Wildlife Biology for Middle School: Develop Skills with Animal Cams

animalbehaviorWildlife Biologists are scientists that observe and study the behaviors of animals. They frequently observe the features of certain wildlife and determine the role these animals have in their specific ecosystems. Many Wildlife Biologists specialize into a particular area of study defined by ecosystem or species. Some of these fields include: Entomology (insects), Ichthyology (fish), Ornithology (birds), or Marine Biology.

Youth interested in learning more about animals and the study of wildlife can learn a great deal from the comfort of their home via a webcam. Though limited in scope, animal cams can provide a glimpse into the lives of animals and are one tool to help develop our understanding of animal behavior.

I have compiled a list of some of my favorite animal cams from around the world. Take time to browse them all or utilize the printables I’ve provided below to develop a more in-depth wildlife biology study on your favorite animal.

ethologyOur Favorite Animal Cams

Birds

Bald Eagles

Location: Decorah, Iowa
Best time to watch: Eggs may begin hatching between March 25 and March 29 based on a 35 to 39 day incubation period.

The Decorah bald eagles nest atop a large white oak tree in a secluded valley. Their eggs hatch roughly 35 days after they are first laid, which means that three eggs within the nest right now are due any time now.

Location: Turtle Bay Eagle Cam (Redding, California)

We became captivated by this breeding pair when we first moved to Redding in 2011. The female Bald eagle has successfully fledged 14 eaglets and in 2015 had 3 youngsters in the nest!  This is not the first time she has done this, as she did the same in 2009 and 2010.  Only 5% of Bald eagles successfully lay and fledge three eaglets. Though this animal cam is currently offline (the eagle pair have moved), their story is fascinating.

Hummingbirds

Location: La Verne, California
Best time to watch: March (chicks are hatching any minute)

Bella the Hummingbird has been nesting for more than 10 years. Her nest is about the size of a golf ball, and her eggs are only about the size of a mint. Every spring she lays eggs and a couple weeks later the world watches new life being born. This year, she last laid her eggs on the 6th and 8th of March. When I checked in with her as I wrote this post, they’d recently hatched.

Great Horned Owls

Location: Montana
When will you see babies? Due in roughly 2-3 weeks.

The Montana owlets are due two or three weeks from now. Since owls are nocturnal, this is a live feed worth checking out later at night when the other animal cams have little or no activity.

Spotted Owls

Location: High Desert Museum (Bend, Oregon)

When we lived in Bend, the spotted owl pair at the High Desert Museum were receiving a lot of media attention. It had previously been believed that Spotted Owls required old growth forest to survive yet here were a rehabilitated pair who had successfully reared several consecutive clutches of chicks. Sadly, I believe the owl cam is presently offline.

Penguins

Location: Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach, California)
Best time to watch: All the time.

The above the water cam shows the edge of the rocky beach, where penguins hop in and out of the water. You can watch as they swim and float on the surface. They also have a below the water cam to view the penguins as they dive and dart below the surface.

Mammals

Bears

Location: Katmai National Park, Alaska
Best time to watch: In July when their babies are born.

A mama bear and her three bear cubs is what you’ll get if you tune into the Brooks Falls animal cam, which features big shaggy brown bears catching fish, wading around, and just generally having a good time in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. Since bear cubs are only due in July, this cam currently hosts a continual stream of highlights gathered from several live cams.

Manatees

Location: Blue Spring State Park (Maitland, Florida)
Best time to watch: Winter and early Spring
We first discovered the Save the Manatees Club when we were planning a family holiday to the Florida Keys. Though the manatee season has ended, favorite clips are still accessible. The live cams will resume again next season.

Sea Otters

Location: Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, California)

You can watch sea otters here from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific Time. Daily feeding times are 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. And who knows? Maybe you’ll spot an otter pup somewhere in there.

Sloths

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

This sloth cam, part of Zoo Atlanta, lets you become virtual best friends with two-toed sloth Cocoa, his lady friends Okra and Bonnie, and baby sloth Raisin. Though it’s currently offline, you can still log in at 1:30 pm ET every other Wednesday for sloth chats.

Reindeer

Location: “North Pole”
Best time to watch: Holiday season
Reindeer who aren’t employed by St. Nick live in the colder climates of North America and Europe where they feast on a diet of moss, leaves, and grass. They are sometimes referred to as Caribou in Canada.

Fish

Sea Dragons

Location: Aquarium of the Pacific (Los Beach, California)

Found only in Australian coastal waters, Sea Dragons are bony fish related to seahorses, pipefish, and seamoths.

Invertebrates

Jellyfish

Location: Aquarium of the Pacific (Los Beach, California)

Few things are more calming than watching these serene, colorful jellyfish float their lives away.

Ecosystems

Kelp Forest

Location: Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, California)

Watch this underwater kelp forest cam to see an astonishing array of diverse fish and invertebrates. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a wolf-eel chow down on a squid or some fish.

Coral Reef

Location: National Aquarium (Baltimore, MD)

African Savanna

Mpala Live – Meet the animals that roam Mpala in Kenya’s Laikipia area. Their website also provides field guides, lesson plans, and activities that you can download free to get more out of your viewing.

