Habitats of animals and plants

  • Why do you only find certain plants or animals in certain parts of the world?
  • What different kinds of habitats do you get?
  • How do plants and animals choose where to live?
  • Why do we have the galjoen, Blue Crane and springbok as our national animals?
  • Why is the King Protea and the Real Yellowwood tree our national plants?

What is a habitat?

Animals tend to live naturally in specific areas. Different kinds of plants grow naturally in different areas too. Plants and animals will choose where they live mostly because of the water, food and climate of a specific are. The physical environment also plays a part in an organism's choice of habitat, for example, plants might prefer certain types of soil to grow in. You can easily see if a plant does not like to grow in a specific area - it will stay small and have few leaves. If a plant is in an area that it likes, it will grow big and strong and have lots of leaves.

The place that a plant or animal lives in is called a habitat .

A habitat is the physical area where the animal or plant lives. An organism's natural habitat has everything it needs to live.

A pond is a natural habitat to many different animals, such as fish, birds, snakes, frogs and other small mammals. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdpettitt/2517630341/

Look at the front cover for Life and Living and you can see the Thunderbolt kids exploring a habitat. What type of habitat do you think this is? Name some of the plants and animals which live in this habitat. There are ten different animals - see if you can spot them all!

It is a forest habitat. Animals are: elephant, rabbit, butterfly, frog, monkey, purple loerie, owl, duiker, snake, caterpillar. Plants are trees, vines, ferns, grass. There are also mushrooms (fungi) but they are technically not plants.

Different habitats

There are many kinds of habitats that plants and animals like to live in.

  • Some plants and animals choose to live in the hot, dry desert. These plants and animals do not need as much water as other types of plants and animals.
  • Some animals and plants live in a forest or cave habitat because they prefer cooler, shady areas.
  • In South Africa, there are many forest areas.
  • There used to be many wild elephants that lived in the Knysna forest in the Western Cape. But today there are hardly any left as lots were killed by humans. Their forest habitat has also decreased in size due to humans moving in, so the numbers of the elephants have decreased.
Some areas of the the Karoo in South Africa are semi-desert areas where plants are adapted to grow in dry, hot habitats. http://www.flickr.com/photos/framesofmind/4875066923/
The plants growing on the forest floor like a shady, cooler habitat. http://www.flickr.com/photos/garyrobson/520722754/
  • Other plants and animals choose to live along the shoreline where the water meets the land. This is because they prefer a wet environment, but they are also able to live on land.
  • Animals that live along the shoreline need to have strong bodies and protection against the waves.
  • This is why many animals have shells to cover their bodies.

Identify three animals that live at the shoreline and have shells or hard armour covering their body. If you have not been to the shoreline, choose another habitat close to your house and identify three animals from that habitat.

crabs, crayfish, prawns, muscles, periwinkles, sea snails, sea stars, etc.

A rocky shore habitat in the Knysna lagoon. http://www.flickr.com/photos/coda/530101796/
  • Water plants like to grow in or very near to rivers, lagoons or wetlands.
  • Some animals chose to always be in the water and others are only some times in the water.

Write down the names of two animals that are always in the water and two animals that are only some time in water.

Give learners scope to list their favourite underwater animals: fish , whales, dolphins, sharks, stingrays, seals etc. Animals that are only in water some of the time may be: crocodiles, hippos, frogs, seals, sea-lions, etc.

  • There are even animals and plants that live in the very cold regions near the arctic poles or in very high mountains. Marion Island is an island towards the South Pole and near South Africa. Scientists study animals that live on the island to learn more about these animals and how they adapt to their habitats.

Discovering Habitats

In this activity you are going to find a habitat in your school and draw and describe the habitat.


  • scrap paper
  • pencil
  • clipboard or something hard to press one when you draw
  • paper sheets to make final drawings
  • coloured pencils or crayons


  1. Work in groups of 3 or 4.
  2. In your group, find a habitat in your school where you think different plants and animals will live.
  3. Carefully look at your habitat WITHOUT moving anything or changing anything in your habitat. Can you see any little animals in your habitat?
  4. Ask one person to turn over large rocks one at a time so you can see what is under the rock. Many little bugs and spiders live under the rocks.
  5. Also look under the bushes or shrubs for animals that might be hiding from you!
  6. Make a drawing of the habitat you observe on scrap paper. This is your rough drawing. You will redraw your habitat on neat paper when you get back to class.
  7. Add in ONLY the plants and little animals that you can see in your habitat.
  8. Carefully study the colours of the different plants in your habitat.
  9. Once your whole group has finished their drawings, return to your class.
  10. Redraw your habitat on new clean paper. Use colour pencils or other colouring-in materials to add colour and detail to your drawing.
  11. Give your drawing a heading and add in labels to name the different plants and animals that you recognised. You can stick your drawings up in the class.


Explain where the habitat was that your group studied.

What kind of habitat did you study? Use some words to describe the habitat that you studied, such as shady, sandy, wet.

Name the different animals that you could see in your habitat.

Were there any plants that you recognised in the habitat? Name these plants.

If it started raining very heavily, how would the plants and animals in your habitat be affected?
How do you think your plants and animals are affected in winter? Will they be able to survive the cold conditions? Explain why you say so.
Is there any damage from people in your habitat? If so, how do you think you could prevent this damage?

Why do animals need a habitat?

Animals and plants need food, water and shelter in their habitat. Animals also need a safe place to have their young (babies) and to hide from predators and escape from other danger. Let's look at some more of the reasons why animals need a habitat.

Camouflage in a habitat

Some animals rely on their habitat to escape danger or to hide from the food they are trying to catch! To help them do this they, blend in with their surroundings. This is called camouflage.

