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Shape-Shifting Animals and Climate Change
New research has found that animals are beginning to adapt to climate change in order to survive in
unique ways. In some, changing the shape of their bodies to better manage their body temperature, in
areas where it’s getting hotter, has been observed.
Warm-blooded animals use a variety of ways to keep their body heat at the same level. For example, an
elephant flaps its ears to reduce heat from blood that is moved there to cool off the rest of its body.
Also, when birds are hot, they can store some of their their warm blood in their beaks for the same
reason. The new study has suggested that, in some species, the sizes of elephant ears and bird beaks
have begun to grow larger. This allows these animals to pump more warm blood away from the centers
of their bodies, thereby reducing their overall temperature.
The researchers have found other changes in other animals, too. To help them cool down quicker from
increasing temperatures, animals have begun to change the sizes of their tails and other appendages,
such as their legs.
The scientists have begun to call these animals shape-shifters. They have found that this shape-shifting
ability has occurred in areas of the world where global warming has already impacted the climate.
While most of these body changes are small, larger changes may be coming over time if some animals
are to survive climate change. This is yet another reason many environmentalists consider this
phenomenon as more evidence of a real climate emergency.
Of course, changing their behavior from season to season is nothing new to animals. When winter
comes, many birds fly south to avoid the cold, and bears are known to hibernate in caves, perhaps
dreaming through the seasonal winter chill. Other animals store up food or strengthen their homes.
However, as global warming becomes more and more of a problem, many animals have had to make
permanent changes, for example, by moving to cooler areas. Warm-blooded animals, in particular, are
more challenged by this, since they must keep their body temperature at a stable degree. A related
problem might be a limited availability of food sources in their new homes because of either the
location or, again, climate change. For example, when polar bears, which are used to hunting for fish, are
forced to migrate inland and away from rivers or streams, they may go hungry. This is a situation that
may ultimately threaten their very lives.
In other cases, small or even larger animals, which live in forests or marshlands near cities, have been
observed entering urban areas to look for food that is no longer available where they normally live.
When they do so, they are more likely to be killed by automobile traffic or by alarmed humans. Most
people don’t like waking up and finding a bear at their front door or an alligator in their swimming pool.
Since it is evident that global warming is most likely man-made, many zoologists and
environmentalists agree that the best way to protect animals from these harmful changes is by our
reducing greenhouse gas emissions to prevent global warming.