2. Discussing animals in groups

Biologists are fascinated by the way the survival of animals depends on adaptation for successful hunting and the avoidance of being eaten. Think of how claws and pincers have been developed to seize and grasp prey or frighten off predators (scorpions, crabs, cats, the preying mantis etc.). Other animals construct traps. Think of trapdoor spiders, spiders’ webs and ant lion pits in soft sand. Topics to discuss with pupils or ask them to find out about could include mimicry, camouflage, feigning death, prickles and spines, hard shells, speed, bad tastes and even poison.

In this type of work, it is a good idea to start with animals that pupils can make accurate detailed observations of. Pupils can then discuss how their observations of behaviour and structure help these species to survive as predators, prey or both. Case Study 2 and Activity 2 explore how you can make such observations in your classroom. Pupils could then find out about other animals if they have access to any reference books, the Internet or local experts.

Case Study 2: A table of adaptations

Mr Mulele’s class kept (and later released) an injured chameleon that the pupils had rescued from a dog in the school grounds. It recovered from its injury at the back of the classroom on a branch in a vase by the window. The pupils enjoyed watching the chameleon shooting out its tongue to catch flies.

Mr Mulele asked his class these questions:

  • How is the chameleon adapted to be a hunter?
  • How is the chameleon adapted to avoid being eaten by other animals (hunted)?

He gave them two days to think about these questions and to watch the chameleon to help them answer the questions. He suggested that they look at how it moved, its eyes and its behaviour when it was threatened. Some of his older pupils made some notes on their observations.

After two days, he divided his class into groups of five/six pupils and asked each group to choose a leader. He asked the groups to discuss the questions and to draw up a list of at least two features that help the chameleon hunt other animals and two features that help it avoid being eaten by other animals.

He gave them 30 minutes for this discussion and during this time he went round all the groups encouraging them to use their observations about the chameleon. He also emphasised that the group leader should make sure that each pupil in the group had a chance to speak.

After half an hour, each group gave one observation to the class. Mr Mulele recorded all their observations on the board as a table.

The following month Mr Mulele brought a praying mantis to the classroom. Again, pupils observed its behaviour and the different ways in which the insect is adapted for survival. This time the pupils needed less prompting from the teacher to notice significant features.

Activity 2: The praying mantis – a successful insect predator

Praying mantises are very common in Africa. They can easily be kept safely in the classroom for a short while (see Resource 3: Keeping a praying mantis in the classroom). If fed live insects, their hunting adaptations and feeding behaviour can be clearly observed.

Keep an exercise book or large piece of paper near to the container as a journal for everyone to write in. Pupils can record any interesting observations, descriptions of behaviour, and drawings of adaptations that help the mantis hunt its prey. Over a few days, allow different pupils in the class to spend time recording their observations. Questions you might give to start the pupils observing could be: How often does it feed? What does it eat? How does it disguise itself to catch prey? How quickly or slowly does it move? Also, ask pupils if they can discover whether they have caught a male or a female praying mantis. How can they tell? How are these features helpful to the male and female?

Encourage pupils to write questions as well as observations. Other pupils may be able to answer the questions. In this way, pupils can build up collective knowledge about the praying mantis.

You can extend this work by catching a male and female praying mantis and keeping them in the same container.

Some of your pupils might want to catch their own praying mantis to learn more about it. They should be able to look after it and make further observations. These pupils could give a presentation to the class about what they have learned.

1. Observing local ecosystems

3. Valuing experience and local knowledge