Shape of Life is a series of FREE short classroom videos that beautifully illustrate the evolution of the animal kingdom on planet earth. Based upon an original PBS Series, Shape of Life is especially designed for students and teachers who want a first-hand account of how animals adapt and thrive. The series is NGSS aligned with exquisite focus on diversity, biodiversity, adaptability, body structure, design, behaviors, and the innovative scientists who explore these creatures.


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News from Shape of Life

New Lesson Plan: The Tasty Blue Mussel

photo of blue musselsMust be nice. Sitting around all day while your food comes to you. Just spinning and grabbing grub from all directions. Learn what ancient solutions can teach us today with the Mollusc's merry-go-round radial symmetry in our new Mollusc lesson plan.

In general these lessons ply an “explore-before-explain” pedagogy, in which students make and interpret observations for themselves as a prelude to formal explanations and the cultivation of key scientific concepts.  There are splashes of inquiry and scientific process using authentic data, and students are pressed to think at higher cognitive levels.  Instruction is organized around three unifying themes – the macroevolutionary patterns of divergence, convergence, and coevolution – and students learn to interpret diverse biological phenomena of these patterns.

High School Version

Middle School Version

Highlights from the Shape of Life Book - Flatworms

photo of a flatworm

Over the millions of years that animals have been living on earth, they have learned to exploit every available source of food and to do that, many have become hunters of other animals.  At some point in the distant past, the first animals capable of actively hunting showed up with bodies suited for the job, and lions, tigers, sharks, people and all the rest of the world’s hunters inherited their tools. The earthworm predators of Scotland, giant tapeworms in Mississippi, and parasitic flatworms that wreck hundreds of thousands of human lives are the descendants of those first hunters that have carried their body architecture into the present. They don’t make very good company, but they have a heck of a story to tell.

You can read their full story here....

FEATURED CREATURE - The Badass New Guinea flatworm, Platydemus manokwari

photo of New Guinea FlatwormWe typically think of flatworms as being pretty easy going. Not this one. The New Guinea flatworm, is a powerful predator that feeds on other worms, snails and a variety of soil-dwelling creatures. Flatworms come in many varieties, sizes and lifestyles. There are over 20,000 identified species both free-living and parasitic.

The New Guinea flatworm, a land planarian, is in the news since it made “The 100 Worst Invasive Species” list by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is spreading to many corners of the world, gobbling up prey as it goes. Now, the two-inch long flatworm has made it to the continental United States. So what’s the problem with having this invasive flatworm on our shores? It likely has no natural predators, which means it could wreak havoc on soil ecosystems rippling up the food chain to animals, like birds, that feed on earthworms and snails.

Read More:
From IFL Science! New Guinea Flatworm, one of the Worst Known Invasive Species, Found in US
From Science Daily Discovery in the US of the New Guinea flatworm, one of the worst known invasive species
Video: Highly Invasive Snail-Eating Flatworm Species Spotted In U.S.

Watch the Shape of Life Flatworm video: Flatworms: The First Hunter

New Resource! ORIGINS Animal Eve: Sponges

Origins: Animal Eve, a newly revised chapter from The Shape of Life book, is a comprehensive resource on sponges.

For most of human history we weren’t even sure that sponges were animals. Two thousand years ago, they were listed among Aristotle’s ‘Intermediates,’ somewhere between plants and animals. His confusion is understandable to anyone who has ever seen, but not looked too closely at a sponge, which has no head, no brain, no bones, no mouth, and no internal organs. Sponges come in an astonishing variety of shapes that to us look like cups, fans, tubes and colorful, crusty smears on rocks and coral. They range in size from a few millimeters wide to more than a meter tall, like the great barrel-like glass sponge that lives in Antarctic waters. All sponges are aquatic, tied permanently to the water by their lifestyle and body plan. Of the 10,000 species alive today, only 150 live in fresh water, the rest in the ocean. Read the full chapter...

Join us on an amazing tour of how animal life evolved on planet earth

These short videos show students of all ages the dramatic rise of the animal kingdom and the astonishing diversity we see on earth today:

  • Stunning animations explain the intricate inner workings of animals’ bodies, demonstrating the complementary relationship of form and function.
  • Up-close films show animal behaviors while hunting and feeding in their natural habitats.
  • Scientists, shown at work, study paleontology, genetics and ecology, pursuing their passion for the animals they study.
  • From sponges, to worms, to humans, each phylum is presented in exquisite detail of its body plan and the evolutionary developments that lead to today’s astonishing diversity.
  • Other topics present exciting new developments in genetics, paleontology, and engineering.

All these videos align with the Next Generation Science Standards for Middle School and California 7th grade science standards.