Thursday, June 18, 2009

Be careful what you write- the teacher might actually read it. [Connor]

This is an 8-page essay I wrote for biology. I figured it was just busywork and took a few liberties in writing it. Actually, Mrs. Beddes read the whole thing, and when the class asked what she was laughing about, she read it aloud to the class. I was surprised by how many people read it and loved it.

Connor Kunz

1. Calcarea
Despite sounding like a terrible tropical disease, or at least something you could catch from a poorly cooked taco, Calcarea is actually a thriving phylum of simple, completely sessile creatures known as sponges. Sessile means that they do not move and remain stationary, which is why scientists have dubbed them “nature’s couch potatoes.” They also lack true tissues, a fact that no American outside of a college-level biology class will understand, and that probably only half of those in a college-level biology class will understand. Sponges live a relatively simple existence as suspension feeders, meaning that they spend their days trapping particles of food passing through their internal channels and watching old episodes of M*A*S*H.

2. Silicarea
Silicarea and Calcarea are in fact, separate phylums, a fact that the writers of our beloved biology book apparently overlooked when they wrote it, seeing as they grouped them both under the heading of Porifera so as to provide a less satisfactory explanation. Not that I harbor any animosity toward the wonderful men and women who wrote this book. Anyway, it lists them as having exactly the same statistics and characteristics, and simply groups them all as sponges.

3. Cnidaria
The spelling of Cnidaria confuses many people into pronouncing it wrong. The trick is to remember that the ‘C’ is silent, so that it is correctly pronounced ‘pterodactyl.’ Cnidaria is also the only phylum thus far to be included in my computer’s spell check, a noteworthy fact. There are over 10,000 species of Cnidaria, including corals, jellies, and hydras. In a stunning revelation that will gross the average reader out for days, it is revealed that they are equipped with only a gastro vascular cavity, meaning that their mouth and anus are, in fact, one and the same. There is an unlimited number of tasteless jokes I could make here involving that fact, but I won’t.

4. Cnetophora
Also known as “comb jellies”, Cnetophora are largish, glowing jellyfish-like creatures that don’t look at all like giant radioactive nasal discharges, so just get that thought right out of your mind. They are diploblastic, which, for the benefit of those who have something better to do with their time then study biology books, means that they have only two “germ layers” around their coelom, instead of three. At least I think that’s what it means; I’m not totally 100% sure, and frankly, I have six more pages to write. Anyhow, many scientists believe that, because they are both diploblastic, Cnetophora and Cnetophora (pronounced “pterodactyl”) may share a common ancestor eons ago.

5. Echinodermata
Echinodermata are actually pretty cool. They exhibit radial symmetry, which, aside from being a somewhat outdated and out-of-style evolutionary adaptation (who knows? Maybe it will come back in style!), is pretty cool-looking in my own humble opinion. They include sand dollars, sea stars, and sea urchins. As a helpful little side note, do not ever touch a sea urchin. Now let’s move on. Another interesting fact about Echinodermata is that they move using a system of internal canals to pump water to different parts of their body.

6. Chordata
There are over 52,000 known species of Chordata, several of which are represented in the US Senate. Most of them are vertebrates. Meaning, of course, that they have a backbone. However, several groups, including tunicates, Democrats, lancets, and hagfishes, have no backbone. Frankly, I don’t know why they were grouped with Chordata. My personal theory is that the scientist in charge of classifying them was having a long day and decided that, in all actuality, nobody would ever notice that he had grouped a couple obscure species into an equally obscure phylum. Maybe he was also the one responsible for turning our biology book into a 1300-page monstrosity of indecipherable scientific jargon. I don’t know.

7. Brachiopoda
Brachiopoda are a group of giant, reptilian creatures characterized by their long necks, up to thirty feet in length. The creatures themselves grew up to eighty feet tall. They were herbivores, feeding primarily on gingko leaves.
Oh wait! Sorry, that’s Brachiosaurs! Brachiopoda are a phylum known as ‘lamp shells’ and are, in fact, closer to clams, only no doubt less tasty. Also, I doubt that “brachiopoda chowder” will catch on much. They are different, however, in that they have a stalk-like structure that anchors them in to their substrate. There are three hundred thirty-five species of Brachiopoda.

8. Phoronida
Compromising a rather pitiful 20 species, these are also known as marine worms. I don’t know about you, but for me this conjures up a mental image of a gruff-looking worm in a beaten-up US Marine Corps helmet and carrying a rifle, perhaps helping to raise the flag on a hill on the newly conquered Iwo Jima. Something tells me this is not the case. Anyways, marine worms live in tunnels on the seafloor. They have also been known to extend a tentacle out of their tunnels to trap food in a manner that has earned them a starring role in many undersea horror movies.

