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Fish feeding methods model

Use tools such as pipettes and tongs to model how different fish feed.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Biology: Features, Adaptations of Living Things (K, 1, 3, 7)
Biology: Food Webs, Ecosystems, Biomes (3, 4)
Lessons activity is in: 
  • tray of water
  • foam cut into pieces, about 1cm X 1cm X 2cm - "large food pieces"
  • popcorn kernels - "medium food pieces"
  • cornmeal - "small food pieces"
  • tea strainer
  • spatula with slots
  • tongs
  • clothespins
  • pipettes
  • basters

The sponge, corn kernels and corn meal model different kinds of food of different sizes (different sized foam pieces are also pictured). The utensils represent different kinds of ways that fish catch food.
What is the easiest “food” to catch with each kind of mouth?
Students can use the worksheet to record what they find.

Results and discussion:
Some fish feed by biting pieces off their prey e.g. sharks, piranha, adult salmon. The tongs and clothes pegs grabbing onto large pieces of foam model this kind of feeding behaviour.

Some fish suction feed. Food that is smaller than the mouth is sucked into it by a pressure difference when the mouth is opened. Most bony fish feed in this way. The baster or pipette sucking up medium and small pieces of food models this kind of feeding behaviour.
For a video of suction feeding try Wikipedia webpage “Aquatic feeding mechanisms”:

Some animals are filter feeders. Water flows into the mouth then through a filter that catches the food. The filter might be a tiny structure, as in barnacles and mussels, the large baleen of grey and humpback whales, or the medium-sized gill rakers of fish such as sharks and herring. The animal engulfs water and prey, the prey is trapped in the filter, then the water leaves the body again (through the gills of a fish). When the animal moves rapidly forward to engulf water and prey they are "lunge feeding" ("ram feeding" is a slower version of the same).
Humpback whales lunge feeding video - try this link:
Filter feeding of tiny particles (as for barnacles and mussels) modelled by the tea strainer and sieve.
Filter feeding of larger particles with gill rakers and baleen modelled by the slotted spoon or spatula.

Optional: watch real barnacles feeding as an example of filter feeding.


Aboriginal Focus School combined this activity with the Animals Moving in Water lesson, for a long lesson on how animals move and feed in water.

Grades taught: 
Gr K
Gr 2
Gr 3
Gr 4
Gr 5
Brenda Koch
Diane Macqueen
Elaine Ong
Fiona Laporte
Teaching site: 
Xpey' Elementary School (formerly MacDonald Elementary)
Fraser Elementary
Activity originally developed and delivered: 

Aboriginal Focus School with the Scientist in Residence Program