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A lapbook for a salmon animal study


Study by Celia
Lapbook by Ami

Library List:

These books are just a few possibilities.  There are many other possibilities--use whatever you have on your shelves already or what you can get from your library.   At minimum, you will probably want to get a life cycle book, a book that contains photographs of salmon, and maybe a book on migration.  

Salmon Stream by Carol Reed-Jones  (A picture book telling the life cycle through a cumulative rhyme and gorgeous pictures.  Lots of good information for the parent at the end. There is one remark that parents may wish to know about:  "This is the rain that swells the rivers, and sends the message that nature delivers to salmon to send them home to spawn,...."  We just used it to discuss instinct and how God created the salmon to know when  it was time head back to their home stream.  This was in-line with a couple references in the book to the fish instinctively knowing when it was time to head to the ocean and how they obey "the voice of instinct" when they head back home.)

Salmon Creek by
Annette LeBox & Karen Reczuch    (A picture book telling the life cycle of Sumi, a coho salmon.  At the end, there is information on the many threats to salmon, a glossary, a reading list, and a list of some easy ways children can help.)

Swimmer by Shelley Gill  (A picture book telling the life cycle of Swimmer, a Chinook salmon in Alaska; could be a unit study in itself!   In addition to the story and beautiful illustrations, each page is filled with  details relating to both the salmon and the Native Alaskans.    Near the end of the story, some information at the bottom of the page refers to modern salmon having "evolved over 50 milLion years ago,"  etc.   You could easily skip over this or use it as a spring board to discuss your beliefs.)

Sockeye's Journey Home:  the Story of a Pacific Salmon
(Smithsonian Institute) by Barbara Gaines Winkelman   (A picture book of  part of the life cycle of the sockeye salmon.   This story begins when the salmon is about three years old and living in the ocean, getting ready to head back to the home stream.  This book does not contain information on the early stages of the life cycle.)

The Magic School Bus Goes Upstream:  A Story About Salmon Migration by Joanna Cole

Come Back, Salmon:  
How a Group of Dedicated Kids Adopted Pigeon Creek and Brought it Back to Life by Molly Cone

A Salmon Story
by Rita Ramstad.  (beginning reader:  12 pages, with 10-12 words per page, and similar in size to a BOB book.)

Red Tag Comes Back
by Fred Phleger.  (A Science I Can Read book; a 64 page reader that tells the life cycle of the salmon.)

Atlantic Salmon
by Bianca Lavies  (Note:  At the bottom of the third page, she does say that "Fish are an ancient line of animals, the first have appeared on earth."  The last pages talks about how ancient peoples thought the life cycle was "magical" and that they fish died in the spring and came back to life later.   Every page is full color photographs showing the salmon up close in various stages of its life.)

Life Cycle of a Pacific Salmon
(Life Cycles series)  by Jason Cooper   (24 pages, photographs of the various stages.  Text is large print, and not too overwhelming.  Key words are in bold print.  Glossary in back.)

If you are a member of ReadingA-Z, you can download Leap:  A Salmon's Story here.  

The Journey:  Stories of Migration by Cynthia Rylant  (Contains information on other migrating animals:  locust, whale, eel, butterfly, caribou, and tern.)

Where Have all the Pandas Gone?  Questions and Answers About Endangered Species by Melvin and Gilda Berger.   (There is a reference on page 3, in the introduction, to dinosaurs having been "driven to extinction when an asteroid struck our planet some 65 milLion years ago"  and giant mammoths that "died out about 10,000 years ago.")

North America Map
Print for two students
Classification Side by Side

Salmon Diet/Prey Twice Folded
Print for two students
Fish that Migrate
Atlantic Salmon
Diary/Creative Writing Pocket
Life Cycle Wheel
Pacific Salmon
Cover Page
Vocabulary Fan Book
Saltwater vs. Freshwater Shutterfold
Numbers Flap Book
Semelparity/Homing Instinct Matchbooks



adult salmon -- a stage in the life cycle of the salmon.  Full grown salmon live in the ocean before they migrate back to their home stream to reproduce.

alevins (al uh vins) -- a stage in the life cycle of the salmon. A baby salmon newly hatched from the eggs--they have a yolk sac

anadromous -- fish that migrate from fresh water to salt water.  Salmon are an example.

