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Project title or topic of activity

The Use of Color among Marine Life

Author(s): Melissa Gottsleben

Date: Fall 1999


Summary of Activity
50-100 words

This activity is designed to teach first and second graders the importance of color useage among different marine animals. In the activity the teacher will need to place different colors and patterns of construction paper slightly submerged in the sand. The kids will gather around the playground sand to see what colors and patterns they see first. Each piece will demonstrate an adaptation using color that different animals in the ocean use to camouflage, protect, or advertise themselves.


Grade levels

1st and 2nd grade

General description or introduction
The scientific principles that the activity is founded on.

Color has been used as protection, camouflage and intimidation by marine animals for millons of years. Protection through use of various colors or distorted coloration patterns, camouflage happens when an animal uses other organisms, sand, rocks and plants that are prevalent in their environment to blend in; and intimidation by use of bright colors to advertise being poisionous.

Background information

In the epipelgic (open-ocean) there are not rocks and tons of plants to hide behind. The organisms that live here have to have some ways of being less obvivous. Protective coloration, or camouflage is a very popular method. One of the easiest and most affective ways to blend with your envirnoment is to be transparent, then your preadtor looks through you rather than at you. This method is used among some jellyfishes, salps, zooplankton(microscopic animals), larvaceans, and comb jellys.

Another very common method is countershading. This is where the back of the animal is dark colored and the belly is light colored. This is so if a predator is viewing you from the top it sees deep blue ocean, and if it sees you from the bottom you blend with the light being filtered through the water. Most epipelgic fish also have slivery sides that reflect light. This helps them blend when either viewed from the side or from below. It is also common for them to have distorted coloration patterns or vertical bars that help break up their outline.

In closer to shore, animals use some additional techniques. Some small fish for example have a dark spot near the middle of their body which serves as a "fake eye", which makes them appear to be a larger fish. The rock fish is a master of camouflage by perfectly blending in with the bottom of the sea floor and patiently waiting for unsuspecting prey to swim by.Many other animals use sand, other organisms, plants, coral and other very common things in their environment to blend in with.

Another technique that is much more obvivous is that of intimidation. This methods is used when a organsim wants to advertise that it is poisionous. This is done through the use of bright reds and yellows, as in the fire sponge a bright red that has toxins in its spicules. I have listed a great web-site and textbook to get several different examples of animals displaying these techniques.

Credit for the activity

original idea.

Estimated time to do the activity


Goals of Activity:

Goal A
Show students several different methods in which marine life use color to aid in survival.

Goal B
Guide students though the steps of observational science.

Goal C
Build an appreciation of the diversity in the worlds oceans.

Goal D
Show students that all living and non-living things are important in the world.


National Science Education Standards. (NSES)

Two content standards that this lesson plan covers:

Standard 1
An organism's patterns of behavior are related to the nature of that organisms environment, including the kinds and numbers of the other organisms present, the availability of food and resources, and the physical characteristics of the environment.

Standard 2
All animals depend on plants. Some animals eat plants for food. Other animals eat animals that eat plants. (This one is indirectly related).


Materials Needed

  • construction paper (one package of multicolored)
  • scissors,
  • glue
  • sand (playground is perfect)


set-up a work station for the kids to cut and paste and equipped with above listed materials. Prepare a short dialog with pictures introducing them to the topic. From given web-sites and textbook find pictures to illustrate what techniques in patricular you are going to focus on.

Step-by-Step Procedure for the Activity

This activity is for the whole class, have the kids do much of the cutting and pasting, helping only if needed. Take a red, light brown and yellow piece of construction paper and set them aside. Next take a black piece and cut out strips. Glue the strips in vertical lines on to a yellow piece of paper. Make four of these and cut out a simple outline of a fish when the glue is dry. Next take the light brown and red paper and cut out two fish outlines in each color.

Without the kids present take the red, light brown, and stripped fish patterns to the playground. Go to playground and place the red and light brown fish slightly submerged in the sand. Then take the stripped fish far enough away that the kids will not see them first, and place them in a clustered fashion. Next bring out the kids and ask them which fish they can see first. Talk about why the red one is easier to see and why this important to fish in the ocean. Then bring them over to the second section and have one kid be the predator and four kids hold a fish and huddle in a group, have them move around in a haphazard manner. Have the predator chase after them and try to catch one prey. After the kids settle down ask the whole class what the advantages and disadvantages are to having confusing patterns. Did it make it more difficult to select one prey and follow it around in a darting fashion?

Images, work sheets, additional web pages

{none available}

Items for discussion or conclusion

1st question

Give some other examples of animals that use these color patterns on land. (Zebras, birds, etc.)

2nd question
What is the connection between surviving in the ocean and color?

3rd question
What are some other ways animals in the ocean protect themselves?

4th question
{Question 4}


This activity is geared towards teaching kids early about different ways animals, not just marine life, use color to help get food or prevent them from being food. It also it meant to show kids that not just things that are alive are important, because many things are needed to sustain life, such as shelter, blending with the enviroment, water, and air. The main idea is to get the kids to connect color to performing a function for survival rather than just to make thing pretty for us to look at. Our goal is to teach the kids that things on our planet are always changing and finding better ways to cope with everyday life, and to demonstrate that there is always more than one way to slove a problem.

Beyond the Activity
Further activities which relate to and extend the complexity of the experiment.

The following class period have a short quiz asking the kids what they learned about color. Also could bring in a video or picture book showing more real life examples of marine life, or better yet other animals on land using the same basic principles.

Web Resources
A web address with information on the topic of the activity.

Web Address

Additional References