Animal Life Histories Derived From Morphology

Charles Buzek Spry Elementary School
2400 S. Marshall
Chicago, Ill. 60623


These objectives apply to intermediate level students, specifically 6th grade.

Students will begin to learn the mechanisms of natural selection by deducing
information from the physical appearance of the animal.

The format will help to develop reasoning skills.

Students will learn and use information concerning adaptation and habitats.

The class will gain experience in the formation of theories.

Materials needed:

Hand-out sheet showing the earth's biomes.

Hand-out sheet showing various examples of hares and rabbits.

Three exhibit cases from the Field Museum.


Students were introduced to the variety of the earth's biomes, i.e. tundra,
taiga, deciduous forest, grassland, desert, rain forest, fresh water and salt
water. These areas form habitats wherein can be found animals and plants which
have survived because they possess qualities which enable them to adapt to that
specific area. As an example, the students are told about a fictitious former
student who always preferred to sit in the back of the room even though he had
poor vision. The student would have to adapt to his situation by obtaining
glasses or fail (not survive).

Students then receive the hand-out concerning the rabbit and hare. We discuss
the variety of the animals and differences they show and their habitats, e.g.
rabbits with the longest ears are found in desert regions; heat loss controlled
through the ears. We focus on the snow-shoe rabbit in order to discuss the
useful adaptation that provides the animal with a white coat during the winter.
The class then proceeds to make judgments about the animal's food on the basis
of the dentition. This leads to a determination of whether the animal is a
predator or prey. As the latter, is decided students next theorize as to the
rabbit's natural enemies and its ability to escape or defend itself from them.
These hypotheses derive directly from the size and shape of the animal. In the
last segment of this part of the lesson, the class will be shown the habitat box
for the purpose of providing direct corroboration of their theories.

The second part of the lesson utilizes another habitat box from the Field
Museum. Students are allowed to examine the animal which is placed in a natural
setting. They are asked to describe this setting and name it in terms of the
earth's biomes. Then the class begins to construct a natural history using the
techniques shown above. Information is listed on the board as it is submitted
by the students. At the end of this segment of the lesson students should have
identified a habitat with possible alternatives, food, locomotion,
characteristics, i.e. aggressive or passive, birthrate, adaptability. No ideas are wrong, all are included in the list.

For the concluding part of the lesson, the class will participate in a game
which will also allow the instructor to evaluate student comprehension. The
class will be allowed to ask four questions relative to where the animal lives,
what it eats, type of dwelling, locomotion and then they will be asked to draw a
simple schematic diagram of what they think the animal looks like using circles
and ellipses. At this time the instructor may give his own "helpful hint" and
then bring out the third of the habitat boxes. Students will be able to
immediately reinforce or correct their judgments at this time.


This lesson ideally provides the student with the opportunity to develop his
reasoning skills while learning more about the life histories of animals which
may not be very familiar to him. The approach is phenomenological since the
actual animals are utilized. The students are not only involved in determining
specific information they also get involved in using these techniques to
hypothesize the shape of an undetermined animal in a game situation. Thus the
approach moves away from the standard textbook situation to one wherein the
student is actually using tools utilized by zoologists in the laboratory.


Habitat boxes are available through the Field Museum. Call 922-9410 any week-
day and ask for the Harris Extension.

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