camouflage -- The ability of an animal to blend in with its surroundings because of its markings and coloring

estuary -- the coastal area where the salty waters of the ocean mix with the fresh waters of a river.

fingerling -- another name for a young salmon.

fresh water -- water that contains very little salt, usually found in rivers, lakes, and ponds

fry -- a stage in the life cycle of the salmon.  Small salmon after they have used up their yolk sac.  

juvenile salmon --  a stage in the life cycle of the salmon.  Young salmon that have made the journey to the ocean, where they will grow until adulthood.

life cycle -- the stages and changes that an animal goes through from the beginning of it's life to the end.

migrate -- to travel from one location to an area, periodically or seasonally.

milt -- the milky substance a male salmon squirts on the eggs to fertilize them.

parr -- a stage in the life cycle of the salmon.  Small salmon fry that have developed camouflage markings called parr marks.  

redd -- nests made by a female salmon

smolt -- a stage in the life cycle of the salmon.  Salmon that's ready to make the migration from the stream to the ocean.  At this stage, a salmon's body has developed to allow it to make the change from fresh water to salt water.  

spawn -- breed, reproduce


Atlantic Salmon  -- Below is a list of just a few of many places where salmon live that you might locate on a map or choose to learn about.  If you live near a salmon run, you may wish to learn more about it instead.

    Atlantic Ocean
    Ungava Bay (Canada)
    Bay of Fundy (Canada)
    Connecticut River  (New England)
    Pawcatuck River  (Rhode Island/Connecticut)
    Merrimack (Merrimac) River (New Hampshire/Massachusetts)
    Kennebec River  (Maine)
    Penobscot River  (Maine)

Pacific Salmon -- A few places you might locate on a map or choose to learn about include:
    Pacific Ocean
    Columbia River  (British Columbia/Washington/Oregon)
    Snake River  (Wyoming/Idaho/Oregon/Washington)
    Fraser River (British Columbia, Canada)
    Copper River (Alaska)
    Skeena River  (British Columbia, Canada)

Science Rabbit Trail:   As you discuss rivers and their flow into other rivers and/or ocean, you may also wish to introduce the concept of watersheds and drainage basins.  A watershed is the area of land into which water flows (or is "shed," hence the name).  When it rains or snows, the waters gather into streams, rivers, and lakes.  These often eventually flow into larger rivers, which in turn flow into even larger rivers, and eventually into the ocean.  

For example in the area where I live, we have small streams which flow into a larger river, so we are in that larger rivers' watershed drainage area.  That larger river flows into the Ohio River, so we are in the watershed drainage area of the Ohio River Basin as well.  The Ohio River eventually flows into the Mississippi River, and so we are also in the watershed drainage area of the Mississippi River Basin too.  

The areas in which the Pacific salmon and the Atlantic salmon live have similar watershed and river basin systems.  This may be a topic you wish to further explore.

You will likely find that you too are located in a similar system, and you may wish to learn more about it.   You may wish to demonstrate the concept of your watersheds (or those of the salmon if you explored those), by using Venn diagrams where the circles are within one another.

Links to get you started:
    Clickable Map of America's regional watersheds  
    Mississippi River Basin      
    New England Watershed
    Pacific Northwest Watershed


Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Osteichthyes (bony fish)
Family Salmonidae (salmon, trout, and char)

Types of Salmon  (Source:  Gold Seal, All About Fishing, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and Wiki)

Atlantic Salmon  (Genus Salmo)

The genus name for the Atlantic salmon is salmo, and means "jumper."

Atlantic Salmon (salmo salar) is most prolific of all salmon.  They are silvery in color with large black spots.  They average 17 to 22 lbs. in weight, but can reach 65 lbs.  After spawning, about 1 in 10 will once again make the migration back to the ocean and later return to their home streams to spawn again.   They live in the North Atlantic Ocean from North America to England and the eastern coastline of Europe.

