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

Highlights from the Shape of Life book - Molluscs

up close photo of an ocotpusOur particularly intimate relationship with molluscs is due largely to their tasty, fleshy bodies, which have been an easy meal for millions of other animals in the food web since they first emerged during the Cambrian explosion. With that kind of vulnerability, and because they couldn’t outrun predators, early molluscs came up with armor to survive. It's a fascinating story.

Read the latest chapter, Armor and Speed, the Survival Game, adapted from the Shape of Life book.

CREATURE FEATURE: The Squid With a Green Eye

photo of a green eyed squidThe strawberry squid, Histeoteuthis heteropsis, aka “the green-eyed squid” is a member of a group called “the cock-eyed” squids, so named because one eye is larger than the other. Scientists think that the smaller eye has evolved to look down, watching for predators from the depths. The bigger eye looks up, trying to detect the shadows of potential prey against the very faint light from above.

But, many animals in this midwater zone make their own light so they disappear in the faint light from above – called counterillumination. In the “survival game” of evolution, the strawberry squid’s much larger eye has evolved a lens with a fluorescent pigment that absorbs blue light. Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Institute think...

NEW Featured Scientist: Dr. Kristi Curry Rogers

Dr. Kristi Curry Rogers studies dinosaur evolution and paleobiology, which means she spends a lot of time out in the field looking for dinosaur fossils — from Montana to Madagascar. She is a vertebrate paleontologist and currently Assistant Professor in Geology and Biology at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. When Dr. Curry Rogers is not in the field, she does research on the fossils she discovered in the field. In particular, she looks at the how fast some of the largest dinosaurs grew by looking closely at microscopic slices of fossilized bones (she describes her work in this video on SOL). Her specialty is the sauropod dinosaurs, the largest animals to ever walk on the earth.

CREATURE FEATURE: Sauropod dinosaur: Argentinosaurus

Imagine huge, long-necked sauropods roaming primeval forests. The dinosaur represented above, Argentinosaurus, lived around 95 million years ago in what is today Patagonia. These giants are thought to be the largest dinosaurs ever to walk the earth, weighing up to 75 tons and growing to 130 feet long; the narrowest part of a leg might be about four feet around.

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

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.