Kids Nature Shows Teachers Guide to The Biomes Show
The Biomes Show introduces students to a variety of wildlife puppets as they learn about many of the Earth’s major biomes including deserts, temperate forests, tropical forests, freshwater wetlands, and oceans. This guide also includes information about additional biomes.
Animal Puppets You Might Meet
Beardie the Bearded Dragon Lizard
Annie the Squirrel
Lento the Sloth
Tommy the Tadpole
Chompers the Shark
OVERVIEW OF THE EARTH’S MAJOR BIOMES
What is a biome?
A biome is a large area that has distinctive plants and animals and a unique climates and geography. Everything living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) affect one another. The tiniest change in the weather, geography, or chemistry in an area can have an effect on everything else.
Temperate (Deciduous) Forests
In a temperate forest you will experience four seasons: fall, winter, spring, and summer. Temperatures can range from 100 degrees F in the summer to below freezing in the winter. Average annual amount of rainfall is about 30 inches. Many trees and shrubs in this biome have leaves that change color and fall off during winter as an adaptation to the seasonal changes. These are known as deciduous plants. Much of the eastern United States is made up of deciduous forest. Temperate forest animals adapt to the changing seasons by storing food, migrating, growing thicker fur and then shedding, and/or hibernating.
Plants that you may find in the deciduous forest include: beech, oak, birch, ash, ferns, mushrooms and wild flowers.
Animals that may be found here are: deer, fox, squirrels, songbirds, turtles, snakes, raccoons, salamanders, frogs, and insects.
Water is everywhere. Over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. Water is critical to life on Earth – all animals and plants need it to survive.
Wetlands form the transition zone between dry land and bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, or bays. Both tidal and non-tidal wetlands perform important water quality functions, including: regulating runoff by storing flood waters; reducing erosion by slowing down runoff; maintaining water quality by filtering sediments; trapping nutrients; breaking down pollutants; and recharging groundwater. Wetlands also provide food and shelter for wildlife and fish and nesting and resting areas for migratory birds. Rivers generally have wide, flat border areas called flood plains, in which water spills out at times of high water.
A watershed is the land that water flows across or through on it’s way to a stream, lake, wetland, or other body of water. The Washington DC region is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. What happens on the land in the watershed affects what happens to the water. This in turn affects the animals and plants that live in the water. Your actions may affect animals hundreds of miles away!
Pollution happens when the natural environment is contaminated with harmful substances because of human activities. When garbage, household chemicals, and fertilizers end up in the water, it causes the water to become polluted. Pollution can make plants, animals, and even people sick. How does pollution end up in the water? Rain washes fertilizers, chemicals, and garbage left on dry land into storm drains and streams. Storm drains and streams flow into bigger streams, then rivers, and then into lakes, bays, or the ocean. This is why it is important to pick up trash, reduce or stop the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and properly dispose of household chemicals.
Healthy wetlands such as swamps, bogs, streams, ponds, and floodplains are filled with important plants, animals, algae, and bacteria. These special organisms break down harmful chemicals and waste and turn them into harmless or even beneficial substances. Scientists test the water to find out if the area is healthy. They test for PH, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and the presence of organisms.
Erosion is another threat to the wetlands. Erosion happens when soil is washed into the water. Silt (small particles of soil) makes the water muddy. Most plants cannot grow in muddy water because most of the sunlight cannot shine through. Animals cannot live in water filled with silt; it makes it hard to breathe. Do the banks of the stream near your home look like little cliffs? This is erosion at work. Nearly all streams in urban areas suffer from erosion caused by runoff from construction, roads, and parking lots. When houses and other buildings are built, all of the trees in the area are chopped down and the soil is dug up. The roots of trees are what keep the silt from washing into the streams. Roots act like little fingers that hold the dirt to the ground. Natural plants and trees are replaced with buildings, roads, driveways, and parking lots which cannot help hold the dirt where it belongs.
Plants prevent erosion and help keep the water clean by filtering pollutants. Plants trap chemicals in the dirt where they break down and turn them into harmless substances.
You can help stop both pollution and erosion. Plant native plants and trees in your yard instead of a lawn, or plant a native tree somewhere else. Ask adults to help by not using too much fertilizer on their lawns and gardens. Pick up trash when you see it even if it isn’t yours.
Oceans (Marine Biome)
The oceans are Earth’s largest biome. Oceans cover about three-fourths of our planet’s surface, supply most of the oxygen in our atmosphere through marine algae, and produce most of our rainfall through evaporation.
