Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Fossil Forensics - Plant and Insect Relationships


Go behind the scenes and meet Dr. Conrad Labandeira, a paleobiologist at the National Museum of Natural History. He studies the associations between insects and plants on Earth. Did you know that the relationships that sustain our life today- such as herbivory and pollination - have been going on for tens of millions of years? Take a journey with Conrad, chasing fossils back to the time when insect and plant relationships first evolved. Follow a trail of evidence to find out which insects were eating plants in the coal swamps of the Carboniferous, 300 million years ago. Figure out how species have changed, while types of relationships have persisted. Take the opportunity to virtually examine leaf fossils and make your own hypotheses about what happened millions of years ago.

This program originally aired Feb. 8, 2018, as part of the Smithsonian Science How webcast series, which is designed to bring natural history science and research to upper-elementary and middle-school students.

Teaching Resources

Plant-Insect Relationships through Time

National Middle School Standards

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Life Science

MS-LS1 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

  • MS-LS1-4: Use argument based on empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support an explanation for how characteristic animal behaviors and specialized plant structures affect the probability of successful reproduction of animals and plants respectively.

MS-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

  • MS-LS2-2: Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.

MS-LS4 Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

  • MS-LS4-1: Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past.
  • MS-LS4-2: Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships.

Earth Science

MS-ESS1 Earth's Place in the Universe

  • MS-ESS1-4: Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence from rock strata for how the geologic time scale is used to organize Earth's 4.6-billion-year-old history.
Resource Type
Videos and Webcasts
Grade Level
Life Science