Activity 7: Do at the Museum!

Corals Galore

While at the museum you can study corals from the ancient ocean that once covered New York.


Sort the coral fossils by their length into three piles (short, medium, and long).

What length of coral was the most common?

What length was the least common?

Why do you think the corals are different sizes?

Could the corals be different sizes because they are different ages? Could some be fossils of young corals and some fossils of adult corals?


A lot of people wonder why museums have so many fossils that are the same kind. But, as you can see, no two corals are exactly alike. Sometimes scientists have to study lots of fossils of the same kind to learn how each one is similar and also how they are different.

Extension: You could do this same activity in your classroom or at home, but rather than comparing coral lengths compare the height of family members or classmates.

Discuss: Where would you go to see living corals today? Tropical seawater. So what are fossil corals doing in cold blustery New York (on land)? Our continent was once over the tropics and sea level was high enough to flood New York.

Main Message: The point here is to show that we can "see" growth even in fossil organisms, and also that we need lots of individuals to have a well-rounded understanding of a species.

Connections: All animals grow, so for this kind of study it is possible to use any collection of fossils of a particular kind, as in activity 6. Finger-sized coral specimens free from the rock are easier to sort by size than the brachiopods and trilobites.

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