Pre-Visit Activities : Animal Habitats : Background
K-Second Grade Online Curriculum : Habitats
Key Points will give you the main information you should know to teach the activity.
Detailed Information gives more in-depth background to increase your own knowledge, in case you want to expand upon the activity or you are asked detailed questions by students.
Animals need food, water, air, shelter and space to survive. No matter where an animal lives, it must be able to attain these things. The world is comprised of many different environments with many varied climates. Because of this, animals develop specialized adaptations to allow them to get the things they need to survive from a variety of different environments. Where they get these things is there habitat. The animals found in the deep ocean are not the animals found in the tropical rainforest or the desert or the tundra, yet all these share in common the need for food, water, air, shelter and space.
Animals cannot produce their own energy like plants can, and so they must eat other organisms to get their food energy. Some animals, such as deer and elk, are herbivores, and eat only plants. They make use of the energy the plant has produced through photosynthesis. Some animals, such as eagles and hawks, are carnivores that eat other animals and get their energy from the organic compounds stored in their prey. Some animals, such as humans, are omnivores that can eat both plants and animals. Some animals are scavengers that live off of dead animals, such as turkey vultures, and get energy from the organic compounds remaining in the animalís dead carcass. Some animals, such as blue crabs, are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will eat just about anything they can get their mouths around. All animals depend on the food they eat to receive the energy and nutrients they need to carry out their life functions.
All living things depend on water to survive. Water is a major component of all the fluids in the body as well as the protoplasm of each individual cell. Water is also important as a solvent for chemicals and nutrients in the body. Water makes up 60 to 90% of the composition of all living things. For this reason, all animals must find a way to intake water on a regular basis.
All animals must bring oxygen into their systems in order to convert food energy into usable energy. For this reason, all animals must utilize some form of respiration. Terrestrial animals, such as reptiles and mammals can pull oxygen out of the atmosphere. Aquatic animal such as fish can pull oxygen out of the water. Amphibians can do both. Because life processes occur twenty-four hours a day and they all require energy, an animal would soon die without oxygen.
Animals also depend on shelter to survive. Shelter protects an animal both from the elements and from predators, and thus increases its survival chances. Shelter can take many forms. The shells of snails and other mollusks, the nests of birds and the burrows and dens of mammals are just some examples of shelter.
Space is necessary too. If too many animals are competing for the same space, than they are also often competing for food, water and shelter. Being crowded together makes the animals more prone to diseases and parasites, which are spread more quickly and easily. Because an environment can only support a certain number of organisms, removing predators from an ecosystem can sometimes have negative effects on the animals the predator preys on. Without the limiting factor of predators, the prey animals can multiply rapidly causing a loss of space for these animals and leading to diseased and malnourished animals.
An animal's habitat is the place where it can get air, food, water, space and shelter. The animal's adaptations determine where its habitat will be. Because an animal has specific habitat requirements, if you take the animal away from its habitat, or if you bulldoze the habitat away from the animal, the animal will not survive. This is why a habitat that is suitable for one animal, such as a house for a human, may not be suitable for another animal, such as a house for a salamander. The house cannot meet the salamander's habitat needs.
Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)
The spotted salamander is the state amphibian of South Carolina. This 6 to 10 inch salamander is found near shallow pools in deciduous forests in eastern North America from Louisiana to Canada as well as throughout South Carolina. In South Carolina it is most common in the Piedmont and Mountain regions. These salamanders avoid areas prone to flooding or pools populated with fish. They spend a good deal of their time in burrows underground or under trees and so are difficult to find.
Spotted salamanders prey on insects, worms, slugs and other small invertebrates. They can most easily be found on a rainy night on the forest floor looking for food. In the wild, they can live over 30 years.
Though they spend most of their adult life on land, they lay their eggs in water and spend their larval stages in water. Therefore, spotted salamanders tend to stay near aquatic habitats. When it warms in spring, the female will move to a shallow pool, lay 200-250 eggs in a mass on submerged sticks. The eggs will hatch within two months. The larval salamanders will remain in the pool for another two months, maturing and developing until they look like adult salamanders. They then move on land to begin the terrestrial life of an adult spotted salamander.River Otter (Lutra canadensis)
Uniquely adapted to its aquatic environment, the otter has webbed toes, a water-repellant coat, and the ability to close its ears and nostrils while diving. The otter also has long whiskers that help it to detect prey underwater. These adaptations allow the animal to exist chiefly on a diet of fish, which they catch with their superior underwater swimming skills. Otters are also known to eat frogs, turtles, snakes, crayfish, and an occasional bird.
