In order for animals to survive, they need to be able to
adapt. In this lesson we will look at the types of adaptations animals can and
do make.

In a perfect world, animals would not need to adapt.
However, with constant changes to their environment, food chain and climate,
animals must adapt or face extinction. There are many examples of animals facing
extinction. Later on in the course we will take a look at some of these
examples, and the reasons for their endangerment.

Adaptation

An adaptation is a trait that makes an animal suited to its
environment. It can be a behavioral or a structural trait. Here a some examples:

Moving in large groups is a behavioral adaptation;
it helps protect the members of the group from predators.

The thick fur coat of an arctic fox is a structural
adaptation
. It helps protect it against the cold weather.

Adaptation happens over a long period of time. Structural
adaptation happens in the form of changing an animal’s genetic traits. Take
for example this imaginary animal, the whatsit.




The whatsit lives in woods. It s hunted by men and larger
animals. Most whatsits are born with white fur, making them easy to spot amongst
the trees. Some whatsits are born with brown, speckled fur. These are far more
difficult to spot. Since they are easier targets for hunters, far more white
whatsits are hunted and killed than speckled ones. Each time a speckled one
mates with a white one, half the offspring are speckled. Eventually the amount
of white furred ones available to breed is smaller than the number of speckled
ones. More offspring are born with speckles than with white fur. This animal has
adapted, and now the majority has speckled fur instead of white fur. Eventually
the white furred ones will disappear altogether.

There are many examples of this type of adaptation. Because
it happens over generations, it is slow. In some cases, the inability of animals
to adapt quickly enough have led to their distinction or endangerment.

Behavioral adaptation can happen far more quickly. The more
intelligent an animal is the faster it can learn to make behavioral changes, in
order to survive.

If you take the most intelligent of animals, you can
understand what happens. Humans adapt in many ways in order to survive. Here is
an imaginary example of human adaptation:

A group of people lives in village Somewhere. In the
village a large number of children die each year, after being attacked by wild
animals. The villagers can make changes to their environment and behavior in
order to protect the children. They can build fences around the village. They
can make traps to catch the animals. They can ensure that the children only go
out in groups, protected by armed adults.

All of these are behavioral changes, and can happen almost
overnight. The speed with which they happen depends on the intelligence of the
animals and their ability to work as a community.

The Best Adaptations

Adaptation can work in two ways. The best example of this
is camouflage. A chameleon can change its color according to its surroundings.
Think about how this helps protect it. Not only does it help protect the
chameleon, it also helps it survive in another way. Because it blends in so well
with its surroundings, insects are less likely to see or notice it. By blending
in it also makes it a better hunter, it can hunt without being seen, In fact, it
is such an efficient adaptation that hunting is probably the wrong word o use.
It just blends in and patiently sits waiting for some unsuspecting insect to
happen along. Then, flick, out goes the tongue and there is one less insect and
one less hungry chameleon. The more ways a single adaptation helps an animal to
survive, the better it is.

Going back to the arctic fox and its fur coat. How can that
coat help the fox in more than one way? The answer lies in the color of the
coat. Obviously in a landscape covered in snow, a thick, white coat is very
useful. This adaptation works in three ways. It protects the fox from the cold
ad provides camouflage. The camouflage allows it to hunt more efficiently and
hide from would-be predators.

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