Florida has been the scene of multiple controversies over whether creationism should be taught in schools. This is odd, as Florida is the scene of one of the oldest and most thoroughly-studied examples of natural selection.

Florida isn't the most anti-science state in the union, but it has been the scene of many battles over whether religion should be taught as science. (It should not.) The most current controversy centers on the fact that kids are getting vouchers from tax-payers to private schools which teach creationism. Tax money is therefore going to teach religion. A few years ago, the Florida senate introduced a bill which required the teaching of intelligent design as well as evolution. When that was defeated, the senate introduced a bill that required teachers present a "thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution."

Meanwhile, along the coast of Florida, a mouse scurries along the dunes, oblivious to the fact that it is living evidence of natural selection. Florida beach mice are bright white, but otherwise are no different from their their brethren inland. In the 1920s, these mice were the subject of thorough investigation by the leading rodent researcher, Francis Bertody Sumner. Sumner was intrigued by the white mice, which lived exclusively on equally white beaches. Forty miles inland, the mice turned brown, as did the soil. The division was perfect. Map the mice, and you map the composition of the dirt beneath them. Sumner searched for a reason for this coat transition, and came up with owls.

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Owls are the superpredators of the mouse world. Silent and nocturnal, they swoop out of the night and grab up the mice. By some estimates, one in five wild mice will be eaten by an owl. If any single creature could shape a species, owls could.

Sumner's theory was put to the test in the 1960s, when Donald Kaufman, a biologist, sent white and brown mice into owl cages in varying conditions. Some of the cages were lined with dark soil, and some with white sand. Take a guess at what the tests showed. The color of the soil and the mouse weren't the only factor in the mouse death match. Light mice had an especially tough time of it on dark nights, when they stood out against the soil, and dark mice on bright nights when they stood out against the sand. It was as good an example of natural selection as we can hope to get. Coat and sand needed to blend for the mouse to survive.

Recently, DNA analysis has pinned down the genes that go into brightening up the beach mice. It was an existing mutation in the genes that had been selected against in most environments, but when mice started venturing onto beaches, proved fantastically useful. Like the peppered moth, these Floridian mice are products of natural selection. Maybe they can take up residence in schools.

Image: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

[Via Animal Weapons, Beach Mice, Publicly Funded Schools That Are Allowed to Teach Creationism, Reactions to the Antievolution Bill in Florida.]