By playing a fun game of quiet observation and deduction, students learn how invasive “secret stowaways”, like Japanese beetles or insects hidden away in firewood, can be accidentally spread by people and cause damage to plants and trees in the places we love. Your students’ interest in invasive species will be sparked with brief 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”.
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 do invasive species harm other plants and animals?
- How can I make sure I don’t accidentally spread invasive species to special places?
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
Invasive species are organisms that are not native to a region whose introduction and spread– whether intentional or not—harms native species, the 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.
Preventing Secret Stowaways
Some invasive species are spread accidentally by people who unknowingly bring them from one location to another. Invasive plants often have seeds, stems or other parts that are accomplished hitchhikers, clinging to our clothing and gear to further their spread. Some invasive insects may hitch a ride in firewood, in soil, on plants, or on people and our vehicles in order to move and spread to a new location. Some invasive insects that are not yet established in BC that could be inadvertently spread by moving firewood, plants, or soil, include the Japanese beetle, Spongy moth, and Asian longhorned beetle. See the Additional Resources section to learn more about these insects.
One way that we can do our part to help protect habitats from invasive species is to make sure that we don’t accidentally transport them from one location to another, by practicing “Play Clean Go” and by only burning local firewood, “Buy Local, Burn Local”.
- Read over the Background section and associated links for information on invasive species and how to prevent their spread, including PlayCleanGo and Buy Local Burn Local.
- 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.
Note: Part 1 is the introduction to all activities in the lesson “Be a Healthy Habitat Hero!”. If you have already done this part with your students, then skip to Part 2.
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: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLxx-_2yRtjje56-v2TBZcG7Ezql8qXL9t
- 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. Who Dunnit?
- Introduce the game. Tell students that everyone is a plant. But one person will be a plant that is infested with Japanese beetles. Japanese beetles are an invasive insect that can harm over 300 types of plants by eating their roots, fruits, and leaves. Japanese beetles can’t fly very far, but sometimes people spread them to new places without even knowing it! People move Japanese beetles that are in plants, soil, or in/on our vehicles. In this game you will try to find out which of you is the plant with Japanese beetles. But watch out! If the Japanese beetle finds you first, your plant will die!
- Wink or blink? Determine how the Japanese beetle will attack: by winking, double blinking, clenching eyes shut, or some other method. Practice it and ensure everyone knows the gesture and how to do it.
- Game description. This is an adaptation of a game the students may be familiar with, called “Wink Murder”. All students sit in a large circle facing each other. All students lower their heads and close their eyes. The teacher walks around the circle and taps one student lightly on the shoulder. That person is secretly a plant with a Japanese beetle infestation. Once you’re ready, have everyone open their eyes. Everyone sits in silence and looks around at everyone else in the circle, trying to figure out which person is the Japanese beetle. The Japanese beetle tries to wink at other students without being seen by anyone else. If a student is winked at, they wait about 10 seconds (silently counting to 10 in their head) and then fall over and pretend to die. This represents that the Japanese beetle was transported as a secret stowaway (such as in soil or on a vehicle). If someone thinks they know who the Japanese beetle is, they can call out the students’ name. If they’re wrong, they “die”. If they’re right, they have stopped the spread and become the Healthy Habitat Hero.
- Play it again!
- Discuss what happened and how invasive species like the Japanese beetle can be “secret stowaways”. Show images of Japanese beetles and other invasive species, such as Spongy moth and Asian longhorned beetle, that can be transported accidentally by people. How else could this game represent the spread of invasive species that students have learned about? For example, maybe the person winking is the sticky seeds of Hound’s tongue or Burdock that hitch a ride onto a dog or deer, or a bird that spreads the seeds of an English Holly or Himalayan blackberry into the forest. In these cases, the invasive species doesn’t kill other plants directly, but takes over their habitat so that native plants are crowded out.
- Discuss the importance of the role of the person who found the Japanese beetle in the game. Ask if they think it would be important to report if an invasive species is found and why. What would happen if no one finds or reports the Japanese beetle? Let students know that identifying and reporting invasive species is a really important way that we can prevent their spread! There are some Japanese beetle “look-alikes” so it’s important to be able to properly identify insects.
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!
- Be a Healthy Habitat Hero! Have students learn about ways they can make sure they aren’t carrying any “secret stowaways” on themselves, their bikes, or other outdoor gear when they move from one location to another, and by making sure to not transport firewood when they go camping.(See Additional Resources section on PlayCleanGo and Buy Local, Burn Local). Create a pledge to be a Healthy Habitat Hero and make certificates!
- Go outdoors and be nature detectives in the schoolyard or nearby natural areas. Look closely at plants to see if you can find any insects or other invertebrates hidden on the plants or in soil. Look at seeds and how they disperse in the wind or by sticking to fur or fabric. Use magnifiers if you have them. Learn how to identify Japanese beetles and other invasive species found in your region.
- Have students wear big wool socks over their shoes and pant cuffs and walk in an unmowed field. Look closely at all the plant parts and seeds that have hitched a ride. Practice PlayCleanGo by brushing off and removing everything before you leave the location!
Prevent the Spread of Invasive Species
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.