EdPlace's Year 6 Home Learning Science Lesson: Adaptation
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Now...onto the lesson!
How are you adapting to this period of lockdown and online learning?
The world, as you’re used to it, has changed in the past year, hasn’t it? Have we been able to just carry on as normal? Definitely not! We’ve had to adapt and change to the circumstances and, for some, this has been extremely hard.
The natural world has thousands of examples of living things adapting to their surroundings or to a change in their environment, but it’s often an area that your young scientist can struggle with. Understanding how the design of something is directly related to its situation is not always easy to see and so we at EdPlace are here to guide your child through the thorny problems associated with adaptations (oo, thorns are a plant’s adaptation to make them less edible – animals don’t fancy holes in their tongue!). So, let’s journey into that wonderful natural world and try to unravel some of those adaptations and how they work.
So, let’s see whether your current thinking needs any modification...
We're confident that if you follow the step-by-step approach below your child will be able to:
1) Understand how organisms are adapted (designed) for the environment in which they live and how those adaptations help them to survive.
2) Apply this understanding to questions.
3) Explain it back to you!
Step 1: Time to modify your thinking, or is that simply adaptation?
OK, so first of all let’s try to get an overview of what it’s about. We’ll start by imagining this situation:
Imagine a world in which the plants, rocks and so on are triangular in shape and red in colour. It’s populated by red-coloured, triangular creatures (why not draw a few, with happy faces?). As you can see, they match their environment – they have an adaptation that makes them hard to spot.
Now, imagine that one red, triangular couple had a round, green baby (you could draw them, unhappy, with their baby!). That baby is not adapted to its surroundings and, in all likelihood, will not last long before it gets caught and eaten. Can you think why that might be?
You may well know that the type of adaptation we’ve been talking about here, in our imaginary world, is camouflage. That type of adaptation means that the organism blends in with its surroundings and makes it very hard to spot. Stick insects are hard to see when they’re on a twig, plaice (flatfish) are coloured just like the seabed they lie on, a deer fawn is spotty to blend in with the woodland floor where it’s hiding.
So, that’s one example of adaptation. Our mission here is to look at some of the different ways in which organisms are adapted to help them to survive and flourish in their habitats.
Let’s have a closer look...
Step 2: Is it enough to adapt your thinking, or does it require a total transformation?
So, we’ve just seen that by changing your colour to match your surroundings (to blend in), you’ve adapted in one way to your environment. Is that the only adaptation possible? Let’s have a look at a few more:
1. What sort of challenges do you think living at the poles will offer? It’s very cold, so an adaptation like thick fur, layers of fat, the ability to hibernate through the worst of the winter – these are types of adaptations that organisms living at the poles need. Think of polar bears, arctic foxes, penguins, musk oxen. The surroundings are all white. What sort of adaptation might help with that? Can you think why there are no snakes at the poles?
2. Conversely, deserts are places which are very dry, often hot, and the ground is pretty sandy. Anything living in a desert needs to be adapted to those conditions in order to survive. The lack of water means an ability to survive on small amounts is vital and, for some, an adaptation to be able to burrow to escape the heat of the day can be a life-saver too. So, jerboas (a type of desert mouse) never actually drink at all, cacti store water inside them, lizards learn to burrow and camels have big feet so they can walk on the sand.
3. What about living in water? What sort of adaptations do you think aquatic organisms need? Well, things like gills (to extract oxygen from the water), fins/flippers/webbed feet to help with swimming, a streamlined shape to move through the water easily and then seaweeds have “fronds” that move easily with the waves so that they don’t get snapped off.
So, that’s just an overview of some of the ways in which organisms are designed to fit with their environment – that’s what an adaptation is. You can see that without gills, for example, we cannot breathe underwater and so for any animal living in water, gills are a must in order to be able to obtain oxygen. Now, let’s have a look at some specific adaptations and try to work out where that organism must live, OK?
Step 3: Are you changing your thinking to keep up with this?
So, have you got the idea that in order to survive somewhere, organisms must change (adapt) to fit their environment? As humans, we adapt in different ways – we have special clothing to be able to live in very cold places, for example.
So, let’s have a look at some different organisms (don’t worry if you’ve never heard of some of them) – we’re going to look at their features and try to work out why they’re adapted the way they are: where they live, what they eat, how they survive, that sort of thing.
Adaptations include forward-facing eyes, soft-feathers, sharp talons.
How do these adaptations help them catch their prey?
Barn owls hunt for small rodents like mice and voles, so they have soft feathers for flying in stealth-mode (its prey have good hearing), forward-facing eyes to pinpoint where their prey is hiding and sharp talons (feet) to catch them with.
Adaptations include damp and slimy skin, eyes on top of their head, long, muscular back legs and webbed hind feet.
How do these adaptations help frogs live in and near water?
Having eyes on top of their heads helps frogs to remain largely submerged and yet still see what’s going on around the pond. Their webbed hind feet help them to swim through the water better (larger surface area) and their slimy skin makes them harder for a predator to grip. Their strong back legs mean they can hop a long way with one leap, again helping them to escape being eaten.
