Hands-On Nature experiences of plant and animal defenses

By Caitlin Waddick, PhD, MCRP

What are some of the ways that plants and animals defend themselves? Recall a porcupine’s quills, the hiss of a fearful cat, or the spray of a skunk. In April, K-3 students at SCS had Hands-On Nature volunteers laughing out loud with their pantomimes of some of the ways that plant and animal defenses work, almost all of which—for one group of third-graders—ended with the children either shrieking or falling over. The students matched puzzle pieces for plants and animals with similar defensive strategies. Fawns, snowshoe hares, and walking stick insects use camouflage to hide in their habitat, for example. Interestingly, despite the different defense strategies, some creatures are able to circumvent these defenses, evolving new behaviors and adaptations to exploit the food source. For example, many animals will not eat milkweed because it tastes bad, but the monarch caterpillar has evolved to eat milkweed so that the monarch butterfly is also distasteful to birds and other predators. Another butterfly, the Viceroy, which does not eat milkweed as a caterpillar, might taste good to a bird, but birds avoid it because it has evolved to look like a monarch. In one activity, the children were asked to write defensive poetry, on demand, in a group. First, they wrote down words to describe a defensive object hidden in a bag. Then they wrote a poem that described that object. They had about 10 minutes to write their group poem. The groups shared their poems and tried to guess the plant or animal and its defensive strategy. See if you can guess based on the poems that these third graders wrote.


“What Am I?”

Poetry Group Authors: Anika Zia, Emma Doran, Eric Sandage, Evan McMahon

I am rough with grooves,

I live by the sea, Wow!

How beautiful can I be?

I can be white or other light colors,

I am hard but can be sharp. Ouch!

“Spiky Sphere”

Poetry Group Authors: Gracie Deavitt, Finny Wormser, Ally Servis, Nick Rakochy

I’m harmful but small,

brown and prickly

spiky too!

I’m a holy sphere you touch me

and ouch!

I’m a plant, I’m also round,

I grow from the ground

and spikes cover me

if I am here there will be fear!

Answers: sea shells (What Am

I?) and sweet gum balls (Spiky



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