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Crayons Indicate Children Lack Rainforest Biodiversity Perception

It’s not a new topic and in fact it is one that I recently discussed in “A Silent Mass Extinction”.  I also doubt that I’m treading on novel ground by incorporating spiders, centipedes, insects, invertebrates, bugs, or whatever you prefer to use as an everyday descriptive term, in my definition of wildlife.  I guess to make things simple, wildlife is the Animal Kingdom no matter the taxa; at least as far as I’m concerned when picking appropriate subjects for this blog. rainforest-quote

So why the disclaimer?  Well, in the throes of a rather innocuous business conference call my mind was wandering through the sphere of scientific publications and I discovered yet another report that highlighted the lack of attention given to our invertebrate brethren.  Which as I have stated before is both surprising since insects are the majority  of animal species (estimated between 2.5 and 10 million species) and not surprising because of their overall deficiency in the cuteness factor.  As opposed to repeating  the number of insects in jeopardy of extinction, the researchers explored a unique approach that involved…crayons.

We have all heard the songs, quips, and philosophies that tell us children are tomorrow’s leaders, our hope for conservation, our future, and our world.   And all of that is based on the fact that childhood experiences can influence lifelong perceptions.

“Children’s perceptions of animals and the natural environment can be diverse, although their ideas are based around isolated facts and misconceptions are common.  Forest habitats and definitions of the environment are usually characterized as wild places and a habitat for animals.”

“Familiarity and aesthetics are important factors governing children’s connections with animals, exemplified by the popularity of mammals and birds. Of all animals, invertebrates are least understood…”



“Despite children’s awareness of rainforest biodiversity, several taxa, particularly social insects, insects and annelids, are still under-represented compared to their contribution to rainforest biomass and global biodiversity. Such a finding supports previous studies, and may be driven by a variety of factors. Two likely explanations for this are that children are more aware of larger taxa or that children prefer larger taxa. An additional factor in the latter point could be that children drew larger taxa because they felt that this would give them a better chance of winning the competition (perhaps because they deem them to be prettier). Either of these explanations reveals that children’s perceptions focus on mammals and birds and undervalues the true importance of invertebrates.”

The proportion of different rainforest fauna divided by taxa drawn by different age-classes of primary children.
The proportion of different rainforest fauna divided by taxa drawn by different age-classes of primary children.

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for
Snaddon, J., Turner, E., & Foster, W. (2008). Children’s Perceptions of Rainforest Biodiversity: Which Animals Have the Lion’s Share of Environmental Awareness? PLoS ONE, 3 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002579

Scott Artis
Scott serves as Director of Development & Communications for Audubon Canyon Ranch (focusing on preservation, education and conservation science) and has almost fifteen years of experience spanning for-profit and nonprofit sectors in biotech, wildlife conservation and management, communications, and philanthropy. In addition to a strong track record in organizational growth and leadership, he is the founder of Urban Bird Foundation and Burrowing Owl Conservation Network, and presided over ECHO Fund, a coastal protection and restoration organization, as President for four years. Scott holds an M.A. in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Sustainable Development and Policy, degrees in Micro & Molecular Biology and Environmental Sciences, and has complemented his studies with a Master's certificate in Environmental Resource Management.


  1. This reminds me of a recent PhD study from The Netherlands. It shows that birds and ‘cuddly’ animals more likely to be protected. (Animals closer at home, and according to adult representatives of pressure groups.) The press release says: “Legislation, on the other hand, tends in the other direction – the law provides better protection to the smaller species.” Read more here:

  2. Thanks for passing along the link Richard. It was definitely an interesting trend that the PhD study found in the Netherlands, which appears to be applicable world-wide as well. I agree with the study and the biologist that “suggests taking a look at whether the image of such species can be improved via communication, for example by emphasizing how useful a certain animal is.”

    Perhaps as we move towards ecosystem conservation as opposed to single species conservation measures the cuddly and non-cuddly will equally benefit.

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