Primates – TMSE

By Molly Jaworski

This week at the Tuscaloosa Magnet School we discussed Primates. We started the class reviewing key concepts from our previous lectures. I asked the class a series of 4 questions to test their knowledge on what we have learned up until this point.

  • What are the four subfields of Anthropology?
  • What is ethnography?
  • What is Archeology
  • And why are museums important?

The students seem to grasp the main idea of each of these questions and as one student would answer it would jog the memory of another who wished to contribute to the answer as well.

After our review session I started this week’s discussion on Primates. My main goal was to make sure that the students could properly identify the definition of a primate and the differences in types of primates. After explaining what a primate is to the class I asked the students to identify the differences in Apes and Monkeys! Everyone in class was eager to answer. Based on their answers it was clear they didn’t quite know the difference between the two. They were shocked when I explained that apes don’t have tails but monkeys do! After a bit of discussion and some questions from the students I moved on to primate social organizations, which the students seemed to grasp easily. The next section…well it definitely caused the most commotion- Primate Diet! I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the students knew the difference in carnivore, omnivore, and herbivore without any help from myself or the other instructors. The excitement most definitely stemmed from the image of the tarsier eating a bug (many students thought we would get to eat them during this class).

After the lesson I let the students ask questions and then we broke off into our clans for a bit of a competitive activity- A SCAVENGER HUNT! The students were to act as primates and replicate choices a primate would make with regard to security, group safety and survival.

Molly1

SUPPLIES:

Construction paper fruit (yellow and red)                                          Value:  5 points

Construction paper leaves/stems (green)                                           Value: 1 point

Construction paper insects (ants, grubs, and protein)                     Value: 3 points

Construction paper primate infants.                                                     Value: 10 points

SCAVENGER HUNT RULES:

  • Search the “forest” (classroom) to find as many calories as you can and bring them back to the troop.
  • Students must use primate locomotion (knuckle walking)
  • Primates can only carry one food item since they are not bipedal.
  • Students can steal food that is unguarded. They can also steal unguarded infant primates.
  • To be protected from stealing food or infants, two people must be at the “home base.”
    • One person is not enough to protect it.
  • However, student groups can choose to leave as few or as many people at the nest as they wish.
  • At the end of the time, groups will reunite and scores will be added up.
  • A group automatically loses if all of their infants are stolen.

I had originally expected the activity to take quite a bit of time for the students and so as an incentive we told the clans, as they were preparing their group plan, that there would be prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place teams. This did however; make them focus on winning and the hunt ended a little too quickly. At the end of the hunt the student teachers of each clan added the points of each clan and we announced the order of the winners. As promised there were prizes, and those prizes were……CRICKETS AND MEALWORMS!!!! The students were so excited to be able to eat these critters, some of them had been anticipating this for weeks! I was shocked that for the most part they were all willing, excited, and happy to eat the crickets and many of them enjoyed them!

Molly8

Molly4

Because the activity ended early. We needed to fill up the rest of class time with another activity, one that Lynn provided for the class. The activity was called Primate Anatomy, and she discussed evolution of the locomotion of primates and the differences of anatomy and locomotion of humans and primates. For the activity she had students walk normal, knuckle walk like apes, walk without the use of their knees (straight legged), walk without the use of their big toes (on the sides of their feet), and lastly with long toes ( paper was taped to their toes and they had to attempt to walk without bending the ‘long toes’).

Molly7

Overall the class went extremely smoothly and the entire class enjoyed themselves. I was very proud at their ability to follow directions correctly and listen to their instructors during the scavenger hunt.

 

Primates at Arcadia

 

Week 5: Primates

Lecture

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Primates are any member of the group of animals that includes human beings, apes, and monkeys.

Apes are closely related to monkeys and humans, they are covered in hair and have no tail or a very short tail.

Monkeys are smaller, with tails. Some are prehensile and some are not.

There are two groups of monkeys:

Old World monkeys: baboons, macaques, colobus monkeys, among others

New World monkeys: spider monkeys, marmosets, howler monkeys, among others
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Most primates live in small groups. There are advantages to living in a group, including increased protection, shared parenting, and shared food supply.

