Lesson 2: The Extreme Antarctic
Goal: Discover the extreme features of Antarctica and build a model of the Antarctic food web
Materials: Antarctic Food Web Student Worksheet 3; coat hangers; tape; scissors; yarn; and drawing supplies such as crayons/markers
Time required: 40 minutes
1. Explain: Almost all wild penguins live in the southern hemisphere. On a map or globe, that is the half of Earth south of the equator. The continent of Antarctica, at the very bottom of Earth, is home to many penguins, including gentoos! Antarctica is a cold, cold place, even in summer. Everything about it is extreme!
2. Share and discuss Antarctica's extreme features, including:
- It is so big, it is bigger than Europe.
- It is so far south, it surrounds the South Pole.
- It is so cold, temperatures tend to be around -30°F (-34.44°C) in winter.
- It has so little rain, it is called a desert.
- It has so much ice, it holds 90 percent of the ice on Earth.
3. Find Antarctica on a map or globe and discuss the following facts:
- Explain that Antarctica is a continent, one of the seven largest landmasses on Earth. It is a mountainous area covered by an ice sheet.
- Ice sheets form in places where snow falls and does not completely melt. The layers pile up over thousands of years and become stronger. There are just two places where ice sheets exist today: Antarctica and Greenland. If you put the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets together, you would have 99 percent of all the freshwater on Earth.
- Despite all that snow and ice, there is very little precipitation, so Antarctica is considered a desert. Scientists call it a cold desert. Antarctica has no trees or bushes at all, and is home to about 350 species of lichens, more than 150 species of mosses, and possibly hundreds of species of algae.
- The animals that live in Antarctica rely on other animals as a food source. The top predator is the killer whale. Secondary predators include penguins, seals, fish, and whales. The main food sources for many of these predators are krill, shrimp, small fish, and squid.
- The food web in Antarctica is simple compared with some others. There are fewer kinds of living beings, and the ones who do live there have high populations.
Discover the facts:
4. Distribute Student Worksheet 3 and read it together. Explain that a food chain or food web illustrates what eats what. When an animal eats a plant or another animal, it takes energy from the food.
5. Discuss and explore the food web. Encourage older students to highlight the facts on the sheets with their highlighters. With all students, answer the questions and allow them to share what they knew and did not know including the following terms:
- Krill: small (about 2.4 inches or 6 centimeters long), shrimplike crustaceans
- Plankton: small floating organisms that collectively produce as much oxygen as the plants on Earth. Include several types, such as phytoplankton, which are one-cell plants that drift in water and feed on carbon dioxide and sunshine.
- Squid: a cephalopod whose features include eight short arms and, often, two longer tentacles
6. Challenge students (alone or in groups) to make food mobiles that show what penguins eat and what animals prey on penguins. Like an Antarctic food chain or food web, it will show some of the animals that hang out together in Antarctica.
7. Give each student (or group) yarn, a coat hanger, and drawing paper. Ask students to draw, cut out, and assemble their pictures according to this diagram.
- Younger Students: Research the diets of the other three kinds of featured penguins (Adélie, king, and rockhopper); the food mobile shows only a gentoo penguin.
- Science Extension: Krill are now harvested for human consumption and as fish food. They are also being used for some medicines. You can challenge advanced students to research the Antarctic ecosystem and the importance of keeping the krill population in balance.
- Math Extension: Challenge students to research and graph population numbers for the four featured penguin species.
This program meets education standards including the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, and National Science Education Standards. Click below for your grade's curriculum matrix: