Organ structures and correlated metabolic features (e.g. metabolic rate) have often taken as fixed attributes of fully grown individual vertebrates. When measurements of these attributes became available they were often used as representative values for the species, disregarding the specific conditions during which the mesurement were made. Evidence is accumulating that the functional size of organs and aspects of the metabolic physiology of an individual may show great flexibility over timescales of weeks and even days depending on physiological status, environmental conditions and behavioural goals. This flexibility is a way for animals to cope successfully with a much wider range of conditions occurring during various life-cycle events than fixed metabolic machinery would allow. Such phenotypic flexibility is likely to be a common adaptive syndrome, typical of vertebrates living in variable environments.