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Structural and Behavioral Adaptations

All organisms have adaptations that help them survive and thrive. Some adaptations are structural. Structural adaptations are physical features of an organism like the bill on a bird or the fur on a bear. Other adaptations are behavioral. Behavioral adaptations are the things organisms do to survive. For example, bird calls and migration are behavioral adaptations.

Adaptations are the result of evolution. Evolution is a change in a species over long periods of time.

Adaptations usually occur because a gene mutates or changes by accident! Some mutations can help an animal or plant survive better than others in the species without the mutation.

birdFor example, imagine a bird species. One day a bird is born with a beak that is longer than the beak of other birds in the species. The longer beak helps the bird catch more food. Because the bird can catch more food, it is healthier than the other birds, lives longer and breeds more. The bird passes the gene for a longer beak on to its offspring. They also live longer and have more offspring and the gene continues to be inherited generation after generation.

Eventually the longer beak can be found in all of the species. This doesn't happen overnight. It takes thousands of years for a mutation to be found in an entire species.

Over time, animals that are better adapted to their environment survive and breed. Animals that are not well adapted to an environment may not survive.

The characteristics that help a species survive in an environment are passed on to future generations. Those characteristics that don't help the species survive slowly disappear.

    Did You Know?
beaver... the largest rodent in North America is the beaver.

... beavers' front teeth grow throughout their lives.

... beaver ponds can improve water quality and provide a water source for other animals.

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Question MarksClick here to test your adaptation knowledge.

    Nature Files    

File FolderLearn more about the adaptations these animals have that help them survive and thrive in their habitats.

porcupine Virginia opossum
eastern chipmunk beaver
arctic fox  
    Teacher's Guide
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Junior Naturalist Patrice looks at how plants and animals are adapted to their environment. Patrice and Senior Naturalist Dave Erler observe the unique adaptations of the opossum. We take up-close look at the beaver. Cody and Octave visit the New England Aquarium's critical care ward and learn how they are treating Kemp's Ridley sea turtles that have washed ashore on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Watch Online >>


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