FOCUS: Both predators and prey need to eat, but they face different challenges in getting their food. Predators must find their prey, chase and catch it, subdue it if it fights back, and eat it. Prey animals must forage for food cautiously, always on the lookout for predators. The physical and behavioral characteristics of predators and prey reflect their needs and ways of life.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about predators and prey.
Ask children to take a moment to imagine being either a stalking cat or a squirrel alert to danger. Then ask them to share what they were thinking as they were imagining life as their character.
LOOK OUT! SCENARIOS
Objective: To model some behavioral adaptations that help predators and prey survive.
Have children work in small groups to rehearse and act out vignettes about animal life in the wild.
The skits depict different kinds of predators and their prey. Provide nametags or costumes to identify the different animals in the skit. Have a narrator read the script while students perform, or students can do these as pantomimes. After each skit, ask the audience what strategy the predator used to capture its prey and the prey to escape its hunter.
Mice Get Rattled
White-footed mice come hopping along a trail. Rattlesnake flicks its tongue in and out of its mouth as it tests the air. It finds the trail and coils up to wait. The mice hop back, stopping to eat seeds. The snake pulls back its head to strike, but the mice see the movement just in time and jump away unharmed.
Predator/prey strategies: Snake picks up odors from the air with its tongue, lies in ambush for its prey. Big eyes help mice catch sight of slightest movement; jumping ability helps mice escape.
Number of actors: 2-3.
Optional props: mouse ears, forked snake tongue.
All the Buzz about the Pond
Swarm of mosquitos buzz around a small pond, while a large bullfrog sits beneath a clump of cattails. A nearby dragonfly dashes in and tries to catch a mosquito, but they scatter and it misses. The dragonfly settles on a cattail to rest. From below, the lurking bullfrog catches sight of the dragonfly. The bullfrog leaps out, extending its sticky tongue, but the dragonfly darts away just in time.
Predator/prey strategies: Flying in a swarm provides some safety for mosquitos because a predator has trouble singling one out to capture. Bullfrog lies in wait for insects to land near or on water surface, uses surprise to catch prey unaware. Dragonfly’s great flying agility helps it avoid predators.
Number of actors: 4-6.
Optional props: insect wings, frog tongue.
Safety in Numbers
A small herd of white-tailed deer are feeding in a field. A bobcat stalks towards them, staying low and hidden. The deer move away, slowly grazing. Bobcat inches closer, then freezes as deer look up. One of the deer gets nervous and starts to twitch its white tail. The other deer catch the signal and bound off with tails held high. Bobcat gives up the chase and curls up for a nap in the sun.
Predator/prey strategies: Deer feed in groups so there are more eyes to notice danger, wave their white tails to alert each other. Bobcat stalks prey crouching low to stay out of sight, freezes to avoid detection, tries to get close enough to pounce.
Number of actors: 4-6.
Props: white handkerchiefs for tails; optional: bobcat ears.
An Otter Surprise
An otter gracefully swims through a large lake, lunging for small fish that dart away as it approaches. Discouraged, the otter notices a large turtle basking by the water’s edge. It tries to take a bite, but the snapping turtle mounts an aggressive defense by snapping its jaws fiercely. The otter goes off to look for easier prey.
Predator/prey strategies: Fish avoid predator by darting away. Otter chase fish to catch them. Snapping turtle defends itself with powerful snapping jaws.
Number of actors: 4-5.
Optional props: laundry basket or jacket for turtle shell, salad tongs for jaws.
A porcupine slowly waddles through the forest. A fisher sniffs every nook and cranny as it hunts and catches a whiff of the porcupine. It attacks, but the porcupine turns its back and swings its tail. The fisher runs around the porcupine trying to get at its head where it has no quills. The porky keeps turning around until it can crawl inside a hollow log. Its prickly tail blocks the entrance. With nothing but quills to bite, the fisher moves on.
Predator/prey strategies: the porcupine raises quills and swats with tail for defense, keeps tail end toward foe, looks for protective hideout; fisher locates prey by actively hunting and constantly searching every nook and cranny in its territory.
Number of actors: 2.
Props: whisk broom or large brush for quills.
