All plants and animals – whether wild or domestic – need certain ‘things’ to survive. Every living thing has its own unique basic needs of food, water, shelter, space, and all in a specific arrangement. Habitat is the combination of the necessary food, water, shelter, and space.
Have you ever wondered why you see certain plants or animals in specific places or feeding on certain items? That animal is in a preferred shelter or eating a preferred food. For example:
- Humans prefer shelters with walls.
- Monarch caterpillars eat milkweed.
- Amphibians lay eggs in calm water.
- Bald eagles build stick nests in very large trees near a food source.
Survival for an individual plant or animal or even survival of the species is based upon the availability of the appropriate, quality habitat. Wildlife biologists and landscape architects may add or remove components of an animal’s habitat to manage the population. Right now, many groups are advocating for planting milkweed species in gardens, roadsides, and parks to provide food (habitat) for the monarch butterfly during its lifecycle. The monarch butterfly population has been in decline for many years due to habitat degradation.
To help your young children learn about the components of habitat, use the Growing Up WILD activity “Oh, Deer!” This activity helps them learn about food, water, shelter, space and what happens if there isn’t enough of any one of the components. The activity lends itself well to building math skills – counting and graphing. This activity is timely right now as deer are on the move with corn harvest still going on in Iowa.
Growing Up WILD resources for this activity:
- Copy Me Pages (opens as PDF)
- Home Connections Card (opens as PDF)
- Population Dynamics video from New Hampshire PBS NatureWorks
Take a hike at a local natural area to find deer tracks. Follow them down the trail to find out where they are going and what they are doing in their habitat. Looking for a resource to find your local natural areas? Check with your community’s park and recreation organization or check for county areas or state parks! Many of these places have non-formal educators that may be able to help you lead an exploration!