In this activity, your students’ interest will be sparked with videos of children asking their wonder questions about invasive species. This will provoke inquiry related to invasive species and how we can all play our part to be a Healthy Habitat Hero. Then students will play a fun and active game of tag to understand how a cute and fuzzy animal like the Eastern grey squirrel or European rabbit can spread quickly and cause problems to native animals and habitats.
This activity is part of the Lesson “Be a Healthy Habitat Hero!” where students engage in discussion, analysis and play interactive indoor and outdoor games to spark their curiosity, learn about the issue of invasive species and how they impact us all.
- What’s an invasive species and why should I care about them?
- How can a cute and fuzzy animal like a bunny or squirrel be a problem?
- How can I be a responsible pet owner?
BC Curriculum Links
Science Big Ideas
- Living things have features and behaviours that help them survive in their environment (Grade 1)
- Living things have life cycles adapted to their environment (Grade 2)
- Living things are diverse, can be grouped, and interact in their ecosystems (Grade 3)
Science Curricular Competencies (Grades 1-3)
- Demonstrate curiosity and a sense of wonder about the world
- Observe objects and events in familiar contexts
- Ask questions about familiar objects and events
- Make predictions
- Consider some environmental consequences of their actions
- Experience and interpret the local environment
- Express and reflect on personal experiences of place
Documents to Download
For a general background on invasive species read Background on Invasive Species for Educators and see sample images of invasive species impacts in What’s Wrong with this Picture.
Terms and Definitions
Don’t Let it Loose Some common mammals seen near our homes and schools, such as Eastern grey squirrels and European rabbits, are actually invasive species that were intentionally or accidentally introduced and now cause problems for native species and habitats.
One way that we can do our part to help protect habitats from invasive species is by being responsible pet owners and to not release animals into the wild. Releasing pets into the wild is cruel to the pet—many starve to death or are killed by predators. Released pets can also spread disease or outcompete native wildlife or harm habitats.
To learn more about the problems caused by letting pets go “free” and alternatives to releasing unwanted pets into the wild, visit the “Don’t Let it Loose” program.
Invasive species are organisms that are not native to a region whose introduction and spread– whether intentional or not—harms native species, economy and human health. Without their natural diseases and predators, they are capable of moving aggressively into an area, and monopolizing resources, such as food, water, and space, negatively impacting other species.
Native species are organisms that evolved over eons in a habitat and are found in their region without assistance from people. In British Columbia, native species are those that already existed here at the time of European colonization.
Non-native species, sometimes called exotic or alien species, are those that have been introduced to a new location, intentionally or unintentionally, to which they did not evolve and are not typically found. Not all non-native species are invasive; some don’t spread or survive without being cared for by people.
- Read over the Background section and associated links for information on invasive species.
- Review and download the What’s Wrong with this Picture Copy Page.
- Watch the Kid’s Questions videos and decide which ones to show to students.
- For Part 2, identify the playing area and boundaries for the outdoor game, such as a field or large, open, flat location.
Part 1: “What’s the big fuss about invasive species?”
- Introduce the terms “invasive species”, “non-native species” and “native species”. Ask if anyone has heard of these terms and what they think they mean. See if they know of any examples of each. Name or show pictures of some animals and plants that are common and known to the children, such as black bear, Western redcedar, and salmon for native species; giraffe, banana, and parrot for non-native species. Explain that most non-native species aren’t invasive, but if an organism that is introduced to a new place can survive, spread, and cause harm to habitats or wildlife, then it is considered invasive.
- Make a Know/Wonder/Learn chart with students to see what they already know about invasive species and what they are curious to learn more about.
- Share the What’s Wrong with this Picture? images of some invasive species and their impacts. Some ways to use these images include sharing as a slideshow to the whole class, by giving one or two images to a small group of students to discuss, or by playing a matching game using the images and the descriptions provided for students in the table. Tell the students that the photos are of invasive species that can cause problems for people and nature. Ask the students what they notice about the photograph and what they wonder about it. Ask if, based on the picture, they have some ideas of what kinds of problems the invasive species might cause, and other questions that they wonder about while looking at the photograph. If working in small groups, have students show their photographs and share their wonder questions. Write the wonder questions on the K/W/L chart and ask how they think they could find out the answers to their wonder questions.
- Tell the students that there are many kids like them who are also curious about invasive species! Show the students some of the Kids Questions video clips.
- Let the students know that even though invasive species can cause problems for people and nature, the great thing is that we can all help be part of the solution and prevent them from spreading by being a “Healthy Habitat Hero”. (Learn and do more by participating in other related activities that are part of this lesson!)
