Alexander, R. McNeill Department of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom.
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A characteristic of an organism that makes it fit for its environment or for its particular way of life. For example, the Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) is well adapted for living in a very cold climate. Appropriately, it has much thicker fur than similar-sized mammals from warmer places; measurement of heat flow through fur samples demonstrates that the Arctic fox and other arctic mammals have much better heat insulation than tropical species. Consequently, Arctic foxes do not have to raise their metabolic rates as much as tropical mammals do at low temperatures. This is demonstrated by the coati (Nasua narica), which lives in Panama and has a body mass similar to Arctic foxes and about the same metabolic rate at comfortable temperatures. When both animals are cooled, however, the coati's metabolic rate starts to rise steeply as soon as the temperature falls below 68°F (20°C), while that of the Arctic fox begins to rise only below −22°F (−30°C). The insulation is so effective that Arctic foxes can maintain their normal deep-body temperatures of 100°F (38°C) even when the temperature of the environment falls to −112°F (−80°C). Thus, thick fur is obviously an adaptation to life in a cold environment. See also: Thermoregulation
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