Exploring our world: How do animals use sound?

Ever wonder how animals use sound? Help youth ask questions and discover answers about sound by using these games.

How do animals use sound? Do you think animals use sound to help them find food? Do they use it to move around? Do you think sound helps animals stay safe? The Michigan State University Extension science team’s goal is to increase science literacy across Michigan. One way we support an increased interest in science is to provide information and ideas for engaging youth in exploring their world. Adults can help youth increase their science literacy by encouraging them to ask questions and discover answers. Exploring sound is just one way to engage youth in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Ask youth to brainstorm ways they think animals use sound in their lives. Record their ideas and ask youth to explain why they think animals use sound that way. Ask youth if they have observed wildlife responding to sound in a certain way. The process of explaining helps youth develop a valuable life skill: being able to support an idea using evidence. Youth might explain they think sound helps keep animals safe because they have seen a white-tailed deer suddenly freeze or run off when they have been noisy while walking in the woods.

You can help youth explore sound by introducing them to echolocation and the diversity of animals that use sound to “see” using the games below. Echolocation is a two-part process: the animal makes a sound, and the animal listens to the rebounding sound waves to identify where items are located. Animals like bats, dolphins, shrews, some whales and some birds all use sound—echolocation—to see in the dark.

Bats and bugs game (could also substitute dolphin and fish for bats and bugs). This is similar to the game Marco Polo. Have youth form a circle and choose one or more youth to be the bats and blindfold them. Bats are blind and depend on their hearing to find food using echolocation. Choose three to five youth to be bugs or food for the bats. Since we do not have ears designed for echolocation, the bugs will need to reply with “bug” each time the bats say “bat.” The bats will use the responding “bug” to hunt down and tag the bugs. The round is over when all the bugs have been tagged.

Predator-prey game (similar to bats and bugs, but not using echolocation). Use the same setup as the bats and bugs game, but instead of using words, give each prey a small container of rocks or a small bell they must keep shaking. Some youth will quickly discover that shaking the container or bell very slowly makes it harder to hear. The predators must listen carefully for the slightest sound to find and tag their prey. You may choose to set a time limit on the length of a round to keep all the youth actively engaged.

Animals use sound in a variety of ways. How well an animal hears is connected to the shape, size and style of ears on the animal. Ears may serve other purposes too. You can help youth explore hearing connected with shape, size and style using the “Teaching Science When You Don’t Know Diddly-squat” lesson “Can You Hear Better with Paper Ears?

MSU 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 2016 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

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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