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25 Unique Animals That Adapted to Their Environments

There are millions of species of animals on earth living on all continents. From the smallest sea creature to the African lion, each animal has carved out its role in its ecosystem. To be able to do that these animals had to adapt over many generations. Animals that have adapted to their environments were forced to do so by nature to increase their chances of survival, and that’s what is most important in the animal kingdom. In this article we’re going to look at some of these animals that have adapted in unique and amazing ways to thrive in their environments. 

But first, let’s learn a little bit about animal adaptions and how they’re grouped.

What is an animal adaptation?

Animal adaptations are physical or behavioral characteristics of an animal or type of animal which contribute to its survival. These adaptations happen slowly over time, usually over many generations. Each of these characteristics can be broadly categorized in one of three groups: body parts, body coverings, or behavior.


1. Body part adaptations

Webbed feet

A body part adaptation refers to a body part of the animal that has changed over time to better suit survival in the animal’s environment. Here are some examples of body part adaptations:

  • Webbed feet
  • Sharp claws
  • Wings
  • Hooves

2. Body covering adaptations


A body covering adaptation refers to when the skin, or covering of the animal has changed and adapted over time to better suit survival in the animal’s environment. Some examples of body covering adaptations include:

  • Striped or spotted fur
  • Scales
  • Feathers

3. Behavioral adaptations

Birds migrating

Behavioral adaptations in animals refers to the actions or behavior of an animal changing over time to increase its chances of survival. Some of these behavioral adaptations are:

  • Vocalizations (e.g., bird calls)
  • Hibernation
  • Migration

Now that you understand what an animal adaption is, here are 25 examples of animals that have adapted in some strange and interesting ways in order to survive and thrive, sometimes in incredibly harsh environments. These animals are from all over the world and all have some interesting physical and behavioral adaptations.

1. Camels

Desert animals like camels have adapted over thousands of years for life in an environment where there is little water available for long periods of time. Drinking less water is a behavioral adaptation, but the behavioral change spurred physiological adaptations over generations. The ability to withstand long periods of no access to water is all thanks to the camel’s hump.

The hump stores excess fat. So while the hump doesn’t actually store water, it does help the camel go a long time without water. These adaptations reduced the frequency in which camels need to drink water to survive in arid environments. Camels can go up to 7 months without drinking any water.

2. Polar bears

A polar bear’s white appearance give’s it camouflage on the snow and ice, this is an adaptation that keeps them hidden from prey and allows them to be stealthy hunters. Polar bears have also adapted in many other ways such as having thick layers of fat and fur that keep them warm in the coldest weather and even in icy waters. In addition, polar bears have learned to become excellent swimmers and spend long periods of time in and under the water. Their favorite food lives in and around these cold waters, seals.

3. Penguins

I think one of the most obvious animal adaptation of the penguin is the ability to swim. Most birds do not swim so penguins are very unique in that regard. Penguins spend the majority of their time in the water hunting for food so they need to be excellent swimmers, that’s where their flippers come into play. Instead of wings like normal birds have, penguins have flippers or wings which help them glide through the water.

4. Sloths

The three-toed sloth has adapted to life in the trees, so much so that they rarely even come down to the ground. The trees provide safety and sloths have learned to live most of their lives in the trees, blending in with their camouflaged coloration. Just as the name implies, a three-toed sloth has 3 toes with 3 long claws that allow it to securely hang onto branches.

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A sloth’s long arms are another body part adaptation, and a sloth’s laziness and slowness are a behavioral adaptation that the animal developed to help it stay unseen by predators.

5. Raccoons

Raccoons have adapted to eat just about anything they can find, and live just about anywhere too. They are one of the most common urban-life adapted wild animals and are often seen by people going through dumpsters and trash cans for food. Raccoons are nocturnal and have adapted to being most active in the dark since it gives them the most cover and the best chance of being unseen by potential danger.

6. Chameleons

image: Pixabay.com

Chameleons are amazing creatures that have some of the most notable adaptations I can think of. The first one that comes to mind for myself and probably most people is their ability to change color, which they do so in response to certain environmental factors and their mood.

