X is for Xenarthra!
When you are thinking of animals from A-Z, the letter X poses some problems. There just aren't many animals, or words for that matter, that start with X!
Today, X is for Xenarthra. "Xen...what?" You might say. Xenarthra, pronounced "zen-arth-rah", is the group of animals that includes anteaters, tree sloths and armadillos. These are some interesting and bizarre creatures, each with some pretty amazing adaptations that help them to survive in their own niche in various locations on the planet.
Adaptations are how an animal is built, or how it behaves, that help it to survive. Often humans borrow these ideas for adaptations to help us do things. Today we are going to go on a Xenarthra adaptations scavenger hunt. You'll be looking for things humans have constructed that do the same jobs as the amazing adaptations of anteaters, tree sloths and armadillos. You can search in your house, outside, or in your classroom. For example: you might be looking for something protective like the armadillos bony plates. Maybe you'll find a bicycle helmet, or some hard plastic knee pads.
First, let's learn about some of these animals wild adaptations, then you can print out some scavenger hunt cards and go on your adventure!
|Giant Anteater image: Malene Thyssen (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons|
- The anteater has a long pointed nose, that is not only great for finding food, but also can be held above the water when swimming- like a snorkel!
- The anteater's long tongue can reach up to 2 feet! It has tiny barbs and sticky saliva to catch ants. It moves quickly, so if you're an ant, you don't stand a chance!
- Anteaters have long tube-like mouths with no teeth. Their specialized stomachs have strong muscles and powerful acid so that they don't have to chew their food.
- On the inner toes of each foot, the anteater has long claws. These are used to break open ant hills and termite mounds, in addition to protecting them from predators and climbing trees. They walk on the sides of their feet so that they don't wear down these important tools.
- The anteater's tail is used as an additional appendage. It can be used like a kickstand to help the animal keep its balance when standing on its hind legs. It can also be used to hang on branches. Part of the tail is hairless to help the animal grip. The rest has long hair which helps to keep the animal warm when it wraps the tail around its body.
|Sloth image: Geoff Gallice [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons|
- The sloth has a stomach that includes many compartments. The food the sloth eats is difficult to break down, so this helps the process. It can take a long time, sometimes a month, for the food to break down!
- The sloth's metabolism is super slow and the creature maintains a low body temperature. Both of these adaptations allow the animal to survive on food that doesn't give them much energy.
- The sloth's fur is different than other animals. When the sloth is hanging upside down in a tree, the fur points down to help it shed water. Sloths living in very moist and wet conditions may have 2 types of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, growing on their fur. This gives them a greenish color that helps them camouflage.
- Sloths have curled claws that help them climb and hold themselves up in trees. These claws can help with protection, but they mostly rely on camouflage to hide themselves from predators.
|Southern Three Banded Armadillo image: Ltshears derivative work: WolfmanSF (SouthernThreeBandedArmadillo065.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons|
- Armadillos are known for the hard bony plates that cover them from head to tail. Depending on the armadillo, they can have anywhere from 7-11 telescoping bands of plates. In between each plate is soft skin and hair. These plates serve as excellent protection!
- When an armadillo needs to protect itself, it finds a hole and wedges itself inside with those bony plates pointed outward. This creates a strong wall that is very difficult for another animal to dislodge.
- Animal behaviors can be adaptations too. An armadillo's first response to a predator will be to jump up in the air, which usually surprises the predator enough that it will run away.
- Armadillos have strong claws for digging and burrowing.
|Armadillo image: Arnaud Boucher derivative work: WolfmanSF (Chaetophractus_vellerosus.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
Now it's time to have a little fun. Print out this Xenarthra Adaptations Scavenger Hunt and see what you can find!
Be sure to check out the other great activities in the A-Z of Animals Series on Teach Me Mommy.
Also, don't miss the previous posts in this series: W is for Whale: Wonderful Whale and Water Bead Sensory Bin and W is for Wolf: Wolf Science: Exploring the Sense of Smell.
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