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There are three main diets: carnivore (only eats meat), omnivore (eats meats and plants), and herbivore (eats only plants). Most primates eat fruits, which are high in energy, leaves, which are nutritious, and then some other foods they can find (like crickets!)

Activity 1

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Students play the meddling monkey scavenger hunt. This game

replicates the choices that primates make with regard to food

security, group safety, and survival. Students will be separated

into groups (each a different primate species) with a set number

of primate infants per group. The objective is to gather as many

calories as possible while protecting the infants in your group.

Scavenger hunt supplies:

  • Construction paper fruit (yellow and red) Value:  5 points
  • Construction paper leaves/stems (green) Value: 1 point
  • Construction paper insects (ants, grubs, and protein) Value: 3 points
  • Construction paper primate infants. Value: 10 points

Game Rules: 

  • Search the “forest” (classroom) to find as many calories as you can and bring them back to the troop.
  • Primates can only carry one food item since they are not bipedal.
  • Students can steal food that is unguarded. They can also steal unguarded infant primates.
  • To be protected from stealing food or infants, two people must be at the “home base.”
  • One person is not enough to protect it.
  • However, student groups can choose to leave as few or as many people at the nest as they wish.
  • At the end of the time, groups will reunite and scores will be added up.
  • A group automatically loses if all of their infants are stolen.

Videos of primate activity: Arcadia & arcadia2

 

Activity 2

EATING CRICKETS AND MEAL WORMS!!! Store bought insects were given to students who wanted to try them. Every single student did!

Video of students eating crickets and meal worms: Arcadia3

Ending Thoughts

I was so proud of my students for being so willing to try the crickets and meal worms. Several students mentioned they took this partnership class simply because they heard about this activity. Students in other classes found out we had these ‘snacks’ and joined in the activity! I hope this results in an even larger class next semester.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 7.40.07 PM

 

Primates and Diet

Mid-digit Hair
Mid-digit Hair

Hello everybody,

The next several posts will include the lesson plans we used for the UA partnership with the Tuscaloosa Magnet School. This semester the classes were taught by Taylor Burbach, Meghan Steel, and Erica Schumann, with the direction of graduate student Greg Batchelder. Enjoy!

Week 5: Primates and Diet

Topic: Primate Diet

One of the ways that physical anthropologists learn about people is to study our nearest living relatives – primates. Primates include any member of the group of animals that includes human beings, apes, and monkeys. Learning about how primates navigate their world helps us understand the challenges and survival strategies that humans had to face in the past.

Primatologists, or specialists who study primates, are especially interested in learning how primates address one of the biggest issues that we all face: how to feed your family. Each primate species has a different from of social organization, although all primate species have to figure out how to survive against the odds. This week’s activity will ask each student group to come up with a survival strategy that protects their young while gathering food.

Discussion: Primates

  • Primates- any member of the group of animals that includes human beings, apes, and monkeys.
  • Ape: closely related to monkeys and humans and that is covered in hair and has no tail or a very short tail
    1. Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, and humans
  • Monkey: smaller bodied, with tails, some monkeys have different dental formula
    1. Old World monkeys: baboons, macaques, colobus monkeys, etc.
      1. No prehensile tail
    2. New World monkeys: spider monkeys, marmosets, howler monkeys, etc.
      1. Do have prehensile tails

 

  1. Social organization: What drives primate social organization?
    • Competition for mates, safety, social organization, form of paternal care
    • Advantages & disadvantages to larger group sizes?
      1. Protection, shared care of young, etc.
    • Advantages & disadvantages to smaller group sizes?
  2. Diet:
    • Carnivore, omnivore, herbivore
    • Most primates are herbivores, omnivores, or opportunistic carnivores.
      1. Cannibalism occurs
    • Foods have different caloric values, which means that some foods are “worth” more than others.
      1. E.g., fruit is high calorie, high carb. Leafy greends may have important nutrients but low calorie counts. Other foods may be good food sources but are hard to catch (like crickets).
      2. Primates have to strategize to balance energy expenditure and food intake. This is even more important with large social groups, who may share resources.

 Activity: Meddling Monkey Scavenger Hunt

This game replicates the choices that primates make with regard to food security, group safety, and survival. Students will be separated into groups (each a different primate species) with a set number of primate infants per group.

Objective: Gather as many calories as possible while protecting the infants in your group.

