Survival of the Fittest: Battling Beetles

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This guided inquiry three-part activity engages learners in thinking about the mechanism of natural selection through data collection and pattern recognition. In this scenario, learners use M&Ms and other simple materials to investigate the mating habits of beetles and whether genetic variations give male beetles advantages against weaker beetles. Learners will collect and calculate data to draw conclusions. The third part of this activity allows learners to model Hardy-Weinberg and selection using an Excel spreadsheet and is recommended for more advanced learners.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Simulation


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 12 sealable storage bags marked “O. glucosi - red” each containing 10 red M&M candies
  • 12 sealable storage bags* marked “O. glucosi - blue” each containing 10 blue M&M candies
  • 12 waste containers – paper cups or several paper towels marked “waste”
  • 12 small metric rulers
  • 12 red and 12 blue colored pencils/markers
  • electronic balance(s) [optional]
  • 24 copies of the student activity
  • a copy of the HHMI DVD Evolution: Constant Change and Common Threads, a DVD player or computer with a DVD drive and an LCD projector or monitor
  • Computer with Excel and printer [for extension activity]


  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Animals
      • Classification
    • Ecology
      • Populations
    • Evolution
      • Evidence for Evolution
      • Mechanisms of Evolution
      • History of Life
    • Heredity and Genetics
      • Patterns of Heredity
  • Mathematics
    • Algebra
      • Equations and Inequalities
      • Patterns
      • Variables and Expressions
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
      • Data Representation
      • Probability
    • Measurement
      • Rate
    • Number and Operations
    • Reasoning and Proof
    • Representation
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Problem Solving
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Asking Questions
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results

Informal Categories

  • Animals
  • Food and Cooking
  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • use keyboard
  • use mouse
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Colvard, Mary


  • All rights reserved, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2010