Exploring Animal Adaptations

Written by Laurel Sebastian

Picture your favorite animal. Does it have fur or scales? Does it have a long tail for balance or big ears to hear approaching predators? In the KIDS for the BAY Watershed Action Program, students dive into animals, adaptations and food webs of the San Francisco Bay Area. KIDS for the BAY Educator Laurel Sebastian recently Zoomed into fourth grade Gregory Gardens Elementary School classes in Pleasant Hill to teach this popular lesson.

To warm up, students wrote all of their favorite Bay Area animals in the chat, including otters, sea lions, dolphins, leopard sharks, hawks and more. With their favorite species in mind, our young scientists were challenged to explore how animals are connected through food chains. As students submitted their ideas, Ms. Laurel inserted pictures of each animal. Luke offered, “I think an octopus would eat fish and crab.” Melia added, “And a big shark could eat the octopus.” A maze of lines began to cover the JamBoard screen as students shared more food chain connections. TJ pointed out, “It doesn’t look like a chain anymore.” The class discussed how scientists often use the term ‘food webs’ to describe the complex networks of overlapping food chains.


Gregory Gardens students worked together to outline the complex food web relationship of animals in and around the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean.

Movement-based learning about the anatomy and adaptations of ocean organisms encouraged students to pretend to be bull kelp swaying in ocean waves. Projecting an image of bull kelp, Ms. Laurel asked the class why bull kelp have long blades. With her arms floating upward, Sophia guessed, “I think they probably make food from the sun by photosynthesis like leaves do.” Rooted firmly in the ground, Bronson guessed the purpose of the holdfast, “The holdfast is like the roots of a tree. It holds the kelp in place so it doesn’t fall over or float away.” Ms. Laurel asked what would happen if a sea urchin came by and ate your holdfast. Liko said, “You would float away into the ocean or get washed up onto the beach.” The class swirled around their rooms and back to their seats!

KIDS for the BAY poster of bull kelp anatomy.

Students returned to their favorite animals as they brainstormed adaptations for each. Tom pointed out that bald eagles have talons to catch fish. TJ added, “Nile crocodiles have long and strong tails for swimming.” Nightingale wanted to add a mythical creature to the class list. She explained, “Dragons have wings to fly, scales and spikes for protection, and have the special ability to breathe fire!”

Students entered breakout rooms in groups to read fun facts and trace anatomical features to matching adaptations of two bay organisms, striped bass fish and Dungeness crab. Luke exclaimed, “Crabs have a shell and claws for protection from other crabs or animals. If the crab loses a claw to a predator, it can regrow its claw!” Sophia added, “I liked learning that striped bass breathe with their gills, and smell with their nostrils to find food.”

Dungeness Crab Anatomy/Adaptations

Striped Bass Anatomy/Adaptations

The special at-home activity after the lesson was for each student to observe an animal outdoors in their own watershed neighborhood. Ms. Laurel received many student observations of birds, insects, mammals and even a few of the student’s pets. What unique animal adaptations can you observe on your next walk around your neighborhood?


Tiffany observed a hawk in her neighborhood.
KIDS for the BAY