An adaptation is a change that helps an animal. It happens in an organism's genes. Genes are like instructions. They tell living things how to look. They also tell them how to behave. Genes are passed down from parent to child. An adaptation helps an organism survive. Animals have many different adaptations. Adaptations are how new kinds of plants and animals come to be.

Structural and Behavioral Adaptations

Some adaptations are structural. That means they are physical. They are changes in an organism's body. Other adaptations are behavioral. They are changes in how an organism acts.

Many plants have structural adaptations. Succulents are one example. These are plants that live in hot, dry deserts. Succulents have a special adaptation. They can store water in their thick leaves.

There are many examples of behavioral adaptations. Migration is just one. Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) migrate every year. They spend some time in warm waters. They spend some time in cold waters. That way, they get the benefits of both.

Habitat

Animals adapt to their environment. They change as the environment changes.

The peppered moth (Biston betularia) is a famous example. Long ago, most peppered moths were light. Only a few were gray or black. Then their environment changed. People began building factories. These created lots of smoke. Dark moths could blend in where there was smoke. White moths could not. The white moths were eaten. Soon, the dark moths became more common.

Speciation

Some adaptations are small. Others are not. A very special adaptation can create a whole new kind of animal. This is known as speciation.

Australia is home to many marsupials. These are a type of mammal. They carry their young in pouches. Marsupials adapted to live in Australia. Over time, they changed. They became new kinds of animals. Each one plays a special part in the environment.

Coadaptation

Organisms do not always adapt alone. Sometimes they adapt with other organisms. This is called coadaptation. Certain flowers have adapted their nectar. They have made it tastier for hummingbirds. Hummingbirds have adapted their beaks. Longer beaks help them collect nectar. This relationship helps both organisms. Hummingbirds pick up pollen while drinking nectar. The flowers get to spread their pollen. The hummingbirds get food.

Adaptation and Survival

A koala hugs a tree while her baby clings to her back at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Koalas have adapted to only eat the leaves of eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus are very low in protein and toxic to many animal species. Being able to digest eucalyptus leaves is an adaptation that benefits the koala by providing it a food source for which there is little competition.

adapt
Verb

to adjust to new surroundings or a new situation.

Noun

a modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence. An adaptation is passed from generation to generation.

adaptive radiation
Noun

process in which many species develop from the same ancestral species to fill a variety of different roles in the environment.

algae
Plural Noun

(singular: alga) diverse group of aquatic organisms, the largest of which are seaweeds.

Noun

region at Earth's extreme north, encompassed by the Arctic Circle.

behavioral adaptation
Noun

way an organism acts in order to survive or thrive in its environment.

big cat
Noun

large predators, including tigers, lions, jaguars, and leopards.

carnivorous
Adjective

meat-eating.

cichlid
Noun

spiny-finned freshwater fish.

climate
Noun

all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

coadaptation
Noun

the process in which organisms develop in close relationship to one another.

Noun

edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

co-extinction
Noun

the process in which the loss of one species leads to the loss of another species.

Noun

one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

Noun

area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

Noun

growth, or changing from one condition to another.

Noun

foods eaten by a specific group of people or other organisms.

distribute
Verb

to divide and spread out materials.

dominate
Verb

to overpower or control.

environment
Noun

conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

eucalyptus
Noun

tree native to Oceania.

exaptation
Noun

adaptation that developed for one purpose but is used for another.

extinct
Adjective

no longer existing.

extract
Verb

to pull out.

generation
Noun

group in a species made up of members that are roughly the same age.

genetic
Adjective

having to do with genes, inherited characteristics or heredity.

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

hummingbird
Noun

type of very small bird.

industrial
Adjective

having to do with factories or mechanical production.

Industrial Revolution
Noun

change in economic and social activities, beginning in the 18th century, brought by the replacement of hand tools with machinery and mass production.

inherit
Verb

to receive from ancestors.

isolation
Noun

state of being alone or separated from a community.

mammal
Noun

animal with hair that gives birth to live offspring. Female mammals produce milk to feed their offspring.

marsupial
Noun

mammal that carries its young in a pouch on the mother's body.

migrate
Verb

to move from one place or activity to another.

Noun

movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.

moth
Noun

flying insect.

Noun

sudden variation in one or more characteristics caused by a change in a gene or chromosome.

Noun

role and space of a species within an ecosystem.

Noun

substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

Oceania
Noun

region including island groups in the South Pacific.

placental mammal
Noun

animal (mammal) characterized by the fetus developing inside the body of the mother, in an organ called the placenta.

pollen
Noun

powdery material produced by plants, each grain of which contains a male gamete capable of fertilizing a female ovule.

Noun

introduction of harmful materials into the environment.

resemble
Verb

to look like.

Noun

process by which one or more populations of a species become genetically different enough to form a new species.

species
Noun

group of similar organisms that can reproduce with each other.

succulent
Noun

type of plant that has thick leaves and stems for storing water.

sympatric speciation
Noun

development of many similar species in a single habitat, each with a different specialization.

thrive
Verb

to develop and be successful.

unique
Adjective

one of a kind.

urban
Adjective

having to do with city life.

vestigial
Adjective

having to do with a body part, or remnant of a body part, that no longer serves any useful function.

womb
Noun

organ in which an embryo and fetus develops. Also called the uterus.

young
Noun

offspring or children.