In this lesson, you will learn about the animals of the grasslands. See what kind of behaviors and habits allow them to survive and thrive in this vast open space.
What Are Grasslands Like?
Susie looked through the photo album her uncle created from his trip across the country. He took lots of great pictures of the grasslands, or areas where flat land or rolling hills dominated the landscape.
Uncle Brian told her that grasslands can be found on every continent except Antarctica. They may also feature small shrubs, woody plants, or occasional trees. They have temperate or tropical climates, meaning they are warm or hot for most of the year. Sometimes it doesn't rain for a long time, and this is called a drought. A drought can harm the grasses that animals count on for food, shelter, and protection from predators.
The Animals of the Grasslands
Susie had questions about the animals that lived in the grasslands. Uncle Brian told her that these grassland environments don't have many trees or heavy bushes where animals can hide. However, grasslands can support small animals along with large grazing animals and their predators.
Elephants, bison, cheetahs, gazelles, lions, and tigers are some of the large animals living on grasslands. Rabbits, gophers, prairie dogs, and many bird, lizard, and snake species are some of the small animals that live there as well.
As Susie looked through the pictures of the animals in Uncle Brian's photo album, she wondered how they survived. But Uncle Brian told her the animals that live on the grassland have special ways of living that make their survival more likely.
Speed & Nesting and Burrowing
Many of the grassland predators and their prey are very fast. They do not have the worry of running around trees and dense vegetation like forest animals do. Cheetahs can run up to 65 miles per hour, as fast as a car! Gazelles can reach 40 miles per hour. Coyotes chase rabbits and mice through the grasslands for a meal. Owls hunt small rodents.
Nesting and Burrowing
Without trees for protection from weather, temperature extremes, and predators, many grassland animals use their front legs and paws to dig burrows and tunnels very easily. A burrow is a hole or tunnel dug into the ground to create a home for small animals, like rodents, gophers, and their babies.
Some animals, such as prairie dogs, create underground tunnel systems with multiple entrances and exits. Others make nests in grassy vegetation on the ground instead of burrows. Prairie chickens, grasshoppers, and prairie king snakes all lay eggs in the vegetation on the ground.
Physical and Social Traits
Many of the large grazing animals, such as bison, have developed flat wide teeth and digestive systems specially adapted to feed on grass. Grassland animals of all sizes also have excellent camouflage to blend into the grassy landscape and avoid predator encounters. Deer, squirrels, grasshoppers, and prairie dogs are earth-toned colors to blend in with the grasslands.
Another strategy many of these animals have developed is to live in large social groups called herds, or aggregations, to increase the chance that a member will detect a threat and alert the rest of the group. An aggregation is a group composed of many different species. Bison, zebras, gazelles, and elephants all live in herds for protection, but zebra and gazelles may also live in an aggregation to have a better watch on predators around them.
The world's grasslands are vast open spaces where many animal species thrive. Some animals burrow underground, while others create nests on the ground or live in aggregations, where several species live together. Grassland animals may have special teeth, paws, and claws made for this environment. They also have speed on their side. Next time Uncle Brian travels the country and visits the grasslands, Susie hopes to go too!