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Structural and Behavioral Adaptations

Aug 30, 2022
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Key Concepts

  • Adaptations
  • Significance of adaptations
  • Types of adaptations
  • Structural adaptations
  • Examples of structural adaptations
  • Behavioral adaptations
  • Examples of behavioral adaptation

Introduction: 

Adaptations are special physical features or behavioral characteristics that help living organisms survive in their environment. All organisms have certain adaptations that help them survive in their particular environment. 

Explanation: 

Adaptation can involve an organism’s color, shape, behavior, or chemical makeup. Instead of being an evolutionary response by a population to some environmental factor, an adaptation can be a physiological response of an organism to an environmental change. This response has a genetic and, therefore, evolutionary origin, but it does not implement genetic changes to the responding organisms. 

Adaptations typically result due to the combination of mutation and natural selection. Mutation creates variation in populations, and genetic variation is particularly significant as it creates phenotypic variation in morphology, physiology, biochemistry, or behavior.  

Genetic variation, i.e., alleles that contribute to greater reproductive success in an organism, tends to persist over time and encode traits that contribute to that greater reproductive success. 
Adaptations are usually the products of multiple mutations, all of which have stood the test of natural selection individually or in combination.  

Adaptations  

Why are adaptations important? 

Every organism has a natural habitat that is home to that organism. This is where all the organism’s basic needs like food, shelter, water, and other needs are satisfied. However, there is always competition for these resources, and all organisms are required to develop adaptations for their survival. 

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This infers that organisms will have to adapt to the climatic conditions and predators and compete for similar resources with other organisms living in that habitat. The estimated 8.7 million species currently existing on the earth are found across a wide and diverse natural environment, ranging from frozen and desolate Arctics to the sweltering sands of the Sahara. 

The natural environment on earth is constantly changing, and as a result, animals have to develop new adaptations to accommodate this environment. Those animals that fail to adapt to their surroundings face the fate of extinction. The adaptation process ensures that the species that adapts the most survive. 

Types of Adaptations: 

Adaptations are classified according to their function and the response observed. Some of which are as follows: 

  1. Structural adaptations 
  2. Behavioral adaptations 

Structural Adaptations: 

Structural adaptations refer to the changes in the structure of a living organism that enables it to adapt better to its environment. Structural adaptations are special attributes that could consist of special body parts, such as skin, color, and shape. Such adaptations help organisms to survive in their natural habitat. 

What are the examples of Structural Adaptations? 

  1. Thick fur in animals: Animals that live in the arctic have a thick layer of fur that protects them from extreme temperatures. This fur is absent in animals from tropical regions. The thick fur is an adaptation that helps polar animals to overcome extreme cold. 
  1. Blubber: It is an important adaptation of marine mammals. Blubber is the thick, insulating layer of fat present underneath the skin and helps to keep body warmth in as well as the cold of the air or water out. Animals that have blubber include penguins, whales, seals, dolphins, etc. 
Thick Fur in Animals 
Blubber 

 

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  1. Beaks and claws: Different animals have different shaped beaks and claws depending on the type of food available in their surroundings. For example, hummingbirds have long, skinny beaks that help them drink nectar deep inside of flowers. Pelicans have large pouch-like beaks to scoop up fish. Hawks have hook-like beaks to rip apart their prey. These differences in claws and beaks are also structural adaptations that have developed over time. 
Variation in beak and claws 

Desert adaptations: 

Adaptations of camel: Camels have humps to store fat which breaks down into water and energy when water and food are scarce. They also have two rows of long eyelashes and thick eyebrows that keep out sand and desert sun. The narrow nostrils and hairy ears also help keep out sand. The thick and tough lips help them to pick at dry and thorny desert plants.  

Camels have broad and flat feet which don’t sink in the sand easily. Long legs protect them from sand heat. They can survive a week or more without water and can drink up to 32 gallons (46 liters) in one go. Their body color allows them to blend into their environment and keeps them camouflaged. 

Camel adaptations 
Camel adaptations 

Adaptations of desert plants: Not just animals but desert plants have also adapted to the dry conditions where water is scarce and the temperature is very high. Plants called succulents have adapted to the dry climate by storing water within themselves to compensate for the lower water availability. 

Succulents have shallow roots, fleshy roots, and stem to reduce water loss.  They also have a thick, waxy layer called the cuticle that provides a barrier that protects the soft, water-storage tissue inside.  

Adaptations of desert plants 

Camouflage:  

Camouflage is also a form of structural adaptation. Camouflaging is a phenomenon in which the living organism changes its color and blends in with its surroundings.  

