The theory of evolution by natural selection has underpinned our understanding of the natural world ever since it was proposed by Charles Darwin in the 19th century.
Today, Museum scientists continue to make new discoveries about the evolution of species. These range from ‘living fossils’ that have remained unchanged for millions of years, to rapidly-evolving species that quickly adapt to changing environments.
Find out more about the evolution of a variety of species from sea urchins to shrimps to Neanderthals.
Bdelloid rotifers (Adineta ricciae) are swimming or creeping unsegmented metazoans that reproduce asexually. The species is easy to culture in laboratory conditions and is therefore used in diverse experimental studies as a model organism. It has several features that account for the ecological and evolutionary success of its group and make it an interesting model organism. Find out more.
Agalma elegans, sometimes referred to as a string jelly, is an extremely transparent species. Coloured areas on its tentacles combined with an almost invisible feeding net help it to lure and then trap prey. It is found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, and sometimes around the UK coast. Find out more about this species.
The northern rock-cress (Arabidopsis lyrata) is a plant species that consists of several closely related species or subspecies. It is known as a pioneer species of disturbed habitats where there is little vegetative competition and has attracted attention for its extensive variation in leaf-shape, flowering time, reproductive mode, rock-type, and altitudinal range. Find out more.
Archaeopteryx lithographica is a famous snapshot of evolution ‘in action’. The fossil has a combination of dinosaur and bird characters that demonstrate conclusively modern birds are the descendants of small meat-eating dinosaurs. Find out more about Archaeopteryx.
Atretochoana eiselti is a strange-looking amphibian with a worm-like appearance and no lungs. It was thought to live in fast-flowing water in Brazil, but until 2011 no populations had been found. Learn more about this unusual creature.
Leafcutter ants are the subject of the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010 winning photograph. Ants in the genus Atta harvest leaves to cultivate fungus that they then eat. Castes of ants fulfil a range of tasks including collecting vegetation, tending fungus gardens, construction and defence. Find out more about this fascinating species.
Azygocypridina lowryi is a species of myodocopid ostracod (seed shrimp) that has the appearance of a swimming baked bean. The species is known from the east coast of Australia at depths of 100-500m. It is considered a 'living fossil' given that other, near identical in appearance, members of its genus are known from Cretaceous fossils. Find out more about this charasmatic species.
Batrachotomus kupferzellensis was a large, carnivorous reptile that lived in Europe during the Triassic period, approximately 230 million years ago. Unlike most modern reptiles it stood with its body clear of the ground and its limbs held directly beneath its body. Find out what fossil specimens tell us about this formidable predator, and how it earned its name - the Kupferzell frog-slicer.
Bradypus tridactylus the pale throated three-toed sloth sleep or rest for about 20 hours a day. Find out more about Bradypus tridactylus
The sea urchin Calveriosoma gracile is a deep sea species known from waters near the Philippines to the Sea of Japan. It is unusual among sea urchins for having a leathery skin with embedded plates rather than a rigid skeleton. Find out more about this species.
Carabus olympiae is a rare and beautiful beetle found only in one alpine valley in Italy. It was first discovered in 1855 by the 8 year-old cousin of a well known Italian entomologist - Eugenio Sella. Its beautiful iridescent markings made it highly desirable to collectors, but it is now a protected species. Find out more about the life of this rare beetle.
Cauloramphus disjunctus is a bryozoan that occurs as a colony of individual units called ‘zooids’ and encrusts rocks and shells in the seas around Japan. Take a closer look at how this tiny creature has adapted over millions of years to avoid predation by sea-spiders and sea-slugs, and discover how it got its name ‘disjunctus’.
Cephalaspis lyelli is a jawless fish that lived in Scottish lakes over 400 million years ago. It was the first fossil of its kind to be discovered - 150 years ago. A few of its relatives survive today. Discover how scientists have studied the fossils to learn more about this unusual family of fish.
The Judas tree, Cercis siliquastrum, is a beautiful small tree with an attractive and interesting shape, flowers and leaves. Although native to the eastern Mediterranean region, it has been widely cultivated elsewhere and was introduced to the British Isles before 1600. Discover more about this increasingly popular garden plant.
The extinct moose Cervalces latifrons is the largest deer that ever existed. It was superbly well-adapted to the habitat in which it lived, and its living relative Alces alces has found little reason to change. Browse through the adaptations that made this remarkable animal so well-suited to its habitat and discover how those huge antlers were used.
