What Is Structural Adaptation?

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Structural adaptations are the physical features of an organism that help it to survive and succeed in its environment. Structural adaptations can affect the way the creature moves, eats, reproduces or protects itself.

Structural adaptations are the result of the evolutionary process, which stems from the mutation of genes over time. Some mutations are of benefit to the organism while others are not. Creatures with beneficial adaptations, such as sharper teeth for a carnivore, for example, or a longer bill in a bird, are more likely to survive longer and breed successfully. The beneficial adaptations eventually spread throughout the gene pool of the species across thousands of years.

The specific characteristics of each species are the result of structural adaptation. Some examples include:

  • The duck has webbed feet for propelling it through the water and strong wings to take to flight quickly.
  • The rabbit’s fur changes color according to the seasons to provide camouflage that protects it from predators.
  • The leaves of the carnivorous pitcher plant form cups, or pitchers, that fill with water, drowning insects that they then digest.

The theory of structural adaptation comes from Darwin’s observation of finches on the Galapagos Islands. The finches had all come from the mainland and were all the same physically at one time. Yet, he saw that in each area of the islands, there were subspecies of finches that had different beaks and adapted to the unique food sources of their specific environment.