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Resources for This Lesson
- Students will develop an understanding of mammals.
- Students will understand how adaptations help mammals cope with their environment.
Although most mammals are covered with hair, are warm-blooded, give birth to live young, and rear them by feeding them milk when they are young, each species looks and behaves differently. These special features allow them to solve the special problems each habitat poses. In hot areas, mammals have light-colored skin and little hair. When mammals are small, they blend in with their background to hide from predators. For mammals that fight, horns and other weapons are used. These special features that make each species unique are called adaptations.
- Mammal bones and teeth
- Books and pictures of mammals
- The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals (available in Kenya)
- My First Book of Mammals, My Second Book of Mammals (both available in Kenya)
- Mammal cards drawn by students
- Blank cards
- Adaptation: a genetically determined characteristic that enhances the ability of an organism to cope with its environment, such as the shape of a bird’s beak
- Herbivore: an organism that eats mostly plants
- Carnivore: an organism that eats mostly meat
- Omnivore: an organism whose diet is broad, including both animal and plant foods
- Predator: an animal that lives by killing and eating other animals
- Prey: an animal hunted as food by another animal
Collect mammal bones and teeth.
1. Ask students to name some mammals. Make a list on the board. Add some they did not think of.
2. Ask them to name characteristics of mammals. Put this list on the board. Add to their list any characteristics of the mammals listed above that they did not include. Discuss.
3. Show the students bones of various mammals. Discuss what mammals they come from and what part of the body each comes from. Use the children’s own bodies to make comparisons.
4. Introduce and discuss the terms herbivore, carnivore, and omnivore. Have children go through their list on the board, and tell which mammals are herbivores, which are carnivores, and which are omnivores. Show them any mammal teeth you have, and explain to the students that herbivores have smooth teeth for tearing and grinding plants; carnivores have sharp teeth for catching, killing, and tearing prey. Discuss the terms predator and prey.
5. Discuss different kinds of animal movement: walking, running, climbing, hopping, etc. How do different kinds of mammals move? When and why do they move in these ways?
6. How do mammals communicate with each other? Can you tell what different sounds mean? What other ways do they communicate? When do they use communication? Do livestock—cows, goats, sheep—communicate with each other?
7. Discuss social relationships of mammals. Some mammals live alone, others in groups. Why? Some mammals, like zebras, gazelles, and oryx live in groups for protection from prey. Lions live in groups called prides. Each pride consists of one male and several females, and all of the adults hunt together.
8. After discussing these topics with the students, take them outside and on field trips, if possible, to observe mammals eating, moving, and communicating.
9. Take students outside to look for and identify mammal tracks and mammal dung. Note the spacing of the tracks. What can you tell from the distance between them? Why do some mammals have piles of dung, where one animal has defecated upon the dung of another? Is that a form of communication?
10. Collect some dung, any bones, teeth, etc., from mammals to start a museum.
11. Go back inside and discuss all observations and findings with the students. Use the blank cards to draw pictures of any mammals not drawn in previous lessons, to add to the collection. Also have students draw sets of animal tracks and label them.
12. Using My First Book of Mammals and My Second Book of Mammals, read a description of a mammal the students would know, and see if they can name it. Then show them the picture. Do several of these.
1. Mammals and Tracks Matching Game
Give each small group of students a set of cards of pictures of mammals and corresponding set of mammal tracks. The cards are mixed together and spread out face down. Each student takes a turn trying to match a mammal card with its tracks. The first student chooses two cards, turns them over, and places them face up right where they are. If they match, the student takes the two cards and gets another turn. If they do not match, the student turns them back over, putting them in their original position, and the next student takes a turn. The game is played until all the cards are matched. The student with the most matches wins the game.
2. Wildlife Safari
Divide students into groups of about 20; divide each group into two teams. Quietly tell each child on one team what animal from the list below he/she will be. (Use one list per round. Two rounds can be played from the two lists below.) Mix them up and do the same for the other team so that there is one of each animal on both teams. When the leader says “Go,” the students move toward the members of the other team, looking for their partner on the other team. The students can only move and make noises like the animal they are pretending to be.
