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Finding Phyla

Difficulty
Time Required Short (2-5 days)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety No hazards

Abstract

Have you ever wondered how many different types of animals live around your home, like in your backyard or a local park? Animals come in all shapes and sizes, each a small part of the amazing diversity of life. These differences can also help us to classify animals into different groups. One way people classify animals is by their phylum. Do you know which phylum you belong to? In this science project, you will investigate the diversity of the animal life around your home and try to figure out which phylum most of the animals belong to.

Objective

Find out how many different kinds of animals live around your area to measure animal biodiversity and find out what is the most common phylum.

Credits

Sara Agee, Ph.D., and Teisha Rowland, Ph.D., Science Buddies

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Finding Phyla" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 18 Sep. 2014. Web. 31 Oct. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Zoo_p015.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, September 18). Finding Phyla. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Zoo_p015.shtml

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Last edit date: 2014-09-18

Introduction

From the largest elephant to the tiniest water flea, all animals on the planet have unique characteristics. Taxonomy is the area of science that uses these unique characteristics to put animals into certain groups. You may already know of some of the groups. For example, have you ever heard the term "the animal kingdom"? A "kingdom" is actually a scientific rank used in taxonomy, and all of the animals belong to the kingdom called Animalia. Within the kingdom Animalia, all animals are put into smaller groups based on their similarities and differences. The taxonomic rank for these groups is called phylum (the plural of phylum is "phyla"). There are perhaps as many as 35 different animal phyla, but most phyla are very uncommon. Scientists recognize eight major phyla to describe most common animals:

  • Porifera: Commonly called sponges, these animals live underwater and siphon water through a series of pores to trap food particles. You might have one of these in your tub if you purchase a natural sponge for bathing.
  • Cnidaria: These include jellyfish, hydra, and sea anemones. One famous cnidarian is the portuguese man-of-war, which delivers a painful sting to unsuspecting beach-goers.
  • Platyhelminthes: These are flatworms that live in freshwater, marine, and terrestrial habitats. They are most famous for their regenerative properties.
  • Annelida: The annelids are the segmented worms, including earthworms, marine worms, and aquatic worms. Earthworms are used for compost and organic gardening, while marine and aquatic worms are commonly sold as bait.
  • Mollusca: Snails, slugs (like the ones shown in Figure 1, below), bivalves (like clams and oysters), squid, and octopus are all mollusks. It is some people's personal favorite phylum to serve for dinner. Some mollusks have shells and others are shell-free, though mollusks are commonly referred to as "shellfish."
    Picture of slugs on soil.
    Figure 1. Slugs, like the ones shown here, are mollusks.

  • Arthropoda: Arthropods are one of the most common phyla and include insects (like beetles, butterflies, flies, bees, wasps, ants, and grasshoppers, like the one shown in Figure 2, below), centipedes, millipedes, spiders, scorpions, shrimp, lobsters, crayfish, pill bugs (like the ones shown in Figure 3, below), and many more. All arthropods are invertebrates, which means they have an external skeleton called an exoskeleton. An arthropod's exoskeleton sheds as the arthropod grows by molting. See Figure 2 and Figure 3, below, for pictures of some common arthropods.

    Brown grasshopper on a plant's stem.
    Figure 2. Grasshoppers are insects, which are a common type of arthropod.

    Pill bugs in soil.
    Figure 3. Pill bugs are another common type of arthropod.

  • Echinodermata: This is a favorite phylum when visiting tide pools, and includes starfish, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. All echinoderms have 5-part symmetry, just like a star (technically, this type of symmetry is called pentamerism).
  • Chordata: This phylum is the most well-known one, even though it is quite small, because all vertebrate animals are also chordates. (Vertebrates are typically animals that have a spinal column.). It is the phylum we belong to, along with most of our pets (dogs, cats, rabbits, rats, fish, frogs, salamanders), farm animals (cows, pigs, lamb, chickens), and zoo animals (zebra, lion, tiger, panda, giraffe, polar bear, etc.).

