It’s often hard for us to appreciate the lengths some animals have to go to just to survive. For most of us everything we need to exist can be reached by walking a short distance, or taking a quick trip in the car. But for these animals everything is different, and they have to travel thousands of miles every year just to stay alive.
The monarch butterfly starts its journey from Canada to Mexico knowing it will never reach its destination. The journey is so long that the first generation will die part way through the 4,000 plus mile trip. The females lay eggs as they travel south, so the next generation can continue the journey and gather in Mexico’s volcanic pine oak forests.
When they reach these forests in Mexico the display they cause is really quite something. There are so many butterflies in the area that it’s almost impossible to see either the sky or the forest floor.
Each year the Arctic Tern travels further than any other animal in the world. It embarks on a 44,000 mile zigzag journey between Greenland and Antarctica, which is 4,000 miles further than the sooty sheerwater, its closest challenger.
An Arctic Tern is capable of living for more than 30 years, so during its lifetime one single bird can travel a distance of more than 1.5 million miles. That’s the equivalent of three flights to the moon and back!
The North American caribou can cover up to 3,100 miles in a single year, a distance further than any other migrating land mammal. It’s not just the distance that’s impressive, as the herd can travel as fast as 50 miles an hour when it really gets going.
When caribou migrate in the spring the herds join together into massive groups that can have as many as 500,000 animals in them. They travel north towards Canada and Alaska to feed on grass and tundra before heading south again in the autumn and spending winter in snowy forested areas.
The annual migration of the wildebeest across the African plains is definitely one of the world’s most incredible sights. Their journey may not be as long as the caribous, but it’s every bit as impressive. More than 1.4 million wildebeest make the 1,800 mile journey together every year and are pursued relentlessly by the great African predators.
You’ll often see footage of wildebeest being attacked by crocodiles as they attempt to cross Africa’s great rivers which gives the impression that the whole process is chaotic. But recent studies of the animals have found that the migrating wildebeest display “swarm intelligence”, which means the animals explore the landscape and assess threats and obstacles together as a collective. They know that staying together in a large herd is the best form of defence from predators, and thus represents their best chance of completing the journey unscathed. They truly are remarkable animals.
Frank Collins loves learning about the natural world. He earns a living writing about the vast array of unusual gifts at Find Me A Gift, the gift ideas people.