Global warming: animals undergo metamorphosis to survive, says study – 09/11/2021 – Environment

When you hear the word “metamorphosis,” you’re probably thinking of a science fiction or horror movie and not the animal world.

But that’s what scientists say is happening to some animal species in response to climate change.

They are evolving to have larger beaks, legs and ears to better regulate body temperature in response to global warming, a new study notes.

The scientists behind the research caution that physiological changes don’t mean animals are coping well with climate change.

“Often, when discussing climate change, people ask themselves ‘can humans overcome this?’ or ‘what technology can solve this?'” says study author Sara Ryding of Deakin University in Australia. “It’s about time we recognized that other animals also need to adapt to these changes.”

If animals cannot control their body temperature, they can overheat and die.

Some who live in warmer climates have historically evolved to have larger beaks or ears to get rid of heat more easily.

A larger wing, ear or beak for their body size gives smaller animals a larger surface area to release excess heat.

Several Australian parrot species have shown a 4-10% increase in beak size since 1871, which correlates with rising summer temperatures over the years, the study says.

Scientists say it’s hard to put climate as the sole cause of metamorphosis, but other examples of species change show the effect of increased heat.

Mice are evolving to have longer tails; masked shrews are getting longer tails and legs; and bats in warm climates have larger wings.

‘A REAL DUMBO’

While the adaptations species are currently making are minor, Ryding says they could become more pronounced as the planet gets even warmer.

“Prominent appendages, like ears, are predicted to grow, so we could have a real Dumbo in the not-too-distant future,” says the scientist in reference to the Disney elephant that had larger-than-normal ears.

The study suggests that metamorphosis is likely to continue because higher temperatures will influence the animals’ demand to regulate their body temperature.

This year, some countries registered their highest temperatures in decades, and last July was part of those countries the hottest month ever.

“That doesn’t mean that animals are dealing with climate change and it’s okay,” says Ryding.

“It just means they are evolving to survive, but we’re not sure what the other ecological consequences of these changes are, or whether all species will be able to change and survive. The climate changes we’ve created are putting a lot of pressure on them (species) and although some adapt, others will not be able to do so.”