Have you heard the saying “a leopard never changes its spots”? The phrase means it’s impossible to change the behaviour or habits of someone or something, but in the case of an actual leopard, its life would be far easier if it could!
Animals need to adapt to their environment in order to survive.
While the leopard may not change its spots, there are other things it can do to adapt to the world around it. Leopards actually blend in to their habitat naturally because of adaptation, the variation of dark and light helping them to stay hidden against the forest underbrush or plains grasses while waiting for prey that moves too close.
Some animals can actually change colours, like the snowshoe hare, which loses its summer coat to blend in with the snowy winter landscape to help them survive the change of seasons. However, with the threat of climate change, the snowshoe hare is facing a higher mortality rate because their coats are not changing colours fast enough.
You can start this activity with a few questions to get the students thinking about adaptation.
“What is adaptation?”
Changes made by an organism or species that help it become better suited to its environment.
EX. Camouflage is a way of disguise that a species must use to help it scare predators, protect them from predators, or help predators hunt by blending into their surroundings.
“How do we adapt to our environment in the winter?”
Parkas, winter coats, winter boots, gloves, and hats all help people stay warm during the cold weather.
Involving students directly in the lesson will help to drive home the meaning of the term and its importance. The students may be surprised to learn even they are not excluded from adaptation!
Once the students have an understanding of adaptation, you can start the activity.
You will need only two colours of painted popsicle sticks to act as snowshoe hares. These popsicle sticks should be brown and white to reflect the colours of a snowshoe hare’s summer and winter coats. However, if you do not have the time to paint them, plain and coloured popsicle sticks will serve the same purpose. If there is snow, the plainly coloured “hares” will blend in better with the snow than any brightly coloured ones.
Distribute the popsicle sticks among the students to hide in the snow.
Afterwards, split the class into two groups and designate which group will collect only the brown snowshoe hare popsicle sticks and which group will collect only the white snowshoe hare popsicle sticks. Give the students approximately 5 to 10 minutes to locate as many hares as possible.
When a student locates a snowshoe hare of the correct colour, they must run as quickly as possible back to home-base with the popsicle stick and give it to you. Students may only return one popsicle stick at a time which will allow more time for the game to run.
Students will enjoy being outside and having a hands-on experience with camouflage by attempting to locate all of the snowshoe hares themselves. It will help teach them just how amazing an animal’s adaptation can be or just how climate change might affect an animal’s adaptation.
After their time is up, gather the students and record how many of each snowshoe hare they found. Encourage discussion with the students; ask them how easy it was to find the hares that were in stark contrast to their environment.
If there is snow, the brown hares will appear more. If there is no snow, the white hares will be easier to find and more plentiful.
Explain climate change’s effect on the hares based on the results of the activity. If the students were able to find the hares quickly, they would be found just as quickly out in the wild, versus the ones that took a bit longer or remained hidden through the activity.