Antarctic animal life cycles

In this learning sequence, students investigate the life cycles of Antarctic animals. Introduce students to six Antarctic animals. After referring to information cards students draw the life cycle of each animal. Compare the life cycle of two marine mammals. Use a Venn diagram to show ways in which the life cycles of two animals are alike and different. Work out the order of sentences that describe the emperor penguins’ breeding cycle and use these to make a story book. Write a story that describes the life of an Antarctic animal of students' choice, incorporating facts about its life stages and development.

Setting the scene

From an egg or born live?

Show students the gallery of images of Antarctic wildlife.

Discuss what they know about each animal. To what animal group does it belong? Can they identify the type of animal (whale)? Do they know the species (blue whale)? Ask them to describe the features of each animal. Ask students how they could be grouped together. Discuss the different means of classification suggested.

Discuss how each animal has young. Are the young born live or do they hatch from an egg?

Sort the animals into groups, either ‘Born live’, ‘Hatch from an egg’ or ‘Not sure’.

Use this task to assess what prior knowledge students have about the life cycles of these animals.

Explore and research

Antarctic animal life cycles

Show students images of the life stages of six Antarctic animals. Discuss the stages of their life cycle. Discuss how these animals grow and change.

Provide students with a copy of the worksheet, Information cards: 6 Antarctic animals [PDF].

Ask students in pairs to represent the life cycle of each of the six Antarctic animals. Use the images supplied in the gallery of images or ask students to draw their own pictures.

Discuss how each animal grows and changes throughout its life.

  • Which animals have a similar life cycle? To what animal group do they belong?
  • Discuss the larvae stage of krill and squid. What other animals do students know that have a larvae stage (insects)?

Explain and share

Marine mammal life cycles

View images and read about Weddell seals and blue whales.

Provide a copy of the worksheet The life cycle of two marine mammals [PDF]. Use the two-way table to compare the life stages and breeding characteristics of these two marine mammals; the Weddell seal and blue whale. Encourage students to add their own characteristics to the table.

Discuss students’ completed tables. What characteristics do mammals share in their life stages and breeding cycle? Identify other mammals including humans and consider their life cycle.

The Weddell seal is named after a British Antarctic explorer Sir James Weddell. Find out the background to names of other Antarctic animals, for example the Adélie penguin.

Animals with different life cycles

Ask students to choose two Antarctic animals that have different life cycles. Students may choose animals from the previous six Antarctic animals studied, or any other Antarctic animal.

Ask students to present their ideas using a Venn diagram to show life stages that the two Antarctic animals have in common and those that are different.

Share students' completed Venn diagrams. Discuss points such as:

  • animal groups that generally (but not in all cases) lay eggs.
  • animals that care for their young and those that don’t.

Elaborate and apply

Penguin breeding cycle

Listen to emperor penguins. Ask students what they visualise when they hear these sounds. What do they think is happening? Can they identify the type of animal? Why might a large number of animals group together in a colony?

View the gallery of images related to emperor penguins breeding. Explain that they are the only animal to be able to breed in Antarctica during winter, in temperatures below −35°C (the average home freezer is only −18°C!). Ask students to imagine how they could keep an egg warm when it is so cold.

Provide each student with a copy of the worksheet, Penguin breeding cycle [PDF]. Read through each sentence as a class. Support students to work out the order of the sentences to describe the correct succession of the Emperor penguins’ breeding cycle. Clues to the order include the month, penguin behaviours and chick development.

After putting the sentences in the correct order students can add an image from the gallery of images or draw their own picture to accompany each sentence. The sentences and images can be made into pages of a book. Encourage students to elaborate on the sentences if they wish to do further research.

Refer back to the Emperor penguins audio. What do they visualise now?

For further information, refer to emperor penguins’ breeding cycle.


Repeating the cycle

Ask students what chance this seal pup (first image in the gallery) has of reaching adulthood and having young of its own. List the possible threats to its survival: e.g predators, pollution, humans, lack of food and disease.

Provide students with a copy of the worksheet, My Antarctic animal story plan [PDF].

This activity could be integrated as part of their literacy focus. Students could use the images provided to create a graphic story.

Explain the task of writing a story that describes the life of an Antarctic animal of their choice. What happens in its journey as it grows and changes? Provide a scaffold to plan their story for example:

  • Introduction: Where does the journey begin? How does it begin its life?
  • Conflict: What close calls does it have? What threats does it encounter?
  • Resolution: How does it get out of these situations?
  • Conclusion: Does it get to have young of its own?

Explain also that scientific facts about their chosen animal must be incorporated into the story.

  • Is the offspring born live or does it hatch from an egg?
  • Are its parents there to care for them? If so how and for how long?
  • Is it born on its own, with another or with hundreds of brothers and sisters or thousands even?
  • What does it need to grow?
  • How does it grow and change throughout its life?

Encourage students to do some further research into their animal to clarify any scientific facts of which they are unsure.

Assessment ideas

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

  • describe the life cycle of different Antarctic animals
  • describe differences and similarities between two Antarctic animals life cycles
  • correctly order the key stages of an Emperor penguins breeding cycle
  • accurately describe the life stages of their chosen Antarctic animal and incorporate these into their story.