Climate Change Is Making Animals ‘Shapeshift’

We all see and feel the effects of climate change — heat waves, drought, flooding, more intense weather, wildfires — but we’re not the only ones being affected. Climate change is forcing nature to adapt or perish.


Climate and Energy

by Melody College

Nature is remarkable! It’s always amazing how a tree, flower, plant, fish, animal, or insect evolves to be perfectly suited for survival in a specific habitat. Or how the Monarch butterfly travels 2,500 miles to hibernate in the forests of central Mexico. Or how Emperor penguins, polar bears, and leopard seals survive sub-zero temperatures. 

It’s worth repeating — nature is remarkable! This process of perfection took millions of years but habitat loss, pollution, and human-induced climate change is disrupting and destroying all of it.

Climate Change is Forcing Animals to ‘Shapeshift’ And Flee Their Homes

This may seem like something out of the X-Men, but research shows that animals are ‘shapeshifting.’ They are developing smaller bodies, larger legs, beaks, and ears to help better regulate their body temperatures as the planet heats up, with birds being particularly affected. The strongest evidence of this can be found in Australian parrots, where the surface area of their bills has increased 4-10% since 1871 as the planet keep getting warmer. 

And, a recent study of over 70,000 migratory birds representing over 50 species showed the birds’ bodies are getting smaller and their wingspan wider in response to a warming climate. 

Nature is also feeling the effects of climate change in other ways. Since 1995, Dragonfly species such as the emperor dragonfly, migrant hawker, ruddy darter, black-tailed skimmer, and small red-eyed damselfly have extended their range north across Britain and Ireland to escape the heat from southern Europe. 

Polar bears depend on sea ice for survival but as their habitat melts, polar bears can’t hunt for their food and their habitat becomes fragmented. They are being evicted by climate change. Research shows that habitat fragmentation is causing polar bears to inbreed, further reducing their chances of surviving climate change. 

Isn’t This Natural Evolution, and not a Reaction to Climate Change?

Climate change is putting pressure on nature to adapt and evolve in a faster time frame. 

As our planet heats up due to human-induced climate change animals need to find ways to regulate their body temperature. Birds use their beaks to regulate their body temperature, other animals might use their ears, but failure to regulate body temperature means death. And, scientists don’t see this as a positive

“We also don’t know whether these shape-shifts actually aid in survival (and therefore are beneficial) or not. This phenomenon of shape-shifting shouldn’t be seen as a positive, but rather it is alarming that climate change is pushing animals to evolve like this, under such a relatively short timeframe.”

— Sara Ryding, Ecology Researcher

Protecting Nature Means Fighting Climate Change

The bottom line is human-caused climate change is forcing nature to evolve faster, endangering their habitats, and the survival of humans and animals. Scientific studies have indicated that just a temperature rise of 1.8- 2℃ would threaten a million species with extinction over the next fifty years. 

But there is still hope. If we go all-in with ending the use of fossil fuels and drastically reduce our emissions we can save many species and habitats that share this planet. That’s why Food & Water Watch is fighting to ban fracking, end new fossil fuel infrastructure, power plants, and pipelines — all sources of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet, and we are fighting to make sure our environmental laws are strengthened.

You can help fight the forces causing climate change by donating now.