Oceans are divided into four main zones. The intertidal zone is where oceans and saltwater bays and rivers meet the land. Crabs, clams, and all kinds of marine invertebrates can be found in the intertidal zone. The pelagic zone is the upper part of the open ocean. Many species of fish including tuna and sharks live in the pelagic zone. The benthic zone is the middle of the water column in the open ocean. The abyssal zone is the deepest part of the ocean.
In addition to the four main zones, oceans also have areas made up of coral reefs and estuaries. Coral reefs are found primarily in warm, shallow water usually near islands or other land masses. Estuaries are located where freshwater rivers or streams meet and mix with saltwater. Both coral reefs and estuaries are home to a huge diversity of marine life including fish, corals, shrimp, crabs, oysters, clams, and many more creatures.
When settlers from Europe began to travel west from their towns on the east coast of North America, they found a place that amazed them. What they saw was a never-ending ocean of tall grass called the prairie. Grasslands are usually found on the interiors of continents. The Great Prairie of the United States, the Pampas of South America, and the Steppes of Europe and Asia are all grasslands.
What stops trees from growing in the grasslands? The answer is fire and drought. Grasses, flowers, and herbs can survive by growing from their roots rather than from the top like most other plants. Where does new growth on deciduous trees in the spring appear? Buds of new growth appear on the ends of branches and the tops of woody plants. If the part of a tree or plant above ground is burned or dies from drought, the whole plant dies. Grassland plants may be burned or cut to the ground and still survive. This is why mowing your lawn does not kill the grass; it grows from the roots which are safe underground.
One thing you may notice about the grasslands is that it is very windy. The weather is unique here. It gets very cold during winter (the dormant season) and very hot in the summer (the growing season). During the growing season, plants grow very fast, turn green, and flower. Plants stop growing during the dormant season because it is too cold outside. The temperature on the prairie ranges from -40 degrees F in the dormant season to over 100 degrees F during the growing season.
Many animals call the grasslands their home. American Bison, elk, falcons, antelope, geese, crickets, and prairie chickens are among the animal species that roam above ground in grasslands. Many grassland animals also live in burrows such as snakes, coyotes, foxes, prairie dogs, badgers, and rabbits. Here they are sheltered from the heat, constant drying winds and grassland wild fires.
Taiga (Boreal Forests, Coniferous Forests)
Most of the Taiga (aka the Boreal Forest or Coniferous Forest) is found in an area just south of the Arctic Circle such as in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Taiga biomes may also be found in high mountains including: the Rockies, Sierra Nevadas, Andes, and Himalayas.
The trees and shrubs in the taiga are much different than those you see in a deciduous forest. Most taiga trees are coniferous evergreens, and do not change color in the fall. Their leaves are thick or pointy like needles and are covered in wax. The wax on the leaves slows down decomposition (breaking down into soil). When the leaves do eventually dry out and fall to the ground, they do not quickly turn into food for plants like they do in the deciduous forest so the ground in the taiga is usually more barren than in a deciduous forest. The wax on the evergreens protects the leaves from freezing and killing the plant. This allows the plant to soak up sun and make food all year long (photosynthesis).
Some of the plants found in the taiga include: spruce, birch, fir, pines, cedar, balsam fir, bristle cone pine, moss, bitterroot, and wild potato.
Some of the animals in the Taiga include: mountain goats, llamas, condors, snow leopards, fence lizards, chinchillas, songbirds, wolves, grizzly bears, owls, fox, kingsnakes, and rabbits.
Winter makes it difficult for plants and animals in the taiga. Winters are very long and cold. The average temperature is below freezing for six months out of the year! Temperatures can range from -65 to 30° F during the winter.
Animals have found their own way to survive the winter. Many birds migrate and fly to the warmer south or lower elevations for the winter. Not only is it very cold for the birds, but there is no food for them to eat – most of the plants, seeds, and berries are frozen.
Animals that cannot leave the harsh environment sleep through winter. Hibernation means much more than just a long nap. The animal does not eat or even go to the bathroom for months. Their breathing becomes very slow and the heart may beat only one time a minute. (Your heart beats a little more than one time a second!)
The weasel and snowshoe hare have found a way to survive in the winter by shedding their darker brown fur and growing thick warm white fur, which helps them hide from predators in the snow. Animals find places to hide in the cold through tunnels in the snow, holes in trees, in caves, or underground below the snow and frozen ground. Animals that stay awake during this time usually have to change the type of food that they eat. The red fox eats berries, fruit, and insects during the warmer months. In the winter it can only find rodents to eat. Deer and rabbits have learned to eat moss, twigs, and even bark. Beavers and squirrels gather large amounts of food during the warmer months, and then store it in a safe place to eat during the winter. Cold blooded or ectothermic animals like reptiles and amphibians must hibernate. Frogs and turtles can hibernate under water. These animals can get oxygen out of the water by breathing through their skin!
