Plants and animals on Earth

  • What's the coldest place where animals live?
  • How deep is the sea and are there animals and plants down there?
  • Where is the highest mountain on earth? Do you get plants and animals that live up there?
  • Do you get living things in a desert?
  • What are vertebrates and invertebrates?
  • We recommend that teachers visit this website: - there are many videos and powerpoint presentations, graphics and hand-outs for teachers and students to use!
  • Consider labeling 5 different areas in your class with large signs for each of the different types of habitats. As you work through the section on each habitat, you can put key words and phrases up under these headings.
  • Become an Expert :Make enough labels for all the learners in your class. Write the 5 different habitats on each label and put the labels in a "hat" for learners to pick out of the "hat". Whichever habitat they choose they will have to Become an Expert of that habitat and know what plants and animals live there. After you have discussed the different types of habitats from the textbook, they will be required to make a display of the animals and plants within their specific habitat. They will put up their display at the area (where you put up the heading) that you placed in the class and will have to use the words that you displayed in their work.
  • If you want to / can combine this with Home Language they can present their habitat as an Oral to the class.
  • After the oral presentation teachers are encouraged to hold a class quiz as a plenary activity. Divide the class into two groups with teachers asking questions about each habitat. The teacher calls on learners from each group to answer a question for 3 points. If said learner could not answer then the other group can have a chance for 2 points. If that group's learner gets it wrong a learner from the first group can answer the question - if correct they can get 1 point. It is important that the pupils keep quiet while the questions are being asked and answered, to prevent other group members from helping the learner who has to answer the question. You can deduct marks from a group if there are learners who shout out answers or behave in an unruly manner.

You might have heard that people say our planet Earth is the Blue Planet. When astronauts in space look down on Earth, the water that covers more than two thirds of the planet makes it look as if the planet is blue. Thousands of plants and animals can live on Earth because there is water.

The many plants and animals that live on earth choose special places to live. The place where a plant or animal lives is called its habitat.

There is a special word we use when talkinh about all the animals and plants and their different habitat. We call it 'biodiversity' When you look at the biodiversity of a certain area you look at all the different kinds of habitats in that area including all the animals and plants in that area.

Discuss this in class: Why is it important to study the biodiversity of our planet? Write down some of the main points from your class discussion below.

Teachers are encouraged to use this opportunity to introduce and/or raise environmental concerns and to emphasise that the more we know about the biodiversity of our planet the more we know how to protect it. It is also suggested that teachers discuss the importance of people who value the diversity of plants and animals on earth. If we value diversity we are able to see that each plant and animal that gets driven to extinction is a tremendous loss for the whole earth. Perhaps point out that a plant or animal that has gone extinct might have held the key to curing terrible diseases or teaching us how to combat problems such as soil erosion.

Many different plants and animals

The Earth is home to the most amazing diversity of animals and plants. Each animal and plant naturally chooses where it wants to live: its habitat.

We can identify different types of habitats on earth, such as:

  • Aquatic (water)
  • Desert
  • Grassland
  • Forest

Within each habitat there are animals and plants that have adapted to live specifically in that environment. Let's take a look at some of the most common plants and animals that live in each of these different kinds of habitats.

Teachers can use the following activity to gauge each individual learner's geographical understanding of places in our country. Many would not have been exposed to maps and might not know where they live. Use this opportunity as a teaching activity to give learners a brief overview of South Africa's map. Also emphasise where North is!

Let's now take a closer look at the different habitats in South Africa and some of the plants and animals that we find there.

Aquatic habitats

Thousands of different animals and plants live in or near water in aquatic habitats. There are two main kinds of aquatic habitats - marine (saltwater) habitats and freshwater habitats. The plants and animals that live in these habitats are adapted to either live in salt water or in fresh water.

In South Africa there are examples of both types of aquatic habitats.

Our country has a very long coastline with many different types of habitats. For example, many animals live in and around the rock pools. They have to withstand the harsh sun and the constant pounding of the waves.

Starfish are found in rock pools along the coast
Seagulls resting on a shore
A rocky coastline with rock pools

Our seas are also filled with animals of all shapes and sizes. Large mammals like whales and dolphins swim in our seas.

Dolphins playing in the waves
A Southern Right whale with her calf off the coast of Hermanus, a popular breeding ground for whales in September.

The sea is also home to many species of fish. A group of fish is called a school of fish. The coral reefs off the South African coast, especially on the East coast such as Sodwana Bay, are very rich in fish and animal species.

Where a river runs into the sea, a special area called an estuary develops. The fresh water from the river mixes with the salty sea water. You can often find mudskippers here (fish that can hop onto land and into trees!)

Mudskippers live in estuaries, but they can hop onto land and into low branches!

Identifying marine animals and plants


  1. Carefully study the pictures of different marine animals and plants off South Africa's coast.
  2. Answer the questions about these pictures.
A crab
A school of fish
A crayfish in the shallow water
A penguin diving down under the water
Green seaweed flowing in the water
Mussels growing on the rocks
Kelp seaweed


Can you imagine how difficult it must be to live on rocks being pounded by waves all day and all night long? Which animals in this picture live on or near the rocks?

Crabs, crayfish, seaweed, mussels

Carefully study all the animals in the pictures and find things that some animals have in common. Classify the animals into groups based on these similarities.

This revises Gr. 4 work where learners had to classify and compare animals based on visual differences. Encourage learners to be as creative in their thinking and classifying as possible. Also encourage them to use visual clues.

Many eco-tourists like to visit our country and see the natural sights and attractions. Some tourists like to go on tours where they enter into a cage which is lowered into the water. The tour operators often chuck small pieces of meat into the water to attract sharks which then swim around the cage. This is called shark cage diving. Do you think shark cage diving is appropriate? Explain why you think so.

Give learners scope (and permission) to differ from each other. Invite learners before they answer this question to discuss differing points of view on this topic. Some might be in favour of shark cage diving as it gives opportunities for research and study and makes people appreciate the sharks more. Others might agree with the minister and say that tourists might scare sharks out of their natural habitat and teach them not to fear humans and then they are easier to catch by other humans.

Now let's look at the plants and animals that live in freshwater, such as dams, ponds, stream and rivers.

Many animals live in or near freshwater ponds, dams and lakes, rivers and streams. These include small insects, snails, clams, crabs, frogs and fish. Larger animals like turtles, snakes, ducks and large fish, as well as hippos and crocodiles also live in or near water.

Ducks raise their ducklings near plants where there is enough food for their young in between the reeds and water plants.
Hippopotamuses live in and around freshwater.
Can you see how this frog is resting on the lily pad?
A crocodile lies by the side of a river.

Some water plants have roots, for example water lilies and reeds. Water plants make oxygen for the animals to breathe and provide food for many of the animals to eat.

Water lilies floating on the water.

In South Africa we also have large wetlands where rivers slow down and the water stands still or flows very slowly. Wetlands provide food and shelter and a natural habitat for an incredible amount of animals: frogs, reptiles, birds (like ducks and waders) and fish, to name a few!

Studying an aquatic habitat

Work in groups of 3 or 4


  • pencil
  • paper
  • clipboard
  • sunblock and a hat


  1. Visit an aquatic habitat near your school; a stream or river, pond or dam, or perhaps a rockpool if you are near the sea.
  2. Find examples of 3 different animals and 3 different plants that live in that environment.
  3. Carefully study where they live and how you think the animals and plants are suited to their habitat. Answer questions such as:
    1. Are the stems of the plants rigid or flexible?
    2. Do the plants grow inside the water or just outside?
    3. What do the animals eat?
    4. How do the animals breathe?
  4. If possible, take some pictures of the plants and animals you observe.
  5. Report this information back to your class.

Deserts and semi-desert habitat

Deserts are areas that have a very low rainfall each year - in some deserts it only rains once every 10 years!

The Namibian desert.

The desert may look dry, but there are many different plants and animals which are suited to living in these areas. Plants that can survive without much water in the desert include grasses, acacias, aloes, cactii and other succulents. Succulents are plants that can store their water in their leaves and stems and survive well in dry climates.

Can you see how thick the leaves of this succulent plant are? The leaves are where the plant stores water.

Many animals live in the desert (for example, the Kalahari), including:

  • Predators (eg. lions, cheetahs and leopards, hyenas, jackals)
  • Large and small mammals (eg. meerkats, giraffes, warthogs, porcupines)
  • Antelope (eg. eland, gemsbok, springbok and hartebeest, steenbok, kudu,duiker)
  • Many species of birds (eg. falcons, ravens, eagles, buzzards, hawks, turtle doves). The social weavers are small weaver birds that build family nests where hundreds of weaver families can live!
  • Many different reptiles (eg. puffadders, cobras, lizards, geckos iguanas)
  • A great many insects also live in the desert, such as bees and butterflies, grasshoppers and many more!
An alert meerkat
A huge nest made by social weaver birds
An eland
A jackal
A puff adder

Grassland habitat

Grasslands are covered in grasses with very few trees. As soon as the first rains fall the grasses grow incredibly fast and new plants sprout all over the bare earth. This is also the time when many animal babies are born as the new grass can feed the mothers to provide plenty of milk for the young.

List some of the animals which you think live in grasslands.

Answer: Kudu, nyala, impala, zebra, buffalo, lions, leopards, other small mammals, many birds, etc.

Forest habitat

A forest is a large area that is mostly covered in trees. Forests are extremely important to life on earth. The many trees clean the air and provide oxygen for the animals on earth to breathe. They also provide people with fuel, food and shelter, medicine and employment (through all the industries that are built around forestry). Many animals live in forests, from large elephants and bears to smaller monkeys, squirrels, owls and woodpeckers.

We need to conserve (look after) our forests and stop people who want to chop down naturally growing trees. It is very important to also conserve the many animals that help pollinate trees and spread their seeds over large areas. Without these animals the trees would not be able to reproduce and would become extinct.

Inside the Knysna forest, one of South Africa's few indigenous forests.
An elephant in the Knysna Forest elephant park.
  • Identify (in advance) an area where you can take your class to study animals and plants within a certain area. Ideally this can be within a Nature Reserve, park or school garden, where different types of habitats can be studied.
  • If you are going to walk the class there, walk from the school to this area to ensure that there are no dangers along the way that you need to make the learners aware of before leaving the school.
  • Study the area before the day of this activity. Make sure that you avoid areas with lots of litter and dangerous sharp or rusty items that might cause injury to learners. Carefully take note of the main plants and animals in that area. If possible take samples of these plants to class. Display the plant with its name next to it in your class. Show these plants to the class, one by one, before you go on the walk.
  • Teachers are encouraged to invite one or two people / parents with local plant and animal knowledge to come along on this nature walk to walk between pairs and help them with identifying different plants and animals. They can also help with escorting learners safely to the spot.
  • Prepare learners for this activity before leaving class. Explain that they are going to count the plants and animals inside their marked-out area. Tell learners that they may only count the plants and animals that are actually INSIDE the marked-out area or flying directly above it. They may not coax or carry animals into their marked-out area or take others that they don't like out of it.
  • They need to distinguish between plants based on the size and shape of their leaves, flowers or fruit. If you were able to arrange for parents to escort you the learners may ask them for help to identify which plants are in their hoola hoop.

Counting plants and animals

After learners have identified the plants and animals in their areas, ask them to collect some flowers and seeds if there are any. Learners can then press the flowers by placing them between sheets of paper and then stacking a pile of books on top of the paper. They have to leave them to press for several days. Once they are pressed, learners can stick the flowers onto pieces of paper along with the seeds they collected and provide the names of the flowers. These can be put up in the class.


  • Something to mark out an area such as stones or sticks to make the corners and strong to tie in between
  • scrap paper
  • pencil
  • clipboard
  • sunblock and hat
  • measuring tape/ruler


  1. Work in pairs
  2. Take a walk with your class to a park or nature area outside your school.
  3. Choose an area where the two of you would like to work.
  4. Carefully place the string around a section of your area.
  5. Study the animals and plants in that area.
  6. Make a drawing of the habitat inside your marked out area showing all the plants and animals that you see there. Use scrap paper for this.
  7. Do you know the names of these plants and animals? Perhaps an adult can help you name the animals or plants you don't know? Write the names of each of these animals and plants next to each drawing.
  8. Make sure that you have examples of at least 5 different plants and 5 different animals in your picture.
  9. Measure the height of each plant and record them all in the table below.
  10. Collect leaves from two of the plants and make leaf rubbings on pieces of paper by placing the leaves underneath the paper and rubbing over with a pencil or crayon.
  11. If there are any flowers or seeds, gently collect some and take them back to class. Your teacher will show you how to press them
  12. When you return to class copy your drawing from the scrap paper into your book. Make a neat drawing in your book and remember to add in the labels for all the different animals and plants.

The plants and animals I counted in my habitat area:

Interdependence in an ecosystem

Introducing this topic:

  • Make the class form a circle with each learner facing the back of the learner in front of them. They must hold each other's waists. Make sure they are standing as close to each other as possible. Explain that they are all going to be interdependent on the other. They need to sit on each other's laps in this circle. If one fails or does not do their job properly the whole circle will collapse. If they all do their jobs properly the circle will work and remain intact.
  • This BBC website is an excellent resource to read before starting this lesson:
  • This website provides two powerpoint slide shows - although they are far too advanced for learners at this level, they provide an excellent introduction to ecosystems and interdependence

Plants and animals, humans, rivers, mountains - everything is connected in one way or another. All living and non-living things depend on each other.

Do you think you are connected to plants and rivers? Discuss this with your class.

Teachers can use this question to assess the pre-knowledge and understanding of learners regarding ecological interdependence.

We say that animals, plants and their habitats are interdependent. That means they depend on each other to survive. If one part is left out, for example water during a drought, then the rest of the habitat, including plants and animals, might be destroyed!

We can group interdependence into two main groups:

  1. The interdependence in an ecosystem between living things (how animals and plants are interdependent).
  2. The interdependence in an ecosystem between living and non-living things.

Interdependence between living things

Many plants and animals depend on each other for different things. Let's have a look at some of these:

1) Interdependence and feeding

Animals depend on plants and other animals for food. Animals can be divided into the following groups, according to what they eat:

  • Herbivores eat plants.
  • Carnivores eat the animals that eat the plants.
  • Omnivores eat plants and animals.
  • Scavengers feed off plants and dead animals.
  • Decomposers are animals that assist the natural process of decomposition. They eat and break down the remains of dead animals. The elements that are released during this process (carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen) are put back in the soil and become food for plants.

2) Interdependence and pollination

Plants depend on animals for pollination.

Animals that pollinate flowers are called pollinators .Plants use different methods to attract pollinators. This includes producing nectar, special smells or having brightly coloured flowers. Some plants even make their flowers look like female wasps to attract male wasps!

Bees about to collect nectar and, at the same time, pollinate the flowers.

Plants and animals depend on each other. Many flowering plants depend on bees to pollinate them. Bees depend on flowers to provide them with nectar. Without nectar, bees cannot make honey. Without bees, most flowers cannot be fertilised. If flowers are not fertilised, they cannot produce seeds and will not be able to reproduce.

Bird feeding off the nectar and pollinating the flower
A wasp feeding off the nectar and pollinating the flowers

Bees are not the only animals that can pollinate flowering plants. What animals do you think can pollinate a tree's flowers? Look at the pictures below.

Birds, beetles, wasps, ants, honey eaters, etc.

A beetle feeding off a flower. As it moves around the flower, it also pollinates the flower.

Teachers are encouraged to let children discuss the type of animal that can pollinate a tree's flowers based on their physical characteristics. Perhaps ask if they think a tortoise or an bat is more likely to pollinate a tree's flowers. Then discuss why they say so. Also include a question that makes them think about the tree's adaptations to let, for example, the fruit bats pollinate it - the flowers need to be open during the night for example to attract bats and therefore they won't need to have bright petals, but the petals will need to be bigger to allow the bat to find it using eco-location!

Teachers should try and watch this video with their classes - it is very well done and explains everything at a Gr. 4 / 5 level with illustrations, young actors the learners' age, etc. The quality of the video isn't great so it wouldn't work to stream it on a large screen but perhaps a novel idea would be to ask everyone to bring in their cell phones and watch it together or to let them watch it on the computers in the computer lab?

A world without pollinators would not be very sweet. Look at the following things we eat and drink that all depend on pollinators.

Without pollinators, we would not have blackberries and raspberries to eat.
Strawberries are delicious! The fruits are produced once the flowers on the strawberry plants have been pollinated.
Different types of nuts form after pollination.
Red and green apples are the fruits produced on apple trees after pollinators have pollinated the flowers.

3) Interdependence and seed dispersal

Plants need to have their seeds spread over a wide area. If all the seeds fall in one spot, the plants that grow will not have enough water, soil or sunlight to grow properly! That is why plants make their fruit sweet and tasty. In this way they attract animals who will eat the fruit, walk a long way off and excrete the seeds. Where the seeds fall they will then have a rich, fertile soil (from the animal excretion) to grow in! Other seeds stick to an animal's fur - they might not even know it's there! When they brush against a tree for example, the seed will just fall off. Plants depend on animals for seed dispersal.

The honey badger and the honey guide

This is an example of interdependence between three different animals.


  1. Read the story about the honey badger and the honey guide below
  2. Answer the questions which follow.

The honey badger loves to eat honey! The honeyguide bird loves to eat the bee larvae, but cannot get into the beehive without being stung to death. The bird also cannot break the hive open. So when the honeyguide finds a beehive, it goes in search of a honey badger. The honey badger has a thick skin that is resistant to bee stings.

The honey guide convinces the honey badger to follow it to the bee hive. The honey badger is able to use its strong legs and claws and teeth to break open the hive while its thick coat protects it from being stung. After the badger has finished eating the delicious golden honey, the honeyguide can enjoy all the bee larvae!

The honey badger follows the honey guide bird.


Why can't the honey guide bird just eat some of the larvae without waiting for the honey badger?

The bird cannot break open the hive by itself. It will also be stung to death by the bees.

How does the honey badger break open the hive?

It uses its legs, claws and teeth.

Why does the honey badger not get stung by the bees?

It has a very thick coat which the bee stings cannot get through.

Explain in your own words how this is an example of interdependence between three animals.

Assess learners ability to rephrase and explain this scenario in terms of interdependence. Both animals benefit as they are unable to get the honey without one another. Without the bird, the badger would not find the honey and without the badger the bird would not be able to get to the larvae. Without the bees, the honey badger would not have larvae to eat and the honey bird would not have honey to eat.

Interdependence between living and non-living things

Living things are also depend on non-living things in an ecosystem. Living things depend on their environment for:

  • Air (oxygen and carbon dioxide)
  • Water
  • Soil
  • Food
  • Shelter and a place to safely have their young.
  • Places to hide from danger.

Water and oxygen are extremely important for all living things.

Have you ever wondered how the water "gets" into the clouds if it runs in rivers and streams? Remember when you learnt about the Water Cycle in Grade 4?

Teachers can use this as an opportunity to discuss learners' preconceptions of the water cycle and to ascertain what they know or misunderstand in order to address this in the following section.

Water that we drink from a tap or from a river, is all part of a very big system called the Water Cycle. The Water Cycle is a very good example of how all living things are interdependent.

The water cycle


  1. This image of the Water Cycle shows all the processes which take place.
  2. Revise these with your partner next to you.
  3. Write a paragraph below where you explain the cycle
The Water cycle.


You can change the water vapour you breathe out into water drops again! Find a mirror or window. Breathe on it. What do you see on the window?

See condensation on the window. Teachers can reinforce the concept that as soon as the mirror or glass warms up slightly the water drops on it will evaporate again.

Trees and other plants depend on the water in the soil. Other animals and plants depend on the water that runs down from the mountains in rivers and streams and collects in lakes. Plants and animals in the sea depend on this water as it forms the environment that they live in.

Describing Interdependence

Introducing this activity

After studying the interdependence of living and non-living things in their environment, this activity requires learners to identify interdependence between living organisms and their environment. If possible, collect books and information about the sets of animals in the photos in this activity. There should be enough for each group to have at least 4 / 5 books, printouts and/or other material. This can be used as a possible group project.


  1. Work in groups of 3.
  2. Carefully study these animals and see if you can identify the interdependence between the animals and/or plants and the non-living things in their environment.
  3. Discuss the interdependence with your group and make some notes on scrap paper.
  4. Descriptions of each picture have been provided. You need to match the picture with the description by writing the correct letter next to each picture.



Description of interdependence

A: Clownfish and anemones. Clownfish are not hurt by the poison from the anemone. The clownfish feed on small creatures living in the anemone. These creatures can harm the anemone. Not only does the clownfish remove these creatures, but the anemone uses its waste for nourishment. The anemone's poisonous stings protects the clown fish from predators.

B: Earthworms in soil. Earthworms are dependent on the soil for a place to live. If the earthworm is exposed to air for too long, its skin will dry out. That is why they need rich, moist soil to live in. As earthworms dig through the soil they also excrete droppings back into the soil which makes it more fertile for other plants and animals. Their digging helps to aerate the soil by creating tunnels.

C: Weaver bird building its nest. Many birds need trees and plants to build their nests in so they can raise their young. The weaver uses young, green reeds to build its nest. These reeds are flexible and bend easily. When they dry out, they become harder and make a stable, stronger nest.

D: Rhino and oxpecker. The oxpecker eats the ticks that are on the rhino's skin. The oxpecked feeds on these ticks and the rhino is freed from the pests. Oxpeckers have the same relationship with zebra, giraffe, buffalo, etc.

E: Anatolian Shepherds and the herd of sheep they are protecting from predators. Anatolian puppies are placed with a flock of sheep at an early age. They become attached to the flock. When a predator (like a cheetah) comes near the flock, the Anatolian Shepherd dogs will chase the predator off. When a flock is protected by an Anatolian Shepherd, the predators (for example, cheetahs) are also indirectly protected, because the farmers will not need to kill them in order to protect their sheep.


In the pictures above, which interdependent relationship is between an animal and a plant?

The weaver and the reeds it makes its nest from.

In the pictures above, which interdependent relationship described is between an animal and the non-living things in its environment.

The earthworm and the soil.

Which example in the pictures involves the interdependence between three animals, and what are they?

The Anatolian Shepherds, the sheep and the cheetahs.

Animal types

Now we know more about the different habitats on Earth and in South Africa. We also know that animals and plants depend on each other and on their habitat. Let's look at the different types of animals that live on planet Earth.

Introducing this topic

This unit explores the different kinds of animals grouped into two main groups: vertebrates and invertebrates. CAPS refer to animals with bones and those without bones. The vertebrate groups are: mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs (amphibians) and fish. The invertebrate group are those without bones such as worms, millipedes, insects, spiders, scorpions and crabs.

Presentation hints

  1. Introduce this unit with a class discussion comparing the different animals from the previous activity.
  2. Ask learners to group the animals listed in only TWO groups. What do they look for? Let them come up with ways to classify. Some might group according to size (small or large) or on physical features such as limbs and body covering.
  3. Explain the concepts vertebrate and invertebrate using the words bones and without bones. Make a table on the board showing animals that have bones inside their body and animals that don't have bones inside their bodies. The ask learners to write the names of the animals from their posters in the correct column.
  4. Discuss how accurately they were able to classify the animals.
  5. If possible make a poster for the wall displaying the animals that have bones inside their bodies and those without.
  6. Make it personal: Ask them to feel their own bones, specifically their backbone (the line of bones down the middle of the back, made up of vertebrae). Ask them in which group they would be classified.

Grouping animals

When we group similar things together, it is called classifying. When classifying animals, there are generally two main groups of animals - those who have bones inside their bodies with a backbone, and those who do not have bones inside their bodies.

  • Animals with a backbone are classified as vertebrates.
  • Animals without a backbone are classified as invertebrate.

Classifying animals


  1. Aradiographer takes X-rays of people and animals to see the bones inside their bodies. Tracey, a radiographer, took some interesting X-rays of 5 animals. Carefully look at these X-rays and decide which animals are vertebrates.
    Examples of vertebrates and invertebrates

    Animals that are vertebrates:

    dolphin, dog, seagull

  2. Look at the X-rays of the crab and the grasshopper. Can you see a backbone in their bodies? Why do you think this is?

    They do not have bones inside their bodies. Instead, they have a hard, bony outer skeleton.

  3. What do we call animals like the grasshopper and the crab?


  4. Study the animals from the previous activity on interdependence. Decide if they are vertebrates with bones INSIDE their bodies, or invertebrates without bones INSIDE their bodies.
  5. Write the name of each animal in the correct column below.

