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Animal Adaptation Science Projects for Third Grade

Updated on August 1, 2012

Our school has recently been teaching animal adaptations to our third graders. There are five types of adaptations that we focused on: climate, protection, eating, movement/migration and caring for young.

Today I will be sharing the types of experiments we did for how animals adapt to their climate. These experiments are easy to follow and lots of fun to do!

Elephant Ears: Elephants have large ears that help to keep them cool. They have many blood vessels throughout their ears. As they flap and fan their ears, they are better able to cool themselves down. For this experiments you will need Post-It Notes and Index Cards.

I had my group of students break into pairs. One partner received a Post-It note, the other received the Index card. I showed them a short clip of elephants using their ears from youtube.

I told them they would get to practice being an elephant today. I went around and placed a drop of water on the back of each student's non-dominant hand. They had to fan their drop with their Post-It or Index Card. You will likely hear several groans from the Post-It friends as they realize how unbalanced this task is! After a group has finished, have them switch their materials and repeat. We wrapped up by discussing how the size of the elephant's ears help to cool it down better than if their ears were small.

A Cozy Cup I filled three cups with an equal amount of tap water. I placed an outdoor thermometer into each cup (warning they are NOT all waterproof! I protected mine with a ziploc bag). Then, we discussed different animal body coverings. I purchased feathers from a local craft store. I used saran wrap to securely wrap one cup in feathers. I also purchased a pair of white fuzzy socks from Target to be our "fur". I covered the cup and protected with saran wrap. Finally, we discussed skin. I am not a big fan of leather, although this would work well. Instead, I used what was available-wax paper. I protected that with the saran wrap and secured with a rubber band. The saran wrap is VITAL to this process. If the materials get wet, the temperature difference is not as drastic.

I placed the three cups in a dish and packed around them with ice. Finally, I filled the tin to the top with water. (Ice water works much better than plain ice to make a fast temperature change). We checked the temperatures after 5, 10, and 20 minutes. These were our final results: fur 690 F, feathers 620 F and skin 580 F. Your results may vary depending on classroom temperature, materials used, etc. Practice this at home first.

Duck Oil Ducks use oil to protect their feathers and better suit them for life on the water. I use three clear plastic cups filled with equal amounts of room-temperature water. I start off by holding a cotton ball and explaining that this represents a duck and its feathers. I ask students what would happen if the duck swam in the water and its feathers were dry. After a few suggestions (typically students say it would swim or use its feet to paddle), I drop the cotton ball in the water and watch it sink. I explain that the ducks feathers would eventually become too filled with water and heavy.

I pull out a second cotton ball and move to the next cup. I explain that a duck has a special body part that takes the oil from the food it eats so that the duck can use it. I place the "duck" in the oil halfway and explain that it makes sense to coat the bottom feathers because that's the part in water. I ask students what they think will happen. Before placing the cotton ball in the 2nd cup, I remind students that the dry part is the head and the oil part is the bottom. When you place the cotton ball in the water, the cotton ball *should* flip so the oil side is facing up. Ask students what happened. Guide them to see that the head is now under water and this could cause severe problems for our friend the duck!

Ask students for suggestions on what to do. One will inevitably suggest dunking the whole cotton ball in oil. Do just this. Plop the cotton ball in and voila it floats! This one got a lot of giggles and a few parents told me that students demonstrated this for them at dinner that night!

Blubber Mittens This was my favorite experiment! Prior to the lesson, I prepared a ziploc bag (quart size) by filling it with Crisco. I then stuck another ziploc bag (quart size) inside of it and made sure the Crisco was distributed around evenly. This kept our friends clean during the experiment.

I filled a sand pail with ice water. Students were given a "blubber mitten" and a "skin mitten" (plain ziploc bag). They were to dunk both hands in the bucket at the same time and note the difference. You should have heard the giggles and squeals! Then, have students switch the "mittens" so that they can firmly attribute the temperature difference to the blubber. Even days later, my students were asking if they could try it again!

My students are STILL talking about these great experiments! They are tons of fun and really give a concrete example of how an animal adapts to its environment!


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    • profile imageAUTHOR

      Lindsay Steele 

      6 years ago

      Hi Cellenburg! I apologize for not being clear!

      I used clear plastic cups.

      For the fur, I took the clear plastic cup and stuck it in the "fur" (fuzzy sock). I covered that with a large piece of saran wrap to a) keep it dry and b)keep it constant between the different materials.

      For the feathers, I placed the cup on a large piece of saran wrap. I surrounded the cup with feathers. I then lifted up the edges of the saran wrap to form a protective wrap around the cup to keep it dry. I secured with a rubber band.

      Hope that cleared it up!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am interested in conducting your "cozy cup" experiment for Animal Adaptations and I have a question. When you say you covered the feathers and "fur" in saran wrap, do you mean you covered the cup in saran wrap first and then affixed the feathers and fur to the outside of the saran wrap, or do you mean you put the saran wrap on the outside of the feathers and fur? I'm having a hard time picturing in my mind what you mean. Also, what kind of cups did you use?

    • profile imageAUTHOR

      Lindsay Steele 

      7 years ago

      Thanks Sherry! I must admit, it was a pretty good time :) Your grandkids would love it, too!

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 

      7 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      What fun! I wish I had been in your class. These would be great to try out with kids a home. Thanks for sharing.


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