Across the planet, there are numerous grasslands, each with its own unique animal inhabitants. How do the animals in these grassland environments survive and adapt? In this lesson, we’ll explore grassland animal adaptations, the behavioral and physiological traits that help animals survive.
Grassland ; Animal Adaptions
When you hear the word grassland, what comes to mind? If you said vast areas of grass stretching off toward the horizon, the landscape dotted with animals, then you would be right. Grasslands are defined as areas where there is too little rainfall to support a forest, but too much rainfall to classify the land as a dry desert. Trees aren’t common in grasslands, either from poor soil and a lack of overall rainfall, or from excessive tree browsing from grassland animals.
In temperate grasslands, rainfall is low throughout the year, with hot summers and cold winters. Tropical grasslands, on the other hand, receive seasonal rainfall and are generally warm throughout the year.From the prairies in North America, to the lion-prowled savannas of Africa, to the steppe grasslands of Asia, to the pampas grasslands in South America and the rangelands of Australia, grasslands are found across the globe, ranging from temperate to tropical regions. The animals that live in each of these grasslands must adapt in order to survive in their particular environment, waging a daily battle against the elements, resources, predators, and rivals.Animal adaptations in a grassland are often based around grass itself. The expansive, grassy plains and prairies provide unique environments in which animals must survive.
Grasses allow animals to use camouflage to hide from prey or predators; grass is a tough but abundant food source; a variety of grasses can be used to create or to hide nests and burrows; and social capabilities evolve among grassland animals, helping them survive. We’ll define these adaptations and provide an example of each by taking a look at some grassland animals. Keep in mind that these are only a few examples of the huge variety of grassland animal adaptations.
When an animal is well hidden in its environment, we say that it is using camouflage. Camouflage can help predators sneak up on prey, and it can also help prey animals hide from predators. In grassland environments, the grass itself plays a key role in what camouflage looks like on the feathers, fur, and skin of animals.For example, the Malayan tiger lives in the grasslands and moist forests of the Malay peninsula in southeast Asia. It uses its dark stripes to blend in with tall grass as it stalks its prey.
With all the abundant grass in grasslands, you might think finding food would be no problem at all. However, grasses are very tough to chew and digest, due to microscopic glass-like shards within grass stalks. These shards are made up of silica, a substance that is indeed found in glass. Grasses provide a challenge for animals to eat, and those animals that do eat grasses need to squeeze every bit of energy out of this tough food.For example, American bison accomplish this task by using their big, broad teeth, equipped with flat tops that make the teeth great for grinding and mashing grasses. Once the grass is swallowed, the bison’s complex, four-chambered ruminant digestive system dissolves the silica and extracts nutrients from the remaining plant material.
Burrows And Nests
Many grassland animals seek shelter and make their homes underground, in a burrow or subterranean nests. Burrows can help small animals seek shelter against grassland fires. Other animals will make nests out of the woven grass itself.
However, there is one grassland animal that burrows underground and makes a long-term subterranean nest: the burrowing owl. Burrowing owls live in the abandoned burrows of other grassland animals, like prairie dogs, foxes, and ground squirrels. These owls are found throughout western North America, and have adapted to the relatively treeless environment of these grasslands.
They use these burrows to raise their young and to hide from both predators and potential prey animals.
Animals in the grasslands will sometimes group together in a herd or a family unit in order to provide protection in numbers. This coordinated social activity, in which an animal group lives together and protects one another, is known as gregariousness. Social animals have a better chance of surviving, and this kind of behavior is often seen in herbivorous animals, like horses, elephants, and bison.
A famous gregarious animal from the African plains is the zebra. Zebras can form herds that approach one thousand individuals, with dozens of family groups within each herd. Stallions, or male zebras, will defend a herd from predators, while the herd as a whole will slow its movement to adjust for a sick or injured herd member. Sometimes, zebra herds will spend days looking for a lost member of the herd. In addition to being gregarious, zebras also have camouflage because their stripes help them blend in with tall grass.
Grassland animal adaptations span a broad array of physiological and behavioral features.
Whether an animal is found in a temperate grassland or tropical grassland, these adaptations can mean the difference between life and death. Because a grassland is defined as an area of abundant grass life, with too much rainfall to be classified a desert, and too little rainfall to support a forest, animals have adapted in particular ways to survive. Grass is the key to survival in many of these cases.
Some animals utilize camouflage, or blending in with their environment, to hide themselves from predators or to stalk their prey. Others have adapted to the abundant grass by finding ways to efficiently consume and digest this tough plant material, with tall teeth and multi-chambered, ruminant stomachs. Burrowing underground can help protect an animal from predators, and in some cases, burrows can form long-term residences. Animals that are highly social and live in family groups have a degree of gregariousness that can provide protection for the entire herd or pack.
Grasslands conjure many images of waving tall grasses, abundant animal life, and scenes of plains and prairies from around the globe. The animals that live within these environments are an amazingly diverse group of organisms, each existing within its own grassland food web, and each with its own distinct adaptation to help it survive.