SSAT Upper Level Reading : Locating Details in Narrative Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SSAT Upper Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #8 : Identifying And Analyzing Details In Science Passages

Adapted from “Darwin’s Predecessors” by J. Arthur Thomson in Evolution in Modern Thought (1917 ed.)

In seeking to discover Darwin's relation to his predecessors, it is useful to distinguish the various services which he rendered to the theory of organic evolution.

As everyone knows, the general idea of the doctrine of descent is that the plants and animals of the present day are the lineal descendants of ancestors on the whole somewhat simpler, that these again are descended from yet simpler forms, and so on backwards towards the literal "Protozoa" and "Protophyta" about which we unfortunately know nothing. Now no one supposes that Darwin originated this idea, which in rudiment at least is as old as Aristotle. What Darwin did was to make it current intellectual coin. He gave it a form that commended itself to the scientific and public intelligence of the day, and he won widespread conviction by showing with consummate skill that it was an effective formula to work with, a key which no lock refused. In a scholarly, critical, and preeminently fair-minded way, admitting difficulties and removing them, foreseeing objections and forestalling them, he showed that the doctrine of descent supplied a modal interpretation of how our present-day fauna and flora have come to be.

In the second place, Darwin applied the evolution-idea to particular problems, such as the descent of man, and showed what a powerful tool it is, introducing order into masses of uncorrelated facts, interpreting enigmas both of structure and function, both bodily and mental, and, best of all, stimulating and guiding further investigation. But here again it cannot be claimed that Darwin was original. The problem of the descent or ascent of man, and other particular cases of evolution, had attracted not a few naturalists before Darwin's day, though no one [except Herbert Spencer in the psychological domain (1855)] had come near him in precision and thoroughness of inquiry.

In the third place, Darwin contributed largely to a knowledge of the factors in the evolution-process, especially by his analysis of what occurs in the case of domestic animals and cultivated plants, and by his elaboration of the theory of natural selection, which Alfred Russel Wallace independently stated at the same time, and of which there had been a few previous suggestions of a more or less vague description. It was here that Darwin's originality was greatest, for he revealed to naturalists the many different forms—often very subtle—which natural selection takes, and with the insight of a disciplined scientific imagination he realized what a mighty engine of progress it has been and is.

Based on this passage, what was the role of Herbert Spencer in the history of evolutionary doctrine?

Possible Answers:

He was the only real source from which Darwin drew his thought.

His thought had no major relation to thought pertaining to evolution.

None of the other answers

In many ways, his thought presaged that of Darwin's, predicting several major aspects of Darwin's theories.

His thought had aspects related to evolution as a theme in certain social sciences.

Correct answer:

His thought had aspects related to evolution as a theme in certain social sciences.

Explanation:

In the passage, it is said that few naturalists focused on evolution or the descent/ascent of man before Darwin's day. "Naturalists" would be "natural scientists." The parenthetical remark about Spencer makes sure that the reader knows, however, that Spencer did pay attention to it "in the psychological domain." Some argue that he was influential to Darwin, but that is not discussed here. However, we can say that his thought did contain aspects that applied the idea of evolution to certain branches of the social sciences.

Example Question #481 : Act Reading

"Darwinism's Effect on Science" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

For much of the history of human thought, the sciences have studied subjects that seemed to be eternal and unchanging. Even the basic laws of the Nile’s flooding were investigated in the hopes of finding never-altering laws. Similarly, the scientific investigations of the ancient Near East and Greece into the regular laws of the stars ultimately looked for constant patterns. This overall pattern of scientific reasoning has left deep marks on the minds of almost all thinkers and found its apotheosis in modern physics. From the time of the early renaissance to the nineteenth century, physics represented the ultimate expression of scientific investigation for almost all thinkers. Its static laws appeared to be the unchanging principles of all motion and life on earth. By the nineteenth century, it had appeared that only a few details had to be “cleared up” before all science was basically known.

