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In this Nature League Lesson Plan, Brit discusses physical and behavioral adaptations of life on Earth and shares some of her favorites.

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Think of a species of life on Earth. Imagine what they look like, sound like, what they eat, how they move. In imagining this organism, you probably came across some pretty amazing features and behaviors. In biology, we refer to all of these things as adaptations, and life on Earth is full of amazing examples. 


An adaptation can be defined as an inherited characteristic that maintains or increases the fitness of an organism in its specific environment. The "how" of adaptation has to do with natural selection and evolution, and that topic deserves it's own month; however, adaptation and evolution are inseparable. So, in this Lesson Place, we'll discuss adaptations that have come to be through the process of natural selection.

In looking through his original observations, Charles Darwin found that certain behavioral and physical adaptations of organisms to different environments were possibly linked to the origins of new species. For Darwn, explaining the adaptations of species he was on the Galapagos Islands in the 1830's meant understanding the process of evolution, or change over time. 

Adaptations can generally be categorized as behavioral or physical. Behavioral adaptations are things than an organism evolves or learns to do to survive in its environment, whereas physical adaptations are beneficial physical characteristics. There are an unbelievable amount of adaptations on Earth, but the most common ones can generally be grouped into categories like movement, feeding, temperature regulation, camouflage, mimicry, hibernation, and predator-prey dynamics.

Let's check out the first of these. Movement is a pretty big deal in terms of surviving within an environment, especially in the animal kingdom. Think about birds; the evolution of flight involved a lot of different physical adaptations. First off, having a wing with feathers instead of an arm with skin has a lot to do with improved flight ability. Bird bones, themselves, are an adaptation that aids in flight; they're actually hollow and super light weight. Along those same lines, birds lay eggs to reduce the weight of carrying young, which allows easier flight. But, flight is just one way of moving. The sleek body plan of fish, as well as fins, are adaptations that allow them to successfully swim. 

What about feeding? This category of adaptations can include both physical and behavior examples. In general, being a carnivore or herbivore is a behavior- it's something an organism does. But, there are a bunch of physical adaptations that come along with having a certain diet or feeding behavior. Just look at teeth. Sharpened canines and flattened molars are everyday physical adaptations that facilitate behavioral adaptations like diet type.

Alright, so you can probably see where this is going. Every living thing is made up of a combination of adaptations that allow it to survive in its environment, and we couldn't possibly cover all of the different types in one episode. That's why we'll keep exploring these throughout this month. With this is mind, I'd like to spend the last portion of this Lesson Plan sharing some of my personal favorite physical and behavioral adaptations of life on Earth.

When it comes to movement, one of my favorite adaptations is something called phototaxis. That word means moving in response to light. Check out this time-lapse video of tomato plants showing this adaptive behavior over the course of a few hours.

In terms of feeding, there are definitely some cool adaptations out there. One I really like is seen in giant tube worms of the deep sea. They don't have an actual digestive tract; instead, these worms get an assist from internal bacteria that convert the hydrogen sulfide in the deep sea environment into a usable form of energy. Totally wild!

Adaptations of prey species that allow them to avoid being eaten are some of the most creative. Basically, think of the most sophisticated, bizarre military defense technology, but on a living being. Here are some of my favorites: Texas horned toads spit blood out of their eyes. Sea cucumbers throw internal toxin and organs outside of their body. Some amphibians use their own bones as weapons by breaking them through their skin. The Hawaiian boxer crab actually grabs venomous sea anemones in its claws like danger pom poms, waving away predators or even making contact. And, sometimes, the best defense is invisibility. Adaptations like camouflage and mimicry allow species like the mimic octopus to make itself look like up to 15 different species. 

Now, the awesome adaptations we just covered are only my personal favorites. I challenge you to find your own favorites or learn about new ones. The different ways that species on Earth have manages to persist, survive, and thrive is truly amazing, and we're excited to explore this theme more in the coming weeks. 

Thanks for watching this episode of Nature League. If you'd like to learn more about animal adaptations, check out the videos by our sister channel, Animal Wonders.