Question Sheet: South America’s sticky tar pits
- What is asphalt and how does it form?
- What is a fossil?
- Do you know what has been pulled out of Los Angeles’ La Brea tar pits?
- How do you think those animals got in there?
- Why are scientists interested in what has been trapped by the South American
- What are menes and how do they form?
- How old are some of the most ancient critters trapped in the South American
- Some tar pits lie near Panama. Why does their geographic location
particularly interest scientists? (Hint: Picture the placement of the Panama
- Describe the types of environments that had existed prior to the development
of a tar pit at some of these South American sites.
- By how many years do these pits extend the fossil record in South
- How do the fossils in these pits differ from the fossils people usually find
on land, such as of a dinosaur?
- Why do scientists care about what animals roamed Earth thousands or even
millions of years ago?
- Explain why you would like to observe scientists extracting fossils from one
of these tar pits — or why you wouldn’t. Pick an answer that doesn’t involve:
“Because it’s yucky!”
- What might the fossils suggest about evolution and where particular families
of species come from?
- Like dinosaur fossils, many of the remnants being pulled out of tar pits
point to the existence of animals that no longer roam our planet. Many resemble
existing types of animals. What argument for evolution, if any, can you make by
contrasting the animals trapped in tarry asphalt versus species alive today?
- Would the asphalt in tar pits make a good fuel? Why or why not?
- Study the countries where South American tar pits occur. What about them
might help explain why these fossil storage sites went unexplored for so long?
- Asphalt, the tarry material in these pits, is also used in road building.
Venezuela has many natural asphalt deposits. Indeed, the United States imports
much of its asphalt from there. But Venezuela’s government has recently
threatened to cut off supplies of asphalt to the United States. If that
happened, what effects do you think this could have on your
- Write a small poem about what gets trapped by or pulled out of tar pits.
- Write three paragraphs explaining what you’d do if you stumbled across one
of these tar pits while walking through a woods, and what you think might be in