In many ways, this situation changed dramatically with the arrival of Darwinism. It would change even more dramatically in early twentieth-century physics as well. Darwin’s theories of evolution challenged many aspects of the “static” worldview. Even those who did not believe that a divine being created an unchanging world were shaken by the new vistas opened up to science by his studies. It had been a long-accepted inheritance of Western culture to believe that the species of living organisms were unchanging in nature. Though there might be many different kinds of creatures, the kinds themselves were not believed to change. The thesis of a universal morphing of types shattered this cosmology, replacing the old world-view with a totally new one. Among the things that had to change in light of Darwin’s work was the very view of science held by most people.

According to the passage, what is the source of modern science?

Possible Answers:

Renaissance humanists

Renaissance scientists

Greek astronomy

Egyptian mathematics

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

None of the other answers

Explanation:

This passage does not really provide a direct history of the "rise of science" and its history. It does provide examples of a certain outlook, using Egypt, the Near East, and Greece as examples. However, none of these are claimed to be the primary ancestors of science.

Example Question #6 : Identifying And Analyzing Details In Science Passages

"Darwinism's Effect on Science" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

For much of the history of human thought, the sciences have studied subjects that seemed to be eternal and unchanging. Even the basic laws of the Nile’s flooding were investigated in the hopes of finding never-altering laws. Similarly, the scientific investigations of the ancient Near East and Greece into the regular laws of the stars ultimately looked for constant patterns. This overall pattern of scientific reasoning has left deep marks on the minds of almost all thinkers and found its apotheosis in modern physics. From the time of the early renaissance to the nineteenth century, physics represented the ultimate expression of scientific investigation for almost all thinkers. Its static laws appeared to be the unchanging principles of all motion and life on earth. By the nineteenth century, it had appeared that only a few details had to be “cleared up” before all science was basically known.

In many ways, this situation changed dramatically with the arrival of Darwinism. It would change even more dramatically in early twentieth-century physics as well. Darwin’s theories of evolution challenged many aspects of the “static” worldview. Even those who did not believe that a divine being created an unchanging world were shaken by the new vistas opened up to science by his studies. It had been a long-accepted inheritance of Western culture to believe that the species of living organisms were unchanging in nature. Though there might be many different kinds of creatures, the kinds themselves were not believed to change. The thesis of a universal morphing of types shattered this cosmology, replacing the old world-view with a totally new one. Among the things that had to change in light of Darwin’s work was the very view of science held by most people.

Which of the following gives the best example of the “static worldview” discussed in the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

"Though there might be many different kinds of creatures, the kinds themselves were not believed to change."

"The thesis of a universal morphing of types shattered this cosmology, replacing the old world-view with a totally new one."

"In many ways, this situation changed dramatically with the arrival of Darwinism."

"Among the things that had to change in light of Darwin’s work was the very view of science held by most people."

"Even those who did not believe that a divine being created an unchanging world were shaken by the new vistas opened up to science by his studies."

Correct answer:

"Though there might be many different kinds of creatures, the kinds themselves were not believed to change."

Explanation:

Among the answer choices provided, only one implies an example of the static worldview that preceded Darwin. The answer states that the kinds of creatures were believed not change. This is an example of an outlook that believes things to be unchanging.

Example Question #131 : Narrative Science Passages

"Interpreting the Copernican Revolution" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

The expressions of one discipline can often alter the way that other subjects understand themselves. Among such cases are numbered the investigations of Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicus is best known for his views concerning heliocentrism, a view which eventually obliterated many aspects of the ancient/medieval worldview, at least from the standpoint of physical science. It had always been the natural view of mankind that the earth stood at the center of the universe, a fixed point in reference to the rest of the visible bodies. The sun, stars, and planets all rotated around the earth.

With time, this viewpoint became one of the major reference points for modern life. It provided a provocative image that was used—and often abused—by many people for various purposes. For those who wished to weaken the control of religion on mankind, it was said that the heliocentric outlook proved man’s insignificance. In contrast with earlier geocentrism, heliocentrism was said to show that man is not the center of the universe. He is merely one small being in the midst of a large cosmos. However, others wished to use the “Copernican Revolution” in a very different manner. These thinkers wanted to show that there was another “recentering” that had to happen. Once upon a time, we talked about the world. Now, however, it was necessary to talk of man as the central reference point. Just as the solar system was “centered” on the sun, so too should the sciences be centered on the human person.

