Science 101: How do animals navigate during migration?by: William C. Robertson, Ph.D.

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Migrating animals do amazing things. Homing pigeons can find their way “home” across hundreds of miles; salmon return to their spawning location thousands of miles away; turtles travel over eight thousand miles to lay their eggs in the spot where they originally hatched. Scientists have studied how animals navigate around the globe and have discovered a number of mechanisms which are explored in this article.

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Reviews (2)
  • on Thu Aug 18, 2011 8:31 PM

A question that never seems to be answered for middle school students when studying animals is, “So, how do they find their way home?” In Washington state we have lots of migratory animals and fish, and students are always fascinated with their ability to return home. Robertson does an excellent job of explaining how they accomplish the feat. He eludes to some animals using landmarks, sun and star position, but goes into the Earth’s magnetic field in the article. Robertson explains the Earth is a large magnet and produces magnetic fields. Many animals are born with magnetite, that acts like iron filings. When put together, the animal is guided back home using this internal “GPS” system.

Sandra Gady  (Renton, WA)
Sandra Gady (Renton, WA)

  • on Thu Jun 23, 2011 12:51 PM

Magnetism and navigation is one way animals seem to migrate. That is not to say that animals (other than human) really carry compasses. However as the author points out that there can be some magnetic materials found in some animals, like pigeons, that respond to the Earth’s magnetic field. This would be an interesting introduction to the Earth’s magnetic field. You might be tempted to read this article that describes the iron fillings in a man’s (yes human) nasal passages. So why do they always seems to get lost?

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

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