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What are adaptations?

An adaptation is an evolved trait that helps an organism survive and reproduce in its environment. To decide whether a characteristic is an adaptation or not, we need to study the environment that the organism lives in because the environment influences the way organisms evolve.

Adaptations can take many forms

Watch the video below showcasing examples of extreme adaptations.


As you watch the video, record the name of five adaptations you found interesting, and classify them as either behavioural, structural, or physiological. Write a brief description of the advantages this offers the organisms.

Extreme Adaptations (stop at 17:01) 

Exploring environments

Plants and animals inhabit many challenging environments and have unique adaptations to survive such conditions.  

Imagine you found yourself in one of the environments below. Write a short paragraph describing the conditions of that place, and how you feel. Are you equipped to deal with these conditions?  

Extension (for Year 10 and 11 students) 

So how do animals and plants get their adaptations in the first place?  

The answer lies in Natural Selection…


We are all unique – humans have different eye colours, hair, skin, heights, and shapes. 

In nature, plants and animals also are unique. But when the environment changes, the plants and animals that have traits which allow them to better survive are the ones that will successfully reproduce and pass on the features that helped them survive. This is called ‘Natural Selection’. As this process continues over many generations, organisms come to have traits that make them very well suited to their environments. These traits are what we call ‘adaptations’. 

An example of genetic diversity within a species is shown here: these are all the same type of flower, Paper Daisies, but they can be different colours! 

Natural selection: The Rock Pocket Mouse

An example of recent adaptations forming over a short period of time is the story of the Rock Pocket Mouse found in the American Southwest desert. This species is normally sand-coloured, camouflaging with their dry, rocky habitat. However, lava flows from a volcanic eruption changed the colour of the earth to a dark brown. In these areas, sandy coloured mice stood out, allowing predators such as owls, snakes and coyotes to find and hunt them much easier. Through genetic variation, some mice are born with darker fur. Sandy coloured mice were preyed on more than darker coloured mice who had a greater chance of survival and reproduction. This led to the population being now mostly brown, matching the volcanic dark earth.

Further activities and resources

1. Surveying local adaptations

Survey for plant adaptations in your school.
Click here to access the 'Plant Adaptations in your School' activity sheet.

Survey for bird adaptations in your school.
Click here to access the 'Bird Adaptations in your School' activity sheet.

2. How do scientists observe behavioural adaptations?

An ethogram is a catalogue or table of all the different kinds of behaviour or activity observed in an animal. Survey the behavioural adaptations of local birds using your own ethogram. Click here to access the 'Backyard Bird Behaviour' activity sheet.

3. Calling out!

Model the importance of mating calls as a behavioural adaptation by mimicking frog calls. 
Click here to access the 'Calling Out' activity sheet.
Click here to download our 'Frog Calls' cards.

4. Model natural selection

Model the development of adaptations in this Red Lolly Frogs practical activity. 
Click here to access the 'Modelling Natural Selection' activity sheet. 

5. Battle of the beaks

Research the evolution of specialised bird beaks and model the adaptive advantage of each beak in this practical activity.
Click here to access the 'Battle of the Beaks' activity sheet. 
See 'Battle of the Beaks Teacher Resources' for extension activities suitable for Stage 5 and 6 students.

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