This is not only a behavioral adaptation but also a body covering adaptation as well. Then of course you have their unique eyeballs that swivel allowing them an almost 360 view of their surroundings at all times. In addition to that chameleons have specialized feet and tails that make them excellent climbers.

7. Giraffes

Another common animal adaptation is a giraffe’s long neck. Giraffes have adapted in many ways for life in the grasslands of East Africa. Their long necks allow them to reach leaves from high branches, and their spots are an example of a body covering adaptation that helps camouflage them from predators.

Similar to camels, giraffes have also adapted to life in a region where water may be scarce. These herbivores can go weeks without water if needed and also consume most of their water from morning dew and the plants they eat.

8. Hummingbirds

These little guys are full of interesting traits that have adapted over time. Here are a few of the adaptations that make hummingbirds special and allow them to survive:

  • A hummingbird has a long beak and an even longer tongue that helps it drink nectar.
  • Hummingbirds have special wings suited for hovering at flowers, they’re the only types of  birds that can fly forward, backward, or any other direction.
  • Their small size is also an adaptation that allows them to move so quickly and be so nimble.

9. Rattlesnakes

I think the most obvious adaptation of the rattlesnake is the rattle they have at the end of the tail. Their venom is also an adaptation that helps them survive. However, rattlesnakes will use their rattle first to communicate to potential threats not to mess them. In addition to that, a rattlesnakes scales and patterns help them to blend in with their surroundings and make them very hard to notice when they are still, for both predators and prey.

10. Mountain goats

You may not instantly think they are one of the best climbers in the animal kingdom when you look at them, but they are. Ibex like the one in this picture have specialized hooves that help them grip rocks and safely descend and ascend steep mountainsides like this one. Their legs are also very powerful. The males have large horns that are used to fight with other males during mating season to claim the right to breed with females.

11. Snow leopards

A snow leopard’s fur is thick to keep it warm in the cold climates, and the color and spots help camouflage it from prey when hunting. Another physical adaptation that snow leopard’s have is their amazing eyesight.

It’s believed that snow leopards can see 6 times better than a human which allows them to better spot prey from great distances. You may also notice that they have this extra long and bush tail, it helps them keep balance on the rocky slopes and terrain in their habitat.

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12. Crocodiles

Crocodiles have adapted over at least 200 million years. They are the ultimate survivors and will likely be around long after humans are gone from the earth. Their thick hides and scales protect them from anything that dares to oppose them, and helps them blend in with the bottom of rivers and swamps and other bodies of water where they are found.

Another interesting physical adaptation is where their nostrils and eyeballs are located on their heads. You’ll see from the picture above that a crocodile can keep about 95% of its body submerged while hunting for prey making it a very stealthy predator. This is a body part adaptation that makes them more efficient hunters.

13. Armadillos

Armadillos are only found in the Americas, primarily in Central and South America. Though one species is found in North America and it’s range is expanding further north each year, so it’s adapting to cooler climates. That would be the little guy pictured above, the nine-banded armadillo. Aside from adapting to colder winters, armadillos also have a cool body covering adaptation that serves almost as armor that protects them from predators that might otherwise eat them.

14. Skunks

The most famous adaptations a skunk has is its stripes and its spray. It’s pretty obvious that the spray is used for defense against predators and other foes. The stripes are thought to be a method to draw a potential predator’s attention towards where they spray from to increase spray accuracy. Most animals just know not to mess with a skunk, and those black and white stripes are unmistakable. Check out this article for some interesting facts about skunks.

15. Cheetahs

Peregrine falcons are the fastest animals on earth, but cheetahs are the fastest land, also known as terrestrial animals. They can run up to 65 mph in an open sprint when chasing prey. They’ve evolved and adapted to have this incredible speed because the prey they hunt is also incredibly fast, like gazelles and impalas. A cheetah’s spots, like some of the other animals on this list, are a body covering adaptation and used for camouflage.

16. Owls

Owls are a very unique type of bird and have adapted in many ways that help them survive. One is that owls have amazing hearing. In fact, it’s believed that the barn owl has better hearing than any other animal on the planet.

