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Hawaii Born of Fire

Classroom Activity

To explore environmental factors involved in evolution of plant and animal life on Hawaiian volcanic islands.

Materials for each team
  • copy of "Evolution in Isolation" student handout (PDF or HTML)
  1. This program introduces scientific research about the evolution of some unique insect species on the island of Hawaii. Ask the students to list some characteristics that might be necessary for insects to survive in an environment with frequent volcanic eruptions.

  2. Photocopy and distribute the "Evolution in Isolation" student handout. As the students watch the program, ask them to list the environmental factors that scientists believe caused certain species to evolve, how these species evolved, and the results of each evolutionary change.

  3. After watching discuss the data that students recorded on the "Evolution in Isolation" student handout. Were any students surprised by the factors that scientists believe caused changes in the insects? Do students agree with the scientists' interpretations? Why or why not? What other factors do students believe may have influenced these evolutionary changes? Point out to students that many other types of animals and plants have also developed into unique forms on the Hawaiian islands.

  4. To extend this activity, assign a research project for students to find out about the evolution of other living things in Hawaii or other isolated or extreme ecosystems.

Activity Answer

After completing this activity, students should understand the process of developing a hypothesis based on data, then conducting research to support that hypothesis. They should recognize that the entomologists in this program studied particular species over many generations to identify evolutionary changes that occurred in response to the species' environment. In addition, they should understand the evolutionary process and how it applies to the species presented in the program. Specifically, they should note the following observations about each species: The caterpillar became carnivorous; as a result there are now at least 18 species of carnivorous caterpillars on the Hawaiian islands. The female drosophila fly's behavior changed because the population was isolated, which reduced the number of mates. The cricket's legs became long and spindly to enable it to crawl; it developed acute senses of hearing and smell to compensate for vision loss; and its antennae became long to enable it to feel its way through the darkness. As a result of these changes, the cricket population was able to survive and travel in the caves created by volcanoes. After learning about these species, the students should also understand that relatively small populations of plant and animal species that thrive in completely isolated environments often evolve into variations that are very different from related species that develop in more diverse environments.

Teacher's Guide
Hawaii Born of Fire

Video is required for this activity