In this video, we will learn what a structural adaptation is. We will describe some examples of structural adaptations in plants and animals and
explain how they may aid the survival of these organisms.
The climates and conditions around the globe vary widely, sometimes creating very
harsh habitats for organisms to live in. The millions of different, unique species that share our planet have characteristics
that are special to them, which help each species to survive in their natural
environment. The special characteristics of organisms that make them well suited to their
environments are called adaptations, and they can make survival possible, even in
the harshest of conditions.
For instance, take a look at this image of the thorny lizard, also called the thorny
devil, a type of desert lizard found in Australia. As you can see, this lizard’s body is covered with thorny, spiky scales which serve
several purposes. In this lizard’s habitat, water can often be difficult to find. Through its spikes, the thorny lizard can collect and absorb any water it comes into
contact with. These spikes also help protect the lizard from predators. As these spikes help the thorny lizard to survive in its environment, they provide an
example of an adaptation. The thorny lizard’s adaptation we have just described is called a structural
adaptation specifically. These are special physical features that make an organism well suited to its
There are two other key types of adaptations: behavioral adaptations and functional
adaptations. A behavioral adaptation is a specific action that an organism performs, making it
well suited to its environment. For instance, the thorny lizard can inflate its chest with air to increase in size
and make it harder for a predator to swallow. This is a behavioral adaptation as it is an action that aids survival.
A functional adaptation is a biological process that occurs within an organism’s
body, which makes it well suited to its environment. When you get too warm, for example, if you were running through the thorny lizard’s
hot habitat in Australia, humans typically sweat more to cool down. As this is a biological process that our bodies perform, it is an example of a
Let’s go over some interesting examples of structural adaptations and learn about
their benefits. Some organisms have structural adaptations that help them survive in extremely cold
climates. For instance, organisms like leopard seals spend most of their life in the icy waters
surrounding Antarctica. To cope with the cold, they tend to have a thick layer of blubber under their skin to
help them conserve heat. They also have short, thick fur covering their bodies as an extra layer of
When talking about organisms, people often automatically think about animals. However, plants have interesting structural adaptations as well. For example, Elodea is a group of aquatic plants, which live completely
submerged underwater. They have soft, flexible stems and thin leaves which can easily bend, which prevents
them from breaking in strong water currents.
So far, we’ve looked at examples of structural adaptations that help organisms
survive the climate and environmental conditions of their habitats. How else might an organism benefit from having special physical features? Several organisms have structural adaptations that help them obtain food. Birds provide us with interesting examples of such adaptations as different birds
have differently shaped beaks, bodies, and legs according to their feeding
White storks often wade around in shallow water, looking for food. Their long legs and strong feet give them stability as they wade. They have long, straight beaks that help them catch fish, frogs, and other small
water-dwelling prey. Alternatively, the European goldfinch has a small, light body that can perch on
narrow branches. Its sharp, cone-shaped beak is perfectly adapted to feed on small seeds.
In contrast, predatory birds like hawks have sharp, hooked claws on their feet to
grasp at prey and powerful beaks to rip their prey apart. The feet of water birds, like ducks, are webbed to help them swim, and their beaks
are broad and flattened to help them filter food out of water. These are just a few of the varied structural adaptations of birds that allow them to
live and thrive in different environments and to consume different types of
Plants also have some interesting adaptations that help them obtain food. Most plants perform photosynthesis to produce their own food using carbon dioxide,
water, and sunlight. Plants also need other nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Usually, they obtain these from the soil they grow in, through their roots. Where the soil is nutrient-poor, some plants have adapted to obtain these nutrients
in a different way, from insects.
These insectivorous plants, like the pitcher plant, have adapted to trap and digest
insects to obtain nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Some of the pitcher plant’s leaves are deep, hollow, and pitcher-shaped, which is how
the plant got its name. The rim of the pitcher sometimes has a sticky substance that traps insects that sit
on the rim or a slippery substance that causes insects to fall into the pitcher. Inside the pitcher, there is a fluid that digests the insect, breaking it down into
nutrients that the plant can use.
Structural adaptations can also help living organisms with their movement. The limbs of different animals are adapted to perform the kind of movement that is
suited to their habitat and to help them hunt or get away from predators. Although arms, legs, wings, and fins are all classified as limbs, they are modified
to achieve specific jobs, so vary in structure considerably. Deer have long legs and strong, powerful muscles that help them run incredibly
fast. Birds, on the other hand, have wings, which are modified limbs that allow many of
them to fly. The forelimbs of dolphins are modified into fins, helping them swim. Monkeys and other primates have long, strong arms that help them swing from tree
Several animals are highly skilled at hiding themselves in their surroundings, using
their shape and color to blend in with their environment. This is called camouflage and is another example of a structural adaptation. Camouflage can benefit both predators and prey. Polar bears are one of the largest predators on Earth. The white fur color of polar bears makes them difficult to see against a backdrop of
white snow in their arctic environment, which helps them hunt more successfully.
