The environment in which an animal lives (its habitat) must provide water, food, shelter, and space. Its home must also make the animal feel protected from predators, harsh weather, and other threats.
Animal homes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be found from the deepest depths of the ocean to the very top of a mountain. Some animal homes are easy to see, while others are camouflaged to protect them from predators. The structure of an animal's home depends on the type of animal, the environment it lives in, and what it needs to survive. Some homes are for just one animal or for a mother and her babies. Other homes are for a large group of animals to all live together.
Animal homes serve a variety of purposes. Many animals design their homes to trap heat in and keep the cold out, especially when there are babies living in the home, since baby animals cannot keep themselves warm like their parents can. Nests, dens, and burrows are examples of this type of home.
How to Apply It at Home
If you have a pet, use it as an example to discuss with children what animals need in order to have a home. Talk about an animal's need for shelter and fresh food and water. If you use wood shavings or sawdust as bedding for your pet, discuss how it makes a soft place for him to sleep, keeps him warm, and can be changed to help keep the pet's home clean.
Types of Animal Homes
There are many different types of animal homes. Here are some of the most common ones and the animals that use them.
- Barns and Houses - Domesticated animals are ones that live with humans. You may have a few domesticated animals living with you right now! The most common animals that live in houses are dogs and cats. Some animals that live with humans are too big or too messy to live in a house. Animals like horses, cows, goats, sheep, and pigs can be pets, but they usually live in barns.
- Webs - Spiders spin webs to live in. Webs are also perfect traps for catching insects for spiders to eat.
- Hives - Bees, wasps, and yellow jackets make wax inside their bodies, then they use the wax to build homes called hives. These insects like to live together in huge numbers. A hive makes a good home for a whole colony.
- Caves - Lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and bats make their homes in caves. Caves that make good homes are not just found on dry land. Many animals that live in the water, especially eels, like to live in underwater caves. Some fish and sharks like to find an underwater cave to catch a quick nap in!
- Burrows and Holes - Many animals dig into the ground to make their homes. Foxes, rabbits, prairie dogs, and ants all live underground. Some underground homes are very simple with just one large hole and a single exit while others are quite complex with many rooms, entrances, and exits.
- Shells - Many animals with soft bodies actually carry their homes with them! These homes are called shells and the hard exterior of the shells help protect the animals inside. Most animals such as snails, crabs, and turtles have 'built on' shells. Hermit crabs use old shells from other animals as their homes; they find new shells as they grow.
- Nests - Birds make nests to lay their eggs in. Nests can be built in the branches of a tree or on the ground, and some city birds build their nests in the nooks and crannies of buildings.
- Hollow Logs - Animals that live in the woods, such as bobcats, mink, foxes, otters, skunks, and weasels often like to make their homes in hollow logs.
- Tree Hollows - Squirrels, owls, porcupines, and raccoons all like to make their homes in the hollow (an empty hole in the trunk) of a tree. Even black bears like to live in tree hollows.
Click here to download and print a free worksheet on animal homes.
Observe an Animal in Its Habitat
One of the best ways to learn what makes a good home for an animal is to observe animals that have already built their homes. Here are some things to look for:
- Out in your backyard or in a park, look for homes such as a bird's nest in tree branches, a raccoon hole in tree trunks, a rabbit hole in the ground, a spider's web on bushes, and any other places you think an animal may be living.
- Without getting too close to this possible home, watch for signs of activity. Are there any birds flying close to the nest? Do you see a squirrel looking for food?
- If you see an animal or insect, watch what it is doing and where it is going. Is it gathering or finding food? Is it making any noise? Is it cleaning itself? If you watch long enough, you may be able to see where its home is.
- If you know where an animal keeps its home, look around the area at how good that home is for the animal. Is there plenty of food? Is there a source of water nearby? Does its home provide shelter from the weather like sun or rain or snow? Is there enough space for the animal and its babies? How well does the home protect the animal family from danger?
- Write down the interesting things that you saw and found in a nature notebook or journal and draw pictures of the animals and their homes.
Make an Insect Habitat
If you observed an insect in the wild, such as a ladybug, a beetle, or an ant, try making a home for it based on what you learned. Collect the items you will need as you answer the questions below.
- What was the insect's environment like? Was it in the grass, on a tree, in a bush? Was it crawling on sticks? Try to include all these things to help make your bug happy.
- Where did it make its home? Did it bury itself in sand? Was it hiding under a piece of wood? Include something similar in your habitat.
- What about water? Insects don't need a lot of water, but they probably prefer the dirt in their habitat to be moist or the wood to be damp.
- Does the insect have food? If you watched it chomping on a particular leaf, add it to the habitat.
- Does the insect like to hide? Try to make a shelter where it can feel safe. Use leaves, twigs, sand, or anything you saw the insect using in nature.
- To prepare a home for your bug, find a clean, empty container, such as a jar or bug habitat. Make sure the container has plenty of air holes that are smaller than your bug so that it won't climb out. Add the leaves, twigs, dirt, sand, gravel, or anything else you collected while observing your bug in nature.
- Once the habitat is ready, put your bug in it and watch some more. How is it doing? Is it acting similar to the way it was when you observed it in nature? (You may have to let your bug get used to its new environment for a few hours before it will start acting the way it did in nature.)
For an animal to be happy and healthy in its home, it needs food, water, shelter, and security. Observing an animal in its natural environment is one of the best ways to learn what an animal needs to survive and for you to make a home for it. However, animals also need to roam and generally need a larger territory than you can provide for it in a bug habitat, so it is best to release the bug back to nature after a couple of days.
Make a Bird's Nest
If you found a bird's nest in your neighborhood or park, don't touch it, but look at it carefully. What is it made of? How do you think a bird made it? To help get an idea of what great architects birds are, try your own hand at building a bird's nest, using the same materials birds use!
What You Need:
- Twigs, grass, mud, leaves, pine needles, straw, and anything else you have seen birds using
- Newspaper or drop cloth
What You Do:
- Spread the newspaper over your work surface to help keep the area clean.
- Use the materials you gathered to build a nest like the nest you found. Try to make it as strong and as sturdy as possible.
- To test your handiwork, try placing it outside on a tree branch or someplace where you think a bird would like to have a nest.
- Wait a few days or weeks and watch to see if any birds use your nest as their home.
Was it hard getting all those materials to stick together and make the shape of a nest? Imagine building that nest using just a beak and in the branch of a tree! Isn't it amazing how well birds can build their own homes?