Adaptation and Survival

An adaptation is any heritable trait that helps an organism, such as a plant or animal, survive and reproduce in its environment.

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Koalas Climb a Eucalyptus Tree

A koala hugs a tree while her baby clings to her back at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Koalas have adapted to only eat the leaves of eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus are very low in protein and toxic to many animal species. Being able to digest eucalyptus leaves is an adaptation that benefits the koala by providing it a food source for which there is little competition.

Photograph by Anne Keiser


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An adaptation is a change that helps an animal. It happens in an organism"s genes.Genes are like instructions. They tell living things how to look. They also tell them how to behave.Genes are passed down from parent to child. An adaptation helps an organism survive. Animals have many different adaptations. Adaptations are how new kinds of plants and animals come to be.Structural and Behavioral AdaptationsSome adaptations are structural. That means they are physical. They are changes in an organism"s body. Other adaptations are behavioral. They are changes in how an organism acts.Many plants have structural adaptations. Succulents are one example. These are plants that live in hot, dry deserts. Succulents have a special adaptation. They can store water in their thick leaves.There are many examples of behavioral adaptations. Migration is just one. Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) migrate every year. They spend some time in warm waters. They spend some time in cold waters. That way, they get the benefits of both.HabitatAnimals adapt to their environment. They change as the environment changes.The peppered moth (Biston betularia) is a famous example. Long ago, most peppered moths were light. Only a few were gray or black. Then their environment changed. People began building factories. These created lots of smoke. Dark moths could blend in where there was smoke. White moths could not. The white moths were eaten. Soon, the dark moths became more common.SpeciationSome adaptations are small. Others are not. A very special adaptation can create a whole new kind of animal. This is known as speciation.Australia is home to many marsupials. These are a type of mammal. They carry their young in pouches. Marsupials adapted to live in Australia. Over time, they changed. They became new kinds of animals. Each one plays a special part in the environment.CoadaptationOrganisms do not always adapt alone. Sometimes they adapt with other organisms. This is called coadaptation.Certain flowers have adapted their nectar. They have made it tastier for hummingbirds.Hummingbirds have adapted their beaks. Longer beaks help them collect nectar.This relationship helps both organisms. Hummingbirds pick up pollen while drinking nectar. The flowers get to spread their pollen. The hummingbirds get food.

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A koala hugs a tree while her baby clings to her back at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Koalas have adapted to only eat the leaves of eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus are very low in protein and toxic to many animal species. Being able to digest eucalyptus leaves is an adaptation that benefits the koala by providing it a food source for which there is little competition.