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Oregon Family Magazine

Amazing Animal Adaptations!

02/02/2023 ● By Lexie Briggs
Have you ever wondered why animals look the way they do? Why do beavers have such large buck teeth? Why do salmon have pale bellies?

Through a process called evolution, animals change over time to be better adapted to their environments. Charles Darwin, a very influential scientist who studied how animals evolve, noticed that there were several species of birds in the Galápagos Islands that were very similar, but had different shaped beaks. The birds’ beaks were all adaptations that helped them eat specific kinds of bugs and fruit. The large ground finch, the largest of “Darwin’s finches,” has a big beak that can act as a nutcracker. The small tree finch, one of the smaller finches on the Galápagos, has a small beak that is good for grasping insects in bark.

Adaptations help animals to get very good at what they do. Oregon’s state animal, the beaver, has evolved enormous buck teeth that allow them to chop down trees very efficiently. Then beavers use those trees to create safe and cozy dams to live in.

Another animal found in Oregon is the duck! (Ducks are found especially often near the Museum of Natural and Cultural History on the campus of the University of Oregon.) Ducks and other waterfowl have a special oil gland near their tails called a preen gland. Ducks use their bills to rub the oil all over their bodies, which keeps the water from soaking their feathers.

Salmon have pale bellies and green and brown speckled backs to better hide from predators. Many marine animals have a kind of two-toned camouflage called countershading. Predators looking at them from below think their pale bellies look a lot like the sky, and predators looking at them from the sky think their green and brown speckled backs look like the ground! 

Discover more about how animals hear, smell, and move at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History this month! On Saturday, February 18, the museum is hosting an Amazing Animals Family Day. Between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. the building will be filled with hands-on activity stations exploring the wonderful world of animals. You will be able to get up close to examine animal skulls, teeth, and fossils or engage in activities to discover how animals hear, smell, and move. Get crafty by creating an animal DNA code bracelet or skeleton artwork or learn about the importance of diversity in the Animal Kingdom by playing the Biodiversity Kerplunk game.

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