June is the month of baby animals. By hatching from the egg or being born in late spring, young animals have all summer to grow and learn survival skills before the harsh times of winter. What can we learn about animal adaptations at this time of year?
Start by looking around for young animals. Fledgling birds - those who have recently left the nest but who are still being cared for by their parents - are probably the easiest to see. Most have shorter tails than their parents, fly with very fast wing beats and seem a little out of control, and often keep after their parents, begging for food. Can you find any fledglings around your yard or neighborhood? Leave them alone. They don't need your help. Their own parents will feed them for a while and then gradually let them get more and more of their own food. This prepares them to survive on their own. Watch them. How often do they get fed by their parents? How often do they find their own food? What kinds of noises do they make? What else do they do to get their parents' attention?
You will soon start to see young woodchucks feeding with their parents along country roadsides. How many young woodchucks do you see with one adult? What are they eating? What do they do if frightened?
A hike in a park or a ride in the countryside might give you a look at a fawn. Soon after being born, fawns are left hiding by their mothers who come back to feed them milk. Each year some of these fawns are found by people who think they have no mother and try to help them by adopting them. This is not a good idea. They will do much better in nature with their own mothers. What adaptations do fawns have that make it easy for them to hide?
Rabbits protect their young a lot like deer do. Very young rabbits are left in a nest on the ground which their mother visits to feed them milk. Later in the spring these young rabbits will leave the nest and start eating plants. What do rabbits do to protect themselves from being eaten by foxes and hawks? Do you think young rabbits are very good at protecting themselves this way?
Here are a few good questions to ask about any young animal that you see:
- How does it protect itself from other animals catching and eating it?
- What does it eat?
- Is it still being cared for by its parents?
- How many brothers and sisters does this kind of animal usually have (how big of a litter is it a part of)?
Biologists usually say that an animal has been successful if it can replace itself and its mate. In other words, if two birds have two of their young survive long enough to grow up, find mates and have young of their own, they have been successful. If a pair of cottontail rabbits has 3 or 4 litters a year of 1 to 9 young, do you think very many of them live long enough to grow up and have young? What happens to the rest? What would happen if all of them did survive?
To look up more about different kinds of animals, visit eNature.com or Neartica.