Evolution Lesson for Kids: Definition & Theory

Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Do you know how a species can change over many generations? Learn what evolution is and how it works, including how animals pass on helpful traits to their children and grandchildren.

What Is Evolution?

In biology, one of the most important ideas is the concept of evolution. Evolution is how a species changes over many generations. A species is all the animals of one particular kind, like cats or turtles. Members of the same species can have babies with each other.

Passing Down Traits

A species evolves when parents pass down helpful traits to their children. A trait is anything about the animal. For example, some cats have long hair and some cats have short hair. When cats with long hair have babies, their babies also have long hair. Long hair is a trait, and the parent cats are passing down that trait to their babies.

Everyone gets some traits from their parents. But sometimes animals and people are born with traits that they didn't get from their parents. For example, a cat might be born with thicker, longer hair than its parents, just by chance. If the cat lives in a cold place, the long hair will help the cat stay alive during the winter. So for that cat, long hair is a helpful trait.

If this cat lived in the wild, its thick furry coat would help keep it warm in winter.
Maine coon cat

How Evolution Works

When an animal lives in the wild, traits like long hair can help it stay alive and healthy and have lots of babies. The babies will get the helpful traits from their mom or dad and pass them down to their own children. This means that a helpful trait that started in just one animal can be passed down to its children and grandchildren, with more and more animals having the trait in every generation.

Meanwhile, the animals that don't have the helpful trait won't live as long, so they won't have as many babies. Over time, the species as a whole will change. After many generations, most of the animals will have the helpful trait. The species has now evolved to have that trait. That's how evolution works.

An Example of Evolution

One example of evolution is the story of peppered moths. Peppered moths can be either light or dark colored. For hundreds of years, most peppered moths were light. They lived on light-colored trees, so when they landed on the trees, it was hard for birds to see them and eat them. The light color of the moths was a helpful trait. Because the light-colored peppered moths weren't being eaten, they had more light-colored babies.

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