Exploring animal adaptations February 23 2015, 0 Comments

As we study the diversity of life, the many adaptations of animals take center stage. For the record, an adaptation is a feature of an organism that helps it survive and reproduce in its environment. The experiments of evolution have shaped animals for their particular way of making a living. Knowing about adaptations helps children understand the differences in the branches of life. It can also help them see convergent evolution, that confounding phenomenon that shapes animals (or plants, for that matter) that live with the same environmental challenges to look similar. After all, there is only one shape that works well for large, fast-moving predators that live in water, and that is a streamlined shape like that of tuna, dolphins, or ichthyosaurs. In the case of convergent evolution, look-alikes are not relatives. In many other cases, common features show a shared ancestry. It's a good thing we have DNA studies to help sort it all out.

I have several great children’s books on adaptations. The first two are for 5-9 year-olds, although older children could likely learn from a careful look at them. Best Foot Forward: Exploring Feet, Flippers, and Claws by Ingo Arndt was translated from German to English and published in 2013. It has photos of the bottom of a foot and the question “Whose foot is this?” On the following page there is a photo of the animal to which the foot belongs, along with photos of other animal feet that move in the same environment. There are feet that walk, feet that climb, etc. The photos are excellent, and children will likely find them engaging.

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page produced Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do in 2014. The title says it all, and they did it in great style. Because the illustrations show only one view – looking straight at the animal’s face, you may wish to provide children with resources with other images that show more of the animals. This book should certainly help children realize that animals look the way they do for a reason. The term “adaptations” doesn’t appear in the text, but the introduction says this about the features of the animals – “In some way they help these animals survive.” The Amazon page for this book has some great information about how the artwork was created.

Animal Tongues by Dawn Cusick was published in 2009, and it does an excellent job of introducing the variety of animal tongues and their functions. The book is attractive and fun to read. It would likely work for all levels of elementary, perhaps as a read-aloud for the youngest ones. The author has two new books that I haven’t seen, but which also sound good. They were published by the National Wildlife Federation last fall. The titles are Animals that Make Me Say Wow! and Animals that Make Me Say Ouch!