Danger from Above
Voles burrow out from under snow (white sheet), munching on seeds. Hawk surveys field from a nearby perch. Catching sight of the voles, it suddenly swoops down towards them. Voles flee beneath the snow cover. Unable to see the prey, the hawk flies back to its perch to wait for another chance.
Predator/prey strategies: voles stay close to cover so they can hide when they sense danger; hawk watches for movement from a perch, swoops down on its prey using surprise.
Number of actors: 2-4.
Props: white sheet for snow; optional: seeds, boughs.
Bait Bites Back
A hungry raccoon feels around in the water of a small stream. Crayfish under the water reach out with their strong pincers and pinch at its fingers. Raccoon gives up and goes to find an easier meal.
Predator/Prey strategies: raccoon hunts by feeling with its sensitive paws, hunts prey much smaller than itself; crayfish defend with snapping claws.
Number of actors: 2-3.
Optional props: black mask for raccoon; tongs for crayfish.
A woodchuck sits outsides its burrow, keeping a lookout as it munches on some grass. A pair of coyotes spot the woodchuck. One circles around behind it while the other one approaches from the front. Woodchuck spots the first coyote, then stands up on its hind legs and notices the second coyote. It dives into its tunnel to escape. The coyotes dig at the entrance for a while and then slink off in search of other prey.
Predator/prey strategies: woodchuck keeps a lookout while eating, stays near burrow for escape route; coyotes coordinate their attack to try to trap the woodchuck.
Number of actors: 3.
Optional props: coyote masks, green sheet for grassy field.
For older students, you may want to challenge them to come up with their own title for their skit.
Materials: Skit narrations, name labels for animal roles, optional props as listed above.
Objective: To use a model to understand the different food-getting challenges faced by prey animals and their predators.
Define the outer boundaries of a playing field with cones or other markers. Mark off two circular “safety zones” (each large enough to hold 4-6 children) within the playing field. Scatter food tokens in the playing field, but outside of the safety zones. Divide the class in thirds so that one third of the children are predators and the others are prey. Begin with the prey in the two safety-zone circles. The predators mill around outside the boundary of the playing field. Prey must dash out of the safety zone, collect a food token and return to the safety zone. Predators can run in and tag prey only when prey are outside the safety zone. After each foray, predators must run back outside the boundaries again. A prey that gets tagged is “out” and must wait outside the boundaries until the next round.
Each prey must collect five tokens to survive.
Each predator must tag two prey to survive.
Begin and end each round with a whistle, giving thirty to sixty seconds for each round. Afterward, ask how many predators and prey survived. Try varying the numbers of predators. What happens when there are more predators? (Fewer prey survive.) Fewer predators? (More prey survive.)
After the game, have children help to do a sweep of the area to be sure all tokens are collected and removed for the next class.
Materials: four gym cones to mark boundaries of play area; two 15’ pieces of rope for safety zones; food tokens such as pasta, pine cones, or other items that would be visible when scattered on a lawn.
HOT ON THE TRAIL
Objective: To model the behavior of prey animals seeking food and predatory animals following tracks of their prey.
This game is best played outside so that teams can spread out and set up trails in different places. Give each team of two to four children a bag of dried pasta containing fifty to seventy-five pieces. Assign each team a starting point and put a flag or gym cone to mark this location. Have children imagine being a prey animal seeking its food while looking out for danger. Taking turns, a child places one piece of pasta on the ground, takes a step and puts down another piece of pasta, repeating until the child has placed ten to fifteen pieces. Now hand the bag to the next child to extend the trail for another ten to fifteen steps. Each child in the team gets to continue the trail until all the pasta is used up. They may go between trees and bushes but should not make any loops in the trail or retrace steps. Once a team has used up all the pasta in their bag, they will hide a token such as a small toy animal at the terminus of their trail.
Once all teams have laid down their trails, gather the group together and explain that everyone will now be predators seeking their prey. Predators usually use their sense of smell rather than vision, but as humans we must use our vision instead, so we will be looking for the pasta pieces one by one. Send teams off to follow a trail made by a different team and find the token at the end. Teammates may take turns or work together to locate each piece of pasta along the trail. They should collect the pasta pieces one by one, always looking ahead to locate the next piece before picking up a piece of pasta. At the end of the trail they should find and collect the token.
