In a large varied environment where strong winds are the norm and every few weeks or so a huge hurricane sweeps through, how would large land animals (horse- to elephant-sized) evolve to cope?

I understand palm trees to be well adapted to hurricanes; roots that anchor them into the ground, strong but flexible trunks and large leaves that yield rather than canopies that catch the wind.

Are there other examples of large plants with adaptations to hurricane weather?

  • $\begingroup$ Can you elaborate on what you mean by "size"? Are you referring to mass? Shoulder height? Total height in normal posture? Total height reaching as high as possible? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ Add some more information to your question. What type of terrain and landscape are we talking about? Is it wooded, mountainous or shoreline? What about the climate? How large is the region? And lastly, are there humans in the scenario? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I don't think the size-definition has to be that granular. Anything between a horse and an elephant, by any of those metrics. If you mean, "can it be a crocodile the weight of an elephant?", that's fine. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @YoustayIgo Imagine a large varied environment. The terrain and landscape doesn't have to be something specific. For example, if the animals would benefit from moving to the mountains that's totally fine. Because I'm asking about trees as well I suppose wooded areas are of particular interest. Tropical climate makes most sense for this "hurricane country". No humans involved during the evolutionary process. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 15:49

1 Answer 1


Features of trees

  • Many small shallow roots. The purpose of the roots in this case is to connect the tree with a very large mass of soil caught in the root ball. While other trees concentrate on sending a deep tap root in search of water, or wide spreading main roots in search of nutrients, a large mass of small roots limits the chance of a single fatal break while providing a big anchor for the tree.

  • Columnar trunk construction. Most trees grow series of rings outwards as they age. However, a weakness of these rings is that repetitive side to side motion (caused by high winds) stresses the weak points at the ring boundaries. A ringed tree bend over 45 degrees will snap. Instead, hurricane resistance trees will grow as a series of tubes that extend vertically up and down the trunk. Each year the tree will add one or more new tubes. The tubes themselves are much more flexible; this is what allows a palm tree to bend over so far in the wind. Note that this system is unique to monocots as opposed to the ring forming dicots; most trees are dicots or magnoliids. while palm trees, bananas and bamboo are some of the few 'tree-like' things that are also monocots.

Features of animals

  • Size. There isn't really a good reason for animals to fear the high winds. Anything water buffalo to elephant size isn't really going to affected. Animals that large can have enough skin and fat to insulated them from heat loss (not that it is too cold during hurricanes, normally) and they are too large to blow away. Even a falling tree of moderate size isn't that much of a danger to an elephant. So hurricane lands will be relatively more hospitable for larger (buffalo, elephant) herbivores vs smaller (deer, pigs).

  • Predation is affected. One thing to note is that hunting will be a lot different. I'm not sure if it would be easier or harder for a tiger (for example) to kill a water buffalo in a storm. On the one hand, it is a lot harder for a water buffalo to detect a stalking tiger in a hurricane. On the other hand, the tiger is exposed to significant environmental stress while hunting, and it might be better just to hang out in the den. I don't know how this one would go.


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