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Adaptations

A Science A–Z Life Series
Word Count: 1,877

Adaptations

Written by Ron Fridell

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elements of a genre Key reading strategy: Using a glossary and bold-faced words Other suitable reading strategies: Using a table of contents and headings. physical. evolution. page 8 (bottom): image courtesy of UC Museum of Paleontology/www. naturalist. page 11 (right and inset): David Gates/© Learning A–Z. organism.com/Iurii Konoval.com/ Jelani Memory.com/Mikael Damkier. and others do not. not deliberate choices. page 20 (bottom): © Behavioural Ecology Research Group/University of Oxford.com/James Stoddard. survive Key comprehension skill: Main idea and details Other suitable comprehension skills: Classify information. page 22 (top left):© iStockphoto. summarize. Inc. bottom right). page 8 (top): © iStockphoto. compare and contrast. pages 3.com/Carl Jani. page 5 (top right): © iStockphoto. desert. Johnson. page 18: © iStockphoto. 9.com/Marc C. 13. 16 (left).com/Sam Chadwick. Darwin. 6.com/ Håkan Karlsson. page 14 (bottom): © iStockphoto. blowhole. 5 (top left. title page. gene. bottom left. scientists. back cover. Key words: adapt. page 12: Sheryl Shetler/© Learning A–Z.sciencea-z. cell. 15. www.edu. ask and answer questions. instinct. Behavioral adaptations are usually responses to environmental conditions. Many different adaptations to a species are often successful. page 22 (top right): © iStockphoto. survival of the fittest.com Illustration Credits: Pages 4. Some adaptations turn out to be successful. mutation. animals. These changes range from global to microscopic and may include changes in the climate.com/Mark Weiss. visualize Photo Credits: Front cover (top left. page 16 (right): © Stephen Dalton/Photo Researchers. page 11 (left): © iStockphoto. Physical adaptations are natural occurrences. Only those organisms with successful adaptations survive and pass on their genes to future generations. adaptation. inherited. identify facts. extinct. 20: Stephen Marchesi/© Learning A–Z. plants.ucmp. habitat. humans. bottom right). reflex. not momentary decisions made by individuals. page 7: Cende Hill/© Learning A–Z Adaptations © Learning A–Z Written by Ron Fridell All rights reserved. page 19 (right): © Hemera Technologies/Jupiterimages Corporation. connect to prior knowledge. and the availability of essential resources for survival. 19 (left). canopy. birds.Key elements Used in This Book Adaptations The Big Idea: Plants and animals. have to adapt in response to changes in the environment. page 14 (top): © iStockphoto.sciencea-z. rainforest. generation. behavior.com/Rena Schild Written by Ron Fridell www. which has led to incredible diversity in nature. characteristics. 10. environment. front cover (top right): © iStockphoto. page 17 (top): © iStockphoto. climate. 22 (both bottom): © Jupiterimages Corporation. page 5 (bottom left): © iStockphoto. species. predator.berkeley. drip tip. 17 (bottom)..com/Prill Mediendesign & Fotografie. populations of other species sharing the same habitat.com . including humans.

. a bright red cardinal cracks open seeds with his hard bill.. On a pond nearby............................................................... and splinters fly as a woodpecker drives her hard........................... The insect struggles....... he stops and dives to catch an insect out of midair............................................ chisel-like beak into a tree...................... A quick................... On the hunt for grubs..... singing a beautiful song...... 16 Human Adaptations............................. but it can’t escape....... Down on the ground.......... some ducks float along lazily.... Their heads dip down into the water and back up................. their wide bills dripping with water. A small bird called a warbler sits on a high tree branch. 6 Plant Adaptations.Cactus spines are an adaptation to protect the plant from being eaten............................ 23 3 Afternoon sunlight filters through the trees in a city park...................... Introduction Table of Contents Introduction.......... 19 Adaptations Everywhere.... hard rat-tat-tat-tat sound splits the air......... she drills through the bark as a jackhammer breaks up concrete.............. 13 Behavioral Adaptations............... 10 Animal Physical Adaptations.......... 4 Survival of the Fittest..... 22 Glossary... 4 ............... Suddenly.......... The warbler returns to his perch to enjoy his snack.

