A Field Trip to the Zoo: Animal Adaptation Scavenger Hunt

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A Field Trip to the Zoo: Animal Adaptation Scavenger Hunt

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A Field Trip to the Zoo: Animal Adaptation Scavenger Hunt

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Becky Vordermann

Field trips to the zoo are extremely common. There are over 400 zoos and aquariums in the United States. No matter where your school is located, you are probably within an hour from a zoo (if not closer)!  They are a great place to take students studying specific animal species for animal reports or exploring animal life in terms of broader topics, such as animal body parts, adaptations, and food chains. Many of these incredible places are packed with unique species and habitat exhibits offer discounts and standards-aligned programming to schools. I have taught lower elementary school for the past five years and have found that field trips to the zoo are a favorite. At the elementary school level, animal adaptations are found in the NGSS standards for both third and fourth grade. They are also part of both middle school and high school standards, so no matter what age you teach a zoo field trip may be appropriate. I typically teach the topic of animal adaptations in the classroom through stories, videos, and the examination of artifacts from animals. These artifacts include animal track casts, pelts, and scat images or samples. This allows students to get a great understanding of the topic before they go take a field trip to the zoo to identify animal adaptations on their own.  

Once your students are knowledgeable about animal adaptations from in-depth classroom studies, it’s time to plan your classes animal adaptations scavenger hunt. Step one to this process is visiting the zoo without your students. It’s important to visit the zoo without students first, so that you are familiar with the location and can include the appropriate clues in your scavenger hunt for animals they may encounter on their visit. Visiting the park before you go on your field trip with your class will allow you to be familiar with its layout. This will assist you in directing your student groups, chaperones, and allow you to point students in the right direction when they are struggling to find animals with specific adaptations in the scavenger hunt. It can will allow you time to meet with zoo personnel and find out if your class will be at the zoo during any specific programs or feedings. 

The next step in planning your animal adaptation scavenger hunt trip to your local zoo is writing up your scavenger hunt. I like to use a BINGO style layout for scavenger hunts. Then you can encourage your students to get a “blackout” for maximum points on the trip.  Below is an example of what I might include on an animal adaptation scavenger hunt. I may include brief fill in the blanks with some items. I also like to include a section with questions and room for two to three sentence answers for students to think deeper on what they saw during their exploration, on the back or a second page.

Example of an animal adaptation scavenger hunt for elementary schools students:

Find an animal that has thick fur. 

Name it below


Observe an animal with talons. 

What animal is it?


What animal at the zoo has hollow bones?


Find a nocturnal species? What is it?


Search and observe an animal that lays eggs?


Who do you meet that is a carnivore?
Find a herbivore


Look for a diurnal creature


Search for an animal with excellent hearing.
Find an animal with eyes on the side of it’s head
Find an animal with eyes in front
Find an animal with thick fur
Find an omnivore


Locate a creature that can breath under water.


What animal has sharp teeth?
Find an animal that has scales
Locate a species with wings Find an animal that has a long tongue


Find an animal that has a shell What animal can turn it’s head more than most. 


What animal at the zoo has webbed feet? Find an animal that can survive in cold conditions, What animal is camouflaged with its habitat.
Find an animal that can survive in the desert
What animal can store lots of water


Find an animal that has adapted to your area. 

What is it?


Locate a critter that walks.


What animal has fins that you meet in your search? Name a creature with pinchers.


Find an animal with flat teeth.


Deeper thinking:

What do animals use talons for? 
What is the difference between an omnivore, herbivore, and carnivore?
Why do some animals have eyes on the side of their head? What are some examples of animals that fit in this category?
What are some characteristics found in animals native to ____________________________________?

Some animals have sharp claws, talons or teeth. What do these animals eat? How do you know this?

An animal adaptation scavenger hunt or any hunt is more fun and productive when students are in smaller groups.

    Once you make your scavenger hunt it’s time for your field trip to the zoo. I encourage you to find several chaperones, so that you can divide students into pairs or groups of three. An animal adaptation scavenger hunt or any hunt is more fun and productive when students are in smaller groups. This allows each student to better test their knowledge. In larger groups students may more easily avoid participation in the actual search and questions. They are more likely to follow the group without becoming engaged. When students are in groups of 2-3 they are more likely to participate actively in an activity. 

    It may be helpful to make a schedule of feedings and programs that you expect groups to attend. You can attach this to the scavenger hunt or hand it out to chaperones.  You should put contact information for yourself and the front desk of the zoo in case of an emergency. Including a time schedule with lunch and your departure time, on this handout for chaperones will ensure things run smoothly for your groups. 

    The size or your zoo and the program schedule at the zoo will help you determine how long your stay should be. If you are visiting a smaller location, you may only need a couple of hours for your search. I taught near Tauptaus Zoo in Idaho Falls and usually our trips were only 2-3 hours. I grew up near a much larger zoo, the Minnesota Zoo. Our field trips would usually be 5-6 hours. This was because larger zoos such as the Minnesota Zoo have more species and a lengthy list of programs and feedings scheduled. No matter how big or small the closest zoo is to your school is, there is a great opportunity to explore animal adaptations and more with a field trip to the zoo. 



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