Children's books and TV shows are full of animals. But to what extent do children have an accurate knowledge of nature?
The vast majority of known animal species , 96.9% of them, are invertebrates, such as insects, snails, spiders and worms. However, when my colleagues and I asked children to draw the animals of their environment , most of them represented mammals or birds.
This suggests a disconnect between how children perceive flora and fauna and the reality of the world around them. If we do not address this issue, we risk allowing this biased view of nature to continue, which will have repercussions on efforts to combat biodiversity loss and climate change.
We asked over 400 children aged 7-11, under the supervision of their teachers, to draw their local garden or park and name all the animals that live there after them. We collected 401 drawings in total. We counted the number of different types of animals represented, and noted which ones were drawn the most or least often. We found that the children's drawings did not reflect the composition of the natural world very well. 80.5% of them contained at least one mammal and 68.6% at least one bird. In the outside world, however, only 4.7% of animal species described by science are vertebrates, such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
A third of the drawings did not contain any invertebrates. And when participants were asked to name the creatures they had depicted, they were found to be much less adept at providing detailed information about insects and other invertebrates. While they could often point to specific species of mammals and birds, this was rarely the case for these smaller, misunderstood animals.
For example, many children have been able to identify a bird as a robin. For insects, the equivalent might be recognizing a red admiral butterfly. But, in general, butterflies have only been referred to by the term "butterfly".
Prejudices about nature to take into account
This bias echoes those we have previously identified in nature documentaries , which themselves reflect the human tendency to pay more attention to larger, more charismatic species , which are more human-like than human-like. invertebrates.
This may have implications for funds allocated to species conservation. Animals that we consider more interesting receive higher levels of support . However, insects and other invertebrates play an essential role in the functioning of global ecosystems, and need us to combine all our efforts to protect them if we want to fight against climate change and the loss of biodiversity.
We know that children who spend time in nature grow into environmentally conscious adults. But many grow up without establishing a real relationship with the surrounding fauna and flora , even though we know that contact with nature does them good .
In many countries, children have much less freedom than in the past to roam and play freely around their homes. In Britain, for example, outdoor play time has been halved compared to their parents' generation.
It is also not inevitable that children are primarily interested in mammals, it is actually a phenomenon very much linked to the emphasis that culture places on mammals and birds. Parents and teachers can help children develop a good overview of the natural world by helping them get a closer look at wildlife.
How to talk about invertebrate animals to children
When you're outside with your child, you can help broaden their understanding of the living world – and stimulate that ecological awareness that we need for the future.
[ More than 85,000 readers trust The Conversation newsletters to better understand the world's major issues . Subscribe today ]
Turn over any brick or stone and you'll have every chance of finding woodlice there. Females carry their young in a pouch on their belly, like kangaroos. Children will be amused to learn that woodlice can drink through their buttocks .
Dragonflies and damselflies are easy to spot and their flight is impressive and rapid. They are also excellent indicators of water quality. Indeed, their nymphs – the young larval form – live under water and need clear water to be able to hunt.