In this video, we will learn how to describe what an adaptation is. We will investigate some examples of useful adaptations and explain how having these
adaptations allows organisms to successfully compete for resources.
Living organisms possess a wide variety of fascinating characteristics to survive in
the various environments on Earth, not just because of the physical environment but
because of the other organisms that live there. For instance, chameleons are able to change their color to match their surrounding
environment. This allows them to blend in to their surroundings and camouflage themselves. Camouflage makes it harder for both their predators, like this vine snake, and their
prey to spot them. The characteristics that make an organism well suited to its environment are called
adaptations, and these adaptations may help a specific organism survive or possibly
Let’s take a look at some examples of adaptations that help living organisms with
their basic survival needs. Some of the aspects an organism needs to adapt to in order to survive include
avoiding predators, obtaining food, or coping with surrounding environmental
conditions. Avoiding predators is certainly crucial to survival. It’s no surprise that living organisms have a broad range of adaptations that help
them spot, escape, or hide from predators as we’ve already seen with the chameleon’s
For example, rabbits have eyes on either side of their head, giving them a wider
range of vision, which helps them spot predators. The same is true for the eyes of deer. Deer also have long legs with strong muscles, allowing an incredibly fast running
speed. This makes it difficult for predators to catch them.
Unlike animals, plants are usually rooted to one spot, so they cannot escape
predators by running, swimming, or flying away. For this reason, several plants are adapted to protect themselves by growing sharp
thorns or by producing poisons or bitter-tasting components. For example, foxgloves are a group of plants that are highly toxic and can cause
harmful effects like vomiting in animals that consume them, including humans.
Every organism needs to have some adaptations for the environmental conditions it
lives in. Let′s discuss some adaptations of organisms which live in extreme environments, for
example, the harsh heat and dry conditions of the desert. Camels, which are often called the ships of the desert, have a wide range of
adaptations that allow them to thrive in this environment. They have long eyelashes that help keep the sand out of their eyes. Their large, flat feet prevent them from sinking into the sand as they walk. They also store fat in their humps, which helps them survive for days without
Plants such as cacti are also typically found in particularly dry environments like
deserts, so they are adapted to conserve as much water as possible. They have sharp spines instead of leaves, which helps reduce the surface area across
which they could lose water. Their stem is capable of storing water and has a thick, waxy layer over the surface,
which also prevents excessive water loss through transpiration.
Other organisms must instead adapt to incredibly cold temperatures. For instance, Antarctic fur seals, sometimes called southern fur seals, get their
name from the thick layer of fur they have covering their bodies, especially when
they are young. Although this provides the fur seals with insulation against the cold Antarctic
weather, it was sadly also coveted by humans who hunted these organisms to the brink
of extinction. In addition to their thick layer of fur, like many other polar organisms, Antarctic
fur seals have a layer of blubber beneath their skin to keep them warm.
Another vital requirement that organisms need to survive are adaptations to obtain
food efficiently. For example, you might know that squirrels spend most of the autumn collecting nuts,
which they bury, ready for them to eat during the winter. They do this because nuts are harder to come by in the winter, when several plants
and trees have shed their fruits and leaves. By storing nuts, squirrels make sure they will have enough food to keep them alive
through the winter months. As this adaptation involves the organism carrying out an action that makes it well
suited to a specific environment and helps it survive, it is classified as a type of
adaptation called a behavioral adaptation.
In addition to behavioral adaptations, we can classify different adaptations as
structural adaptations or functional adaptations. Let’s take a look at these different types of adaptation, along with some interesting
examples of each. A structural adaptation is a special physical feature of an organism that gives it an
advantage in the environment it lives in. For instance, most birds have hollow bones, which are lighter than the bones of
mammals or other land-dwelling animals. Because of this, some birds have comparatively lighter bodies, which helps them to
fly. As it is a physical feature that certain birds possess which allows them to fly and
thus aids their survival, having hollow bones is an example of a structural
Flight provides many opportunities to birds to help them survive: finding food,
evading predators, and even migration. Migration is when organisms like certain species of birds fly in groups from one
region to another. For instance, many birds fly to warmer parts of the world in anticipation of the
coldest parts of the year. This allows them to move to areas of the world where the temperature is more
suitable, and they have better access to food and resources to avoid harsh
environmental conditions at different times of year. As migration is an action these birds can take, it is an example of a behavioral
But what about other organisms that can’t fly or move vast distances away to escape
the harsh winter? Well, some animals like the hazel dormouse carry out an interesting example of a
behavioral adaptation called hibernation. Hibernation involves the dormouse curling up and going into a sleeplike state during
the cold winter months. During hibernation, metabolism and breathing slow down, which helps these organisms
to conserve energy when not much food is available.
These special biological processes that occur within the organism’s body during
hibernation are examples of functional adaptations. A functional adaptation describes a biological process that the organ systems of an
organism perform, usually to give the organism a better chance of survival. The human body has several interesting examples of functional adaptations. When you’ve been running or when you spend a long time in the sun, your body produces
sweat, which helps it cool down and return to a more comfortable temperature. Interestingly, this functional adaptation is shared by humans, horses, cows, and a
few other animals as well.
