8 junio, 2024

Morphological adaptation: what it is, definition and examples

What is morphological adaptation?

The morphological adaptations are physical changes that occur over several generations in living organisms, such as animals and plants. The adaptations of the different species can be physical or behavioral: both categories are necessary for the survival of a species.

An example of the first time these adaptations were observed occurred when Charles Darwin noticed that the beak of a Galapagos finch had adapted to eat a particular diet.

These observations about adaptations gave rise to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. It is thought that over millions of years, one species of finch adapted to the island’s unique environment and evolved into 13 different species. Each type of finch has different characteristics that allow it to eat certain insects, flowers, or seeds.

Organisms that adapt to their environment are able to ensure their food, water and nutrients, that is, their survival.

They can also get heat and air to breathe. By adapting, these organisms are able to overcome physical conditions such as temperature, light, and heat. Likewise, they can defend themselves against their natural enemies, to reproduce and to respond to the changes that happen around them.

In the case of morphological adaptations, they are adaptations that relate to the appearance of the organism, be it a plant or an animal. This includes any structure, color, size, or shape that has adapted to ensure its survival.

Examples of morphological adaptations

1. Camouflage or mimicry

Camouflage is the ability to not be seen. It is used by predators, prey, and plants. Color can help an organism to blend in with its environment, even when this organism cannot see color.

Their body shapes can make them look like some other common object in the same environment, this is what the camouflage skill is all about.

Sometimes an animal’s patterns could make it more identifiable, however, other times they could help disguise it.

For example, the stripes on a tiger or the spots on a giraffe make them almost impossible to detect in dappled light. Likewise, the eggs of many birds have spots to go unnoticed among their prey, caterpillars and geckos camouflage themselves among the leaves, etc. Or the orchid mantis, which at first glance looks like an orchid.

Other examples of camouflage in animals include: squids that fill their young’s eggs with ink to camouflage them, yellow-and-black-striped catsnakes that blend into mangroves, partridges and hares that shed their fur to blend in with the melting snow, and sea dragons that fool predators and other animals with their camouflage.

Animals that exhibit this adaptation

– The brown-throated sloth, the three-toed sloth, and the pygmy sloth.

– The black bear and the polar bear.

– The Eurasian lynx, the spotted leopard, the jaguar, the leopard, the snow leopard, the tiger and the wild cat, among other felines.

– The African penguin, pheasant, kiwi, owls and grouse, among other birds.

– The American crocodile, the alligator, the salamanders, and many species of snakes.

– Some frogs and toads.

– Some species of sharks, rays, octopus and squid.

– Several species of butterflies.

2. Neoteny

This ability refers to those animals that retain their juvenile characteristics into adulthood. Neoteny is important in evolution: humans are neotenic primates, and insects are presumed to be descendants of a millipede neotenic ancestor.

Probably the best-known example of this characteristic is the axolotl, or axolotl, a Mexican salamander that remains a tadpole its entire life, never losing its gills and never leaving water to live on land.

The Texas blind salamander also has this characteristic. This species lives in caves where light does not penetrate, it has eyes, but they are covered with skin, since it does not need them to survive in this environment.

3. Thermal adaptations

This ability allows certain organisms to adapt to environmental conditions that have to do with temperature. It is classified into endothermic and ectothermic animals. The first, mammals and birds, cover themselves with hair or feathers that allow them to maintain body heat. The latter take refuge in hiding places and slow down vital activity to the maximum in a state of lethargy.

4. Light adaptations

It is the ability to adapt to the environment according to the amount of light. Animals that live in the dark, such as some nocturnal birds or moles, have developed larger eyes and a sense of hearing. Among bats, for example, echolocation developed, which helps them locate their prey and know where it is.


Polymorphism literally means «many forms,» ​​and it can be exhibited in many ways. A truly polymorphic species has individuals of similar appearance. notably different living in the same area.

For example, carrier ants have workers of different sizes in the same nest. Some snakes have a zigzag pattern on their skin that can be black or colored. For this reason these species are polymorphic.

If the difference is between males and females, as is the case with peacocks and turkeys, it would be a case of sexual dimorphism rather than polymorphism.

Some species of snails exist in many different colors because of this ability. Another example is eels, which start to change color when they enter fresh water, and cichlids, which have a wide variety of colors to attract females. Humans also exhibit polymorphic characteristics.

Other examples of animals with polymorphism:

– The gray seal, the gray wolf, the lion, the Tibetan fox, the mountain hare and the red squirrel.

– Some birds like the wild turkey, Eleonora’s hawk, snow goose and fulmar.

– The boa constrictor, the marine iguana, the collared snake and the velvet snake.

– The sunflower starfish.

– Several species of ants.

sexual dimorphism

Sexual dimorphism describes those animals in which there is a differential physical difference, in addition to reproductive organs, between males and females of the same species. One may be larger than the other, or one may have different coloration or additional parts to its body, such as horns, plumage, or fur.

In cases where the females are larger or more ornate, it is called reverse sexual dimorphism.

In nature there are many examples of this characteristic: male narwhal whales use their large tusks to attract females. In zebra finches, their coloration is important when it comes to attracting females. Male red phalaropes are duller in color and care for their young, and of course, the differences between male and female humans.

Examples of sexual dimorphism in other animals:

– Among the mammals: the Tasmanian devil, seals, sloths, buffaloes, giraffes, sheep, deer, reindeer, koalas, gorillas, elephants and whales, are just some of the mammals in display this feature.

– The condor, the eagle, the ostrich and the peacock.

– The python, the chameleon, some frogs and some butterflies also have this adaptation.


Animal and plant adaptations and behaviors. Adaptations and behaviors. Retrieved from bbc.co.uk.
Sexual dimorphism. Adaptations and behaviors. Retrieved from bbc.co.uk.

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