Part 2. The Cute and Fuzzy Invader Takeover
Game description: This is a version of tag (sometimes called “Round up Tag”), which the students may already be familiar with. One person is “it” and they are a European rabbit. All other students are native mice. The rabbit tries to tag the mice. When mice are tagged, they become rabbits and also become “it” and try to tag the mice. The game ends when everyone is a rabbit. You could also play this game with one student as an Eastern grey squirrels (invasive species) and all others as Red squirrels or Douglas squirrels (native species), or other pairs of invasive and native species found in your region.
- Ask students to describe what an invasive species looks like. Can it be cute and fuzzy? Tell the students they are going to play a game to learn how even a cute animal can cause problems if it is introduced into a place where it doesn’t belong.
- Choose one person to be the European rabbit. Have everyone else be mice. Start the game without the rabbit and have everyone role play and pretend to be mice, scurrying around the field and looking for seeds to eat, bushes to hide behind and holes to crawl in. Then tell the students that you had an adorable baby bunny as a pet. But then it got so big and you didn’t have room for it anymore. It also started chewing everything in your house, even your electrical cords! So, you decided to let the bunny loose in the park where it could live a free and happy life. You were sad to let it go but felt better knowing it could be free. Let’s see what happened next!
- Enter the European rabbit and start the game! (Now the mice don’t have to role play being mice anymore; however an option is to have the rabbits hop and mice scurry on hands and knees).
- Stop the game once everyone is a rabbit.
- Discuss what happened. How long did it take for the rabbits to take over? What does this game represent? The rabbits don’t eat mice! They eat plants. So do mice and many other native wildlife. Rabbits will eat up all the plants and dig many holes, which reduces the food and shelter for many native animals, including mice, voles, and deer and all the animals that depend on native plants to survive- including birds and butterflies! The rabbits start breeding when they are just a few months old. Their gestation period is less than a month and they can have about 5 bunnies in a litter, and breed throughout the year. So, their numbers can get large very quickly.
- Ask what they think about setting pets free in the wild and their impacts. Introduce students to “Don’t Let it Loose” and ways that they can be a Healthy Habitat Hero.
Game Variation: Play the game again with some changes to demonstrate how the “cute and fuzzy invader” impacts habitats. Divide the class into two teams: rabbits and mice. Use poker chips or natural materials such as sticks and cones to represent seeds and plants, that are scattered in the field. The mice need to gather a certain number of chips in order to survive, and they have to gather them piece by piece and run them each over to their burrow (a tree or landmark on the far end of the field). But the rabbit can gather as many chips as they want and also can take chips from the mice’s burrow. After a certain amount of time see how much food each team got and who survived.
Share with us!
We’d love to have your feedback and see photos of your students’ learning and participation in this activity. Send to [email protected] for the opportunity to win resources and have your class have a virtual visit with an invasive species expert!
- Be a Healthy Habitat Hero! Have students make a “Don’t Let it Loose” pledge to be a responsible pet owner. Provide certificates.
- Go outdoors to observe and learn more about the invasive species in your region. You may be surprised to find that there are many common species found in populated areas that are invasive, such as Eastern grey squirrels, European rabbits, European starlings, House sparrows and many plants!
- Extend the concept of this game to invasive plants and how they impact native species and habitats. Many invasive plants are beautiful and are planted in gardens by those who don’t realize that they can spread and cause problems to native species and habitats. Invasive aquatic plants are sometimes released into bodies of water when people change the water in fish tanks or aquaria. Create a version of the game that applies to invasive plants found in your region and how to prevent their spread! (Plant movement could represent roots spreading or seeds dispersing.)
Invasive Species Profiles
Don’t Let it Loose information and resources
Children’s Books and Activity Guides
- Invader Crusaders Activity Guide to Discover BC’s Native and Invasive Species. Invasive Species Council of BC
- Invasive Species on Our Landscapes Activity & Colouring Book, (Ages 6-12), Canada Council on Invasive Species and the Invasive Species Council of BC.
- Invasive Species in Our Waters Activity & Colouring Book, (Ages 6-12), Canada Council on Invasive Species and the Invasive Species Council of BC.
- Von Tol, Alex. Aliens Among Us: Invasive Animals and Plants in British Columbia. 2015. Royal BC Museum, Victoria, BC.
- Wilcox, Merrie-Ellen. Nature Out of Balance: How Invasive Species are Changing the Planet. 2021. Orca Book Publishers, Victoria, BC.