Animal Adaptations

Pre-visit Guide

We are pleased to offer in-depth tours and programs developed in collaboration with the educators at East Stroudsburg University, rooted in current scientific knowledge and aligned with state and national teaching standards.

This page details the complete content of the Animal Adaptations tour. Not all topics may be covered depending on questions from visitors, any requested focus on certain curriculum areas, and overall management of the group. We want to do everything possible to ensure that your visit is a successful one. Please contact us for any questions about programming, accessibility, or other issues.

Tour length:

  • Approx. 45 minutes
  • Scavenger hunt or story time Add-ons require an additional 30 minutes

Learning Goal

The students will be able to explain how animals adapt to their environment, how these adaptations help animals to survive, and how human adaptations compare.


  • Affective: Explorers can relate their own experiences to how animals, including humans, have adapted to their environments.
  • Behavioral: Explorers examine touchable objects to learn about physical adaptations through touch, and they use direct observation as part of the scientific approach to discovering adaptations.
  • Cognitive: Explorers learn the adaptations of various animals and apply this knowledge by comparing observed characteristics.



  • Everybody take a look at Oscar. Anyone know what kind of bear it is? (grizzly or Alaskan brown bear)
  • I want everyone to remember how big he is, and pay attention to what he’s eating (salmon), because you’ll need to know that later in the tour.

The Frozen North

Welcome to the Schisler Museum of Wildlife & Natural History! What you’re about to see is more than 130 species from around the world. They were collected over the course of 40 years by Art Schisler and his wife, Fannie, who graduated from ESU in 1962 and donated the animals to the university and supported the creation of a museum to hold them in.

Because all of the animals are real we ask that you do not touch anything in the exhibits so we can preserve the animals. We also ask that you do not bring in any food or drink. Leave your backpacks here at the entrance. If you would like to touch something there are touch boxes with bird wings, turtle shells, animal skins, and more. Take as many pictures as you want, and if you have any questions, raise your hand!

  • Today we’re going to talk about how animals change, or adapt, to where they live.
  • This exhibit shows the Arctic Tundra. Anybody know where that is? (North Pole)
  • What’s it like at the North Pole? (cold) What kind of changes, or adaptations, do you think animals need to live where it’s really cold? (thicker fur, etc.)
    • First, can anyone tell me who this is? (polar bear)
    • Harder question: what color is he? (usual answers are white/yellow)
    • Well, the polar bear is not white! He has very special fur, which is actually clear. Does anybody know why? (to let the sunlight reach the skin)
    • Does anybody know what color the bear’s skin is underneath his fur? Hint: look at his nose! (black) Does anybody know why? (holds more heat, like a black shirt in the summertime)
    • The polar bear’s special fur is also hollow, which traps air to make a cushion that keeps the heat in, like insulation in your house. The clear, hollow fur and black skin are adaptations that help trap the sun’s heat to keep the bears warm.
    • Why does he look white? The light scatters, or gets all broken up and spread around, just like snow or clouds look white. Snow is made of what? (snowflakes = ice crystals) and clouds are made of what? (water/raindrops) which are all clear. But light gets scattered in those water droplets and ice crystals, making clouds and snow look white. Same with the clear fur of the bear.
    • BUT…bears that live further out in the pack ice and where there’s always snow look whiter than bears that live further south or where the snow melts. Some of those polar bears have adapted to be brownish to blend into their habitats.
    • Anyone know what these animals are called? (Arctic foxes)
    • Some animals change color with the different seasons to blend in, or adapt, to where they live. Anybody know the word for that? (camouflage)
    • Arctic foxes turn brown in summer. But right now they’re white, so what season is it in this exhibit? (winter) And what are they blending in with? (snow)
    • Compare the foxes’ fur to the polar bear fur. The polar bear’s fur looks almost like plastic next to the Arctic fox’s fur, which looks really white, so you can see a difference.
    • Anybody know what this is and what animal it comes from? (narwhal tusk)
    • It’s actually the front left “canine” tooth (point to tooth in own mouth) that grows really long. Both the males and females grow them, and sometimes the right canine can also grow so they have two tusks, but that’s rare.
    • Anybody know what it’s used for? (usual answers are stabbing, fighting, poking through ice)
    • Narwhals do not use their tusks to fight or poke or kill. It’s just a tooth, and it’s not strong enough for that. To eat, they actually suck their prey in like slurping soup.
    • The narwhal’s tusk is an adaptation to how they live. The grooves or lines on the outside come from nerves, like you have in your skin. The narwhals use the nerves in their tusks to feel the temperature of the water and how much salt is in it. That’s one way they can figure out where they are in the ocean. Sometimes they gently tap their tusks together, but it’s only to talk to each other—they’re not fighting.

Optional animals if time allows

    • Some birds can be the same species but still look different because of where they live. Over our heads are two snow geese, which come in different colors called morphs. The first one is called a blue goose because of its blue-gray color morph. The second one is called a snow goose because of its white color morph.
    • What type of area would a blue goose blend in better with? (rocky/no snow) What type of area would a snow goose blend in better with? (snowy) These adaptations are a kind of camouflage that can help the geese hide from predators.
    • Can anybody see what adaptation the muskox has to stay warm in the Arctic? It’s an easy one! (thick fur)
    • The fur is so thick that it makes the animal seem a lot bigger than it is. Under the fur, the body is only about half as big as it looks.

The Cold Forest

  • This is the area south of the Arctic Tundra which includes Alaska, Canada, and the northern United States. It gets cold here, but warms up for a little while in the summer.
  • ERMINE—hand around to touch
    • This pelt, or skin with fur, is from an ermine. You may have seen them around here, since they do live in our area. Ermines are brown in the summer and white in the winter, just like the Arctic foxes. This is a full-grown adult. Do you remember the word for when animals blend in with their environment? (camouflage)
    • Everybody take turns to look who’s hiding behind the tree, in the grass. Like the ermine and the Arctic fox, snowshoe hares have also adapted to change color depending on the season. Since he’s partly white and partly brown, what season do you think it is? (spring)
    • There are two birds in the exhibit—a spruce grouse in the tree and a willow ptarmigan in the grass near the snowshoe hare. They have also adapted to change color depending on season. Since they’ve still got some white on them, is it summer yet? (no, it’s spring)
    • Although this is a grizzly bear and Oscar in the hallway is listed as an Alaskan brown bear, they are still the same species. Why do you think they look so different? (answers include baby/adult, boy/girl, etc.) They look so different because they have different diets. The Alaskan brown bear in the hallway lives on the coasts of Alaska. Anybody remember what Oscar was eating in the hallway? (salmon/fish/meat) The bears where Oscar came from near the ocean mostly eat fish, which allows them to grow very large. The grizzly bear in this exhibit doesn’t live near the ocean, so it eats nuts, plants, berries, and honey. Without meat, these bears can’t grow as big.
    • The lynx is a lot like the bobcat that lives in Pennsylvania, but the lynx is a little bigger and has longer hair. Why did the lynx adapt this way in Alaska compared to our bobcats in Pennsylvania? (to stay warm in the cold climate)
    • In our museum we have all four kinds of moose that live in North America. This one is the biggest, the Alaskan moose. If it had its body and was standing on this platform, that is how tall it would be! One of the reasons it can grow so big is because of where it lives. There is lots of food and lots of space up in Alaska and Canada. The other kinds of moose are much smaller, and they live in places that might not have as much food or space. Animals adapt to be a lot smaller so they can survive in places without as many resources.
    • Mountain goats have adapted to live in the rocks because they have pads on the bottom of their hooves that are just like your fingertips. This helps them hang on to the rocks.

