SITE VISIT: Animals, Animals

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Science  10 Sep 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5434, pp. 1635b
DOI: 10.1126/science.285.5434.1635b

Some kinds of information naturally lend themselves to cyberspace. Catalogs, for example, can become constantly growing tomes adorned with the latest multimedia bells and whistles. That's what you'll find at Animal Diversity Web, where you can look up basic facts on sea sponges or mountain gorillas, listen to a gray wolf's mournful howls, or examine (in virtual reality) a flying lemur's skull.

Mammalogist Phil Myers, associate curator at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, built the site with help from his students, who have written around 1600 “species accounts” that can be retrieved by key word searches or by branching down phylum, order, and class. The accounts describe species' appearance and life history (American toads breed from April 5 to July 25), economic importance (the golden poison arrow frog has yielded a potential painkilling drug), and endangered status. Delve more deeply and you'll see why Myers calls the site “a resource for teaching about animal diversity,” especially in mammals. He's written special sections that explore such topics as the huge variety in teeth (high-crowned cheek teeth help grazers munch tough grasses) or how different species are adapted for longer stride length (cheetahs have long metapodials; kangaroos a long fourth digit). Making the site a virtual lab are hundreds of eye-popping photos of animal skulls.

Myers cautions that the student-written accounts are probably only “95% accurate,” because they haven't been checked by experts, so researchers may prefer more technical sites. But for teaching, says mammalogist Doug Kelt of the University of California, Davis, “I find it a fantastic page.” animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu

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