Synthetic soup ground trace fossils
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This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are
- Scientific Accuracy
- Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
- Pedagogic Effectiveness
- Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
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This page first made public: May 27, 2014
This is a lab exercise where students make synthetic trace fossils (using fishing lures) that was presented as a scientific study: BIOGENIC SEDIMENTARY STRUCTURES PRODUCED BY WORMS IN SOUPY, SOFT MUDS: OBSERVATIONS FROM THE CHATTANOOGA SHALE (UPPER DEVONIAN) AND EXPERIMENTS, by VADEC LOBZA AND JURGEN SCHIEBER, JOURNAL OF SEDIMENTARY RESEARCH, VOL. 69, NO. 5, SEPTEMBER, 1999, P. 1041–1049
I use this as a 4-hour laboratory with follow-up assignment in my 200-level Paleobiology course.
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
How the activity is situated in the course
I introduce the concepts of substrate type (soupground, softground, firmground, hardground, granular substrate), and show slides of common burrowers (polychaetes, amphipods, etc). This is part of a week-long topic of trace fossils in lectures, class exercises and labs.
Content/concepts goals for this activity
An understanding of substrate control and animal shape (and behavior) that lead to trace fossils in muds.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Experimental design (they have to pick several lures and test various controls: lure type, substrate firmness, speed of movement, etc.)
Other skills goals for this activity
Working in groups. Graphic manipulation (students "compact" the traces in Adobe Illustrator).
Description and Teaching Materials
See the illustrations below in supporting materials. Basically students pull lures of various shapes and sizes through black plaster of paris into and through white plaster of paris. The resulting "trace fossils" are analyzed. Students select various different lures to test different hypotheses: appendages vs no appendages, motion (jerky or smooth), size, etc.
Graphic instructions for Lab (Acrobat (PDF) 1012kB May5 14)
Teaching Notes and Tips
The tricky part is the consistency of the plaster of paris and working time. Apparatus must be set up entirely before plaster is mixed. Too much cement dye in plaster prevents it from setting up. Students cut the plaster during the course of the week on our rock saw, and scan the images for input into Adobe Illustrator.
this results in a lab write-up (teams of three, due the next week at beginning of lab).
References and Resources
BIOGENIC SEDIMENTARY STRUCTURES PRODUCED BY WORMS IN SOUPY, SOFT MUDS: OBSERVATIONS FROM THE CHATTANOOGA SHALE (UPPER DEVONIAN) AND EXPERIMENTS, by VADEC LOBZA AND JURGEN SCHIEBER, JOURNAL OF SEDIMENTARY RESEARCH, VOL. 69, NO. 5, SEPTEMBER, 1999, P. 1041–1049