Canyon Country

  • This environment is found in the western United States and down into Mexico. Looking around, what does it seem like in this habitat? (dry, hot, sunny)
    • Some of the animals that live here have adapted to life without a lot of water. The desert bighorn sheep can go longer without water than a camel can.
    • The bighorn sheep down below, just like its name says, has horns that can weigh up to 30 pounds. Can anybody see what’s missing on this sheep’s horns? (the tips)
    • Since their horns are constantly growing and eventually get so long that they block the sheep’s vision, they’ve adapted by learning to rub their horns on rocks to file them down. This is called brooming.
    • The pronghorn is the fastest land mammal in the western hemisphere, which is the side of the earth that we live in. It’s the second fastest land animal in the world behind the cheetah. But the pronghorn can run longer than the cheetah, which means the cheetah would win in a short race but the pronghorn would win in a long race
    • Why did the pronghorn adapt to be so fast? Cheetahs and saber-toothed tigers used to be very common in North America where we live. The pronghorn’s adaptation was faster speeds to be able to outrun these large cats. Even though we don’t have cheetahs or saber-tooths anymore, the pronghorn is still fast.
    • The ringtail is sometimes called a ringtail cat, even though it’s related to raccoons, not cats.
    • It comes out at night—does anybody know the word for animals that come out at night? (nocturnal)
    • Does anyone know why it has adapted to come out at night? (it’s cooler and they can also avoid predators)
    • Many small animals that live in hot places have adapted to have big ears. Anybody know why? (it helps them cool off) Do you see another small animal with big ears? (coyote)

The Verdant East

  • This exhibit shows what it looks like where we live in the eastern half of North America, including the Poconos and Delaware Water Gap. Everything in this exhibit is common in Pennsylvania, and you might have seen many of them in your own backyard.
  • We live in a very special part of the world, because we have a lot of biodiversity. That means we have more different species living together than in other parts of the world. Places like the tropics have even more than we do, but we have some of the highest biodiversity in our own country. A big reason for that is because we have so many resources, like different plants and animals that support other species. Remember that for later!
    • We talked about the polar bear up front, which adapted to have special fur. There’s an animal in this exhibit that has another kind of special fur that is hollow and sharp. Any idea what it is? Hint: look up in the tree!
    • Anybody know the name for their special fur? (quills) Porcupines have more than 30,000 quills that cover almost every part of their bodies. Now, can you shoot your hair at people? NO! Porcupines can’t shoot their quills, either. The quills do have a hook on the end that will stick in your hand or in the nose of a wolf or bobcat that tries to attack it. But they can’t shoot the quills. If you see quills on the ground, they just fell out the same way that your hair falls out when you brush it.
    • Another adaptation is that the porcupine has special antibodies in its skin. Those are special cells that protect it from infection if it gets stabbed by its own quills. Porcupines are not good at climbing, and they fall out of trees and stab themselves a lot. So it’s good that they have the antibodies.
    • These animals have special adaptations to allow them to stay under water for a long time. Their noses and ears seal up underwater and they have a third eyelid that is clear and lets them see to swim and hunt.
    • The American woodcock is very unusual. Its ears are in front of its eyes, and compared to other birds, its brain is upside down! This adaptation happened because they use their long beaks to poke in the mud for food, and over time they adapted to have their eyes on top so they could see around them when their heads are pointing down.
    • The bobcat is the most common wildcat in the United States. It changes colors with the seasons, but not from brown to white like the Arctic fox, ermine and snowshoe hare. Bobcats change from reddish brown in the summer to grayish in the winter.
    • Do you remember the lynx in the Alaskan exhibit? What difference did we say it had compared to the bobcat? (longer fur and a little bigger) Can you figure out why the bobcat didn’t adapt that way? (doesn’t get as cold in Pennsylvania)
    • Just like bobcats, our deer change from reddish brown in the summer to grayish in the winter. Remember the word for blending in to your environment? (camouflage)
    • The fawn you see has a different type of camouflage. What do you see all over its fur? (spots) Anybody know how that helps it hide? (breaks up the shape of the animal and looks like sunspots on the ground; most predators can’t see color, especially in the dark forest)
    • Another adaptation is that the fawn has almost no scent, so predators can’t smell it.
    • This is as big as a typical eastern screech owl can get. Why do owls have such big eyes? (so they can see in the dark) Anybody remember the word for animals that come out at night? (nocturnal)
    • What do they need to be able to see at night? Trick question! (Owls hunt with their ears, not their eyes. They need to be able to see trees so they don’t run into them while they are flying.)
    • Another adaptation is that owls have a couple of different kinds of special feathers. Owls that hunt on land have wing feathers with ruffled edges that don’t make any sound. That way their prey can’t hear them coming. Owls that hunt fish don’t have these feathers, since the fish can’t hear them coming anyway. Most owls also have special feathers on their faces that help capture sound.
    • Since they can’t move their eyes, owls can turn their heads almost completely around (but not totally).
    • Animals can adapt to many things, but sometimes they aren’t able to. There is a hoary bat hanging in the tree. Most species of bats are in danger because of a new invasive disease called white-nose syndrome.
    • What is an invasive species? (A non-native species that can cause harm to the environment or ecosystem. Non-native means something that doesn’t come from here.)
    • White-nose syndrome is a fungus—a kind of mold—that causes bats to wake up during hibernation. This wastes the extra fat and energy they need to survive the winter. It can also confuse them into flying in the daytime, when predators can hunt them. When do bats usually come out, and what’s the word for that? (night/nocturnal)
    • The hemlock forest where many of these animals live is also badly affected by an invasive species. The Hemlock wooly adelgid is a tiny insect that has been destroying hemlock forests over the last 60 years. The problem is especially bad in Pennsylvania.
    • Another invasive species is the emerald ash borer, which is destroying most of Pennsylvania’s ash trees.
    • Invasive species are very good at adapting to new environments. Unfortunately, they can be very destructive to the species that already live there.
    • These are one of the healthiest animals when it comes to disease. They have adapted to be resistant to parasites and rabies.
    • Opossums have also adapted to go through three stages when they are frightened.
      • The first thing opossums do to ward off predators is drool. Heavy drooling makes the predator think the opossum is sick and not good to eat.
      • If drooling does not work, opossums will bare their sharp teeth to try to scare off the predator.
      • If none of this works, instead of attacking or running like most animals will do, opossums pass out. We call this “playing dead,” but the opossum really has no control over this. The stress causes them to pass out and release a terrible smell, tricking the predator into thinking they are dead. Most predators do not want to eat an animal that is already dead.

