Parent and Offspring - Survival of the Specialist

All the members of a species that live in the same area or habitat are called a population. The collection of the earthworms that live in your yard could be called a population. Utah's mule deer, peach trees in Brigham City, columbines in Albion Basin, and the vultures on the Serengeti are all populations.

Each species has traits that set them apart, but individuals within a species can show variation. Some variations make it easier for the individual to survive in their environment. Such a variation makes them successful. They have offspring with the variation and they are also successful. Over many generations the variation becomes a trait for an entire species.

Consider rabbits and hares. They are closely related and often confused. At birth, a rabbit is blind, and has no hair. A hare on the other hand, can see at birth and has…well, HAIR!  

Jack rabbits (which are really hares - oh well!) graze openly, have very large ears, keen eyesight, and run very fast.

Snowshoe hares have furry hind feet and turn from grey-brown in summer to snow-white in winter.

Cottontail rabbits have bulging eyes and strong hind legs.

What are the specialized body structures for? Think about how these structures help each living thing to survive.

Wild sunflowers

  • Grow in the mountains
  • Have small leaves and small flowers. This variation helps them survive in their environment. Mountains are often very dry in the summer.

Small leaves and flowers use less water than large leaves and flowers.

How would a sunflower’s small leaves and flowers help it survive in its dry mountain environment?

Bird adaptations
Owls have large feathers that let them to glide quietly. An owl's feathers help it survive by helping it quietly sneak up on mice.

Humming birds have small feathers that let them flap their wings very, very quickly. Because they can flap their wings so quickly, they can hover in one place, like a helicopter.

Bird beaks!


Let’s look at how a bird’s beak affects the way it gathers food and is an adaptation to the environment.


  • Mixed bird seed (different sizes or kinds of seeds)
  • Several containers to hold seeds (examples include: paper cup, empty toilet paper roll, flat pan, egg carton and mixing bowl)
  • Various tools to use as "beaks" (examples include: pliers, serving spoon, tweezers, coffee and regular sized straws, small piece of wire)


  1. Place the seeds at the bottom of each container. The containers represent the location of a food source. For example, the bark of trees, ponds, and flowers.
  2. See which “beaks” (tools) will work the best to remove seeds from each container. Be sure to test each type of beak in each container.
  3. With a partner, discuss how different beak structures help birds adapt to their individual environments.

Now that you know a little more about how bird beak structure help birds adapt to their environment, it is time to test your knowledge.

  1. Look at the variations in the beaks of different bird species.
  2. Look at the variation of each bird beak.
  3. Now look at the different environment choices.
  4. Match the bird to the environment that it would have the greatest chance of survival.

Hint: Think of the beaks as food gathering tools and the diet of each bird eat – fish, seeds, insects, pollen?

Check your knowledge:
Look closely at each bird in the left column. Then choose the best environment from the photographs in the right column. Check your answers by highlighting the box below the photographs.

1. A.
2. B.
3. C.
4. D.
5. E.
1. C, 2. E, 3. D, 4. B, 5. A
utah state board of education This Sci-ber Text was developed by the Utah State Board of Education and Utah educators.