Survival of the Fittest Organisms that successfully adapt to changes in their environment keep reproducing so that their species will survive. The person who first brought this theory to the world’s attention was Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin 5 6 . these birds’ beaks adapted to help them gather the food they need to survive. where insects lay their eggs. which was published in 1859. or “survival of the fittest. but what they eat is different. a British naturalist. and how do they help each plant or animal? Let’s find out. Because their food is different. individuals are born with differences called mutations. Adaptations are at the heart of each species’ survival. The woodpecker uses its long. Sometimes a mutation can help an organism adapt to a change in its environment. Ducks have wide bills for straining plants and small fish out of the water. The warbler’s beak—thin and pointed. Why do certain adaptations develop. All plant and animal species have adaptations—changes that help them survive in their habitat. These mutations may change the way an animal or plant grows and what it can do. Each bird’s beak is adapted to its habitat and food source. hard beak is made for cracking seeds. like tweezers—is designed for grabbing insects. Over hundreds of thousands of years. Those that cannot adapt usually die out.These birds are all looking for a meal. How do adaptations happen? Within a species. This notion of adapting to survive is known as natural selection. The cardinal’s short. their beaks have different shapes. strong beak to bore into wood. He wrote about it in his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.” It means that the species that are the best suited to live in a certain environment are most likely to survive.

or feature that identifies. a whale’s nose is a hole atop its head. called a blowhole. Today. These whales could breathe more easily in deep water. Its breathing hole was farther forward than a modern whale’s. a whale. Then. millions of years ago. For instance. its blowhole breaks the water’s surface briefly to allow the whale to take a breath. The blowhole makes it much easier for the whale to breathe. the whales with higher breathing holes survived better. As more and more organisms are born with that change. some whales developed a breathing hole farther up their head. Their babies also had breathing holes high on their heads. with its lungs filled with a fresh supply of air. The high breathing hole became a characteristic of. the change becomes an adaptation. away from shore. Breathing Hole Oldest: Pakicetus Whale Old: Rodhocetus Whale This skull is from a very ancient whale. They could rise to the water’s surface and take a breath without sticking their snouts above the water. it flexes its tail and returns to the ocean’s depths.If the mutation helps an organism survive. Evolution of the Whale’s Nose Blowhole The location of a whale’s blowhole helps it breathe when it surfaces. When a whale arches its body. that organism will pass on the mutation to the next generation. As whales began to spend more time far out in the ocean. Modern: Gray Whale Today 7 8 . Over many generations. all whales had teeth and breathed out of holes at the end of their snouts.

Let’s compare how desert plants and rainforest plants adapt in order to meet their need for water and sunlight. We know of these extinct species only through fossil records. Plant Adaptations Maybe dinosaurs could not adapt to a changing environment.What becomes of plants and animals that cannot adapt to their changing environments? They become extinct. forever wiped off the face of the Earth. In deserts. Others believe dinosaurs became extinct because they could not adapt quickly enough to changes in Earth’s climate. plants must adapt to different elements of their environment. Why? Most scientists now agree that a giant meteor hit Earth. 9 To reproduce and survive. perhaps a thousand more became extinct before humans existed. It created so much dust that it blocked sunlight. Desert plants are spaced widely apart. Plants in deserts are spaced widely apart so they can share their environment’s limited supply of water. which caused the dinosaur’s food supply to die. they must get enough water and sunlight to make their own food. water is a scarce and precious resource. 10 . For every species alive today. For instance. Dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago after living on Earth for about 165 million years.

