Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

What Tiny Marine Fossils Reveal about Extinction


Meet Dr. Gene Hunt, a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History. Have you ever wondered what makes a species likely to go extinct? Some species have a long tenure on Earth, while others go extinct more rapidly. Gene analyzes fossils of tiny ocean animals called ostracodes to tease out what characteristics govern their tenacity on Earth. See how microscopy helps him tell males from females. Marvel at the methods he uses to test the hypothesis that sex differences play a role in whether a species can survive environmental changes.

This program originally aired on February 9, 2017, 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

Sexual Selection

National Middle School Standards

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

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.

Life Science

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.
Resource Type
Grade Level
Earth Science