    Vertebrates with bones

    Invertebrates without bones


    ox pecker,


    Anatolian sheepdog,



    sea anemone

When people realised that they could group the animals into two main groups, they went even further and started grouping them into smaller groups within the two main groups. Look at this next illustration which shows some of these groups.

Classification of animals

Have a look at the illustration of all these different groups. Why do you think the animals were put into a left group and a right groups?

This question is meant to reinforce the learner's understanding and recognition of vertebrates and invertebrates.

Vertebrates are divided into 5 groups, what are these groups?

Mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and fish.

One of the birds in the illustration is our National Bird, which one is it?

The Blue Crane

Let's take a closer look at invertebrates and vertebrates.


Invertebrates are animals that do not develop a backbone (spinal column). They also do not have an endoskeleton (a bony skeleton inside their bodies). They do develop a different types of skeletons, like hydroskeletons and exoskeletons.

Look at the illustration of all the classes of animals again. Can you find other examples of animals with no bones inside their bodies (endoskeleton) and with no hard outer skeleton (exoskeleton)?

sea sponge, sea anemone, jellyfish, flatworms, octopuses and earthworms.

These soft-bodied animals mostly have what we call a hydroskeleton. Examples of animals with a hydroskeleton are:

  • sea anemones
  • earthworms
  • jellyfish
  • some starfish and sea urchins

Animals with such a body often need to live in or near water or damp soil. Their skins are often thin and moist because they breathe through their skin..

An earthworm needs to live in damp soil.
A jellyfish has a hydroskeleton.

Many invertebrates have a shell or hard covering protecting their bodies. This external skeleton is called an exoskeleton.

Can you think of any invertebrates that have exoskeletons? Have a look at the previous illustration again if you need some ideas.

starfish, butterfly, millipede, crab, spider

Underneath a starfish. Can you see the little "legs" sticking out of the exoskeleton?
Sea shells protect the soft bodies of invertebrates.
A hermit crab hiding safely in a hard shell.
The hermit crab now decides it is safe to walk around.

Insects are in an interesting group of invertebrates.

  • All insects have exoskeletons.
  • They all have segmented bodies and legs. That means their bodies and legs are made up of different sections.
  • Insects have six legs and three main body parts - a head, a chest (thorax) and a tail (abdomen).

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ...once I caught a bug alive!


  1. Study the invertebrates in these photos.
  2. Can you see if they have a head, chest and tail?
  3. Carefully count their pairs of legs (if you can't see all their legs!)
  4. Do they have any wings?
  5. Write the number of legs and/or wings each invertebrate has in the space below it.
  6. Describe how each animal's body is covered.




Build a terrarium in your class for invertebrates. A terrarium is an enclosure, container, or structure adapted or prepared for keeping smaller land animals, esp. reptiles, amphibians, or terrestrial invertebrates under semi-natural conditions for observation, for study or as pets. Terrariums are typically glass-fronted cases.

  1. Find an old glass container that is no longer being used. This container MUST have a lid.
  2. Put 10 - 15 cm of soil in the bottom.
  3. Plant some ferns and other easy-to-grow plants in there.
  4. Collect insects and other invertebrates and keep them in your terrarium. The plants growing inside the terrarium will produce oxygen for your little critters. Water the plants once a week or so.
  5. Each learner can choose one specific invertebrate and keep a diary of that animal's "life" over the next 3 - 4 weeks.
  6. The learners can then present their findings to the class.

SAFETY WARNING Some learners might be allergic to some of the animals you find. Avoid bringing any potentially harmful animals such as stinging insects.


Vertebrates are animals that have a skeleton inside their bodies (an endoskeleton). Part of their skeleton is a backbone. The word 'vertebrate' is closely related to the word 'vertebrae' which is what we call the individual bones that form the backbone (so vertebrates have a backbone made up of vertebrae). Vertebrates are broken down into 5 smaller groups:

  • Fish
  • Amphibians (including frogs)
  • Reptiles
  • Birds
  • Mammals

Vertebrates grow much larger than invertebrates because their bones grow with them and can support their muscles.

Identifying common characteristics

Introducing this activity

The following section in the CAPS / textbook covers the animal skeletons in more detail. This activity practises learners' abilities to identify common features or characteristics, but more so helps them appreciate that learning can happen within an interdependent community of learners working together. Teachers are encouraged not to "teach" this activity but to facilitate discussion by asking probing questions and walking between groups to make sure everyone remains on task.


  1. Work in pairs and study these pictures of animals that all have an endoskeleton.
  2. Identify characteristics that are similar in all these animals.
  3. Write down your observations on scrap paper.
  4. Report back to the class and compare your ideas with those of your friends. Add or change your observations on the scrap paper.
A dog
An elephant
A frog
A human
A seagull
A shark
A crocodile


Complete the sentence below by writing down all the characteristics which are common to animals with endoskeletons.

Animals with endoskeletons all...

Write down two examples of mammals from the above pictures.

Elephant and dog

What type of bird is shown in the picture?

A seagull

Give an example of a reptile.


Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between exoskeletons and endoskeletons.

This extension activity is not required by the CAPS but is a good introduction to the following section on Animal Skeletons where the function of the skeleton is covered in great depth.

Extension: Comparing endoskeletons and exoskeletons


  1. Divide into groups of 5 - 7.
  2. Carefully study the above section on Animal types and especially focus on the differences between exoskeletons and endoskeletons.
  3. Brainstorm as many differences between exoskeletons and endoskeletons in your group as you can think of.
  4. Once you have brainstormed in your group, share your ideas with the class and discuss these.
  5. Record this comparison in the table below.



Examples of animals

Position of the skeleton

Functions of the skeleton

Muscle attachment


Mode of movement



Type of animal

crab, bee

lion, human, bird, frog


outside the body

inside the body, fluid-filled


protects, prevents drying out, supports

protects soft organs, support, movement, stores minerals in bones

Muscle attachment

attaches to inside of the exoskeleton parts

attaches by tendon onto the bones of the skeleton


only hinge joints

various joints between the bones

Mode of movement

walking, jumping, swinging, flying

walking, running, jumping, swinging, swimming, flying

  • There are many different plants and animals.
  • They live in different habitats on Earth.
  • All the plants and animals and their habitats make up the total biodiversity of the Earth.
  • South Africa has a rich variety of indigenous plants and animals and their habitats.

Match the type of habitat in the left column to the appropriate description in the right column by drawing a line between the correct pairs.

Next to each habitat write an example of an animal and plant that live specifically in that kind of environment. Choose animals that live specifically in that habitat.

Example of a plant and animal that lives in this habitat




Even though the animals in this habitat can be the biggest on the planet, some of these giants only eat tiny plants!


Many large mammals and other animals and a range of plants and big trees live here.


Very few trees grow here even though the soil is fertile.


Very few plants grow here because water is not readily available.

Learners need to list appropriate animals - preferably from those we studied in this chapter

  • Even though the animals in this habitat can be the biggest on the planet, some of these giants only eat tiny plants! Aquatic
  • Many large mammals and other animals and a range of plants and big trees live here. Forest
  • Very few trees grow here even though the soil is fertile. Grassland
  • Very few plants grow here because water is not common. Desert

Write a short description of the interdependence of the honey badger, the honey guide bird and the bees. Which animals benefit from this relationship and which do not?

The badger doesn't know where the bee hive is so it cannot get honey. The honey bird knows where it is but it cannot get to the larvae inside the hive because the bees' stings will kill it. The badger has a thick skin that the bee stings cannot penetrate. The honey guide shows the badger where the honey is and the badger breaks open the hive, eats the honey and leaves the larvae to the honey guide. The bees make honey which the birds feed off and the badger eats the bees' larvae. The bees do not benefit from this relationship.

Name the different types of skeletons.

Exoskeleton, hydroskeleton and endoskeleton

In the table below write which kind of skeleton the animal has then in the next column write whether the animal is an invertebrate or a vertebrate.


Type of skeleton

Vertebrate or Invertebrate?

A grasshopper

A bluebottle

Cape sparrow




Grasshopper: Exoskeleton, invertebrate

Bluebottle: hydroskeleton, invertebrate

Cape Sparrow: Endoskeleton, vertebrate

Tortoise: Endoskeleton, vertebrate

Sea horse: Endoskeleton, vertebrate

Frog: Endoskeleton, vertebrate

Crab: Exoskeleton, invertebrate