Georgian Court University

Home Up What is Phragmites Native / Invas Food Chains and Food Webs Types of Marsh Transpiration Mystery WebQuest Scavenger hunt


Grade Level: 6-8

Time Frame: Variable.  At least 1 class period for the hunt itself.  1-2 additional periods could be spent on extension activities if desired.

Introduction:  This lesson could be offered as an extension of the invasive species webquest, or as a more hands-on alternative to that experience.  In this activity students will be provided with a set of flashcards featuring a series of exotic and invasive species that are common the the American NE.  Students will be challenged to see how many of these species they can identify within their school's campus or nearby public areas. 

NJ- New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards


Strand B: Diversity and Biological Evolution

Cumulative Progress Indicator 2: Discuss how changing environmental conditions can result in evolution or extinction of a species

STANDARD 5.10 (Environmental Studies) All students will develop an understanding of the environment as a system of interdependent components affected by human activity and natural phenomena.

A. Natural Systems and Interactions

1.        Explain how organisms interact with other components of an ecosystem.

2.        Describe the natural processes that occur over time in places where direct human impact is minimal

STANDARD 3.1 (Reading) All students will understand and apply the knowledge of sounds, letters, and words in written English to become independent and fluent readers, and will read a variety of materials and texts with fluency and comprehension.

H. Inquiry and Research

1.        Develop and revise questions for investigations prior to, during, and after reading.

2.        Select and use multiple sources to locate information relevant to research questions.

3.        Draw conclusions from information gathered from multiple sources.

5.        Summarize and organize information by taking notes, outlining ideas, and/or making charts.


BACKGROUND:  Over the course of human history, people have brought plants and animals to different parts of the world, some knowingly, some not.  These species can be identified as either exotic, alien, noxious, nuisance or invasive, based on the damage they cause to an ecosystem.

“Exotic” and/or “alien” species do not always cause damage to an ecosystem.  “Noxious” or “nuisance” species can be native to a country, but are present in such numbers as to cause them to be a pest. 

Invasive species can be plants, animals or even disease-causing organisms.  They can be defined as any species which is not native to an area and is able to grow in an ecosystem, outcompeting native species.  Invasive species can cause widespread and permanent damage to an ecosystem.  There is great concern about the damage that these invasive species are causing to ecosystems in the United States.  Invasive species can and do cause native species to go extinct.  In much of the world, habitat destruction is listed as the number one reason for species extinction.  Now, invasive species and not pollution is listed as the number two reason for species extinction in the world.

Invasive plants can cause much damage to ecosystems, altering them forever.  For example, invasive plants can grow as weeds on a farm, reducing crop yields or, even poisoning livestock in the case of the European Hemlock (Socrates was poisoned by this plant).  Cheat grass is another example of an invasive plant that can completely alter an ecosystem.  These plants die and are extremely slow to decompose.  They create “detritus” (dead plant material) which builds up to a point where it is extremely flammable.  Areas in the western United States that have been invaded by cheat grass have an extremely high fire frequency.  This in turn burns the native woody shrubs and trees which provide habitat for birds, insects, etc.

Here, in New Jersey, one of the most well known invasive species is the common reed (Phragmites australis) which grows at the edges of lakes, ponds & wetlands and along roadsides.  A European strain of this plant was brought to North America by early settlers and it has almost completely beaten out the native strain of this species.  Since the invasive strain of Phragmites has many, many stomata (pores through which plants taken in carbon dioxide and release water vapor through transpiration), they use quite a bit of water from their surrounding environment.  The Phragmites reeds take water in through their roots to replace the water vapor lost to transpiration.  They literally suck a wetland habitat dry, causing the organisms that depend on these wetlands to not be able to survive there anymore.

In the United States, in 2000, Pimentel, et al., a team of economists, estimated that the cost of dealing with invasive species was approximately $137 billion/year.  This was calculated on “human losses”, such as farmland and controlling invasive species.  This did not include those losses which cannot be measured in money such as loss of ecosystems, extinction of native species, etc.