water is scarce. moisture. or perhaps to hold back growth and wait for a better time. it must collect some sunlight to manufacture food. the chemicals signal the plant to grow taller. 12 . on the other hand. to flower. Depending on conditions. and other factors that affect seed germination and plant growth. For many rainforest plants growing near the ground.) in a desert. This vine is climbing a tree in the rainforest to reach sunlight. get more than enough water. so the tips of its leaves have clear “windows. but they can still sense changes in their environment. In the desert. Woody vines called Lianas have successfully adapted to these conditions. Tall trees form a thick canopy overhead to capture sunlight. a rainforest gets 200 centimeters (80 in. 11 Plants cannot see or hear. compared to less than 25 centimeters (10 in.Rainforest plants. which help the plants shed water quickly. Other vines start life high up in the canopy and then send their roots earthward. light. where things are cooler. However. The keys are chemical substances within plant cells. This heavy rainfall is why the leaves of some rainforest plants have developed sharp points known as drip tips. the problem is too little sunlight. These chemicals react to heat.” which peek out from the sand to admit light. Some climb the tallest trees to get to the available light above the canopy. temperature. This canopy leaves the forest floor in shade. but there is plenty of sunlight—too much sunlight. “Windows” in the haworthia’s leaves let in light. That is why the desert Haworthia grows almost entirely underground. Drip tips help plants shed water quickly. Too much water can kill a plant.) of rain per year. On average.

Camels lower their transparent eyelids during these storms. but animals must hunt for theirs. animals evolve and develop adaptations that help them find food and escape the animals that hunt them. adaptation. they are well adapted for desert travel. This accounts for the camel’s nickname: “ship of the desert. even through the blowing sand. These long-necked advantages helped them survive. Giraffes born with longer necks were able to reach higher into trees to gather more food than their shorternecked relatives. Therefore. Giraffes use their long necks to reach food. They also had a better view of approaching predators. over time. Before four-wheel-drive vehicles came along. more and more giraffes with longer and longer necks were born. Deserts often have fierce sandstorms.Animal Physical Adaptations Plants make their own food. or structural. camels were the chief means of transport in deserts. Over millions of years. With their transparent eyelids and tall legs. The giraffe’s neck is a good example. A camel eye has a clear eyelid. The giraffe’s neck is an example of a physical. These camels are traveling in a caravan across the desert sand. In long lines known as caravans. they can carry goods across desert sands where there are no roads or towns. They can still find food and avoid predators. These desert dwellers have an extra set of eyelids that are transparent. 13 14 . Physical adaptations help animals adjust to their climate and landscape in all sorts of interesting ways.” Camels are another example. The see-through lids protect the camels’ eyes from the stinging sands while still allowing them to journey through the desert.

Australia’s koala bears are well suited to their environment. Behavioral Adaptations In addition to physical adaptations. These are behaviors that an animal just naturally knows it should do. The camel’s eyelids and the koala bear’s fingers and toes are inherited adaptations. without being taught. Koalas have big gaps between their toes so they can grab branches. A large gap separates their first and second fingers. and a goldfish can learn to swim to the surface when it sees a light. For example. In contrast. such as a frog jumping when it’s touched. and their big toe is set at a wide angle from each foot. Behavior describes how an animal acts and reacts to its environment. A sea turtle digging a hole in the sand to lay its eggs and birds migrating south for the winter are both acting on instinct. A reflex is a purely automatic reaction. Reading is a learned behavior you acquire from experience at home and school. 15 16 . They spend much of their time in eucalyptus trees eating the leaves. learned behavior changes as a result of experience. An instinct is a more complex inherited behavior. These physical features help make the koala a skilled tree climber. based on physical characteristics inherited from parents at birth. animals have behavioral adaptations. The simplest form of inherited behavior is a reflex. you can train a dog to obey commands.