Afterward, ask the children how it felt to be a prey animal always on the look-out for danger, or to be a predator hunting for its prey.
Materials: dried pasta divided into bags of 50-75 pieces for each team; prey animal tokens such as small toy animals, one per team.
PUPPET SHOW “Red Riding Rabbit and Br’er Fox”
Objective: To compare the behavioral and physical adaptations of rabbits and foxes.
Perform the puppet show or have the children perform it for their classmates. Afterwards ask questions to review the key details and vocabulary in the story. What are some characteristics of rabbits that help them to be aware of their predators? (Eyes on the side, large ears that swivel, good sense of smell.) What are some behaviors that help rabbits? (Run in a zig zag pattern, familiar with all escape routes in their home range.) What are some ways that a predator like a fox is different from a prey animal? (Eyes pointing forward, sharp teeth, fast runner.)
Materials: Puppets, script, props, stage.
Objective: To meet some predator and prey animals, learn about their adaptations for hunting or avoiding capture, and use modeling to consider the outcome of confrontations between different animals.
Give each pair of children an Adaptations Card depicting the predator and prey animals listed below. In small groups with an adult leader, discuss some of the characteristics of each animal, and decide which are predators and which are prey.
Predator: Coyote, Fisher, Bobcat, Goshawk, Timber Rattlesnake, Great-Horned Owl
Prey: Porcupine, Skunk*, White-tailed Deer, Chipmunk, Woodcock,* Flying Squirrel
*These are meat-eaters too, but since they are small, they are prey to some larger predators.
Form two lines, one for Predators and one for Prey, facing each other. Call up one pair from each line to stand at the front of the class, ready to debate. Each team should tell about one adaption that would help its animal capture or defend itself from the other team’s animal. Then have classmates think about whether this predator would capture this prey animal (predator “wins”) or if the prey would get away (prey “wins”). If it seems like a tie, then both pairs pick a Situation Card from the deck. Have both predator and prey read their Situation Card aloud to the class, and again the rest of the children consider whether there is a winner or loser in the contest. Repeat with the next two animals and continue until all have been part of a debate.
Materials: Adaptation Cards with photos and information about local predators and prey species; Situation Cards with factors that might affect each contest.
UPPER GRADES CHALLENGE: Predator-Prey Cycles (Grades 5-6)
Objective: To model how the numbers of predators change in relation to available prey, and make a graph to represent this.
Give each student a data chart. Read the Ups and Downs story, using a feltboard to illustrate the action by following the directions in italics. Have students keep track of the number of rabbits and foxes while you read the story. Afterward, in pairs, have students make a graph of the data on the Data Sheet. In their science journals, make a prediction of what might happen next in the story.
Materials: Ups and Downs Story; feltboard, felt pieces including 16 rabbits and 10 foxes cut out in pairs, tree, bush, grass, leaves, snow, pencils, Data Sheet and colored pencils; journals.
DESIGN A PERFECT PREDATOR – Journal Activity
Objective: To design an imaginary predator with adaptations for hunting a particular type of prey.
Give each child or pair of children a Prey Card describing the food their Perfect Predator must catch and eat. Ask them to draw and/or describe an imaginary animal that has the perfect adaptations to hunt for this type of prey.
Prey could include: squirrel on a power line, crayfish under rocks in a stream, ant eggs in an old dead tree, large fish swimming in deep water, skunk under a porch, voles in a stone wall, grasshoppers in tall grass, mosquitoes over a small pond, spotted salamander in its burrow, gray tree frog camouflaged in the branches of a tall tree, clams in the mud, mice in the walls of a barn, seal on the rocks by the sea, red-bellied snake under the leaves on the forest floor.
Afterward, in small groups, have the children tell about their predators’ traits and show their drawings.
Materials: Prey Cards, paper or journals, pencils, colored pencils or crayons.
A STEP BEYOND
Top Predators: Have children research some of the top predators in your area. Where do they live, what do they eat, how do they hunt, and what hunts them?
White-tailed Deer: Have children research some of the adaptations of white-tailed deer that help them avoid their predators. How fast can they run, how far and how high can they leap, how do they hide, how can they see in the dark forest?