Texas Project WILD

Aquatic WILD Sample Activity

Designing A Habitat

Aquatic WILD manual, page 20
Copyright 1992 Western Regional Environmental Education Council

Age: Grades 4-12
Subjects: Science, Language Arts
Skills: analysis, application, classification, communication, comparingsimilarities and differences, description, discussion, drawing, generalization,inference, interpretation, invention, listening, listing, measuring, mediaconstruction, problem solving, public speaking, reading, reporting, research,small group work, synthesis, using time and space, visualization, writing
Duration: two or more 45-minute periods
Group Size: groups of two to four students each; can be nodified toaccommodate different numbers
Setting: indoors
Conceptual Framework Reference: I.A., I.A.1., I.A.2., I.A.3., I.A.4.,I.B., I.B.1., I.B.2., I.B.3., I.B.4., I.C., I.C.1., I.C.2., I.C.3., I.C.4.,I.D., III.A., III.A.1., III.A.2., III.A.3., III.B., III.B.1., III.B.2.,III.B.3.
Key Vocabulary: habitat, zoo, aquarium
Appendices: Field Ethics, Local Resources, Aquaria

Students will be able to identify the components of habitat that areessential for most aquatic animals to survive.


Students design a habitat suitable for aquatic wildlife to survive in azoo or an aquarium.


Zoos and aquaria are for the most part artifical habitats. The basiclife-giving conditions of food, shelter, air, water and space in a suitablearrangement for animals to survive seem obvious enough when considering zoos.However, in aquaria, water is a uniquely sensitive part of the habitat and itmust serve to do far more than quench thirst. The surrounding envelope ofwater must meet specific requirements for different aquatic life forms. Slightchanges in salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen and the presence of a wide range ofpollutants can spell disaster for certain aquatic organisms.

To successfully house aquatic wildlife in zoos and aquaria, careful attentionmust be paid to the range of conditions that each life form can tolerate.There are also certain physical requirements in terms of the shape and dynamicsof the display that must be compatible with each creature. For example, somefish require moving water or currents. Others prefer almost static conditions.Some prefer deep water and others shallow rocky bottoms. Penguins preferrefrigerated settings. The variations are remarkable when one considersdesigning habitats for microorganisms in pond water and mammoth habitats forkiller whales and walruses.

Concern for the physical requirements of animals must go beyond meetin minimumsurvival needs. Attention should be given to the animals' comfort, creatingconditions as similar to those in their natural habitats as possible.

In the growing practices of aquaculture (deliberate cultivation of freshwaterorganisms) and mariculture (deliberate cultivation of oceanic organisms) muchresearch is conducted regarding habitat requirements. Often natural streams,rivers, lakes and even the ocean are used in these enterprises. Attention towater quality and disease control is just as important in these settings as itis in the confined habitats of zoos and aquaria.

Ethical concerns about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of housingaquatic wildlife in zoos and aquaria must also be considered. However, thisactivity is designed simply to address the complex physical needs of aquaticwildlife in order to be able to survive at all under conditions of captivity.

The major purpose of this activity is for students to recognize and appreciatethe complex life requirements of aquatic wildlife by focusing on the artificialhabitat conditions of zoos and aquaria.


3 x 5 cards; art supplies; writing materials; papier mache'; modelingclay; gallon jars; string; cardboard; cardboard boxes (to use as frames formodels)


1. Prepare cards (3 x 5) with the name of one of the following animalswritten on each card: trout, shark, goldfish, sturgeon, sea otter,large-mouth bass, water strider, beaver, diving beetle, killer whale, penguin,sea turtle, alligator, siamese fighting fish, frog, oyster (expand the choicesas seems appropriate).

2. Divide the class into groups of two to four. Have each group drawone card from a container.

3. Ask each group to be responsible for designing an artificial habitatin which their animal could successfully live. Inform them that each team willbe expected to conduct library research or consult reference materials orresource people to determine the life requirements of each creature. Inaddition, they must investigate and establish the characteristics of thenatural habitat of the animals.

4. When the research is complete, each team of students is to designand build a model or small replica of a zoo exhibit or aquarium habitat whichwould be suitable for the animal's survival and comfort in captivity.Establish a scale for the exhibits (for example, one inch = five feet for thelarge animals; actual size for the insects).

5. Once the models are complete, ask each team to report to the rest ofthe class. Each report should include a description of the basic biologicalneeds of each animal as well as a description of the characteristics of itsnatural habitat. The students should point out how their models are designedto meet the needs of the animal.

6. OPTIONAL: Once all reports are finished, have the students arrangetheir models in a plan for a zoo or an aquarium.

7. Ask the students to summarize the components of habitat that seemedto be necessary for the survival of the aquatic animals they studied. (Food,water, shelter and space in a suitable arrangement would be the minimumnecessary components.)


1. Visit an aquarium and arrange for a staff person to explain how theaquarium staff addresses the same basic requirements for animals that thestudents did--that is, the components of habitat.

2. Create a balanced aquarium for the classroom.

3. Discuss the reasons for and against keeping aquatic wildlife incaptivity in zoos and aquaria.


1. List the components of suitable habitat that are necessary for mostaquatic animals to survive.

2. Pick an aquatic mammal, fish, amphibian or other aquatic animal.Describe the biological characteristics of the animal and the kind of habitatrequirements it has in order to survive. Compare similarities and differencesbetween this aquatic animal and another aquatic animal. What things, if any,do they both need in order to survive? What things, if any, must be differentin their habitats in order for each kind of animal to survive?

Project WILD Sample Activity

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