List 1: Hippo, Dik-dik, Baboon, Ostrich, Cheetah, Zebra, Tortoise, Hare, Woodpecker, Elephant
List 2: Gazelle, Crocodile, Vervet monkey, Dove, Frog, Lion, Rhinoceros, Tortoise, Zebra, Leopard
3. Animal Actions
On small pieces of paper, write animal actions to act out; place them in a container. A student picks one and acts it out. The other students
have to guess the action. Examples:
- Two giraffes play-fighting (would need two students to act out)
- Male ostrich doing mating display to female ostrich (two students)
- Male zebra being vigilant while his harem eats grass (several students)
- Gazelle stotting
- Weaver bird making its nest
- Dik-dik defending its territory (two students)
- Zebra dust-bathing
- Two baboons grooming each other (two students)
4. Make a Tail
Mammals have developed many different adaptations, specific characteristics or behaviors that allow them to cope with their environment. For example, elephants have trunks that allow them to tear vegetation off of trees and pull grasses out of the ground, bats have wings that enable them to fly, and porcupines have quills to protect them. To understand why tail adaptations are beneficial to animals, have students design a tail. Draw what it would look like, or make it out of sisal or another material. Have the students finish this sentence: “If only I had a tail I could….” Examples could be to use it as a fan, an umbrella, etc. Have students act out what they could do with their tail. They could also tell a story about how their tail helped them escape danger.
5. Color Camouflage
To help students understand why some animals are camouflaged, have them observe animals in nature and then draw them in their habitat. What purpose does the coloration serve if it’s bright? If it’s dull?
6. Make Your Own Animal
Using whatever art materials that are available, have students each create a new animal using useful body parts for the area where the animal lives. For example, a student could take the ears of a bat-eared fox, the stripes of a Grevy’s zebra, and the hind legs of a hare and put them all together to form a. Then write a sentence underneath about how this animal is adapted to its environment.
7. Identification and Adaptation Safari
If you are able to take older students on a safari, have them identify animals and look for adaptations. You could make it a competition by having students find as many different animals and their adaptations as they can, with explanations about why there are many animals with different adaptations and why two animals might have the same adaptation for different reasons. Afterwards, discuss as a group and see who won.
8. Sound Scavenger Hunt
Divide students into smaller groups, and give each group a scavenger card with the following categories: a loud sound, a soft sound, a high-pitched sound, a sound from nature, a human-made sound, a far-away sound, a close sound. Students have to walk around a safe area and see how many of the sounds they can find. They should write down a description of each sound, what animal made it, etc., for each sound they heard. Afterwards, students can share their responses, and the teacher can lead a discussion about the variety of sounds and their function.
9. Bat and Moth
This game will help students understand the importance of physical and behavioral adaptations in predator-prey relationships. Students form a 5-meter (16-ft-)-wide circle. One student is chosen to be the bat and is blindfolded, and 3 to 5 students are chosen to be moths. With the bat and moths in the center of the circle and all the other students quiet, the bat will try to tag the moths. The bat uses its sonar (sound waves) to catch the moths. Every time the bat says “Bat!” the moths must respond by saying “Moth!” Tell the moths that every time the bat calls out “Bat,” it’s his radar signal hitting them. He sends out the signal to see if there’s anything out there. His cry bounces off the moths and returns to him like a radar signal. The return signal is the “Moth” that the students shout. Play the game for a few rounds and then discuss which attributes make for a good bat (uses sonar often, listens carefully for the moths) and which attributes help the moths (small, fast, low to the ground).
Suggestions: For younger students, use a list of actions to give the moths suggested ways to act (without letting the bat know what they are) so that the behavioral adaptations will be more explicit. See if older students can watch for and name the adaptations that work without giving them suggestions.
10. Endangered Species
Ask students what “endangered” means. Ask them to list which local species are believed to be endangered. Go through the list, and mark which ones actually are. Discuss why the ones that are not marked are thought of as endangered—rarely seen because nocturnal, solitary or shy, etc. Then focus on the ones that are marked and discuss why they are endangered—poaching, competition with livestock for resources, disease, etc. Have elders tell stories about these endangered species when they were abundant. Older students can discuss whether it will be possible to reverse the trend. Then divide students into three groups—Grevy’s zebra, wild dog, black rhino—and ask each group to come up with ways of addressing the threats to these species. Each group can present their ideas to the entire class for a discussion.
11. Teeth as Tools
Have the students collect and examine the teeth of as many mammals as they can find. Discuss how you can tell if the teeth are from carnivores or herbivores. (Carnivores have sharp, pointed teeth for piercing the flesh of their prey; herbivores have flat-edged teeth for biting, crushing, and grinding the plants that they eat.)
12. Animal Masks
Have the students create masks of local animals. (Directions for making a vulture and a lioness mask are on Worksheet 1 under Resources.) Then use the masks to discuss adaptations or to act out stories.