The Mammal Study Merit Badge: Your Ultimate Guide in 2020


Do you smile whenever you notice squirrels, deer, or cats roaming around your neighborhood? I do! And the Mammal Study merit badge is a great way to take your understanding of these creatures to the next level. To earn the Mammal Study badge, you’ll need to learn about the animal kingdom, food chains, human’s impact on our environment, and more!

While you’ll still need to learn a bunch of knowledge requirements, the Mammal Study merit badge is pretty easy to earn, overall. Plus with the knowledge you gain, for requirement 5, you’ll be able to organize a project to support mammals in your local area! In this guide, I’ll be helping you to learn and answer each requirement, so that you can earn your very own Mammal Study merit badge. 🙂

If you have any Eagle-required merit badges left to earn, you also should check out my Difficulty Ranking Guide to Every Eagle-required Badge. There, you’ll also find the links to my other merit badge guides, as well as a description and summary of each badge’s requirements. I’m certain this resource will be helpful to scouts on their road to Eagle!

Also, remember that ScoutSmarts should just serve as your starting point for merit badge research. In school, we’re taught not to plagiarize, and the same is true for Scouting worksheets. Answer these questions in your own words, do further research, and I promise you’ll gain much more from every merit badge you earn!

Learning the basics of mammal studies and biology will help you out at school as well! This merit badge is so interesting, and I can’t wait to dive into things. First though, take the time to thoroughly read through the requirements to fully understand what you’ll be learning. Then, it’ll be time to get started!

What Are The Mammal Study Merit Badge Requirements?

  1. Explain the meaning of “animal,” “invertebrate,” “vertebrate,” and “mammal.” Name three characteristic that distinguish mammals from all other animals.
  2. Explain how the animal kingdom is classified. Explain where mammals fit in the classification of animals. Classify three mammals from phylum through species.
  3. Do ONE of the following:
    3a) Spend 3 hours in each of two different kinds of natural habitats or at different elevations. List the different mammal species and individual members that you identified by sight or sign. Tell why all mammals do not live in the same kind of habitat.
    3b) Spend 3 hours on each of 5 days on at least a 25-acre area. List the mammal species you identified by sight or sign.
    3c) From study and reading, write a simple life history of one nongame mammal that lives in your area. Tell how this mammal lived before its habitat was affected in any way by man. Tell how it reproduces, what it eats, what eats it, and its natural habitat. Describe its dependency upon plants, upon other animals (including man), and how they depend upon it. Tell how it is helpful or harmful to man.
  4. Do ONE of the following:
    4a) Under the guidance of a nature center or natural history museum, make two study skins of rats or mice. Tell the uses of study skins and mounted specimens respectively.
    4b) Take good pictures of two kinds of mammals in the wild. Record the date(s), time of day, weather conditions, approximate distance from the animal, habitat conditions, and any other factors you feel may have influenced the animal’s activity and behavior.
    4c) Write a life history of a native game mammal that lives in your area, covering the points outlined in requirement 3c. List sources for this information.
    4d) Make and bait a tracking pit. Report what mammals and other animals came to the bait.
    4e) Visit a natural history museum. Report on how specimens are prepared and cataloged. Explain the purposes of museums.
    4f) Write a report of 500 words on a book about a mammal species.
    4g)Trace two possible food chains of carnivorous mammals from soil through four stages to the mammal.
  5. Work with your counselor, select and carry out one project that will influence the numbers of one or more mammals.
1) Explain the meaning of “animal,” “invertebrate,” “vertebrate,” and “mammal.” Name three characteristic that distinguish mammals from all other animals.

“Animal” is the term used to refer to organisms that are in the Animalia Kingdom. This ‘kingdom’ is one of the five different groups that all living organisms are grouped by.