Pacific Salmon  (Genus Oncorhynchus)
The genus name for the Pacific salmon is Oncorhynchus, and means "hooked snout."   There are six species of eastern Pacific salmon.   (Note some books refer to only five.  After reading the lesson about Steelhead Trout, you'll understand why.)
These species of the Pacific salmon can be found in various places along the coastline of southern California  to the Bering Sea.  

As the salmon make their way back to their home stream to spawn, the male of some of the species of salmon change.  They do not eat (they rely on what their bodies have stored up before the journey began).   Their body colors change (for example, sockeye develop greenish colored heads and red bodies).   Their mouth becomes more hook shaped.   Their backs may develop a hump.  These changes signal to the females that he is ready to spawn (reproduce).

Most Pacific salmon die within a week or two after they return to their home stream and spawn.  This trait of dying after reproduction is called semelparity.   The steelhead trout salmon is the exception of the Pacific salmon, having the ability to repeat spawning without dying.  

Diet  (What do salmon eat?)
Salmon are carnivores, meaning that they eat meat.  They eat plankton, fish, squid, shrimp, etc.

Predators (What eats salmon?)
Salmon are eaten by man, bears, other fish, and birds like eagles and kingfishers.  Because many salmon die after spawning, home streams are littered with decaying fish during spawning time.  Bears, eagles, wolves, foxes, ferrets, and other animals take advantage of these easy and abundant meals.

Life cycle of the Salmon:

 A spawning female Pacific salmon digs a nest, called a redd, in the gravel of a stream, where she lays hundreds of reddish eggs, each about the size of a pea.  After the eggs are laid, a male salmon fertilizes them by squirting them with milt.  After that, the female gently covers the eggs with gravel.  The female and male repeats this in different areas of the stream (except for the sockeye salmon, which only makes one redd), until thousands of eggs (2,000 to 10,000) have been laid and fertilized.  The male Pacific salmon soon dies after he fertilizes the eggs (except for the steelhead trout, which will once again migrate to the ocean and later return to spawn again.

The Atlantic salmon are similar, except (like the steelhead trout) the Atlantic salmon do not die and again migrate and return to re-spawn.   This characteristic of dying after spawning is called semelparity.  

The eggs remain hidden for up to 4 months before hatching as alevins.  Alevins are tiny fish with a large yolk sac attached to their bellies.  This yolk sac provides food as the baby fish grows, so it does not need to find food.  Once the yolk sac is used, the small fish are called fry.  Some kinds of salmon at this stage develop parr marks, and are so then called parr instead of fry.  The parr marks help to camouflage them.  Some Pacific salmon are in this fry/parr stage briefly before migrating to the ocean; others a year.  Atlantic salmon stay in this stage for 2 to 6 years.  

By the time the fry/parr are ready to migrate to the sea, their bodies start changing to allow them to make the move from the fresh waters of the stream where they were born to the salty waters of the ocean to where they will migrate.   They are now called smolts.  

One of the changes is in their coloring.  Their bodies change from brownish-greens that help camouflage them in a stream to a more silvery color to help them hide in the ocean.  Their blood makes changes that will allow them to need less oxygen in the ocean (there is less oxygen in the ocean than in streams).  The salt pumps in their gills also begin to change.  In streams, the salt pumps act to keep too much salt from leaving the fish.  In the ocean, the salt pumps act to remove the excess salt of the ocean.  Isn't it amazing how God designed the salmon to be able to change at just the right times to allow them to spend part of their life in freshwater and part of their life in salt water!  The changes the salmon go through would be like what it would take for us being able to breathe underwater!

Rain is often the signal to the smolts that it is time to make the long journey downstream.  They travel at night, and rest by day.  If the smolts are delayed (like at a dam), they may lose the urge to migrate and they do not complete the cycle by spawning.

Once the smolts arrive at the estuary, the land where the fresh water of the river meets the salty water of the ocean, they may linger to get used to the salty water.  Their getting used to the salty water is called smoltification.  

Once out in the ocean, they are considered juvenile salmon.   They spend several years in the ocean, growing and maturing into adult salmon.  They migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles during this time.  

At some point (and scientists are unsure of what triggers it), the adult salmon know it's time for them to migrate back to their home streams where they were born.  They make their way back to the estuary where they entered the ocean to begin the salmon run, the journey home.  Once they start swimming back to their home stream, they do not eat.  They rest in pools of water to regain strength for the upstream journey.  They often have to jump over obstacles, such as waterfalls.  The instinctive drive to return home is so strong that they are willing to risk all to go back, and some die trying.