Chaudhuria ritvae is a tiny fish that is only now making its debut. It is an earthworm eel species, about the size of a match. It was first discovered in a shallow pool in Myanmar, by Ritva Roesler and Dr Ralf Britz in 2003. It has now been formally described and named by Ralf Britz, one of the Museum's fish researchers. Find out more about this minute fish and its diminutive relatives.
Cheirothrix lewisii is an extinct fish from Lebanon in the Middle East. Flying fish have developed the ability to leap out of water at high speed then glide up to several hundred meters by utilizing their enlarged pectoral fins as ‘wings’. Find out more about Cheirothrix lewisii
Coelopleurus (Keraiophorus) exquisitus is a sea urchin known only from the waters around New Caledonia. It has a striking pattern and colouration, however given the deep waters in which it lives, a reason for these is currently a mystery. Find out more about this species.
Often seen idling, preening or sun-bathing in urban areas, the feral pigeon (Columba livia) is a species familiar to most of us. As a species, it lives independently of, but usually close to humans, their buildings, and agriculture products. Find out more about this species and learn why the only valid scientific name for feral pigeons is Columba livia.
Find out more about Daidal acanthocercus, an extinct proto-mantis shrimp from the Carboniferous period.
Daubentonia madagascariensis, known as the aye aye, is a nocturnal primate found only on Madagascar. Its bright, shining eyes and unusual appearance give it a reputation as a bad omen. Discover how this peculiar-looking animal uses its thin bony finger to extract larvae from tree trunks, and find out what’s behind those shining eyes.
Dimorphodon macronyx is an extinct flying reptile - a pterosaur - from the Lower Jurassic Period, roughly 200 million years ago. It had a 1.4 metre wingspan and a large head. The name Dimorphodon relates to its teeth which came in two sizes - smaller at the back, and larger at the front. Discover what else scientists have learnt from the Museum’s unique Dimorphodon specimens.
The marmalade hoverfly is a useful bio control agent that gobbles aphids wherever it finds them. It lives throughout the Palaearctic region, which covers Europe, North Asia and North Africa, and is swept into the UK in large numbers each summer by southerly breezes. Find out more about this marmalade-coloured migrating fly.
Equisetum myriochaetum the giant horsetail is the largest species of horsetail, commonly reaching 15 feet (4.6 m), and with the largest recorded specimen having a height of 24 feet. Found in central and south America they are also know as the Mexican giant horsetail. Find out more about Equisetum myriochaetum.
This sea urchin has survived the last 150 million years with little change. Find out more about Eucidaris metularia.
Gigantoproductus giganteus is an extinct brachiopod that was prevalent during the Visean in the Carboniferous (328-345 million years ago). It is the largest of the brachiopods, dwarfing all other species of this phylum. Fossil specimens are currently known from Eurasia and North Africa. Find out more about this species.
Harbinia micropapillosa is an extinct fossil species of ostracod known from the Cretaceous of Brazil in rocks that were deposited in freshwater systems. After being described under the genus Pattersoncypris when the first specimens were collected in the 1970s it is has recently changed to Harbinia due to the shape of the carapace. Find out more.
Widespread across most of Europe and Great Britain, the ghostly courtship flight of the silvery white males has earned this species its common name, the ghost moth. Males on islands in the North Atlantic show extraordinary variation in their wing colouring. But why?
Hildoceras bifrons is an ammonite that lived during the Early Jurassic Period and became extinct about 175 million years ago. Fossil Hildoceras are commonly found on the Yorkshire coast in Britain and are named in honour of St Hilda of Whitby. Discover where these animals lived and why the fossils are often known as ‘snakestones’.
Hippopotamus madagascariensis is one of three extinct species of dwarf hippopotamus described from Madagascar. Find out more about the dwarf hippopotamuses of Madagasgar and how they are believed to have evolved from the large hippopotamus common in Africa today.
Homo neanderthalensis was a highly carnivorous early human species largely similar to Homo sapiens (humans). It is believed that Homo neanderthalensis and humans share a common ancestor. Fossils of the species are mainly known from the southerly regions of western Eurasia. Find out more about this species.
The khaosok sedge is a rare and unusual species that was first discovered in southern Thailand in 2001. It is a robust perennial with many drooping leaves and flowering stems. It lives on inaccessible, and seemingly inhospitable, limestone cliffs, where it relies on rainwater for its moisture. Read on to find out more about this sedge and the other plant species discovered recently in similar habitats.
