5. Adaptations

What you need to know...
  • What are adaptations?
  • What are some examples of adaptations in animals and plants?

What are adaptations?
Adaptations are features which animals or plants have which help them survive in their environment. Adaptations can be structural (such as wings or beak shape), physiological (such as the ability to make venom or tolerate extreme temperatures) or behavioural (such as being nocturnal).
If animals and plants are not adapted to their environment they will have a reduced change of surviving and reproducing and may eventually die out.

What are some examples of adaptations in animals and plants?
Understanding adaptation is most easily done if we look at examples of animals and plants that live in extreme environments.
The Arabian (Dromedary) camel 
Picture from Wikimedia Commons
The Arabian (Dromedary) camel is found in Northern Africa and Southwest Asia where they are adapted to survive in the hot and dry conditions. A camel's hump is a store of fat (not water as is often believed) which can be broken down to release energy and water giving camels the ability to travel up to 100 miles without food or water. They are also adapted to minimise water that is lost - they do not sweat and their digestive system produces very dry faeces. Other features help them survive are slit-like nostrils and two rows of long eyelashes which protect the eyes and nose from sand. Large hooves help them spread their weight on the sand.

Saguaro Cactus
The Saguaro Cactus is found in Central America and the southern part of North America. It is a great example of how plants need to be adapted to to survive. Cacti are adapted to this hot and dry environment by not having leaves. Instead they have sharp spines. Plants tend to lose water from their leaves and so the Saguaro Cactus avoids this problem by simply not having leaves. The sharp spines protect the cactus from animals which may wish to eat them. In addition they have fleshy stems which store water and large root systems which tap water.
Polar Bear
The Polar Bear is adapted to a very different environment to the cactus and camel. It lives largely within the Arctic Circle and needs to tolerate very cold temperatures and hunt for food. It has a white fur to camouflage itself from prey it is hunting on the snow or ice. It has very thick fur and with a thick layer of fat to insulate itself against the cold. It has small ears and tail to prevent heat loss. It has sharp claws for tearing apart prey.

Other examples of animal and plant adaptations
Every animals and plant needs to be adapted to its environment to survive. The examples about are mainly about temperature but there are other extreme environments which animals needs to be adapted for. You may wish to look into how organisms tolerate high altitudes, high concentrations of chemicals and other extreme environments.
BBC Wildlife Finder has a great selection of clips about the many wonderful ways in which animals are adapted to their environment. 
You will learn more about behavioural adaptations in the next subtopic.