Adaptation of wildlife

Two emperor penguin adults rubbing their chests together, each with a chick between its feet.
Emperor penguin adults and chicks (Photo: Chris Wilson)
A huddle of emperor penguins in their colonyA seal basks with king penguins nearbyTwo playful seal pups roll in the grass together

Where animals live, how they breed and what they feed on are, in part, determined by the environments in which they live.

  • Discuss with students how animals adapt to their environment. Then ask them to:
    • Choose an Antarctic animal. Find out all they can about it including where it lives, how it breeds, what it feeds on.
    • Look at another animal from another harsh environment, such as a desert lizard, and discuss the ways in which it has adapted to its environment. Compare this to an Antarctic animal such as an emperor penguin. What similarities have been adopted by both animals? What differences can you see in the adaptations?
  • Have students research emperor penguins and write down all their adaptations for survival. For example: they are flightless so they don't need to be light; and they must carry large reserves of fat to live in freezing weather conditions - the ratio of an animal's surface area to its volume affects the amount of heat it conserves or loses. As well as blubber for insulation, penguins have stiff, tightly-packed feathers that overlap to provide waterproofing. Their wings are shaped like flippers to help them 'fly' underwater. Short, round shapes conserve heat, so animals with this body shape are found in cold regions, while tall skinny ones live in warm climates. The feet and skin of emperor penguins fold over their eggs in another adaption to the cold conditions. Their behaviour also counteracts the cold - they huddle together to conserve heat.
  • In groups, students can each research a particular adaptation and produce a poster. They can then give a talk to the class to share the knowledge they have gained.
  • Students can discuss how humans have adapted to living in this environment. Have any anatomical or physiological changes occurred? What behavioural changes occur?

Further information

For detailed information on Antarctic animals see the Australian Antarctic Division's wildlife section.

See the Franklin Institute's website for a very good exploration of the adaptation of many marine animals to become masters of speed and 'flight' under the water, particularly seals, dolphins and whales.

This page was last modified on January 23, 2014.