Animals use camouflage for two reasons:

  1. Animals use it to hide from predators. In other words, their camouflage helps them to hide from other animals that eat them.
  2. Animals use it to hide from their prey. In other words, when they are hunting it helps them to sneak up on other animals without being seen.

Animals are camouflaged in different ways.

Let's look at some animals and the way they use their habitats to escape danger!

A chameleon can change its skin colour to blend in with its surroundings. http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/3895166303/
The endangered Western Leopard Toad, found in the Western Cape, uses spots to blend into its surroundings and hide from predators. http://www.flickr.com/photos/carolune/4278801507/

Finding hidden animals


  1. Some animals are really good at blending into their habitats. Look at the pictures below of different animals and their camouflage.
  2. Circle the animal in the picture.
  3. Identify what the animal is and how it uses its camouflage to blend into its surroundings.

As an extension you can also ask learners why they think the animals need to blend into their habitat - is it to escape predators, or is it to hide from prey?


Description of animal and camouflage


Description of animal and camouflage

Lizard - blended in with the rocky background

Stick insect- looks like a branch or stick

Fly - looks like the bark of the tree

Stone fish - looks like the rocks covered in coral

Cheetah - blends into the grass

Crabs - same coverings and textures as the rocks they live on.

Insect/bug - same colour as the leaves it mostly lives on.

Wow, that was fun! My blue hair is not very camouflaged is it?!

Habitats of indigenous animals in South Africa

South Africa is very well-known for its Big 5. This term is used to refer to the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. Many tourists visit our country to see these animals.

But how do they know where to find these wild animals?

Let's help them!

For the following activity, divide the class up the day before or two days before you plan on doing the activity. Instruct pupils to find the relevant information before then. Some pupils will not be able to bring anything to class because they might not have access to the resources. In that case, they can draw the pictures of the animals. Alternatively, you (the teacher) can source some old magazines for the pupils to cut up.

Understanding the habitats of indigenous South African animals


  • apiece of A2 cardboard
  • a piece of A4 paper
  • information about the Big 5
  • pictures of the Big 5 (from old magazines, newspaper cuttings, photocopied images)
  • coloured pens and pencils.
  • scissors
  • glue


  1. You are going to make a poster about the Big 5 and where to find each animal so that tourists will know when they come to South Africa
  2. Divide the class into groups of 5.
  3. Assign one of the Big 5 to every group member, so each person in your group of 5 will investigate one of the Big 5 animals.
  4. Each group member must bring information from home (or from the library) about the animal that was assigned to them. This must include information like what the animal eats, where it lives etc.
  5. Bring all your information and pictures to class. If you do not have any pictures, then use your pencils and crayons to draw some pictures of the Big 5.
  6. In your group, plan the poster you are going to make about where to find each of the Big 5 animals on the A4 paper.
  7. Once you have finished your plan, use the bigger sheet of paper to make your real poster. (Remember to give your poster a heading.)
  8. Present your poster to the class.

Decide how you want the learners to present their poster - perhaps each one can present about the animal that they investigated.

Write down what you will tell a tourist about where to find the Big 5 animals in their natural habitat.

South Africa has five animals and plants as our national symbols. National symbols are used to identify a country.

These are animals and plants that live in habitats found in our country or our seas.

  • Blue Crane
A Blue Crane in a river. http://www.flickr.com/photos/exfordy/2967158255/
  • Galjoen
  • Springbok
A springbok grazing http://www.flickr.com/photos/mister-e/3052754176/

Can you see the differences between the habitats of the Blue Crane and the springbok? Write down some of the differences below.

  • King Protea
  • Yellow Wood tree

Research project on South Africa's National Symbols


  • books and reading material of South Africa's national animals and plants
  • scrap paper for making notes
  • pencils for colouring and writing
  • cardboard to make a poster (for example, from cereal boxes)


  1. Work in pairs.
  2. Find out as much as you can by reading in books or asking a family member about the plants and animals that are South Africa's national symbols.
  3. Choose two of the animals and two of the plants.
  4. Explain why they were chosen as National Symbols.
  5. Describe each one's habitat.
  6. Explain why these animals and plants can survive in their habitats - how specifically are they suited to live there?
  7. Identify ways that we can protect and look after these animals and plants.
  8. Present your research as a poster.

  • Habitat - the place where a plant or animal (mostly) lives.
  • There are different kinds of habitats, such as grassland, forest, river, sea and desert.
  • Animals need a habitat for food, water, shelter, raise their young and also escape from danger.

List and describe two habitats that you learnt about in this chapter.

Learner dependent answers.

Explain in your own words what a habitat is.

A habitat is a place where a plant or animal lives.

Name three animals in South Africa and the habitats that they live in.

Some possible answers: lions, zebra, buck, etc in grassland; birds, fish, etc in wetlands, snakes, eagles, rodents, etc in semi-desert; buck, birds, small rodents in forest/woodland; ants, birds, mice, buck in fynbos.

In the table below, look at the list of animals in the second column. Think carefully about the types of animals and what they would need in a specific habitat. Draw a line to connect in the second column with the habitat in the first column.

A) Cape Fynbos

1) lizards, snakes, spiders, scorpions, small birds, foxes, small buck, tortoises, etc.

B) Wetlands in St Lucia (Vlei)

2) large buck and even elephant, bushpigs, some monkeys, many reptiles, big ferns, tall trees,

C) Knysna Forest

3) water birds, water snakes, small fish, frogs, terrapins

D) Karoo dry semi-desert

4) snakes, small tortoises, small frogs near little ponds, sugarbirds, many bees and butterflies,baboons, proteas and pincushions

A = 4; B = 3; C = 2; D = 1

Do you think a large bullfrog can live in the Karoo? Why do you say so?

It is not likely - a bullfrog needs to live in and near water as it breeds in the water and if there is not enough water it will not be able to reproduce and will die.