Logging is an enormous threat to the taiga. Trees are cut down to make furniture, pencils, paper, houses and other things. In some places people cut down all of the trees in an area in what is called clear cutting. Animals lose their homes, hiding places, and food. Forests take hundreds of years to grow back. People can help save the taiga by recycling products made from wood, cutting down only some of the trees in an area, and replanting native trees where there has been logging.
The tundra is a very cold and windy place. The average temperature in the Arctic tundra is -30 to 20 degrees F. The world’s coldest and driest biome covers 20% of the earth’s surface. It may be found above the Arctic Circle and at the tops of high mountains. There are no trees here because the ground is frozen year round with permafrost. Only short plants like lichen, caribou moss, heath, bearberry, Labrador tea, and saxifrage can grow here. Tree roots cannot grow through the hard frozen ground. Plants in the tundra are adapted to living in the constant cold. Some of them like the bearberry have tiny waxy leaves and hairs all over them to help keep them from freezing. Antarctica is not a true tundra because it is too cold for any plants to grow.
Only a few animals can survive in the frozen tundra. Animals that eat plants include caribou, lemmings, rabbits, musk ox, mice and insects. Mosquitoes can survive because they have antifreeze in their blood! Predators found in the tundra include: the arctic fox, puffins, wolverines, weasels, snowy owls, birds, and wolves. Sea mammals also call the tundra their home because there are plenty of fish to eat in the cold oceans of the north. Killer whales or orca, polar bears, and fur seals need the ocean to survive.
In the spring, as the tundra warms up, millions of insects wake up or hatch out of eggs. Birds migrate north to eat the berries and insects. For only a few short months the tundra is teaming with life. The average temperature during the summer is below 60 degrees F. The arctic is called land of the midnight sun because the sun shines all day and night during the summer.
The desert is an area that received no more than 10 inches of rain per year, and some deserts receive less than that. All of the plants and animals here have adapted to surviving with very little water. Some deserts can be very hot and reach temperatures above 110 degrees F, such as the Sahara Desert in Africa. Other deserts are cold, such as the coldest place on Earth, Antarctica which is a desert that reaches temperatures of -80 degrees F.
Desert plants have a special ability to collect and conserve water. They are usually covered in a waxy substance like plants from the taiga and tundra. This wax protects the plant from drying out and burning in the sun. It rains less than one inch per year in some deserts. To prevent animals from chewing on desert plants, many are covered in sharp spines rather than leaves.
Plants found in the desert include the barrel cactus, prickly pear, yucca, paolo verde tree, saguaro (pronounced sah-war-oh), brittlebush, cholla (pronounced choy- ya), ironwood, and creosote.
Desert animals have found amazing ways to adapt to harsh environments. Some of them do not drink water but get all the moisture they need from the food they eat. Others sleep during the day and are awake only at night when it is cooler outside. These animals are known as nocturnal. A few animals that may be found in the desert are rattlesnakes, roadrunners, peccaries, cactus wrens, horned lizards, bearded dragons, scorpions, kangaroo rats, Harris hawks, tarantulas, tortoises, and Gila monsters (pronounced Hee-law).
Deserts need help. Many people are moving to the deserts building houses, farms, factories, and ranches. People need lots of water and so they take it to drink, wash their cars, take showers, water their crops, and water for their cattle. Even if you do not live in the desert, it helps to conserve water. You can do this by turning the faucet off while brushing your teeth, take short showers instead of baths, and use the dishwasher only when filled.
Chaparral is a bit wetter than the deserts with an average annual rainfall of 14 inches per year. Most of the rain falls in the wintertime. The temperature here ranges from 30 to 100 degrees F.
The chaparral landscape is covered in sandy soil, rocks, and dry plants. Many of these plants are used for seasonings and perfumes. Lavender, sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano grow in the chaparral. Other plants include the olive tree, cedar tree, fairy duster, cactus, king sugar bush, and Torrey pines. Plants have adapted to the chaparral by becoming drought resistant. They have thick leaves that can store water. Many plants are evergreen and have small waxy leaves to protect them from drying out. Hairs on the leaves and branches of some plants help to trap moisture from fog and rain and insulate them from the heat. They also have a unique combination of long roots and short roots near the surface. The long roots can grow very deep underground to find water while the short roots near the surface can quickly soak up water when it rains. Plants do not grow much during the dry summer to save water and energy.