In this zoology science project, you will do some field work to look for animals from each of the major phyla in your local area and figure out which phylum most of the animals belong to. Will one phylum be a lot more common than others? How much biodiversity (or number of different types of animals) is there in your area? How many phyla will you find? Do not worry if you cannot find them all — it may be harder than you think!

Terms and Concepts

  • Taxonomy
  • Taxonomic kingdom
  • The kingdom Animalia
  • Phylum (plural: phyla)
  • Annelida and annelids
  • Mollusca and mollusks
  • Arthropoda and arthropods
  • Invertebrates
  • Chordata and chordates
  • Vertebrates
  • Biodiversity

Bibliography

You can use this resource to explore all the different types of life on Earth:

You can use the virtual field guides on this website to help you identify animals:

You can submit your wildlife sightings to help citizen science projects like this one:

For help creating graphs, try this website:

Materials and Equipment

  • An observation location. It should be a place you like to explore and where you think you might find a diversity of organisms. Good places to choose are a backyard, community garden, open field, park, pong, lake, wetland, marina, tide pool, stream, or wooded area.
  • Magnifying glass to look at small creatures
  • Digital camera to take pictures
  • Lab notebook

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Experimental Procedure

  1. In your lab notebook, make a data table like Table 1, below, to write down your observations and results. Leave several blank rows in the data table so you can write down results for many different habitats. (You can see Table 2, below, as an example of what a filled-in data table looks like.)
Location: Date:
Habitat Animal Notes Phylum
    
    
Table 1. In your lab notebook, make a data table like this one. You will be writing your observations and results in it. Make several empty rows so you can write down your results for many different habitats.
  1. Choose a good time to investigate the observation location you picked.
  2. Bring your magnifying glass, digital camera, lab notebook, and a pen or pencil to the observation location. If you are not going to do the experiment at home, make sure you get a parent to accompany you on your expedition.
  3. Pick a small part of the location to investigate. For example, it could be a pile of dead leaves, some shady rocks, a patch of lawn, old logs, dry weeds, a tree, etc. These are all small habitats (also called microhabitats). In your data table, write down the name of the habitat.
    1. For an example of what a filled-out data table may look like, see Table 2, below.
  4. Carefully look for animals in the small habitat. You may want to turn over rocks or logs to look for animals. You may want to use the magnifying glass to look for very small animals in the soil or leaves, or under rocks.
    1. For observing some larger animals, such as birds, fish, and squirrels, you may need to be patient and sit for a while. You may want to find a nice, conformable spot to sit where you can see all around you. You may even want to pack a little snack in case you get hungry!
  5. In your data table, write down what type of animals you see, as shown in Table 2, below.
    1. Tip: Do not worry if you cannot identify something right away. If you write down a description, make a drawing, and/or take a picture, you can figure out which phylum it belongs to later.
    2. Make a note in your data table if any of the animals look like different species of an animal type you already saw. For example, in Table 2, below, the observer saw three different spiders in a dry pile of dead leaves that were probably three different species.
  6. In your data table, also write down some notes about each animal, such as what it looks like, where exactly you saw it, and what it was doing. See Table 2, below, for examples.
  7. Take pictures of the animals you find to help you identify them later and to use as additions to your Science Fair Project Display Board.
  8. Repeat steps 4—8 until you have investigated all of the different parts of the location you picked. You may want to visit your site for a few days to collect more data on the animals that visit it.
  9. Once you are done investigating the observation location, try to categorize the animals you found by their phylum. Depending on where your observation site is, the phyla you are most likely to encounter are Chordata, Arthropoda, Mollusca, and Annelida.
    1. Remember that chordates (which make up the phylum Chordata) include all vertebrates (like us, dogs, cats, frogs, fish, cows, birds, etc.), while arthropods (phylum Arthropoda) include insects, centipedes, millipedes, shrimp, pill bugs, etc., and mollusks (phylum Mollusca) include snails and slugs, and annelids (phylum Annelida) include earthworms.
    2. You may want to re-read the Introduction in the Background section to help you remember more about which animals belong to which phylum.
  10. For each animal, write down the phylum it belongs to in your data table, as shown in Table 2, below.
Location: My Backyard, Berkeley, CA Date: August 14, 2015
Habitat Animal Notes Phylum
The dry grass Black ants There were some tiny black ants in a trail making hills of soil. Arthropoda
Grasshoppers I saw grasshoppers jumping in the grass. Arthropoda
Damp soil in the garden Big, red earthwormsWhen I dug into the garden, I found big red earthworms. Annelida
Snails There were snails near the cabbage in the garden.Mollusca
Slugs There were snails near the cabbage in the garden. Annelida
Mollusca
A dry pile of dead leaves Long-legged spider I saw a long-legged spider climbing near the leaves. Arthropoda
Small, brown spider I saw a small, brown spider run away from under the leaves. Arthropoda
Large, brown spider I saw a larger, brown spider with different marks on it. Arthropoda
In a plum tree Black Birds There are some black birds nesting in the plum trees. Chordata
In a birch tree Squirrels There are some squirrels jumping in the birch trees. Chordata
Table 2. This is an example of a filled-out data table.
  1. Next, count up the total number of the different types of animals (i.e., different species) you saw for each phylum. To do this, make a data table like Table 3, in your lab notebook, but fill it out with your results. Table 3 has been filled out as an example.
Phylum Animal Total Number of Different Types of Animals Seen
Porifera none 0
Cnidaria none 0
Platyhelminthes none 0
Annelida Earthworms 1
Mollusca Snails, slugs 2
Arthropoda Ants, grasshoppers, three types (i.e., species) of spiders 5
Echinodermata none 0
Chordata Birds, squirrels, human (me) 3
Table 3. In your lab notebook, make a second data table like this one, but fill it out with your results. This data table has been filled out already as an example.
  1. Make a bar graph of your data. Place the total number of different types of animals found on the y-axis (the vertical axis, on the left side) of the graph. On the x-axis (the horizontal axis), make a bar for each phylum. Make each bar go up to the total number of animals you saw for that phylum.
    1. You can make a graph by hand or use a program like Create a Graph to make a graph on a computer and print it out.
  2. Look at your results and try to make some conclusions.
    1. Which phylum did you find the most animals (i.e., the greatest number of different species) for? Which phylum was the most difficult to find? Were there some phyla that you could not find at all?
    2. Did you consistently find certain animals in a specific type of habitat?
    3. How do you think that your local environment contributed to the kinds of phylum you could find? Do you think you might find different phyla in different environments?
    4. How diverse do you think animals are in your region?

