Investigation Sequence


Animal Adaptations

Written by:

Cody Allen and Jennifer Isom                 Date


Focus Questions

Why are animals different? How do animals change?


Content: Earth, Physical, & Life

Animals tend to adapt to their environment in order to survive in their habitat.

Cross cutting concepts

Animals have certain features that help them to survive in certain environments. Form and function.

Science Practice


Personal, Social, Technology, Nature of Science, History


Background information

Animals posses characteristics that help them to survive. Adaptation is the modification of an animal that produces a better adjustment to the environment so that the organism can survive in its habitat. Habitat is the environment where an animal finds food, water, shelter, and reproduces.

Activity Sequence

1. Feather adaptations
2. Breakfast for the birds
3. Whiskers and antennas
4. What is that smell?
5. Which way will the mealworms move?
6. Where did they go?

Activity Descriptions

Activity 1: Feather adaptations
Materials: feathers, eyedropper, hand lens, water, and oil
1. What does a feather look like? What kinds of animals have feathers? Why do you think they have feathers instead of any other type of covering?
2. Have students collect feathers (either by looking in the environment or by purchasing them).
3. Have students look at their feathers, feel them, and identify their different characteristics.
Ex: The feathers are long, soft, colorful, silky, light in weight.
4. Have students put a drop of water on each feather and record their observations.
5. Have a class discussion on their findings and how they think the water rolling off the feather can help the bird.
6. Have students hypothesize other reasons that feathers are important to a bird and record their hypotheses.
Ex: Birds need feathers to fly, to keep warm, to protect them from the rain, and to keep their babies and eggs warm.
7. Have students hypothesize what would happen if they put oil on the feathers.
8. Have them experiment to find out how oil affects the feathers. Then have them see how water reacts to a feather that has been covered with oil.
(The students should find that the oil saturates the feathers and that water will no longer roll off of the feathers.
9. Discuss with students what happened to the feathers and why they think it happened. Discuss how birds can be in danger if they get oil on their feathers because they won't be able to fly or keep warm in the winter.

Activity 2: Breakfast for the birds
Materials: For each group of four students:
1 small cup per student
_ c each of macaroni, raisins, Styrofoam "peanuts", and marbles
1 clothespin
1 toothpick
1 spoon
1 pair of scissors, blunt tipped
1 plastic sandwich bag per student
1. Students should have some prior knowledge about birds and their different parts before conducting this experiment.
2. Ask students, "What is a beak? Why do you think that birds have beaks? Do different birds have different kinds of beaks? Why do you think they may have different beaks? We are going to find out how beaks can be used to eat with.
3. Give each student a plastic sandwich bag and a cup. Explain that the cup is his or her stomach.
4. Tell the students that they are going to pretend to be birds, each with a different beak. Show the students how to hold and work each beak.
Clothespin- hold at very end so that it opens wide, use only one hand
Scissors- insert thumb and finger and hold scissors downward to use like forceps
Spoon- hold at end, use only one hand
Toothpicks- hold in one hand to carefully poke items
5. Have students get into groups of four and decide which beak each will have so that there is one beak of each type.
6. Show the students the "prey" they will put in their stomachs (the cups)
Marbles- snails
Macaroni (cooked)- worms
Raisins- grubs
Styrofoam "peanuts"- water bugs
7. Have the students sit in a circle with their group on the floor or around a table with their cup beside each of them and have each student hold their beak.
8. Scatter one type of prey in the center of each circle, when everyone is ready, signal for the students to start collecting their "prey" with their beaks and putting them into their stomachs. Continue until all prey is eaten or after a predetermined time.
9. Have the students empty the contents of their cups into their plastic bags. Discuss which beaks were able to get more of each type of prey and why. You may chart the information from each of the groups.
10. Extension: Have the students research to find birds that have beaks similar to the utensil that they used and give a report on how the beak helps that bird to survive.

