Animal Adaptations

Did You Know?
  • The leaves at the top of trees contain more nutrients and more water than the grasses and bushes on the ground.  The long neck of a giraffe is a successful adaptation that allows it to find plenty of nutritious food high in the treetops.
  • Animals lose large amounts of body heat through their ears.  Red foxes that live in warmer areas of the world have larger ears than arctic foxes.  Arctic foxes have the physical adaptation of small ears in order to retain more body heat and stay warm in frigid arctic temperatures.
  • Opossums have a unique behavioral adaptation that keeps other animals from wanting to eat them.  When confronted with a predator, they play dead!  Most predators prefer to eat live prey, and so they pass by the dead-looking opossum.
  • The fat in a camel’s hump is watery and provides them with a small amount of moisture during times when there is not water to drink.  But camels also store extra water in their blood which is a very successful physical adaptation to life in the desert.  Camels are also able to get water from the scrubby plants that they eat.  Because camels often have to go for several days without water in the desert, they have a physical adaptation that controls how much moisture they lose through sweat.  Instead of sweating, camels let their body temperatures rise high instead of sweating.
  • The teeth of tigers are highly adapted to eating large prey.  Bengal tigers in India kill about 30 enormous water buffalo per year.  Bengal tigers are the biggest of all cats and have the largest teeth of any meat-eating animal. 
    äMany birds have a lighter colored underside.  This physical adaptation allows them to more easily swoop down on their prey without being seen.
  • Only pregnant female polar bears hibernate.  Males continue to roam and hunt even during the coldest winter months.
  • New Guinea, an island north of Australia, has many unusual birds.  There are very few predators on New Guinea, and so the birds there have not had to develop adaptations to hide from predators (such as camouflage) or to evade predators in any way.  Instead, they have developed fancy physical and behavioral adaptations to make themselves stand out instead of hide!  They often use these adaptations to attract a mate.  Many of the birds on New Guinea are extremely colorful with unusual and exotic feathers.
  • We mostly think about animals migrating from cold climates to warm climates in order to find food.  But many whales, such as the humpback whale, migrate from warm waters to colder waters because krill, the primary food of humpback whales, grows more abundantly in cool water.  Then they migrate back to warmer waters to give birth to their young.
  • Darkling beetles in dry areas of Africa have a behavioral adaptation that helps them find moisture in their extremely dry environment.  In the evening when fog may roll in, the beetles lie on their backs with their abdomens pointing up.  The fog or dew settles on their abdomens and then the beetles tilt just enough so that the moisture trickles into their mouths.
  • Not every cave is suitable for bats to live in or hibernate in.  Only about 5% of the caves in the world have the right conditions to make a home for bats.  Caves must have just the right temperature and humidity in order to meet the needs of bats.
  • Some animals do not try to blend into their environment.  Their bright colors are a warning to predators to stay away.  The brightly colored poisonous tree frogs of South America are a good example of this.  The bright red and yellow bands on coral snakes are also a warning to predators to avoid this poisonous snake.
  • Kangaroo rats live in extremely hot deserts.  In order to conserve water, many desert animals do not produce very much urine.  The urine of kangaroo rats is so dry that it is actually a powder, not a liquid!
  • Some animals that hunt at night such as cats and owls have an adaptation in their eyes that allows them to see well in dim light.  They have a special layer in their eyes called the tapetum.  Any small amount of light that hits the tapetum is reflected back onto nearby objects.  This  helps them successfully find food in dark conditions.
  • Unlike other big cats in Africa, leopards have a behavioral adaptation that helps them protect their food.  After hunting and killing their prey, leopards carry their prey up high into trees.  Their powerful jaws are so strong that they can carry a dead animal that weighs three times their own weight up into the branches of a tree.  Once in the tree, the dead prey is safe from animals like hyenas and lions that might steal their food.
  • Some animals escape from their predators just be running really fast.  Pronghorn antelope in Yellowstone National Park are the fastest land mammal in the western hemisphere. They can run 40 miles an hour to escape from wolves and bobcats, their main predators. They can also jump up to 20 feet in a single bound in order to escape a hungry wolf!
  • The sharp curved beak of an owl is perfectly adapted to eating the prey that it captures with its sharp talons.  Owls have no teeth, and so their sharp beaks tear off pieces of their prey, and then the owls swallows it whole or feed it to their young.
  • Many desert mammals have big, tall ears that help them stay cool.  These desert mammals include jackrabbits and desert foxes.
  • The milk of harp seal mothers is adapted to life in cold temperatures.  Human mother’s milk is 4% fat.  But the milk of a mother harp seal is 50% fat.  This extra nourishment help keep baby harp seals warm in cold Arctic temperatures.
  • To adapt to cold weather, ladybugs hibernate.  They may hibernate around the windows of homes or under logs or under tree bark.  Sometimes thousands or even millions of ladybugs hibernate in one place like a cave or hollow tree trunk in the mountains.  Some farmers like to find these huge clusters of hibernating ladybugs and gather them and keep them in cold storage.  Then in the spring when the weather is warm, they release the ladybugs into their fields or orchards to eat insects that might damage crops or fruit.
  • Wolves have noses adapted to hunting! Their sense of smell is 100 times more sensitive than a human’s.
  • Gila monsters are the largest lizards in the United States, and they are carnivorous.   They are one of only two poisonous lizards in North America. The other is the beaded lizard that lives in Mexico.  Gila monsters don’t inject their poison from hollow teeth like snakes do.  Gila monsters grind or chew their venom into their prey through their special, grooved teeth.  Gila monsters can store fat in their in their long tails, and so they only have to eat three or four big meals a year.
  • Migration is often tied to season changes in weather and food availability.  Since seasonal changes are more pronounced in the Northern Hemisphere, many more migrations occur in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Vultures are scavengers that feed on dead animals.  They even feed on animals that have contagious diseases.  The digestive track of vultures has an adaptation that allows vultures to not get sick from the diseased animals that they eat.  This can benefit humans because vultures can be used to clean up (eat) sick animals that have died and, therefore, stop the spread of life-threatening diseases to other animals. 
  • The dark circles of fur around the eyes of a meerkat act like sunglasses!  The dark fur helps reflect the glare of the sun and helps the meerkat watch for predators even in bright sunshine in their African habitats.
  • European grass snakes have developed an adaptation that keeps them from being eaten by hungry animals.  When a predator catches the snake and puts it into its mouth, the snake goes limp.  Most predators are used to their prey struggling and squirming and fighting to get free. The snake then releases a foul smell and secretes bad-smelling ooze which makes the predator drop it.  When dropped, the snake lays on the ground as though dead, and it certainly smells dead!  So the predator leaves because it doesn’t want to eat something that is dead.  The wily snake then perks back up and slithers off to safety.
  • Hibernation Facts: Estivation is when animals go into a deep sleep to escape heat rather than to escape cold.  Small mammals in the Mohave Desert estivate during the hottest months of summer. Diapause is insect hibernation. A hibernaculum is a cave, burrow, or other place where animals hibernate. 
  • Small wood frogs near the Arctic Circle have developed a unique and extreme adaptation to help them survive the frigid temperatures of their habitat.  The small frog freezes to survive and becomes a “frogsicle”!  Its body develops a substance that allows vital organs to remain alive in spite of cold temperatures, but the rest of its body actually does freeze.  Its heart stops, its legs literally freeze, and yet, it is not dead.  It stays frozen for many months.  When warm weather returns, the frog’s heart starts beating again, and its body thaws.