However, both of these approaches are fraught with problems. Those who wished to undermine the religious mindset rather misunderstood the former outlook on the solar system. The earlier geocentric mindset did not believe that the earth was the most important body in the heavens. Instead, many ancient and medieval thinkers believed that the highest “sphere” above the earth was the most important being in the physical universe. Likewise, the so-called “Copernican Revolution” in physics was different from the one applied to the human person. Copernicus’ revolution showed that the human point of view was not the center, whereas the later forms of “Copernican revolution” wished to show just the opposite.

Of course, there are many complexities in the history of such important changes in scientific outlook. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see the wide-reaching effects of such discoveries, even when they have numerous, ambiguous effects.

Which of the following would be a direct consequence of belief in geocentrism?

Possible Answers:

That the universe is finite in size

That even the stars in space move

That the earth does not move

That the sun is stationary

That all bodies in space have independent orbits

Correct answer:

That the earth does not move

Explanation:

The theory of geocentrism held that the earth was the center of the solar system (indeed of all things) and that it was fixed in its location. This means that the earth presumably did not move at all. It was "a fixed point in reference to the rest of the visible bodies." They all rotated around it.

Example Question #43 : Science Passages

Adapted from “Humming-Birds: As Illustrating the Luxuriance of Tropical Nature” in Tropical Nature, and Other Essays by Alfred Russel Wallace (1878)

The food of hummingbirds has been a matter of much controversy. All the early writers down to Buffon believed that they lived solely on the nectar of flowers, but since that time, every close observer of their habits maintains that they feed largely, and in some cases wholly, on insects. Azara observed them on the La Plata in winter taking insects out of the webs of spiders at a time and place where there were no flowers. Bullock, in Mexico, declares that he saw them catch small butterflies, and that he found many kinds of insects in their stomachs. Waterton made a similar statement. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of specimens have since been dissected by collecting naturalists, and in almost every instance their stomachs have been found full of insects, sometimes, but not generally, mixed with a proportion of honey. Many of them in fact may be seen catching gnats and other small insects just like fly-catchers, sitting on a dead twig over water, darting off for a time in the air, and then returning to the twig. Others come out just at dusk, and remain on the wing, now stationary, now darting about with the greatest rapidity, imitating in a limited space the evolutions of the goatsuckers, and evidently for the same end and purpose. Mr. Gosse also remarks, ” All the hummingbirds have more or less the habit, when in flight, of pausing in the air and throwing the body and tail into rapid and odd contortions. This is most observable in the Polytmus, from the effect that such motions have on the long feathers of the tail. That the object of these quick turns is the capture of insects, I am sure, having watched one thus engaged pretty close to me.”

How does the quotation from Mr. Gosse relate to the evidence provided by other scientists earlier in the passage?

Possible Answers:

It suggests that the earlier evidence applies not only to hummingbirds but to another type of bird as well.

It suggests that some of the previous evidence may be true, but some may be false.

It supports the same conclusions that the previous evidence supports.

It has nothing to do with the previous evidence.

It contradicts the previous evidence and supports a different hypothesis.

Correct answer:

It supports the same conclusions that the previous evidence supports.

Explanation:

Let’s consider what Mr. Gosse is saying. The passage says, “Mr. Gosse also remarks, ‘All the hummingbirds have more or less the habit, when in flight, of pausing in the air and throwing the body and tail into rapid and odd contortions. This is most observable in the Polytmus, from the effect that such motions have on the long feathers of the tail. That the object of these quick turns is the capture of insects, I am sure, having watched one thus engaged pretty close to me.’”  Paraphrasing that, Mr. Gosse is saying that he has seen hummingbirds contort themselves in the air and he’s pretty sure they’re doing this in order to catch insects. The evidence provided by scientists earlier in the passage supports the idea that hummingbirds eat insects, just like Mr. Gosse’s does. We can’t say that Gosse’s evidence contradicts the earlier evidence, suggests that some of it may be false, or has nothing to do with the previous evidence. It also doesn’t suggest that the previous evidence can be applied to birds other than hummingbirds, because Mr. Gosse says that he is only discussing hummingbirds and we are to infer that the Polytmus is a hummingbird. So, the correct answer is that “it supports the same conclusions that the previous evidence supports.”

