Adapting to Survive: Why Does Arctic Fox’s Fur Change Color in the Summer?

Submitting Organization: Community Resources for Science

Grade Levels: 3rd Grade

Subject Area:  Science  

Standards Alignment: Next Generation Science Standards

Life Science: 3. Inheritance and Variation of Traits: Life Cycles and Traits 3-LS4-3. Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

Description of the Activity: Scientists use models to try to figure out an answer to a question. Students will use beads and cloth to model the Arctic landscape as foxes try to avoid being eaten by polar bears. Distribute dark and light beads on the white cloth. Tell students they will be the polar bears in the model, using the tweezers as their “claw” to catch the foxes. Students have a small cup to collect their beads. At the “go” signal, give the students 20 seconds to “hunt” foxes and place them in the cup. Signal “stop”.  Ask students to discuss the results: which foxes did they catch more of? Repeat with dark cloth.

Discussion Questions:

Before beginning, explain to students that the light cloth represents the Arctic winter landscape (snow) and the dark cloth represents the Arctic ground in summer, when melted snow exposes dirt and plants. Explain that the dark beads represent Arctic foxes fur color in the summer, and the white beads represent the winter fur color. (If possible, display a picture of Arctic fox in summer and winter.)

After students have engaged in the “hunt” on both the winter and the summer landscape, gather students for a discussion. Guide students to share observations about what happened. Observe their own results, and the results of the other polar bears.

  • Did the polar bears hunt more black foxes or white foxes?
  • Did more black foxes or white foxes survive the hunt? Why do they think this is so?

Repeat the activity with the other colored towel/landscape. Connect the activity back to the question.

  • Why does the fur color of the Arctic fox to change with the changing color of the landscape?
  • What might happen to the Arctic fox if its fur did not change color when the seasons changed?  

Introduce the vocab word camouflage (write on board, define); connect to activity.  Introduce other examples of species that use camouflage to blend in with the Arctic landscape as it changes from winter to summer, and guide students to discuss or share observations. Wrap up the activity with the take-away: camouflage can help a species survive by making it harder for them to be seen by predators

Resources Needed:

  • Black or dark colored towel or cloth
  • White towel or cloth
  • White beads, Black or dark colored beads
  • Small cups (dixie cups)
  • Plastic tweezers

Link to further resources: