Why do some animals live together?

Explore the world around you by exploring the social interactions of animals.

Have you ever wondered why some animals live alone and others live in groups? 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. Help youth increase their science literacy by encouraging them to ask questions and discover answers. Exploring the social interactions of animals is one way to engage youth in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Help youth explore the social interactions of animals by starting with a question like the following:

  • Why do you think some animals live in a group?
  • Can you think of some animals that live in a group and some that live alone?
  • What do you think would happen if all animals lived in a group?
  • Do some animals live in a group part of the time?
  • Do you think the size of the animal impacts whether they live in group?

Ask each youth you are working with to answer yes or no on whether they think there is an advantage to living in a group. After everyone has answered, ask a couple of youth to explain why they said yes and ask a couple more why they said no.

Next, provide each pair of youth with a survival factor chart that lists the advantages and disadvantages of living in a group or as an individual. Ask each pair to list things they think can impact the survival of a population or individual under the survival factors column. Then instruct them to fill in as many of the advantages and disadvantages as they can.

While the youth are working, make a master chart large enough for everyone to see. When time is up, ask each pair to provide one survival factor, the advantages and disadvantages along with their explanation—record their answer on the master chart. Continue until all items have been included on the master chart.

Sample Survival Chart

Survival factor

Advantage in a group

Disadvantage in a group

Advantage as an individual

Disadvantage as an individual


Other animals may bring food to a sick member.

Spreads quicker and easier.

Harder to spread.

No help.



Competition for resources after fire.

Less competition for resources.



Many helping to find and get food.

Many eating the food.

Less competition.

May have to hunt longer to find food.

Now that the youth have explored a variety of survival factors, ask them to think of a specific animal. Does their animal live in a group? Why do they think it lives in a group or alone?

The most important part of any scientific investigation is taking the time to think about what you discovered. When youth tell you or each other that their animal does or does not live in a group, allow lots of time for them to explain why or why not. You helped them investigate some of the advantages and disadvantages for animals living in a group, now it is time for them to make their own conclusion based on the information they collected. Any claim based in fact and using sound reasoning is valid. This is science in action.

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 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.

For more ways to share science with youth in your life, please explore the MSU Extension Science and Engineering website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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