Chaparral Animals: List, Food Web & Adaptations

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

Millions of different species exist around the world, each of which has evolved specific adaptations to thrive in environments seemingly unfit for humans. In this lesson, we're going to look at the plants and animals in one such biome, the chaparral.

What Is the Chaparral?

Picture California. You might be imagining the crushing traffic jams in Los Angeles, or the stunning surfers catching waves on the coast of San Diego. Although these are classic icons of Californian life, as you move away from the big cities, another type of scenery takes hold: the chaparral.

The chaparral is an area characterized by hot and dry temperatures, mild winters and hot summers. Found across the coast of most continents, such as the west coast of Australia, North and South America, the coast of the Mediterranean, and the tip of South Africa in the Cape Town region, the chaparral is a popular climate due to its mild winters and hot, dry summers.

Each continent has a unique chaparral ecosystem, with plants and animals endemic to that area. In this lesson, we're going to be looking at these plants and animals and the adaptations they have evolved to survive in the heat of the chaparral, as well as how they interact together in the chaparral food web.


Although we usually think of only animals as fighting to survive in an environment, plants have just as much of a struggle. Both plants and animals have adaptations, or physical traits that help them survive. Let's look at some of the adaptations that make plants successful in the chaparral.


With hot and dry conditions comes fire, typically an enemy to plant life. Yet, in the chaparral, fire is actually necessary for some plants to reproduce. Plants, like the flowering Banksia, which are popular in Australia's chaparral, have seeds that are encased by thick resin. Fire is actually needed to melt away the thick covering, allowing the seeds to germinate.

A Banksia plant in Australia.
Banksia brownii

Grass trees are also a common sight across the Australian chaparral. This species embraces the fire that comes with the dry conditions. After a fire, the heat causes a release of the gas acetylene from the burned plant, which promotes flower growth. The prolific flower growth following a fire allows the grass trees to reproduce and replace lost plants.

Other plant species find a way to avoid burning all together. The coyote brush is a common chaparral plant in North America. Coyote brush is an evergreen with short, woody stems, giving it the appearance of a bush. This plant has small leaves that are coated with a waxy resin. This coating not only prevents desiccation, or drying out, in the heat, but it also acts as a fire retardant and a deterrent for hungry herbivores.


Animals also face challenges in the chaparral, such as the hot, dry conditions that plague plants. The jackrabbit is actually a hare, found in North American chaparral and deserts. It's large ears aren't just for detecting predators, though: the surface area allows for efficient cooling in hot temperatures. They also have furry paws, which provide insulation against the scorching rocks in their habitat.

The large ears of the jackrabbit help to control its temperature in the hot chaparral.

The San Joaquin kit fox uses its large ears both for hearing at night, as well as temperature regulation during the day. These small foxes dwell in the desert and chaparral of California, living in burrows which keep them cool during the summer and protect them from cooler temperatures in the winter. Although kit foxes don't have sunglasses like we do, they do have special, dark pigments in their eyes designed to protect them from harmful UV radiation in the bright sun of the chaparral.

In Australia, the endangered banded hare wallaby is a resident of the west coast chaparral. This animal resembles a small kangaroo with a short-faced snout. To avoid the scorching heat that can be present during summer days, the banded hare wallaby spends time in the short shrubs during the day, only emerging at night to forage for food.

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