Rules:

  • Search the “forest” (classroom) to find as many calories as you can and bring them back to the troop.
  • Primates can only carry one food item since they are not bipedal.
  • Students can steal food that is unguarded. They can also steal unguarded infant primates.
  • To be protected from stealing food or infants, two people must be at the “home base.”
    • One person is not enough to protect it.
  • However, student groups can choose to leave as few or as many people at the nest as they wish.
  • At the end of the time, groups will reunite and scores will be added up.
  • A group automatically loses if all of their infants are stolen.

Supplies:

Construction paper fruit (yellow and red)                                             Value: 5 points

Construction paper leaves/stems (green)                                            Value: 1 point

Construction paper insects (ants, grubs, and protein)                     Value: 3 points

Construction paper primate infants.                                                        Value: 10 points

Week 8: Comparative Osteology

Physical anthropologists rely on osteology, or the scientific study of bones, to identify individual species, learn about the lives of an individual, or even to identify ancient illnesses (aka paleopathology). The skeletal features of bones reflect the life histories of individuals, and trained osteologists can use those features to identify the age, sex, diet, and, at times, even the cause of death of a particular specimen.

However, analyzing and comparing the bones from different species can also tell us about the evolutionary history of those species and the degree to which different species are related. For example, the overall form and organization of a dog’s skeletal features would be very similar to those of wolves, as those species are related. The same could be said for different species of fish, reptiles, turtles, etc.

In anthropology, osteologists often compare human skeletons with those of other primates so that we can learn about our ancient human past. In today’s activity, our TMSE students compared cranial features of human, chimpanzee, and coyote skulls, to learn about cranial capacity, dental formulas, diet, and the overall degree of similarity among species. For this activity, students were encouraged to think about the similarities and differences between each of the individual specimens. If they are similar, what makes them similar? If they are different, then how could we explain those differences in an evolutionary context?

To begin with, the students compared the skeletal characteristics of human, chimpanzee, and coyote skulls. Students were able to identify the human skull and distinguish it from the chimpanzee skull rather quickly, but additional analysis was needed to characterize precisely why the students thought they were so different.

skulls

The human chimpanzee skulls differed, for example, in the size of the teeth, the size of the cranium, and even the shape of the skull itself. Students also learned a new term, prognathism, to describe the degree to which the facial features extend out from the face. Chimpanzees are definitely more prognathic than humans, as are coyotes. However, the human and chimpanzee skulls were more similar to each other than they were to the coyote, which had a completely different structure.

 

In seeking a better way to describe the possible differences and similarities, we then analyzed two key features on each skull: teeth and cranial size.

To analyze the similarity in dentition, students were asked to come up with the dental formula for each specimen. A dental formula is essentially a count of the different types of teeth for a specimen, beginning with incisors (cutting teeth in the front of the mouth), canines (teeth for slashing), premolars (for stabilizing food and for grinding); and molars (grinders).

teeth

By counting the tooth types for the human, chimpanzee, and coyote skulls, our TMSE students figured out that humans and chimpanzees have the exact same dental formula! However, coyotes have a different formula.

Our students quickly ascertained that this similarity is likely due to the fact that humans and chimpanzees are related, both as primates and by our shared evolutionary past.

 

To continue to address some of these differences, we then compared the size of the cavity that houses the brain, also known as the cranial capacity.

cranial

By comparing across species, our students figured out that humans have the largest brain, followed by the chimpanzee, and then the coyote. After a lively discussion of the brain size of dolphins, humans, dinosaurs, and dogs, we reached the conclusion that our human brains are MASSIVE relative to our body size. Which, of course, means that we are intelligent creatures.

Our comparative analysis led us to hypothesize that the dental formula and cranial capacity may help determine whether a particular specimen is related to humans or not. To test out our theory, we then threw an unknown skull into the mix. After figuring out the dental formula, describing the tooth size, and looking at the cranial characteristics, our students concluded that the unknown skull was, in fact, related to humans because it shared a dental formula and had a cranial capacity that was in between that of the human and of the chimpanzees.

As it turns out, our students were absolutely correct! The unknown skull was Australopithecus afarensis, one of our evolutionary ancestors.

