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At-Academy Activity: Living Fossils Scavenger Hunt


Through this scavenger hunt, students will observe examples of animals with evolutionarily primitive characteristics and record observations using drawings and words.


Through this scavenger hunt, students will: 

  1. observe examples of animals with evolutionarily primitive characteristics.
  2. record observations using drawings and words.


  • Living Fossils Scavenger Hunt (one copy per student)
  • pencils (one per student)
  • optional: clipboards (one per student)


  • adaptation: a structure or behavior that increases an organism’s chance of surviving and reproducing in a particular environment.
  • extinct: when a species no longer exists.
  • evolution: how a species changes over time.
  • living fossil: a last, living representative of a group that has gone extinct.



  1. Make copies of the Living Fossils Scavenger Hunt.


  1. Clearly define the vocabulary for your students.  Provide a few examples and ask your students to think of other examples.
  2. Explain that you will be visiting multiple exhibits where you will see some organisms that have lived unchanged for a very long time even though their close relatives went extinct.  Have students brainstorm reasons why an organism might successfully live a long time unchanged.
  3. Go over the questions on the scavenger hunt with your students and chaperones to make sure they understand what they will be doing. 


  1. This scavenger hunt is most easily completed in the order written for ease of travel between exhibits; however, students can proceed in a different order or interrupt the sequence at any point for other activities.
  2. For the recommended sequence, begin in African Hall at the Namib Desert diorama.  It is near the end of the hall with the penguins.
  3. From African Hall, find and proceed through the aquarium.  Most of the living fossils at the Academy are aquatic. 
  4. Allow time for students to explore, observe, and answer the questions on the scavenger hunt.
  5. The last stop on the hunt is at the Naturalist Center on Level 3, which opens at 11am and closes at 4pm.  Students are asked to go a bit further and do their own research to answer some simple questions. 
  6. Finally, there are some extra living fossils on the hunt which students can look up after they leave the Academy.  This is an optional follow-up activity. 


  1. Discuss what might allow an organism to live unchanged over a long period of time.  Why might they have no evolutionary pressure to change?  What environmental or physiological factors would affect this?


As an extension, students may do further research on a living fossil they find particularly interesting.

California Content Standards

Grade Seven


  • 3e. Students know that extinction of a species occurs when the environment changes and the adaptive characteristics of a species are insufficient for its survival.



Living fossils are a disparate group of organisms that can be found interspersed throughout the California Academy of Sciences’ exhibits.  This scavenger hunt will guide students through exhibits and have them stop to study examples of living fossils, many of which will be found in the Aquarium.


Note that the Naturalist Center, where the horseshoe crab is found, is open on weekdays from 11am to 4pm (and 10-5 on weekends).  


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