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        World’s Most Awesome Invertebrate (Lesson Plan)

        Students will appreciate the biodiversity of invertebrates and their special adaptations. They will also consider the differences and similarities among invertebrates.

        The Shape of Life | Cnidarians: Life on the Move

        Cnidarians were the first animals to have muscles and nerves to produce behavior. They were also the first to have a mouth and stomach to digest food. We learn about nematocysts when we watch an anemone catching a goby and two anemones fighting. Cnidarians come in various body shapes and have different ways of living. Corals are cnidarians that build reefs. One anemone, Stomphia, can swim away from predators by contracting its entire body. The jellyfish body plan is like an anemone that has been turned upside down and a diverse group of cnidarians thrives at all depths of the ocean.

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        Chordates: We’re All Family

        Amphioxus, a worm like animal, is our ancestor with numerous common features including the precursor to the vertebrate backbone. Some chordates like tunicates, salps and larvaceans, have remained simple creatures without backbones. But others like the vertebrates have four times as many genes as their simple chordate ancestors which allowed an explosion of new forms. Fish evolved skulls and jaws and dominated the seas. Some fish evolved limb-like fins and crawled out onto land. Reptiles (lizards, snakes) and dinosaurs flourished on land. When the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, mammals inherited the land. Humans are most closely related to the great apes. - See more at: http://shapeoflife.org/chordate

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        Molluscs: The Survival Game

        Their basic body plan includes a foot for mobility; a mantle that secretes a shell and a radula for eating. Molluscs today show many variations on this original body plan. An abalone escapes a sea star predator using its foot; and a moon snail hunts a cockle using its foot as a weapon. The radula has even evolved in an astonishing variety of ways to serve as a tool for feeding. The ancient nautilus was the first mollusc to leave the sea floor. Their ancestors evolved a way to swim using jet propulsion and evolved a way to maintain buoyancy. The evolution of speedy fishes drove the next step in the survival game: speed and loss of the shell, as seen in squid. Octopuses returned to live on the bottom and evolved intelligence and an ability to instantly camouflage itself in order to survive.

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        Echinoderms: The Ultimate Animal

        Echinoderms are slow animals radically different from us, but they are an evolutionary success. All echinoderms have five-part symmetry. We see the inner workings of sea stars, from their tube feet to their skeleton. Urchins are ferocious herbivores chomping down kelp with their jaws. Cucumbers vacuum clean food from the sediment with their tube feet having a big affect on sea floor ecology. Brittle stars blanket some areas of the ocean bottom catching drifting plankton. Echinoderms pump water into their tube feet, giving them power to move. They have light-sensing organs and can smell their way to food. Sea stars are formidable predators. We see their tube feet pry open a mussel and extrude the stomach into the mussel. A camera inside the mussel shows us actual footage of the stomach digesting the mussel. We also see the formidable many armed sun star chase and catch a snail.

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        The Shape of Life | Sponges: Origins

        Sponges often don’t even look alive, but an ancient sponge was actually the first animal. The apparent simplicity of sponges is actually quite perplexing. Find out about the many responsibilities of sponge cells, and how they retain the freedom to continuously reinvent themselves.

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        Flatworms: The First Hunter

        Flatworms, the first animal to hunt, are found in the ocean, freshwater, on land, and even inside other animals. The ancient flatworms were the first animals to develop a central nervous system and a head with a brain. The head had eyes—the first in the animal world. The flatworm body is bilateral—the first body plan with that design. As hunters today, flatworms hunt prey with their head leading the way. Flatworms are hermaphrodites: an individual flatworm is both male and female. When flatworms mate, the worm that first receives sperm, carries the fertilized eggs. They were the first animals with internal fertilization. - See more at: http://shapeoflife.org/flatworms

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        Annelids: Powerful and Capable Worms

        Annelids have segmented bodies, with both a nervous and circulatory system and a one-way gut. They have mastered the art of digging and live in an incredible diversity of habitats. Tube-dwelling worms live in mud flats, stabilizing the mud. Some eat the mud while others collect food from the surface with their tentacles. Blood sucking leeches live in fresh water. Digging in the soil, earthworms both aerate and release nutrients into the soil.

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        Terrestrial Arthropods: The Conquerors

        Arthropods were the first animals to venture onto land and spread over the earth. Their body plan allowed them to diversify and adapt to every environment, including the air, inventing new ways to extract oxygen from air rather than water. Some arthropods, like dragonfly larvae, live in freshwater, and then through metamorphosis, develop wings and take to the air. Flight was a major adaptation for arthropods opening up new realms: three-fourths of all the animals on earth are flying insects. And spiders evolved an ingenious method for catching the flying insects. Arthropods provide essential services to ecosystems and humans both as recyclers and pollinators.

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        Marine Arthropods: A Successful Design

        Marine arthropods—crabs, shrimps and lobsters—have jointed appendages that are both strong and flexible which they use for sensing the world, feeding, and moving. Evolution has adapted these appendages, along with the segmented body, in amazing ways. An animation shows examples of this great potential. A surprising aspect to their body plan is that they wear their skeleton on the outside for protection. We see the incredible process of a crab shedding its exoskeleton, so its body can grow larger.

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