~ ~ ~

For a comprehensive collection of animal webcams, visit Live Animals TV, the world’s largest collection of animal webcams.

wildlifebiologyWildlife Biology Lesson Plans & Printables

I have put together a simplified ethogram or inventory of behaviors and actions exhibited by an animal. The free printable will be available for my newsletter subscribers later this week. Take a moment to subscribe today. It will be available only for a limited time.

Most aquariums, zoos, and wildlife centers around the country have developed activity guides and animal observation lessons. You’ll find curriculum and materials for many of the animal cams shared above at the original host site. Many of these can be modified for use with animal cams as well as during your site visit. Browse their education links to see what you can find.

e·thol·o·gy
noun: ethology
  1. the science of animal behavior.
    • the study of human behavior and social organization from a biological perspective.

The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois provides a wonderful Zoo Observation Data Sheet whereby students use an ethogram-based data sheet to record animal behavior. Thereafter, students use the data they have collected to develop their own animal behavior research project. Their materials can be adapted to wildlife viewing locations around the world.

You may also wish to download this very informative Animal Behavior slide show presentation to become familiar with the range of animal behavior and understand the methods that ethologists use to study animal behavior.

 

STEM Club: Echinoderms and Molluscs

Invertebrate animals are fascinating to adults and children alike. We continued to explore these diverse animals this week, this time looking closely at Echinoderms (Animals with Spiny Skin) and Molluscs (Animals with Soft Bodies).  Not unusual in taxonomy, the nicknames we apply to these groups can be a little confusing.  Many echinoderms actually do have “spiny skin”, but others do not. This phylum exists exclusively in the sea, and cannot be found on land or in fresh water.

Molluscs are the largest marine phylum, comprising nearly a quarter of all the named marine organisms, yet numerous molluscs also live in freshwater and terrestrial habitats. They are highly diverse, not only in size and in anatomical structure, but also in behaviour and in habitat. What’s more, echinoderms and molluscs provide us with the opportunity to discuss symmetry and styles of locomotion in more depth.
invertebrate animal phyla

To begin our lesson, I encouraged the kids to take notes on the chart I had created the previous week (if they had printed it) or directly into their notebook.  The characteristics for each phyla were listed on the white board:

Echinoderms

Examples include sea urchin, sea star, sand dollar, and sea cucumber

    • radial symmetry
    • endoskeleton
    • water vascular system
    • complete gut
    • no excretory organs

SeaStarAnatomy

I passed out a number of preserved specimens (all dried endoskeletons or shells of urchins, sea stars, and sand dollars).  Students were asked to make a detailed sketch in their notebook and label the parts according to the diagram.

I distributed to each table. (We were not able to observe the internal anatomy of an echinoderm, we focused on the external parts only – spine, central disc, and tube feet).

Molluscs

Examples include the bivalves [clams, oysters, mussels], chitons, snails & slugs, and octopus & squid.

  • bilateral symmetry
  • 2nd largest phyla in animal kingdom
  • soft-bodied w/o segments or jointed appendages
  • body covered with thick sheet of skin called a mantle
  • within mantle cavity are organs (intestines, gills, etc)
  • large, well defined muscular foot

clam anatomyI passed out clams to each pair of students and asked that they make a detailed sketch in their notebook to show the internal anatomy of the bivalve.  Again, they were encouraged to label the parts according to the diagram I distributed to each table.  I walked around to each table and helped them to identify the parts illustrated here on their specimen.

To further their study of invertebrate animals, I encouraged the kids to investigate another invertebrate using the hexagon foldable I provided last week.  Perhaps one mini-book for each phyla of invertebrates?  Anyone up to the challenge?

If possible, it would also be beneficial to visit a pet shop or a store that specializes in aquaria. If you are fortunate, you may be able to observe closely live specimens in their natural habitat (albeit simulated). Even better – go snorkeling!

If you would like the two printables (Charting the Animal Kingdom: The Invertebrates and the Invertebrate Investigation) I described here (a visual of which was provided in last week’s post, Simple Invertebrates) be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.

zoologyAdditionally, this lesson is one of several in the Amazing Animals curriculum unit I have written to introduce middle level students to zoology.  This 10-week unit is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you.

STEM Club: Simple Invertebrates

I love invertebrates!  I spent a summer at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology some years ago immersing myself in invertebrate zoology and I learned so much.  I am now teaching STEM Club about inverts but sadly only have two weeks in which to impart as much as I can.

sponges, worms, & cnidariaThere are more than one million known kinds of invertebrates! Invertebrates are animals that do NOT have a backbone. Every invertebrate is classified in a large group called a phylum.  There are 27 animal phyla. The phyla groups are then subdivided into classes.  In STEM Club, we simplified the invertebrate animal phyla into 6 groups: SpongesWorms, and Cnidaria (Animals with Stinging Cells), Enchinodermata (Animals with Spiny Skin), Mollusca (Animals with Soft Bodies), and Arthropoda (Animals with Jointed Legs and an Exoskeleton).

