Adaptation

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Animal Adaptations -- Vocabulary
Adaptation
A body part, body covering, or behavior that helps an animal survive in its environment. Behavior
The actions of an animal.
Camouflage
A color or shape in an animal's body covering that helps it blend into its environment. Environment
Everything that surrounds and affects a living thing. The environment includes non-living things, such as water and air, as well as other living things.
Habitat
The place where an animal lives. The physical characteristics of an animal's surroundings. Inborn Behavior (instinct)
A behavior an animal is born with and does not have to learn. Mimicry
An adaptation in which an otherwise harmless animal looks like a harmful animal in order to protect itself.
Predator
An animal that hunts and eats other animals for food.
Prey
An animal that is taken and eaten by another animal (predator) for food. Survive/Survival
Using adaptations to continue to live.

Adaptations
Adaptations are any behavioral or physical characteristics of an animal that help it to survive in its environment. These characteristics fall into three main categories: body parts, body coverings, and behaviors. Any or all of these types of adaptations play a critical role in the survival of an animal. Adaptations can be either physical or behavioral. A physical adaptation is some type of structural modification made to a part of the body. A behavioral adaptation is something an animal does - how it acts - usually in response to some type of external stimulus. When you look at an animal, you usually can see some of its adaptations -- like what it is able to eat, how it moves, or how it may protect itself. Different animals have many different ways of trying to stay alive. Their adaptations are matched to their way of surviving. Each group of animals has its own general adaptations. These groups are: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Some of these adaptations make it easy to identify which group an animal belongs to. A good example of an animal adaptation is the way in which an animal moves from one place to another.

Animals have evolved their adaptations. This means a long period of slow change resulted in an animal's adaptation(s). The spots on the snow leopard, for example, did not emerge overnight. Instead, this process took generation upon generation of snow leopards physically adapting to their environment for characteristic spot patterns to evolve. Those snow leopards with spot patterns were able to hide more successfully, therefore surviving longer than those without spots. This allowed the longer surviving snow leopards to reproduce and create more snow leopards with spot patterns like their own. Indeed, this process of change over time is the key to how many organisms develop adaptations. Some adaptations can arise quickly through genetic mutations; these mutations also may be deadly.

In the sections that follow, different types of distinctly visible adaptations and their importance will be discussed. Since behavioral adaptations are far more difficult to observe, these will not be discussed. However, the visible adaptations mentioned are easy to recognize on most animals at the Zoo and should be of special interest to children.

Body Parts
Many animals have developed specific parts of the body adapted to survival in a certain environment. Among them are webbed feet, sharp claws, whiskers, sharp teeth, large beaks, wings, and hooves.

Webbed Feet
In most aquatic animals, swimming is a must. To aid swimming, many animals have adapted and evolved with webbed feet. Webbed feet help animals propel themselves through the water with ease. This can help the animal swim faster to catch prey or escape a predator. Also, if an animal has to swim long distances, webbed feet can help it save energy so it can swim farther. One animal that can be observed at the Zoo with webbed feet is the rockhopper penguin. Other animals with slightly webbed feet: the polar...
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