Activity 3: Whiskers and antennas
Materials: 1 straw per student, several objects with different shapes, blindfolds
1. What are whiskers? What are antennas? What are they used for? What kinds of animals have whiskers or antennas? Why do you think they are important for those animals?
2. Divide students into pairs.
3. Give each pair two blindfolds and two straws.
4. Explain that they will put on the blindfolds, take a straw, and use it to feel an object that is placed on a table between them.
5. Tell them that they are cats and the straws are their whiskers.
6. Have students put on their blindfolds. Put objects on the table between them.
7. Tell them to try to identify the objects with the straws.
8. Once they think they know what the object is, have them tell you what they think it is without taking off the blindfold.
9. Have them remove the blindfolds and look at the object in front of them.
10. Discuss the difference between seeing and touching to interpret their surroundings.
11. Have students discuss why animals’ whiskers or antennas are so important to their survival.

Activity 4: What is that smell?
Materials: 1 small canister per student that contains a cotton ball soaked in a strong scent (Ex: vinegar, perfume, lotions, peppermint, shampoo, body sprays, alcohol, etc.)
1. Ask, "Can someone name the five senses? Do animals use the same senses that people do? What are some ways that animals use their senses for survival?
2. Place 1 soaked cotton ball in each canister so that there are two or more canisters of each scent.
3. Give each student a canister.
4. Explain to them that they are going to pretend to be dogs; therefore they won’t be able to talk.
5. Tell them that they will be searching for their sibling(s) that has the same scent that they do.
6. When you give the signal, they may begin to move around the room and touch the canister of another dog that they want to "sniff". The other dog opens the canister and allows them to sniff.
7. When they find a match, the pair or group may sit down together.
8. When everyone has found their match, have the class come back together for a discussion on how they used their sense of smell to identify and communicate with the other "dogs". Ask them if they felt it was difficult not to use their sense of sight or use their voices to communicate with the other "dogs".
9. Ask students why they think a dog’s sense of smell is so important to their survival. Also ask how other animals’ senses are important to survive. Have them discuss this as a class and then record their thoughts.

Activity 5: Which way will the mealworms move?
Materials: For each group: five mealworms, one shoe box with lid, three paper towels, small amount of water, small amount of vinegar
1. What are mealworms? Do you think animals can adapt to an environment by moving to an environment that is more suitable to them?
2. Have students get into groups of two or three.
3. Have one person in each group gather the materials.
4. Have students put the lid on the shoebox leaving a 1_-inch opening at one end.
5. Students will put the mealworms in the open end of the box where light will shine on the opening. They will observe for several minutes.
6. Have students record what they see.
7. Have students remove the mealworms and cut a paper towel into two pieces. Wet one piece with water and leave the other dry.
8. Students will put the paper towels in the shoebox separated so the mealworms can be placed between the two pieces of towel. Place the mealworms between the two pieces of paper towel and quickly cover the box completely.
9. Remove the lid and observe every 30 seconds to see of the worms have made a choice as to which paper they prefer.
10. Have students record their observations.
11. Have students remove the mealworms and the paper towels.
12. Have them cut the other paper towel in half and wet one with vinegar and leave the other dry. Repeat steps 7 and 8.
13. Record their observations.
14. Discuss as a class the observations the students made in their groups and why the mealworms behaved the way they did. Tell students that there are two types of adaptations- innate and learned. Innate adaptation is how an animal evolves over time in response to its environment and learned adaptation is how an animal learns to survive in its immediate environment. The behavior of the mealworms is a learned adaptation to their environment.

Activity 6: Where did they go?
Materials: one box of colored toothpicks, one box of regular wooden toothpicks
1. What does it mean to be camouflage? Why do you think some animals use camouflage? What would happen to some animals if they couldn’t blend in with the environment?
2. Tell the students that they are going to be "predators" and that toothpicks are going to be the "prey". Tell the students the colors of the toothpicks, which you have scattered outside.
3. Have them make predictions about which colors will be easiest to find and why this might be true. Make similar predictions about the hardest to find.
4. Take the class to the playground. Give them five minutes to collect as many toothpicks as they can find.
5. Take the toothpicks into the classroom and sort them by colors and determine if their predictions were true.
6. If equal numbers of each color are not found, ask the students why some colors were harder to find.
7. Discuss with students that animals that have colors on them that are hard to see in their surroundings helps them to escape predatory animals and aids in their survival.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes