Duration: 30 to 40 minutes
Setting: Inside, Outside – General, Wetland
Vocabulary: adaptation, evolution, ecosystem interactions
Summary: Students learn about the adaptations specific to wetland animals and try to identify different species. They then invent a new animal using what they learned.
Objectives: Students will gain a deeper understanding of how animals have evolved to live in different habitats, and how living in and around the water is different from living on land.
Materials: pictures of wetland animals (see Handouts), paper, clip boards, pencils, crayons
Wetlands are fascinating places because they bridge the gap between land and water. Any species that lives there, whether they are plants or animals, has to be able to survive both on the land and in the water. Animals that have lived in this type of environment for a long time have developed special adaptations that help them better live in this type of environment. Some animals have webbed feet, some have long legs to keep their bodies out of the water, some even have special nostrils that can close underwater!
Wetlands are considered highly productive environments because the sediment has such high levels of nutrient deposition. This is because the wetlands slows water down (think of the speed of water moving in a stream vs. a wetland) and allows nutrients and sediment to fall out of the water. This means that wetland soil is nutrient rich, which is great for plants. The greater the variety of plants in a habitat, the greater variety of animals there will be to take advantage of the food sources.
Ask students to think about how different there lives would be if they suddenly had to live in the water. What would they do? What kind of materials would they like to have (snorkel, flippers, etc.)?
If possible, take a brief tour of the wetland with students, allowing them to walk around and analyze the different plants. Have students look at the environment and take note of whether the water is deep or shallow, and what kind of plants are around. All of these factors play a role in the evolution of different adaptations.
Using the handouts sections, print out a variety of pictures of different wetland animals and their adaptations. Hand the pictures out to students to share and ask for a volunteer to identify one of the animals. Talk about the different animals in the order students identify them.
Different animal adaptations to talk about include:
Green frogs (or other local amphibians) have webbed feet to help push them through the water. They also have very long legs which makes them powerful jumpers and kickers. This helps them jump from the bank into the water for safety at a moments notice. Frogs also have long sticky tongues that they can use to help them catch the many insects that fly around the wetlands.
Great blue herons have very long stilt-like legs. These allow them to walk far out into the water without their body ever going wet. Once they are in the water they stand very still and wait for fish to swim right by their feet. When they do, they use their very long neck to shoot their head into the water and grab the fish.
Muskrats have a tail that is flattened vertically like fish (instead of horizontally like the beaver) which is uses like a rudder when swimming in wetland areas. It also has very small ears so water cannot get in them, and it can actually close its nostrils when it goes under water!
Red-eared sliders and other turtles have thick shells that protect them from predators. When they are in trouble they can pull themselves inside to some extent (not all the way!) and avoid being eaten.
Alligator snapping turtles have a special tongue that is pink and wriggly and looks just like a worm! They sit along the bottom of ponds and wetlands and stay very still with their mouth hanging open. Fish think their tongue is a worm, and when they swim up to bite it the snapping turtles chomp down on their dinner.
To recap, some different wetland adaptations are: long legs, long neck, long beak/bill, webbed feet, sticky tongue, wriggly tongue, flat tail, and special nostrils, just to name a few!
After going through the different animals, pass out paper and crayon materials and have students design and draw their own unique wetland animalusing different adaptations for living in a wetland. They should write the adaptations they decided to use on the paper as well, and give their animal a name. After sufficient drawing time, have students come together and share the adaptations they chose and their drawing.
Ask students to name some ways animals have evolved to live close to the water. What are three things these animals have that animals living only on land do not? Why are these adaptations important?
Have students research a certain wetland animal and write a report about it or a story of a day from the plants point of view. What would it see and what would happen to it?