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Animal Adaption to Environment
Goal: To understand adaptation based on geographic location such as deserts, tundra region, forests, grasslands, and wetlands.
Grade Level: 3-5
Author: JungleWalk

Animal adaptation varies based on its environmental conditions - which is also true for human beings. The clothes we wear, the food we eat, and even our physical features are related to our environment. Before the lesson plan it is a good idea to discuss how we humans adapt ourselves to our environment. How does someone in a hot environment live like in saudi arabia which is primarily a desert vs someone in a cold environment like greenland.

Cold Regions

Musk Ox
The caribou or reindeer, and musk oxen live in the arctic region where the subsoil is always frozen. They migrate to this area during the summers.
The questions to ask are:
How does the animal walk in snow without sinking?
How does it keep itself warm?

The caribou has:
  • wide hooves to keep them from sinking in the snow and
  • thick water-proof fur to keep them warm and dry.
The musk oxen that live in the arctic region have
  • long woolly fur to keep them warm both during summer and winter.
Polar bears that live in the cold arctic have
  • a fat layer under their skin to keep warm,
  • wide paws to prevent sinking into the snow, and
  • are colored white to merge with the white snow (camouflage)

View Slide Show

  • video of a caribou
  • the fur of musk oxen looks like they are carrying many comforters
  • video of a polar bear

Deserts can be scorching hot with very little water and some like the Gobi Desert have freezing winters. So many desert animals are nocturnal (animals that are active during night and sleep during the day), burrow during the day to protect themselves from the heat. Fennec Fox, Addax, camels, gazelles are some of the large animals that survive in the desert. They have to travel long distances in search of water, so they have :
  • feet that are wide and keep them from sinking into the sand
  • light colored skin to blend in with the sand and rocks
In Gobi desert, where it gets very cold during the night, the bactrian camels
  • have a thick coat of fur and
  • close their nostrils to prevent the sand from getting into them
Sand cats have thick fur on their feet to keep them from sinking in the sand.
  • They live in burrows during the day and hunt at night.
  • They get all the water needs met from the other animal they eat.

    View Slide Show

      • Video of a sand cat


River, Swamps and Lakes

Animals like dolphins, otters, seal, platypus live in these areas. Although not common, even large animals like the hippopotamus, some antelopes and manatees live in the swampy water areas. The important questions to ask are
  • How does the animal move in water. What are the features that help it to move in water?
  • How does it breathe in water?
Even large animals like Hippopotamus are adapted to spend most of their time in water. The Hippo has:
  • A lot of fat under its skin to help it to float
  • Has eyes, nostrils and ears on top of its head so even most of its body is immersed in water, it can see, hear and breathe!
Video of a hippopotamus eating an apple

Seals are adapted to live in water, land or on ice. They have:
  • flippers, which are modified two short and flat hind legs. There is a tail between the flippers. The flippers and tail help the seals to swim in water.
  • a streamlined body that helps to propel themselves in water. They have a lot of blood, more than humans to store in a lot of oxygen, as they take a breath before they dive into the water. Each dive can last about 20 to 30 minutes.
Video of a elephant seal-notice its flippers

Manatees are endangered vegetarian mammals (the students by now should understand the meanings of these words from previous lesion plans) that live in shallow waters near estuaries and canals. They are called sea cows. They have the following adaptation to live in shallow water:
  • They have flexible front limbs that they use to steer themselves as they swim
  • They have a tail at the back that helps to propel them forward.
  • They breathe through their nostrils and since they are mammals they come out every 5 to 6 minutes to take a breath.
Video of a manatee

View Slide Show

  • Video of a hippopotamus eating an apple

Forest Areas
Ask the students in the clas to imagine a forest with dense leafy trees, and scattered sunlight (not easy to see anything clearly, dark, thick foliage are some of the words you can use to help them imagine). Ask them what are the key adaptation features that are important here? Once you get their feedback then continue with the lesson plan.
Some of the adaptation common here are:
  • Visual communication is hard since very little sunlight gets into the forest and so the animals rely on sound and scent signals. Animals here use sounds to make alarm calls, territorial calls, etc.
  • Spots, Stripes, bands, etc., on animals help them to hide effectively in the forest.
  • Long limbs to move through trees,
  • Sharp claws for climbing and holding onto branches

    Apes are tree dwelling mammals. The forest is home for many species of apes like monkeys, gibbons, and our closest relative, the chimpanzee. They are well adapted to live among trees. They have:
    • Flexible long fore and hind limbs which help them to swing from branch to branch. Their arms are longer than legs.
    • Hooked hands help them to hold onto branches
    • They use sound signals to connect with each other

    Audio of a chimpanzee using different sound signals to connect with members even 3 miles away
    Audio of a howler monkey making their typical base howling signal

    Bats are nocturnal mammals, and have:
    • wings that help them to glide through forests
    • claws that help them to hand upside down from tree branches
    • excellent eyesight to navigate through dark forests.
    Video of a fruit bat hanging upside down

    View Slide Show


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