Avis Papyrus: Variation and Selection in the Egyptian Origami Bird

This is a link directly to a PDF of an amazing hands-on activity that demonstrates how chance mutations cause structural changes to a paper-winged bird which increase or decrease the ability of the bird to fly (and therefore survive.) This hands-on activity really emphasizes how chance mutations contribute to the evolutionary process. The activity is time-consuming and requires careful attention to detail on the part of the student, but is well worth it. The students easily glean that organisms donu2019t evolve quickly because they u201cwant to,u201d but evolve over time due to environmental conditions. The materials needed are simple: straws, paper and tape.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
CLE 3001.3.4
Revise documents to develop or support ideas clearly, address potential objections, ensure effective transitions between paragraphs, and correct errors in lo
CLE 3210.5.1
Associate structural, functional, and behavioral adaptations with the ability of organisms to survive under various environmental conditions.
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 

Breed birds for one of these scenarios:

  • A flock of Origami Birds is blown off the mainland and onto a very small Mediterranean island. There are no predators here. Like the flightless fruit flies (Drosophila spp.) of Hawaii and the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus and Didus ineptus) before the arrival of humans on Mauritius and Réunion, these birds face little danger on the ground, but experience significant risk when flying, since they can be blown off the island. The best survival strategy for these birds is not to fly at all. Continue the experiment for several generations selecting for birds which drop out of the sky the way bricks do.
  • Another flock of Origami Birds is blown onto a different, somewhat larger, island. Silver Scissor Foxes (Vulpes cisoria ssp. argentatum) live on this island, so birds which cannot fly will be eaten. The best survival strategy for these birds is to fly in boomerang or loop-the-loop curves. Birds which fly straight might drift off the island and be swept away. Continue the experiment for several generations selecting for curved flight.
  • Your Origami Bird remained on the mainland where a drought is occurring. Only those birds which can fly straight and far between oases will survive. Continue the experiment for several more generations while selecting for the characteristics which result in the most appropriate flight behavior.

Helpful Hints


  • Paper
  • tape
  • straws
  • Scissors
  • Coin
  • six-sided die