Example Question #44 : Science Passages

Adapted from “Humming-Birds: As Illustrating the Luxuriance of Tropical Nature” in Tropical Nature, and Other Essays by Alfred Russel Wallace (1878)

The food of hummingbirds has been a matter of much controversy. All the early writers down to Buffon believed that they lived solely on the nectar of flowers, but since that time, every close observer of their habits maintains that they feed largely, and in some cases wholly, on insects. Azara observed them on the La Plata in winter taking insects out of the webs of spiders at a time and place where there were no flowers. Bullock, in Mexico, declares that he saw them catch small butterflies, and that he found many kinds of insects in their stomachs. Waterton made a similar statement. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of specimens have since been dissected by collecting naturalists, and in almost every instance their stomachs have been found full of insects, sometimes, but not generally, mixed with a proportion of honey. Many of them in fact may be seen catching gnats and other small insects just like fly-catchers, sitting on a dead twig over water, darting off for a time in the air, and then returning to the twig. Others come out just at dusk, and remain on the wing, now stationary, now darting about with the greatest rapidity, imitating in a limited space the evolutions of the goatsuckers, and evidently for the same end and purpose. Mr. Gosse also remarks, ” All the hummingbirds have more or less the habit, when in flight, of pausing in the air and throwing the body and tail into rapid and odd contortions. This is most observable in the Polytmus, from the effect that such motions have on the long feathers of the tail. That the object of these quick turns is the capture of insects, I am sure, having watched one thus engaged pretty close to me.”

Which of the following does the author contrast in this passage?

Possible Answers:

The beliefs of historical scientists and the beliefs of scientists of the author’s time

Hummingbirds with long tails and hummingbirds with short tails

The results of feeding a hummingbird insects and the results of feeding a hummingbird flower nectar

The author’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat and Mr. Gosse’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat

Hummingbirds that eat flower nectar and hummingbirds that eat insects

Correct answer:

The beliefs of historical scientists and the beliefs of scientists of the author’s time

Explanation:

Nowhere in the passage is the feeding of hummingbirds by humans mentioned, so “The results of feeding a hummingbird insects and the results of feeding a hummingbird flower nectar” cannot be correct. While a hummingbird with a long tail, the Polytmus, is mentioned, it is not contrasted with any short-tailed hummingbirds. The author appears to agree with Mr. Gosse’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat, so “The author’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat and Mr. Gosse’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat” cannot be correct either. This leaves us with “Hummingbirds that eat flower nectar and hummingbirds that eat insects” and “the beliefs of historical scientists and the beliefs of scientists of the author’s time.” While the passage is concerned with what hummingbirds eat, it doesn’t suggest that some types of hummingbirds eat only nectar and others eat only insects. Hummingbirds are considered as an entire group; they’re never divided into “hummingbirds that eat insects” and “hummingbirds that eat flower nectar.” This leaves us with one answer choice, the correct one: “The beliefs of historical scientists and the beliefs of scientists of the author’s time.” These beliefs are contrasted in the paragraph’s second sentence: “All the early writers down to Buffon believed that they lived solely on the nectar of flowers, but since that time, every close observer of their habits maintains that they feed largely, and in some cases wholly, on insects.”

Example Question #46 : Science Passages

Adapted from “Feathers of Sea Birds and Wild Fowl for Bedding” from The Utility of Birds by Edward Forbush (ed. 1922)

In the colder countries of the world, the feathers and down of waterfowl have been in great demand for centuries as filling for beds and pillows. Such feathers are perfect non-conductors of heat, and beds, pillows, or coverlets filled with them represent the acme of comfort and durability. The early settlers of New England saved for such purposes the feathers and down from the thousands of wild-fowl which they killed, but as the population increased in numbers, the quantity thus furnished was insufficient, and the people sought a larger supply in the vast colonies of ducks and geese along the Labrador coast. 

