The Animal Adaptations program at Hatfield Marine Science Center is a 50-minute lab-based program for 3-12 grade students. Students examine marine organisms from three different habitats (sandy beach, rocky shore and estuary) and explore the many ways they adapt to their particular environment. This lab focuses on the adaptations of several groups of marine animals, including mollusks, crustaceans, and echinoderms. It investigates how they differ depending on whether they are in a sandy beach, rocky shore, or estuary environment. Students will work in small groups with various live animals, studying individual characteristics and how these organisms interact with their environment and one another.
The Oregon Coast is made up of a series of rocky shores, sandy beaches, and estuaries, all of which are greatly affected by fluctuating tides. Many of these areas are intertidal and are alternately inundated by seawater and exposed to air, wind, and dramatic changes in temperature and salinity. High tide floods these areas with cold, nutrient-laden seawater, bringing food to organisms that live there in the form of plankton and detritus. Low tides often expose these organisms to the dangers of predation and desiccation.
In addition to tidal effects, organisms that inhabit sandy beaches and rocky shores also have to deal with the physical stresses of pounding waves. Because of these harsh conditions, organisms have developed unique adaptations that not only help them to survive but thrive in these environments.
An adaptation is a physical or behavioral trait that helps a plant or animal survive in a specific environment or habitat. Although many marine organisms may be closely related and share many characteristics or behaviors, each has its own unique set of adaptations that make it suited to a particular environment. One example of an adaptation to their environment that many marine organisms possess is camouflage that makes them virtually undetectable to predators and prey alike.
In this lab, we will examine various organisms found on rocky shores, sandy beaches, and estuary and investigate how they adapt to their particular environment.
Most rocky shores are composed of impenetrable rock that most organisms cannot bore into to seek protection. As a result, many organisms found here seek shelter from the elements and predators by hiding in rock crevices or withdrawing into hard shells. Rocky shore inhabitants are often sessile or attached to rocks to resist wave action and maintain advantageous positions for feeding and reproduction. Some examples of rocky shore creatures are sea stars, barnacles, limpets, urchins, and anemones.