Animal Adaptations

by Abigail Read

Evolution is a wonderful thing: It’s thanks to evolution and the different environments we find in the UK, that we can enjoy living with a fantastic range of different plants and animals.  In this blogpost I’m going to explore some of the amazing animal adaptations evolution has led to in the UK, from teeth to beaks and my personal favourites, sneaky deer!

Foxes

Environment

Foxes are often considered urban wildlife and have adapted to live in city and town gardens as humans have developed houses on their natural homes. They live in small family groups rarely exceeding over 10 individuals and hunt nocturnally. Foxes hunt alone for small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, earthworms and fruit and vegetables

Adaptations

Foxes have adapted to their urban life style by building their dens under garden shed or hedgerows. They dig deep underground to hide and keep warm and to keep their young away from predators.

As well as hunting for small mammals and other small animals, you can often see evidence of foxes raiding household bins. This is a sign of them adapting to living close to humans.

Foxes teeth are adapted to their natural diet. As you can see in the picture below they have large thin canines to catch their prey, and large molars at the back to chew it. The molars of foxes which are meat eaters are different to the molars in herbivores, like the deer. Foxes molars have more of a point to them and are stronger to chew through bone and break down meat.

When looking at foxes one thing always stands out.. their large ears! Foxes have large forward facing ears to help them focus on the sound of their prey. Foxes hunt using sound and will attack where the sound is coming from as their eyesight in the dark is not strong.

 

Deer

Environment

Deer, Fallow deer, in particular live in wooded areas next to large open grasslands. Country house estates are ideal locations. Unlike the above mammals, deer are herbivores and have a diet of mostly grass and herbs, but also tree shoots and bark, heather, bracken, nuts, fruits and fungi. In the UK deer no longer have a natural predator except humans.

Adaptations

In the picture below you can see that the deer’s teeth are very differently evolved when comparing to the other mammals. They have one hard palate on the top front jaw instead of teeth. And then they have several flat incisors to cut through the grass and leaves. They have large flat molars to grind the grass before ingesting.

Deer stag

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Although deer no longer have a natural predator they have still evolved to have large antlers. This is more to do with mating rituals rather then adapting to their environment. It is a sign that they can fight off predators that once shared their territory. They will rutt during mating season and the fittest wins!

Fallow deer’s spotted graduated fur makes it the master of camouflage, they can vanish in the woodland. Deer are very nervous creatures and have their eyes set to the side of their head for all round vision, essential when grazing in the open to keep watch for danger.  This can be a bit annoying when the ‘danger’ is me observing them for my dissertation research!

Badgers

Environment

Badgers live in wooded areas in large setts deep under the ground in large family groups or communities. They are nocturnal and have a diet of earthworms, beetles, fruit and some small mammals. They have also been known to sometimes eat wasps and bees nests if they have fallen to the ground.

Adaptations

To build their setts badgers have adapted large, broad fore paws with long thick claws for digging amongst the roots of trees and create very deep holes in the earth.

Badgers have a very striking colouring of black and white stripes, which is a very key adaptation influenced by their environment. The black and white stripes recreate the look of trees and branches in the dark.

Badgers forage for their food rather than hunt and have a very acute sense of smell used to sniff for danger while they are vulnerable foraging.

Badgers have large bulbous canines and sharp incisors to help chew any small mammals they may eat but as they also eat berries and earthworms their front teeth aren’t as sharp as the foxes’ as they forage rather than hunt.

Mammal Teeth Comparisons

Mammal Teeth Comparison. Image: science made simple (CC-BY-NC)

Hedgehogs

Environment

Hedgehogs live in small garden or bushy areas, or small woods. They forage on mainly beetles, caterpillars and earthworms, but also birds’ eggs, slugs and snails if they are available. They create nests using leaves and grass to live in whilst hibernating. Hedgehogs are solitary animals with overlapping habitats.

Adaptations

The first thing that everyone notices about hedgehogs is their spikes! They have developed these as a defence mechanism for their main predator, the badger. As well as the spikes they curl up into a ball to allow the surface area of spike to increase leaving no vulnerable areas exposed. Hedgehogs have small rounded off teeth on their bottom jaw and two prominent front teeth on the upper jaw. This is to help them catch and eat their specialised diet of beetle and caterpillars.

In comparison to their body size, hedgehogs have long legs to help them run fast and strong claws to enable then to climb trees when necessary.

Hibernation is a key adaptation of the hedgehog during winter. This is to preserve energy due to the limited food availability in the UK during the winter for hedgehogs.

Birds

There are hundreds of varieties of birds in the UK and they all have one key feature that reflects their environment and diet…their beak!

The beak has two key functions. Birds use them to build their homes and to catch food. A bird’s diet, which is affected by the environment they live in, has caused adaptations to occur in the beaks shape and size. In the picture below you can see 5 common UK birds type and the beak shape.

Sparrows have a beak shape known as a Cracker. They are small and pointed to enable them to crack seeds and eat them easily.

Black birds on the other hand eat insects,  worms and berries. Black birds beaks don’t need to be as strong but do need to be larger then the sparrow to eat the bigger food. Its shape helps it to dig on to the surface of fields to get the insects and worms.
Starling have a similar diet to diet to blackbird but also eat fruit to pierce into the fruit it has a thiner powerful pointier beak.
In the picture you can see that the duck’s beak is very different. They have long, flat bills that strain small plants and animals from the water in pond and slow flowing rivers.
In comparison to their head size Kingfishers have a large broad beak. It is spear shaped to help them fish in rivers.
Birdsbeaks

Bird Beaks. Image: science made simple (CC-BY-NC)

 

Here at science made simple we love wild life and the science behind their habitats. We have a whole wetland busking show available looking at mud water feathers and bones and encouraging the audience to discover the science of Wetland areas in the UK.

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