We just raced down a rabbit—er, fox—hole and we made it back alive to report something we already knew.
Evolution is happening right before our eyes.
And it might be happening faster than we thought.
Also, as a side note, a quick shoutout and heartfelt thank you to the scientists out there who are paying to such important details as the size and shape of fox snouts in London.
Here’s the situation, according to this fascinating article on the website Inverse.
The fox population in London is booming. There is one fox for every 300 people. About 10,000 foxes, according to Inverse.
That’s a lot of foxes.
All that time in the urban jungle has changed the red fox of London. After only a few generations, they have developed new traits that distinguish them from their fox friends out in the wild.
In fact, the changes are akin to the changes that happened when the dogs and cats moved from the outdoors to their role as pets
And as the article points out, these aren’t “random mutations.”
Apparently, within a relatively few generations, foxes with shorter wider snouts thrived more successfully in this urban habitat than their slimmer-snouted counterparts. They produced more kits and, over the generations, have become distinct for this adaptation.
Researchers believe that the different snout shape (shorter and wider muzzles) developed to help city foxes sniff around for morsels of food in human garbage.
Scientists estimate foxes depend on trash for 37 percent of their diet. And since foxes stake out territories, they are mating with each other (and not their country cousins). “This means foxes in cities have a better chance of adapting to their local conditions by breeding helpful traits,” says the articles.
The result it not a new species but a “domestication syndrome.” That’s the effect of living around all us humans.
Will foxes soon be allowed in the house, as were dogs and cats? (“Who’s a fantastic Canidae?”)
Quick side note: dogs have been in the house (possibly 12,000 years ago) much longer than cats (4,000 years ago).
Such minor changes may not seem like much—but they are ongoing evidence of observable evolution.
What about us humans?
Yes, it’s happening—and might be clicking along at rate that’s faster than we think. As we have mentioned in an earlier blog, the current pandemic is an evolutionary event. We are changing (though scientists believe “natural selection” only impacts 8 percent of the genome).
This particular rabbit—er, science—hole gets detailed and complex in a hurry. But suffice it to say that mutations are happening. “The spread of genetic mutations in Tibet is possibly the fastest evolutionary change in humans, occurring over the last 3,000 years,” says this article in the Genetic Literary Project. Survival at high altitudes, etc.
We are mammals. We react to the environment around us. And we evolve.
It’s what we do.