How Do Animals Protect Themselves?

This lesson developed by Jim and Leona Meeks
Recommended Ages: Preschool and Elementary


How do animals protect themselves from getting eaten by other animals?
What body parts help them hide, fight or get away from "predators?"
What kinds of behavior do animals do to get away or hide from "predators?"

What You Need

  1. Posters or pictures of dinosaurs including a Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex.
  2. Posters or pictures of other animals that live near you like an eagle, robin, cat, dog, skunk, porcupine, turtle, raccoon, frog, fish, snake....
  3. You might want to go to a zoo, park, or wooded area
  4. Craft materials like construction paper, glue, pipe cleaners, Styrofoam balls, scissors

What You Do

  1. Look at the pictures or posters of dinosaurs. Talk about the idea that critters eat other critters and introduce the idea of the "food web."
  2. How do critters try to protect themselves from getting caught by a "predator" and eaten? Share the notion that many critters are designed with parts on their bodies to help them out and protect them.
  3. Look at the dinosaur posters or pictures. What do we see? Spikes, horns, claws, big pointed teeth, huge tails....
  4. Examine the Stegosaurus. What is on its tail and back that it could use to defend itself from another dinosaur? We can see it has plates on its back—they wouldn't taste good and it would take very tough teeth to bite through them!
  5. Look at the Tyrannosaurus and check out his huge teeth! Look at the Triceratops and see the horns and shield used for protection.
  6. Teeth, horns, plates, shields, spikes, big tails—these are all what we call an animal's "defenses." Some animals give off an odor and spray (like a skunk!) to defend themselves. Other animals are prickly like porcupines and sea urchins.
  7. Animals also have behaviors they do to protect and defend themselves. Think about birds and how they can fly and perch on a tree to get away from a cat. Some animals play dead! Others can run really fast to get away from their attackers. Some hide like a turtle pulling in his head, tail and feet into his shell. Others hide in caves or holes in the ground like some bears and moles.
  8. With paper and all the other craft stuff you have, make some animals or draw some animals and design them with physical features that could help them defend themselves. You can make real animals, or make some pretend ones. It's fun to design a combo animal like a dog with horns and a shell!
  9. Go to a park, the woods or a zoo and look at animals, birds and fish. How do they protect themselves with physical traits and with their own behavior? What kinds of critters seem to be pretty defenseless? Which ones are really designed to defend themselves?

What Is Happening

Critters are all part of a food chain or food web. There are other critters that would like to catch and eat them! Nature has a way of helping many critters defend themselves either by having physical attributes and body parts or by knowing instinctively what to do like hide, run, and pretend to be dead. Think about where different critters live, too. Sometimes critters have places they can go to protect themselves, hide and get away from predators. Sometimes critters blend into their natural environment so they are hard to even see. This is called camouflage. What are our defenses against critters that could harm us? We have some natural ones and we have some human-made ones! What behaviors do we seem to instinctively have when it comes to being in contact with something that could be dangerous for us? How do we respond when we are face to face with critters that could harm us?

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