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  • Plants and animals have special characteristics, or adaptations, that help them survive in the environment that they live in. An adaptation could be a part of an organism’s body or it could be a change in the organism's behavior.
Adaptations are traits that increase the chance that a plant or animal will survive in a specific environment. Adaptations might help an organism find food or shelter, survive certain weather conditions, or protect themselves.
Some adaptations are traits that cause a behavioral or physical change as the seasons change. For example, some birds migrate to avoid the cold weather of winter.

Getting Food or Energy

Without food, animals cannot survive, so animals have adapted certain features that allow them to more easily obtain food. For example, the great white shark has a strong sense of smell that allows it to locate food, and it has sharp teeth that allow it to attack its prey. Lizards have long, fast-moving tongues that allow them to catch insects. Giraffes have long necks that allow them to reach high into trees to get leaves for food. Pelicans have enormous, pouched bills that they can expand to eat fish. Hawks have curved beaks that allow them to catch prey more easily.
Pictures of giraffe and hawk
Pictures of giraffe and hawk

Giraffes have long necks to reach leaves high in trees. Hawks have curved beaks to catch small prey.
Animals may also have adaptations that help them respond to changes in the availability of food. For example, some types of squirrels store nuts for winter, while bats, hedgehogs, and some other animals hibernate in winter to survive the long period where there is little food available.
Plants make their own food using energy from the Sun, so they need sunlight to survive. Many plants have adaptations that make sure that they always grow in the direction of the Sun to increase the amount of sunlight they receive.

Finding Shelter

Some animals have adaptations that assist them in finding or creating shelter. For example, woodpeckers make nests in the hollows of trees. These birds have adapted to have sharp beaks that make it possible for them to tunnel through the hard bark of trees and create hollows to live in.
Picture of a woodpecker
Picture of a woodpecker

Woodpeckers have adapted to have sharp beaks that help them make nests in the hollows of trees.
Many mammals that live in trees have adapted to have claws that allow them to climb easily. Other animals that live in burrows have feet designed for digging.

Surviving the Weather

Adaptations can help plants and animals survive certain weather conditions. For example, many plants grow during summer months and then stop growing during winter months to conserve energy. When the plants stop growing, they are dormant.
Also, the seeds of most plants will not germinate until there is enough water and sunlight available. This helps ensure that the seed does not sprout until the conditions are right for the plant to survive.
Animals can have adaptations that help them survive the weather conditions in their environment as well. For example, emperor penguins have adapted to have a thick layer of blubber that helps keep them warm in cold areas. Polar bears have thick fur and padded paws to help them survive the extreme weather of the Arctic. Flying birds, such as the tundra swan, migrate to survive cold winters and find food more easily during stressful environmental conditions.
Pictures of penguin and birds
Pictures of penguin and birds

The emperor penguin has protective layers of fat to live in cold temperatures, while many bird species migrate each year to warmer climates.
Some organisms have adaptations to help them survive hot or dry environments. Deserts have very little water, so animals that live in deserts must have adapted traits that allow them to survive without water for long periods of time.


Adaptations can also help plants and animals protect themselves. One method of protection is camouflage, which is where the animal’s appearance helps it blend into its environment. Many stick insects, lizards, and frogs have adapted a form of camouflage that makes it hard for predators to see them.
Pictures of lizard and stick insect
Pictures of lizard and stick insect

The lizard and the stick insect shown are using camouflage to protect themselves against predators.
Animals can also behave in ways that help protect them. For example, snakes strike at predators, and owls spread their wings to appear larger and scare predators.
Some animals protect themselves by mimicking other animals. One example is a type of wasp that does not sting but looks similar to a stinging wasp.
Plants also have adaptations that help protect them. One example is the rose bush, which has thorns on its stems. These thorns stop predators from eating the plant and help it to survive.