Aquariums to the Rescue!

When the Shape of Life team was in Long Beach for the National Marine Educators conference, we visited the Aquarium of the Pacific. We were admiring a giant clam when a guide heard us and said that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had confiscated this clam, as well as some others, as they were coming into the U.S. illegally. Sadly, FWS often confiscates fresh and saltwater fish and invertebrates from all over the world when they come into the U.S., mainly for the illegal pet trade. Aquariums have stepped in to help; here are some examples.



Giant clam Tridacna gigas on a coral reef

Virtual Urchin: A Cool Classroom Resource

It’s very easy to see sea urchin fertilization, cell division and embryonic development under a microscope. Realizing that the animals could be a great teaching tool in the classroom, the sea urchin development lab at Stanford’s University’s Hopkins Marine Station, led by Dr. Dave Epel, created the “Virtual Urchin” website. The goal of this project is to provide inquiry based lessons, available on a freely-accessible, open access website. Students can explore how scientists study sea urchins to understand larval development and metamorphosis, community ecology, pollution in the marine environment and biological evolution.

In order for students to become familiar with the body plan of the animal, the site includes sea urchin anatomy. Students can watch a video of the fertilization and the early development of the embryo online. There are also some very advanced activities about the larvae, instructing students how to virtually manipulate gene function to learn more about their development. If a teacher has access to live material, modules teach how to use a microscope, and then instructions for doing a fertilization lab in the classroom.



What I Learned from Ancient Trees

Bristlecone Pines Pinus Longaeva
At a time when the UN reports climate genocide – it sure did my heart good to tromp among the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. If you are ever near the White Mountains of the Great Basin in the shadow of the Eastern Sierra—do NOT miss this extraordinary side-trip. 

The oldest living tree in the world, Methuselah, is known to be 4,788 years old. Edmund Schulman, who discovered the ancient bristlecones as ‘living ruins’ for science, identified the oldest specimen in the 1950’s through studying its tree rings.

The “Head Foot” Sea Monsters that Ruled Before the Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs are indisputably amazing —their gigantic size, their predatory bent, their mysterious mass extinction. But would you believe that a completely different group of voracious monsters dominated our planet two hundred million years before the first dinosaur evolved? They were cephalopods, the ancestors of today’s squid and octopus.