Once they make it back to their home stream, they spawn and the cycle begins again.

Enchanted Learning's Lifecycle of the Salmon printout

Nice pictures of Pacific salmon during their life cycle

Language Arts

Diary:   Have your student to pretend he is either an Atlantic or a Pacific salmon and have him write a diary of his experiences growing up, traveling to the ocean, his life in the ocean, and his journey back to his home stream.  Remind him to use proper names for the stages and to note various geographic locations.


Drawing:  Have your student draw and label the stages of a salmon's life cycle.

Combination of Language Arts and Art

Comic Strip:  Have your student to create a comic strip that depicts the life cycle of a salmon.
Comic Strip Creator


Many animals migrate each year, that is move from one place to another for an extended period of time and then later return.  Often they migrate for breeding purposes, though some migrate to find food.  Can your student think of different animals that migrate?   Some birds (Canadian geese, loons, bald eagles, robins, whooping cranes, arctic tern), monarch butterflies, caribou (reindeer), some whales (humpback, gray), American silver eels, etc.  The animal that migrates the furthest is the Arctic tern, a bird which lives at the North Pole during the summer but migrates all the way to the Antarctic in the fall!

For more on migration, as well as many activities and tracking maps, visit Journey North.   Also, Enchanted Learning has worksheets and information available for several migrating animals.

As mentioned, many kinds of fish migrate.  Fish that migrate can be divided into three categories:  diadromous (die-ad-ruh-mus), potamodromous, and oceanodromous (oh-show-nod-ruh-mus).

1)    Diadromous fish travel between salt and fresh water.  

2)    Potamodromous fish travel within fresh water only.

3)    Oceanodromous fish travel within salt water only.

Diadromous fish can be further subdivided into three more categories, depending on what part of their life cycle they are in freshwater and salt water:  anadromous (uh-nad-ruh-mus), catadromous (kuh-tad-row-mus), and amphidromous  (am-fid-ruh-mus).

Here is a map that shows the area in which the different kinds of Pacific salmon roam while in the ocean.  As you can see, salmon may travel thousands of miles before returning to their home stream.

Destruction of part of an animal's migratory route can lead to great numbers of the species dying.  This has happened to the salmon and we will talk about endangerment and extinction later.

Go to the One World Journeys website to see a slideshow presentation about salmon.  Once there, choose either Highband (broadband/satellite) or Lowband (dial-up), then click on "Saga of the Salmon" to join the exhibition.  You may wish to view this slideshow after discussing the threats of endangerment and even extinction that salmon face.  Preview for suitability.

Homing Instinct

Scientists are not sure how how fish like salmon know how to return to the very stream in which they were born.   Most agree that once the fish find their way from the ocean to the estuary for their river, that the salmon use their sense of smell, but how they find their way around the ocean is a subject of debate.  Some of the different theories are how salmon might use celestial navigation (use the stars to tell which way to go), might follow food, or might be able to detect the earth's magnetic fields.   This might be an interesting topic for a research paper for an older student.

The urge to return home is called "homing instinct."  You may have heard stories of cats and dogs that move with their families hundreds of miles away, only to leave the new home and somehow find their way back to their original home.  They were able to use their instincts to return home. Instinctual behavior is a trait that an animal is born with and is not learned. God designed animals to have instincts that tell them what to do and when to do it.   An example of a natural instinct would be that a dog is born with the knowledge to lie down when tired.  A learned instinct would be for the dog to learn to lay down when commanded to.


For every 8,000 eggs produced, 4,500 alevin survive, from which 650 fry survive, from which 200 parr survive, from which 50 smolt survive, from which only 2 spawning adults survive (who produce thousands of eggs).  Source:  Wiki
For more numbers, see the Endangerment and Extinction section below.

Endangerment and Extinction

Discuss with your student what it means for animals to be endangered or extinct.

