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Goya: huge, hunted, and extinct

  • Key Stage 3
  • GCSE
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Information retrieval
Topic: Evolution & natural selection

Science changes fast in this area! We are developing a new activity for this context, as part of upd8 Crucial. Find out more. The original activity is no longer available.

Scientists have found fossilized remains of a puzzling extinct animal - Goya - in Venezuela. In this activity, pupils are asked to construct a food web that includes Goya. They then identify a present day descendant of the animal, and will be surprised to find that the 700kg monster rodent is a relative of their pet guinea pig!

Published: 20th January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 14

Learning objectives

Students will:
• Construct a food web for Goya from an article about its diet and predators.
• Use similarities and differences to identify a species descended from the Goya.

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Evolution: the fossil record is evidence for evolution and variation and selection can lead to either evolution or extinction.

11 – 14(KS3)
Environment and feeding relationships QCA 7C
• Describe food chains and combine them into food webs.
Variation and classification QCA 7D
• Organisms can be grouped by their similarities and differences, and a species is a group of very similar organisms; describe common features of taxonomic groups of animals.

GCSE specifications
AQA Core Science
Unit B1a Evolution and Environment: 11.7 Why have some species of plants and animals died out? How do new species of plants and animals develop?
• Fossils provide evidence of how much (or how little) different organisms have changed since life developed on Earth.
• Studying the similarities and differences between species helps us to understand evolutionary and ecological relationships.
Edexcel Core Science
Unit B1a Topic 1: Environment
• Explain that fossils provide evidence for evolution.
Gateway Core Science
Module B2 Understanding our environment: Item B2f Survival of the Fittest
• State that fossils can provide evidence for living organisms from long ago.
• Explain that animals and plants can change over long periods of time and that fossils provide evidence for this.
Twenty First Century Core Science
Module B3 Life on Earth: B3.1 How did life on Earth begin and evolve?
• Understand that evidence for evolution is provided by fossils.

Running the activity

This activity asks pupils to construct a food web for Goya from an article about its diet and predators. Pupils then work in groups to examine cards about 5 modern animals and decide which one is related to Goya. The activity can be run as a short starter activity, or extended through more in-depth discussion to a longer main activity.

Page 1 sets the scene - it shows a scientists bursting into the offices of 'Scientific Journal' to tell them about the exciting find of Goya's fossilized bones. It also sets the tasks. It can be printed onto transparency or projected.

Page 2 contains an article about Goya as well as an artist's impression of the extinct animal. It contains a blank food web for pupils to fill in. On the bottom line of the food web are the producers (sea grass and reeds); the primary consumers are goya and the giant turtle; the secondary consumers are big cats, crocodiles and meat-eating birds.

Page 3 is a set of cards to cut up. Each one has data about a modern animal. Working in small groups, pupils read the cards and reject those they think cannot be traced back to Goya. They then select the one animal they think is a modern descendent of Goya, and hold up that card when told to by the teacher. Groups must be prepared to explain their choice when asked! Surprisingly, scientists believe that the guinea pig is Goya's modern descendent: This animal has been called guinea-zilla because its modern descendant is the guinea pig. Like the guinea pig Goya is a rodent, probably the largest rodent that has ever lived. Like guinea pigs, Goya lived in family groups The teeth that grow all its life are used for gnawing food. If they did not continue to grow they would get worn away with constant use and the animal would starve to death. The huge ancestor (Goya) possibly became extinct because it could not run away from predators. But the smaller animals could hide in the grass and were more likely to survive.

News links

Tales of the riverbank: how a giant guinea pig roamed South America
Links to games and animations on the subject of evolution and fossil formation.
Natural History Museum
Pages on evolution and how the theory developed.
Cambridge University
An interactive site on evolution. Take the left-hand exit from the lobby for a condensed history of life on Earth.
An animated tutorial on the effect changing conditions have on the evolution of a species.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Goya: huge, hunted, and extinct review

May 24th, 2013

5 Star

Reviewer: P J


Mar 15th, 2013

1 Star

Does anyone still have a copy of these resources please?

Reviewer: Jo Curley

Goya activity

May 17th, 2012

1 Star

Really sad the resources for this activity have been removed :-( .... I use it every year but made the mistake of not saving the resources to my own computer....please bring them back!!!

