There’s a good chance you’ve heard of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. In a nutshell, it states that animals and organisms change over time to adapt to their environments. This process continues to this day. In fact, we’ve found a bunch of different animals who, thanks to evolution, will be noticeably different 100 years from now.
We all learn from a young age that elephants are the largest land animal around. But if you’ve ever seen one in person you know just how massive they really are. Often standing almost 10 feet in height and weighing several tons, these huge animals are icons of the African safari. Unfortunately, they’ve also become famous thanks to poaching. That’s because many Elephants have massive ivory tusks, which fetch a lot of money on the black market. The obvious effect this has on the elephant population is that it is continually shrinking because of the illegal poaching. However, it’s also having an additional evolutionary effect. You see, poachers go after Elephants with the best tusks, leaving those with small or no tusks alone. The result is that the gene pool has a greater number of tuskless Elephants who pass this trait onto their offspring. If poaching continues along the lines it is now and doesn’t wipe out the Elephant populations completely, then we could see an Elephant population that has evolved to have no tusks at all.
If Elephants are the largest evolving creature here, then the snail is certainly one of the smallest. Yet, despite its size, these tiny and slow-moving creatures are not immune to evolution. Odds are if you’ve ever gone for a walk in the woods or tended to a garden you’ve seen your share of these little slimy guys. They can often be found in the shaded and moist areas, chomping away on rotting vegetation and doing their bit for the environment. Yet, it is the environment which is causing these garden dwellers to change. Unless you’ve been paying special attention to snails over the past several decades you may have missed the evolutionary change they are going through. Thanks to the gradual warming of the climate and the stronger rays from the Sun, snails, like the kind you find in your garden, are actually going lighter. You see those stripes on their shell? It turns out that darker parts have been steadily getting lighter since the 1960s. It all makes sense when you think about it. After all, dark colors attract heat and the last thing a snail wants is to cook itself inside its own shell. As a result, in 100 years, it’s very possible many snails will have adapted with much lighter colored shells.
Ok, let’s get down and dirty for a minute. No one likes parasites, especially the kind that love to feed on human blood. Enter the Bed Bug. There’s nothing redeeming about this little guy. They don’t exclusively live in your bed, but since Bed Bugs like human blood and prefer warm areas, the bed makes the most sense. If you’re not very observant, you may not even know you have them or that they have been feasting away on you. Gross! In recent years, the occurrence of Bed Bug outbreaks has steadily increased despite our best efforts to eradicate the problem. So what’s going on? First, in the 1990s new regulations removed harmful and carcinogenic chemicals from pesticides to protect us. Unfortunately, it also meant chemicals were less effective at getting rid of Bed Bugs. Then there’s the whole evolutionary side of this story. Ask any pest control expert what’s one of the most difficult infestations to get rid of and they will answer Bed Bugs. That’s because these little suckers have evolved to be resistant to certain pesticides. In fact, studies show that 25% or more of an outbreak can survive the most common pesticides being used today and in the next 100 years, at this rate, that spells a big problem for us.
They live in the woods, they go through your garbage and they’ve been known to hang out with talking Tigers, Pigs and Rabbits. Of course, we’re talking about Bears. Now, there are all kinds of Bears ranging from the polar variety to the kind that live at Soldier Field in Chicago. In terms of evolution the next 100 years, we think the case of the grizzly and polar bear deserves some serious attention. You see, thanks to us, humans are actually changing the way these Bears live and evolve. Sure, there’s the way our cities are constantly expanding into the Bear’s natural habitat, but we need to go a bit further than this. As a result of global warming in the melting of the ice caps, polar Bears are finding it harder to survive in their natural habitat. The result is that they are heading southwards gradually and actually mating with grizzly Bears. The resulting Bear, whether you want to call it a Paisley or a grolar Bear, has added a whole new evolutionary step in the gene pool. In fact, the first case of this was found in the wild in 2006, so there’s no telling what will happen to the Paisley over the next 100 years.
Since they are mainly nocturnal, we don’t see Owls as much as other birds. That said, there’s some interesting things many people don’t know about this funny-looking animal. For instance, did you know they need to be able to turn their heads the way they do because their eyes are fixed in their sockets? Or did you know that they have binocular vision for hunting prey which means they are farsighted? Finally, did you know that thanks to climate change Owls are likely to evolve in a rather noticeable way? That’s right. With temperatures rising and seasons getting thrown out of whack all the time, Owls are slowly adapting their color to meet the situation. Take the tawny Owl for example. Found throughout Europe, this bird is gray in the colder regions and browner in the warmer areas. This makes sense since those colors help it blend in with their environment. However, with milder winters and less snow in parts of Europe, the number of gray Owls is shrinking and being replaced with brown feathered examples. At this rate, in 100 years it is very possible the sighting of a gray colored tawny could become a rarity as evolution replaces it with more environment appropriate camouflage.
