This year is my last year teaching the Animal Form and Function dissection lab at the University of Ottawa. I’ve done a lot for this lab over the years, and I want to do one more thing.
The course is a survey through the animal kingdom with a particular emphasis on body plans. A creature’s “Bauplan” (in the original German) is the basic structure of its body, rid of peculiarities that disguise the similarity between the animal and its relatives. The more deeply these plans are explored, the more the ancient relationships and divergences that link animals to the entire kingdom’s common ancestor can be illuminated. Animal phyla, if the term still has any value, are often best understood as groups united by sharing a bauplan that distinguishes them from other groups, and these structures are important for an aspiring student of animal anatomy to recognize.