While it’s outside the scope of the Mammal study merit badge, in case you were wondering, here are the 5 organism kingdoms:

  1. Prokaryotes: Single-celled organisms that are microscopic and have no cell membrane or mitochondria. An example of a prokaryote is bacteria.
  2. Protoctista: These are organisms that don’t count as fungi, plants, or animals. They mainly live in water. Some examples of protoctista organisms include algae and slime molds.
  3. Fungi: These are organisms that don’t use photosynthesis to sustain themselves. Examples of fungi include mushrooms and mold.
  4. Plantae: These are plans that have cell walls and use photosynthesis to survive. Examples include trees and grasses.
  5. Animalia: These are multi-celled animals. Examples include humans or our pets.

Explain the Meaning of “Animal”

The Animalia kingdom includes all reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds, mammals, and more. Basically, it includes everything that isn’t a plant, fungus, bacteria, or amoeba. When explaining what animal means to your counselor, you can bring up these key points about animals:

  • They are multicellular, meaning they have more than one type of cell.
  • They are eukaryotic (pronounced: You — kair — ee — aw — tic), which just means that they have nuclei in their cells (where DNA is stored).
  • They are heterotrophic, which means they must consume other organisms for energy.
  • They are aerobic, meaning that they must breathe oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.

Explain the Meaning of “Invertebrate”

Invertebrate is the term used to describe any animal that doesn’t have a spine. Or, more specifically, that doesn’t have a “vertebral column.” This one is pretty easy to remember—an invertebrate is just any animal that doesn’t have a spinal column! This includes organisms like:

  • Insects, spiders, and crabs
  • Sponges, jellyfish, and corals
  • Snails, slugs, and worms

Explain the Meaning of “Vertebrate”

Vertebrate is the opposite of invertebrate, so it’s also easy to remember. A “vertebrate” is any animal with a spine. However, remember that spines don’t necessarily need to be made from bone. Sharks, for example, have spines made from flexible cartilage. Vertebrae is a very broad category, that includes all:

  • Mammals
  • Birds
  • Reptiles
  • Amphibians
  • Fish

Explain the Meaning of “Mammal”

“Mammal” is a term that refers to a subsection of the Animalia kingdom. A mammal is defined by characteristics such as having hair/fur, feeding young with milk, and having a neocortex in the brain.

Here are 6 characteristics that are common amongst mammals, which distinguish them from other organisms. Choose 3 points to research further and later discuss with your merit badge counselor:

  1. They are Endotherms, meaning that they are warm-blooded.
  2. They have four-chambered hearts
  3. They are nearly all viviparous, which just means they give birth to live young and nurse them with milk (One rare exception is the platypus, which is a mammal that lays eggs).
  4. They have three bones in their middle ear
  5. They breathe using a diaphragm, which is the muscle that expands and contracts the lungs
  6. Their lower jaw is made of a single fused bone

Remember that animals are the largest category, and mammals are the smallest. To recap, here’s what you’ll need to remember when differentiating amongst animals, invertebrates, vertebrates, and mammals:

  • Animals are multicellular organisms with nuclei in their cells. They breathe oxygen and consume food to survive
  • Invertebrates are animals without spines, vertebrates are animals with spines
  • Mammals are warm-blooded vertebrates which have four-chambered hearts and almost always give birth to live young

Now that you’ve learned about animal classifications, I’d recommend watching the short video (3:58) below to test your knowledge. See which of the terms you recognize, and take note of the topics you’ll need to study in more detail. This will make you extra prepared to meet with your merit badge counselor!

2) Explain how the animal kingdom is classified. Explain where mammals fit in the classification of animals. Classify three mammals from phylum through species.

The Animal Kingdom is one of the five kingdoms that encompass all life on earth. The other kingdoms are basically for plants, fungus, bacteria, and protists (protozoans and algae). All Kingdoms are broken down into six more categories which organize them: Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species.

What is a Phylum?

A “phylum” is the second group underneath Kingdom. A total of 40 separate phyla make up the animal kingdom. Animals are grouped together into phylums based on their primary features. The 5 most common and important phyla are:

  • Chordata: Which contains all vertebrates.
  • Cnidaria: Which contains invertebrates.
  • Arthropods: Which includes insects as well as things like spiders and scorpions.
  • Mollusks: Which includes animals like squids, cuttlefish, or snails.
  • Echinoderms: Which includes animals like starfish and sea urchins.