While some of you may think the human race is destined to be ruled by some form of superior crab people, we think there’s a good case for the rise of the Lizard Kingdom. There’s a few reasons for this. First, when researchers released a bunch of wall Lizards onto an island off the coast of Croatia, they forgot about them. A few decades later, they returned and found the Lizards had evolved a new digestive system in order to deal with the vegetation found there. Second when a species of fire ants was accidentally introduced to the United States in the 1930s, many Lizards ended up becoming Ant food. However, not all did. Those that survived learned how to ‘Dance’ to shake off the Ants and evolved other generations to have longer legs to facilitate this dancing. Finally, heading down to Australia, researchers have discovered a species of Lizard which holds its eggs internally before the young are born. That’s just a few evolutionary steps away from giving birth the way mammals do. At this rate, in 100 years we might very well be facing long-legged dancing Lizards with the ability to eat anything and reproduce like humans. I for one welcome our new reptilian overlords.
At first glance, Mice can seem pretty cute and harmless. After all they’re tiny, useful in research and they did help Cinderella get ready for that ball when no one else would. In all seriousness, however, Mice can and have been a major threat to humans throughout history. They can destroy crops, gnaw on electrical wires, contaminate food and spread diseases. Yes, they are a cute little packages that can also pack a deadly threat for us. In recent years this hasn’t been too much of a problem because we simply kept Mouse populations under control with pesticides. The poison of choice? Warfarin. Well, if discoveries in Europe have shown us anything it’s that we may need to change our ways. House Mice in Germany and Spain have started to show a disturbing resistance to warfarin. Upon closer research, it was found that a specific gene in certain populations of these Mice has changed. This gene was once believed to only be found in the Algerian mouse which means cross breeding is leading to an evolution of the common house Mouse. If unchecked, in 100 years, humanity could again be facing the challenge posed by an exploding rodent population competing for food and space.
Planet of the Dogs
They like to play sleep away the day, eat and stare out the window. Let’s be honest, if one animal is going to take over the world and become our masters then dogs might be the way to go. For the last 100 years, humans have taken control of our canine friends. Even affecting their development through controlled breeding. However, the Dogs found in Moscow, Russia, suggest we may not be as in control as we think. Moscow is home to around 35,000 stray Dogs. But these aren’t just your regular homeless Dogs. No, these pooches have adapted so well but they actually know how to use the subway system – we kid you not. The Dogs know what time’s the trains arrived and where they are going. Every morning they will commute to the inner city to beg before riding back out of evening once their day of work is done. They know the difference between various stations thanks to sight and smell and they have learned to understand the conductor’s voice in respect to each stop. Furthermore, experts say these groups of dogs have learned how to beg for food and will send the “Cutest” of the group off to beg because they have the greatest odds of bringing back food. Let’s be honest, in 100 years they will likely be running the subway, and the whole city for that matter.
No evolutionary discussion would be complete without including ourselves. We all know the long and arduous evolutionary path humans took to get to where they are today. We stand upright, have developed complex communication methods and have opposable thumbs. So how else could we possibly evolve? Well, although nothing overly dramatic is likely to occur in our evolution in the next 100 years, there will be some differences. For instance, if past trends are anything to go by we will get slightly taller. Thanks to health and nutrition, American men are, on average three inches taller than they were 100 years ago. So, there’s no reason to think people wouldn’t get taller again over the next 100 years. Another change will be our skin color. In order to meet the changing climate and strengthening solar rays, evolution will gradually darken everyone’s skin tone. Now, if we end up going to Mars, then expect even more changes. Any colonists on the red planet would evolve over time to meet their new environment. Martian humans would be taller thanks to weaker gravity and might even develop larger red colored eyes eventually as a way to adapt to the light and environment of the new planet.
Let’s face it, a picture of a massive fuzzy tarantula is enough for most of us. Even if you don’t suffer from arachnophobia, huge spiders can still give you goosebumps and have you reaching for the nearest flamethrower. So, how are these eight-legged creatures going to evolve in 100 years? Thankfully it won’t be by becoming as large as an Elephant, like this one sculpture might have you believe. That said, living within near humans is actually affecting the evolution of spiders to the point that in 100 years they may be very different and not in a good way. Being around humans in cities and towns has already caused what some people call an “Accelerated Evolution.” This means spiders have learned to be faster and smarter when it comes to survival and over the next 100 years this will only increase. In addition to increasing in size, spiders have and will likely continue to, develop venom for specific purposes. This means it’s not totally out of the question that spiders constantly in contact with humans should eventually develop toxins specifically aimed at affecting us. Just look at examples like the black widow, brown recluse and Sydney funnel-web as a prime example.