Animals that could exist a million years from now, imagined by biologists (2023)

While it may sometimes seem that humanity is intent on destroying the environment, it is unlikely that our actions will wipe out all life on Earth. Some creatures will surely put up with it.era of mass extinctionIclimate crisis. Over time, they will adapt to the harsher world we have helped create and evolve to better meet the moment.

Some of these changes are already taking place in our lives. As some studies suggest, climate change is already "change of formanimals, for example, by reducing the numbers of some migratory birds and accelerating the life cycles of amphibians. No one knows exactly what changes will occur in plants and animals in the coming years. But evolutionary biologists say it's worth trying to imagine what creatures will evolve in the future.

"I really think it's a really useful and important exercise," says Liz Alter, a professor of evolutionary biology at California State University at Monterey Bay.the last episode of "Inexplicable"., a Vox podcast about unanswered scientific questions. When thinking about the animals of the future, Alter says, we need to think about how we're changing the environment right now. “Thinking about the longer future is very sobering,” he says.

Animals that could exist a million years from now, imagined by biologists (1) Amanda Northrop/Vox

I spoke with several evolutionary biologists and paleontologists who, along with Alter, helped me imagine what kinds of animals might one day exist (say, millions of years in the future) and how our actions might cause their arrival. It's at least comforting to know that life will almost certainly find a way, with or without us.

But it may never be the same again.

Animals that can do it

What animals are likely to exist tens of thousands or even millions of years from now?

This is the most important question I've asked everyone I've talked to, and their responses were based on three main lines of thought.

Some began by considering which animals alive today are most likely to survive human-induced climate change and mass extinction. (Researchers have identified five mainexpirationnatural history, and many say that we are now living in or on the threshold of the sixth one, caused mainly by human activity). Others began by imagining the potential environments of the future and what adaptations might allow creatures to survive in them. The third group wondered about the deep history of life on Earth, and what kinds of animals that once roamed the planet might return in new forms long after we're gone.

First, the survivors: "These are rats, rodents, as well as cockroaches and pigeons," says Jingmai O'Connor, a paleontologist at Chicago's Field Museum. These animals "will get along despite the worst we're doing to this planet."

If these species survive current ecological changes, they too may evolve to fill the ecological space left by extinct animals. For example, if tigers go extinct in the next million years, perhaps flightless, carnivorous pigeons and rats will grow to the size of ostriches and devour the animals that tigers once ate. It is impossible to predict which specific adaptations may occur in which animals, but it is clear that the extinction of some species leaves a gap in the food chain that other species can fill.

In the distant future, rodents will thrive, especially if mammal species continue to disappear. By introducing rats everywhere we settle, humans have increased the genetic diversity of rats, making them more adaptable to their environment. Greater genetic diversity means "potential solutions to the various [environmental] challenges they may face," says Alexis Mykhailev, a paleoecologist at Middlebury College. Scientists have already observed the evolution of adaptation in rats.develop in specific cities, such as New York. Perhaps they can even better adapt to living in an environment contaminated with heavy metals and radioactivity, or eating toxic waste, Mykhayliv says.

And if life on land becomes too difficult, rats can slowly adapt to water. Perhaps their evolutionary descendants lose their fur or grow fins, developing streamlined bodies adapted to living fully in water. Other marine mammals, such as seals and whales, have followed this path in their transition from terrestrial to aquatic creatures.

Once again, these particular evolutionary pathways are pure speculation. However, experts say it is within the possibility.

Animals that could exist a million years from now, imagined by biologists (2)

The environments of the future that will shape evolution

The second way to think about the animals of the future is to imagine the environments of the future. Environments can drive evolution by exerting selective pressures, favoring certain traits over others. For example, some birds have developed long, pointed beaks to extract nectar from flowers.

In any case, it is likely that there will be plastic in the environment in the future. Of all the elements introduced by man into the environment, plastic waste is already ubiquitous, and its waste could remain for millennia if people continue to produce it as usual. Plastic is "a huge source of carbon that all living things depend on," said Sahas Barve, an evolutionary ecologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. He added that plastic could be made into food, and "any animal that can use it will be successful."

In a sense, this development would come full circle: many plastics are made from petroleum, which is called a fossil fuel precisely because it comes from ancient and transformed remains of plants and animals. Thus, new life forms could learn to eat the leftovers of very, very old life forms.

Termites may be one of those creatures. These insects already have a gut microbiome (a set of microorganisms that aid in digestion) that breaks down cellulose. Like plastic, cellulose is made up of a complex carbon polymer, so it's not hard to imagine termites adapting to breaking down another polymer like plastic.

"I can easily imagine how they develop a microbiome that helps them digest plastic," says Barve. Some fungi and bacteria, including some found incow stomachsThey are already capable of breaking plastic.

The far future is also likely to be more watery as rising sea levels reduce the amount of dry land on the planet. Imagining a world where sea levels rise and coastlines change, some scientists wonder how some animals might adapt to living in a more marine environment.

Sharlene Santana, a professor of biology at the University of Washington, wonders how a species of bat could have evolved to live in and around the oceans. She envisions a bat with a seven-foot wingspan that can glide like an albatross instead of flapping its wings, perhaps traveling hundreds of miles in search of food or islands to spend the night. She can use fine-tuned echolocation to detect water ripples and spot fish. (In fact,some batsAlready done.)

"This bat does something that modern bats can't do: navigate and soar very long distances on ocean air currents," says Santana. "I call it a sailing bat."

Looking to the past to predict the future

Many of the scientists who spoke to Vox envisioned a future environment where there were no more humans. In doing so, they were often based on animals that existed on Earth before our time; perhaps such creatures could return in the future.

Alter, a Cal State professor of evolutionary biology, said that if humans went extinct, our carbon dioxide emissions could continue to linger in the air for a long time. This can trigger a flowering period for plants, some of which can thrive in a CO2-rich atmosphere.

In turn, higher plant density and diversity could ultimately increase the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere.Scientists have formulated a hypothesis.that insect development depends in part on the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere, which can lead to insects developing larger bodies, Alter says. So in the future oxygen-rich world we will be able to breed praying mantises the size of rabbits, that is, "ants as big as hummingbirds and dragonflies as big as hawks," Alter said.

Animals that could exist a million years from now, imagined by biologists (3)

It sounds extreme, and these visions of the future are merely learned guesswork. On the other hand, something similar has happened before: about 300 million years ago, during the Carboniferous Age, the atmosphere contained more than 30 percent oxygen, compared to 21 percent today. Hefossil recordshows that the insects at that time were much larger.

Mairin Balisi, a paleoecologist at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, wonders what kind of apex predators could climb to the top of the food chain if humanity really got intelligent. To do this, she wonders what predators existed before humans.

"When we think of large carnivores unique to North America, gray wolves, cougars, or brown bears come to mind," says Balisi. However, large carnivores were much more common on the continent until about 12,000 years ago, during thePleistocene epochor the last ice age, with many species of saber-toothed cats with bone-crushing fangs roaming the earth.

Balisi speculates that in a future world without humans, such large predators could evolve again. He has the greatest confidence in saber-toothed cats, whose long, sharp teeth and massive limbs "evolved independently many times over the past 40 million years." If any lineage of cats survives into the eons of the future, history may repeat itself.

What future do we want?

Modern humans have only been around for a few hundred thousand years, but what we do today will likely have a huge impact on what the natural world will look like tomorrow.

The evolution of life depends on the "developmental and genetic toolkit" we know today, according to Santana, a biologist at the University of Washington. Since there are natural differences between animals, some compete better for resources and survive, and less useful traits tend to disappear, while others emerge with new adaptations. As species become extinct, whether due to habitat loss, agriculture, poaching, or human-induced climate change, many potential sources of diverse life will also vanish from the future.

Scientists can still imagine a world where currently endangered animals continue to live and start new branches on the evolutionary tree. The future does not have to belong only to rats, pigeons and insects. As long as, for example, manatees, polar bears, and monarch butterflies continue to exist, there is a chance that their descendants will appear at some point in the future.

All of this is worth thinking about if we are to take full responsibility for our role in shaping the appearance of the planet long after we are gone. As we imagine what creatures might emerge next, we can ask ourselves: what kind of future do we want for the planet? To what extent are we willing to work so that future generations of people can live alongside him?

The evolution of giant insects in the future would be "really cool," Alter said. Especially, he added, "if there are people around and they can see them."

Meanwhile, while it's comforting to imagine how different species might recover millions of years from now, "you don't want to stop investing in the life around us today," said Mikhailiv, a Middlebury paleoecologist. "Now we can do a lot to protect species, protect their genetic diversity, and protect their ability to respond to change."

