Adaptation and Survival

Adaptation and Survival

An adaptation is any heritable trait that helps an organism, such as a plant or animal, survive and reproduce in its environment.




Koalas Climb a Eucalyptus Tree

Picture of a koala with baby koala

Photograph by Anne Keiser
Picture of a koala with baby koala
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Animals of the same species are not all the same. Differences mostly come from an organism's genes. Genes tell living things how to look and behave. They are passed down from parent to child. An adaptation is a difference that allows an organism to better survive in its environment.

Structural and Behavioral Adaptations

Some adaptations are structural. That means they are a physical part of the organism. They change how a living thing looks. Other adaptations are behavioral. That means they affect the way a living thing acts.

Many plants have structural adaptations. For example, certain plants have adapted to hot, dry deserts. Plants called succulents have found a way to survive there. They do it by storing water in their thick stems and leaves.

There are many examples of behavioral adaptations. Migration is just one. Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) migrate thousands of kilometers every year. They spend some time in the warm waters off the coast of Mexico. They spend the rest of their time in the cold Arctic Ocean.


Adaptations always happen for a reason. Usually, adaptations occur in response to a change in the environment.

England's peppered moth (Biston betularia) is a famous example. Before the 1800s, most peppered moths were light. A few were gray or black. However, dark moths were rare.

Over time, the environment changed. The rise of factories brought smoke and smog. As a result, the darker moths became common. In fact, they began to thrive in the smoky cities. Their dark color helped them blend in. White moths were easier to find.


Sometimes, an organism develops a very special adaptation. It is so different that it creates an entirely new kind of animal. This is known as speciation.

The marsupials in Australia are a good example. Marsupials are mammals that carry their young in pouches. They are the main type of mammal in Australia.

Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) are one of the most famous marsupials. They adapted to feed on eucalyptus trees. These are plants that grow in Australia. Other marsupials called Tasmanian tigers (Thylacinus cynocephalus) adapted to eat meat. Each one plays a special role in the environment.


Organisms do not always adapt alone. Sometimes they adapt with other organisms. This is called coadaptation. Certain flowers have adapted their nectar to attract hummingbirds. Hummingbirds have adapted long beaks to collect nectar. This relationship helps both organisms. The flowers get their pollen spread to other plants. The hummingbirds get food.

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Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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