What is a Trait? - Definition, Types & Examples

Instructor: Dominic Corsini
This lesson introduces the concept of traits. In this lesson, learn about dominant and recessive traits, alleles and why some mice are white and others black. A quick summary and brief quiz follow the lesson.

What Is a Trait?

There is no shortage of outdoor opportunities here in Pennsylvania. That's fortunate for me, because I enjoy hunting, fishing, skiing, biking and most other outdoor recreational activities. One of my favorite things to do is scuba dive. Again, I am fortunate because Lake Erie is absolutely loaded with sunken ships. On my wall is a map of over 300 wreck locations. While diving these wrecks, I am amazed at the variety of life living amidst the wreckage. Of the various fish I see, smallmouth bass are among my favorite. They'll swim up to you without fear or hesitation. I've actually handfed a few. Here's a photo showing one of these smallmouth.

Smallmouth Bass
Smallmouth Bass

These fish are uniquely adapted to life in Lake Erie. They have specific traits that allow them to be successful in this ecosystem. Traits are physical characteristics. These include things such as fin length, body shape, color patters, eyesight and muscle definition. For instance, the smallmouth bass possess highly adapted traits such as keen eyesight and the ability to detect vibrations in the water. These traits allows them to locate prey more easily.

Dominant vs. Recessive Traits

Species may possess substantial variation in traits, or be nearly identical. For example, white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania all have very similar coat color with limited variation. Yet, inversely mice show considerable variation in their color patterns.

Notice how the deer in this photo are all similar in color. Variations of coat color still exists in nature, but are less common.

Deer Coat Color
Deer Coat Color

Mice on the other hand exhibit much wider variation. Here, you'll notice at least three color variants.

Mouse Coat Color

The variation shown is due to the mice having different alleles for coat color. To put it simply, alleles are the different versions of a trait.

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