How Awesome is Adaptation
May 2, 2021

The days get longer and warmer. We adapt by changing out wardrobe, getting our summer haircut, and maybe even eating different “cooler” foods. How do animals adapt to these changes? Nature is so awesome but so often taken for granted. This month we explore some of the ways animals have adapted over time.

Living in communities: Of all the cool adaptations in the animal kingdom, perhaps the most important is the habit of living together in communal or family groups. They can help each other find food, defend against predators, and care for young. Countless species engage in group living, either in herds, colonies, harems, complex societies, or loose associations.

Flight: Animals have evolved a number of ways of navigating the Earth, including walking, swimming, climbing, and hopping. But the evolution of flight takes maneuvering on this planet to a whole different level! Flying not only delivers an animal from one place to another much faster, it also allows creatures to escape predators, explore new territories, and look for resources.

Migration: Perhaps nothing in nature is more awe-inspiring than watching the movement of a population of animals as they migrate from one place to another. The reasons for migration are varied, but they usually have to do with finding food and a good place to mate.

Camouflage: The ability to blend into the surrounding environment can come in handy when trying to avoid a predator, especially for those animals with little other way to defend themselves. Several animal species can change their appearance to match their surroundings.

Hibernation: A lot of animals hibernate, including chipmunks, hedgehogs, bats, and bears. Some animals, such as the America black bear, snooze through winter but can be aroused from their slumber somewhat easily. Others, such as most small mammals, enter a deeper state. It is usually quite difficult to stir these animals during hibernation.

Conservation: For animals that live in areas where resources such as food and water are scarce for long periods of time, the ability to conserve fat and water in the body can mean the difference between life and death. A good example of resource conservation comes from the Bactrian camel, a two-humped ungulate that lives in the rocky and arid regions of Central and Eastern Asia, where temperatures range from -20°F in winter to 100°F in summer. Bactrian camels have a couple of key adaptations that help them to survive these harsh conditions. First, their humps are filled with fat, which can be converted into energy and water in lean times. Second, they can forgo sweating until their body temperatures reach nearly 105°F.

Size Changes: Some animal species try to appear larger in order to ward off predators. The blowfish, also called a puffer or balloon fish, has the ability to puff up to about twice its normal size in response to a predator's advance.

Hair: To most mammals in the wild, hair offers important protection from the elements. The musk ox is  an example. It has an important adaptation to its bitterly cold home on the vast Alaskan tundra: Its thick, shaggy hair hangs down to the ground and gives the ox the protection it needs to endure frigid temperatures. Some of the hair is shed in time for summer, allowing the musk ox to cool down as temperatures reach 40-50°F

Nest parasitism: Certain cuckoo birds are famous for their habit of nest parasitism, which refers to laying their eggs in the nests of other species, who then feed and care for the cuckoos' orphaned offspring.

Want to learn more? In the Fuddlebrook book, A Family Visit, Herman’s Jelly Bean Hunt, illustrates adaptation through camouflage. Watch our video as Chloe demonstrates.  Also read two other Fuddlebrook books, A Change of Season which introduces hibernation, and In Search of Hidden Treasure where we learn how bats adapt to their cave habitats. Also check out this Animal Planet link for more details. 

Yes, science and nature are awesome. Take time to truly marvel at how we and other animals adapt.