Both the Atlantic and the Pacific salmon populations have declined drastically and steadily.  Stream conditions have to be just right for the fish to lay their eggs and for the newly hatched fish to survive.  The water especially needs to be fresh, clear, and cool.   In most places where salmon spawn, conditions are now less than ideal.  Streams have become polluted.  Dams have been built on the rivers used by the salmon, thereby limiting the salmon's return to their native areas.  People have cut down trees along the rivers, so that the trees no longer cool the river.  Logging and other activities have allowed silt and sand to muddy and thicken the streams.

In the Snake River area of the Pacific Northwest alone, "not long ago, before any dams were constructed, up to 16 milLion salmon and steelhead would return in any given year......Today, all runs of salmon and steelhead on the Snake River are either extinct or listed under the Endangered Species Act.  Last year only three sockeye salmon returned to their spawning grounds in Idaho."     Source     

In the New England area of the United States alone, "Historic Atlantic salmon abundance in New England probably exceeded 30,000 returns annually. Overfishing and habitat destruction resulted in a severely depressed US population restricted to Maine and by 1950 with adult returns of just a few hundred fish in a handful of rivers. Hatchery-based stock rebuilding occurred from 1970-1990 reaching a peak of 5,624 fish in 1986. A widespread collapse in Atlantic salmon abundance started around 1990. In the past decade, US salmon returns have averaged 1,600 fish and returns in 2005 were 1,320 fish."   Source

To say the least, these numbers are alarming!

At the end of the book, Salmon Stream by Carol Reed-Jones, there are addresses for several organizations to which your student could write to get more information on the conservation efforts to save the salmon.  Here are a couple you can visit on the Internet:

Atlantic Salmon Federation

Save Our Wild Salmon

Sierra Club

Freshwater vs. Salt Water

What is the difference between freshwater and salt water?   All water contains some salt.  Freshwater, however, contains less than 1% salt and generally does not taste very salty.   Have your student get a small cup of water and take a drink--does it taste salty?  Probably not.  Add a pinch of salt and take a sip--does it taste salty now?  Perhaps a little.  What about if you add a teaspoon?  A tablespoon?  Yuck!  

Have or help your student make a list of general places that are freshwater.  Included in this list might be streams, rivers, lakes, ponds.  Can he name specific places?  This list might include Grandma and Grandpa's Pond, the Mississippi River, Lake Erie, etc.   Research and learn more about specific freshwater places.  (Perhaps one on the list or others, such as the Great Lakes--which makes up 22% of the world's fresh water)

Now have your student make a list of general places that he could find salt water.  This list will probably be short and list only oceans, though he might recall that the Red Sea and the Great Salt Lake of Utah are also salty.    You may wish to take this time to review the name of the oceans--can your student name all of the oceans?  They are:  Atlantic, Arctic, Indian, Pacific, and the Southern Ocean.   Some teach this last ocean as the Antarctic Ocean.  However, in 2000, the name Southern Ocean was given to the waters surrounding Antarctica and north to 60 degrees latitude.   

Source: Enchanted Learning  

Enchanted Learning's Label the Oceans

A cubic foot of saltwater contains over 2 pounds of salt.  So what makes oceans salty?  As rivers flow toward the sea, they pick up mineral salts and carry them along until they are emptied into the sea.  Now, this river water is not very salty.  However, as water from the oceans evaporate, the salt stays behind in the waters.  The remaining waters get saltier with time.   Source:  Enchanted Learning    

The current saltiness of the sea is yet another bit of evidence for a young earth--if the earth were indeed milLions or bilLions of years old, it would be far saltier than it is today.  Parents, you may wish to read this Answers in Genesis article.  

Rivers and streams are not the only source of the ocean's salts, however.  Hydrothermal vents in the floor of the ocean often spew out salt minerals into the waters.

If all the salt from the ocean were removed and spread out over the land, it would form a layer more than 500 feet thick!   Source

Salt from the ocean is comprised of over 80 chemical elements and is so complex that scientists cannot reproduce it exactly.  Source     How amazing our God is!

Just for Fun!

Run, Salmon, Run Board Game

    Rules    Information for Teachers

    Graphics Needed for the Game, including the board

If you are using this salmon study in a group setting, here is a fun activity for the students to learn how salmon might use their sense of smell to travel back to their home stream.