Environmental games and activities: Predator-prey relationships

Teaching youth about predator/prey relationships is a fun, active lesson that helps youth see the importance of ecological concepts.

The Michigan State University Extension article, “Environmental games and activities: Scavenger hunts,” explains how there are many benefits to using environmental games and activities to help youth explore and understand ecological concepts. Another exciting activity for teaching ecology is a predator-prey game that physically involves youth in various roles and illustrates each relationship.

There are many predators in the natural world. From dragon flies to hawks and wolves, any organism that captures, kills and eats another is considered a predator. This lesson can begin by having youth try to identify as many predators as possible. A prey is the organism the predator feeds upon. Have youth identify the prey that each predator they identified seeks to eat.

Once predator and prey have been defined and properly identified, a discussion about trophic levels and food chains is appropriate. Ultimately, this discussion should incorporate energy flow through a system and the importance and dependence on the sun as our source of life on earth.

Now we’re ready to play! This activity is best with groups of 15-20, but can be played with more or less. Have youth form a large circle about 30 feet in diameter. Begin by having one person play the predator role and another be the prey. The predator is blind-folded and the prey should make a sound every five seconds or wear bells. Select predators and prey that have a natural relationship, such a fish/minnow, wolf/deer or owl/mouse. If the prey cannot be caught easily, make the circle smaller.

Another option is to increase the number of participants. Since in the natural world prey outnumber predators, select two to three youth to be predators and eight to 10 youth to be prey. Employ the same strategies of prey making a sound and predators being blind-folded. Once a prey is caught, they become a predator. Eventually all the prey will be caught, which creates a competitive scenario. This creates a unique situation and leads to great discussion about food sources, population dynamics and animal behavior.

Allow all youth to play the various roles of the game so they appreciate what it means to be a predator and a prey. Keep safety in mind to avoid potential injury, not allowing the activity to get too raucous or out of control. It is good practice to have participants keep their hands at shoulder height with palms facing out to act as “bumpers” to avoid excessive contact. Walking is another way to avoid unnecessary risks.

Finally, conclude with a debriefing session allowing youth to express their feelings and ideas about the activity. How did it feel to a predator or prey? What happened when prey became low in numbers? How did some prey avoid being caught? What adaptations do predators have that help them catch prey? What adaptations do prey have to avoid being caught? Allow youth to ask their own questions.

This activity serves as a starting point for further investigation to the numerous predator-prey relationships that exist and additional research into food chains. The activity can be extended by using pictures of various organisms that can be put together to show predator-prey relationships and simple food chains. And don’t forget to make learning fun!

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