Preparation Questions

Before each class lecture I will post here a list of preparation questions. These questions are designed to prepare you for each lecture. If we have a pop quiz on the listed day, it may include some or all of these questions AND at least one surprise question from previous lectures to encourage  review. I recommend you thus have answers for them — at least in your head! — before each class meeting. You will have twelve pop quizzes by the end of the course, with the lowest two grades dropped. If you are absent for any reason when a quiz is given (other than a scheduled college event you told me about in advance), your grade will be recorded as a zero. You may use any source to answer these questions before class. For a quiz, of course, you’re on your own.

December 6 (Thursday) –

1. What sedimentary properties are best to preserve trace fossils such as footprints and burrows? Think in terms of grain size and water content.

2. What kind of rocks are most commonly bored?


December 4 (Tuesday) –

1. Why are graptolites, especially the graptoloid variety, so useful for biostratigraphy? In other words, why can we use them for correlation and dating many rock units?


November 29 (Thursday) —

1. Please be able to describe in detail how a sea star eats a clam, from killing it to digestion.

2. Edrioasteroids are an extinct group of echinoderms. When did they live? What did they look like? How did they likely feed? How do we know they were echinoderms?


November 20 (Tuesday) –

1. Everyone loves the impressive eurypterids. What are the roots of the name?

2. What was the likely feeding habit of eurypterids? What evidence do we have for this?


November 15 (Thursday) –

1. List the many ways trilobites evolved to avoid predators. This includes skeletal features as well as behaviors.

2. Who were the most common predators on trilobites?


November 13 (Tuesday) –

1. We will discuss the evolution of mollusks at the start of class. Come prepared to tell me about the odd shell-less mollusks the aplacophorans.


November 8 (Thursday) –

1. Let’s start with bivalves as seafood. What are the differences between common clams, oysters, mussels and scallops? Use the descriptive muscle and shell terms we used last week.

2. Describe how a labial-palp deposit-feeder lives, eats and respires.


October 30 (Tuesday) –

1. Bivalves are upon us. Please start by reviewing the ways in which a bivalve shell (inside and out) differs from a brachiopod shell.

2. If brachiopods use a lophophore for filtering out food from the water, what do filter-feeding bivalves use?


October 25 (Thursday) –

1. Dan had a good question in class about why sutures became so complex in shelled cephalopods (specifically the ammonoids). What is one possible functional reason suggested for this sutural complexity? It is a highly debated topic!


October 23 (Tuesday) —

1. Cephalopods on Tuesday — easily the most interesting of the mollusks. What are the life habits of the modern Nautilus? We use it as a model for ancient cephalopods, so we should know more about its biology. Where does it live? What does it eat?

2. How does modern Nautilus control its buoyancy?


October 18 (Thursday) –

1. Gastropod systematics are difficult because the class has high levels of homeomorphy and ecophenotypy. Please review these terms and be prepared to give me examples (not necessarily of gastropods).


October 16 (Tuesday) –

1. Gastropods undergo a developmental process called torsion. Please describe torsion and its effects. What are some possible advantages of torsion?


October 4 (Thursday) –

1. Some bryozoans, especially trepostomes, have small mounds on their zoaria called maculae. What are some possible functions of maculae?

2. Fenestrate bryozoans have “lacy” zoaria. How is this lacy structure useful for filter-feeding?


October 2 (Tuesday) –

1. Bryozoans have a wonderful collection of zooid types. Please be prepared to offer one-sentence definitions of each of these:



September 27 (Thursday) —

1. Brachiopods belong to a group called the lophophorates. What other two phyla are lophophorates? Please briefly describe them.


September 25 (Tuesday) —

1. Biconvex, plicate brachiopods have zig-zag commissures. What adaptive values can such shells have?

2. What adaptive values are possible for a strophic, concavo-convex brachiopod? Think of the substrate types they may have lived on.


September 18 (Tuesday) —

1. A classic question: Brachiopods and clams both have bivalved shells (shells with two parts hinged together). How then do you distinguish a brachiopod shell from that of a clam? (This will be useful for your field collections.)


September 13 (Thursday) —

1. Scleractinian corals have aragonitic skeletons. What can you predict about their preservation in the Mesozoic?

2. What are ahermatypic corals? In what sorts of environments do you find them?


September 11 (Tuesday) —

1. Cnidarian have what are called nematocysts (or cnidocytes). What are these and how do they work?

2. If a particular coral relies upon its zooxanthellae, what kind of environment must it live in?


September 6 (Thursday) —

1. What is ecophenotypy?

2. Why are the stromatoporoids, which look like lumps of laminated stone (actually, they are lumps of laminated stone!), classified with the sponges?


September 4 (Tuesday) —

1. Foraminiferans have what is called “alternation of generations“. What does this mean?

2. What is the composition of a radiolarian test? How can you tell by just looking?


August 30 (Thursday) —

1. Please describe a coccolith (or coccolithophorid) in terms of what it looks like and how it lives.

2. What sedimentary rock results from coccolith accumulation?

3. Some foraminiferans and other protists have agglutinated tests. What does this mean?


August 28 (Tuesday) —

A fossil unknown to solve! On the first day of class you will receive a fossil of your very own. It will be one of those shown above. Everyone has the same kind of fossil, but they vary in preservation. Your job is to identify it using whatever means you can (except asking Alexis!), and then tell me its likely age and, to really impress me, where it was likely collected. For all of these there is a sliding scale of precision. I’d like you to get it down to the species,  for example, but you may be only able to get it to a Phylum, Class, Order, Family, or Genus. For the age you might be able to get the Era but not the Period. For the location the continent but not the country. You may certainly talk amongst yourselves and compare specimens. Please bring your answers and the specimens to class on Tuesday, August 28. Those who get it right, or close enough, earn glory and a mention in the department blog!



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