Dr. Frazer has taught several college level Science courses and has a master's degree in Human Biology and a PhD in Library and Information Science.
What's the first thing a bat learns at school? The 'alphabat!'
Bats might not really learn their ABCs, but they do learn how to cuddle at a young age. That's right, bats, especially baby bats, snuggle together when they sleep. This cuddly behavior helps the bats stay warm and survive in the cold, damp caves where they live. So, to bats, cuddling is about more than being friendly, it is about survival!
Any action a plant or animal takes to survive in an environment is called a behavioral adaptation. It's easy to remember that behavioral adaptations are about actions because the word 'behave' is right there in the name, and 'behave' is a word about how we act. I'm sure you always behave!
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Behaviors and Instincts
Just like we learn how to behave from our parents and teachers, plants and animals learn from their parents and by interacting with their environments. These behavioral adaptations are called learned behaviors. Have you ever heard a bird singing a beautiful song? Many birds learn songs by listening to other birds.
Other behaviors an animal is born knowing how to do and just happen naturally: these behaviors are called instincts. For example, spiders are born knowing how to spin webs, so we can say that web spinning is an instinct.
You've probably observed many behavioral adaptations just by watching the animals around your house. What do you notice about how birds, like geese, act during the fall right before the weather gets very cold? You probably noticed that they often fly away in large groups. Most birds migrate or fly south to warmer places during the fall. Migration is a behavior that helps birds survive by keeping them warm and helping them find food during the winter.
While playing in your backyard, have you ever spotted a rabbit? How did the rabbit act when it saw you? Most rabbits will stop and get very still if they spot a bigger animal. This behavior is for protection. Being very still makes it harder for a predator, an animal that wants to eat other animals, to see the rabbit. Since freezing is an action that helps a rabbit survive, it is a behavioral adaptation.
Let's now talk about worms! I'm sure you've seen these slimy creatures around your house, especially after it's rained. While you can see the worms, they can't see you because they do not have eyes! If you've ever tried to touch a worm you know that as soon as you touch one, it contracts, or shrinks, and tries to burrow into the ground. This shrinking behavior makes worms smaller so that birds have a harder time catching and eating them. As this shrinking behavior keeps the worms alive, it's a behavioral adaptation.
Have you ever heard the saying 'don't wake a sleeping bear?' I bet that bear would be grumpy! Bears are known for being sleepy animals because they spend most of the winter hibernating, or resting in a warm place. Just like migration, hibernation is behavior that helps bears survive long, cold winters, making it another behavioral adaptation.
Le't quickly review our main terms. Behavioral adaptations are actions a living thing takes to survive in an environment. Some behaviors are learned behaviors, which plants and animals learn from their parents and by interacting with their environments, but other behaviors, called instincts just happen naturally because an animal is born knowing how to do them.
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Behavioral Adaptations: Lesson for Kids
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