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Global Warming Negatively Impacts Animals' Camouflage Abilities

by Destany Jackson, age 14 (With permission of the Simpson Street Free Press)

Animals normally change colors seasonally, but now due to drastic temperature changes, animal camouflage is not following its traditional pattern.

There are twenty-one species that change the color of their coats each season including arctic foxes, long-tailed weasels, mountain jackrabbits, and snowshoe hares.

At the beginning of the year, most snowshoe hares start with white coats. The snowshoe hares will continuously change their coats to match the season of their habitat. The female hares’ coats molt to brown after winter, but the males stay white until they mate. Right after they mate, they look for a mud hole or a pile of feces to roll around in to turn their coats brown.

It was once rare to see snowy animals in the winter because they blended in with the snow, but now it’s become more common because the temperature has risen in the Northern Hemisphere and water heats up and cools down faster than land. This leaves the Northern Hemisphere containing much more heat than other hemispheres. In the central forests of Wisconsin thirty to forty years ago, snowshoe hares were common. Currently, they’re gone due to the fact that global warming has destroyed the normal seasonal camouflage change. Hares don’t realize that when their coats don’t correspond with the season of their environment, they become easy prey.

Ecologist L. Scott Mills started to wonder if conservationists could work to save the animals that were losing their camouflage. He thought evolution could be the answer. Evolution happens most quickly in areas with climate variations. Polymorphic zones, which contain animals having both brown-winter and white-winter coats, have these variations. Mills and his colleagues hope that evolution will take its course. They found polymorphic zones for eight species: the Arctic fox, three types of weasel, and four types of hare.

Overall, normal seasonal coat changes for some animals are not occurring due to weather changes caused by global warming. The polymorphic zones hold out hope for saving some at-risk species.

[Source: The Atlantic]


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