\r\n \r\nvoice mark\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n","cross_community":false,"groups":[{"base_type":"EntryGroup","id":103390,"timestamp":1691522448,"title":"Down on the ground" ,"type":"SiteGroup ","url":" to earth","slug":"down to earth","community_logo":" \r\n","community_name":"Vox","community_url":"","cross_community":false,"entry_count":150,"always_show":false,"description":" La crisis de la biodiversidad, explicada","disclosure":"","cover_image_url":"","cover_image":null,"title_image_url":" 22428046/hublogo.png","intro_image":null,"four_up_see_more_text":"Ver todo","primary":true},{"base_type":"EntryGroup","id":27530,"timestamp":1692963001, "title":"Clima","type":"SiteGroup","url":"","slug":"clima","community_logo":"\r\ norte","community_name":"Vox","community_url":"","cross_community":false,"entry_count":2635,"always_show":false,"description":" The Vox coverage of climate change, renewable energies, conservation and other environmental issues","disclosure":"","cover_image_url":"","cover_image":null,"title_image_url":"","intro_image ":null, "four_up_see_more_text":"See all","primary":false},{"base_type":"EntryGroup","id":30772,"timestamp":1692961202,"title":"Science"," type":"SiteGroup","url":"","slug":"science","community_logo":"\r\n","community_name":"Vox","community_url":"","cross_community":false,"entry_count":5702,"always_show":false,"description":" News and updates from the scientific team. Topics include genetics, infectious diseases, psychology and more.","disclosure":"","cover_image_url":"","cover_image_url":"","cover_image":null,"title_image_url":"","intro_image":null,"four_up_see_more_text" :"See all","primary":false},{"base_type":"EntryGroup","id":63531,"timestamp":1692806102,"title":"Podcasts","type":"SiteGroup", "url":"","slug":"podcasts","community_logo":"\r\n","community_name":"Vox","community_url":"","cross_community":false,"entry_count":909,"always_show":false,"description":" ","disclosure":"","cover_image_url":"","cover_image":null,"title_image_url":"","intro_image":null,"four_up_see_more_text":"Ver todo","primary":false} ,{"base_type":"EntryGroup","id":76815,"timestamp":1692968416,"title":"Future Perfect","type":"SiteGroup","url":"https://www.","slug":"futuro-perfecto","community_logo":"\r\n","community_name":"Vox","community_url":"","cross_community":false,"entry_count":1641,"always_show":false,"description":" Encontrar las mejores maneras de hacer el bien. ","disclosure":"","cover_image_url":"","cover_image":null,"title_image_url":" .jpg","intro_image":null,"four_up_see_more_text":"Ver todo","primary":false},{"base_type":"EntryGroup","id":102623,"timestamp":1692805064,"title" :"Inexplicable","type":"SiteGroup","url":"","slug":"inexplicable","community_logo":"\r\n","community_name":"Vox","community_url":"","cross_community":false,"entry_count":63,"always_show":false,"description":"inexplicableit takes listeners to the edge of what we know...and then continues. This Vox podcast explores scientific mysteries, unanswered questions, and everything we learn by diving into the unknown. New episodes every Wednesday.\r\n\r\n

Tell us about a scientific mystery that fascinates you.\r\n\r\n

Follow:Pódcasts de Apple|Podcasts by Google|Spotify|Tune|Megaphone\r\n


Heinexplicablekit includesNoam Hassenfeld,Byrd Pinkerton,Meradith Hoddinott,Mandy Nguyen,Cristian Ayala, yBrian Resnick. The show is a production ofVox media podcast network.\r\n\r\n\r\n

