The Making of the NEW Tree of Life for Shape of Life

Scientists use a tree with branches to represent the common ancestry and evolutionary relationships of earth’s different kinds of organisms. In 1859 Charles Darwin sketched a Tree of Life in his book, “The Origin of Species”. He was explaining how a genus of related species might have originated from a common ancestor. This was the beginning of using a tree as a model for evolution. Since then there have been thousands of Tree of Life drawings as our knowledge has increased.

In 1992 a friend of ours, the artist Ray Troll, created his own gorgeous and quirky version. Since then he has created trees for various animal groups, which we think are delightful and engaging. So, when our friend, biologist Chuck Baxter, was turning 90, we decided to ask Ray to create a new animal Tree of Life for him and for the Shape of Life. Ray agreed, saying “It was a great honor to be asked to do something for Chuck Baxter on such a momentous occasion!”

Citizens Changing Science!

Citizen Science is a global movement through which citizens of all ages make observations, monitor species, collect data, and help answer scientific questions. Scientists initiate the projects, which come from a need for more observations. Citizen scientists make real contributions to the world of science.

Explore how you can tap into your inner scientist while contributing to some amazing studies.

What Came First-- Sponges or Ctenophores?

By Natasha Fraley On Shape of Life, we present sponges as the first animals. But recently several scientists make a case for ctenophores (common name comb jelly) being the first animal.  As of today scientists still don’t agree on the issue. This is an example of “science in action” where new research and technologies call into question long held science. This is basically how science works. The evolving nature of science will have a major influence on science teaching in the classroom. 

A Cool Summer Adventure: BURGESS SHALE!

By Nancy Burnett, Founder of Shape of Life

While working on the original PBS Shape of Life series, I learned about the discovery of fossil animals that first appeared during the Cambrian Explosion. When I realized that the most famous Cambrian site is in the Burgess Shale of British Columbia, I knew I had to visit it. 

There are now several sites where the Burgess Shale can be accessed. The original fossil sites, the Walcott Quarry and Mt. Stephens, are very long hikes. So, when my friend Burt told me there’s a new site that’s an easy hike, I was ready to go. The site is at Stanley Glacier, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, just a two-day drive from where we were. After driving through a lot of smoke from wildfires, we arrived in Radium Hot Springs, at the gate to the park. The next day we woke to a beautiful day – the smoke cleared by a rainstorm.