Observing Baby Animals
Spring is a time when many baby animals are born. It is a great time to visit a zoo and see if you can spot any newborn baby animals. Even if you don't see any brand-new babies, it is fun to see older babies that were born last year. If you get to visit a zoo this spring, take this list along to help you observe the baby animals and their parents. Watch to see how much they depend on their parents and how they are different from adult animals. You can also ask zoo keepers some of your questions if you can't find out just by watching the animals.
Even if you don't live near a zoo or can't visit one, you can watch animals in your yard or at a park. Common animals like squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, frogs, and birds have babies in the spring, too!
(Note to Parents: This website lists many zoos and wildlife centers around the US.)
Questions about Baby Animals:
- Do the babies stay close to their parents? Do they sometimes wander away on their own to play or look for food?
- Do the mother or father animals feed their babies and take care of them? (Most birds and mammals do but reptiles and amphibians usually don't.)
- What do the baby animals eat? Do they eat the same food as their parents?
- Can the babies walk, run, or swim on their own?
- Do the parents carry their babies around? (Monkeys and koalas do. Even cats and dogs sometimes carry their young!)
- Do other adult animals, besides the mother or father, help take care of the baby animals? (Families of gorillas and elephants usually help with baby animals.)
- Can you think of some ways that animal babies are similar to human babies?
- What are some ways that animal babies and human babies are different?
Some animals sleep all day and wake up when it gets dark! Raccoons, hedgehogs, owls, some kangaroos, snapping turtles, tigers, foxes, seals, opossums, and lots of other animals are most active at night and are called nocturnal. How well can you see at night? How do nocturnal animals see to hunt and find their way around in the dark? Do these simple experiments to learn more about eyes and seeing in the dark.
What You Need:
- a lamp
- a small mirror
- a dark room
Part 1 - What You Do:
- Look at your eyes in the mirror. Look at the dark spot, called a pupil, in the center of each eye. Notice its size.
- Make the room as dark as you can by turning off the lights and closing the shades. It's okay if there is some light, but if it is still very bright, try going in a closet or room with no windows.
- Plug in the lamp and sit near it but don't look at it. Look at your pupils again in the mirror. Now hold your mirror towards the light and look in it (don't look directly at the light bulb as it may hurt your eyes). Did your pupils get smaller?
- Now turn so that your back is to the lamp. Look in the mirror again. Did your pupils get larger after you turned away from the brightness of the lamp?
A pupil is the part that allows light into the eye so that another part, called the retina, can create an image of what the eye is looking at. When pupils look largest, they are open the widest. More light goes into the eye and reaches the retina when the pupil is open wide. Less light goes in when the pupil is closed more and looks smaller. The retina is very sensitive to light, so part of the pupil's job is to protect the retina from getting more light than it needs.
When you looked toward the lamp, your pupils got very small because they were exposed to a lot of light. They didn't need that much light in order to help you see clearly in the darkened room, so they got smaller to adjust how much light got to your eyes. When you turned away from the light, not as much light could get into your eyes, making it harder to see clearly. Your pupils reacted by opening wider to let more light come in to help you see better in the darker part of the room!
Part 2 - What You Do:
- Go into a very dark room, like a closet or bathroom without windows. It should seem pretty black in there. (You can take a friend, sibling, or parent with you!)
- Sit for a few minutes and see if you can start to see some of the things in the room.
- Once you feel like your eyes have adjusted to the darkness, turn on a light. Does it seem brighter than normal?
After being in the dark room for awhile your eyes adjusted to the darkness and you were probably able to find your way around and see the shapes of objects in the room. When you turned the light on, it probably seemed a lot brighter than it would have if you had been in a room with some light. Did the light hurt your eyes or make you squint? Was it harder to focus on things when the light first came on? Your eyes got used to the dark and were more sensitive to light than normal, making it hard to see clearly.
That's exactly what it is like for nocturnal animals all the time during the day when there is lots of light. Their eyes just can't handle the brightness like ours can.
After a few minutes, you probably noticed that you could see just fine in the light. If you went back into the dark room, you would have found that it was again very dark in there and hard to see anything. This is because your eyes work better in the light, even though they can adjust to help you see when it's dark.
Something similar happens in reverse after being outside on a very bright, sunny day. When you come inside, even if all the lights are on, it might seem like it is very dark. That's because it is dark inside compared to outside. Your eyes had gotten used to the extra light while you were in the sun and had to re-adjust to less light when you came back inside.
Nocturnal animals' eyes aren't able to adjust to bright lights the way ours can, and our eyes can't adjust to darkness as well as theirs can. Their eyes are designed for seeing very well when there isn't much light, but they don't work very well for seeing in really bright light! To help protect their eyes from even small amounts of bright light, some nocturnal animals have a special second eyelid that they can close to cover their eyes and completely block out light. This helps them sleep during the day and also helps protect their eyes if they are exposed to bright light by accident.
To learn more about baby animals, visit this Teaching Tip.