Chefs do not learn to cook every dish by preparing every type of dish. They learn techniques and ideas and transfer across recipes. A slicing method could be applied when preparing soup or making a pie. The same can be said of how we understand the scientific world. While facts are often presented in isolation, they seldom are as such in the natural world. Instead, there are major concepts that apply across many domains of science that make a seemingly random world much more purposeful.
Below are two animals that are very different. One is relatively unknown, and the other is known and beloved by many. Their differences are many, but what they have in common is the most interesting.
This termite-eating fox lives in the hot savanna. This fox is all about numbers! The bat-eared are not territorial and often live in large groups. This could be due to the lack of competition for food as their diet mostly consists of insects. In fact, a bat-eared fox can eat over a million termites a year!
One look at the bat-eared fox, and it is clear where it gets its name. Its large ears are a common feature of animals that live in warm weather climates. These are used for thermoregulation: controlling body temperature. The ears provide a large surface for heat flow and allow the bat-eared fox to take heat away from the body and lose it in order to cool down. Those ears also come in handy when listening for tiny insects crawling on the savanna ground.
The current record-holder for the heaviest animal in the world is the Savanna Elephant. This beloved animal can be seen living in societies consisting of moms and their calves, which are led by the oldest female elephant, the matriarch. These herbivores consume lots of vegetation daily. Elephants use their tusks, feet, and trunks to dig up watering holes when they need to drink.
By observing similarities, children can think more in terms of function and systems. For example, if you were asked to list the differences between a wooden three-legged stool and a metal chair, you could probably go on and on. However, if you were asked to name the similarities, you would likely focus more on their intended purpose (sitting), and perhaps the function of their legs for stabilization and support.
So what do an elephant and a bat-eared fox have in common? A lot actually, but let’s just start with their ears. Both their large ears help them lose heat in their hot climates. Once a child realizes the correlation between ear size and temperature regulation, this connection will present itself among many living things in various environments. They will recognize that other large eared animals such as the rabbits and the fennec fox can be found in warm climates. Conversely, animals with smaller ears such as the the Arctic wolf, can be found in colder climates.