/Shapeshifting for the future

Shapeshifting for the future

By Jim Poling Sr.
From Shaman’s Rock

While we humans continue to fret and argue about climate change, animals have already started to adapt to it. 

That’s really no surprise because some folks, me included, believe that animals are smarter than humans. If not smarter, certainly more team oriented and more together in troubling times.

Animals are better at being flexible and watching out for each other. If the leader of a V of Canada geese gets tired or ill, another goose quickly takes his or her place. When danger is present, musk oxen gather in a circle of group defence.

Researchers say that some wild things already have started changing their behaviour to adapt to climate change. Some birds are migrating earlier, sea turtles are adjusting their routes and caribou are having their babies earlier in the spring. 

These changes are being made because seasons are out of whack. Summers are becoming longer while spring, autumn and winter are becoming shorter and warmer.

Research shows that the summer’s length in the Northern Hemisphere’s mid-latitudes increased to 95 days from 78 between 1952 and 2011. Winter contracted from 76 to 73 days, spring from 124 days to 115 and autumn shrank from 87 to 82 days. 

That research is 10 years old but the past decade has been the warmest on record so the changes in the seasons no doubt have become even more dramatic.

This past summer is evidence of that. June’s heat wave, which was particularly extreme out West, has been recorded as the deadliest weather event in Canadian history.

B.C. reports that from June 24 to June 30 its paramedics responded to 772 heat-related illnesses, two-thirds of them age 60 or older. The province’s coroner service reported 569 heat-related deaths during the heat wave.

The warming world is not just causing some animals to change migration routes and other living habits. It also has them shapeshifting – changing their bodies to adapt to temperatures.

In some hotter regions, black decorations are starting to disappear from the wings of male dragonflies. The decorations attract females, but because they are black they draw unwanted heat into the insect’s body.

Dark-eyed juncos, those dark grey and white little birds common in our areas, have been growing larger bills in recent years. The bills of some Australian parrots have seen a four-to-10-per-cent increase in bill size. Some other birds have been growing slightly larger legs.

Bird bills and legs are not feathered and allow birds to dissipate body heat more efficiently. Birds living in hot climates have larger beaks and legs than northern birds but studies are showing northern beaks and legs are getting larger.

Climate change also is warming our waters, creating important changes. Deep and cold lakes once prized lake trout habitat are warming and becoming habitat for warmer water species such as pickerel.

For instance, I’m told that one of my former favourite lake trout fishing spots – Lake Clear in the Ottawa Valley – is becoming a hotspot for pickerel fishing.

Warming also is allowing longer growing seasons, but creates better conditions for insects that can damage crops. Extreme heat also could turn some agriculture areas into deserts.

More heat also will change our forests, changes that will affect birds, animals and insects that depend on trees for food and shelter. 

Some animals will be able to shapeshift to survive the changing climate. Many others won’t. The United Nations reported in 2019 that one million species of animals and plants already are at risk of extinction.

Shapeshifting is not something that will help humans adapt to a changing climate. Unlike elephants we can’t grow larger ears that are waved like fans to create breezes that cool the body.

Human bodies cannot evolve quickly enough to help us adapt to the climate changes that scientists are warning us about. 

We can, however, become more serous about changing our lifestyles to help slow climate change. Being more serious about climate change includes being louder and more demanding of immediate action.

Take it from Al Gore, environmentalist and former vice-president of the United States, who has said:

“The more noise you make, the more accountability you demand from your leaders, the more our world will change for the better.”