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Advantages of Adaptation

David R. Gary © Canadian Museum of Nature

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What is it about mammals that is so fascinating? These warm, furry, engaging creatures captivate us and stimulate our curiosity—maybe because we’re mammals too!

Mammals’ ability to adapt explains why they’re found almost everywhere on the planet, and why they come in such diverse shapes and sizes. In Canada, we find minuscule burrowing shrews, gigantic whales cruising the oceans and bats capable of perilous aerial acrobatics. Adaptations allow mammals to inhabit our land, sea and sky.

Have you ever wondered how a polar bear can survive in freezing Arctic waters? How raccoons are able to thrive in the darkness of night? The answers lie in how these animals have developed special traits to thrive in their environment and fulfill their basic needs for food, protection and reproduction.

Through compelling three-dimensional dioramas, visitors to our Mammal Gallery will learn how Canadian mammals adapt to life in complex and varied environments.

Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature

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Discover:

  • what adaptations are
  • the link between adaptation and environmental change
  • whether mammals can adapt to a fast-changing environment
  • the essential needs of mammals and the adaptations that meet those needs
  • major mammalian adaptations.

Think about it: what would happen if you suddenly found yourself in freezing Arctic waters, without a wetsuit and scuba gear? You’d quickly become a human icicle! Humans may not be able to live in Arctic waters, but polar bears, seals and other mammals can. The immersive Arctic diorama area of our Mammal Gallery explains how they’re able to survive and thrive.

Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature

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In the interpretive area, you’ll discover that all mammals also share basic needs that are met through adaptations. They need to protect themselves from enemies, acquire energy, reproduce and protect themselves from the weather. What varies is the way each mammal does this. Explore the range of adaptations that mammals have developed to fulfill their needs, then discover the secrets behind hibernation and camouflage—and get to know Canada’s only marsupial!

Don’t miss the urban mammals diorama area, where you’ll learn about the kinds of creatures that roam our yards, alleys and parks while you’re tucked into your bed at night. Adaptations such as night vision, incredible dexterity and a generalist diet are some of the strategies that urban mammals such as rats, raccoons, bats and mice use to survive in the big city.

 

Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature

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A detail of the grizzly (Ursus arctos) diorama in the Mammal Gallery.

David R. Gary © Canadian Museum of Nature

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An Arctic ground squirrel (Spermophilus parryii) with its cheek pouches full of food.

The large diorama area is where you’ll rediscover your favourite Canadian mammals, such as American bison (Bison bison), caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and wolves (Canis lupus). See how the ability to survive depends on major adaptations such as migration, communication, social structures, predator and prey features, diet, mating and locomotion. You’ll also have a chance to study an entire family of mammals, the mustelids, and discover the adaptations that unite them and those that set them apart.