Beavers are very important to otters. If beavers frequent a particular area, there is a good chance that otters will also be found there. The ponds created by beaver dams are prime habitat for the otter. Otters often use the abandoned dens of beavers as sleeping quarters. If a beaver den is not available, they also may be found in hollow trees or between rocks or roots, building nests out of sticks, leaves and grass.
Otters are active and curious. They spend much of their time playing with each other and exploring their environment. While other animals may play to practice hunting and survival skills, otters often play for pure enjoyment, a rare trait in animals and usually a sign of higher intelligence.
Mating takes place in the fall after rival males battle for a mate. After a gestation period of up to 270 days, the female otter gives birth to one to three young, called kits, in a den with an underwater entrance constructed beneath the bank of a stream, river or lake. The mother otter defends her kits fiercely and they remain with her as a family unit for over a year.
The otter has few natural enemies other than man, who trap it for its rich, thick pelt, and who also have lowered populations through habitat destruction and roadkill. Look for otters in larger streams or rivers where food is abundant and the water is unpolluted and quiet. The best time to look is early morning or evening.American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
Alligators are found in freshwater swamps, marshes, impoundments, lakes, ponds and the backwaters of large rivers. Alligators are cold-blooded aquatic animals that depend on the sun for warmth and freshwater aquatic habitats for food. For this reason, they are found only in the Southeastern United States, where the climate is warm and water is plentiful.
Adult alligators feed on fish, turtles, aquatic birds, water snakes and small mammals. Many alligators also feed on carrion. Alligators are carnivores, but they are also opportunistic feeders, and will not turn down an easy meal.
Alligators are often found in the day basking in the sun on the shore of some body of water. Unable to maintain a constant body temperature, alligators depend on external sources to raise or lower their body temperature. Absorbing sunlight warms the alligator and prepares it for evening hunting. If it becomes too warm, it will move to the water to cool off. In the winter when temperatures drop, alligators go into a semi-dormant state, and generally do not become active again until March.
Female alligators are very protective mothers. In June the female builds a mound made of dirt and vegetation about seven feet in diameter and one to two feet in height. In the middle of this mound she digs a hole and lays 15 to 80 eggs. This nest acts as an incubator that keeps temperatures for the eggs in the upper eighties. During this whole time, the mother watches the nest with a protective eye and keeps hungry predators away. When the eggs begin hatching in September, the mother helps the young by digging them out of the nest and even gently carrying some of the young in her jaws to the water. It is amazing that jaws capable of exerting 3,500 pounds of pressure per square inch on a prey item can be used for such delicate actions. For up to a year the mother will stay with the young to protect them from predators. During this time, the young alligators feed on insects, crayfish and frogs.Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin ( Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphins typically breed in the spring, and after a gestation period of twelve months, one calf is born. At birth the three-foot long dolphin calf weighs approximately 25 pounds. The calf will stay with its mother and nurse for 12 to 18 months before fending for itself. Dolphins live for 25 to 40 years on a diet comprised primarily of fish, squid, and shrimp. The bottlenose dolphin requires about 10% of its body weight in food daily.
Dolphins use echolocation to help them to pinpoint the location of prey. The underwater use of sound to locate food is similar to the terrestrial echolocation used by bats. Dolphins occasionally use complex herding formations to capture fish. In shallow tidal creeks, a pod of dolphins sometimes herds fish towards land. When the fish are cornered, the dolphins rush in and knock the fish onto a sand bar or mud bank with its powerful tail. The dolphin then pulls itself out of the water onto the bank and retrieves its stranded prey.
To prevent sharks from invading their territory, dolphins are known to attack the sharks by ramming the shark in the gills with their rostrum (snout) in an effort to force the shark to leave the area. On occasion dolphins have been observed to surround a shark and take turns either ramming the shark or tossing it into the air. It is unknown if this behavior is a serious attempt to injure the shark or simply a playful game.
Dolphins also display cooperative behavior. Healthy dolphins will come to the aid of another sick or weak dolphin. The two stronger dolphins will flank the sick animal and guide it to the surface by supporting it under a pectoral fin. On rare occasions, the bottlenose dolphin has helped humans in distress in the water. This usually involves a drowning person that the dolphin pushed to the safety of shallow water.