Kukufeldia tilgatensis is an Iguanodon-like dinosaur that lived in the Cretaceous period over 130 million years ago. It has been described from a single jaw specimen that resides here at the Natural History Museum. The so-called ‘Brickenden jaw’ was for a long time thought to be from an Iguanodon. Find out what scientists discovered when they took a closer look at this unique fossil.
Lottia gigantea is a protandric hermaphrodite species of limpet and the largest patellogastropod in North America. The females of the species exhibit a particularly dominating behaviour, being highly territorial and protective of their feeding spaces. Find out more about Lottia gigantea (owl limpet).
Macropoma lewesiensis is an extinct coelacanth that lived 145–65 million years ago. Exquisitely preserved fossils in the English Chalk give us a detailed view of the fish’s appearance, and the other species that shared its ecosystem. For years it was assumed that all coelacanths were extinct but in 1938 a living species was discovered, Latimeria chalumnae. Find out more.
Manicina species have inhabited the earth for over 24 million years, but Manicina areolata is the only species in the genus that survives today. It is a reef coral but prefers to remain free-living and can survive in places where most corals would be smothered by sediment. Discover how this clever coral gets itself out of trouble.
Mantelliceras mantelli is an ammonite fossil commonly found in sea cliff exposures in southern England. It has a precise distribution within layers of rock, which can be used to identify layers of the same age. Find out more.
The southern oak bush-cricket may have tiny wings, but in recent years it has successfully spread throughout Europe. It is now a common sight in Britain and probably first appeared after hitching a ride through the channel tunnel. Find out more about this bush-cricket’s habits and where you might spot it.
Ground sloths were once a diverse, successful, widespread group of mammals, but are now all extinct. Megatherium americanum was one of the largest its kind, believed to have weighed as much as a female Indian elephant. Find out more about this giant distant relative of tree sloths.
Budgerigars are one of the world’s best-loved birds. They have been bred in captivity for more than 170 years and come in all shapes and sizes. But all captive budgies are descended from a single species of Australian parrot that lives in arid conditions in the Australian interior. Find out more about the budgie’s colourful history and how it provides fascinating insights into both natural and artificial selection.
Metacrinus rotundus is a crinoid species found off the west coast of Japan that has the ability to regenerate its arms and stalk. Since it lives at relatively shallow depths, it is vulnerable to coastal trawling. Find out more.
Observing mockingbirds such as Mimus trifasciatus provided Charles Darwin with inspiration for his theory of evolution by natural selection. But now it is nearing extinction. Today, on International Darwin Day, find out how one of Darwin's own Floreana mockingbird specimens is being used in efforts to save the species.
Find out more about Myophorella lusitanica, a bivalve described from the Late Kimmeridgian to Early Tithonian (Late Jurassic) of Portugal.
Myrsidea nesomimi is a louse that lives on mockingbirds inhabiting the Galápagos Islands. It clings to the bird’s feathers, chews its skin and sucks blood. Find out how this blood-sucking parasite is helping Museum scientists track the evolutionary history of the archipelago’s mockingbirds.
Nannoceratopsis gracilis belongs to one of the oldest known groups of dinoflagellates, microscopic algae that play a major role in the CO2 cycle. Find out more about this unusual-looking fossil species from the Jurassic.
Neocrinus decours is a bottom-dwelling sea lily known from deep tropical waters in the Atlantic Ocean. Although it looks rather like an exotic flower, it is actually an animal. It is capable of a strange-looking crawl using its arms in order to find better feeding areas or escape predation. Find out more.
These fossilised foraminifera have an intricate internal structure of growth chambers that once contained single-celled marine animals. Nummulites species lived 60-25 million years ago and some are valuable in helping geologists to assign relative ages to rock strata. Learn more.
Ophthalmosaurus icenicus is a member of a long extinct group of marine reptiles called ichthyosaurs. It lived during Middle to Upper Jurassic times (164-150 million years ago)and has the largest known eye in the animal kingdom. Find out more.
Ornithorhynchus anatinus is the only living species of platypus. This bizarre-looking creature from Australia combines features of both reptiles and mammals. Find out more about this unusual mammal.
The jaguar is the largest and most powerful cat found in the western hemisphere. It looks like a leopard and behaves like a tiger, but is especially well adapted to hunt its prey in dense forest - wild animals often 5 times its size. Find out where you might spot a jaguar and how to distinguish it from its feline relatives.
