A journey into the eyes and mind of a naturalist.

Fallen Angel

Death is certain in nature, and for most organisms it happen far before they ever have the opportunity to pass on their genes.  This idea is not just common sense it it an integral part of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  I have spent the last two weeks teaching evolution in my classroom.  It is interesting to hear the students to “Don’t believe in evolution” question themselves and their “beliefs” when they begin to see that it isn’t a magical, mysterious process, it’s just common sense.

Fitness, as defined in biological terms, has nothing to do with the ability to work out, strength, or endurance.  Fitness simply means the ability to pass-on your genes as much as possible.  The individuals you produce the most offspring are more fit that those who do not.  It makes me wonder what a Lifetime Fitness would be like if it were interpreted through the biological definition…

The environment selects those individuals who are less able to obtain the resources they need to survive.  Predation, weather extremes, competition, sexual selection and sometime just bad luck all select individuals from a given population.  This ensures that only those individuals who are best able to obtain resources pass on their genes while those who cannot parish.

The usual “victims” of this natural selection are the young and inexperienced.  All the cute fuzzy baby animals, with their big eyes and playful antics, are on the menu for a wide array of predators and nature dictates that most of them won’t make it to adulthood.  It’s just common sense.

Last winter my parents had a juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk hanging around their house.  This last winter in Minnesota was the second snowiest on record,  not good if you hare bird of prey that must see it’s prey.  My dad watched as the hawk slowly lost energy until one day it was just gone.

On a hike through my old stomping grounds I found the fallen hawk skeletonized under a small shrub.  The hawk probably died after one of the heavy snows of early December.  The body lays as it fell.  The skeleton still lay articulated in the throws of death.  The feathers still attached to the wings and tail are displayed in their full colors of life.

Evolution is not a mystery,  it is more than “just a theory”, it is life and the struggle to exist.  Natural selection is the mechanism of evolution and it drives those changes in a species which ultimately give rise to new species that are more adapted to their environment.  Death is certain without it life could not exist.


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