What would a biologist or paleontologist do if they came across a new skull that they had never seen before? You will be simulating a process that scientists use to evaluate a new find.
; To observe skulls and make inferences about what the organism looked like and
how it lived.
; To make inferences about how evolutionary processes could have changed the
organism over time.
Be careful not to drop skulls as they are very fragile.
; Creature Skull for each team of students
; Reference materials
1. Obtain your skull and make a list of observations about the skull. Be sure to look at any holes, teeth and unique structures of the skull. Try to determine what types of food your creature eats based on the teeth.
2. You will now need to reconstruct the rest of the creature. Begin by drawing the outline of the skull on a piece of graph paper. You may make this actual size or to scale. Develop and draw a body that fits with the structures and features on the skull.
3. Once you have the creature drawn, you need to create an environment that this creature lives in.
; Describe its ecological niche and habitat.
; Describe its means of mobility. How many appendages does it have?
; What does it eat? Is it a predator, prey or both?
; How does it catch prey? How does it avoid its predators?
; How does it live?
; What is its social behavior?
; What kind of body covering does it have?
; What senses does it have or use regularly? (Does it have one sense that is
; What special features does your creature have?
4. The last part of this skull activity is to explain how your creature came to exist based on Darwin’s ideas of Natural Selection. Think about how the organism would have
changed over time to end up as your creature.
5. You are now ready to organize your presentation on your creature. Your presentation needs to report your conclusions about your creature to the rest of the class.
Record your list of observations, traits, drawings and explanation on a separate
piece of paper.
Use your teacher’s scoring guide for your presentation.
Activity Written By: Mark Sailer
This activity was written for high school introductory biology. The activity may be modified for advanced biology or middle school biology.
High School Biology Benchmarks addressed:
B.1.31 Describe how natural selection provides the following mechanism for evolution: Some variation in
heritable characteristics exists within every species, and some of these characteristics give individuals an
advantage over others in surviving and reproducing. Understand that the advantaged offspring, in turn,
are more likely than others to survive and reproduce. Also understand that the proportion of individuals
in the population that have advantageous characteristics will increase.
B.1.32 Explain how natural selection leads to organisms that are well suited for survival in particular
environments, and discuss how natural selection provides scientific explanation for the history of life on
earth as depicted in the fossil record and in the similarities evident within the diversity of existing
B.1.33 Describe how life on Earth is thought to have begun as simple, one-celled organisms about 4 billion
years ago. Note that during the first 2 billion years, only single-cell microorganisms existed, but once
cells with nuclei developed about a billion years ago, increasingly complex multicellular organisms
B.1.34 Explain that evolution builds on what already exists, so the more variety there is, the more there can be
in the future. Recognize, however, that evolution does not necessitate long-term progress in some set
B.1.36 Trace the relationship between environmental changes and changes in the gene pool, such as genetic
drift and isolation of sub-populations.
B.2.2 Explain that Darwin argued that only biologically inherited characteristics could be passed on to
offspring. Note that some of these characteristics were advantageous in surviving and reproducing.
Understand that the offspring would also inherit and pass on those advantages, and over generations the
aggregation of these inherited advantages would lead to a new species.
Middle School Benchmarks Addressed:
6.4.8 Explain that in all environments, such as freshwater, marine, forest, desert, grassland, mountain, and others, organisms with similar needs may compete with one another for resources, including food, space, water, air, and shelter. Note that in any environment, the growth and survival of organisms depend on the physical conditions.
6.4.9 Recognize and explain that two types of organisms may interact in a competitive or cooperative relationship, such as producer*/consumer*, predator*/prey*, or parasite*/host*.
7.7.3 Describe how physical and biological systems tend to change until they reach equilibrium and remain that way unless their surroundings change.
8.4.7 Recognize and explain that small genetic differences between parents and offspring can accumulate in successive generations so that descendants are very different from their ancestors.
8.4.8 Describe how environmental conditions affect the survival of individual organisms and how entire species may prosper in spite of the poor survivability or bad fortune of individuals.
PREPARATION/ GETTING READY
Make sure you have reference materials available for students to use to attempt to determine the traits of the skulls. Some reference material is provided with the Horse Skeleton Module binder.
List of Skulls available:
1. Bobcat 6. Rhesus ; Horse - as part of
2. Coyote 7. Porcupine the horse
8. Turtle 3. Fox skeleton.
9. Skunk 4. Rabbit
5. Mole 10. Turkey
Skull Activity Presentation Scoring Guide
Criteria Quality(4) Acceptable(3) Unacceptable(0)
Drawing and description Parts of the drawing or Parts of the drawing or Drawing/Description of
of creature is clear and description is unclear description are missing or creature
easily interpreted are not understood
Type of food is mentioned Parts of explanation are Did not mention type of Type of food Creature
and why conclusion was not clear food or explain why eats
drawn is clearly explained conclusion was drawn
Environment is clearly Explanation is missing Explanation is very Environment of Creature
explained parts unclear
Niche of creature is clearly Niche of creature is not Niche is not mentioned or Niche of Creature
explained clearly explained not explained
Habitat of creature is Habitat of creature is not Habitat is not explained or Habitat of Creature
clearly explained clearly explained not mentioned
Theory is used correctly to Explanation is missing a Theory is not used or Darwin’s Theory of
explain evolution of key part of the theory explanation of evolution is Natural Selection
creature not clear
Rate, volume, articulation, Missing one or 2 criteria Missing more than 2 Speaking
and enthusiasm are good criteria
Total Score : ___________________
This activity will take 2-5 days, depending on the ability of your students.
SAFETY AND DISPOSAL
Remind students to be careful not to drop skulls as they are very fragile.
; Students could research what the skull actually is and compare to their
interpretation of the skull.
; Additional skulls could be collected and students could attempt the process again.