Pop Culture and Evolution - The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games Trilogy had some themes of evolution
The Hunger Games Book by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic

Evolution is not just a topic for a Biology class in school to cover -- it is found everywhere. There are many pop culture references and nods to the Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection in today's television, books, music, and movies. With The Hunger Games movie breaking box office records, I could not help but jump on the bandwagon and read the trilogy of books written by Suzanne Collins. Beyond a fast paced, edge of your seat thriller, I saw the author's ideas of a future world from an evolution Biologist's point of view.

The Hunger Games trilogy is set in the future after the collapse and near complete destruction of the world. The country of Panem has arisen from the ashes of what used to be North America and it consists of a Capitol somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, and 12 Districts that supply the affluent Capitol with all of the goods it needs. When the poor Districts tried to rebel, the Capitol took them down and created a yearly spectacle called The Hunger Games that is broadcast live like a reality show. As a reminder that the Capitol has all the power, each District is forced to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 that are chosen in a lottery drawing to compete to the death in the Hunger Games arena that is filled with traps and other dangerous creations made by the Capitol for their entertainment.

The following paragraphs may contain spoilers if you have not read or seen The Hunger Games or its sequels, and Mockingjay. If you do not want to know details from these books or movies, you may not want to read the rest of this article. Otherwise, let's get into the world of Panem and explore the new species that reside there.

The Mockingjay

Arguably the most important new species in The Hunger Games trilogy is the mockingjay. These birds came into existence when female mockingbirds mated with the Capitol engineered male jabberjays. We are first introduced to this new species of bird in The Hunger Games book when Madge, the mayor's daughter, gives heroine Katniss the gold pin with the mockingjay to wear as her token in the arena (in the movie, the pin is given to Katniss by her sister Prim). There are also mockingjays in the arena where Katniss uses their ability to repeat songs to communicate with her ally Rue.

In Catching Fire we see the mockingjay become an increasingly important symbol. Plutarch Heavensbee's watch shows a hologram of the bird. Also, before Katniss enters the arena for a second time, she wears a dress created by Cinna that turns her into a mockingjay after the outer layer burns away.

Obviously, this new species of bird is the most important in the book entitled Mockingjay. The bird becomes a symbol of rebellion for the Districts, and Katniss finds herself becoming The Mockingjay as the symbolic leader.

How did the mockingjay evolve in this fictional world of Panem? The Capitol created a species of bird through artificial selection called the jabberjay. The jabberjay could spy on enemies of the Capitol and repeat conversations word for word back to them. The Capitol could use this information to stop any rebellion attempts. After the rebels in the Districts figured out the scheme, they would feed the birds false information. Therefore the Capitol left the jabberjays, all male, to die in the wild.

Instead of dying, the all male jabberjays began mating with female mockingbirds. Speciation occurred and mockingjays were born. Instead of being able to repeat entire conversations, mockingjays would repeat entire songs. These birds helped Katniss communicate with her ally inside the arena and also helped her become a symbol of hope for an entire nation.

Tracker Jackers

While it is never specified exactly how tracker jackers are created by the Capitol in any of the books, they are described as genetically altered wasps. Once again, the Capitol was manipulating nature and speeding up the evolution of species to do their dirty work. Tracker jackers will attack anyone who disturbs their nest and will follow them like a homing device until they have been stung with a venom that causes severe hallucinations and possibly death.

Katniss uses the tracker jackers as a weapon in The Hunger Games when she is stuck in a tree because of the Career Tributes waiting to kill her below. She cuts a branch off the tree that contains a tracker jacker nest and it hits the ground near the Careers, so the tracker jackers attack and run them off, killing some in the process.

While tracker jackers are not a product of natural selection, they are an evolutionary offshoot of wasps created through artificial selection. The genetic engineering of the tracker jackers caused a very swift microevolution of the species into a deadly killing machine.


One last type of Capitol created killer is what Suzanne Collins called a "muttation". Clearly a play on the word "mutation", these can be combinations of just about anything. In the arena, Katniss and Peeta come face to face with muttations that look to be a mix of something like a wolf and their fellow dead tributes. This type of muttation tears the District 2 Tribute Cato to pieces.

The book Catching Fire had a new arena that contained muttations that resembled monkeys. However, these monkeys had sharp claws and teeth that could puncture internal organs. When the Tributes make eye contact and quick movements, the monkey muttations attack and even kill the District 6 tribute.

In Mockingjay, muttations appear in the form of something that seems to be a human and lizard hybrid down in the sewers of the Capitol. These deadly creatures come after the Sharp Shooter Squad as they make their way to the President's mansion. The talon-like claws even tear apart some of the squadron before they can make it out of the sewer alive.

Again, these muttations, much like the jabberjays and tracker jackers, were made in a lab somewhere in the Capitol to continue the punishment of the districts of Panem. It isn't specified exactly how they are made, but genetic engineering that lead to microevolution is the most likely explanation.

The only way to see into the future is through the eyes of a novelist. It is interesting to see where they believe evolution will take species many years down the road.