The manner in which the feathers and down were obtained, unlike the method practiced in Iceland, did not tend to conserve and protect the source of supply. In Iceland, the people have continued to receive for many years a considerable income by collecting eider down, but there they do not “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Ducks line their nests with down plucked from their own breasts and that of the eider is particularly valuable for bedding. In Iceland, these birds are so carefully protected that they have become as tame and unsuspicious as domestic fowls In North America. Where they are constantly hunted they often conceal their nests in the midst of weeds or bushes, but in Iceland, they make their nests and deposit their eggs in holes dug for them in the sod. A supply of the ducks is maintained so that the people derive from them an annual income.

In North America, quite a different policy was pursued. The demand for feathers became so great in the New England colonies about the middle of the eighteenth century that vessels were fitted out there for the coast of Labrador for the express purpose of securing the feathers and down of wild fowl. Eider down having become valuable and these ducks being in the habit of congregating by thousands on barren islands of the Labrador coast, the birds became the victims of the ships’ crews. As the ducks molt all their primary feathers at once in July or August and are then quite incapable of flight and the young birds are unable to fly until well grown, the hunters were able to surround the helpless birds, drive them together, and kill them with clubs. Otis says that millions of wildfowl were thus destroyed and that in a few years their haunts were so broken up by this wholesale slaughter and their numbers were so diminished that feather voyages became unprofitable and were given up. 

This practice, followed by the almost continual egging, clubbing, shooting, etc. by Labrador fishermen, may have been a chief factor in the extinction of the Labrador duck, that species of supposed restricted breeding range. No doubt had the eider duck been restricted in its breeding range to the islands of Labrador, it also would have been exterminated long ago.

Which of the following does the passage directly compare?

Possible Answers:

The relative warmth of feathers and down as insulating materials

The use of eider down in bedding in North America and in Iceland

The price of down in Iceland and North America

Ducks that nest on the Labrador coast and ducks that nest in Iceland

The nesting habits of hunted and protected ducks

Correct answer:

The nesting habits of hunted and protected ducks

Explanation:

Of the given answer choices, the passage only compares “the nesting habits of hunted and protected ducks.” It does this when the author says, “In Iceland, these birds are so carefully protected that they have become as tame and unsuspicious as domestic fowls In North America. Where they are constantly hunted they often conceal their nests in the midst of weeds or bushes, but in Iceland, they make their nests and deposit their eggs in holes dug for them in the sod.” The price of down is never mentioned in the passage, and while feathers and down are both mentioned, they are not compared. Similarly, the use of eider down in bedding is mentioned, but its use in North America and in Iceland isn’t compared. Finally, while ducks that nest on the Labrador coast and ducks that nest in Iceland are each described, they are not directly compared.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In Science Passages

Adapted from “Feathers of Sea Birds and Wild Fowl for Bedding” from The Utility of Birds by Edward Forbush (ed. 1922)

In the colder countries of the world, the feathers and down of waterfowl have been in great demand for centuries as filling for beds and pillows. Such feathers are perfect non-conductors of heat, and beds, pillows, or coverlets filled with them represent the acme of comfort and durability. The early settlers of New England saved for such purposes the feathers and down from the thousands of wild-fowl which they killed, but as the population increased in numbers, the quantity thus furnished was insufficient, and the people sought a larger supply in the vast colonies of ducks and geese along the Labrador coast. 

The manner in which the feathers and down were obtained, unlike the method practiced in Iceland, did not tend to conserve and protect the source of supply. In Iceland, the people have continued to receive for many years a considerable income by collecting eider down, but there they do not “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Ducks line their nests with down plucked from their own breasts and that of the eider is particularly valuable for bedding. In Iceland, these birds are so carefully protected that they have become as tame and unsuspicious as domestic fowls In North America. Where they are constantly hunted they often conceal their nests in the midst of weeds or bushes, but in Iceland, they make their nests and deposit their eggs in holes dug for them in the sod. A supply of the ducks is maintained so that the people derive from them an annual income.

