Head outside in the schoolyard or nearby areas to look for examples of adaptations that many invasive species have that contribute to their success.
This activity is part of the Lesson “The Invasive Big League and the Away Team Advantage”, where students engage in discussion, analysis, investigations, and interactive indoor and outdoor games to discover the adaptations that give invasive species a competitive edge. Students also explore ways that people may help correct the imbalance posed by invasive species and “help our home team”. This lesson includes four activities:
- Design an Invasive All-Star
- Stop the Spread Freeze Tag
- Play Your Part! Don’t Let it Loose School Audit
- What adaptations do invasive species have that contribute to their success?
- How do invasive species spread?
- What plants are growing in the schoolyard (without the help and care of people)?
BC Curriculum Links
Science Big Ideas
- All living things sense and respond to their environment (Grade 4)
- Multicellular organisms have organ systems that enable them to survive and interact within their environment (Grade 5)
- Multicellular organisms rely on internal systems to survive, reproduce, and interact with their environment (Grade 6)
- Evolution by natural selection provides an explanation for the diversity and survival of living things (Grade 7)
- Clipboards, pencils, magnifiers (if available)
Documents to Download
For general background information on invasive species and their impacts, read Background on Invasive Species for Educators.
Invasive species have certain features and systems that allow them to thrive and take over. For example, invasive animals may be larger than their native relatives, have a generalist diet and benefit from a lack of predators or pathogens. Invasive plants produce many seeds, and these seeds have traits that help them to spread far and wide with ease. They establish and grow quickly and thrive in disturbed areas. They also benefit from a lack of herbivores.
Some examples of invasive plant adaptations include:
- Seed dispersal by wind (Thistles), by water (Eurasian watermilfoil) by sticking to fur or clothing (Burdock) or by animals who eat the fruit and deposit the seeds (English holly, English ivy, Himalayan blackberry).
- Spines, thorns, or hair to deter animals from eating them (Hawkweeds, Thistles) or toxins (Leafy spurge, Giant hogweed). Warning! These plants can also be toxic or cause burns to humans, so don’t touch or crush any unknown plants.
- Flowers that are colourful and fragrant to attract pollinators (Himalayan balsam, Purple loosestrife).
- Grows well in sandy or rocky soils or in disturbed areas, such as along roadsides or in ditches (Butterfly bush, Common tansy).
- Large leaves that steal light from surrounding native vegetation (Japanese knotweed).
- Large root systems or a taproot that hogs water and nutrients (Purple loosestrife, Yellow flag iris).
- Before going outdoors to do the Amazing Adaptations Hunt, review the concept of adaptations and the features and internal systems that animals and plants have that help them to survive in their particular environment. Consider examples of invasive species and the adaptations they have that contribute to their spread, including their reproductive system, features that aid in their dispersal, the role that humans play in spreading them, and other traits or behaviours they may have. See the Away Team Advantage-Adaptations Chart for more examples of adaptations of invasive species and https://bcinvasives.ca/take-action/identify/ for species-specific information.
- Choose a location for your Amazing Adaptations Hunt and check for safety hazards in advance. An area in the schoolyard or neighbourhood that has a variety of plants or landscaping is suitable (even plants emerging from the cracks in the sidewalk are interesting to look at!).
Note: It isn’t necessary to be able to identify species in this activity or to know if they are invasive or not, but to make observations, look for patterns, and connect to the features common to invasive species.
- Provide students with a copy of the Amazing Adaptations Hunt, a clipboard and pencil, and magnifiers, if available. Students could work individually or in pairs.
- Tell the students they will go outdoors to look closely at plants in the neighbourhood. Identify search boundaries, the time when students need to return, the call or whistle to bring them in, and the return gathering location.
- Remind students that in addition to the checklist they should note 3 observations, 2 things that they wonder about, and include 1 sketch of something interesting that they saw related to adaptations. This will encourage the students to look more closely and not race through the activity. It could also be a jumping off point into further inquiry and investigation. If you have field guides or have done some plant ID already with the students, you could also have students identify a plant as a bonus question.
- Head outdoors and begin the hunt!
- After the allotted time, gather everyone back together to share their findings. Discuss what students noticed on the scavenger hunt and how it relates to invasive species’ adaptations. Have students break into small groups to each share their observations, things they were curious about, their sketches, and perhaps show an actual plant that they found.
Share with us!
We’d love to have your feedback and see photos of your students’ learning and participation in this activity. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org for the opportunity to win resources and have your class have a virtual visit with an invasive species expert!
- Make a class tally of the most common adaptations that students found.
- Do further research based on the observations and questions that students had in doing the activity.
- Do this activity as a photo scavenger hunt and take pictures of the adaptations. Identify species using field guides or apps such as iNaturalist or SEEK. Were any of them invasive species? Report invasives using the free Report Invasives BC app or by using the web form at https://bcinvasives.ca/take-action/report/. It’s quick, easy, and helps to prevent further spread of harmful invasive species.
This activity is adapted from A Weedy Scavenger Hunt! in the Agriculture, Invasive Species and the Cariboo- Take Action! Youth Activity Guide, for K-10.