Our screens tend to be filled with fictitious stories about teenagers turned beastly animals or hulking superheroes. Often times sparked by a simple bug bite and generational lineage. But these shapeshifting abilities, once thought to be mere folklore, are being documented by scientists in real life, as a variety of Earth's creatures begin to transform due to climate change.
From beak length to wingspan, rising temperatures are physically altering the size of numerous animals around the globe. The small changes are mechanisms of adaptation to global warming that help alleviate overheating, but for how long? Scientists believe these transformations may only benefit species in the short term as animals are unable to continually adapt. Eventually, the trade-off between adaptation and competitive advantage in the food chain is predicted to lead to decline or extinction.
This discovery was based on a rule formulated by Scientist Joel Asaph Allen, which explains how organisms that have adapted to warmer environments will increase their surface area(i.e. larger limbs and body parts) in order to maximize heat loss. An example of this is large ears on African elephants compared to their Asian relatives. Although many species are experiencing this adaptation, shapeshifting isn't universal across the animal kingdom. Researchers are finding that some animals are unable to change certain features at all and overall it doesn't necessarily indicate the animals are coping with climate change. For instance, though a larger beak might benefit some birds wanting to lose more heat during sweltering summers, if the changeover in turn makes their beaks less practical for feeding then it creates a significant and likely deadly handicap for the species.
While shapeshifting has notoriously been associated with sci-fi or make-belief stories, the climate is bringing the action to life...for better or worse. The big question surrounding the changes is whether or not they will remain permanent. But one thing's for sure, 2021 has seen some of the highest temperatures in history with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declaring July as one of the hottest months ever recorded. Scarily the climate shows no signs of cooling down, meaning this is likely only the beginning.
For more on this developing discovery read the full scientific article on Animal Shapeshifting and stay tuned on Discovery for updates.