Adaptation and Survival

Adaptation and Survival

An adaptation is a mutation, or genetic change, that helps an organism, such as a plant or animal, survive in its environment.


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An adaptation is a type of change. It happens in an organism's genes. Genes are like instructions. They tell living things how to look. They also tell them how to behave. Genes are passed down from parent to child. An adaptation is a good change. It helps an organism survive. Adaptations are how living things change over many, many years. This is also how new kinds of plants and animals come to be.

Structural And Behavioral Adaptations

Some adaptations are structural. That means they are physical. They are changes in an organism's body. Other adaptations are behavioral. They affect how an organism acts.

Many plants have structural adaptations. Succulents are one example. These are plants that live in the desert. Deserts are dry, hot places. Succulents have a special adaptation. They can store water in their thick leaves.

There are many examples of behavioral adaptations. Animal migration is just one. Gray whales migrate every year. They spend some time in warm waters. They spend some time in cold waters. That way, they get the benefits of both.


Animals adapt to their environment. They change as the environment changes.

The peppered moth is a famous example. Long ago, most peppered moths were light. A few had mutations. They were gray or black. However, these dark moths were rare.

Then the environment changed. People began building factories. These created lots of smoke. Soon the darker moths became less rare. It was easy for them to live in smoky cities. Their dark color helped them blend in.


Some adaptations are small. Others are not. A very special adaptation can create a whole new kind of animal. This is known as speciation.

Australia is home to many marsupials. These are a type of mammal. They carry their young in pouches. Marsupials adapted to live in Australia. Over time, they changed. They became new kinds of animals. Each one plays a special part in the environment.


Organisms do not always adapt alone. Sometimes they adapt with other organisms. This is called coadaptation. Certain flowers have adapted their pollen. They have made it tastier for hummingbirdsHummingbirds have adapted their beaks. Longer beaks help them collect pollen. This relationship helps both organisms. The flowers get to spread their pollen. The hummingbirds get food.

Fast Fact

Vestigial Adaptations
Vestigial organs are adaptations that have become useless. In humans, vestigial organs include the appendix, thought to be left over from when the human diet was primarily vegetation; the coccyx, a vestigial tail; and gill slits that are found in human embryos, though embryos never breathe through them.

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Melissa McDaniel
Santani Teng
Erin Sprout
Hilary Costa
Hilary Hall
Jeff Hunt
Diane Boudreau
Tara Ramroop
Kim Rutledge
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society
Tim Gunther
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West
Educator Reviewer
Nancy Wynne
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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