This activity ended up being a lot of fun, as everyone got a chance to handle castes of skulls and learn about how physical anthropologists may characterize skeletons. Moreover, by learning about basic skeletal features and interspecies variation, our students were able to conduct a comparative analysis of those features and to critically analyze the results based on that analysis.

All in all, a great day!

 

The lesson plan for this activity can be downloaded here.

Week 8 Skeletal Features

Week 5: Meddling Monkeys Scavenger Hunt

One of the ways that physical anthropologists learn about people is to study our nearest living relatives – primates. Primates include any member of the group of animals that includes human beings, apes, and monkeys. Learning about how primates navigate their world helps us understand the challenges and survival strategies that humans had to face in the past.

Primatologists, or specialists who study primates, are especially interested in learning how primates address one of the biggest issues that we all face: how to feed your family. Each primate species has a different from of social organization, although all primate species have to figure out how to survive against the odds. Factors that figure in to those odds include the proximity of other groups, competition for resources, the availability of high-calorie foods, and the need to protect the sensitive members of one’s group from predators.

This week’s activity pitted student groups against each other in a Meddling Monkeys Scavenger Hunt. In the MMSH, student groups were tasked with getting as many calories as possible by “foraging” throughout the classroom. Foods were represented by different colors of slips of paper and were placed with varying frequency throughout the classroom. The highest calorie foods, fruits, were worth 5 points. Fruits were present but were not the most common type of food in the scavenger hunt. Animal protein accounted for another category of the food in the scavenger hunt, being worth 2 points. Common sources include ants, insects, or grubs. The most common food source in the scavenger hunt, and in actual environments, included leaves and vegetation. In the game, a cluster of leaves was worth 1 point.

Students were divided into groups and were asked to come up with a survival strategy that permitted them to gather the most calories while still protecting the two primate babies that were given to each group. These babies were worth 10 points and could be stolen if the nest was not properly guarded. At the end, the group with the most calories (points) won.

 

Rules:

Students can only carry one item at a time, as primates are not bipedal (except humans).

Students were asked to walk in various ways to lengthen the game, including hopping on one foot, knuckle-walking, crab-walking, and walking with their hands behind their back.

Babies can be stolen if not guarded. Two group members must be at the nest to protect the babies (not one).

If a group loses both of their babies, the group automatically loses.

 

At the end of the class period, the scores were tallied and each group was asked to weigh their choices against their relative success. Interestingly, only one group was able to steal a baby. And while such an acquisition may seem to signal success, a different group ended up with the highest number of points (or calories). That suggests that the most effective strategy for success may be more complex that focusing on a single, high-calorie resource.

At the end of the day, our class also got to try one of the delicacies of the primate diet – roasted crickets!

Here are a few of the brave TMSE students who elected to give our crickets a try!

photo 2

photo 1

 

Others were more reluctant, but most of our students were willing to give it a shot.

photo 4

In the end, our  TMSE students learned about foraging strategies, the benefits of group membership, and even some of the downsides of being social. AND they got to sample a tasty treat!

Check back in next week, as we will start talking about human variation and genetic variability.

 

 

 

Meddling Monkeys Scavenger Hunt

The TMSE Anthropology class has been a lot of fun so far this year.  We’re following essentially the same lesson plan with a few improvements (we hope) here & there.  One of them was designed by graduate students in the UA Anthro Dept who kindly posted them to their blog here.  The game is called the “Meddling Monkeys Scavenger Hunt.”  The objective is to recognize that primate behavior (& we are primates, so this applies to us too) is ecologically relative.

DeBrazza monkey
DeBrazza monkeys are a type of guenon. Guenons are a type of cheek-pouch monkey that eat a lot of different things but really love fruit. They live in Africa.

