Animals are ‘shape-shifting’ to cope with global warming, study says

Parrot with green, orange and blue body sitting on a tree, leaning forward
Australian parrot, photo: Orlando Lam via Canva

As the planet is getting warmer, some animals have developed bigger ears, tails and beaks to regulate their body temperatures, according to a new study.

“Changes in the ecology and life history of animals due to global environmental change are no longer a theoretical concept but a reality,” the study, published on Tuesday in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, said.

From Australian parrots to European rabbits, researchers found evidence that animals are ‘shape-shifting’ to bigger body parts, which could allow them to lose body heat more effectively.

Climate change is putting “a whole lot of pressure” on animals, said Sara Ryding of Deakin University in Australia, who led the study, in a press release. “It’s high time we recognised that animals also have to adapt to these changes.”

The shape-shifting trend was particularly noticeable in birds. The Australian parrot, for example, had shown an average of 4-10 percent increase in the size of its bill since 1871. North American dark-eyed juncos, thrushes and Galapagos finches also saw bill size increases.

The wings of the great roundleaf bat grew, the European rabbit developed bigger ears and the tails and legs of masked shrews were larger, the study found.

“Shape-shifting does not mean that animals are coping with climate change and that all is ‘fine’,” said Ryding.

“It just means they are evolving to survive it, but we’re not sure what the other ecological consequences of these changes are, or indeed that all species are capable of changing and surviving,” she added.

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