HomeAnimalsClimate change is making some animals ‘shapeshift’

Climate change is making some animals ‘shapeshift’

As the planet becomes hotter and the climate changes, some animals are beginning to adapt to this by shapeshifting!

Whilst shapeshifting in animals is something that is most commonly seen in works of fiction, recent studies have seen anatomical changes in warm-blooded animals. If you’re looking for evidence that werewolves exist, or that vampires change into bats, we have to break it to you that this hasn’t yet been discovered. However, some animals have been observed with increases in the size of appendages. For birds, there is evidence of beaks growing larger. Some species of Australian parrot have seen up to 10% increase in the size of their beaks. In mammals, longer tails and legs and ears have been noted.

Climate change is making some animals ‘shapeshift’
The masked shrew’s legs have grown longer in response to climate change. Photo by Loren Ayers/WI DNR

So how is this correlated to climate change?

According to research, as the planet gets hotter, animals have been shown to adapt in order to regulate their body temperature. Animals with larger appendages are more able to dispel excess body heat than those with smaller appendages. This is a pattern known as ‘Allen’s rule’, which states that animals that have adapted to colder climates have shorter limbs and appendages. The the opposite is true in a warm environment.

Sara Ryding, a researcher at Deakin University, Australia has been studying this phenomenon. Her study on shapeshifting animals was recently published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution. Ryding said she expected to see other appendages, such as ears, also grow larger in the future:

“Prominent appendages such as ears are predicted to increase — so we might end up with a live-action Dumbo in the not-so-distant future.”

Ryding also noted that climate change is often seen as a crisis that is unique to humans; yet animals have to adapt to the changes also. She noted that for animals:

“This (climate change) is occurring over a far shorter timescale than would have occurred through most of evolutionary time”.

In the short to mid term, it is positive for animals to adapt to a changing environment. It may not be beneficial in the long term, however. Some species may not be capable of surviving a climate crisis, according to Ryding.

So what is the solution?

Though the idea of mice with long legs and dumbo ears is cute to imagine, for animals to survive and thrive reversing man-made climate change is vital. Here are some small changes that we can make on an individual level.

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