3 Amazing Adaptations of Animals to Climate Change

February 23, 2023
by Anna Eyler

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Let’s face it -- climate change news can be disheartening and overwhelming. It’s important to keep up with the latest scientific news, but it’s difficult to stay hopeful when everything seems negative. Every once and a while, you need good news and hopeful stories. The stories we’ll be telling today aren’t about humans, they’re about animals that are adapting to a changing climate.

1. Salamanders

About a decade ago, scientists thought the outlook for salamanders was bleak. They predicted that climate change would make their natural habitat, mostly southern Appalachia, essentially uninhabitable. They thought increased temperatures and droughts would cause a huge loss of salamander populations. In this case, we’re glad that the scientists were wrong.

Salamanders are displaying incredible adaptation techniques to the consequences of climate change. Some salamanders can withstand droughts by essentially “shutting down” for months or years at a time by slowing down the rate at which they lose water and burn energy. They barely need to eat or drink anything during this time and usually shelter in cool soil until conditions above the soil improve. Salamanders also use this technique to survive wildfires.

Red-spotted newts have a particularly fascinating adaptation to drought conditions. Typically, the salamander species only has three life stages: they’re aquatic as eggs, live on land as juveniles, and return to the water as adults. When there are droughts, red-spotted newts enter a fourth life stage, changing the shape of their tail, the texture of their skin, and their color in order to live on land again.

While salamanders display these amazing adaptations, that doesn’t mean they’re completely safe from climate change. Salamander population numbers are declining in Central America and Mexico, and about 80 of the 200 species in North America are threatened with extinction. We should marvel at their adaptations, learn from them, and take action on climate change to ensure that they are protected.

2. Termites

When most people think of termites, they conjure up images of chewed through decks and rotting wood beams. While we don’t want termites to infest our homes, they, like every other organism, have a role to play in their natural environments.

Termites have proven themselves to be very resilient to climate change, and their habitat is actually expanding due to higher overall temperatures. However, scientists have observed that some of their natural habits are slowing one of the consequences of climate change: desertification.

Savannahs and other dryland ecosystems are at risk of transforming into deserts as droughts and extreme heat increase around the world. And that’s where termites come in. Termites build their homes in the form of mounds out of dirt. They can be as tall as 25 feet and go deep into the ground, 30 feet or more! These mounds allow water to permeate deep into the soil, encouraging vegetation to grow around them. The vegetation becomes a haven for insects and a source of food for animals. This entire process helps prevent land from entering a state of desertification.

3. Grolar or Pizzly Bears

No, that’s not a typo. This bear is the offspring of a polar bear and a grizzly bear. Generally, if the male is a grizzly bear the offspring is called a grolar bear, and if the male is a polar bear the offspring is called a pizzly. For simplicity, we’ll call it a grolar bear.

Polar bears have long been the face of the devastating effects of climate change. As temperatures increase, the ice caps of the Arctic are melting. Polar bears are roaming farther south in an attempt to find food. At the same time, grizzly bears are roaming farther north to escape rising temperatures and to look for food.

As their habitats continue to overlap, grizzly and polar bears are starting to mate with each other, and it appears their offspring are fertile, unlike other hybrid animals like mules. The resulting grolar bears may be more capable of surviving this new Arctic climate because they have a blend of traits from both species.

While it's incredibly important that we try to save polar bears and restore their habitats, it gives us hope that bears -- in the form of grolar bears -- could continue to live in the Arctic region. They are important predators that maintain balance in the ecosystem.

One Last Thought

The resilience and adaptability of salamanders, termites, grolar bears, and so many more, can serve as inspiration for us humans. Studying these animals could bring about solutions to climate change problems that we would have never thought of otherwise. Mother nature has always called for adaptation, so we might find some answers there, in a time when we need to adapt the most.