Exploring our world: Activities to help learn why some animals are camouflaged

Help youth explore why some animals have coloration that camouflages them, helping them hide in plain sight.

Owl

Ever wonder why some animals are camouflaged, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings, while other are brightly colored? Why do some animals have spots and stripes while others are a solid color? Exploring animal camouflage and coloration is a great way to help youth learn about animals and the way they interact with their world.

Let’s first explore the word camouflage. It is a French word meaning smoke (camouflet). The French Army troops, during WWI, were easily seen by search planes in the sky until the troops concealed their movements and location with smoke.

Help youth explore animal coloration by starting with a question like the following:

  • Do you think some animals are camouflaged to help them hide?
  • Do you think the animals that hide are predators or prey?
  • Why do you think prey animals would want to be camouflaged?
  • Why do you think predator animals would want to be camouflaged?

During the conversations, help youth think of specific examples to support their ideas and reasoning. Youth might mention animals that have fur or skin that matches their environment like fawns or garter snakes. They might talk about animals that change their color with the seasons like the snowshoe hare.

They might also talk about tactics animals use to stay safe, like the ruffed grouse that freezes at the first sign of danger. Or predators that remain motionless until they are ready to snatch their prey, like the alligator snapping turtle. Whether they are correct or not, developing the ability to use evidence to support an argument is an essential skill for success.

After sharing ideas, take the youth outdoors for some modified versions of hide and seek. In the first game, one or two “predators” (youth) are anchored to a space like a porch, picnic table or other object. Generally, there are many volunteers to be the predators after the first round. The remaining youth are the prey and are to hide in plain sight within the designated space. Require the prey youth to have the majority of their head visible and in a location where they can see the predators at all times.

While the prey youth are finding their hiding place, the predators need to be at another location so that sound does not give the prey away. Once the prey are hidden, the predators must stay in contact with their anchor while looking for the prey. When they see someone, they can call them by name or describe their hiding space.

Wander through the designated space during the game, ensuring the prey really have their head visible without giving away their hiding places. The last to be found gets to be the predators in round two.

Truck at base of treeThe second game uses common everyday objects, an item list or plain piece of paper and pencil. Before the youth arrive, place the items around in plain sight. Send out people in pairs with a list of things to look for. Remember, all items were placed in plain sight. The hiding is done by placing things against something of the same color or in a position that looks so natural you’d overlook it.

One person has the paper; the other has the pencil. When an object is discovered, the two get together, move a bit away from the location (so that others won’t detect it) and write down where they saw it. Nobody touches an object.

The list might be of 10-15 objects like a penny on a brown window sill, a red comb on a red cushion, a ring on a lamp shade tip, a dollar bill folded up and placed in foliage, etc. Time the group for 10-20 minutes, then regroup and compare the lists.

Example List for Camouflage

Names:

Object:

Where it is found:

A Nickel

 

Pipe Cleaner

 

Rubber Band

 

AA Battery

 

Plastic Knife

 

Q-Tip

 

Snail Shell

 

Nail

 

Dollar Bill

 

BandAid

 

Hair Scrunchee

 

Marble

 

Smokey Bear Magnet

 

Green L

 

Clothespin

 

Toothpick

 

Drinking Straw

 

Wooden Cube

 

Life Saver

 

Magnifying Glass

 

Two Beads

 

Total Objects Found:

 

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success.

To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2017 Impact Report: “Equipping Young People for Success Through Science Literacy.”

To learn more about MSU Extension, visit the MSU Extension website. To learn more about 4-H and Extension opportunities in Alcona County, stop by our Harrisville office at 320 S. State St. Harrisville, MI 48740, or visit us online at our Alcona County MSU Extension Facebook page or Alcona County Extension office page.

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