Build A Beast

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life sciences,
physical sciences






one or more
class periods


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Students will learn about ... animal adaptations by building a biomechanical [definition] model.

Background Information

To survive, all animals need food, water, shelter and space. Look at any animal, and you can find special anatomical features that help the animal get all it needs. A special feature that helps an animal survive is called an adaptation [definition]. An elephant's trunk, a bat's [graphic] sonar, a giant squid's [graphic] tentacles [definition] and a grasshopper's [graphic] leaping legs are all adaptations.

Not all animals have the same adaptations. That's because they eat different foods and find their water and shelter in different ways. The environment where an animal finds food, water and shelter is called its habitat. Each animal's unique set of phys ical and behavioral adaptations help it survive in its habitat.

This activity gives your students a closer look at animal adaptations by designing and building an animal that is equipped for survival.



  • Magazine cutouts of animals.
  • Crayons or colored pencils.
  • Cardboard.
  • Scissors.


  • LEGO Technic Sets.


What's your favorite animal? Where does it live?

What does it need (body parts, behaviors) to survive in its environment?


  1. Explain to the class (or student teams) that they are going to design their own animal. Some students may want to assemble a recognized animal; others may want to create a fantasy animal. To get them started, discuss one aspect of animal anatomy, such as jaws and teeth, and the ways that they might be different on different animals.
  2. Pass out crayons, scissors, cardboard and paper. Have students use any natural materials they have (potatoes, marshmallows, etc., for bodies; sticks, toothpicks, tape, rubber bands, string, yarn, clay, cotton, pipe cleaners, paper, or whatever for ada ptations; paints to camouflage or advertise the animals).


  1. Use LEGO Technic sets or other construction sets to make animal models with motors, gears and control systems.
  2. Ask the students to write a description of the animal and the different adaptations that it has. Students can write a story about the animal.
  3. Have each student (or student team) present their animal to the rest of the class, and explain their animalšs habitat (home), adaptations and life.


How are animals adapted to find food and shelter in their environments? Pick an animal and describe its adaptations.

How does creating a biomechanical model help you understand what an animal needs to live in its environment?

Adapted from

Olitsky, Stacy. Science for Little Children. The Academy of Natural Sciences Education Handbook, Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences, 1996.

Additional Sources

Burnie, David. How Nature Works. Pleasantville, NY: Readeršs Digest Association, Inc., 1991.

Gates, Phil. Nature Got There First: Inventions inspired by nature. New York: Kingfisher, 1995.