All true metazoans modify their RNAs by converting specific adenosine residues to inosine. Because inosine binds to cytosine, it is a biological mimic for guanosine. This subtle change, termed RNA editing, can have diverse effects on various RNA-mediated cellular pathways, including RNA interference, innate immunity, retrotransposon defense and messenger RNA recoding. Because RNA editing can be regulated, it is an ideal tool for increasing genetic diversity, adaptation and environmental acclimation. This review will cover the following themes related to RNA editing: (1) how it is used to modify different cellular RNAs, (2) how frequently it is used by different organisms to recode mRNA, (3) how specific recoding events regulate protein function, (4) how it is used in adaptation and (5) emerging evidence that it can be used for acclimation. Organismal biologists with an interest in adaptation and acclimation, but with little knowledge of RNA editing, are the intended audience.