In North America, quite a different policy was pursued. The demand for feathers became so great in the New England colonies about the middle of the eighteenth century that vessels were fitted out there for the coast of Labrador for the express purpose of securing the feathers and down of wild fowl. Eider down having become valuable and these ducks being in the habit of congregating by thousands on barren islands of the Labrador coast, the birds became the victims of the ships’ crews. As the ducks molt all their primary feathers at once in July or August and are then quite incapable of flight and the young birds are unable to fly until well grown, the hunters were able to surround the helpless birds, drive them together, and kill them with clubs. Otis says that millions of wildfowl were thus destroyed and that in a few years their haunts were so broken up by this wholesale slaughter and their numbers were so diminished that feather voyages became unprofitable and were given up. 

This practice, followed by the almost continual egging, clubbing, shooting, etc. by Labrador fishermen, may have been a chief factor in the extinction of the Labrador duck, that species of supposed restricted breeding range. No doubt had the eider duck been restricted in its breeding range to the islands of Labrador, it also would have been exterminated long ago.

What caused the Labrador feather voyages to cease?

Possible Answers:

The ducks changed their migration pattern significantly.

The ducks relocated to an inaccessible island.

So many ducks were killed that the voyages became unprofitable.

The island’s ecosystem shifted to support a larger population of bears, making the voyages too dangerous to be worthwhile.

The ducks began producing feathers of significantly lower quality.

Correct answer:

So many ducks were killed that the voyages became unprofitable.

Explanation:

This question is answered by a sentence at the end of the passage’s third paragraph: “Otis says that millions of wildfowl were thus destroyed and that in a few years their haunts were so broken up by this wholesale slaughter and their numbers were so diminished that feather voyages became unprofitable and were given up.” The correct answer is thus “So many ducks were killed that the voyages became unprofitable.”

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In Science Passages

Adapted from “Feathers of Sea Birds and Wild Fowl for Bedding” from The Utility of Birds by Edward Forbush (ed. 1922)

In the colder countries of the world, the feathers and down of waterfowl have been in great demand for centuries as filling for beds and pillows. Such feathers are perfect non-conductors of heat, and beds, pillows, or coverlets filled with them represent the acme of comfort and durability. The early settlers of New England saved for such purposes the feathers and down from the thousands of wild-fowl which they killed, but as the population increased in numbers, the quantity thus furnished was insufficient, and the people sought a larger supply in the vast colonies of ducks and geese along the Labrador coast. 

The manner in which the feathers and down were obtained, unlike the method practiced in Iceland, did not tend to conserve and protect the source of supply. In Iceland, the people have continued to receive for many years a considerable income by collecting eider down, but there they do not “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Ducks line their nests with down plucked from their own breasts and that of the eider is particularly valuable for bedding. In Iceland, these birds are so carefully protected that they have become as tame and unsuspicious as domestic fowls In North America. Where they are constantly hunted they often conceal their nests in the midst of weeds or bushes, but in Iceland, they make their nests and deposit their eggs in holes dug for them in the sod. A supply of the ducks is maintained so that the people derive from them an annual income.

In North America, quite a different policy was pursued. The demand for feathers became so great in the New England colonies about the middle of the eighteenth century that vessels were fitted out there for the coast of Labrador for the express purpose of securing the feathers and down of wild fowl. Eider down having become valuable and these ducks being in the habit of congregating by thousands on barren islands of the Labrador coast, the birds became the victims of the ships’ crews. As the ducks molt all their primary feathers at once in July or August and are then quite incapable of flight and the young birds are unable to fly until well grown, the hunters were able to surround the helpless birds, drive them together, and kill them with clubs. Otis says that millions of wildfowl were thus destroyed and that in a few years their haunts were so broken up by this wholesale slaughter and their numbers were so diminished that feather voyages became unprofitable and were given up. 

This practice, followed by the almost continual egging, clubbing, shooting, etc. by Labrador fishermen, may have been a chief factor in the extinction of the Labrador duck, that species of supposed restricted breeding range. No doubt had the eider duck been restricted in its breeding range to the islands of Labrador, it also would have been exterminated long ago.