With the help of camouflaging, the organisms can protect themselves from the prey, thereby improving their survival chances. It also helps predators to sneak up on prey. 

Owls, toads, frogs, spiders, stick insects, snow leopards, etc., are camouflaged animals. 

Camouflage 

Mimicry:  

Mimicry means the close external resemblance of an animal or plant to another animal or plant generally to avoid or deter predators. For example, monarch and viceroy butterflies. 

Monarch butterflies, as caterpillars, consume milkweed plants, which contain a toxic substance. The caterpillars retain this toxin even after transforming into a butterfly, which makes them distasteful to predators. They remain toxic. Adult viceroy butterflies mimic monarchs, although they are not toxic or distasteful. Predators avoid eating viceroy butterflies because of this mimicry of monarch color patterns. 

Mimicry 
Mimicry 
Examples of Mimicry
Examples of Mimicry

Other examples of structural adaptations include: 

  • The gills of fish 
  • Beaver’s large and pointed teeth 
  • Duck’s webbed feet
  • The flexible jaw of a snake 
  • The sharp eyesight and sharp claws (some species) of birds 
  • Frog’s strong legs to hop quickly and far 

Behavioral Adaptations: 

Behavioral adaptation refers to the change in the behavior of an organism to survive better in its environment. These adaptations are not easy to identify and require careful research.  

Examples of behavioral adaptation include migration, hibernation, learned behavior, alteration in the mode of reproduction, altered feeding habits, and distinct modes of communication. 

Animals exhibit two types of behavior: 

  1. Instinct or innate behavior: Innate behavior or instincts occurs naturally in all members of a species. It is controlled by genes and is subjected to natural selection. Instinct is an animal’s ability to perform a particular behavior in response to a given stimulus for the first time the animal is exposed to that stimulus.  

In other words, instinctive behavior does not have to be learned or practiced. Examples of innate behavior include migrating, hibernating, web-spinning, and nest building in birds. 

Examples of innate behavior
  1. Learned behavior: Learned behavior is a change in behavior that comes from experience and is not present in an animal from birth. Animals have to be taught how to do it. Learned behavior can be altered or changed. It is more common in highly intelligent species. 

Examples of learned behavior include training to hunt or find food, find shelter, courtship behavior, etc. 

Examples of Behavioral Adaptations: 

Migration: 

Migration is an adaptation where an animal or a group of animals travel a long distance to a new location. Migration is observed in birds, butterflies, bats, whales, hoofed animals, seals, fishes, etc. 

Animals migrate for various reasons, such as the unavailability of food or water resources, extreme temperatures, or inadequate conditions to reproduce. 

 Migratory Animals 

Hibernation:  

Hibernation is a special adaptation in some animals to survive harsh and cold climate conditions in the winter. In winter, the temperature outside is very cold, and food is hard to find. Hibernation helps animals to save energy by going into a deep sleep. 

Animals hibernate by slowing down their metabolism and go “to sleep.” They lower their body temperature and slow down their heartbeat and breathing, due to which their body temperature drops close to the temperature outside. 

Before hibernating, animals prepare themselves by eating a lot of food and storing it in their body as fat. While hibernating, they use up these fat reserves stored in their body to survive.  

Hibernating animals

Courtship behavior: 

Some animals exhibit courtship behavior which is performed just before mating. Animals exhibit this type of behavior to attract females. Males and females recognize each other and get stimulated as a result of courtship behavior. Such behavior helps ensure reproductive success. 

Examples of courtship behavior
Examples of courtship behavior

 

Traveling in herds or group behavior: 

Some animals can be found living in groups which can be small or large, depending on the species. Animals form groups mainly to defend themselves or to gather food more efficiently. Finding mates also becomes easier for the species that live in a group. 

For example, honey bees, fishes, meerkats, lions, various bird species, etc.  

Summary

  • Adaptations are special physical features or behavioral characteristics that help living organisms survive in their environment.
  • Adaptation can involve an organism’s color, shape, behavior, or chemical makeup.
  • Adaptations are usually the products of multiple mutations, all of which have stood the test of natural selection individually or in combination.
  • Adaptations help animals to survive better in their environment as animals have to compete with other animals for food, shelter, water, and mates.
  • The natural environment is constantly changing and as a result, animals have to develop new adaptations to accommodate this environment. The animals that fail to adapt to their surroundings face the fate of extinction.
  • Structural adaptations refer to the changes in the structure of a living organism that enables it to adapt better to its environment. These are special attributes that could consist of special body parts, such as skin, color, and shape.

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