Hearing in Prairie Animals

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Author: Janice VanCleave

The animals that live in prairies have adapted to a semidry, windy environment with very few to no trees or shrubs. They can also withstand a great range in temperature, from well below freezing in the winter to hot in the summer. Many animals live in prairies, ranging from insects, such as bees, grasshoppers, and beetles, and small mammals, such as rats, mice, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, coyotes, wolves, and fox, to large mammals, such as antelopes, elk, deer, and at one time large herds of bison. A number of birds live in the prairies, including prairie chickens, hawks and owls. Other animals, including snakes, also make their home in prairies.

While many of these animals are found in other biomes, prairie chickens and prairie dogs are generally found only in short-grass prairies. The prairie chicken is not a chicken but is actually a relative of the ringed-necked pheasant. While most birds perch and nest in trees, the prairie chicken is a ground dweller, even though it can fly. These birds are an endangered species, which is an organism that is in danger of extinction (the dying off of all individuals of a species). Hunting and changes in habitat are some of the things that cause an organism to become extinct.

Prairie dogs are not dogs but are actually similar to ground squirrels. These animals live in large groups and burrow into the ground, sometimes forming miles of underground tunnels. They were such an oddity to the explorers Lewis and Clark that they sent a prairie dog to President Thomas Jefferson during their expedition in the prairies of North America.

Prairie dogs are hunted by many animals, including wolves, dogs, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and some people. A prairie dog's best defense is to retreat into a burrow.

In the prairie and other grasslands, grass is the primary producer for most food chains. Consumers in each food chain have special adaptations in order to survive. For example, the fur on the backs of wolves is in three overlapping layers, starting at the neck. When it rains, water runs off these layers. This adaptation is particularly useful to the wolf because the landscape provides little to no natural shelter for prairie animals during rain or other stormy weather. Wolves and some other animals, such as deer and fox, have large ears that can turn, which aids in hearing and locating sounds. Again, prairies do not have many places for large animals to hide, so having good hearing helps them to be aware of approaching predators.


To determine how ear size can help an animal escape a predator.


  • Scissors
  • 9-ounce (270-mL) or larger paper cup
  • Ticking watch or clock


  1. Use the scissors to cut the bottom out of the paper cup.
  2. With your left hand, hold the watch near your left ear.
  3. Move the watch away from your ear until you can barely hear it tick. Note the distance of the watch from your ear.
  4. Using the other hand, hold the small end of the paper cup over the ear aimed at the watch.
  5. Hold the watch at the end of the paper cup over your ear.
  6. Repeat step 3 and compare the difference between the distances the watch can be heard with and without the cup.

Prairie Animals

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