Adaptations include changes colour very quickly, harpoon-tongue, suction tentacles and jet propulsion to swim.
How do these adaptations help the cuttlefish to swim and feed?
Cuttlefish live in the sea and are relatives of the squid. They feed on crabs and prawns and their ability to change colour is amazing (worth checking on YouTube!) and they use it both for camouflage as well as for mesmerising their prey. Prawns and shrimp swim fast, so the cuttlefish uses its harpoon-like tongue to grab them quickly, holding on with their suction tentacles. Their stomachs are adapted to shoot water out, giving them jet propulsion. Incredible creatures!
Adaptations include: their leaves have sticky tips, they can roll their leaves up, they can live in poor soils.
How do these adaptations help the sundew survive?
You’ve probably heard of the Venus Flytrap, a plant that catches insects. Well, the sundew is a British plant that’s adapted to eating insects. Its leaves are surrounded by little blobs of sticky “dew” and when an ant (for instance) wanders on to the plant it gets stuck. The ant’s wriggling makes the plant respond by curling up that leaf and then it digests the insect! This adaptation helps it to live in poor soils that other plants avoid, because the sundew gains the nutrients from its insect food that it would otherwise get from the soil. Clever, huh?
Well, does your young scientist feel they’ve got a better handle on what adaptation is all about, why adaptations are needed, what different adaptations might include and how they improve the survival chances for an organism? Ready for some questions to see?
Let’s check it out...
Step 4: Check this out and see whether you’ve been able to transform your understanding...
So, let’s see whether you can use what we’ve been looking at to answer these five questions. Then we’ll see what the EdPlace site has to offer to continue building on adaptation.
1. A weta is an insect, a bit like a cricket/grasshopper, that lives in New Zealand. It has anti-freeze in its blood and has been known to be frozen solid in ice and yet come back to life when it thaws out.
What conditions do you think this adaptation helps the weta to survive?
2. Musk oxen are large herbivores, like a shaggy cow, that live in the Arctic. They have an adaptation that they use when arctic wolves are hunting them: they group together, with their horny heads pointing outwards.
How do you think this adaptation helps the musk oxen to survive the wolf pack?
3. Saharan silver ants live in one of the hottest places on Earth. They are covered with silvery hairs and run extremely fast, looking for animals that have expired in the intense heat.
How do you think these adaptations help the ants to survive?
4. There are several species of lungfish around the world that have one or more lungs in addition to their gills. This adaptation enables them to survive when their lakes dry up and they become encased in hard mud.
Use this information to predict the sort of environment that this adaptation helps the lungfish to live in that would kill other fish.
5. As you know, our world is changing as temperatures rise and the climate changes. Organisms may have to adapt fast to these changes or become extinct.
Imagine you are a butterfly whose caterpillars feed on a plant that is becoming rarer where you live. It’s getting too dry for that plant to survive and it’s slowly moving north, where the soil is wetter.
How can you adapt to these changes? Your caterpillars’ food plant is moving away. What sort of choices do you have to adapt and survive?
Was that OK? Hopefully, by bringing in the work we’d done leading up to that, it really helped to make the questions easier.
Step 5 - Activity time!
Hopefully, your child has a good understanding of animals and their offspring now. Why not keep practising this knowledge by working through some of the below activities:
All activities are created by teachers and automatically marked. Plus, with an EdPlace subscription, we can automatically progress your child at a level tailored to their needs. Sending you progress reports along the way so you can track and measure progress, together - brilliant!
So, the last question requires some thinking, but hopefully, after the work you’ve done, the idea of organisms adapting to their habitat is something your young scientist has a better grasp of, now. Let’s look at some of the possible answers.
1. The weta is one of a number of animals can literally freeze solid – and survive; in fact, it’s an adaptation to get through winter and, when the temperature rises in the spring, thaw out and (seemingly) come back to life.
2. You imagine facing a ring of great shaggy musk oxen, all shaking their horns at you! It’s hard to see where the wolves can attack them, so it’s a defence adaptation to help them survive being hunted down and killed.
3. The Saharan ants’ silvery hairs help to reflect the sun’s rays, giving them a little longer out at the hottest time of day than other creatures can manage. Being able to run fast means they can get out, find food, and get back to their nest as quickly as possible before they fry!
4. The lungfish are adapted to their lakes drying up, so they must live in hot places where lakes are only present during the “rainy season” – areas of Africa and Australia, for example, that have temporary lakes. Then the lungfish feed and mate before the lake is gone and they’re back to being “stuck in the mud”!
As a butterfly whose food source is moving north, you’re in trouble. How can you adapt? Here’s a couple of choices:
- migrate north to where your caterpillars’ food plants are moving,
- adapt to your caterpillars feeding on a different type of plant that is still around,
- stay, and suffer reduced numbers as there are fewer food plants and eventually die out.
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