Species adaptation is the way in which organisms change or evolve to meet the needs of their environment. These changes typically involve behavior, body parts, or body coverings. Adapting to their habitat is generally geared toward protecting the species from predators, finding ways to attract or capture prey, and attracting a mate.
Some species adaptation is behavioral. The hognose snake does not slither away when startled like many nocturnal snakes do. Since it usually hunts prey in the daytime, it is often disturbed by other animals or humans. When startled, the hognose snake often rears up like a cobra and strikes at the intruder with its mouth closed.
If this behavior does not scare off the threat, this snake often rolls onto its back and plays dead, usually with its tongue hanging out of its mouth. This behavior is similar to the kind exhibited by the only North American marsupial, the opossum. This animal “plays possum” whenever a predator comes near.
An example of species adaptation to habitat through physical changes is the marine iguana. The only iguana in the world to feed on algae in ocean waters, this large reptile developed a short stubby snout to feed off underwater rocks. Its tail is somewhat flattened for swimming and steering. The marine iguana even shrinks when food is scarce, consuming its own bones to survive. When food is plentiful again, this iguana grows to its original adult length.
A body-covering species adaptation like camouflage or mimicry usually helps animals hide from prey and predators. The leopard’s spots help it hide in leafy cover while hunting. A chameleon takes on the appearance of the rock it basks on to avoid predators. Marine mammals like the sea lion have adapted to the icy water they inhabit by forming a thick layer of fat under the skin known as blubber. Many species, like dogs and cats, grow lush fur in the cold winter months, shedding the excess in the warmer seasons.
Learning generally assists animals in adapting quickly to their environment. This is most apparent in humans, who have historically learned to adapt to their environment through inventions like seasonal clothing and farming. Humans generally learn to adapt the environment to their needs as well, building shelters, creating heating and air conditioning, and using tools. Some animal species share this adaptation for tools. Some birds use a stick to lever insects out of rotten logs, while a group of Japanese macaques learned to wash dirt from sweet potatoes by following another monkey’s example.