Aniamals, Adaptation, and the Galapagos Islands Discover with Darwin
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Take a nature walk with a friend for about half an hour. Carry notebooks with you, and jot down notes and sketches about interesting plants, animals, and rock formations you see along the way. Don’t talk during this time. At the end, sit together with your notes and share the information. Work together to see if you can brainstorm five interesting research questions that you are really curious about. Don’t worry about finding the answers yet. Some of the most intriguing questions that inspire scientists today have yet to be answered.

Find a local state park or nature preserve in your area. Use a camera to capture close-up images of ten different objects. If you don't have one, borrow a camera from a friend or buy a disposable camera for this project. To find interesting images, try looking at different levels: on the ground, on the branches of trees, under rocks, even near garbage cans. Never touch anything that you think might be dangerous. Keep a notebook about what objects you’ve photographed. Then, once the film is developed (or if it’s a digital camera, once the pictures are printed out), create a poster that has a matching game on it. Use a big piece of paper or poster board and on one side paste the photos; on the other side write clues. Invite a friend to try your matching game.

Pick a small human-made object that would normally not be found in nature, such as a brightly colored plastic toy animal or an old shoe. Then hide the small object in a woodsy area. Write down as many details as you can about where the object is located (you wouldn’t want to lose it!) then walk away from the hidden object for a few minutes to a "Starting Place" that you pick. Draw a treasure map and write about five clues to help another person find the hidden object. Make sure the treasure map tells what object is hidden. Each clue should involve a description of a type of tree or plant. Then challenge a friend to use your map to find the hidden object. If your friend has trouble finding the object, give some hints that point your friend in the right direction. To make it extra interesting, you can use a field guide to help identify the names of the plants and to write vivid clues.

Anyone can find fossils. As you probably know, fossils are the remains of ancient plants and animals — their bones, teeth, shells, stems, or even footprints. An important key to finding fossils is knowing where to look. Any old rock won’t do. Most fossils are found in sedimentary rock. When tiny bits of rocks and minerals (called sediment) join together over millions of years, they become sedimentary rock. Plants and animals that become sandwiched in this sediment eventually turn into fossils. In order to be a fossil hunter, you need to be patient and persistent.

Some Important Dos and Don’ts of Fossil Hunting
To help you find out where to search for fossils in your area, check out the Web sites on Finding Fossils.

When Darwin visited the Galápagos Islands in 1835, there were probably around 250,000 giant tortoises there. Today, there are only about 15,000 of them left. What happened? Many of the tortoises were hunted extensively for food, or had much fewer babies grow to adulthood because introduced species such as pigs and dogs ate their eggs, young, or vegetarian food sources. But fortunately things are looking up for these rare animals. Thanks to conservation efforts on the islands, the Galápagos giant tortoise is starting to make a comeback. Laws have been passed to prevent the capture, harming, and exportation of giant tortoises. Scientists at the Charles Darwin Foundation are also raising Galápagos giant tortoises, so they can mature in a safe environment before they are released into the wild.

Would you like to help endangered animal species in your area? An excellent place to get ideas is the Kids page of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Also, check out the President's Environmental Youth Awards.

Imagine this! There's a highly sophisticated scientific invention capable of capturing the world around you in incredible detail. It's not expensive and it never runs out of batteries. Have a guess? It's not a computer or even a camera. Here's one more hint: it's how Charles Darwin recorded the detailed information during his trip on the Beagle that helped him shape his scientific theories for the rest of his life. It's a Naturalist Sketch Book and it's a great way to observe and find patterns in nature. Grab a pad of paper and some colored pencils and head out to your backyard or to a local park. Make sketches of the shape of leaves, the color of birds, and the details on squishy bugs. Then, take it one step further and check a nature guidebook out of your local library. See how many of your sketches you can identify.