Whew. Four pages of PHYLUMS! Wasn’t that fun? Let’s all take a break for a moment to breath before diving into Act II, shall we?
Ok. Time’s up. On to Ectoprocta!

9. Ectoprocta
There are over 4,500 known species of Ectoprocta. They are a puzzling mystery that has baffled science as one of the most mysterious phylums in existence. At least, that’s the conclusion I came to after seeing the shocking lack of information on them. Even our book, which normally can drone on for hundreds of pages on such topics as the desaturated ionization of eubacterial DNA, has no more than a sentence on them. I did glean, however, that they are also known as ‘bryozoans’, they have a rough, protective exoskeleton, and that they live in sessile colonies, no doubt spending their days watching football.

10. Platyhelminthes
Platyhelminthes (pronounced “pterodactyl”) are classified as flatworms, a group that includes planarians, tapeworms, and flukes. They have bilateral symmetry but no body cavity, which is a fairly unique concept. Platyhelminthes are also known for their terrific batting average. ‘Platyhelminthes’ has been a standard in the National Spelling Bee for years, no contestant ever having spelled it correctly.

11. Nemertea
Nemertea compromise over four hundred species including proboscis worms and ribbon worms. I won’t lie: I find endless reading about phylums of obscure life-forms rather tedious, don’t you? I have a solution. Give me an A, and I’ll let you stop reading this. Okay?
Want to keep reading, huh? All right, have it your way. Nemertea have no true coelom, but have instead evolved with an alimentary canal, or digestive tract. They swim in the water (rather redundant, I suppose) or burrow in the undersea floor. Some Nemertea also use their proboscis to catch prey, which I personally find somewhat creepy.

12. Mollusca
Mollusca is tonight’s runner-up for number of species, with over 93,000 species of mollusks. Mollusks include snails, clams, squids, and octopuses. At least, the book refers to them as octopuses. I’ve always heard that called octopi, haven’t you? Mollusks have a soft body with a hard shell on the outside. Seeing as I haven’t eaten in hours, I now have a vivid mental image of a meal from Red Lobster: the feel of the hard shell of a king crab leg, and the butter-smothered taste of the soft meat within. Yum.

14. Annelida
I’m going on four hours almost straight of working on this, and frankly, I’m nearing my breaking point. It’s no coincidence that ‘studying’ is ‘student’ and ‘dying’ put together. Now, down to business. There are 16,500 species of Annelida, all of them apparently worms. The book lists them as segmented worms, which I assume is referring to the fact that they are worms with segments. Many Annelida have a cool feature that allows them to continue living after being cut in half. Imagine if humans were like that. Okay, I think I need to get done. Like, fast. . .

15. Rotifera
There are 1800 species of Rotifera. They are microscopic in size but nevertheless have very complex organ systems, including a digestive tract. I realize that having a digestive tract is not necessarily a sign of sophistication or intelligence, the Jonas Brothers being Example A. Anyway, these complex little Rotifera feed on microorganisms. It’s anyone’s guess WHY they choose to eat microorganisms; my guess is that nobody’s told them about pizza delivery.

16. Nematoda
Nematoda. Nematoda. Nematoda. It’s kind of fun to say, really. Nematoda.
Boy, I had better get done with this.
There are 25,000 species of Nematoda. The phylum is composed of roundworms. They are enormously abundant and diverse. Nematoda enjoys golfing, spending time with friends, and long walks on the beach.
And now. . . Our final phylum. . .
(drum roll)

17. Arthropoda
Arthropoda is tonight’s grand winner, with over one million different species and counting. Arthropods account for the vast majority of all known animal species, including crustaceans, arachnids, insects, and Joe Biden. They have segmented exoskeletons and jointed appendages. They also have the distinguished place of being the last phylum I cover in this assignment, meaning that as I type this, I am thinking of the wonderful and blissful freedom that lies ahead of me in having this assignment finished with. I hope you had fun in Costa Rica. Please give me an A. Thank you.


  1. Nice mixture of science and humor. If you don't mind my asking, what grade did you end up with?

  2. Oh my...I think that was the best thing I've read since Dave Barry's column stopped printing in my newspaper each week. Props to you for the excellent writing, and serious props to your teacher for reading it out loud--I LOL'ed. Seriously.