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M&M Survival Challenge

Difficulty
Time Required Very Short (≤ 1 day)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Readily Available
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety No hazards

Abstract

In the wild there are two types of animals: the hunters and the hunted. A good predator is always on the prowl for fresh prey. What can an animal do to stay off of the menu? To survive, some animals use camouflage so they can better blend in with their surroundings. In this science project, you will be the hungry predator hunting for M&M® prey. But it may not be as easy as it sounds — some of your prey will be camouflaged by their habitat. Will they be able to avoid your grasp? To find out, work up that appetite and go hunting!

Objective

Hunt for M&M prey in a series of different habitats to discover which M&M's survive in each habitat and why.

Credits

Teisha Rowland, PhD, Sandra Slutz, PhD, and Sara Agee, PhD, Science Buddies
M&M® and Skittles® are federally registered trademarks of Mars, Incorporated.

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "M&M Survival Challenge" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 20 June 2014. Web. 21 Dec. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Zoo_p012.shtml?from=Blog>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, June 20). M&M Survival Challenge. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Zoo_p012.shtml?from=Blog

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Last edit date: 2014-06-20

Introduction

Nature can be brutal. The harsh reality is that if you are not a hunter, then you are being hunted, also known as the prey. What do animals do to avoid being eaten? Some animals develop defense mechanisms, like porcupine quills or the plated armor of an armadillo. Other animals develop gross tastes on their bodies, or poisonous mucus coatings.

This pattern of animals developing strategies to survive is called adaptation, and it is a mechanism for evolution. You may have heard the famous phrase "survival of the fittest," which Charles Darwin used to describe this natural phenomenon. In order to survive in nature, you need to be fit, and fitting in to your environment is very important to avoid being eaten!

The most common way that animals can avoid being eaten by a predator is by an adaptation called camouflage. Camouflage is a set of colorings or markings on an animal that help it to blend in with the surroundings and increase its chance for survival. The surrounding environment that the animal hides in is called the habitat, or the place where the animal lives.

Each animal needs to adapt to a unique habitat, and animals adapt in all kinds of interesting ways using camouflage. Katydids, like the one in Figure 1, are insects that usually live in green leafy trees and many have adapted to their habitat by having a bright green body shaped like a leaf. Chameleons, which change habitats often in the colorful jungle, have adapted a way of changing their skin color to match their immediate environment. Decorator crabs have adapted by learning how to cover their shells with debris to blend in with their habitat.

katydid is using camouflage to look like a green leaf.
Figure 1. Can you see the katydid in this picture? This katydid is using camouflage to look like a green leaf. (Geoff Gallice, 2012)

In this science project, you will test how adaptation and survival work by using M&M candies as your prey. You will hunt for the M&M's in different-colored "habitats" to test whether some M&M's do better in some habitats than others. Then you can discover which M&M's are best suited to survive in each habitat.

Terms and Concepts

  • Prey
  • Adaptation
  • Survival
  • Predator
  • Camouflage
  • Environment
  • Habitat

Bibliography

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Materials and Equipment

  • Plastic baggies (6)
  • M&M's, at least 10 of each color
    • Use plain M&M's, which should have six colors: Yellow, blue, green, brown, red, and orange.
    • To make sure you have at least 10 candies of each color, you will want to get at least two 1.69-oz. packages.
  • Skittles®, at least 60 of each color
    • Use plain Skittles, which should have five colors: orange, yellow, green, red, and purple.
    • To make sure you have at least 60 candies of each color, you will want to get at least one 16-oz. package.
  • Metal pie tin or sturdy paper plate
  • Stopwatch or timer
  • 2-4 volunteer predators who like to eat M&M's
  • Lab notebook

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Experimental Procedure

  1. First you will need to prepare a mixed group of "prey." Do this by counting and placing 10 M&M's of each color into a plastic bag.
    1. This means you should have one plastic bag with 10 yellow, 10 blue, 10 green, 10 brown, 10 red, and 10 orange M&M's candies in it.
  2. Prepare different "habitats" using Skittles candies. Do this by counting and placing 60 Skittles of a single color in a bag. Repeat for each color, in the end you will have 5 bags — each with just one color of Skittles.
    1. This means you should have one plastic bag with 60 orange Skittles, one bag with 60 yellow Skittles, one with 60 green Skittles, one with 60 red Skittles, and one with 60 purple Skittles.
  3. Gather together a pack of 2-4 volunteer "predators." This can be anybody who likes to eat M&M's: a friend, brother, sister, mom, dad, grandparent, etc.
  4. Explain the rules of the game to your predators as follows:
    1. The volunteers should pretend to be M&M's birds. They should make a "beak" using their pointer finger and thumb for collecting M&M's candies, as shown in Figure 2.
    2. You will set a timer (or watch a stopwatch) for 20 seconds. During those 20 seconds, the volunteers will use their beak to quickly pick up M&M's and quickly put them in their other hand.
      1. To encourage the volunteers to be fast, tell them that when they are done with the experiment, they can eat the same number of candies as they picked up. (But they should not eat any candies until you are all done testing.)
    3. The volunteers should avoid picking up any Skittles candies because Skittles make the M&M's birds sick. The Skittles represent the habitat that the M&M's candies live in.
  5. After explaining the rules, pour one prepared bag of Skittles into a metal pie tin or sturdy plate. Mix in the prepared bag of M&M's. Put the pie tin in the middle of your group of M&M's birds. Make sure everyone can reach the pie tin.
  6. Set your timer for 20 seconds.
  7. Say, Go! and start the timer. When the timer beeps, everyone should stop picking up M&M's.
Volunteers picking camouflaged M&M's out of a mixture of M&M's and Skittles.
Figure 2. Ask your volunteers to make a "beak," using their pointer finger and thumb, as shown in the top hand here, and collect as many M&M's as they can in 20 seconds.
  1. Count the number of each M&M's color that each person collected. Record the numbers in a data table in your lab notebook, like Table 1. If any volunteer collected any Skittles, put the number of Skittles they collected in the bottom row of their column, the one labeled "Skittles." Also, re-emphasize that Skittles make the M&M's birds sick and should be avoided.
    1. Make sure to record the data for the correct habitat. For example, if you used orange Skittles as the habitat, record your data in the columns that say "Orange Skittles" at the top.
  Habitat
 Orange Skittles Yellow SkittlesGreen Skittles Red SkittlesPurple Skittles
Candies Collected Volunteer 1Volunteer 2Volunteer 3, etc. Vol. 1 Vol. 2, etc. Vol. 1 Vol. 2, etc. Vol. 1 Vol. 2, etc. Vol. 1 Vol. 2, etc.
Yellow M&M's             
Blue M&M's             
Green M&M's             
Brown M&M's             
Red M&M's             
Orange M&M's             
Skittles             

