Adaptations are animal characteristics that help them survive in their environments. An adaptation can be behavioral, structural, or physiological. There are 12 examples of physical adaptations in animals that we’ll learn about on this list.
Physical adaptations, also known as structural adaptations, is when the animal’s physical body has adapted in a way that helps it survive.
Behavioral adaptations are things the animal learns to do or does by instinct to increase chances of survival. Examples would be migration in animals, or perhaps the way they communicate with one another.
Physiological refers to adaptations that have occurred within the animal. An example of this would be a venom within a snake or a groundhog’s ability to slow down it’s heartbeat from 100 beats-per-minute to 5 beats-per-minute when it hibernates.
12 Physical Adaptations in Animals
This article focuses on structural adaptations, more specifically detailing 12 physical adaptations that help animals survive and reproduce in their habitats.
Camouflage can be both a physical and behavioral adaptation, but this article will focus on how it is physical. Many animals have evolved to have colorations that match their surroundings.
For example, the fur of animals like deer, squirrels, and rabbits closely matches their surroundings. A flounder at the bottom of the sea is almost indiscernible from the color of the sea floor. This physical adaptation makes it more difficult for predators to detect the animals and increases their chance of survival.
Wings are an adaptation that helps animals, like birds, fly through the air. Depending on the type of environment, different species of birds have uniquely shaped wings. For example, some birds of prey have extremely aerodynamic wings that help them fly at high speeds to catch unsuspecting prey.
Other birds of prey, like eagles and red-tailed hawks, have slotted high-lift wings that allow them to soar high in the air for periods of time without flapping their wings. Other bird species, like sparrows and crows, have specialized wings that help them navigate quickly through dense forests and vegetation.
3. Large Ears
Animals that live in hot environments, like some species of rabbits and hares, fennec foxes, and elephants, have large ears. This is a physical adaptation that helps the animal maintain its body temperature. These large ears are filled with blood vessels, and as blood circulates through the ears, heat dissipates from them, cooling off the animal.
4. Grow in Size
Pufferfish, also known as blowfish, are known to be slow, slightly awkward swimmers. Because of this, they have developed a physical adaptation that allows them to grow in size.
They have very elastic stomachs, and when they feel threatened, they can ingest large amounts of water to fill their stomach. This structural adaptation makes them several times larger than their original size and makes it very difficult for predators to eat them.
5. Spines and Quills
Animals such as porcupines and hedgehogs have developed spines and quills. Spines and quills in animals vary in shape and size, but they are all designed to help the animal protect itself from predators.
On a porcupine, these quills lay flat, but when the animal feels threatened, the quills become erect and more spread out. They are loosely rooted, and the potential predator often ends up with several quills embedded in their skin.
A hedgehog’s spines aren’t quite as threatening, but when the animal rolls into a tight ball, the spines stick out. The hedgehog becomes a tiny, tight ball of spikes, making it very difficult for the predator to consume.
6. Horns and Antlers
There are several species of animal that grow horns and antlers, specifically the members of the Cervidae family, which includes deer and caribou. These animals grow antlers for several reasons.
During mating season, the males use their antlers to attract a mate as well as fight for the right to mate with her. They also use these antlers to fight off other males that try to enter their territory.
7. Eyes on the Side of the Head
Many animals that are prey animals, meaning vulnerable to being hunted and killed by predators, have eyes on the sides of their heads rather in the front. This gives them an almost 360-degree view of their surroundings, which allows them to detect predators and try to escape.
This physical adaptation also allows them to see more than one object at a time and to move their head less when looking around, which can decrease their chance of being seen by a predator.
8. Powerful Jaws
Predators in the wild need physical adaptations to help them catch and kill prey more efficiently. Animals such as mountain lions have powerful jaws which allow them to crush their prey’s neck or spine in a single bite.
This kills the prey instantly, increasing the mountain lion’s chances of getting a meal. If they didn’t die right away, there is a chance the animal could get away.
9. Webbed Feet
Have you ever taken a swim with flippers on? Was it easier? Probably. The same is true for animals with webbed feet, such as ducks, penguins, seagulls, and other water birds.
As the bird swims through the water, the webbed feet spread out, pushing more water and moving the bird forward. When the bird pulls its foot forward, it curls up the webbed foot to decrease resistance. This physical adaptation makes these birds very adept swimmers.
Blubber is a physical adaptation developed by marine animals. This thick layer of fat can be found under the surface of the skin of animals such as seals, whales, and walruses.
This physical adaptation has a few purposes. Blubber helps keep marine animals warm by providing insulation to keep them warm in their icy water habitats.
It is also used to store energy, so in times when food is scarce, the animal can survive on the energy stored in its blubber. Blubber also helps the animals float more efficiently by providing extra buoyancy.
11. Long Necks
Giraffes have extremely long necks, reaching up to six or seven feet in length. This physical adaptation allows the giraffe to reach food at the tops of the trees that other animals cannot reach.
This ensure that they always have something to munch on. Male giraffes also use these long necks as weapons when fighting another male for the right to mate with a female. These neck fights can be quite intense and even lead to death.
One physical adaptation of camels is their unique humps. While many think the humps hold water, that is a common misconception. However, these humps are designed to help the camels survive in the harsh environments in which they live.
Camels store fat reserves in their humps to be used when they need it. After a long trek during which the camel was not able to find much food, the humps can look deflated because the fat store has been used up. When this happens, they must eat more to refill the fat stores.