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  • Writer's pictureAmy Wung Tsao

The Science of Animal Traits!

Updated: Jan 21

A Note from Amy

I have a confession! I don’t always love doing science experiments with my kids.

My older two kids have always been content to just watch science videos. Rarely would they ask to actually do the experiment.

Not so with my youngest child! In the past month, I’ve given into his pleadings and made a hoop glider (success!) and rock candy (only kind of successful, too much sugar maybe?). We tried to pop balloons with orange peels (total fail, maybe our orange peels were too thin?), and made some stick drawings float (success with cold water!).

You guys, it’s been a lot. I just want you to know that if you prefer science videos to getting messy, you are not alone!


STEM Resources on Animal Traits

“Wilderness without wildlife is just scenery.”

~ writer and conservationist Lois Crisler

Polar bear standing on its hind legs in a snowy landscape, holding one paw up as if to wave.
Hans-Jurgen Mager on UnSplash

There are just too many good STEM resources on animals, especially picture books! This month, I’ll be focusing just on the science of animal traits.

What traits separate mammals, reptiles, birds, fish? How do different animal traits help animals survive? And how do scientists learn more about animal traits? Do the same kind of animal have varying traits? (For you teachers, that last question ties directly to curriculum standard NGSS 1-LS3-1.)

Let’s get going! Just a reminder - I am never paid to mention any of these resources; there are no affiliate links.


From SciShow Kids

Here’s an animal trait that you’ve definitely noticed, but maybe haven’t thought much about. How is this trait helpful to some animals? And why don’t we humans have one?

from Mystery Science

And here’s a human behavioral trait - laughter. Do other animals share this trait with us too? There are some pretty cute animal clips in this one!

Animal Tricksters! from SciShow Kids

Mimicry is a pretty neat animal trait! This video is all about how different animals use mimicry to keep safe, or sneak a snack.



Cover illustration of many different animals including, but not limited to, tadpoles, a hummingbird, a spider, a lizard, a cat, a snake, an eel, an octopus, an otter, a rat, and a bird, arranged in an oval around the title of the book.

By Diane Lang, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

Through gorgeous illustrations and gorgeous rhymes, this book walks through the traits that separate mammals from birds, reptiles from amphibians, arthropods from fish. And what traits all animals on Earth share.

Cover photo of a dog’s face, very close-up. The dog has short white fur, a black snout, and deep brown eyes looking past the camera.

By Annette Whipple, illustrated by Juanbjuan Oliver

If you’re going to learn about animal traits, why not do so with man’s best friend? Along with some amazing photos, this book answers questions like - “Do Dogs Have Feelings?” and “Do Dogs Sweat?”

Cover illustration of a white woman looking through binoculars, and the image of a chimpanzee hanging upside-down from a tree reflected in the binocular lenses. The woman has blond hair tied in a ponytail, and a tan shirt. There are trees in the background.

By Jeanette Winter

Jane Goodall’s work with the chimpanzees in Tanzania is a powerful illustration of the life of a scientist, and the patience it takes to really observe wild animals in their natural habitat.



Infographic titled “Fat Bear Week 2022 October 5th-11th.” There is a bracket starting with 8 bears, narrowed down to a single question mark in a circle in the center. The bottom of the infographic has the Katmai National Park & Preserve logo, the Katmai Conservancy logo, link to exploreorg, and #FatBearWeek.

Watch Alaskan brown bears catching salmon live on Katmai National Park’s webcams. These bears are eating as much salmon as they can before the winter. The video above is a highlight reel from this summer, including clips of a mama bear that adopted her nephew!

(These webcams were also in the news recently, when viewers noticed a distressed hiker on a livecam, and alerted park rangers. The hiker was rescued just a few hours later!)

Starting in October, you can vote for your favorite bear too. (The image above shows the voting results from 2022.)

There are also classroom lessons plans for Grades 3-5. If an entire lesson plan is too much, see if you can tell the bears apart from each other by observing animal traits. You can also discuss with older kids which traits are inherited (head shape, ear shape, fur color) and which are acquired (scars, salmon catching techniques).

Illustration of a red panda’s face, with its eyes cut out to make a mask. The face is outlined by a dotted line for cutting out the mask. The title is “Cut and Create Your Own Animal Mask”, and the Woodland Park Zoo logo is in the top left corner.

from Woodland Park Zoo

Instead of just talking about animal traits, how about adding some pretend play? What kind of animal traits can you pretend? Maybe these printable masks from the Woodland Park Zoo will help inspire some play ideas!


I’m just getting started on this series on life sciences. Next month, we’re kicking off spooky season with my favorite STEM resources on spiders!

Until next time, have fun lighting sparks of curiosity!

Amy Wung Tsao

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