The arctic fox is another organism that lives in the Arctic, and like polar bears,
arctic foxes have thick white fur covering most of their bodies. Arctic foxes are much smaller than most other types of foxes, and they are preyed
upon by many animals, including the polar bear. While their white fur helps these foxes to camouflage while they find prey, it also
helps them evade detection by their many predators.
Let’s apply what we’ve learned about structural adaptations to a couple of practice
Adaptations can be divided into three different types: structural, functional, and
behavioral. Which of the following best describes what a structural adaptation is? (A) A physical feature of an organism that helps it survive in its environment (e.g.,
a strong beak on a bird that allows it to crush seeds). (B) A specific function that part of the organism’s body carries out to help it
survive (e.g., a human sweating when it is too hot). Or (C) a change in activity that helps the organism survive (e.g., birds migrating to
warmer countries in the winter).
Every living organism has certain special features that make it well suited to its
environment. These characteristics, which are called adaptations, could help the organism survive
the climate, obtain food, or hide from predators. As mentioned in the question, there are three main different types of adaptations:
structural adaptations, functional adaptations, and behavioral adaptations. Let’s go over each of these.
A functional adaptation is described in option (B). It is a special function that the organism’s body carries out, helping it
survive. For example, humans sweat to keep themselves cool. As we are looking for the option that best describes a structural adaptation and this
is an example of a functional adaptation, we can eliminate answer option (B).
As described in option (C), a behavioral adaptation is an action that the organism
performs, making it well suited to its habitat and possibly helping it to
survive. For example, some birds tend to migrate in large numbers to warmer countries during
the winter. As this is a behavioral adaptation, we can eliminate answer option (C) from our
A structural adaptation is a special physical feature or characteristic that often
helps an organism survive in its habitat. Structural adaptations are often things you can actually see, and they can serve many
purposes. A good example is the shape and size of a bird’s beak. A strong beak might help a bird crush seeds to consume them.
Now that we have been over the three different kinds of adaptations, we know how to
describe a structural adaptation. The best description is in answer option (A): a physical feature of an organism that
helps it survive in its environment (e.g., a strong beak on a bird that allows it to
Let’s have a go at another question together.
Some examples of structural adaptations are provided below. (1) Brightly colored leaves on flowers. (2) Strong, powerful, hind legs. (3) Skin or fur coloring that matches the environment. (4) A short and powerful beak to crush seeds. And (5) webbed feet to allow efficient swimming in water. Which of these structural adaptations would help an organism quickly move away from a
predator? (A) 5 only, (B) 2 and 5, (C) 2 only, (D) 1, 3, and 4, or (E) 4 and 5.
Structural adaptations are special physical features that make an organism well
suited to the environment it lives in. Structural adaptations may help organisms obtain the food they need to survive the
climate and environmental conditions or to move with ease, for instance, to evade
predators. Our question gives us a list of structural adaptations. It asks us to identify the ones that could help an organism move quickly away from a
predator. So, we’re looking for adaptations that help an organism with motion. Let’s take a look through this list.
Brightly colored flower petals are useful for certain plants as they can help to
attract insect pollinators like bees. These insects are important for certain flowering plants in a process called
pollination, carrying pollen grains from one plant to another and helping plants
reproduce. However, this is not an adaptation that helps the plant move. As option (D) includes example (1) and we know that this would not help an organism
move away from predators, it must be incorrect.
Strong, powerful, hind legs are extremely important for a prey animal to be able to
run quickly. Several animals like deer, rabbits, and goats have strong, muscular, hind legs. Therefore, example (2) seems likely to be an adaptation that would help an organism
move away from a predator.
As options (A) and (E) do not include example (2), these can be eliminated from our
options, narrowing down our choices to (B) and (C). Being able to hide from a predator is very useful for prey animals, which is why
several of them have skin or fur color that matches the environment, allowing them
to blend in with their surroundings. However, this is not an adaptation that would help an organism quickly move away from
Birds have differently shaped beaks depending on their feeding habits. A short and powerful beak would be useful for a bird whose primary diet consists of
seeds, but this wouldn’t help the bird move away from a predator. Finally, webbed feet give aquatic organisms an advantage when swimming in water,
which may aid with predator evasion. If a frog, for example, was being pursued by a predator, having webbed feet would
help the frog swim away faster.
Now that we’ve been over the examples, we can answer our question. The adaptations that would help an organism quickly move away from a predator are
listed in answer option (B): 2 and 5.
Let’s recap some of the key points we have covered in this video about structural
adaptations. Living organisms have special features, called adaptations, that make them well
suited to the environment they live in. Special physical characteristics, like appearance or structure, that make an organism
well suited to its environment are called structural adaptations. Structural adaptations can help living organisms survive environmental conditions,
move easily, obtain food, and hide themselves. Camouflage is a structural adaptation that helps living organisms blend in with their