show transcripts.\r\n\r\nClean versions of explicit episodes..\r\n\r\nsongs from the podcast.","disclosure":"","cover_image_url":"","cover_image":{"ratio":" *","original_url":"","network":"unison","bgcolor":"white"," pinterest_enabled":false,"src":"","focal_point":null},"title_image_url":""," intro_image":null,"four_up_see_more_text":"Ver todo","primary":false}],"internal_groups":[{"base_type":"EntryGroup","id":72751,"timestamp":1692981451,"title ":"Categoría—Evergreen","type":"SiteGroup","url":"","slug":"categoría-evergreen","community_logo":"\r\n","community_name":"Vox","community_url":"","cross_community":false,"entry_count":1477,"always_show":false,"description":" ","disclosure":"","cover_image_url":"","cover_image":null,"title_image_url":"","intro_image":null,"four_up_see_more_text":"Ver todo"}],"image": {"ratio":"*","original_url":"","network":"unison"," bgcolor":"white","pinterest_enabled":false,"caption":null,"credit":"Amanda Northrop/Vox","focal_area":{"top_left_x":1137,"top_left_y":501,"bottom_right_x" :1617,"bottom_right_y":981},"bounds":[0,0,3000,1600],"uploaded_size":{"width":3000,"height":1600},"focal_point":null,"image_id ":70021003,"alt_text":"Una ilustración de un pájaro parecido a un dodo, una gran mantis religiosa y una rata acuática."},"hub_image":{"ratio":"*","original_url":"https ://","network":"unison","bgcolor":"white","pinterest_enabled":false,"caption ":null,"credit":"Amanda Northrop/Vox","focal_area":{"top_left_x":1137,"top_left_y":501,"bottom_right_x":1617,"bottom_right_y":981},"bounds":[ 0,0,3000,1600],"uploaded_size":{"width":3000,"height":1600},"focal_point":null,"image_id":70021003,"alt_text":"Una ilustración de un dodo- como un pájaro, una gran mantis religiosa y una rata acuática."},"lede_image":{"ratio":"*","original_url":" image/70021004/zoofinal_lede.0.jpg","network":"unison","bgcolor":"white","pinterest_enabled":false,"caption":null,"credit":"Amanda Northrop/Vox", "focal_area":{"top_left_x":1137,"top_left_y":501,"bottom_right_x":1617,"bottom_right_y":981},"bounds":[0,0,3000,1600],"uploaded_size":{" width":3000,"height":1600},"focal_point":null,"image_id":70021004,"alt_text":"Una ilustración de un pájaro parecido a un dodo, una gran mantis religiosa y una rata acuática."} ,"group_cover_image":null,"picture_standard_lead_image":{"ratio":"*","original_url":" ","network":"unison","bgcolor":"white","pinterest_enabled":false,"caption":null,"credit":"Amanda Northrop/Vox","focal_area":{"top_left_x": 1137,"top_left_y":501,"bottom_right_x":1617,"bottom_right_y":981},"bounds":[0,0,3000,1600],"uploaded_size":{"width":3000,"height": 1600},"focal_point":null,"image_id":70021004,"alt_text":"Una ilustración de un pájaro parecido a un dodo, una gran mantis religiosa y una rata acuática.","picture_element":{"loading": "eager","html":{},"alt":"Una ilustración de un pájaro parecido a un dodo, una gran mantis religiosa y una rata acuática.","default":{"srcset":"https:/ / _lede.0.jpg 320w, 1004/ zoofinal_lede.0.jpg 620w, imagen /image/70021004/zoofinal_lede.0.jpg 920w, x- 1220w, : 1617x981)/ 1520w","webp_srcset":" :3000x1600/320x240/filtros:focal(1137x501:1617x981):format(webp)/ 320w, https://cdn.vox- ofinal_lede.0.jpg 620w, /chorus_image/image/70021004/zoofinal_lede.0.jpg 920w, t(webp) / 1220w, ocal (1137x501:1617x981):format(webp)/ 1520w","media":null,"sizes":"(ancho mínimo : 809px) 485px, (ancho mínimo: 600px) 60vw, 100vw","fallback":" 1 :1617x981)/"},"art_directed":[]}},"image_is_placeholder":false,"image_is_hidden":false," network":"vox","omits_labels":false,"optimizable":false,"promo_headline":"Los animales que pueden existir en un millón de años, imaginados por los biólogos ","recommended_count":0,"recs_enabled":false ,"slug":"con los pies en la tierra/22734772/futuro-animales-evolución-inexplicable","dek":"Ratas-ballena totalmente acuáticas. Mantis religiosas del tamaño de perros. Los científicos imaginan la evolución futura de la vida en la Tierra. ","homepage_title":"Los animales que podrían existir dentro de un millón de años, imaginados por los biólogos ","homepage_description":"Ratas ballena totalmente acuáticas. Mantis religiosas del tamaño de perros. Los científicos imaginan la evolución futura de la vida en la Tierra.","show_homepage_description":false,"title_display":"Los animales que podrían existir dentro de un millón de años, imaginados por los biólogos ","pull_quote":null,"voxcreative":false, "show_entry_time":true,"show_dates":true,"paywalled_content":false,"paywalled_content_box_logo_url":"","paywalled_content_page_logo_url":"","paywalled_content_main_url":"","article_footer_body":"La mayoría de los medios de noticias ganan dinero a través de publicidad o suscripciones. Pero cuando se trata de lo que intentamos hacer en Vox, hay un par de problemas importantes al depender de anuncios y suscripciones para mantener las luces encendidas.
\r\nFirst, advertising dollars rise and fall with the economy, making future planning difficult. Second, we are not in the subscription business. Vox is here to help everyone understand the complex issues shaping the world, not just people who can afford a subscription.
\r\nIt is important that we have several ways to earn money. So while advertising remains our biggest source of income, we also seek reader support.
\r\nIf you also believe that everyone deserves access to high-quality, reliable information, will you give Vox a gift today?Any amount helps. ","article_footer_header":"Will you support Vox's explanatory journalism?","use_article_footer":true,"article_footer_cta_annual_plans":"{\r\n \"default_plan\": 1,\r\n \"planes\": [\r\n {\r\n \"cantidad\ ": 95,\r\n \"plan_id\": 74295\r\n },\r\n {\r\n \"cantidad\": 120,\r\n \"plan_id\": 81108\ r\n },\r\n {\r\n \"cantidad\": 250,\r\n \"plan_id\": 77096\r\n },\r\n {\r\n \" cantidad\": 350,\r\n \"plan_id\": 92038\r\n }\r\n ]\r\n}","article_footer_cta_button_annual_copy":"año","article_footer_cta_button_copy":"Sí, yo Daré","article_footer_cta_button_monthly_copy":"mes","article_footer_cta_default_frequency":"anual","article_footer_cta_monthly_plans":"{\r\n \"default_plan\": 1,\r\n \"planes\": [ \r\n {\r\n \"monto\": 9,\r\n \"plan_id\": 77780\r\n },\r\n {\r\n \"monto\": 20 ,\r\n \"plan_id\": 69279\r\n },\r\n {\r\n \"cantidad\": 50,\r\n \"plan_id\": 46947\r\n },\r\n {\r\n \"cantidad\": 100,\r\n \"plan_id\": 46782\r\n }\r\n ]\r\n}","article_footer_cta_once_plans" :"{\r\n \"default_plan\": 0,\r\n \"planes\": [\r\n {\r\n \"cantidad\": 20,\r\n \"plan_id \": 69278\r\n },\r\n {\r\n \"cantidad\": 50,\r\n \"plan_id\": 48880\r\n },\r\n {\ r\n \"cantidad\": 100,\r\n \"plan_id\": 46607\r\n },\r\n {\r\n \"cantidad\": 250,\r\n \ "plan_id\": 46946\r\n }\r\n ]\r\n}","use_article_footer_cta_read_counter":true,"use_article_footer_cta":true,"layout":"","featured_placeable":false,"video_placeable ":false,"disclaimer":null,"volume_placement":"lede","video_autoplay":false,"youtube_url":"","facebook_video_url":"","play_in_modal" :true,"user_preferences_for_privacy_enabled":false,"show_branded_logos":true,"uses_video_lede":false,"image_brightness":"image-light","display_logo_lockup":false,"svg_logo_data":""}" data-cid="sitio/article_footer-1693053729_7898_11284">