Optional animals if time allows

    • In the touch box is a shell from a turtle that can seal its shell shut to avoid predators, which is how it got its name. It is the only turtle than has adapted to do this.
    • Where do ducks live? (near water) Ducks and other water birds like geese and swans have special adaptations that help them stay warm and dry. The feathers on the outside of the wing are waterproof, so water just rolls off. The feathers underneath are very soft and fluffy—these feathers are called “down,” and some of you might have pillows or winter jackets with down in them. The soft fluffy feathers help keep the bird warm.
    Map of birds, left to right

    • This room displays a large collection of ducks and geese. We already said that these birds mostly live where? (near water)
    • Another adaptation they have is their bills. You can see that different birds have different shapes and colors of bills, which help them catch different kinds of prey.
      • Their bills are soft along the edges with a hook at the end. This way they can feel around for prey like we would use our fingers, and they can hook things the way we would use our fingernails.
      • Mergansers (#17-18-19 on map) have long narrow bills with tooth-like notches that help them catch fish.
      • Canada geese (overhead) are grazers, and their beaks let them snip off grass.
      • The wood duck (#20) eats a lot of acorns and seeds, so its bill is very sturdy.
      • The shoveler (#5) has a flat, wide beak because it skims the surface of the water for food.
      • The mallard (#3), which is the most common duck in our area, will eat just about anything, so its beak can handle all kinds of hunting—skimming, fishing, grazing, and digging in the mud.