Parkinsonia parkinsoni is an extinct ammonite common in the Mesozoic seas of the Late Bajocian, Middle Jurassic age. The species is commonly found in exposed sea cliffs of southern England and used as a zone fossil. Find out more.
Peloneustes philarchus is a fossil marine reptile from the Middle Jurassic period that lived in warm, shallow seas and had a stream-lined body with large flippers for swimming through water. It is the most common species of fossil pliosaurid found in the UK. Find out more.
Pentacrinites fossilis is an extinct sea lily or crinoid and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful echinoderm fossils to be found in Britain. It is frequently found entirely preserved and covered in the mineral pyrite (fool’s gold) which gives the fossil a golden colour. The crinoid is composed of a long angular stem, a small body and long flowing feathery arms. Find out more about Pentacrinites fossilis
Periphylla periphylla is probably the world’s most common deep-sea jellyfish. Living over a thousand metres deep in the ocean it is highly adapted to life in the dark. Periphylla periphylla preys on fish and crustaceans and can emit flashes of light, produced by a chemical reaction, to warn off its own predators. Find out more about this fascinating creature.
Platynereis dumerilii is a small, tube-dwelling species of marine worm that is regarded as a model organism for scientific research. Studying the eyespots of Platynereis dumerilii larvae is probably the closest scientists can get to figuring out what eyes looked like when they first evolved. Find out more.
Porphyra umbilicalis is a red seaweed found on north Atlantic seashores. It is one of several species known as laver. Laver has been eaten for thousands of years in various parts of the world. In Wales it is eaten as laverbread; in Japanese sushi, the black wrapping around rice known as nori is a species of Porphra; and in Chile, people prefer to eat laver with boiled potatoes. Find out more about this tasty species.
Precis octavia or gaudy commodore is an African butterfly capable of displaying seasonal forms with extreme differences. Find out more about Precis octavia.
Proisocrinus ruberrimus, the Moulin Rouge sea lily, is a deep sea animal which lives in tropical waters in the western Pacific Ocean. It has a fan-like crown of arms and a long, slender stalk, both of which it is able to re-grow if they get damaged. Find out more about this species.
The African lungfish - Protopterus annectens - is an eel-like fish that has survived relatively unchanged for millions of years. It is a wonderful example of how animals can evolve from breathing water to breathing air. It breathes using lungs and can survive without water for months at a time. Find out more about this unique fish and what it tells us about our own evolutionary history.
Find out more about Rediviva emdeorum, a bee species native to South Africa. It has the longest known forelegs of any bee which helps it collect oil produced by the flowers of its host plants.
Reduvius personatus, the masked hunter, is an assassin bug that cleverly disguises itself in its dusty habitat and feeds on household insects and lice. It has adapted to life in the home, and is almost always found in human dwellings. Discover more about the life of the masked hunter and how it disguises itself.
Rhinatrema bivittatum is a tropical amphibian from a group known as caecilians. It looks like a large worm and lives in soil. Find out why, and how, Museum scientists are using this species to study the early evolution of caecilians.
Seirocrinus subangularis is a pseudoplanktonic, sessile, filter feeder that lived attached to a floating tree trunk. Find out more about how Seirocrinus subangularis survived.
This ancient sponge lived in European seas over 120 million years ago, filtering food through its internal channels and chambers. It is commonly found fossilised in pieces of flint along the south coast of England, where it has been intricately preserved. Find out more about this intriguing sea creature.
Solemya velesiana is a marine shellfish found in Australian seagrass beds that belongs to an ancient group of clams that date back over 400 million years. It propels itself using an extendable foot and swims by opening and closing its shell. Bacteria are the key to this mollusc’s diet. Read on to find out how Solemya velesiana feeds.
The black fruited stink moss,Tetraplodon mnioides, is a dung-loving moss that produces foul smelling spore-producing structures to attract flies. The flies disperse the moss’s spores, allowing it to establish itself at new sites. This moss has all but disappeared from South East England, but may return .Find out more about Tetraplodon mnioides.
T. troglodytes is an aphid that, like its relatives, feeds on plants. But as its name suggests, T. troglodytes lives underground where it feeds on plant roots and relies heavily on neighbourly ants. Delve deep into the dark world of this white aphid and discover how Museum scientists have helped shed light on its sex-life.
The death’s-head hawkmoth casts an ominous image with its skull-shaped markings, yellow stripes and cloak-like wings. For centuries it has been portrayed as an evil omen. But in reality it is only the honeybee who needs to beware the death’s-head hawkmoth. Discover how this tenacious moth disguises itself to steal honey from inside bee hives.
