Examples of Evolutionary Traps

We have altered the environment in a vast number of ways, both small and large. And when animals try to read the cues from our human environment, they can get tricked. They can end up doing something that kills them, loses them the opportunity to reproduce, or simply wastes their time. Scientists call these situations evolutionary traps.


Some evolutionary traps, like the Christmas lights, play on the visual strategies animals use to find prey. Albatrosses will peck at brightly colored pieces of plastic floating in the water, for example. It’s a response that used to give them energy but now can fill their guts with trash. Some of the species we’ve moved around the planet are tricking native predators. A native North American wasp used to lay its eggs in a native ladybird insect species. We’ve now imported a new species, which the wasp now prefers. Unfortunately for the wasp, the defenses of the alien ladybird are so strong that it can kill the wasp’s eggs.


Evolution can also spring animals from an evolutionary trap. If an animal is born with genes that lower its preference for a cue, it may be less likely to die–and more likely to pass on its genes. Even if animals don’t evolve this new behavior, they may still persist. There may still be enough good habitat where they can reproduce, so that their entire population doesn’t get sucked into a trap. But if a trap is too potent and animals can’t lose their attraction to it, extinction is a real risk.


Frogs that swallow christmas lights, turtles that eat plastic bags, and beetles laying eggs in timber fallen for lumber are examples of animals falling into dead ends thanks to humans altering the environment.

Folksonomies: evolution maladaptation

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christmas:Holiday (0.918953 (negative:-0.110300)), tricking:Sport (0.596117 (negative:-0.545202)), North American:FieldTerminology (0.526980 (neutral:0.000000))

Insect (0.945241): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Life (0.789097): dbpedia | freebase
Organism (0.783747): dbpedia | freebase
Human (0.775016): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Evolution (0.756343): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Ecology (0.721805): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Biology (0.710150): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Natural environment (0.691874): dbpedia | freebase

 Freeing Animals From Our Evolutionary Traps
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Zimmer, Carl (06/05/2013), Freeing Animals From Our Evolutionary Traps, National Geographic, Retrieved on 2013-06-05
  • Source Material [phenomena.nationalgeographic.com]
  • Folksonomies: evolution