PURPOSE:  To build awareness of how many of the plants and animals that we see every day are actually invasive or exotic to the United States.   In addition, to help students hone their observational and critical thinking skills in terms of recognizing specific plants and animals based on the list of “distinguishing characteristics” present


1.   Provide students with copies of the invasive species scavenger hunt flashcards (provided in word and pdf formats).   

2.  Give the students a certain amount of time (this is determined by the teacher) to find as many of the species on the list/flashcards as they can in a very specific area.

            a.  When picking the search area, try to include:

(i)  Areas that have some “wilder” spaces such as unmown areas around the perimeter of the school yard, game fields etc; and unmown areas along the sides of driveways and parking lots,

(ii)  hedges, fences and other similar areas are often productive places to hunt for invasive species

(iii)  old fields, woodlands and river / stream / ditch banks (if available). 

(iv)  The more manicured areas of campus. 

3.  Instruct students to document each species that they find. 

a.  Depending on the resources available at your school, either provide students with digital cameras; or

b. A checklist with an area to write down their observations of the possible species to be found and where the species was found and anything they noticed about the area or species (also provided in word and pdf formats).  

4.  Depending on your preference (and the safety issues associated with your campus) you can send students out as teams (which has the advantage of adding an element of competition to the assignment) or work with them as a single group.  

5.  After the designated hunt period, return to the campus and tally up the list of how many species you were able to locate on your campus.  

6.  Have the students discuss what they saw.  Hopefully they will be surprised to see how many of the things that they see every day are actually not native to this region.  

      a.  Ask the students what they think this means for the other types of animals and plants that are present, based on the information about the impact that these species have on the rest of the  ecosystem provided in the flash cards

      *   Clearly many other animals and plants that might have been present in the area surrounding the school are either less abundant or completely absent as a result of being outcompeted by all of the invasive and exotic species that are present in the area.

7.  If digital cameras were used, have students create posters or PowerPoint presentations featuring the invasive species that they saw on campus, perhaps combining their own pictures with information from the flashcards to summarize the findings of this activity. 

SAFETY ISSUESBe sure to clearly delineate boundaries for the scavenger hunt (no leaving the designated areas, be careful if crossing any roads within the school property, be with your partner at all time etc.).  Also be sure to designate a time limit and an agreed upon signal for students to return to a central point at the end of the activity.  Make sure that students recognize poison ivy and know to avoid contact with this plant (How to recognize poison ivy)  Depending on conditions, sunscreen and bug spray should be liberally applied before carrying out any outdoor activities.

EXTENSION ACTIVITIES:   There are many species of animals, such as zebra mussels, gypsy moths, etc., which are invasive and have caused extensive damage.  Also, disease causing organisms, such as Chestnut tree blight, West Nile Virus and Swine Flu have had a huge impact on ecosystems in the United States.  Have students research and present to the class other invasive species that have had a detrimental impact on ecosystems in the United States.

zebra mussels

Zebra Mussels - Wikipedia

More on Zebra Mussels


Chestnut Blight

Blight Fungus

US Forestry - Chestnut Blight

Chestnut Blight - Encyclopedia Britannica


West Nile Virus - CDC Information Page

West Nile - Wikipedia


Swine Flu - CDC Information page

Swine Flu - Wikipedia


Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Canada goose


Asian Carp - Wikipedia

Asian Carp

Asian Carp - hysteria

Asian carp,8599,1962108,00.html

Asian carp


Gypsy Moth

Gypsy Moth

Gypsy Moth

Gypsy Moth


General Information on Invasive Species

National Invasive Species List

New Jersey Invasive Species: State Resources

Invasive Species in New Jersey:

Invasive Species in New Jersey:

New Jersey Invasive Species Council:

Michigan Invasive Plants


Alternative Extension Activity

To help students feel empowered, another alternative would be to assign them to research actions that they and their families can take to prevent adding more invasive species to the habitat.  Students could also be encouraged to share the fact sheet provided with family, friends or other students.


Useful Web Resources on Preventing Introduction and Spread of Invasive Species:

·         Rutgers University Long Horn Beetle Information and Reporting:

·         The Lost Ladybug Project:

·     Take the pledge: Don’t transport firewood:

·     US Forest Service Invasive Species Program: Prevention:

·     Invasive Species, What you can do

·         Take action to prevent invasive species

·         How can I prevent invasive species introductions?

·         What you can do to prevent species invasion:

·         Keeping Pervasive Pest Plants from Taking Root

horizontal rule

©2010.   Louise Wootton,  Jessica McCann Capone, Jennifer Mattiello and Sally Collins (Authors). 

Edited by Linda Kelly and Louise Wootton. 

Hit Counter