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ZingPath: Cell Structure

Surface Area-to-Volume Ratio in Organisms

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Lesson Focus

Surface Area-to-Volume Ratio in Organisms


Learning Made Easy

You will determine the relationship between surface area and volume through the manipulation of cubes and learn the importance of this ratio in organisms.

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Now You Know

After completing this tutorial, you will be able to complete the following:

  • Define surface area as the amount of exposed area of an object or organism.
  • Explain that as an object gets larger, both its surface area and volume increase, but the volume increases faster than the surface area.
  • Describe small organisms as tending to have a greater surface area-to-volume ratio than larger animals.
  • Explain that small organisms tend to lose heat faster than larger animals because they have a greater surface area-to-volume ratio.
  • Explain that African elephants’ large ears are an adaptation to increase surface area and improve heat loss from the elephant.

Everything You'll Have Covered

Surface area-to-volume ratio, which is the amount of surface area per unit of volume, is a major concept in Biology. An organism's surface area-to-volume ratio impacts everything from its exposure to the environment, to how well it diffuses substances, to the regulation of its body temperature.

Large animals have a smaller surface area-to-volume ratio than small animals. This lower ratio means that they do not lose heat as quickly as a smaller animal would in a similar habitat. For this reason, there are many examples of animal adaptations that impact an animal's surface area-to-volume ratio, thus affecting heat loss from the animal. Some examples include the large ears of African elephants as compared to Asian elephants, the large ears of many desert animals, or the relatively large bodies but short appendages of artic animals.

Tutorial Details

Approximate Time 20 Minutes
Pre-requisite Concepts Students should be familiar with surface area and volume.
Course Biology
Type of Tutorial Concept Development
Key Vocabulary adaptations, animals, area