Barnacles activity

Barnacles under the microscope

In the Fall of 2011, research assistants with the Darwin Correspondence Project joined the teaching team for a new Freshman Seminar at Harvard College called “Getting to Know Darwin.” The class was composed of first year undergraduates, most of them future science majors, and was taught by Ned Friedman, director of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University and Professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.

Image of barnacle captured by student in the microscopy lab

After reading about and discussing Darwin’s
observations of barnacles, the class went to the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. There the class viewed the museum’s collection of prepared barnacle slides, many of them from the period in which Darwin’s own barnacle collection was being put together. After visiting the museum, the class collected its own fresh barnacle specimens from nearby Woods Hole in Massachusetts. The students were then able to observe both the prepared barnacle slides and the fresh barnacles specimens under microscopes. Observing barnacles first-hand enabled the students to better understand Darwin’s appreciation for these creatures. 

Image of barnacle captured by student in microscopy lab

Although your university may not have its own barnacle specimen collections, many public natural history museums have similar collections! If you are located near a coast, barnacles are easily obtained from ship pilings or intertidal rock groupings. Have your students explore Darwin’s notes on his observations of flustra, and then give them the opportunity to make their own observations! 


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