"Not fair!"


If you have a brother or sister or even a friend, you have probably said or heard one of these things.  Even students hear things like "Wait, she got first place?"  You know what it's like to want something when there's not enough of it to go around.  There's only one candy bar left.  There's only one first place ribbon.  It can get frustrating.  Luckily for you, in the human world, this is never a big deal.  In the animal world, though, it can be the difference between life and death.  It's a good thing we can't understand animal language.  Otherwise, instead of humming crickets and singing birds, we might hear "Mine!"  "Mine!"  "Mine!"

You may not ever think about this, but it all starts with the ground you stand on.  Before we can even talk about the things we fight over, we need a place to live!  Living space is the space a living thing needs to find food, water, and whatever else it needs to stay alive.  Some places in nature have lots of food, water, and sun and lots of space for living things to spread out and make their homes.  If they need to eat a leaf off a tree, they won't find hundreds of other animals there to fight them off.  In other places, though, it is not as easy. 

Not a lot to eat out here.

Think of way up north where there's only ice and snow.  Boy polar bears need seals to eat and girl polar bears to have cubs with in order to survive.  However, there are not enough seals and girl polar bears to go around.  If one boy polar bear sees another, they will fight.  The winner will get the food, living space, and girl polar bears in the area.  Competition is when two or more things test their skills against each other.  For people, competition might mean playing guitar, eating the most, or running the fastest.  For other living things, it is not nearly as fun.  Many living things spend their whole day watching for other living things that might try to take what they need to live.  As if finding food and worrying about predators weren't enough, they also have to guard the things they already have!  In the human world the fight may be fought with words like "Mine!" and "Not fair!"  In the animal world it might be done with the cut of a claw, the bite of a fang or even death.  Either way, it can get ugly.  The next time someone gets the last dessert you wanted, be glad they are not 700 pounds with fangs and claws. 

Anybody want to fight me for dinner?

The fact is that everything needs to eat.  Some eat a lot, some eat a little, and some eat a lot of little things.  Without all these eaters, though, there couldn't be life in the world.  All living things have a role, a job that they have to always do.  In a restaurant there are all sorts of jobs to do.  It can't work without cooks and servers and janitors and people coming in to eat.  Everyone has a different role.  In the animal world, they're all eaters, but they eat different things and they give different things back to the world.  Some living things, like lions, are obviously better at eating the prey they find than others.

You go to the left, you go to the right, and I'll go straight ahead.

Of course, not every living thing can have the same job.  If every animal ate fish, there would be no fish.  If everything tasted good to bears, there would only be bears.  A niche is the job that a living thing has that is different than other living things and lets it fit in to its environment.  In the restaurant's kitchen, everyone needs to cook something different.  That girl makes good pancakes but always burns the chicken.  That guy makes great chicken but always flips pancakes into people's faces.  If everyone does the right job in the restaurant, they will make a variety of good food.  The many jobs in the wild fit together like puzzle pieces.  Every one must be different or else there would be a lot more fighting.  That shark eats seals.  That mouse eats berries.  That fish eats flies.  And that bear . . .  is coming this way.  Next paragraph.

Looks like everyone knows what their doing in here.

"Mine!"  "Not fair!"  That annoying fight you have at school or at home every so often is the way animals live every day, all day.  In places where there is not a lot of food or space, they must learn to fight others for the things they need to live.  Each animal has a different job so everything stays balanced.  Hopefully this will make you not fight so much in the future.  Now just think if you grew antlers so you could win every fight. . . .  


Dialogue 4 Kids.  "Habitat Sweet Habitat."  Idaho Public Television, 2004.  <http://idahoptv.org/dialogue4kids/season5/habitat/facts.cfm>