Utah is a wildly diverse place. Ecological and biological diversity are usually tied to an abundance of water; but here in Utah, despite our relative lack of the wet stuff, we boast of at least nine unique biomes spanning from the low-elevation Mojave Desert around St. George to the high Alpine Tundra of our many snowcapped mountain ranges.
You can think of a biome as a large community of similar organisms and climates or a collection of similar habitats. Just recently, my third-grade students wrapped up a semester-long investigation into seven of those biomes found in Utah including the high Alpine Tundra, Riparian/Montane Zone, Sagebrush Steppe, Wetlands, and the Great Basin, Colorado Plateau, and Mojave Deserts.
We explored those biomes by way of researching a specific animal endemic in Utah to each of those biomes. We called our project “Habitat Heroes.” I’ll let a few of my students explain their findings.
Zach’s Rubber Boa: My name is Zach, and my animal is the rubber boa. The rubber boa lives in the riparian/montane biome in Utah. The rubber boa eats shrews, mice, small birds, lizards, snakes, and amphibians and is usually found along streams and in forests and in meadows.
Elizah’s Weasel: My name is Elizah, and my animal is the long-tailed weasel. The long-tailed weasel lives in the Great Basin biome in Utah. They are brown and yellow all year long except for winter. They are white during winter. [The] long-tailed weasel’s scientific name is Mustela frenata. They are mostly nocturnal.
Haven’s Red Fox: My name is Haven, and my animal is the red fox. The red fox lives in the alpine tundra biome in Utah. Red foxes eat small mammals, berries, insects, and other food, too. They have huge ears so they can hear when other animals are coming. The red fox is a really tricky and aggressive animal because it can do a lot of really tricky and aggressive things!
Jane’s Pygmy Rabbit: I am Jane, and I am going to tell you about the pygmy rabbit. The pygmy rabbit lives in the sagebrush steppe biome in Utah. Did you know that a pygmy rabbit can protect itself by hiding in the sagebrush? They eat sagebrush and they drink lake water and river water. They have to chew on food to keep their teeth short.
Noah’s Ringtail: This is Noah, and I’ve been studying the ringtail. The ringtail lives in the cold desert biome on the Colorado Plateau in Utah. The ringtail is gray and furry with a long black and white tail. How ringtails catch their food: number one-being very sly and waiting for the right time. They live in rocky deserts, caves, and hollow logs.
Asher’s Gila Monster: My name is Asher, and my animal is the Gila Monster. The Gila Monster lives in the Mojave desert biome in southwest Utah. Gila Monsters look like a lizard, just black and orange or pink and yellow with a black face and a short thick tail. Gila Monsters eat the eggs from ground birds, lizards, and snakes. Gila Monsters live in the Mojave desert in sandy areas and on rocky shelves and in burrows.
The Muskrat: My animal’s the muskrat. The muskrat lives in the wetland biome in Utah. Muskrats live in Mexico, Canada, and the United States where there are marshes, ponds, and vegetated water. Muskrats go out at night and find food like aquatic plants, grass, and fish. They have special abilities that can be used for a very special reason to help them survive.
In addition to researching the different biomes and learning about the adaptations, animals must possess in order to survive there, these third graders have been visiting the several biomes local to Cache Valley and investigating their research animals’ habitats. These experiences have been powerful in helping students realize what it’s really like to exist in the wilds of Utah.