I’ve started working on a new set of teaching materials about the African savanna. The diversity, amount, and concentration of life found on these sweeping, grassy plains is staggering. The interdependence and interactions between species boggles the mind! Truly each plant and each animal has been created to fill its own unique niche. For the next weeks (months?) I hope to share some of the amazing tidbits I find as I research this incredible biome and its residents. The material I’m sharing has been written for 4-5 graders, and I’m including information sheets you may feel free to use in your classrooms. The material to download contains similar articles written for grades K-1 and 2-3, as well as the article shared here, for grades 4-5.
The wide, sweeping grasslands of the world’s savannas cover about 10%-20% of the land surface on earth. They are the youngest biome to develop and contain the highest concentration of mammals found anywhere on earth. Located between tropical rainforests and deserts, you will find large, rolling, grassy ranges with scattered trees and shrubs. There is not enough rainfall on the savanna to support a forest, but more rainfall than found in the dry, arid deserts.
There are two seasons in the savanna—the long, dry season in winter, and the wet, rainy season in summer. During the dry season, little or no rain falls. The rivers and watering holes dry up, the plants drop their leaves, and the grass withers. Food becomes hard to find. Lightning may hit the ground causing fires. The dry season usually lasts from six to eight months and is the reason why the savanna doesn’t turn into a forest.
In the summer, beginning in May, there is a lot of rain—10-30 inches (25-75 cm) may fall during this wet season which is 6-8 months long. The air, warmed by the sun and the land, rises up to meet the cooler air of the sky and creates rain. It rains nearly everyday, sometimes for hours at a time. This heavy rain can result in floods and erosion. The temperature is warm year round, usually ranging from 65-85 degrees (20-30 C).
There are several different types of savannas. The most famous is the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania. These open grasslands are dotted with umbrella-shaped acacia trees. Open wooded areas create another type of savanna. The trees provide good cover for animals, but they are far enough apart so the sun can reach the woodland floor and allow grass to grow. Some savannas have short grass, and some have tall grass. Different animals live in the different types of savannas. Meerkats live in short grass areas so they can see predators from a long distance. Lions live in tall grass savannas so they can hide in the grass as they stalk their prey. Giraffes live in acacia savannas because the acacia tree is their favorite food. Each plant and animal is custom-made for their niche in the grassy plain!