Rest easy, lazy bones: Evolution is on your side

Be as the mollusk — and embrace 'survival of the sluggish.'

Close-up of snail crossing the road.

The slow and steady snail may have long figured out that evolution is not a race. (Photo: Nattanan Zia/Shutterstock)

You may not have to get off the couch after all.

In fact, from an evolutionary standpoint, laziness may actually do you good — at least, if you have certain mollusk-like habits.

In a new study of bivalves and gastropods, University of Kansas researchers have found chronic lethargy to be an underrated survival strategy.

It may have even been a key factor in preserving entire species.

For the study, published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, biologists looked at the metabolic rate of 299 mollusk species — both living and fossilized — from the Atlantic Ocean.

They found that over a period of about 5 million years, the species that were most likely to die out were those that used the most energy in their daily lives.

On the other hand, the species that took things nice and easy, and kept their metabolic rates to a minimum, managed to stand the test of time.

"Maybe in the long term the best evolutionary strategy for animals is to be lassitudinous and sluggish — the lower the metabolic rate, the more likely the species you belong to will survive," noted study co-author Lieberman in a release. "Instead of 'survival of the fittest,' maybe a better metaphor for the history of life is 'survival of the laziest' or at least 'survival of the sluggish.'"

That factor may also help species withstand scourges like climate change and habitat encroachment.

In fact, researchers found metabolism played an even more prominent survivability role for species that were confined to smaller habitats — rather than those that spread across a much greater geographical area.

"In a sense, we're looking at a potential predictor of extinction probability," Luke Strotz, also a study co-author explained, "At the species level, metabolic rate isn't the be-all, end-all of extinction — there are a lot of factors at play. But these results say that the metabolic rate of an organism is a component of extinction likelihood."

Scallops scattered on a beach. The mollusks that best managed their energy levels are more likely to be able to withstand environmental threats like global warming. (Photo: bjphotographs/Shutterstock)

Aside from helping scientists predict which animals are most vulnerable to extinction, the study may also offer hope for humans who make their habitats in their parents' basements.

Okay, so you're not a mollusk.

But if you're currently dwelling in a cold, damp place — and restricting your activities to ensure a low heart rate — you're already halfway there.

Try picturing the couch as your seabed. Pretend mom's voice from upstairs is just the waves crashing against the rocks far above you. And just maybe, you'll outlive them all.

Related on On Events:

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