Many living organisms have similar needs for survival. For instance, all animals need food, water, space, and nutrients. And almost all plants also need light to produce their own food. However, as these resources are usually limited in the environment, the living
organisms coexisting in a particular habitat are often in constant competition with
each other for these resources. Competition is the rivalry among coexisting living organisms for resources like food,
water, or territory. So, how is competition between living organisms related to adaptations? Well, some adaptations can help an organism gain better access to the resources that
many organisms are competing for. Let’s take a look at a few examples to understand this concept better.
You may have seen several different kinds of trees. Some are tall and slender, while others are wider and bushier. But have you ever noticed that the trees that grow in dense forests are usually
taller than they are wide? Plants like trees need light in order to produce their own food by
photosynthesis. When there are many plants in a small space, it is more beneficial for them to grow
taller, rather than wider. This means that it’s less likely for the plants to be in each other’s shadows, which
helps them access more sunlight and thus make more food. As plants in dense forests compete for light, trees like oak, beech, and sycamore
have adapted to grow taller than the forest canopy, which gives them an edge over
the other plants in the forest by providing them with better access to sunlight.
Another example of an adaptation in response to competition can be seen in
giraffes. Giraffes have gradually adapted over time to have long necks, which allow them to
access the leaves at the very tops of the trees in their habitat. This gives giraffes an advantage over the other smaller organisms competing for the
Many organisms have interesting adaptations that help them maintain control over
their local space or territory, find a mate to reproduce with, and often both. For instance, bird song is a phenomenal adaptation that allows males to communicate
with females to impress them and display that they may be potential mates. The reason we can often hear so many birds singing at once is because males compete
with each other to have the most impressive song and gain the opportunity to
mate. It can also be used to signal a bird’s territory and warn off other birds from
intruding into it.
Let’s apply what we’ve learned about adaptations and competition to a couple of
The picture shows an emperor penguin. An emperor penguin has a layer of dense, tightly packed feathers and a thick layer of
fat underneath its skin. Which kind of environment is an emperor penguin best adapted to? (A) A high-altitude and dry environment like a mountain range. (B) A cool and shaded environment like a UK woodland. (C) A hot, dry environment like a desert. (D) A warm and wet environment like a rain forest. Or (E) a cold, ice- and snow-covered environment like Antarctica.
Our question describes certain features of an emperor penguin and asks us to identify
what type of environment it would be best adapted to. What exactly is an adaptation? An adaptation is a feature of a living organism that makes it well suited to the
conditions it lives in, for example, helping it survive the surrounding environment
and climate. The emperor penguin, as our question mentions, has dense feathers and a thick layer
of fat underneath its skin. Both of these features would be useful to keep the penguin’s body insulated against
cold weather. Knowing this, we can easily eliminate options (C) and (D), as both of these answer
choices describe warm habitats.
With its thick fur and its layer of fat, the emperor penguin would feel just like you
would if you wore a thick coat in the summer. By looking at our remaining answer choices, we can see that the environment that
sounds the coldest is described in option (E). Being so well-insulated against the cold, an emperor penguin would be ideally suited
to live in a cold, snow-covered climate. So now we know that the answer to this question is (E), a cold, ice- and snow-covered
environment like Antarctica.
Let’s have a go at another question together.
Coast redwood trees, pictured below, and other North American plants compete for
sunlight. What adaptations does a coast redwood tree have that make it a good competitor? (A) A tall stem to reach the top of the canopy and capture sunlight. (B) Brightly colored flowers to attract more pollinators. Or (C) thorns and spikes to prevent other plants from growing too close to it.
Most plants have similar requirements for survival, as they usually all need
nutrients, water, space to grow, and light. These resources can often be limited, which means that the organisms that coexist in
a particular habitat are in constant competition for them. In forests, sunlight is a resource in high demand, since most of the plants will
require light to produce their own food through photosynthesis. When there is dense forest cover, it can be difficult for plants at a lower level to
receive adequate sunlight as it is blocked by the canopy of taller trees.
We are told that this is one of the key factors that North American plants like the
coast redwood compete for. Coast redwood trees are among the tallest trees in the world. They have an advantage over shorter trees, shrubs, and other small plants as their
stems can grow taller to access the sunlight they need.
From what we have learned, we can answer our question. The adaptation coast redwood trees have that make them good competitors is (A), a
tall stem to reach the top of the canopy and capture sunlight.
Let′s recap some of the key points we have covered in this video about adaptations
and competition. Adaptations are features of an organism that make it well suited to its
environment. All living organisms have adaptations that give them the best chance of survival in
their specific habitat. Adaptations may be structural, functional, or behavioral. Structural adaptations are special physical features that make organisms well suited
to their environment. Functional adaptations are special biological processes that an organism’s body might
perform to be well suited to its environment. Behavioral adaptations are specific actions that an organism might perform to make it
well suited to its environment.
Living organisms are in constant competition with each other for limited resources in
their environment. And they are often adapted to be able to compete with rival organisms.