Animals in the chaparral are adapted to the dry, hot weather. Many are nocturnal, spend most of their time in burrows, can eat tough plants, can travel long distances foraging for food and do not need much water. Animals found here include: jackrabbits, spotted skunks, skinks, tortoises, whiptail lizards, wrens, aardwolf, jackal, fox, puma, and goats.
Fires are common in the chaparral. The chaparral cannot survive without fire. Many plants, such as lavender and sage, have oils that help fires burn. Other plants need fire to melt wax off their seeds so they may grow like the Sumac. Fires enrich the soil by adding nutrients that plants need to grow. They burn away dead brush to make room for new plants to grow. Trees and shrubs in the chaparral are fire resistant; the outside of the plant may burn but a new plant can grow out of its protected unburned center.
The savanna is grassland with scattered drought resistant shrubs and trees located between a desert and tropical forest. Only two seasons exist in the savanna – the wet and the dry season. It is warm year round, the average annual temperature is 70 degrees F. During the dry season the grasses turn brown, water dries up, and many plants die. Just like plants that grow in the chaparral and desert, plants stop growing this time of year. This dry air comes from the nearby deserts during the winter. One day, storm clouds form and fierce thunderstorms bring daily rain. The storm clouds come from the hot summertime sun heating up the wet rainforests. This heating causes water to evaporate and form thunderclouds. The clouds move from the wet tropical forests to the savanna. These huge storms or monsoons bring rain for hours each day. Green plants began to grow everywhere. This is a weather cycle that repeats each winter and summer every year in the savanna. The Serengeti Plains of Africa are the most famous of savannas. Savannas may also be found in South America, India, Australia, and Asia.
Plants of the savanna are adapted to going a long time without water. Many of them become dormant during the dry season. Other adaptations are: long roots to find water, the ability to store water in their trunk, and thick bark to protect from dehydration and fire. Trees in the savanna are typically covered in thorns or hairs to help collect water and protect them from being eaten. Acacias, eucalyptus, baobab, jackalberry, candelabra, and jarrah trees dot the savanna. Nearly all of the plants are grasses; Bermuda grass, elephant grass, kangaroo paws, and other grasses. Grasses can survive fires and are more drought resistant than trees are.
Animals in the savanna have either learned to follow food and water by migrating or by being able to conserve water and energy during the hard dry season. Savanna animals include lions, zebra, water buffalo, crocodiles, monitors, secretary birds, mambas, giraffe, emu, koalas, elephants, baboons, anteaters, termites, and leaf-cutter ants.
Tropical Forest (Rainforest)
The tropical forest is filled with life. There are more species of plants and animals here than any other biome. The sun shines warm all year round. The trees grow huge and are covered in vines and other plants. Tropical forests are located near the earth’s equator where the suns rays fall straight down rather than an angle year round. The average temperature is 80 degrees F. Another name for the tropical forest is the tropical rainforest since it rains so much (60 to 100 inches per year!)
Trees in tropical forests grow so large that scientists have divided the forest into 5 different layers or sections: emergent, canopy, understory, forest floor, and river. The tallest trees that tower above the other trees of the forest make up the emergent layer. The canopy is the place where trees grow so close together that the branches of all their branches overlap and create a “highway in the sky.” Below the canopy is the understory which are smaller, shorter trees. Many trees in the understory may be very old, but they cannot grow big because they are not getting very much sunlight. The forest floor is dark and relatively bare of plant life. Only shade loving plants are able to grow in this very wet and dark place. The rivers are fed by the constant rains and form a network throughout the forests.
The animals in the tropical forests are typically adapted to living in only one zone of the rainforest. Many live their entire lives without ever entering another forest zone. Some animals only venture into another zone to lay eggs. A small sample of animals you may find in the tropical forest include: iguanas, birds of paradise, harpy eagles, pythons, boas, tree frogs, monkeys, caiman, jaguars, kinkajou, sloths, lories, parrots, toucans, lemurs, turtles, tortoises, ants, and roaches. Many of the animals in the forest are excellent climbers. They are able to run, jump, or swing through the thick plants and branches high in the trees.
VOCABULARY you might hear during The Biomes Show
Abiotic – refers to nonliving objects or processes. These factors determine ecosystem type and its distribution of plants and animals as well and the usage of land by people. Abiotic factors include water supply, topography, landforms, geology, soils, sunlight, and air quality
Adaptation - change in an organism or its parts that fits it better for the conditions of its environment
Aquatic – growing or living in or often found in water
Biome – regional group of distinct plant and animal communities adapted for the regions physical environment.