We started off talking about the kind of food primates have to choose from.  We had dry roasted crickets, garden herbs, & one banana.  Crickets are high protein but hard to catch, so getting enough to survive on is tough unless you’re small, quick, & have a high metabolism.  Garden herbs might be tasty, but some of them (lemongrass) will tear up your mouth, while others (rosemary) are rather tough on the teeth.  Otherwise, you would need a tremendous amount to survive on & probably some specialized guts like cows (or colobus monkeys, gorillas, & howler monkeys, in the case of primates) to maximize digestion.  Of course, all the kids wanted the banana, but how many 7-10 year olds can we feed on one banana (which, in the wild type, look very little like our large yummy domesticates)?  And in all fairness, the class this semester is about the size of a monkey troop.  I asked them, what is the advantage of living in a group this size?  And they nailed the answer–more eyes to look out for predators & protect each other.  What are the disadvantages?  They nailed that too–you have to find food for all of them (& only one ripe banana?! who gets it?), & you have to put up with all of them!  Hmm…a lot like a human kid classroom!  So while a number of the kids braved cricket feet in their teeth & lived on the wild side, most opted for the leaves, & stayed hungry.

colobus monkey
Colobus monkeys are leaf-eating monkeys that live in Africa

Good, because “Meddling Monkeys” is all about eating.  There were three troops–a colobus troop, a guenon troop, & a bunch of rowdy chimps.  Colobus monkeys are leaf-eaters (largely), while guenons are “cheek-pouch” monkeys who prefer fruit & insects but are a bit more opportunistic.  Chimps are the danger variable, as they like fruit & insects but guess what else?  Monkey meat!  Given what we know about leaves, insects, & fruit, finding ripe fruit is rare but worth the most points, while insects are hard to catch but give the second most points/nutrients, whereas leaves are everywhere but have low points.  The purpose for the colobus & guenon troops was to collect as many nutrients for themselves & their babies as possible while guarding against marauding chimps, who steal food & eat babies (losing a baby costs 7 points)!

It’s all fun & games until a marauding chimp eats your baby!  Oh no!  And those meddling monkeys stole my food!!  The guenons were the ultimate winners of this year’s round, as they had some great nest guards who kept most of the babies safe.  The colobus monkeys came in second but lost all their babies.  The chimps did what chimps do but lost points for cheating by stealing food after the game was over.  Chimps are pretty aggressive in the wild too.  Don’t keep chimps for pets either!  They are wild animals & deserve distant respect.

chimpanzee
Chimpanzees are great apes that live in Africa. They LOVE to eat colobus monkeys.

Seriously, while colobus monkeys & guenons are not currently in jeopardy (& a new guenon species was just identified), chimps are our closest living relatives, sharing 98% of our DNA.  However, it has been projected that chimps will be extinct in the wild in our lifetimes (that’s MY lifetime, a 40-something-year-old, not to mention the lives of our kids).  To continue to learn about our own history & behavior by studying chimps, we need to work hard to protect them.  A recent law was fortunately passed that now prohibits all invasive medical experimentation with chimps.

So protect those marauding chimps & watch out for those meddling monkeys (but protect them too)!

Primate Food and Communication

Speaking of communication (pun intended–get it?), we wanted to share with the kids how our closest living non-human relatives communicate. How is human communication and symbolic behavior similar or different than other primates? We started by talking about some of the basic similarities and differences between us and other primates (video of primate skulls). For instance, the kids suggested that the space program sent chimps into space before humans because they are so much like humans, that we would be able to understand how human bodies would respond by seeing how chimp bodies responded.

But what we really wanted to get at is how primates learn. Do they learn by going to school like humans? Certainly not. Humans purposefully teach, while other primates tend to learn by watching. For instance, how does a young ape or monkey know what to eat or what not to eat? To explore this, our activity involved presenting the kids with a variety of possible primate foods, but not the kind human primates from Tuscaloosa are necessarily used to seeing. We presented them with an omnivore’s dilemma–what do I eat when my choices are insects (roasted crickets with salt, in this case), nuts (without nutcrackers), a variety of plant leaves and vegetables, and a giant spiky fruit that smells like dirty sweat socks? The differences in the wild, of course, are that our young primates would have to catch the bugs (but we are preadapted for that with 3-D vision and nimble fingers), climb to the leaves, figure out how to open the nut without pulverizing it, and avoid poisoning oneself (we brought in all non-toxic vegetation for this exercise). As the kids discovered, the best ways to figure out what to eat are to watch what other animals of your species eat and then take a little nibble. One child found he had a taste for insectivory, eating the crickets like dry roasted peanuts, while another found he had a taste for banana peppers straight off the vine. Most found the spikes of the durian fruit formidable when there was so much else available. However, many of the leaves were tough and chewy without something to wash them down.