Will you support Vox's explanatory journalism?

Most news sites make money from advertising or subscriptions. But as far as what we're trying to do at Vox, there are some serious problems with relying on ads and subscriptions to keep the light on.
First, ad spending rises and falls with the economy, making future planning difficult. Second, we do not sell subscriptions. Vox is here to help everyone understand the complex issues shaping the world, not just those who can pay the subscription.
It is important that we have several ways to earn money. So while advertising is still our biggest source of revenue, we're also looking to support our readers.
If you also believe that everyone deserves access to high-quality, reliable information, will you give Vox a gift today?Any amount helps.



yes i will give $120/year

yes i will give $120/year

We accept credit cards, Apple Pay and Google pay. You can also contribute through

Animals that could exist a million years from now, imagined by biologists (4)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Rev. Porsche Oberbrunner

Last Updated: 17/09/2023

Views: 5625

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (53 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rev. Porsche Oberbrunner

Birthday: 1994-06-25

Address: Suite 153 582 Lubowitz Walks, Port Alfredoborough, IN 72879-2838

Phone: +128413562823324

Job: IT Strategist

Hobby: Video gaming, Basketball, Web surfing, Book restoration, Jogging, Shooting, Fishing

Introduction: My name is Rev. Porsche Oberbrunner, I am a zany, graceful, talented, witty, determined, shiny, enchanting person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.