Carnivore – an animal that eats meat
Community – all the organisms that live in a particular area.
Competition – the active seeking after and use of an environmental resource (as food) in limited supply by two or more plants or animals or kinds of plants and animals
Conservation – the preservation and careful management of the environment and of natural resources
Consumer – a plant or animal that eats other organisms
Cooperation – working together
Deciduous – Refers to a plant (usually a tree or shrub) that sheds its leaves at the end of the growing season
Decompose – The breakdown of remains of dead animals and plants by bacteria, animals or fungus into the substances that soil is made up
Decomposer – an organism (as a bacterium or a fungus) that feeds on and breaks down dead plant or animal matter
Dormant – to sleep, a time when plants do not grow because conditions are not right
Drought – a long period without rain
Ecology – the study of the interactions between living things and non-living things
Ecosystem – all non-living things (soil, water, weather, recycling of chemicals, and energy flow) in relation to a community of species in an area
Environment – conditions affecting the life, growth and survival of an organism where it lives
Erosion – the wearing away of the land surface
Estuary – a place where fresh and saltwater meet and are mixed by tides.
Evergreen – having leaves that remain green and functional through more than one growing season
Extinct – an organism that no longer exists
Flood plain – A wide, flat border area next to rivers where water goes at times of high flow.
Food Web – the whole group of interacting food chains in an ecological community
Herbivore – a plant-eating animal
Hibernation – going into a deep sleep to pass the winter or other season that may have extreme temperatures or lack of food
Niche – a habitat that contains the necessary requirements for a particular plant or animal to live or the part that a particular organism plays in an ecological community
Omnivore – an animal that eats both plants and animals
Organic – From or part of a living thing
Organism – An animal or plant
Organismal ecology – the way individual organisms adapt to the environment.
Overfishing – when people have taken too many fish out of the water. This usually means that if fishing of a specific type of fish is not stopped or slowed down it will become extinct.
Population – a group of one or more species of organisms living in a particular area or habitat
Predator – an animal that lives by killing and eating other animals
Prey – an animal hunted or killed by another animal for food
Recycle – to use again, sometimes in a different form
Resource – a new or reserve supply that can be drawn upon when needed
Species – living organisms of the same kind that can have babies or young of the same kind
Terrestrial – living on or in or growing from land
Territory – an area an animal or group of animals defends against others of its species
Watershed – The area that drains into a river or lake or the area of land that catches rain
Biomes Activity Ideas
Desert Sand Painting
Supplies: Poster paper; colored sand; glue; markers or crayon
- If students are very young, help them by drawing an outline of a desert scene with cactus, rocks, and animals on the poster paper.
- Fill the outline of each drawing with glue, one drawing at a time (very young students will need help with this.)
- Sprinkle one color of sand over the glue area.
- Repeat steps 1-3 until the “painting” is all done and then let dry.
Temperate Forest Leaf Scavenger Hunt Field Trip
Supplies: a basket or bucket for collecting leaves
Special Notes: Be sure you can identify poison ivy and oak so you can keep kids away from scavenging in areas where these plants are growing. If you are searching in a park or other public area, do not remove live leaves from trees or other plants, only pick up leaves that are on the ground.
Head outside to your yard, park, or neighborhood. After determining there is no poison ivy in the vicinity, ask the children to find as many differently shaped leaves as possible. When you are done, have everyone compare their leaves and see who found the most differently shaped leaves. (Hint: pine needles count as leaves too!)
Rainforest Layers Mural
Supplies: Mural paper; crayons or markers; optional: rainforest animal stickers
If students are old enough, have them draw a rainforest tree (or trees) from the forest floor up to the emergent layer. (If students are too young, have an adult draw an outline and have the kids color in the forest.) Include a river in the scene if possible. After the forest is created, have students place stickers or draw rainforest animals in the layer that they live in. Examples: crocodiles in river; jaguars on forest floor; geckos in understory; sloths in canopy; eagles in emergent layer.
Wetlands and Oceans Tub Play
Supplies: Plastic tub or small inflatable or plastic kids pool set up outside; funnels, cups, squeeze bottles, watering cans, strainer, empty soap pump bottles; plastic toy wetland and/or ocean animal toys, plastic rocks and plants. Optional: blue and/or green food coloring
Set up outside if possible. If setting up indoors, I suggest using the bathtub. Add a few blue and/or green drops of food coloring to water in the tub if you like. Do not add food coloring to a bathtub or plastic pool as it may stain the tub and the kids. Arrange the toys and water play objects around and/or in the tub. Start playing!