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Misconception: When mentioning the survival of the fittest most people always think that “fittest” is another way of saying the fastest, biggest, smartest and strongest of all living things will survive.

What really is fitness? Is there more than one type?
1. Fitness: The condition of being physically fit and healthy.
This definition is pertaining to working out or being athletically fit.
2. Fitness: The quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.
This is more along the lines of the definition we would be looking at when making the statement "survival of the fittest."

Testing:
I tested a total of five individuals ranging from ages of 16-25 years old. Most everyone that I asked (4 out of 5) what survival of the fittest meant they were quick to say, “The biggest, strongest and fastest will survive.” Only when I tested someone who just learned the correct definition last semester was I able to get a correct answer. When I tested the two brothers of ages 16 and 24 they really made me laugh. I asked what survival of the fittest meant to them and it was almost like they were feeding off of each other in order to provide false information. Here is what I recorded when talking with them:

Bailey: What does survival of the fittest mean to you? What exactly is being “fit?”
Alec: Someone like me would survive. I’m strong, and fast.
Spenser: I’m really strong and bigger than you so I would survive over you.
Alec: Well I’m smarter than you so I would actually be the one to survive.
Bailey: So you guys are saying the biggest, fastest and strongest will survive?
Alec/Spenser: Yes, definitely.

Answer: The real answer for this question would be the organism that can best reproduce and pass along its genes to future generations by the ability to adapt to changing environments. It's truthfully almost all about reproducing. A good example to show this phenomenon is there is a type of fish where they typically have two sizes of males. When the larger male is going be accepted to fertilize the eggs of the female, the smaller, much less accepted male swoops in quickly and stealthily and fertilizes the eggs. Thus being able to pass along his genes and be a more “fit” animal although the female thinks that it is the accepted male that actually did the fertilizing.

Why do we have this misconception?
Many times people have this misconception because they make up the response on the spot and they have heard the word "fit" throughout their lives more associated with being in shape/active and strong. It is possible that this particular topic (survival of the fittest) is only mentioned in the class 1-3 times. Evolution and anything to do with it is still a touchy subject that some teachers are hesitant to go over. Sometimes the students aren’t taught well enough and in depth enough to grasp the concept.

Why is knowing this important
People need to understand that being stronger, smarter and larger doesn’t mean anything unless you are able to reproduce. That is the ultimate goal in life for many organisms. To be able to pass on their genetic makeup is essentially everything allowing them to be more “successful.”

References:
Tom Davis (2001) A Darwin Misconception. Retrieved April 22, 2013, from http://www.geometer.org/gal01/darwin.html.


By: Bailey Eames, Department of Zoology, Spring 2013