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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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.

News from Shape of Life

Creature Feature: Sunflower Star

photo of a Sunflower Star

All the Better to Hug You With - Sunflower star: Pycnopodia helianthoides

This big boy is one of the largest sea stars in the world. It can grow up to one meter (39 inches) across and weigh as much as a large family cat. The sunflower star gets its name from its many arms: it can have up to 24. More arms mean more tube feet – up to 15,000. Despite its girth, the sunflower star can move as quickly as one meter (40 inches) in a minute. Abalone don’t stand a chance! Its skeleton is softer and more flexible than other sea stars. It’s a badass predator that feeds on small and large marine creatures.

Unfortunately, the sunflower star has not escaped Sea Star Wasting Syndrome plaguing stars along the west coast.

The disease begins with white lesions and dying tissue and leads to a "melting" of the sea star. Scientists have found evidence...

Echinoderms: Give Me Five - An Ultimate Animal

photo of bat starsEven if you accept the notion that nature has no obligation to make sense, echinoderms are enigmas that evolved like no other animals on earth. Their curtain went up over half-a-billion years ago, along with those of all the other basic blueprints for building an animal, but they tell an entirely different evolutionary story.

Read the Chapter

The Story of the Shape of Life

A group of passionate marine biologists had a wild dream. We wanted to share with others the incredible diversity of animals that live in the ocean. So we jumped at an opportunity to produce a high quality PBS series about those marine animals we so loved. When all was said and done, this became the dramatic story of the rise of the entire animal kingdom.

After the series aired, we didn’t want those stories sitting on a shelf forgotten. They deserved to be freely available to all interested. Shape of Life was born. When you share something you love, you give it freely. You shouldn’t charge people to watch the greatest show on earth, a show in which we are all an intricate part.

Featured Scientist: Crissy Huffard

Dr. Crissy Huffard’s broad research interests are to understand how marine animals live their daily lives to survive and reproduce in changing environments. She has worked primarily with cephalopods, doing her Ph.D. research on octopus behavior. Passionate about the ocean, Dr. Huffard worked for several years in marine conservation with Conservation International Indonesia, and as a consultant with the World Wildlife Fund in Washington DC

Currently Dr. Huffard works with Dr. Ken Smith at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute where the lab aims to understand how ecosystems at abyssal depths (on the sea floor 2.5 miles down) change with the amount of food input. Animals at these depths rely entirely on marine snow – organic particles falling from the upper waters of the ocean – for food. That food supply changes any time ocean surface conditions change, such as during El Nino. In addition to working at MBARI, Dr. Huffard is a Research Associate with the California Academy of Sciences where she collaborates with other researchers to study cephalopod behavior, biology, and evolution.

Creature Feature: Barrel Sponge

photo of a barrel sponge

Giant barrel sponge Xestospongia muta

Giant barrel sponges are common inhabitants of coral reefs, especially in the Caribbean.  Not only are they the largest sponges on the reef, but they also are very long lived – up tp thousands of years.  Like most sponges, they pump water through their bodies to obtain food: plankton, bacteria and nutrients from the seawater.