Omnivores are the most flexible eaters of the animal kingdom. They eat both plants and animals, and many times what they eat depends on where they live and what is available at certain times of the year.
Animal omnivores (including humans) come in many different sizes.
Ants may be the smallest of the omnivores. One of Iowa’s smallest ants is the pharaoh ant, which grows to only 0.08 inches. They eat a variety of foods that include eggs, carrion, insects, nuts, seeds, grains, fruit nectar, sap, and fungus.
Iowa’s largest omnivore is the Coyote. Coyotes are about as big as a medium-sized dog. They can grow to be 4 feet long (including their tail) and weigh 50 pounds. These adaptable animals will eat almost anything. Coyote hunt rabbits, rodents, fish, frogs, and even deer. They also happily dine on insects, snakes, fruit, grass, and carrion (dead animals).
For this activity, create a plate of coyote food (meat, fruits, nuts, plants, and insects), you could use pictures or the real thing. Begin by showing the children foods on the plate and asking which foods they would like to eat and which they would not like to eat. What wild animal might eat these same foods? If children do not think of a coyote, give hints like “it looks like a dog” or “it howls at night.”
Ask children whether they have ever seen a coyote. Tell children that they are going to be exploring what coyotes eat.
Using the same plate, ask which coyote foods come from animals? Which come from plants? Explain that coyotes are called omnivores because they eat foods that come from both plants and animals. Omnivores need a variety of different foods in their diet to stay healthy. Ask the children if they can think of any other omnivores? In Iowa, we have many omnivores. For example: badgers, opossums, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, mice, rats, and some birds.
Next, spread the coyote food cards on the ground in a large, open area. (for very young children you may opt to mount cards of the same type on the same color of construction paper to make it easier for them to find what they need). Tell children they will pretend to play coyotes finding food to eat. Give them paper bags or envelopes to serve as their “coyote stomachs.” Looking at the plates they made, ask what coyote foods do they like to eat, too?
On the playground or in a natural area, talk about coyote habitat. Could a coyote live here? What would a coyote need? Where would it sleep? What would it eat? Is there a water source? Choose multiple places around the natural area where a bear might find food, water, and shelter. Mark these places with signs or symbols. Make believe you are a coyote looking for food, water and shelter.
This activity was adapted from Growing Up WILD’s “Lunch for a Bear” to use Iowa’s largest omnivore, the coyote. The accompanying art and music projects could be easily changed to fit Iowa critters.
Use page 2 of this Copy Me from Lunch for a Bear for the types or categories of food an omnivore would eat.
For even more fun, invite your local naturalist in for an extension to your lesson. Find your local naturalist at mycountyparks.com.