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Variations

  • In this science project you surveyed the distribution of different types of animals in one location. For a slightly more difficult project, you could survey two or more locations and compare. How do your local parks compare to each other? You could alternatively try comparing your yard to the yards of your friends and neighbors, or try comparing business areas to residential areas. If you live near the coast, you could compare the shoreline to a more industrial zone. How do the number of animals of each phylum change? How can these types of experiments tell you about the health of your local environment?
  • Do you have a pen-pal or relative who lives in a very different environment than you? Perhaps you live in the Arizona desert and she/he lives near the beach in Florida? This is a perfect way to share data and compare two very different environments for species diversity. Have your friend do the same survey, and trade data with each other. Are there some differences in the kinds of animal phyla you each find in your region?
  • Try this experiment at the grocery store! You may laugh, but you would be surprised how many phyla you can find there. The best grocery stores for this experiment are ethnic markets and grocery stores that sell unique foods like: dried invertebrates, fish, shell fish, octopus, snails, and even pickled jellyfish. Search through the fresh foods, frozen foods, dried foods and canned foods for food products made from different animal phyla. In some markets you might even see prepared crickets!
  • Sampling for biodiversity is one way that scientists identify important regions for conservation. Is there an area near you that is protected for conservation? Research the area and find out what unique animals are there, and why the area is being protected. Conduct your own biodiversity survey there to show which types of animals live there. Remember to think about migratory or seasonal animals, too.
  • Your wildlife observations can be helpful for several different citizen science projects. For example, you could use your investigations to contribute to the Lost Ladybug Project, School of Ants, Bee Hunt!, Project Squirrel, Project FeederWatch, or Wildlife Sightings. What are your local populations of ladybugs, ants, bees, squirrels, birds, and other wildlife animals like? How does your data compare to other data collected through the citizen science project?

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