Setting: The forest canopy

Imagine you are carrying out a survey of animal life in the forest canopy. It has been an exciting but challenging task.

One month ago, you and your team used special climbing equipment to scale 100 feet (30 meters) into the treetops. You placed ten camera traps in different parts of the canopy, securing them to branches.

And now the time has come to collect the data from the cameras. You will have to collect the SD memory cards, where the photographs are stored. “I hope we captured something good,” you say to your team.

You climb back up to the canopy, taking in the views around you. It’s so peaceful. What a fantastic place to live. You imagine that you can move through the trees like an arboreal (tree-dwelling) creature, free of your ropes and harness. What would it be like to live up here?

Back on the ground, you download the data and start sifting through the photos on your laptop. Yes! You got some good ones. Two types of monkey, a tree frog, 20 types of birds, five small mammals … this survey is off to a great start.

And then your jaw drops in surprise. You’ve found something new. What is it? This animal wasn’t supposed to be here! It wasn’t in any of the field guides you read and it’s not something you recognize from the local museum collection.

Have you and the team just discovered a new species? It is a thrilling moment. You gather everyone around the laptop to have a look at this unexpected find. 

Your challenge: draw the unexpected animal you discovered in the forest canopy

Your task is to imagine an animal new to science that might live in the forest canopy. 1) Draw a diagram (picture) of this creature. 2) Label its features (physical characteristics). 3) And give it a descriptive name.

Use these questions to help guide your imagination:

  • Is it a bird, reptile, amphibian, large insect, large spider, or mammal? 
  • Is it diurnal (active in the day) or nocturnal (active at night)?
  • What does it eat? 
  • What eats it? (Does it have any predators?)
  • How does it move around the forest canopy? Does it use claws? Does it glide?
  • Where does it sleep? 


For educators

Scientists place camera traps in the tree canopy to learn about forest species. Sometimes they find rare species or discover something new. Take your students on a fun, creative journey to think about arboreal animals and the features that help them survive and thrive in the forest canopy.

For younger students, read the introductory paragraphs to them and answer their questions about what camera trapping is and why it is used for science and conservation. (See additional resources below.) Then, direct the students to do the creative thinking and drawing exercise.

Additional resources for parents/educators

Learn more about arboreal camera trapping here: