Honolulu Zoo Society : Survival! Adaptations

Behavioral Adaptations

Topic Overview

Begin the Lesson

In order to survive and thrive in a particular environment, animals must develop a variety of amazing characteristics (adaptations). Some adaptations, such as bright colors or sharp beaks, are structural (physical). Others, like migration and nest building, are behavioral adaptations.


Whole Class Introduction to the Lesson

You will need at least one computer with Internet connectivity and a projection device, a classroom with more than one computer, or access to a computer lab.  This introduction will take approximately 10 minutes to complete.

To introduce the WebLesson, project the following set of video clips for students:
and follow up with the clips that discuss instincts and behavioral adaptations http://novakcurriculumweb.weebly.com/instincts-in-animals-movies.html.  

Sample Questions:

  • What is adaptation? How does it enable animals to get food?
  • What is the difference between structural (physical) and behavioral adaptation?
  • What is instinct? Can you think of examples for all of these categories?

As part of the introduction, you may want to review some of the glossary terms in advance of students going online. At this point you can launch the WebLesson as whole-class activity using a projection device, or you can assign students to work individually or in teams in a computer lab.



WebLesson Sites
There are over one million different species of animal. They can look very different from one another. Many of these differences are the result of structural and behavioral changes (adaptations) that help animals become better suited to their environments. Adaptations usually occur over long periods of time. A structural adaptation refers to the way an animal’s body looks (characteristics or traits). For example, skin coverings (hair, feather, fur, scales), coloring and texture are structural adaptations. Body shape, facial structure, and feet and claw design are structural adaptations as well. An adaptation can also be a behavior, such as a snake moving into the shade to control its body temperature or a plant turning to face the sun.

The zoo has asked you to help them study animal behavior. You will be putting together a summary of behavioral adaptations to use as a starting point for their research. Pay careful attention to the different types of adaptations so you can help them understand their animals.
Lesson Pages
Structural and Behavioral Adaptations
Rich Media
BBC Nature - Echolocation and Ultrasound
Rich Media
Say It With Ears
Rich Media
Conclusion & Project
Animals live almost everywhere and must learn to adapt both structurally and behaviorally. Examples of structural adaptations are an elephant's trunk (which helps the animals to drink, eat, clean itself, and pick things up. An example of a behavioral adaptation would be hibernating for the winter.

Behavioral adaptations may be instinctive or learned. Instinctive behaviors need to be learned while learned behaviors must be taught.
You joined a team at the zoo to help understand how animals behave. Choose one of the following behavioral adaptations: (1) animals that hibernate (2) animals that migrate (3) animals who use chemical defenses (skunks, snakes) (4) animals that use echolocation/ultrasound.

Write an overview that describes this behavioral adaptation so that students who visit the zoo can learn about how animals' behavior helps them to survive.
adaptation - alteration or adjustment in structure or behavior, passed down from parents, that improves an individual's ability to survive in its environment
behavior - actions or reactions of an animal in response to something else
dormant - alive but in a resting condition where all body systems are very slow
echolocation - determining the location of something by measuring the time it takes for an echo to return from it
graze - eat grass in a field
hibernate - spend the winter in a dormant state
metabolism - chemical processes that take place in the body's cells where energy is created from food
migrate - the periodic passage of groups of animals from one region to another for feeding or breeding
navigation - setting up and following a course or route
offspring - children
parasitism - a relationship between to things in which one of them (the parasite) benifts from or lives off of the other, like fleas on your dog.
predator - an animal who eats other animals
thrive - to grow or develop successfully
torpor - a form of dormancy with a short term reduction in body temperature
trait - a quality or characteristic
tundra - a flat, treeless Arctic region of Europe, Asia, and North America in which the area under the soil is permanently frozen.
ultrasound - very high frequency sound