The evolution of candy


I love creative science analogies, which is why I'm digging this story about a lecture given by Bob Paul, a biology professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland. Paul attempts to explain some of the basic concepts of evolutionary theory using candy. For instance, the Mars-made Snickers bar and the Nestle-made OhHenry! bar can be thought of as examples of convergent evolution—unrelated species developing similar traits in response to similar environmental pressures. Some of his examples get a little too convoluted, but this one—an explanation of how two groups of the same species can turn into two different species—is delightful.

Paul also discussed one of Darwin's major discoveries on his way to publishing The Origin of Species. After noticing 13 finch species on the Galápagos Islands (west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean) and the different environments on each of the islands, Darwin proposed that an ancestral finch species, spread over all of the islands, began to diverge into several new species.

This occurred as each ancestral population developed distinctly different traits on each island to adapt to the selection pressures over evolutionary time.

Paul used this phenomenon (known as allopatric speciation) to explain the evolution of Hershey Kisses and Snow Caps, both with a similar shape but the latter with a sugar-covered top.

Beginning as one population of Hershey Kisses in an open plain with a mountain range, the candies were separated after a major environmental change caused the advancement of a glacier southwards that met with the mountain range, separating the population of Hershey Kisses across an impassable line of mountain and ice.

As the northernmost population began to adapt to cooler temperatures by selecting for a trait for "fur" (the sugar coating), the southernmost population maintained their furless structure.

Once the glacier receded, allowing both populations to intermingle again, they were two different species unable to successfully reproduce with one another.

Submitterated by candycritic

Image: Some rights reserved by Dawn Huczek


  1. I thought the nonpareils in the photo were either bug eggs or fungus until I read the caption!

  2. Stephen Jay Gould used this analogy years ago in one of his books in a discussion of the evolution of land snails.

  3. Bit-O-Honey bars are of course a telling argument for the role of blind chance in evolution. No intelligent designer could possibly be responsible for them, unless utterly malevolent.

    1. It’s honey-flavored taffy and one of the oldest mechanically produced candys, has this been a mystery until now?

  4. sorry….absolute rubbish. finches are still finches. even darwin had a problem with this.

    no species has ever shown the ability to change into another species.

    macro-evolution as a theory has failed, and as such should not be taught to children without the proviso that it be understood by impressionable young people that this is unproven…for over a hundred years, and hundreds of faked fossils.

    but it`s good to use sweeties to infantise an audience if you are to slip a pork pie past them.

    1. no species has ever shown the ability to change into another species.

      Give my regards to Dr. Banjo.

    2. “no species has ever shown the ability to change into another species.”

      I don’t know what you are blinded by, but you have completely missed what evolution is all about.

      Nobody claims that Monkeys turned into humans, or that Finches turned into penguins.

      The point is that over time… more time than your brain can comprehend…. speciation occurs. So monkeys and humans share a common ancestor, who was neither monkey nor human. Finches and penguins had a common ancestor, who was neither a finch or penguin.
      And so on… there is even a common ancestor between humans and penguins and finches, if you go back far enough.

      So, until you’ve been properly educated on evolution, you might want to keep your ignorant mouth shut.

  5. When Darwin went to the Galapagos, he collected a lot of specimens, but he didn’t label them all well. One exception is that he did notice and label the mockingbirds to indicate how each was specific to their island. So the initial germ of the idea about evolution of species came from mockingbirds, not finches. It was an ornithologist named Gould who figured out that many of the other birds Darwin brought back were not different species, but different types of the same species (Darwin’s finches) and that’s what finally got the theory of evolution going as we know it.

    It’s Darwin’s mockingbirds, really.

  6. Apologizes for the borked link. I went back in to change the text part, and obviously must have overwritten the code without looking.

  7. Candy has a designer. It isn’t convergent evolution, it’s intelligent design for a similar market.

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