Owls can hunt in the complete dark by sound only, pinpointing a mouse from over a hundred yards away. Aside from their amazing hearing, an owl’s neck can rotate 270 degrees giving it a very wide view of its surrounding. Owls also have great camouflage making them near impossible to spot while they’re sitting completely still in a tree. All this things put together equal a highly efficient predator.

17. Woodpeckers

Woodpeckers are unique and different from other birds in many ways. One way they have adapted is their strong beaks that allow them to drill into trees in search of food or to make a nest. Naturally a bird that sits there all day banging its head against a tree is going to need a good grip.

Because of this they have special feet, the technical term is zygodactyl feet, that let them grab onto trees better and even walk up and down them. You can see in this diagram what woodpecker feet look like compared to other birds.

18. Elephants

Like many animals, elephants have adapted to their environments in dozens of noticeable ways. For instance, and elephants hide is extremely thick to protect it not only from predators but from the blistering heat where it lives. An elephant’s tusks are used for protection against predators as well as for digging and competing with other elephants. Whoever has the biggest tusks is usually the boss. Finally, I have to mention the elephant’s big nose, aka its trunk, which is used for smelling, picking things up, and reaching things they normally wouldn’t be able to.

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19. Wolves

A wolf has thick fur for warmth, sharp teeth to aid in hunting and eating, great night vision, and an amazing sense of smell. Modern day domesticated dogs that descended from wolves still have many of these same adaptations, depending on the breed of course. Wolves are apex predators and adapted over many generations to become highly efficient hunters and masters of survival.

20. Leopard geckos

Leopard Gecko – Jessi Swick | Flickr | CC 2.0

The most obvious adaptation for the leopard gecko is their spots and unique patterns which is a body covering adaptation. Leopard geckos don’t change color like chameleons do, but their patterns and spots do blend in with their environment quite well. A behavioral adaptation of this lizard is that they are known for detaching their tails in the face of danger. A dropped tail that is still wiggling on the ground will often distract a predator for just long enough for the gecko to scurry away to safety.

21. Eagles

The last type of bird on this list of animal adaptations are eagles. Eagles are birds of prey and are the apex predators of the sky. They have evolved to have excellent sight, sharp beaks, and powerful talons that all aid in hunting prey. Eagles are generally considered the largest of all types of birds of prey, allowing them to go for larger prey. An adult golden eagle can even take down a small deer.

22. Tigers

image: Pixabay.com

Tigers are most famous for their stripes, which are a body covering adaptation that act as camouflage in the jungles where they live. Tigers have amazing strength and size that allow them to take down large prey and their sharp teeth will snap most animals necks in one bite. Tigers also have excellent vision which aids them when they are hunting for prey.

23. Opossums

image: Myoung

The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial that lives in North America, and they’ve adapted to their environments in various like all other animals. A couple of body part adaptations are a opossum’s opposable thumbs and prehensile tails that make it an excellent climber. Opossums have also adapted to life in urban areas and near humans. They’re often found digging through our trash and scavenging for food wherever people are close by.

24. Octopus

In my opinion octopuses have some of the most amazing adaptations on this list. I used to think that chameleons were the kings when it came to color changing until I saw an octopus do it. They don’t blend in to their environments but essentially become a part of their environment, it’s really quite impressive to watch.

Not only can they mimic colors, but also textures. They can make their skin the color of and the texture of a rock that they see. They have adapted to do this as it’s their primary defense against predators. On top of that, they are extremely intelligent and have been seen using tools in many cases. Something that very few animals on the planet do.

25. Beavers

Beavers are rodents that have adapted to a mostly aquatic life in the water. Their large front teeth never stop growing throughout their lives, so they must constantly use them to chew on wood. They can take down an entire tree in about 15-20 minutes and drag it into the water where they build dams.

These dams can divert water flows of rivers and stream totally changing the ecosystems, earning them the title of ecosystem engineer. A beaver’s thick coat keeps it warm while spending so much time in the water. Beavers are herbivores that have adapted to not only eating leaves and plants but also wood, tree bark and roots.

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