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 and give each a Look Out! Scenario card. They will 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: Look Out! Scenario cards, 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.
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.
Objective: To model how the numbers of predators change in relation to available prey.
Read the Ups and Downs story, using a feltboard to illustrate the action by following the directions in italics. It is helpful to have assistants putting up the felt pieces. Afterward, ask children what might happen next in the story.
For older children, provide copies of the Hare and Lynx Graph. Canada lynx are predators of snowshoe hares and eat almost nothing else. This graph shows real data of how their numbers changed from 1900 to 1920. Have children use a finger to trace over the blue line for hares. What happened to the hares? (The numbers went up and down.) Now have them trace over the red line for lynx. What happened to the lynx? (The lynx went up when the hares went up, then down when the hares went down.) How are the number of predators and their prey connected? (When one goes up, the other goes up and vice versa.)
Materials: Ups and Downs Story; feltboard, Foxes and Rabbits Felt Board cut-outs including 16 rabbits and 10 foxes (easier if cut out in pairs), tree, bush, grass, leaves, snow; for older children, Lynx and Hare Graph, one copy for each small group.
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.
UPPER GRADES CHALLENGE: Trophic Cascade (Grades 5-6)
Objective: To observe the far-reaching effects of predators on an ecosystem.
Explain that a “cascade effect” is when one change causes a series of other changes.
‘Trophic level” refers to the position an organism occupies in an ecosystem, or who eats what. Plants are at the lowest level since they are producers, and top predators like wolves are at the highest trophic level, the top of the food chain.
Level 5: Top predators that have no predators are at the top of the food chain.
Level 4: Carnivores that eat other carnivores are tertiary consumers.
Level 3: Carnivores that eat herbivores are secondary consumers.
Level 2: Herbivores that eat plants are primary consumers
Level 1: Plants make their own food so they are primary producers
Show the students the YouTube video, How Wolves Change Rivers, about the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s, and the changes that occurred as a result.
Afterward have students work in pairs or small groups and make a list of all the things they can remember that changed in Yellowstone after the wolves were reintroduced. Afterward, combine everyone’s ideas in a class diagram on a whiteboard, with “wolves” at the top. For an example of what this might look like, see Sample Trophic Cascade diagram. You may wish to prompt the students with questions like these:
• How did the wolves affect the elk in the park? (They hunted elk, made the elk nervous.)
• How did the elk’s behavior change? (They avoided some areas and moved more quickly through others.)
• How did the plants change? (Less severe grazing allowed more plants to grow.)
• What other Yellowstone species were affected and how? (More plants provided more habitat, so bears, beavers, mice, birds, etc. came back.)
• How did the land change? (Less erosion because of more plants, rivers stayed in their banks more.)
• Why is this called a trophic cascade? (Introduction of a predator at the highest trophic level led to many other changes at lower trophic levels in the ecosystem.)
Materials: YouTube video: How Wolves Change Rivers: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q), projector, screen; optional: whiteboard and markers; for each team: paper and pencil; optional: Sample Trophic Cascade diagram.
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?