Here’s a fun fact: Virtually all mammals fall under the Chordata phylum. This is because almost mammals (that I know of) have a spine. I’ll be classifying 4 very different types of animals below as an example, but please don’t plagiarize. I urge you to do your own research and classify your own favorite animals!

Bald EagleSpotted DolphinGolden RetrieverPlatypus
Phylum:ChordataChordataChordataChordata

What is a Class?

A “Class” is the group below phylum. This splits the organisms of a kingdom up even more, based on their characteristics. For example, if we take the Chordata phylum (vertebrates) and break it down into classes, it is generally split into 5 categories:

  • Mammals (Mammalia)
  • Birds (Aves)
  • Reptiles (Reptilia)
  • Bony Fish (Actinopterygii)
  • Fish with cartilage (Chondrichthyes)
Bald EagleSpotted DolphinGolden RetrieverPlatypus
Class:AvesMammaliaMammaliaMammalia

Surprisingly, almost all of the animals we’re observing still fall into the same class. Most aquatic creatures would generally fall into the Actinopterygii, Chondrichthyes, or Reptilia classes. However, since they’re cold-blooded and not mammals, they’re not a part of our list. Onward!

What is an Order?

An “Order” is, again, one category below Class. As you can probably tell by now, we’re just getting more and more specific as we go down. The Class Mammalia (all mammals) breaks down into 21 categories. Here are the largest groups:

  • Primates (Primate)
  • Rodents (Rodentia)
  • Shrew-like animals (Soricomorpha)
  • Bats (Chiroptera)
  • Meat-Eaters (Carnivora)
  • Aquatic Mammals (Cetacea)
Bald EagleSpotted DolphinGolden RetrieverPlatypus
Order:AccipitriformesCetaceaCarnivoraMonotremata

What is a Family?

A “Family” is the next step. Here, we start to see some groups that are very recognizable. For example, here are a few well-known families from the order of Carnivora:

  • Dogs (Canidae)
  • Cats (Felidae)
  • Bears (Ursidae)
Bald EagleSpotted DolphinGolden RetrieverPlatypus
Family:AccipitridaeDelphinidaeCanidaeOrnithorhynchidae

What is a Genus?

A “Genus” is a group of animals from a Family which are very closely related. This can be a little confusing, so let’s break down a concrete example. The family of cats, Felidae, contains genus like:

  • Domestic cats (Felis)
  • Tigers, lions, and jaguars (Panthera)
  • Panthers and cougars (Puma) 
Bald EagleSpotted DolphinGolden RetrieverPlatypus
Genus:HaliaeetusStenellaCanisOrnithorhynchus

What is a Species?

A “Species” is the last major category of classification, and it’s the one you’re probably most familiar with. One thing to remember is that the name of a species includes its genus, like Felis catus (domestic house cat).

Bald EagleSpotted DolphinGolden RetrieverPlatypus
Species:Haliaeetus LeucocephalusStenella FrontalisCanis Lupus FamiliarisOrnithorhynchus Anatinus

Now you know every classification of mammal, from phylum to species. Well done! Just to briefly recap, the order of animal kingdom classifications, from largest to smallest, is:

  1. Phylum (Broadest Category)
  2. Class
  3. Order
  4. Family
  5. Genus
  6. Species (Smallest Category)
Do ONE of the following:
3a) Spend 3 hours in each of two different kinds of natural habitats or at different elevations. List the different mammal species and individual members that you identified by sight or sign. Tell why all mammals do not live in the same kind of habitat.
3b) Spend 3 hours on each of 5 days on at least a 25-acre area. List the mammal species you identified by sight or sign.


3c) From study and reading, write a simple life history of one nongame mammal that lives in your area. Tell how this mammal lived before its habitat was affected in any way by man. Tell how it reproduces, what it eats, what eats it, and its natural habitat. Describe its dependency upon plants, upon other animals (including man), and how they depend upon it. Tell how it is helpful or harmful to man.

