversity. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21, 11-21.
  22. Thomas, R. L, & Fellowes, M. D. E. (2017). Effectiveness of mobile apps in teaching field-based identification skills. Journal of Biological Education, 51(2), 136-143.
  23. Thomson, J. D. (1980). A simulation of optimal foraging: The nuts and bolts approach. The American Biology Teacher, 42(9), 528-533.
  24. Weir, L. K., Barker, M. K., McDonnell, L. M., Schimpf, N. G., Rodela, T. M., & Schulte, P. M. (2019). Small changes, big gains: A curriculum-wide study of teaching practices and student learning in undergraduate biology. PLoS ONE, 14(8), e0220900.
  25. Ziadie, M. A., & Andrews, T. C. (2018). Moving evolution education forward: A systematic analysis of literature to identify gaps in collective knowledge for teaching. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 17(1), 1-10.