Table 1. In your lab notebook, make a data table like this one to record your data. You should have a row for each M&M's color, as well as a row for Skittles (one row for all of the colors). Make a column for each Skittles habitat, as shown here. Within the habitat's column, also include a column for each volunteer. ("Volunteer" has been abbreviated as "Vol." in some places here.)
  1. Once you are done counting the candies, put the M&M's back in the bag you prepared them in. This includes the M&M's that people picked, as well as the M&M's that were still in the metal tin. Your bag should now be like you prepared it in step 1.
  2. Take away the Skittles you used for the habitat (by pouring them off the pie tin).
  3. Repeat steps 5-10 for all of the other prepared bags of Skittles until you have tested each Skittles habitat.
    1. When you are all done testing, you can let the volunteers eat the candies if they want to. They can eat the same number of candies as they picked up, if you want to do it that way.
  4. Add up the total number of each M&M's color that the volunteers picked for each Skittles habitat. Record your data in a data table in your lab notebook like Table 2.
  Habitat
Candies Collected Orange Skittles Yellow SkittlesGreen Skittles Red SkittlesPurple Skittles
Yellow M&M's      
Blue M&M's      
Green M&M's      
Brown M&M's      
Red M&M's      
Orange M&M's      
Skittles      

Table 2. In your lab notebook, make a data table like this one and write down the total number of each M&M's color (and Skittles) that the volunteers picked for each Skittles habitat.
  1. Using the numbers from your data table that is like Table 2, make a bar graph of how many of each color M&M's was picked for each Skittles habitat.
    1. You can make a graph by hand or use a website like Create a Graph to make a graph on the computer and print it.
    2. Put each habitat's name on the x-axis (the horizontal axis going across), such as "Green Skittles," "Purple Skittles," etc. Put the number of each M&M's color collected on the y-axis (the vertical axis going up and down). Make a bar for each M&M's color (and any Skittles collected).
      1. Tip: Each Skittles habitat labeled on the x-axis should have seven bars for it, one for each of the six M&M's colors and one for any Skittles collected.
      2. If you want, you can make a separate graph for each Skittles habitat. If you do this you should end up with five graphs, one for each Skittles color.
  2. Look at your graph(s) and analyze your results.
    1. Do you notice any interesting patterns between the color of the Skittles habitat and the color of the M&M's that were picked?
    2. Hint: What is different about the blue M&M's? What about the brown M&M's and the purple Skittles?
    3. How do you think this same survival strategy would work in the wild?

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Variations

  • In the wild, adaptation and evolution happen over several generations. There is a way to test this phenomenon with the M&M science project. Pick one colored Skittles habitat and randomly put the contents of an entire package of M&M's on it. After a round of predation, as was described in the science project, double the number of M&M's that are left by adding a colored M&M to match the color of each M&M that is left. For instance, if there are 4 red and 2 brown M&M's left, then add 4 more red and 2 more brown M&M's. Then repeat another round of predation. How many rounds does it take to get all the same colored M&M's?
  • Do some research on how different animals use camouflage. What types of things do animals try to look like? Do some animals try to look like other animals? Do some predators use camouflage too? Think of a way to investigate how effective different types of camouflage are. For example, you could have volunteers try to spot different camouflaged animals in pictures, like the katydid in Figure 1 in the Background, and time how long it takes for them to spot the animal. Do some camouflage techniques work better than others?
  • Different animals have adapted to different environments and habitats. Take a trip to your local zoo and bring your lab notebook. Write down and draw pictures of any special adaptations you observe. Do animals in the zoo use camouflage? Do the zookeepers do a good job of creating natural habitats? How do you think that the adaptations of zoo animals work in the wild? Do some kinds of animals have more adaptations than others?
  • You could repeat this experiment but use different types of candy. How easy is it for M&M's hunters to catch their prey when the habitat is made using candies of a different shape, such as Nerds candies, or candies that are both different in shape and multi-colored, like candy corn? How effectively can the M&M's camouflage?

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