Saturday the 19th March was a sunny Spring day in Cambridge, perfect for the Cambridge Science Festival principal event, Science on Saturday. Science departments throughout the University of Cambridge were bursting with visitors as thousands of families came to explore, experiment and enjoy.
The Map of Life was privileged to be part of Science on Saturday at the University Museum of Zoology, where more than 2100 visitors joined us for some frantic fun. Our exhibition was called “Repeating Patterns in Evolution”, and run by its designer Dr Chloë Cyrus-Kent with the excellent assistance of Dr Verena Dietrich-Bischoff, Dr Julie Gattacceca and Chloe Marquart from the Department of Earth Sciences.
The “Repeating Patterns in Evolution” exhibition provided information about the Map of Life plus a selection of engaging evolutionary puzzles. Players were challenged to decide which animals or plants they thought shared a common type of body or lifestyle, from a group of varied species. We looked at burrowing vertebrates, gliding mammals, marine fish-eaters, desert plants and even microscopic octopus parasites. There were many surprised faces as families discovered just how distantly related many organisms can be, and still look almost exactly the same as each other because they “do the same job”, be it burrowing or gliding or speeding after prey in the sea. This concept is termed convergent evolution – where organisms from different parts of the tree of life evolve similar features due to inhabiting a similar type of environment.
Our convergent evolution puzzles showed how burrowers can range from amphibian caecilians to reptilian ‘worm-lizards’; gliding mammals are found among a number of placentals (e.g. colugo and flying squirrels) and marsupials (e.g. ring-tailed possum and sugar glider); dolphins and ichthyosaurs are a classic case of convergent marine predators; Aloe and Agave are almost indistinguishable desert plants from opposite sides of the Earth and both the dicyemid worms and worm-like ciliate Chromidina elegans (a protist) have adapted to life inside the renal organs of octopus and cuttlefish!
The busy Map of Life exhibit ran in the main gallery of the Museum alongside a popular RSPB stall, while a parallel exhibition on “Amazing Animals” took place in an adjoining gallery. “Amazing Animals” was highly successful and enjoyed by many, featuring colourful insects, a life-size replica of a fin-back whale heart and games about highly intelligent creatures such as crows and jays.
We look forward to more adventures at the next Science Festival and thank Roz Wade at the UMZC for allowing us to be part of this year’s Science on Saturday extravaganza.