Reviewer: joanna Clare

The Great nuclear debate

Nov 18th, 2010

5 Star

This is a fantastic resource. I currently teach in NZ. I started by using it as is (set in the UK) with my year 10/11 class. Then it was so encouragingly successful that I followed it with the play-power water activity, amazing results. Encouraged and bolstered by the newly found confidence of not one but two good lessons with the apathetics I tried it with the year 8-9's as a dramatic performance for the whole school assembly. Well I've just finished adapting the scenario to suit NZ (kids adapted the arguments for each interested party themselves) the actual assembly is tomorrow so I'll let you know. The most important thing is I'm excited and nervous about it because I believe it may be a winner! Thank you for fantastic inspiration UPD8 as always. P.S. Can we start an NZ page, I've adapted half your stuff for AU and NZ myself already!

Reviewer: Laura Dignan


Sep 4th, 2010

4 Star

Tried this with Yr 8's.
They understood the activity and most produced great food webs and managed to identify the guinea pig as a probable descendant of Goya.
They were amazed by the size of the creature and were really well engaged with the activity which took around 30 minutes.

Reviewer: Simone Lively

Goya: huge, hunted, and extinct review

Apr 27th, 2009

5 Star

Planning to use with a low ability yr 10 group. I've added some related activities to stretch this activity out to a whole lesson. It looks like a good way of recapping food webs, fossils and ancestors.

Reviewer: Rachel Minton


Jun 26th, 2008

4 Star

Excellent, brilliant evidence but recommend to users that they include a brief intro first

Reviewer: Chris Wright

Goya: huge, hunted, and extinct review

Oct 11th, 2007

5 Star

This activity was done with a mixed ability year 10 class. It was a good way a reviewing KS3 work. Pupils were encouraged to read information, make decisions and justify choices.

Reviewer: sue kennedy

Goya: huge, hunted, and extinct review

Jul 6th, 2007

5 Star

I used this activity with a top set Year 10, desperate for a way to make the final period on a Friday abit more interesting for them. I, like others was concerned that it may have been a little too easy, but the students all seemed to enjoy the activity, being given the facts, then told to come up with the nearest living relative. They found it interesting coming up with reasons for their choices and it made that last period of the week easier on all of us.

Reviewer: Damaris Anderson


Jun 21st, 2007

4 Star

Used this with a group of middle ability year 10's. I began by introducing the activity and setting the scene and followed this up by asking the pupils to construct the food web. I asked them questions about what would happen if some of the turtle population were killed off due to disease and brought in interdependence. We then went on to look at which animal was likely to be the closest living relative of the Goya and why.

Like others I was worried this activity would be too simple for the group, however they really enjoyed it and participated extremely well. Would certainly use it again!

Reviewer: James Nowak


May 3rd, 2007

4 Star

I used this with my top set year ten and although I was worried it might be too simple for them, it worked really well.

I started the lesson by asking 'why did the dinosaurs become extinct' This developed many theories and we explored what evidence we would need to prove any of these.

I then went on to use this activity. The tasks I set from the activity were......
1) Use the information in the sheet to fill out the food web
2) Pick which animal is related to the Goya and state the evidence for this
3) Suggests reasons why the Goya died out and the related living animal survived

I was really impressed with the discussion this activity developed

Reviewer: Katherine Rolls


Jun 27th, 2006

4 Star

I used this activity as a homework for my top set year 7. We had spent a lesson on food chains and food webs. Theythen took home with them the sheet with the information to read and the food web to do, plus the cards of the animals. They were then told to read the information and write an article to inform the scientists of which animal was the modern ancestor of Goya and why and show the food web which contained goya. They all produced very good articles and I have had all the cards back except one due to the child being absent from school. A worthwhile enjoyable activity to reinforce food chains and webs. Thankyou.

Reviewer: jane warwick

can not open up files

Apr 27th, 2006

5 Star

i tried to open up both file (activity and teacher notes), it would not open up. tried 3 times.

Reviewer: m Akhtar

Goya: huge, hunted, and extinct review

Feb 25th, 2005

5 Star

I used it with year 7 at the start of the topic. My traffic light activity of prior knowledge from KS2 indicated that they felt confident with food chains and webs. I wished to confirm this and used the activity as a first lesson.

The pupils really enjoyed the material, it gave them a different context so they did not feel they were repeating work. I told them they were working like real scientists, looking at the evidence, discussing, agreeing and drawing conclusions.

Pupils worked in groups of each 4 to discuss the work and decide on the nearest living relative. We then had a class vote, and each group had to come up with reasons to justify their choice. As always pupils enjoyed discussion ( not something science teacher often do) . Walking round listening to their discussions showed me good sceintific thought was occuring and they did understand the work.

I was then able to move on next lesson without spending more time on this part and so saved time foir something else. Pupils were very positive about the lesson - and there was nothing to mark too!

Reviewer: Tanya Dempster