Anatomy, Behavior, and Evolution: Fishy Solutions to Life Underwater

Course Description

Life is complicated underwater. How do you disappear on a bustling coral reef, “see” in a muddy river bottom, raise offspring in a lake full of predators, or find food at the bottom of the ocean? Only one group of vertebrates has solved all of these questions: fish. Fish have adapted to every known underwater habitat, from the tiny pools in the deserts of Death Valley to the ice shelves of Antarctica. Fish can fly, walk on land, play dead, glow in the dark, sense heartbeats buried in the sand, and communicate with hidden messages. No wonder there are more species of fish than there are all other vertebrates combined! This course will explore the many ways fish have adapted to their complex, challenging environments, and how and why biologists study these adaptations.

There are many ways to characterize an animal’s fitness--we will cover physiological, sensory, biomechanical, anatomical, and behavioral adaptations to underwater environments. You will dissect fish and view museum collections in order to solidify the connections between fish, their adaptations, and their habitats. Outside of class, you will read original research articles to discuss, critique, and build upon these ideas in class, while learning how to approach primary scientific literature.

During this course, you will:
• Interpret fish biodiversity through the lens of adaptation: what can we tell (or not) about a fish's life based on its external and internal anatomy?
• Use modern research techniques such as CT scanning, microscopy, and non-human vision simulations to investigate fish adaptations invisible to the naked eye.
• Engage with science as an active process that is inquisitive, iterative, skeptical, and collaborative.
• Gain experience with persuasive, scientific writing by proposing an original research project to address an experimental question about fish biology.

These experiences are intended to spur curiosity and give you the tools to think like evolutionary and organismal biologists: what are interesting questions about adaptations, and what methods can we use to answer them? Ultimately, you will identify an interesting question and design your own (theoretical) experiment to answer it using the modern research methods you learned about throughout the course.

On-Campus Supplemental Fee: $75


There are no prerequisites for this class, however you should have an interest in biology and a willingness to think quantitatively, as some of the labs will involve data analysis. Prior exposure to a basic biology or evolution course is a plus but is not required. You should be willing to take a hands-on approach in labs, which will include the opportunity to dissect fish and handle museum specimens. Please be advised that this course focuses on fish biology, and is not a general 'marine biology' course: we do not discuss marine mammals.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: July 25, 2022 - August 05, 2022
Duration: 2 Weeks
Meeting Times: M-F 12:15P-3:05P
Status: Closed
Format: On-Campus
Instructor(s): Elska Kaczmarek
Hannah Weller
Course Number: 10135