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Animal Adaptations - Science Lessons for Grade 5 Students

All organisms have special characteristics that help them to live in their habitat. These characteristics are called adaptations.

For example, the cheetah’s yellow fur with black spots helps it to hide from other animals. Its powerful leg muscles help it to run very fast. A strong jaw and large canines help the cheetah to kill and eat other animals. Its long tail helps it to balance and change direction quickly when running.

Adaptations for protection

Many animals have special features to prevent them from being eaten. The porcupine fish has a body covered with spines. When in danger, the porcupine fish bloats up to show its spines. This makes it look bigger and scares the animal away.

Another way that animals can avoid being eaten by predators is to hide. Clownfish, for example, lie in sea anemones. When a predator is near, they hide in the anemones for safety. Sea anemones have tentacles that contain poison. However, clownfish are not harmed by the poison.

Many animals move about in large groups. Some fish, for example swim together in shoals. When danger approaches, the fish move in different directions. This confuses the animal and makes it difficult for the animal to focus on a single fish.

Some animals such as the leafy sea dragon and the stonefish are able to hide from predators by blending in with their surroundings. This type of adaptation is called camouflage.

Getting food

Animals have adaptations to get the food they need to stay alive. Many animals have special mouth parts. The woodpecker’s short strong beak helps it to feed on insects hiding in the bark of trees. The hummingbird’s long thin beak helps it to reach the nectar deep inside flowers.

The chameleon has a long tongue with a sticky tip. It uses its tongue to catch insects. Some animals such as snakes and spiders have venom that can be used to paralyze or kill other animals. The king cobra has a very strong venom. It can inject large amounts of venom into its prey. This allows the king cobra to kill large prey very quickly.

An eagle has sharp claws that help it to catch and kill other animals. The heart and lungs are so efficient that eagles can get enough oxygen to fly even at high altitudes in search of food.

Surviving in the cold

Some plants and animals have adaptations that help them to live in very cold environments. Some plants survive the winter by shedding their leaves. The leaves grow back in the warmer months of spring and summer.

The polar bear is adapted to live in extreme cold. It is covered by fur, even on the bottom of their paws. Moreover, the bear’s full white coat provides camouflage in the snow and ice. But under the fur of the polar bear, they have black skin, which helps them to soak in the warming rays of the sun.

How are penguins adapted to the cold? The penguins of Antarctica survive the cold by sharing body heat. Parents huddle together with their chicks to keep warm. Even adult penguins huddle together to keep warm. Furthermore, their tightly packed feathers and thick pad of fat provide protection from the cold.

Surviving the heights

The farther up a mountain one climbs, the colder it gets. The animals living there are well-adapted to the cold. For example, the red panda in Asia’s Himalaya regions grows a thick coat. Sometimes the fur coat is for protection. Snowshoe hares in the mountains of North America have snow-white coats that help them camouflage to hide from predators.

Grizzly bears and hoary marmots hibernate, which means that they hide out in dens and rest, to survive the cold winters of the mountains of North America. They do this to conserve energy when food is hard to find.

Animals in water

Animals living in water (aquatic habitat) have adapted by developing new structures as well as modifying existing structures. They have their bodies streamlined to help minimize water resistance. Fishes have gills as respiratory organs. Air-breathing animals such as whales and dolphins living in water have nostrils located near the top of the head so that it is easy to go to the surface to inhale air just by exposing the top of the head over water. Fishes have scales that make their body slippery so as to escape from enemies, and also to protect the soft internal organs. Some aquatic animals such as turtles have developed fin-like organs called paddles for swimming.