17 They studied the songs of birds raised in normal conditions— in a group with parents. 18 . since the isolated birds were born knowing how to sing. Or there’s the deep-sea anglerfish’s method. singing must also be partly learned. the digging behavior of rodents. Scientists have found that many behavioral adaptations are like the songs of birds. Other behaviors include bird migration. but just like their they learn complex songs from others. Some behaviors help protect against predators. They can’t decide whether the behavior was inherited at birth or learned later from parents. A pufferfish inflates its body to look bigger to its predators. but their songs were simple. Some behavioral adaptations puzzle scientists.Some behaviors help animals attract a mate— a male peacock fanning its colorful feathers. and the honey making of bees. Since normal birds adjust their songs to sound like their parents’ songs. Animals inherit part of the behavior and learn part of it from their parents and the other animals around them. parents’ songs. live and move about in large groups. That’s why many animals. which they use to locate females. One group of scientists set out to explore whether bird songs are inherited or learned behaviors. The scientists compared their songs with the songs of birds that lived in isolation. These isolated birds grew up knowing how to sing. The scientists concluded that singing is partly an inherited behavior. These birds’ songs sounded Birds sing simple songs by instinct. for instance. The males have large nostrils and a highly developed sense of smell. Male peacocks display their tails to attract females. such as flamingoes and wildebeests. who cooperate by releasing a scented chemical for the males to follow.

Only mammals sweat. Early humans lived in a menacing environment. The adaptation of intelligence helped us create tools and hunt. This crow bent a wire to turn it into a hook. the evaporating perspiration cools our skin. Primates sweat all over their bodies. Sweating is an adaptation to help stay cool. Dogs and cats only sweat on their feet. One of these adaptations is the ability to make tools. and lions around them. for example. In cold climates. which they used to become even better hunters than the woolly mammoths. This led early humans to invent wood and stone tools. they had to rely on their intelligence to survive. Without powerful jaws and sharp teeth and claws. That’s the first evidence of birds making tools! Shivering is an adaptation to help stay warm.Human Adaptations People have adaptations. 19 20 . Humans also have behavioral adaptations that spring from our intelligence. Humans have developed the ability to sweat. tigers. which produces enough heat to warm us up for a short while. When it is hot. we shiver. too.

cars. What do you know about inherited and learned adaptations? Look around your own environment. humans must satisfy the same basic needs as other animals. 21 How have these organisms adapted to their environments? 22 .Adaptations Everywhere Many Words for the Same Thing House – English sp ti – Greek Haus – German Casa – Spanish Rumah – Indonesian hus – Swedish Bahay – Tagalog – Chinese Think about adaptation. Humans have developed complex systems of sounds and symbols. and live in insulated shelters. Consider physical and behavioral adaptations. we grow fruits and vegetables and raise livestock. We learn to speak. we wear clothing. Other animals use a combination of mostly inherited physical and behavioral adaptations. To survive. To get food. satisfy many of our needs through learned behaviors. We use bikes. To keep warm. on the other hand. construct power plants. build fires.900 languages are spoken in the world today. and airplanes. What human-made adaptations do you see? How do these adaptations help satisfy basic needs and make people’s lives better? One of the most important human adaptations is our ability to use complex language to communicate. Humans. Other animals use sounds to communicate. but the songs of birds and the cries of monkeys are only simple signals. and write languages. read. Over 6.

7) habitat the natural conditions and environment in which a plant or animal lives (p. 5) 23 species a group of related organisms with characteristics that distinguish them from other groups of organisms (p. 16) mutations changes that living things are born with that may alter how they grow and what they can do (p. 5) survival of a theory explaining that the the fittest organisms best suited to live in a particular environment are those most likely to survive (p. through which it breathes (p. the time between when a group of organisms and their offspring are born (p. 5) behavior a way of reacting to a certain set of circumstances (p. 16) adaptations specific changes to physical features or behaviors of a species that help the species survive (p. 9) generation all the organisms of a species born around the same time.Glossary inherited passed on from parent to child (p. 7) extinct no longer in existence (p. 16) characteristic a physical feature that helps identify an organism (p. 6) 24 . 8) organisms living things (p. 6) blowhole a hole at the top of a whale or dolphin’s head. 6) instinct inherited behavior that leads an animal to act certain ways in certain situations (p. 6) naturalist a person who studies plants and animals (p. 6) reflex a purely automatic response (p. 15) adapt to change physical features or behaviors of a species in response to changes in the environment (p.