For this part of the requirements, you’ll basically need to select just one mammal you’d like to research, and then write about the following topics:

  • Its life cycle (How is your species it born and raised?)
  • How it lived before its habitat was affected by humans
  • How it reproduces, its diet, and the habitat in which it lives
  • How it depends on other plants and animals to survive
  • How it is harmful and/or helpful to humans

This is going to require quite a bit of research, so the first step is to pick a mammal you would enjoy researching! Being interested in the topic will make learning much easier and more fun.

Remember, the animal you select must be a non-game mammal, meaning that it can’t be commonly hunted for meat like rabbits or deer. As an example, I’ve written a short entry on bobcats which will demonstrate how you can cover each of the requirements:

The Simple Life History of a Non-game Animal (The Bobcat)

Habitat: Bobcats are a type of large cat that belongs to the Lynx genus in the Felidae family of cats. Adult bobcats (also called lynx) usually make their den in hidden areas, like rock crevices or caves. They can be found almost anywhere in North America: in forests, deserts, and even swamps!

Life Cycle: Bobcats are not endangered, but some of their territory is being threatened by deforestation and climate change. They breed from February to June, and their litters (babies growing in mother bobcats) gestate for about 60 days. A mother bobcat will give birth to 1 to 6 kittens and then they are weaned off of milk when they are about 12 weeks old.

What it Eats: At that point, the mother bobcat takes care of its young by bringing back meat for them to eat. Eventually, she’ll even bring small live animals for them to practice hunting on! Bobcats are carnivorous, meaning that the majority of their diet is meat.

Adult Bobcat Life Cycle: Once the kittens (baby bobcats) are 10 months old, they leave the den and fend for themselves, as most bobcats live as solitary hunters. Bobcats are ambush predators, and they sneak up on prey like:

  • Mice
  • Rabbits
  • Ground nesting birds
  • Small deer

How Bobcats Depend on Their Habitat to Survive: Because bobcats eat herbivores to survive, they also depend on the plants that herbivores eat, too. The food chain for a bobcat begins with plants receiving energy from the sun! Without plants, and the herbivores that eat them, the bobcat could not survive.

How Bobcats Harm Humans: Bobcats are rarely ever a threat to humans because they are afraid to come close. On very rare occasions, a bobcat might attack a pet or small child, if they seem vulnerable. Sick or rabid bobcats might also attack adult humans, because of their illness.

How Bobcats Help Humans: Bobcats help humans be being a necessary part of the food chain—without bobcats, the population of small herbivores and pests could get out of control! Because they are such beautiful animals, bobcats are also used as ambassadors to help humans learn about the effects of deforestation. 🙂

There you go! I had a ton of fun learning about bobcats, and now it’s your turn. Choose 1 non-game animal and begin your detective work. Keep in mind, what counts as a non-game animal will differ by local regulations. For some inspiration on which common non-game animal to choose to research, check out my list below:

  • Porcupines
  • Prairie Dogs
  • Rabbits
  • Ground Squirrels
  • Pygmy Shrews
  • Armadillos
  • Bobcats
  • Coyotes
  • Mountain Lions
  • Spotted Skunks

Each of these animals are classified as a non-game animal in either Texas, California, or Alabama. If your merit badge counselor wants you to choose an mammal from your region, I’d recommend asking them for suggestions of interesting animals to study!

Do ONE of the following:
4a) Under the guidance of a nature center or natural history museum, make two study skins of rats or mice. Tell the uses of study skins and mounted specimens respectively.
4b) Take good pictures of two kinds of mammals in the wild. Record the date(s), time of day, weather conditions, approximate distance from the animal, habitat conditions, and any other factors you feel may have influenced the animal’s activity and behavior.
4c) Write a life history of a native game mammal that lives in your area, covering the points outlined in requirement 3c. List sources for this information.
4d) Make and bait a tracking pit. Report what mammals and other animals came to the bait.
4e) Visit a natural history museum. Report on how specimens are prepared and cataloged. Explain the purposes of museums.
4f) Write a report of 500 words on a book about a mammal species.
4g)Trace two possible food chains of carnivorous mammals from soil through four stages to the mammal.

