The peppered moth’s transformation from a white speckled beauty to its pitch black form and the subsequent return to its peppered look in a matter of decades is held up as an example of evolution in action.
The darker variety of moth was not known until 1811 yet a field expedition in Manchester in 1848 demonstrated a dramatic increase in their numbers. By 1895 it constituted 98% of the population. The species’ radical shift was caused by the improved relative survival of darker moths during Britain’s industrial revolution when the surfaces of trees and buildings were turned black by pollution. Moths that were able to stealthily blend in with their surroundings were less visible to predators, while those that stood out became easy targets. The lighter variety of the moth only became common again between 1962 and the present day as the air around cities became cleaner.
The concept of living in stealth, or ‘passing’ is often associated with LGBT and queer people. The need to appear ‘normal’, by living a gender that feels inauthentic, while conducting personal liaisons in secret or even marry a person of the opposite sex to keep up a charade of heterosexuality were strategies of survival for people who faced and those who continue to face persecution. With the growth of the political Right in the US and certain parts of Europe, a return to stealth is a serious concern for many people in parts of the world where LGBT rights were assumed to be secure.
Of course, even in its speckled form the peppered moth always has to adapt to survive. Just like the moth, the ways that we are able to express our selves will always be shaped by our environment, a factor represented here in the choice of the stereotypical (yet much loved) camp classics like Gloria Gaynor's ‘I Will Survive’ and Diana Ross’s ‘I’m Coming Out’. Queer people have always had to transform to survive. However, unlike the peppered moth, the collective visibility of our diversity has always been one of our greatest weapons in maintaining that survival
Photography by @brian.bothwell and @dwilby13