Amazing Animal Adaptations


Amazing Animal Adaptations

From feathers to fur, camouflage to resource conservation, human or animal – we all must adapt to survive.  It just so happens that animals have a multitude of amazing ways to do so.  

Adaptations are genetic mutations that help organisms survive in the wild. Due to the helpful nature of the mutation, it gets passed down from one generation to the next. As more and more organisms inherit the mutation, the mutation becomes just a normal aspect of the species. At that point, the mutation has evolved into an adaptation.

An adaptation can be structural, meaning it’s a physical part of the organism, or an adaptation can also be behavioral, affecting the way an organism acts.


Being cute is actually NOT an adaptation for the porcupinefish.

In the freckled porcupinefish’s case, being cute is not an actual adaptation – but its impressive inflating sure is. 


The defense mechanism is a physical adaptation cultivated in order to deter predators from attacking. If threatened, porcupinefish (similar to puffer fish and burr fish) will gulp water or air and  then inflate their extremely flexible stomachs, in many cases doubling their size, thus reducing the range of potential predators to those with much bigger mouths.


Note the spikes on its body.

The process of puffing, however, is extremely stressful to the animal. If this ever occurs to one of our fish here at the Aquarium, we take note and monitor the animal until it returns to its normal size. 

A second defense mechanism is provided by the fish’s sharp spines, which radiate outward when the fish is inflated. Other marine creatures that have adapted inflation as a means of defense include the swell shark, a carpet shark that dwells in Pacific waters off the coast of California.

Another amazing animal adaptation you can see in action at the Aquarium is the hair on our North American River Otters.

If you’ve come to see them lately, you might’ve wondered how Merlin and his new female companion could possibly swim when the degrees are dipping into the 40s – it’s all thanks to that thick, sleek coat of fur.

Merlin shake

Merlin’s fur makes him look pretty majestic and also keeps him warm in chilly temps.

The river otter is almost impervious to cold because of an outer coat of coarse guard hairs, plus a dense undercoat that helps to waterproof the animal by trapping a layer of air against the otter’s skin. 

So, we have great defensive deterrents, an environmental adaptation – what about nutritional necessities? Enter: birds.  

Just as in the case of sharp teeth, large, strong beaks are often an adaptation used to help an animal eat. However, big – often sharp – beaks can be a feature of both carnivores and herbivores.

 If you’ve visited our Eagle Pass exhibit, you’ve gotten a glimpse of Mortimer, our Turkey Vulture. Morty’s sharp, hooked beak is ideally designed for tearing flesh from the carrion she feeds on.


You’ve never seen a parrot enjoy a walnut as much as Zeppo does.


Zeppo shows just how easily his strong beak can break into a walnut’s hard shell.

 Similarly, the sizeable beak of the macaw has been adapted to help it crack open large, tough-shelled nuts. Our Green-Winged Macaw Zeppo and Military Macaw Kogi excel at (and thoroughly enjoy) cracking open the thick shells of Brazil nuts and walnuts and chowing down on the meaty insides. 

 Defensive mechanisms, insulating fur, enhanced beaks – and we’re barely even scratching the surface of animal adaptations!  Delve deeper into the world of adaptations – not to mention exaptations, speciation, coadaptation, mimicry, and more here:


The remnants of Zeppo’s easily cracked walnut shell.

 Come visit our Aquarium’s amazing, adaptive animals to learn more about them firsthand! 


River Otter


This is Merlin, a River Otter!

River otters are aquatic mammals. They generally live along rivers, as their name implies, but they’re also found near streams and lakes. Otters prefer water bordered by woods and with wetlands, such as marshes, nearby. Flexing their long bodies up and down, paddling with their webbed hind feet, and using their feet and strong tails to steer.




This is Merlin, a River Otter!

Although River Otters look cute and cuddly, they are wild and do not make good pets. They have sharp claws which can tear up carpets and furniture, and very sharp teeth, which can be dangerous. River Otters also mark their territory with “scat,” another name for waste.

River Otters are perfectly adapted to the places they live – around rivers of all sizes, canals, lakes, marshes, and bays. At one time the number of River Otters was quite low. However, due to reintroduction programs, their success in the wild is growing.

Texas State Aquarium Saddened by Loss of North American River Otter




The Texas State Aquarium is saddened to report the passing one of our North American river otters, Dusty. Dusty arrived at TSA in June of 1996 as a pup and enjoyed a long life at the Aquarium. She was 17 years old at the time of her passing, well past the median life expectancy (MLE) for her species, which is a testament to the exceptional care she received throughout her life here at the Aquarium.

A preliminary pathology report from blood samples collected on Wednesday indicated that Dusty had leukemia. A necropsy has been performed, and the Aquarium is awaiting the pathology report to confirm the diagnosis. 

The MLE for North American river otters in professional care is 12.3 years. According to National Geographic, the life expectancy for a river otter in its natural habitat is between eight and nine years. Both veterinary attention and the lack of predators are primary reasons for the longer life expectancy when in professional care.

Dusty was one of many geriatric animals living at the Aquarium. With advances in veterinary medicine, nutrition, and husbandry techniques, animals are living longer in zoos and aquariums around the nation. As a result, managers and care takers develop new ways to address the unique needs of geriatric animals.

The Texas State Aquarium family is saddened by her loss.