The African Bush

  • The African Bush represents the southern half of Africa.
  • Do you remember what we said about spots on the baby deer in the last exhibit? What were they for? (camouflage) You will notice a lot of animals in this exhibit have spots. This is because these animals live in areas that have many patches of light and shadow. Why are spots, stripes and other markings important? (help break up the outline of the animals. If they were one solid color they would stand out much more.)
    • Leopards are the strongest animals for their size. They have adapted to be able to haul their food up into trees. Anybody know why? (to keep it away from lions and hyenas who might try to steal it)
    • Leopards are also nocturnal—what does that mean again? (come out at night) Why would they adapt to be nocturnal? (not as fast as some other predators; darkness helps them sneak up on prey better)
    • The small creature in the tree is a Miombo genet. They have adapted to be very flexible and can squeeze through any crevice that is larger than their head.
    • What does the environment look like in this exhibit? Hint: Look at the ground and the grasses (hot and dry). Just like in the Canyon Country exhibit, animals here have adapted to live without as much water. Warthogs have adapted to survive for months without water so they do not have to stay near the water hole.

Deer Room

    • This room has every subspecies of moose. The first moose was in the Cold Forest near the entrance. Do you remember where that moose lived? (Alaska)
    • What have we said about how big animals can get, depending on where they live—what can affect their size? (amount of food and space).
    • You might remember what we said about moose up front—the other three moose in the museum live further south than the Alaskan moose, where there isn’t as much space and there are more animals who compete for food. Over time, these other moose have adapted to be smaller so they can survive in those areas.
    • Moose have also adapted to move each eye independently. This allows them to look in two different directions at the same time to look out for predators.
    • Caribou are also known as reindeer. Anybody know where they live? (northern, colder climates)
    • They are very well adapted for cold conditions and they have specialized hooves that help them walk in different seasons. In the winter and fall their hooves will harden to walk on ice and snow, and in the summer and spring their hooves are softer to make it easier to walk in on the soft soil.
    • Everyone has probably seen these animals around, but you’re going to use what you’ve learned so far to help figure out which one comes from Pennsylvania. Pop quiz! Say yes or no as I point to each one.
      • This is the correct one. For the people who guessed it, what made you think it was from PA? (answers vary)
    • One big clue is its hair. Why would their hair be different depending on their environment? Hint: What are winters like in Pennsylvania?
      • The deer with longer hair came from colder climates where they need the hair to keep warm. The deer with shorter hair came from warmer climates.
    • There’s something else we can tell about where an animal comes from. Remember the moose and the bear? What made them have different sizes? (resources)
      • The deer on the end is the smallest, but it has thicker fur than some of the others. What two things does that tell us? (cold environment and not as much food) The small deer on the end came from the high deserts of Mexico. A high desert is in the mountains, where it’s colder, and since it’s a desert, there isn’t much food. Over time, that deer has adapted to a smaller size.


  • The insects are arranged by their Order, which is one of the ways scientists classify them.
  • The left side of the exhibit shows insects from North America, where we live. You’re going to help me figure out where the other butterflies & moths on the right side come from. So, what are three big differences you see between the butterflies & moths on both sides? Two are pretty easy, one’s a little harder. (correct answers: color, size, diversity)
    • When someone guesses color:
      • Why would these butterflies & moths be more colorful? Hint: Think of the adaptations you’ve seen in other exhibits (camouflage)
      • What kind of environment would have these colors, compared to North America (tropics/rainforest)
      • They need to be more variable in color because there are much more colorful plants that they have to blend in with.
    • When someone guesses size:
      • Why would the butterflies & moths on the right be bigger? Hint: Think of what we talked about in other exhibits. (more resources)
      • Some insects from North America are not as big as their relatives from the rest of the world. That is because there is a much higher availability of nutrients near the equator and bugs are able to grow into much larger sizes. What would those nutrients come from? (plants, flowers, other bugs they eat)
    • If/when someone guesses diversity:
      • Prompt with hints if no one guesses it
      • Anybody remember what we said about the Pocono Mountains exhibit, and why it’s so important? (many different species) And how can there be so many species? (resources)
    • It’s not just butterflies & moths—compare the walking stick from North America to the stick bug from the tropics, and compare the grasshoppers from North America to the grasshoppers from Africa.
    • Some of the animals on the North America side actually migrate from the tropics, and that’s why they’re more colorful. The monarch butterfly is an example.

Great job using your scientific clues to figure out how different animals have adapted!

Allow time for questions.

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