Glossary

A

Adaptation: a physical or behavioral change made by an organism or species to become better suited to its environment.

Amphibian: an ectothermic (Cold-Blooded) vertebrate animal, such as a frog, toad, salamander, or newt. They are characterized by having an aquatic (living in water) gill-breathing larval stage followed by a terrestrial (living on land) lung-breathing adult stage.

Apex Predator: A predator at the top of their food chain with no natural predators. Apex predators are important to the stability of their ecosystems because they help keep the populations of prey animals in check, conserving the environment. 

B

Behavior: The way an organism acts and responds to its environment.

C

Classification: The process of grouping things based on shared characteristics, this is used in taxonomy (the science of naming and classifying organisms).

Climate: The weather conditions which occur in a place for long periods of time. It is characterized by factors such as temperature, precipitation, humidity, and air pressure over the span years. 

Communication: The exchange of information between two or more individuals.

Composting: The process of turning organic waste (largely discarded vegetable matter) into a nutrient rich fertilizer.

Coniferous Tree: A type of tree that spreads its seeds using cones. They often have long leaves called needles which do not fall off in the winter. 

Consumer: An organism that eats another consumer or producer. 

D

Deciduous Tree: A type of tree that spreads its seeds using nuts or fruits. They usually have broad, flat leaves which fall off in the winter. 

Decomposition: The process of breaking down organic matter into its basic components through the action of decomposers such as fungi, worms, and bacteria.

Diet: The kinds of foods that an organism habitually eats.

E

Ecosystem: The community of interacting living and nonliving things in a specific area.

Ectothermy: A characteristic of animals which means their body temperature is regulated by the environment around them, such as using the sun to warm up or use water to cool down. Ectothermic animals include most fish, reptiles, and amphibians.

Endothermy: A characteristic of animals which means they generate and regulate their own body temperature. Endothermic animals include birds and mammals. 

Energy: A measurable property which is necessary for activity. 

Engineering: An area of science typically focused on designing or building structures and machines and solving problems.

Environment: The surroundings and conditions of an ecosystem.

Erosion: The movement of broken down natural materials by natural forces such as wind or water.

Evolution: The process of change in biological characteristics, such as physical adaptations, that living things experience generation after generation.  

F

Food Chain: A linear representation of the relationships and flow of energy between consumers and a producer in an ecosystem. (Tend to be more simplified than a Food Web) Example: Sun→ Flower→ Butterfly→ Frog→ Snake → Owl

Food Web: A map of the interconnection and relationships between consumers and producers in an ecosystem.

Forage: To search for food. 

Fungus: A group of organisms, including mushrooms, molds, and yeasts, which reproduce using spores. These organisms are often important decomposers.

H

Habitat: The natural home of an organism. Typically includes components of food, water and shelter.

Herbivore: An animal that eats only plants, such leaves, grasses, and fruits.

Herpetology: The scientific study of amphibians and reptiles. 

I

Invertebrate: A type of animal that does not have an internal skeleton such as insects, crustaceans, worms, and cephalopods (squids and octopuses). 

L

Life cycle: The stages an organism goes through during their life, including reproduction.  

M

Mammal: A group of vertebrates that are characterized by their hair, endothermy (warm-bloodedness), and typically the live-birth of their young.

Metamorphosis: The transformation of an animal, typically an amphibian or insect, from an immature life stage to an adult one. These stages often include drastically different physical forms between the larval and adult. Example: Egg → Tadpole → Frog

N

Natural History: The observation study of living things and their interactions with the world.

Neutral Buoyancy: The tendency of a submerged object to stay submerged, maintaining position in the water column, but not float to the surface or sink to the bottom.

Nocturnal: The characteristic of an organism to be active at night and rest during the day. 

Nomadic: A type of lifestyle characterized by moving from place to place, often following a food source. 

O

Organic: The state of being or related to living matter.  

P

Physical: Relating to the body and its form. 

Pollinator: An animal that assists with the reproduction of plants from moving pollen from plant to plant. 

Precipitation: A part of the water cycle in which water falls down from the atmosphere such as rain, sleet, snow or hail.

Predator: A consumer that hunts other animals.

Prey: A consumer, most often a herbivore, that is hunted by another animal, or predator.

Producer: An organism in an ecosystem, most often a plant, that uses energy from the sun to produce their own food.

R

Reproduction: The process by which an organism creates offspring. This can occur sexually (with at least 2 parents) or asexually. 

Reptile: An ectothermic vertebrate, such as lizard, turtles, snakes and crocodillians, characterized by their dry- skinned scales and land-lain soft shelled eggs.

S

Semi-Aquatic: A characteristic of an animal that means that it lives on both land and in water. 

Shelter: A physical structure that protects organisms from the environment, including weather and predators. 

Social: To be engaged with others in the same community.

Solitary: To spend the majority of time alone.  

Sustainability: The ability to manage the use of natural resources so that they are able to be used by future generations and preserve the environment. 

T

Taxonomy: The science of classifying and naming organisms based on their physical and genetic characteristics. All organisms are classified into the same ordering system. Kingdoms are the broadest group, and species is the most narrow. There are 7 kingdoms including animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria. The ranking of the taxonomic system is: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

Here is the taxonomy of the North American river otter:   

Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)

Phylum: Chordata (Chordates)

Order: Mammalia (Mammals)

Family: Mustilidae (Mustelids, or Weasels) 

Genus: Lontra (North American Otters)

Species: Lontra canadensis  (North American River Otter)

V

Vertebrate: A type of animal distinguished by the presence of a backbone and skeleton. Vertebrates include fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.  

W

Weather: The state of the current atmospheric conditions such as temperature, precipitation, and wind. 

Weathering: The breakdown of natural materials by natural forces such as wind or water.

Z

Zoology: The study of animals.