Antarctic animals

In this learning sequence, explore the characteristics and features of living things in the Antarctic. Guess the mystery animal when only one feature is visible. Play Antarctica bingo to find animals and plants that match the clues. Sort and group living things found in Antarctica, according to their features. Find out what a species is and more about species of whale, seal and penguin. Play the odd one out and plan your own Antarctica field guide.

Set the scene

Mystery Antarctic animal

Show a partially covered image of an Antarctic animal from this gallery. The images reveal only a particular feature of each animal such as its beak, fin, tentacle, foot or flipper. Ask students what they see and what clues this gives about the animal. After a brief discussion, ask students to draw the feature and complete the rest of the animal, drawing as accurately as possible. What are the features of this animal? What body covering does it have? Complete the task using each of the animals in the gallery. Share students’ completed drawings. What features do these animals have in common? Which features are different?

Antarctica bingo

Use a game of ‘Antarctic bingo’ [PDF] to focus on the characteristics or observable features of living things which scientists use to group different species together. Guide student exploration of the wildlife section on the Australian Antarctic Division website. Locate animals, plants or microscopic organisms that display the relevant characteristics or features. Encourage students to record the species name (e.g: emperor penguin, rather than just penguin). When a row or column is complete the student calls ‘BINGO!’ Create a large display of the completed bingo table adding the names of the living things with a student drawn picture or printed image.

Explore and research

Sort and classify living things

Use the completed bingo sheet as a springboard to begin to group living things according to their characteristics and features. Possible sorting:

  • Does it live in the ocean and/or on land?
  • Is it a plant or animal?
  • If it's an animal, does it have a backbone or does it not?

Note the plant species in Antarctica are limited to types of algae, fungi and lichen. At this stage of students’ development focusing on animals is advisable due to the complexity of the plants that inhabit Antarctica.

Mammal, bird or fish?

What makes a fish a fish? What makes a bird a bird? What characteristics do mammals have?

In collaborative groups develop rules for sorting an animal into one of three groups: fish, bird or mammal. For example a bird has a beak, wings and feathers and lays eggs. These rules may be refined as they use their rules to sort Antarctic animals. Use the animals found in the bingo game to sort into groups: fish, bird or mammal. As a challenge try krill, shrimp and worm. To which group do these belong? Make a new group to sort these animals.

Explain and share

Features and purpose

Choose an Antarctic animal to research. Find out what special features it has and how it uses them to live. Does it help the animal move, catch its prey, eat, escape from a predator, keep warm or have young? Draw a diagram, labeling the animal’s features and explain what each is used for.

Are penguins suited to land or water?

View video of penguins in action and discuss how they move underwater and on land.

Compare different animals

Use a Venn diagram to show similarities and differences between two Antarctic animals. What features do they have in common? Which features are different? Where do they live? What do they feed on?

Elaborate and apply

Antarctic species

Discuss the term species and what students think it means. You might use a simple explanation that a species is a group of living things that have the same characteristics that make them different from other living things. Make the observation that not all penguins look the same. Ask what features make them slightly different from one another?

So the different species of penguins may each have slightly different features or characteristics but still share the common characteristics of all penguins. Penguin species may differ in terms of their distribution (where they are found), or by size, beak shape and colour, body markings, crests, or tail.

Find out more about differences between species by choosing a type of animal type such as penguin, whale or seal and selecting 3–4 species to compare. How are they different? What features and characteristics do they share?

Create a jointly constructed chart showing the different species of penguin, whale or seal.

Present an ‘odd one out’ example – name four species, and ask students to pick the odd one out. For example, an emperor penguin, a gentoo penguin, a black-browed albatross, and a whale. Ask students which is the odd one out and why? There may be several different answers, such as:

  • The whale: it’s a mammal and the others are birds.
  • The whale: it doesn’t have a beak.
  • The albatross: it’s the only one that can fly
  • The emperor penguin: it’s the only animal to breed in Antarctica

Ask students to select four Antarctic living things to include in their own ‘odd one out’ grouping. They can draw on their knowledge of the characteristics and observable features of Antarctic animals as well as information about their behaviours. Share student-created 'odd one outs' with the class.


Field guides are available in app from. If possible, view one such app on a mobile device. Download the field guide app for fauna in your state or territory.

The organisms are commonly grouped animals; with animals further organised by animal type. Challenge students in collaborative groups to plan a way of organising a field guide for life in Antarctica. Collaboratively, ask them to develop:

  • a relevant way of grouping each living thing to make it easy to find
  • a list of headings they would include about each living thing.

Students could create a chart to show how they group the organisms. Alternatively they could contribute to a class constructed chart. Students in pairs or groups could locate information about a chosen species. They could find information including: description, diet, where it can be found.

Provide Antarctic plant and animal cards [PDF] to assist in the process.

Assessment ideas

At various points in the learning assess to what extent students:

  • describe characteristics or features of a particular group of animals such as fish, mammals or birds
  • explain how the features of an animal help it survive
  • group living things according to their characteristics or features.