Which of the following did NOT contribute to the success and profitability of the Labrador feather voyages?

Possible Answers:

Fledgling ducks cannot fly

The ducks hunted lost all of their main feathers at one time in the summer

When hunted, ducks attempt to conceal their nests in the surrounding vegetation.

Ducks gathered in great numbers on islands on the coast of Labrador

After the ducks being hunted lost their feathers, they could not fly

Correct answer:

When hunted, ducks attempt to conceal their nests in the surrounding vegetation.

Explanation:

In the passage’s third paragraph, the author writes, “As the ducks molt all their primary feathers at once in July or August and are then quite incapable of flight and the young birds are unable to fly until well grown, the hunters were able to surround the helpless birds drive them together and kill them with clubs.” This sentence tells readers that the Labrador feather voyages were helped by the fact that “ducks lose all their feathers at one time in the summer,” “after the ducks being hunted lost their feathers, they could not fly,” and “fledgling ducks cannot fly,” so none of these answer choices can be correct. This leaves us with the answer choices “Ducks gathered in great numbers on islands on the coast of Labrador” and “When hunted, ducks attempt to conceal their nests in the surrounding vegetation.” The latter of these is the correct answer; the fact that “Ducks gathered in great numbers on islands on the coast of Labrador” helped the voyages profit, but “When hunted, ducks attempt to conceal their nests in the surrounding vegetation” has nothing to do with the Labrador feather voyages. This detail is presented when describing the Icelandic practices of gathering eider down, and at any rate, would not be helpful to the voyages, as the ducks would hide their nests and likely themselves.

Example Question #91 : Passage Based Questions

Adapted from “Birds in Retreat” in “Animal Defences—Active Defence” in Volume Four of The Natural History of Animals: The Animal Life of the World in Its Various Aspects and Relations by James Richard Ainsworth Davis (1903)

Among the large running birds are forms, like the African ostrich, in which the absence of powers of flight is largely compensated by the specialization of the legs for the purpose of rapid movement on the ground. For straightforward retreat in open country nothing could be more effective; but another kind of adaptation is required in birds like rails, which are deficient in powers of flight, and yet are able to run through thickly-growing vegetation with such rapidity as to commonly elude their enemies. This is rendered possible by the shape of their bodies, which are relatively narrow and flattened from side to side, so as to easily slip between the stems of grasses, rushes, and similar plants. Anyone who has pursued our native land-rail or corn-crake with intent to capture will have noted how extremely difficult it is even to get within sight of a bird of this sort. 

Certain birds, unfortunately for themselves, have lost the power of flight without correspondingly increased powers of running, and have paid the penalty of extinction. Such an arrangement, as might be anticipated, was the result of evolution in islands devoid of any predatory ground-animals, and a classic example of it is afforded by the dodo and its allies, birds related to the pigeons. The dodo itself was a large and clumsy-looking species that at one time abounded in the island of Mauritius, which, like oceanic islands generally, possessed no native mammals, while its indigenous reptiles were only represented by lizards. The ubiquitous sailor, however, and the animals (especially swine) which he introduced, brought about the extinction of this helpless bird in less than a century after its first discovery in 1598. Its memory is now only kept green by a few contemporary drawings and descriptions, certain museum remains, and the proverb "as extinct as a dodo.” A similar fate must overtake any organism suddenly exposed to new and unfavorable conditions, if devoid of sufficient plasticity to rapidly accommodate itself to the altered environment.

What kinds of reptiles are indigenous to Mauritius?

Possible Answers:

Lizards, snakes, and crocodiles

Snakes and crocodiles

Lizards and snakes too small to eat dodos

Lizards

Snakes

Correct answer:

Lizards

Explanation:

The passage introduces Mauritius as “the island of Mauritius, which, like oceanic islands generally, possessed no native mammals, while its indigenous reptiles were only represented by lizards.” This tells us that the only reptiles indigenous to Mauritius are lizards, making “lizards” the correct answer.

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