Requirement 4g) is probably the most simple for most scouts to complete, but there’s a ton of fun options here, so choose your favorite. I highly recommend pursuing what interests you the most, because that’s the best way to learn! However, right now I’ll be walking you through requirement 4g.

All that you need to do is pick two of your favorite carnivorous mammals, and then trace their food chain all the way back to their roots. You’ll need to include at least four life stages. To demonstrate, I’ve chosen two different carnivores to show you what this would look like. Remember, don’t copy my examples, choose two animals of your own! 🙂

Trace Two Possible Food Chains of Carnivorous Mammals

Bobcats:Black Bears:
Energy from the sun is absorbed by plants, like grasses and trees.Energy from the sun is absorbed by plants, like berry bushes and other types of foliage.
Bugs such as grasshoppers consume the leaves and stems of the plans.
Small mammals, like rodents, also eat grasses or berries and are hunted by bobcats.
Insects consume parts of the plants.
Black bears will consume the berries of the bushes.
Additionally, large herbivores like deer consume the leaves and berries of the plants
Ground fowl, like turkeys and quail, hunt and consume the insects.Fish consume the eggs, larvae, and adult insects who use the water as breeding or nesting grounds.
A bobcat uses ambush hunting to stalk and consume the quail or other ground fowl.Black bear hunt and consumes young or weak deer.
A black bear will also hunt for fish in streams for food.
5) Work with your counselor, select and carry out one project that will influence the numbers of one or more mammals.

While the other tasks were fairly straightforward, this last one is quite open-ended. However, this is your opportunity to truly make a difference! First, consult with your merit badge counselor to brainstorm a project that will benefit mammals. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • Install a squirrel feeder in your backyard.
  • Find some usable land and plant trees that a local mammal uses in their life cycle.
  • Volunteer at your local animal shelter or humane society.
  • Build bat boxes (if you have bats in your area)
  • You could work with your counselor to eliminate invasive species which are competing for the same food sources as a local mammal

Choosing a project is between you and your counselor, so write a list of ideas and discuss it with them to find the best option! While planning and executing your project, be sure to keep the Outdoor Code Values in mind. It’s important that your plan be environmentally friendly, so check out my ultimate guide to following the Outdoor Code if you’d like some tips. 🙂

Conclusion

If you’ve completed all of the tasks above, congratulations! You’re now prepared to earn your Mammal Study merit badge. Plus, together we’ve covered a ton of info on animal classifications, food chains, and mammals along the way!

While we sure learned a lot, I want to briefly review the main points with you. Here’s a brief recap of the most important things you should remember:

  • An animal is a eukaryotic, heterotrophic, aerobic, and multicellular organism
  • An invertebrate is an animal without a spinal column, a vertebrate is an animal with one
  • A mammal is a warm-blooded animal with a four-chambered heart. Mammals almost always give birth to live young

Make sure to discuss the above points with your merit badge counselor. Also, make sure you remember the ordering of the classification system:

  1. Largest: Kingdom (like Animal or Plant)
  2. Phylum (like Chordata and Cnidaria)
  3. Class (like Mammalia or Reptilia)
  4. Order (like Rodentia or Carnivora)
  5. Family (like Canidae and Felidae)
  6. Genus (like Panthera or Puma)
  7. Smallest: Species (like Felis catus or Lynx rufus)

No go out and use what you’ve learned to help improve our planet! If you’ve found this guide helpful, you should also sign up for my newsletter to get updates whenever I post a new article. Check ScoutSmarts often, because I’m constantly uploading new guides and helpful tips for scouts like you. Until next time, best of luck on your Scouting journey! 🙂

Cole

I'm constantly writing new content for this website because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making this world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

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