Clydagnathus cavusformis is a fossil that plays an important role in palaeontology. It is a member of the Conodonts that have been studied for 150 years, but only recently described as eel-like animals that lack a proper jaw but have rows of teeth-like projections that were probably used to filter or catch food. Discover what we know about these fossils and how they can be used to age rock sediments.
Crocodylus anthropophagus lived alongside hominids in Tanzania nearly 2 million years ago. As its name suggests, it was a man-eating reptile, and some hominid fossils bear tell-tale teeth marks. This ancient crocodile has only recently been named from specimens held in collections in Tanzania, and others here at the Natural History Museum. Discover where this reptile lived, and what makes it unique.
The leatherback sea turtle, Dermochelys coriacea, is one of the world’s largest living reptiles and can weigh over half a tonne. It is a deep sea diver feeding mainly on jellyfish, and travels up to 10,000 kilometres a year. This critically endangered turtle only comes ashore to lay its eggs and bury them in the sand. Dive into the world of this giant turtle and discover what makes it unique.
Dioscorea strydomiana is a striking yam species from South Africa that has only recently been described. Like other yams it has large tubers that grow above ground, and this species is collected and used locally for medicinal purposes. Such activity is threatening its survival - fewer than 200 plants remain in the wild. Discover what efforts are underway to preserve this species.
Euceraphis betulae lives only on the silver birch tree. It produces several generations of young each year, and can build up large populations that suck sap from leaves, and rain droplets of sticky honeydew onto anything below. Discover more about the elaborate lifecycle of this very common aphid.
Ginkgo gardneri is a fossil plant that has only one surviving relative - Ginkgo biloba. It lived in a subtropical climate 60 million years ago, but as flowering plants began to dominate, the number of ginkgo species declined. Find out where Ginkgo gardneri fossils have been uncovered, and discover what we know about this ancient plant’s evolutionary history.
Humans are land-dwelling mammals that differ from their ape relatives by having a larger brain, less hair, and adaptations that allow them to walk on 2 feet. During the last 250,000 years they have spread across the globe from Africa. In the last century, their activities have become so complex, they now threaten other species and their own habitat. Find out more about this exploitative species.
Isoetes biafrana was first described by former Museum scientist Arthur Hugh Alston in 1956, and the type specimen is held in the Museum’s hryptogamic herbarium. It is a small aquatic plant known as a quillwort that reproduces by producing spores. Find out more about this rare plant and how it has adapted to its aquatic habitat.
A specimen of the coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae was discovered in a fisherman's catch in 1938 - until then, scientists had thought all coelacanths had been extinct since the Cretaceous period, 85 million years ago. Read about this amazing discovery and what makes Latimeria chalumnae so elusive.
Melianthus major is also known as the honey bush as it produces copious amounts of nectar. It is a shrub endemic to South Africa that is popular with gardeners around the world because of its large, pinnate leaves and elongated inflorescences of reddish flowers. Find out what makes the flowers attractive to pollinating birds.
Navaea phoenicea is a majestic plant endemic to the Canary Islands. Its exotic flowers produce copious nectar, to attract the birds it relies on for pollination and subsequent reproduction. The Tenerife tree mallow is endangered in its natural habitat because of animal grazing and the arrival of other plant species. Discover what’s being done to protect it.
Symsagittifera roscoffensis is a small, free-living marine worm that relies on symbiotic algae for nutrition. The photosynthetic algae give the worm its green colour and its common name, the mint-sauce worm. Read on to find out more about this simple acoel worm, its ability to regenerate, and the evolutionary questions it may help to answer.
The South Island piopio of New Zealand was first observed by Europeans during Captain Cook’s second voyage in the 1700s. It soon began to suffer as new predators including cats and ferrets were introduced, and it became extinct in the early 1900s. Much of what we know about Turnagra capensis comes from accounts written in Victorian times, but scientists are still striving to correctly classify the species and its relatives. Find out more.
Find out more about the southern tyrant reptile, the first ever tyrannosauroid found in Australia or any southern continent and why it appears to be an ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex.
Explore more than 650 million years of Earth's extraordinary history with our first app for iPad, NHM Evolution.
Learn about more than 800 creatures and plants, examine spectacular 360° high definition fossil images and watch specially-commissioned videos of Museum experts discussing the latest evolutionary theories.