To begin, there are several vocabulary words regarding symmetry (the form or the arrangement of  an animal’s body) that need to be defined:

symmetry

  • asymmetry – a body having no definite body shape or form (i.e. no symmetry)
  • bilateral symmetry – a body having both sides equal; right and left halves are the same (“same on both sides”)
  • radial symmetry – a body which spreads or branches out in all directions from a common center (generally contains the ‘mouth’ opening)

charting inverts

Once we had a basic understanding of these terms, we proceeded to complete a chart identifying the invertebrate groups, Charting the Animal Kingdom: The Invertebrates.  As I described the key characteristics for each group of invertebrates, the kids were instructed to fill out their chart. In addition, they were encouraged to list a few representative examples and to make a quick illustration for each.

~ ~ ~

 Sponges

  • Many celled organism (2 cell layers w/ jellylike substance between)
  • Simple, asymmetrical porous bodies (covered with holes)
  • Tubular shaped bodies; no head, mouth, tissues or organs
  • Chambers or holes lined with special cells w/ whip-like flagella
  • Flagella create current that pulls water into sponge and send it out again through larger exit openings
  • Sessile (encrusting – found in intertidal, close to rocky surface; or erect – found deeper/quieter waters, coral reefs)
  • Body composed of calcareous or siliceous spicules (variety of forms, important for identification and classification of species)

Upon completing the sections for sponges, I handed out a number of sponge specimens from my Cabinet of Curiosities. As they observed the sample closely, I discussed how the flagella work to bring water and food into the body cavity.  I also shared diagrams of the tiny spicules.

Worms

  • Three main phyla – segmented worms, flatworms, and roundworms
  • All worms are bilaterally symmetrical
  • Segmented worms include earthworms, leeches, and tube worms
  • Segmented worms have paired setae bundles (stiff hairs) on each segment, five hearts, and are hermaphroditic
  • Segmented worms can be burrowers, tube dwelling, planktonic, few parasitic
  • Flatworms have eye spots, most are parasitic, and have some nerves
  • Some flatworms, like the planarian, can regenerate
  • Roundworms and segmented worms have two body openings (food and waste)
  • Some roundworms are parasitic and some have a digestive system

To engage the kids and bring these concepts to life, I brought in live earthworms that they observed and sketched in their notebooks.  In addition, I had a microscope set up with an earthworm cross-section and a planarian.  When their illustrations were complete, I walked them through the labeling of the major parts we observed.

Cnidaria

  • Two main body types – medusa and polyp
  • Some exhibit both body types depending on stage of life cycle
  • Radial symmetry
  • Simple bodies with one body opening (food and waste both) surrounded by tentacles
  • Tentacles lined with special cells called nematocysts
  • Includes jellyfish, anemones, and coral

As Cnidaria have soft bodies, they don’t preserve well (except in fluids like Formaldehyde – which I do not have in my Cabinet of Curiosities).   I thereby passed around the calcareous or limestone remains of a variety of coral samples I have collected over the years.  As they observed the sample, I explained that a coral “head” is a colony of myriad genetically identical polyps. Each polyp is typically only a few millimeters in diameter and a few centimeters in length. A set of tentacles surround a central mouth opening and an exoskeleton is excreted near the base. Over many generations, the colony thus creates a large skeleton or ‘house’ that is characteristic of the species.  I also shared numerous photos of live coral that I have pulled from numerous magazines.

Foldable

invertebrate foldable

In addition to the chart shown above, I’ve created a hexagonal accordion fold mini-book with which the kids can investigate an invertebrate of their choice. The download link for both the Invertebrate Investigation foldable (shown here) and Charting the Animal Kingdom: The Invertebrates notebooking pages (shown above) are available to my newsletter subscribers. Please subscribe to my newsletter for access to these exclusive subscriber only resources.

zoologyThese free printables are wonderful additions to the Amazing Animals curriculum unit I have written to introduce middle level students to zoology.  This 10-week unit is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you.

The Elusive Brittle Star: Hawai’ian Nature Study

The tidal changes are not very distinct in Hawai’i. Despite this, we spent much of our time exploring the tide pools on many of the beaches while we were in Maui earlier this month. One of our most memorable moments was while we were strolling along Ma’alaea Beach north of Kihei. We walked along the boardwalk through Kealia Pond … observing the endangered Ae’o stilt birds. We then ventured out onto the beach first to find a cleverly hidden letterbox and then to enjoy the sunset.

While there, we came upon an exposed, flat rocky area (when we returned here later during our stay, this flat area was submerged below the water line). The kids delighted in exploring the little pools and nooks that provided protection to sea creatures. We observed many urchins and molluscs. The highlight was Buddy’s discovery of a very active brittle star. He had seen an arm protruding out of a small crevice and exclaimed, “I think I found an octopus!” as he bravely bravely stuck his hand in to gently remove the creature. When he brought his hand out, we observed immediately that it was not what he first suspected but an echinoderm. DH delighted in the discovery equally having not seen a sea star squirm about so actively.

We observed it briefly and then carefully returned it to it’s protective cove. When we returned to our condo later, I encouraged each of the kids to select one thing that was memorable to them. Buddy chose the brittle star. I’ve scanned his nature journal page for your enjoyment.