Peppered Moth Simulation

Shannan Muskopf
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Simulation
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This lesson is designed to allow students the experience of how a population can change based on changes to the environment.  Students will use their own data from an interactive simulation (a paper based model is also available in the related documents sections at the bottom of the page) based on Kettlewell’s experiment in order to figure out why populations of peppered moths changed during the industrial revolution.  Although this activity demonstrates natural selection it also contains information on Dr. Kettlewell, and other information about the peppered moths.   

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • High School
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS4-4 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how natural selection leads to adaptation of populations.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using data to provide evidence for how specific biotic and abiotic differences in ecosystems (such as ranges of seasonal temperature, long-term climate change, acidity, light, geographic barriers, or evolution of other organisms) contribute to a change in gene frequency over time, leading to adaptation of populations.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
As no performance expectation is indicated at the the beginning of this lesson, a teacher could link HS-LS 4-4 to this lesson, as it has students construct an explanation at the end of the simulation (final analysis section) based on their data. A teacher could expand the lesson by having students make a prediction before starting the simulation and then comparing their predictions to the data they collected. Students could also do the experiment first and then come up with some explanations of why the population changed over time. A teacher could also have students use their data to create a claim and then use their evidence and reasoning to back up their claim.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
This resource supports this practice as it gives students an opportunity to participate in a simulation and gather evidence in order to build an explanation. A teacher could choose to enhance this active by including some additional components in the final analysis section of the lesson. The addition of a question about the frequency of the different colored moths based on the industrial revolution could be added, for example: "Using the evidence from Kettlewell’s experiment and the data you collected, explain how the industrial revolution played a role in the color frequency of the Peppered Moths." You could also include a discussion about other organisms that might have been affected by the changes in the environment. This could include investigating the trees and other plant life in the area, the lichen population that the moths fed on, or populations of other animals that have different colored populations (rabbits, birds)

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This resource supports the DCI by letting students examine and study how environmental changes affect an organism's population growth or decline. The lesson mentions how Kettlewell also studied other dark/light colored moths and found the same results as he did with the Peppered Moths. To extend the data sets a teacher could add some of the other research based on Kettlewell’s work. Doing this would allow students to look for patterns across different moth populations in order to create a more compelling explanation about how the industrial revolution played a part in adaptation through natural selection.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The Kettlewell’s Experiment section of the lesson addresses the cause of the increased population of dark colored moths in industrialized areas, however this cause/effect relationship could be discussed as a class to ensure students can identify how one variable (pollution) caused the change in the populations (effect). However, the lesson does not address the difference between causation and correlation. In order to meet the entire element a teacher could initiate a discussion about correlation, as the pollution levels went up so did the population of the dark colored moths, and does correlation always mean there is a cause/effect relationship.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The author uses the change in the moth population to engage students in figuring out adaptation through natural selection. During this one day lesson students engage in all three dimensions of the NGSS as they analyze the cause/effect relationship in order to develop an explanation about the adaptation of the Peppered Moth population. Students read about the experiments of Kettlewell and then participate in a simulation that represents the predator / prey relationship between the Peppered Moth and the bird that eats it. Students use the simulation in each forest in order to simulate what the birds might see when they are hunting. Students figure out that changes in the environment have caused a change in the predator/ prey relationship that leads to a change in the moth populations. Student's answer some informational/recall questions about the reading that accompanies the simulation and then build an explanation for adaptation through natural selection based on their analysis of the information in the final section. Consider having students make their own predictions after reading the introduction section and then evaluate their predictions after they do the simulation. Also consider having the students share their simulation results in order to look for patterns in the data before they write their explanation, as they could use this data in the their explanation. Once students share their data a teacher could pose some three-dimensional questions to assess student understanding, an example question could include: Using the data you collected and the information from the readings create an argument for or against how a change in the environment caused a change in the peppered moth population.

  • Instructional Supports: The activity is relevant and students can make authentic connections as they look at the role pollution plays in the adaptation of an organism. There are no opportunities for students to go back and revise their work or get feedback on their ideas or explanations There is no teacher guide for the simulation, however there are additional materials, which include 2 additional activities that simulate the Peppered Moth population including a kit of materials for purchase found here: this activity include several data points that students can graph and analyze, as well as a teacher guide found at: There is also an additional free acitivity found here: There are also extension activities that can be found here: Sex and the Single Guppy - and a PHET simulation that can be found here: The additional activities could also help with struggling students or those who struggle with fine motor skills, as the ‘bird eye view’ activity may be difficult. The online reading also allows for struggling students to have the text read to them using a variety of text reading programs or apps. The activity is scientifically accurate and helps students build on what they know about natural selection. Consider adding a whole class discussion after students read the introduction in order to ask question about the phenomena and then have them make predictions as to what results they might see after completing the simulations. At the end of the lesson, the addition of a peer review option would allow students to give and gain feedback. This feedback could then be used to make revisions to their explanations.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Students are given the opportunity to interact with all three dimensions as they figure out how the moth's population changed due to the industrial revolution. In the final analysis students will develop an explanation using the evidence they gathered while studying the change in the moth populations. There is not a teacher guide for the simulation, however there is a teacher guide for the additional activity. As this lesson is meant to be done in a single day, there is no formative assessment guidance given, however a teacher check could be done at the end of each question section, if needed. The activity is accessible to all students and is free from bias. There does seem to be a slight mistake in the instruction sections that I suggest rewording: two simulations for 5 min each… It should state that each simulation lasts for 1 minute, so run each simulation 5 times.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The bird eye view simulation allows students to figure out several things about the predator / prey relationship between the birds and the light and dark color moths. Students figure out that with the industrial revolution came pollution, and a change in the environment. As the birds ate what was easiest to see, an increase in one color of moth occurred while a decrease in the other population happened simultaneously.